The Story So Far #2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 26, 2019 by cliffdean

Following the night of the Super Amazing Blood Wolf Monster Moon (I got up at 5 to have a look: it was brownish) there’s a white frost in Pett and Mistle Thrush songs echo through the still air from a couple of directions.

The moles have been busy and in the cold morning their hills resemble Panettone topped with sugar crystals. In such weather you might expect a congregation of insectivorous birds at the Water Treatment Works but ‘crests & Chiffchaffs be there none – just a Robin & a couple of Pied Wagtails. Across the road though are Nuthatch, Treecreeper & Golcdrest while the Stream Lane hollies produce a Firecrest.

On the flat sea, small crowds of GC Grebes are diving while stubby Fulmars float further out and Peregrines are cackling beyond the wind-blasted trees.


January: The Story So Far #1

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 26, 2019 by cliffdean

I’m no nearer getting our WiFi fixed. It’s been 3 weeks now of slow, intermittent or absent function with BT offering a series of explanations. First it was definitely the wiring in our house. Then the problem was 40m away, up a pole they couldn’t reach but when they did they though the fault must be up the road. Then under it, requiring  permit to excavate. Whether this has been dug is not certain but there’s still no improvement. I get a series of apologetic texts from poor people in call centres, often contradicting one another. They asked me how I would rate the service, from 1 to 10…

Apart from all that very very frustrating and irritating stuff, lots of wildlife interest continues but writing this blog has been a slow and haphazard process, with items disappearing without trace. How much of this post you will see is uncertain. I’m about to hit the “Publish” button…

Combe Valley, formerly known as Combe Haven, where large flocks of dabbling ducks, including the once-scarce Pintails, are now regular, along with Marsh Harriers. I was there with Pete Hunnisett, who wanted to get a look at Water Pipits, which is not easy. In the event we found one that perched in bushes beside a flooded area, and when it was not against the light or sitting behind Alder catkins we got some good views of the salient features. You can see Pete’s photos on his Facebook page “Combe Valley Wildlife”. We saw Water Pipits in four places but whether that represented four birds if a moot point, given their propensity for flying distances, unlike the 5 or so Meadow Pipits we encountered beside the Greenway, which flew just a few yards and perched most obligingly on a nearby fence.

An RXbirwalk to Darwell Woods & reservoir. Along the stream from the car park there were masses of Siskins trilling in the Alders – unfortunately not always in the trees closest to the path but flying about, with Redpoll calls also emerging from the flocks. The light was grey so colours or markings pretty hard to make out. Lots of other small birds in the tangled stream course along there, including Marsh Tits and at least a dozen Great Tits together foraging for Beech mast, flinging up leaves like people throwing clothes bout at a jumble sale.

Shortly after I commented that we were unlikely to see Crossbills on account of the lack of Scots Pines, I looked up to see a red bird at the top of a Larch, one of at least six quietly twisting at little cones.

A dog-walker back at the car park had saved me the trouble of lugging a telescope to check wildfowl when she told me that the water level had come right up among the willows whereas only last week it had been possible to walk out onto the shelf of silt, which is what I had planned on doing. So, through the trees we could see Tufted Ducks and hear Teal but the one Goldeneye made its escape before most of the group could get a look.

A Slow Start to 2019

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2019 by cliffdean

An absence of posts here usually indicates I’m away somewhere but I’m afraid this has not been the case. In fact we’ve been without adequate broadband for the last 10 days, thanks to BT’s “relaxed” approach to getting it fixed.

However, RXbirdwalks have been proceeding as planned, getting off to a good start on the 2nd with a couple of unexpected Cattle Egrets at Pett Level.

Assuming this post goes there may be more….

And finally – Notes from a gloomy day in the High Weald

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 31, 2018 by cliffdean

1)  At the head of a spring valley, a tyre dump holds back heaps of horse dung from which nutrients leach into the watercourse.

2) It looks as if ivy has been clasping the tree long enough to be encased in oak bark.

3) An isolated cottage with no discernible means of access is equipped as a holiday house, with books and games. It enjoys a rural view and would be perfectly tranquil were it not for the sounding of train klaxons at the crossing just behind. Moreover, it appears to be one of the few spots on the line where up & down services meet, signals therefore doubled.

4) The inexplicable Stonegate station, which you always overlook in calculating your progress home, where nobody ever gets on or off. But today there are people on the platform. One tows a suitcase. Perhaps they are actors.

5) Old tools, designed for jobs which no longer exist, rust quietly on a north-facing wall.

6) At one farm, sleeping vehicles support lichen-crusted windscreens upon which snails may peacefully graze. At another, state-of-the-art machinery worth millions is parked beside the fragile hollow, skeleton of an oast house. From behind a barn where cattle are munching come the voices of children, who are watching the slaughter of a pig.

7) An old orchard has been genetically modified to produce double-glazing.

8) This fine specimen must be the Magic Money Tree. Although our MP assured us it did not exist, it has sprung into life this very weekend with a gift of £14m to a company to ferry trucks from Ramsgate. (The company has no trucks, nor ferries nor experience with either and Ramsgate port has been closed for 5 years.) Pilgrims are already converging on the miraculous site.

9) “The way up and the way down are one and the same” (Heraclitus) A third way is however hinted at here, albeit in the form of a vacant socket.

10) Previously unknown to me, another monument to a young airman. He was 21. The stone was installed by Shoreham Aircraft Museum  who were so helpful to me in creating a monument to Harry Hamilton near Camber Castle.

11) a) A second-home cottage with the tell-tale signs: curtains drawn, blank lawn, trampoline b) behind the lovingly Wealdified high street (jettying, tile-hanging, weather-boarding) stand monstrous, lowering hill-top houses with glass walls like show-rooms but show no lights.

From the viewpoint

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 30, 2018 by cliffdean

When plans for the RHNR Discovery Centre were published they attracted a hurricane of criticism and abuse from some members of the local community who claimed that the building would intrude upon the “natural” & “unspoilt” landscape there.

Now this industrial building has gone up. Thanks to its height – more than twice that of the proposed Discovery Centre – and reflective materials it can be plainly seen from Cliff End to E Guldeford yet I’ve not been aware of any objections. Perhaps that’s because it’s in the middle of an industrial area, but it nonetheless has a visual impact right across the Nature Reserve.

I’ve written before -and enough – about the beautiful sequence of colour, sound and movement from the Reedbed Viewpoint as the sun sets and all kinds of birds arrive to roost on the water, in the reeds, trees and scrub and out in the bay. The other night there were no Marsh Harriers and I realized that the thousands of Common Gulls must have passed over before my arrival but as the light failed a Green Woodpecker kept me company as it flapped about the willows and 4 Great Not-very-White Egrets glided in.

Overhead, the Norwegian Airlines flight from Singapore caught the last sunshine as it banked in towards Gatwick, crossing a lattice of smudged and feathered trails from previous evening arrivals.

Winter Colour

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 29, 2018 by cliffdean


As James & I set off from Winchelsea Station we marvelled at the indifference with which the countryside is regarded by some of those passing through it. Plastic sacks of rubbish flung into the hedgerow, an oil drum toppled (and leaking what?) into the ditch and multiple McDonalds containers & wrappings jettisoned by homegoing merrymakers.

Large amounts of roadside rubbish originates from McDonalds & KFC. Certain points along local lanes measure the time it takes to scoff a burger or swallow a drink before tossing the wrappings from the car window. Everyone’s lives are degraded by the ensuing squalour.

 Across England the problem is getting worse, according to Keep Britain Tidy. It found a quarter of our streets strewn with refuse compared to 16 per cent six years ago.  Overall, McDonald’s topped the league. Up to 29 per cent of all takeaway rubbish, such as burger wrappers, ketchup sachets and plastic straws, came from its restaurants. In second place, was the local chippie, with a 21 per cent share of waste including polystyrene trays and wrappers. Greggs was third with 18 per cent, KFC fourth with eight per cent and Subway fifth with five per cent. ” (and that was 2009)

Of course we were not doing a litter survey, we were looking for birds, but with the trash so unashamed it was hard to pretend that our surroundings are as “unspoilt” as travel writers and estate agents insist.

Our destination was a pair of fields at the Rye end of Cadborough Cliff where a crop of sunflowers has been left as winter birdfood, attracting a large flock of finches. Chaffinches were the main component with at least 100 present though the constantly moving small flocks made an accurate count difficult (that 100 these days counts as a “large” flock is a sign of the times) with smaller numbers – maybe only 10 each – of Linnet, Goldfinch & Greenfinch. 

Secreted low down among the brown & soggy stems were c100 Woodpigeons whose presence only became apparent when a m Marsh Harrier came over. As they clattered up from the field, it made a few perfunctory feints at individuals with lower rates of acceleration.

At the far end there’s a paddock poached to a pulp by overcrowded horses. Though these animals have retreated to a far corner where a bit of yellow grass can still be had, the morass has drawn out of cover about 20 Moorhens which peck about, in the open, tails flicking

The other thing we wanted to check was the large flock of Mute Swans which tramps around the rape fields on Rye Marsh, in which 2 Black Swans have been feeding recently. You can pick those out from the A259 if you dare to take your eyes from the road for a split-second (I don’t recommend it – don’t blame me if you have head-on crash) but you will not be able to count the Mutes. And actually it wasn’t that easy because you can’t see them all at once. We made it about 80, but I suspect there may have been more on the  fields up by Road End, since I’ve seen over 100 swans – about a quarter of the Romney Marsh total – here in the past.

Another Centenary

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on December 26, 2018 by cliffdean

Had he lived on, today – Boxing Day – would have been my Dad’s 100th birthday.

In fact, his last birthday was his 66th but he was unconscious at the time, on the way to dying four days later.

His mother, Kate, called him Hugh in memory of her ten-years-younger brother Hugh Norrell, who’d been killed during the First World War, adding Noel as a seasonal middle name.

When I was growing up, however, almost no-one called him Hugh. They called him by his Army nick-name – Dixie – after Dixie Dean the record-breaking Everton goal-scorer. That was what he was called when my Mum met him in the closing phase of the Second World War, and came to be the way he was addressed by her, by friends and work-mates for the rest of his life.

But not his siblings, who called him John. As odd as this seemed I can’t recall questioning it, or at least getting any kind of explanation.

One person still called him Hugh: his aunt May, the late Hugh Norrell’s two-years-older sister, whom I knew only as a very formal old lady who lived in the tiny flint cottage behind “The Royal Oak” in East Lavant, at the foot of the Trundle.

His mother may have persisted with Hugh – her choice after all – but I can’t remember since she died when I was about 7.

The next people to call him Hugh were some who hardly knew him at all; the hospital nurses, and finally the clergyman who conducted his funeral.  So he set out and concluded as his mother had wished.

It was several years ago, as I was compiling a family tree, that I noticed the possible motive for the suppression of “Hugh”: my father was born on December 26th 1918 while Hugh Norrell had been killed on April 6th of that year.

Work it out….Kate must have realized she was pregnant very shortly before she learnt of her brother’s death, perhaps even a little later. My guess is that, as much as she wanted to memorialize her brother in her new son’s name, the rest of the family could not bear to use it and resorted to the emotionally neutral John.

I asked the last of Dad’s surviving siblings whether she could throw any light on the matter but she had never really thought about it.

Meanwhile Hugh lives on, as my middle name and that of my youngest son.