Wednesday, Lydd: a fine, cold, still day, the wind turbines unmoving. And overhead, suddenly, white against the blue and too high for Mutes, a flock of 7 Swans (1 juv) – Bewick’s – whooping softly westwards into the distance. Another two a little later.
Blue frost thawing fast. In the rape fields, purple shadows and golden, folded, fading, frosted leaves.
Another “swan” in front of us turns, once someone bothers to look, into a GW Egret – and there’s another along the ditch, with a Buzzard – monarch of the spoil-heap – beyond.
Just this week there was an unusual court case in the news in which a local farmer was convicted of killing two Mute Swans. His morning had got off to a bad start with a ewe & lamb injured by an unknown predator. And then there, were the swans – again – loafing about his field as if they owned the place. He tried to drive them off his crop. They stood their ground. Something snapped and he laid about them with his shepherd’ crook.
As luck would have it. a Coastguard helicopter was overhead on a training flight, saw what was going on, filmed it and alerted the police.
The marsh and it huge sky were completely still but not silent.
Vapour trails marked the arrival of London-bound passenger jets over the coast, cars, lorries, buses & motor-bikes contributed a chorus from the A259 and reversing tones piped from the quarries. Lapwings, Golden Plovers & Skylarks were calling.
West of Red House, a heavily dotted willow enticed us back over the Sussex border towards Oakhill Fleet where a mob of Corn Buntings squizzled merrily in the sunshine. They moved between three bushes, with extra birds fluttering up from the field and a confusing admixture of Reed Buntings & Tree Sparrows. Attempts to count the flock were temporarily put on hold as a Marsh Harrier glided past, then pursued by a smaller, slimmer Harrier which must have been Hen though we just couldn’t pick out the white rump.
As groups dashed back & forth, the counts grew until it looked like 100 Corn Buntings, though for Tree Sparrows we never got further than the odd call.
Back towards Scotney Court, a Merlin shot across in front of us and right round at the end of Brett’s Pit was a Black-throated Diver, the star of a good few Cracking Shots in recent days.
Well- do you! Apart from the A259 rumbling past, the crackling of the pylon overhead and the machine guns of the Range opposite, it’s as quiet as anything.
The Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve are engaged in a number of small projects which aim to change the way the reserve is seen and thought about.
- : Back on a fabulous, still morning in late June, Sam Moore made drone footage of the nature reserve which revealed the area in a way that surprised even those who knew it well. We asked Sam to edit his material into two films, dealing with the south (Beach Reserve) & north (Castle Water) parts, which have been on the SWT website for some time. https://www.youtube.com/user/RyeHarbourUK
More recently however, we asked him to cut again, a 2-minute version to show at public events, cinemas etc. For this short film he also embellished the soundtrack with birdsong recordings already made on the reserve. The result has recently been screened at the Rye Kino, where superior projection and audio facilities make it look and sound even more impressive.
One part I like very much is the way the fade-out is accompanied by the cries of Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls, the latter sound very localized, and contemporary too, in British terms.
2) Picturemap: At the end last year we began gathering all the names used for different parts the reserve historic, current, informal, to assemble on a new, pictorial map. The reserve already has a map – a very clear, functional one – which is designed to help you find your way around, but this new one is illustrative, evocative and colourful, crammed with little details.
It’s being created for us by Picturemaps of Hastings, who have long experience of designing attractive merchandise for national museums and historic sites. The images you see here are still works in progress, with texture to be added and text amended (you might be able to spot opportunities for the latter).
Though we originally visualized the map as a poster, we’re beginning to imagine it used in other guises… The artwork should be finished soon, when the image will be save to a disc before reproducing.
3) Harry Hamilton Memorial
On Battle of Britain Day, September 15th, we dedicated the memorial stone to this Canadian pilot, just in front of the Oaks which had been planted to mark the spot of the crash in 1940. The Environment Agency donated the stone, which was inscribed by James Tomlinson and his assistant Kevin, then hauled into place thanks to neighbouring farmer Frank Langrish. For years, visitors have passed these Oaks unaware of their significance but from now on the stone will be there to make them see the place differently.
I discovered very late on in this project that the original Oak (just one) had been planted by the father of Hugh Sutton (above). Thanks to the prevailing SW winds there are now four trees, lined up NE of the original. We were very pleased that he could attend, and lay a Canadian wreath.
4) Photographic book: out next spring – watch this space!
Saturday 3rd: Winchelsea Beach & Castle Water
Always a good variety on this stretch of coast, gardens, scrub, grassland & freshwater lakes. Level walking, fairly dry, 4 miles.
Sunday 11th: Icklesham & Pannel Valley
Varied countryside of orchards, woods & reedbed. Up & down, fairly dry, 3 miles.
Saturday 17th: Salehurst with optional lunch at the Salehurst Halt.
Ancient woodland, hopgardens, pasture, river valley. Fairly level, could be muddy in parts (depends on weather nearer the time, 4 miles. I’ve booked a table at the pub for those who’d like to eat afterwards.
Please email me at email@example.com if you’d like to join any of these walks.
A recent recruit to the band of RXbirdwalkers was a pupil of mine in the very first class I taught in Hastings, in the autumn of 1976. Among other memories of that distant time she recalled going on a Saturday walk below the cliffs at Fairlight. 1976 was a very interesting and significant year for me and luckily was the first year I wrote a diary every day (excepting a couple of potently mysterious blanks from Sardinia. So, out of curiosity, I looked up what I had been doing forty years ago on the date of yesterday’s Combe Haven walk. Amazingly, synchronistically it had been the day of that very beach walk, so here is the story, albeit anonymized:
“Ate traditional Saturday Breakfast of pancakes before driving into school where a gaggle of children were waiting, albeit with illegal shoes & carrying glass bottles. We took the bus up to Ore & cut past the 1930’s house & Classical Garage then across the fields to the pond, with me doing a bit of lecturing. It was glorious weather, blue & warm, all shapes & shadows large & autumn smells from the leaves we kicked up.
We dropped down onto the beach – where X immediately fell in the water – and looked in the rock pools. Since the tide was well out I decided to walk to the cove but en route the waves seemed to come in v quickly and, as usual, I underestimated the distance. At one point, faced with a narrowing beach of slippery rocks and unscaleable crumbling cliffs, I started to worry a bit. The children went quiet & said they were frightened. I looked back to see floundering forms in the distance as Judith brought up the rear, urging on the ditherers whose tiny figures were lost among smooth green rocks. Gulls coasted over, turning their heads to watch us.
When we arrived at that barrier of taller rocks, I led the slithering group into a deep impasse till J came up & found a way over the top. Y fell & hit her head but not badly. Fat Z, in scarlet track-suit, struggled over rocks like an elephant seal but he kept up well. A & B went ahead, to re-emerge covered in mud. At last, we met a young couple from Civilization so paused on a rock ledge. The kids resumed the lunch they’d been consuming en route until scattered by a crashing but minor rock-fall. But they got the message, for in fright they left their food where it was, but once we reached the cove, the red, sweating, hungry crowd set to once more guzzling cakes & Pickled Onion flavoured crisps.
I felt very pleased that no-one had complained , indeed many said how “exciting” it had been – better than playing. One child had never before been to Fairlight – or on the beach – had never seen a waterfall. It seemed that most spent their Saturdays sitting at home. They seem to have little imagination; I had to “invent” the game of setting up rocks as targets for chucking stones, then of making models from the clay behind us. One girl made an ingenious monster, textured with grit and with a gull’s feather for a tail. After a while it got a little stale and they only got wetter & wetter, standing in a group on rocks jeering “Ner Ner Ner!” at the incoming waves.
We climbed up the cliff, getting wellingtons stuck in the clay, & arrived at the top absolutely caked, smeared, shabby and bedraggled. As an old man, formerly of Lewisham he told me, led us to the Cove Hotel, I looked back at a tattered column of child refugees. By great good chance the bus arrived just as we did. We had to run, fearful that we’d be turfed off for filthiness. But, like everything else, it was just lucky so we got back to school at 3.30 (other families, and kids in Shopping Best, staring incredulously).
C said it was the “best outing he’d ever ‘ad” while D was inspired to write a story “Trapped By The Tide”. I reflected that this walk on the beach had offered, in actuality, what 100 “Movement” programmes couldn’t evoke, try as they might, in imagination: balancing, slipping, hopping from rock to rock, , squeezing between boulders, sticking in the mud. I enjoy clambering too. But how many parents take their children to such places? Empty beaches provide the answer. And how many of those children had experienced danger before? Some had been savouring that sensation, over-dramatizing to themselves.”
Looking back on this account, I’m horrified at the lack of H&S preparedness. I’m not sure how big the group was – it was not a whole class, maybe half a dozen, but just two teachers in charge. No phones of course, and it doesn’t look as if I had a clear grasp of tide conditions. While it’s tempting to place such casual organization firmly in the “it was like that in the 70s” framework there are still regular news reports of foolhardy beach expeditions.
I still feel vindicated however by the reflections of the last paragraph. It was not the first walk I’d led with schoolchildren: in Camberwell we’d led safaris through the streets and later, in rural Suffolk, lengthy hikes in the Framlingham countryside where the greatest dangers were cold feet, heavy Boulder Clay and feudal farmers. Nor was it the last around Hastings, then later from Winchelsea – not only in the local landscape but through parts of London. In the latter period I did have tight planning in place, I have to say, including a lengthy default Risk Assessment that included Swans, Farm Dogs and Street Entertainers.
The Powdermill Valley running down through Crowhurst was yesterday sheltered for the most part and traffic noise was from the Link Road was blown away till you were right there, but every silver lining has a cloud and this one consisted of young footballers’ merry voices from the village rec. Good as it was to see (and hear) children out doing something healthy in the fresh air, the base-layer of sound made it hard to pick out bird noises till we were almost down at the Flood Attenuation Pond.
This large new permanent water body has attracted a number of wildfowl but as luck would have it the only representative of this group was a lone Coot. Diversion was provided however by a pair of Stonechats – always a winner – the first of 9 we saw during the morning. This pond seems as yet not to have acquired a popular name. The official designation is a bit of a mouthful so I suggested the acronym FAP as an interim measure, naively unaware of its slang significance.
There had been relatively few birds down this valley but once through the underpass we began to find Blackbirds, Bullfinches & Yellowhammers in the area of scrub. We also got the traffic noise and a fusillade of clay-pigeon shooting from Wilting way. The Cetti’s Warblers were quiet, with just one singing, but one or two Chiffchaffs called from ivy at the old viaduct site and, once we reached the Combe Haven stream, Celebrity Water Pipits could be heard. We came across these frequently thereafter but as usual they shunned publicity, doing their usual tricks of flying against the light and vanishing into the distance. It was hard to say how many were present but we never saw more than 2 together. However the group did have a chance to hear the distinctive call and sometimes contrast it with that of a couple of Meadow Pipits.
We had good, if distant views of a Kingfisher, more Chiffchaffs and Stonechats along the stream, while Little Egrets flew back & forth – up to 7 have been seen there recently. At least 4 Buzzards – not the big deal they used to be – were in the area, soaring nobly or stomping about looking for worms, and probably 3 Kestrels.
Just west of the foot of Royal Oak Lane – another post-road zone that needs a name – there’s a seed dump which was attracting a lot of small birds. It was rather too distant but species visiting appeared to be Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch & Yellowhammer. Worth a closer look if the approach can be worked out.
Although some expected birds were missing, we still saw & heard 52 species.
None by the coast, where we live, but white at Doleham Halt where I parked to carry out a belated WeBS count on the Maxfield Conservation Trust reserve.
Cold and relatively quiet. One displeasing thing I discovered in the completely silent stillness of Wadi Rum was that I have a low level of tinnitus.It goes zeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee……etc
I don’t notice it at home because there’s nearly always noise, from the wind and echoing hard surfaces if nothing else. Here in the Brede Valley, though no activity was visible, there was always the rumble of an aircraft, the rush of traffic from bordering roads and the various clattering & hammering from farms.
The bird sounds were, on the other hand, enriching, especially the Mistle Thrushes singing from either side of the valley, one of the simplest yet most beautiful of songs, the piping of a Nuthatch and pic! of a GS Woodpecker from the railway line – ah yes, I forgot the railway, the trundle and trumpeting of the passing Marshlink.
Then, round the corner, the hubbub of about 700 dabbling ducks, most of them Wigeon & Teal. There’s very little disturbance here, but when the wildfowl do make a move they rise with a great roar of wings & splash of water left behind, then circle for a few minutes in a chorus of quacks & whistles before settling once more. Not much variety though, just a few Snipe, one Stonechat (there have been a dozen), single Buzzard & Kestrel ( 3 Buzzards, 1 Marsh Harrier, 1 Peregrine yesterday). And no sound of Water Pipits, though they could be feeding quietly on some other part of the extensive shallow floods.