Cordon Sanitaire

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 22, 2020 by cliffdean

Maintaining a respectful 2m distance between each person, RXbirdwalkers circulated in the Penhurst area of the High Weald, enjoying wide views but suffering the blast of easterlies on the ridges and therefore all the more appreciative of warmth and quietude in sheltered valleys.

All of us, like so many others in the epidemic, are in a kind of limbo, with work and projects interrupted or suspended, travels abandoned, diaries empty, routines disrupted and families separated. Across the landscape stretched before us had passed plagues, wars and invasion.

All across the horizon, Buzzards were rising & falling. It didn’t so long ago that I’d stand in the same area, scanning the same skyline, hoping to see just one. High above, streams of gulls – Herring, Common, Great & Lesser Black-back – were half lost against the bright sky and beyond them sparse contrails, relics of depleted air traffic.

No Hawfinches: not by The Post Box, not by The Metal Gate, nor in the scrawny laneside Hornbeams, nor the nicely tended gardens of gracious vernacular homes nor the hedges by scruffy farm sheds. Roaring wind through the twigtops masked any possible furtive clicking.

In the stillness downhill, there were springtime songs of Great Tit, Robin, Blackbird, Chaffinch & Chiffchaff. GS Woodpeckers, Pheasants, always Woodpigeons & Jackdaws. The steep lane down past Rocks Farm has been scoured by the winter’s heavy rain, exposing generations of hardcore dominated by vermilion bricks. Where the slope levels, soil has accumulated in deep and soggy sumps.

In much of the RX area Grey Wagtails breed among the shiny hardware and insect-rich filter-beds of Water Treatment Works but here they are in archetypal habitat among the fast-flowing streams, mill-houses and old brick bridges of former iron-working country. We found males in two strategic spots separated by the flat meadow of a silted-up hammer-pond.

Climbing up the steep valley side to be presented once again with the broad prospect of forest and poor farmland we caught sight of a Red Kite overhead, soon to be joined by another in tumbling, twisting display.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 20, 2020 by cliffdean

Over the last week, many have admired the response of Italian citizens to the decisive lockdown imposed by their government to combat the disastrous spread of COVID-19. Most celebrated has been the communal singing from windows and balconies of neighbours otherwise isolated in their flats, while others have hung out tricolori or lit lamps of solidarity in the night.

But the initiative which has really inspired me has been “Birdwatching a Kilometri Zero” set up by Luciano Ruggieri on the Facebook page “EBN ITALIA il birdwatching italiano” in which followers are exhorted to spend the weekend connecting with the outside world by counting the birds they can see from their homes. It’s a bit like Big Garden Birdwatch except that many participants don’t have gardens. What many do have though, gazing out from their palazzi, is altitude, giving them great views of birds passing above the rooftops, and I don’t mean Herring Gulls – more like CRANES and SHORT-TOED EAGLES.

The results have filled me with envy, as those on migration routes have counted hundreds of raptors cruising past while others, even in city centres, have clocked up lists far exceeding mine on the green and lovely Sussex coast. (57 species, I noticed the other day, whereas I never exceed the mid-30s.)

It has been a pleasure to read the enthusiastic accounts, from some observers, of rising before dawn, setting up scope and camera, downing a coffee and getting started. Some, it seems, have never previously bothered with their own neighbourhood, assuming it to be of no interest. for these, the variety on offer comes as a revelation. They soon find themselves drawn into the obsessional vortex of listing: “House lifer!” “Garden lifer!!” as they notice the riches present on their own doorstep – or at least windowsill. It’s Extreme Patchwork., perhaps the equivalent of the Big Sit except that you don’t choose where to sit other than at which window.

One of the project’s intentions is precisely this: to divert the attention of quarantined birders away from the destinations denied to them and onto their immediate, often disregarded surroundings. This must have mental health benefits though I can imagine it leading to lively discussion regarding the equitable care of offspring in those households that have them. Observers are also encouraged to record their observations – maybe for the first time – on the equivalent of Birdtrack.

I’ve been surprised at the number of contributors recording birds we’d feel very pleased to see in our gardens here: Tree Sparrow, Black Redstart, Serin, Hawfinch & Brambling for example. Further south, there are Blue Rock Thrushes on their TV aerials & Zitting Cisticolas peeping through their fences.  Yet it’s an effort to find any of my garden species which might excite an Italian BWAKMZer. The current flocks of Med Gulls would hardly raise an eyebrow though the Common Gulls might and Herring Gulls. Perhaps the Rooks too…and, actually Carrion Crow, since most over there are Hooded.

No, I think the only one that might elicit envy is Great Black-backed Gull: Mugnaiaccio would surely impress.

Galvanized into action on Monday, as much by the unaccustomed warm sunshine as by the Cranes which had passed earlier (just the 2 whereas great crooning lines have been passing over N Italian cities for the last fortnight), I spent 4 hours down on the patio (is this cheating? Should I be watching from the bathroom window?) during which time I chalked up 34 species. (Ah – do I have to see them? I could do most of it with my eyes closed) (And I don’t use a telescope otherwise I could probably claim a few more species from down on the marsh). Here’s the list, more or less in order of appearance. In English.

Chiffchaff, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, Med Gull, Jackdaw, Woodpigeon, House Sparrow,Robin, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Buzzard, Magpie, Blue Tit, Rook, Dunnock, Coal Tit, Green Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blackbird, Wren, Carrion Crow, Mistle Thrush, Pied Wagtail, Raven, Peregrine, Cormorant, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Stock Dove, Kestrel, GS Woodpecker.

One of those Ravens was carrying a stick…they should have finished nesting now. What does it all mean?


Out Of The Blue

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 17, 2020 by cliffdean

  A still Monday morning, not raining, not windy, and with the weeks ahead suddenly stripped of appointments and engagements. Meetings suspended, holidays cancelled, thanks to the Coronavirus epidemic. While desperate health professionals struggle to cope in a ruthlessly pared-down system I have the luxury – so far – of rural self-isolation.

Once the rippled cloud rolls back a luminous deep blue sky is revealed in which squeaking Marsh Harriers are tumbling in display, high, high up, the sunlight flashing from their wings. The soundscape is dominated by Skylarks, Reed Buntings & Cetti’s Warblers.

Just after 9 comes another familiar call, the sound of my teenage Springs, as a punctual Little Ringed Plover speeds past me. Then a Little Egret – not so easy to see here just now – sails in from the beach to the side of the Pools, where chestnut-headed Little Grebes are trilling.

Are the White-fronted Geese still here? I scan across the back of the marsh and as I track past the Pannel Valley there are two big grey birds gliding in; black flight feathers, long straight necks…I take a second look and fumble for my phone to alert Pete R who I’ve recently left at Toot Rock. CRANES! I’ve seen very few in England and none out of the blue like this. Certainly never before at Pett Level. Exciting!

But by the time I’ve sent a Whatsapp, the Cranes have vanished. They must have come down on the busy Pannel Scrape. Then Pete calls me to tell me about 2 Cranes making their way along the old cliff-line. He hasn’t read my message so is enjoying the fruits of discovery. I can’t see them at all. “They’re right over me now!” “Where? How high?” I’ve got binoculars in one hand and phone in the other, pressed to my ear. “Look at me through your binoculars. I’m pointing at them!” I still can’t see. Luckily, a friend comes past on her morning run which I briefly interrupt to engage her help. “They’re there.” she points, without the benefit of optics, and my heart sinks a little with the realization that my eye-sight is not quite as good as it once was.

The pair are now high up, circling languorously against the pale morning moon. My phone, still on to Pete but now stuffed in a pocket, pings with a message from John N, who can see them from his house (an advert for BWaKMZero – of which more later).

Slowly, slowly, the Cranes gyrate out past Cliff End till lost to view. about half an hour later, they’re picked up over Bexhill, then later still at Beachy Head, from which they depart NW.


On the grid

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 10, 2020 by cliffdean

Sunday 8th: the combination of ground conditions and weekly storms is making it difficult to plan walks. I may have identified a route which will not end up with us stuck in the middle of a muddy field (and also promises a few birds) but then spend the latter part of the week studying weather forecasts and trying to calculate the likelihood of cancelling the whole venture.

On Sunday morning I awoke to the usual sound of rain hitting the windows but by the time I arrived at Brookland the cloud had broken and bits of blue sky showed through. Just to make sure the last of the rain had cleared, we spent a short time in the atmospheric church, with its lop-sided arches, Labours-of-the-Seasons lead font, winkle-marble tomb slabs, tragic monument and faded fragment of wall-painting depicting the martyrdom of Becket.

These must-see features having been must-seen once again, we were confident to set out westwards beneath Rooks, Jackdaws & Greenfinches.

Besides the birds (Blue & Great Tits everywhere, Rooks noisily attending their nests or crowding the pastures alongside Jackdaws & Woodpigeons) there were some curious sights I wanted to show. Unfortunately I find the regular grid of the 12th century planned landscape rather confusing and am unable to recall just which criss-crossing lane or ditch is which. We have Baldwin – he of the eponymous Sewer – to thank for this. So I missed the correct route for two notable attractions but we could still savour the lack of traffic and the plenitude of Badger excavations & underminings as we followed Redwings & Fieldfares along the narrow thoroughfares with frequent Green Woodpeckers calling from the collapsing, splintered Willows.

There were quite a few spring flowers emerging too, like Violets, Lesser Celandine, Primrose & Lesser Periwinkle

I hadn’t really expected a wide variety of birds – firm footing and some landscape history would have to do – but in fact we kept coming across new species: Long-tailed Tits, Jays, a Cetti’s Warbler, Buzzards…

I’d just spent a few days in Norwich where, in the Bridewell Museum, I’d been confronted with the Start-Rite poster which used to unsettle me when, as a child, I used to see in on Tube stations.

Where were these two curiously clad children going on this endless road? Where were their parents? Why were there no houses?

On the long perspectives of the marsh lanes I was reminded again and reminded too that, on this very day in Turkey there would be many Syrian children in the same predicament, but in cold and rain and without Start-Rite shoes to protect their feet.

The reedy, flooded Fairfield Fleet provided us with quite a few unexpected birds, not only Coot on the water and Mallard, Shoveler & Gadwall lined up along the bank and a Marsh Harrier hunting. Then a Great Egret came slowly flapping over to drop down on a nearby bank. Having promised a visit to St Thomas’ photographed-to-death Church, I left the group & walked on to Becket Barn to pick up the big iron key, only to discover it was not on the hook… When we reconvened on the massive earthwork of the Great Wall, the others pointed out 2 Little Egrets which had also appeared on the flood.

Having failed by now to produce three of my Novelty Features, I was relieved that the Crooked House – Hazelden – had not collapsed since my last visit. In fact its sagging off the side of an old seawall seems to have long since been stabilised by the book-end extension.

Shortly afterwards we found ourselves in the middle of a 20-mile run, a practice for the London Marathon, participants profiting from the same lack of cars that we had enjoyed. For the last leg back to Brookfield the soundscape was enhanced by the padding footfalls and panting breath of runners from as far away as Crystal Palace and Darkest Orpington.

To my surprise, we had not only evaded the rain (it poured down as I arrived home) but had seen/heard 48 species of bird.


Posted in Uncategorized on March 9, 2020 by cliffdean

WEDNESDAY MARCH 11th 19:00 – 22:00
Book Tickets @ £10 at…/cameras-and-chemistry

The internationally renowned landscape photographer was for many years based at Pett Level, from where she documented aspects of change in the coastal structure and settlement at Winchelsea Beach, Rye Harbour & Romney Marsh.
To promote this element of her work and perhaps to introduce it to a new audience, Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve are hosting events in which themes in documentary films are expanded by those who knew Fay and worked with her.
This event will illuminate her technical mastery through the film “Cameras & Chemistry” followed by Q&A with Peter Cattrell, Fay’s printer, and Geraldine Alexander, her archivist & biographer.

Peter will show some of Fay’s pictures taken in the area and talk about how they were printed, different camera formats & film, perhaps showing the difference between  her early and later work

 It will be of interest to anyone wanting to know more about Fay’s working methods and should offer particular insights to photographers and members of camera clubs.


Après le Déluge

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 6, 2020 by cliffdean

Following the day-long downpour, it was a pleasure to awaken with no wind roaring around the house nor rain hammering on the window. And out in the garden was a life-affirming chorus of Mistle Thrush, Rook, Raven & Med Gull, the latter now in yelping quantities on the back field throughout the day.

POT-HOLES are a national obsession and the roads around Pett are in a state of inexorable disintegration. Traffic passing at way over the 30 limit steadily abrades the road surface which is then scoured further by rushing rain. The multiple repairs accumulate into a horrible scab. What’s this got to do with birds, you enquire……

The swollen canal is the colour of tea but Pett Level, being a wetland, is very well drained via a system of ditches, main drains and automatic pumps. All the houses on the right side of this photo originate from the interwar period when flooding was more of a problem so are wisely perched on the parapet of the Royal Military Canal. Dwellings nearby are more vulnerable, having replaced temporary holiday accommodation (tents, cabins, old vehicles) on the valley floor unsuited to permanent occupation.

Along side the Canal, groups of courting Greenfinches wheeze and trill, Chaffinches sing from the wires and Cetti’s Warbler blast from cover.

On the seawall, it’s cold in the NW wind. On the marsh, flocks of Canada & Greylag Geese contain a single stray Barnacle and a couple of Egyptian Geese are over by the canal. There’s a group of 23 White-fronts still by the Pools where the 3 dumped white Farmyard Geese still survive along with a white Farmyard Duck.  (I always record these waifs, strays, feral birds and escapes because you never know what effect they’ll have in the future, but feel a bit guilty about including them in the final tally.)  The chorus at this point is the wild trilling of Little Grebes.

Although it’s high tide, the only waders around the extensive rainwater flashes are Curlews & Redshanks, the Lapwings having moved on, if only to the Pannel Scrape. There are, however, hundreds & hundreds of gulls, mostly Black-headed but with many Med Gulls, their cries always in the air. Coming in third are Common Gulls, though most of these spend the day up-country, then a scatter of Herring Gulls & a few Great & Lesser Black-backs, most of the latter not having yet arrived from their winter hols in Morocco.

The sun comes out, the temperature rises and the open pastures are dominated by Skylark song, with the occasional Reed Bunting joining in from a ditch.

I’d never noticed the tilt on this footbridge before today, when it was brought to my attention by the requirement to complete the last couple of yards on tiptoe. The tall trees of Winchelsea are a bedlam of Rooks and clusters of Grey Herons can be seen at their nests further along.

Blackbirds are starting to make their presence felt in the spring songscape broadcast out from the cliff-line trees across the wet fields, alongside Robins, Wrens, Great Tits, Green Woodpeckers and an unexpected Jay.

Drainage here is impeded by the banks of an early 19th century gun emplacement, situated on a bend the better to enfilade invaders who never arrived.

A rain-washed landslip

The Pannel Scrape was noisy and busy, as usual at this time of year, with masses of gulls shuffling into nesting mode or resting & preening ready for the onward journey, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Pintail, Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Snipe, though not yet Avocet, all busting into the air every so often on the arrival of a raptor. across the stream, a Water Rail was issuing its joyful springtime strangled scream.

By late morning 4 Buzzards are mewing over the old cliff, a pair of Marsh Harriers are calling high in the air and even higher a Peregrine is circling. beyond all, the shining Air France flight has set out for Mexico City.


RXbirdwalks in March 2020

Posted in Uncategorized on March 6, 2020 by cliffdean

Sunday 8th: Brookland

A walk around the parallel network of ancient lanes, past gnarled old willows up to the isolated Fairfield Church – as seen on every single book about Romney Marshes. Farmland and marsh birds. 

Saturday 14th: Winchelsea Beach & Castle Water

We’ll avoid the muddiest bits and where possible stick to well-drained shingle. The flooded fields at West Nook should have lots of waterbirds though I’d be surprised if there are any islands still showing at Castle Water! Good chances however of Raven, Peregrine, Marsh Harrier, singing Chiffchaff & maybe booming Bittern.

Saturday 21st: Asburnham Furnace

Mostly old lanes with many historic features. Farm & woodland birds, with a slim chance of Hawfinch & Goshawk.

Sunday 29th: Winchelsea – Pannel Valley

Parkland & farm birds (the biggest Rookery in Sussex) plus loads of breeding gulls & waders (probably LR Plover by then) in the valley, Marsh Harrier & Buzzard


If you’d like to join any of these walks please email me on