Mistletoe madness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on December 8, 2017 by cliffdean

Another visit to the abandoned orchard at Beckley, a fascinating area of broad old Apple trees, some leaning, some toppled, some surrounded by saplings, others remaining as stumps or suggested by spaces now colonized by rusty-leaved self-seeded little Oaks aged between two and twenty years. The fruit trees are hoary with grey lichen and laden with mistletoe.

Glades are soft with deep clumps of coarse grass, sometimes grazed shorter by rabbits but always an impediment to easy exploration or to securely balanced scanning, and scattered with old ant hills up to two foot tall.

Along steep-sided converging ghylls, Hornbeams, Hawthorns and Hollies have taken over, the former appealing to the object of our visit, Hawfinches which appear overhead preceded by their soft flight call. Against the grey sky their colours do not show but it’s another chance to take in the stumpy silhouette and broad wing-bars. We see them repeatedly, never more than three at a time but surmise there could be six – who knows? There are frequent Bullfinches, various tits & thrushes, an unexpected Yellowhammer flying over.

Signs of yuletide gathering exist in the form of a single ladder leaning against a well-stocked survivor in a horse paddock and shorn bunches discarded along the slippery footpath. Starting early, perhaps to fuel the Beckley Bacchanal.


Coccothraustes latest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 24, 2017 by cliffdean

A day of two closely-related halves. Once more in the undiscovered, unknown, unspoilt and, this morning, unusually busy lanes of the beautiful High Weald around Ashburnham Furnace where deliveries & school-runs were replaced mid-morning by mud-splattered 4x4s ferrying Pheasant-blasting folk in folkloristic tweedy regalia.

Anyway, down to hard Hawfinch. We saw 2 straightaway downhill from the church sitting, like others made visible, in the tops of bare Ash trees. Then there was another down at the bottom at the dam above the old mill house. (Across the road, from a reedy patch of the old silted-up pond bay, came the pikking of a Water Rail – a new bird for me for this site. Up towards the Wildflower Meadows, celebrated but maybe not for much longer now that 10,000 Pheasants have been let loose there, caught the raucous call and upright silhouette of a Red-legged Partridge – another new bird, invited there to share the same fate as the Pheasants. As we climbed towards Rock Farm, the valley resounded with the primitive cries of fresh-faced tweedy beaters followed by money-making gunshots.

It was in Penhurst Lane that we had some really good views of Hawfinches as they fluttered up & down hedgerows or whizzed overhead. Although most seem to be quite subdued in colour, there was the odd splendid ochre’n’gunmetal male. There were about six around one cottage then a few hundred metres down the road another c15 flew over us. I believe people are still seeing even larger flocks but I was happy enough for these were more than I’d seen for decades in the is country.

Word has got around about these birds, partly from friendly locals enquiring what we (and, I imagine, others) are looking at and partly from coverage in the media (this is a media event??? Alexa Chung must be on her way as I write.) The landlord of the Netherfield Arms knew about them.

After lunch we went down the road for a “quick” slither & splosh along the horse-pulped paths to the back of Darwell Reservoir, coming across another loudly-ticking Hawfinch not far from the car-park. The woods were pretty silent but once we arrived in sight of the (still shrinking) lake we could see there were far more ducks than on my last visit – hundreds – but many once more too distant for certain identification or confident counting. There were : Canada Geese, Cormorants, Coots, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebes, Greylag Geese, Mallard, Mute Swan, Pintail (just the one…I think), Pochard, Teal, Tufted Duck, & Wigeon. In addition, 2 Great Egrets, 3 Little Egrets, several Grey Herons, 1 Green Sandpiper, Black-headed & Herring Gulls. Quite possibly more, but without a telescope they had to remain undiscovered, unknown & unreported.

And then, from the far side of the Furnace inlet, more metallic ticking and another 4 Hawfinches. I’m getting quite tuned in now to their calls and stubby treetop silhouettes.

Deserted Orchard

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 17, 2017 by cliffdean

It’s very convenient. You can park by the Village Hall – best before Playgroup arrives – and scan the pagodas of seed hanging from the tall golden Hornbeams which line the ghyll behind it. There were two Hawfinches up there when we first arrived but they moved off quite quickly. Having seen them so easily we assumed they’d soon be back but that didn’t happen.

Just to the side, the Sussex Border Path leads you down into an extraordinary neglected old orchard whose broad trees are festooned with lichen and bunched with Mistletoe, therefore frequented by rattling Mistle Thrushes one of which was already in song – a month early – high in a Lime across the road.

The gaps are tufted with frosty rank grasses in the process of colonization by Bramble and Oak saplings. There’s a constant passing of Blackbirds, Mistle & Song Thrushes, Blue, Great & Coal Tits.

Mistletoe is a scarce plant in RXland but in this village it’s everywhere. I wonder if it was originally introduced as a crop for the Christmas market.

As the rising sun casts and amber light across the woodlands the rising noise from the road behind us combines with the rumbling of airbuses in the cold air, positioning themselves for a breakfast-time arrival at Gatwick, drowning out softer birdsounds such as the piping of Bullfinches, once so resented for their stripping of fruit buds from orchards like these that bounties were paid for their heads by Rat & Sparrow Clubs.

At Penhurst last week I talked to a lady who had come across the records of such a club based in Catsfield where, astonishingly, they once paid for the heads of Hawfinches too.

The village ghyll cuts a deep ravine which finally flows into a smaller stream lined with an outgrown Hornbeam hedge, its progeny distanced by a cordon sanitaire of shade.

We had one prolonged view of a single Hawfinch feeding busily in an Apple tree, though it was rather against the light until it flew over our heads. The only calls we heard were the soft flight-calls rather than the typical metallic clicks. There have been up to 6 birds in this orchard for a week now, with smaller numbers scattered around other orchards in the area.

Deserted village

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on November 16, 2017 by cliffdean

Once throught the check-point, the road is free from traffic but is keept clear for access to the reactor site where 1500 engineers still work on short shifts. For miles the forest skyline is regular and uninterrupted. it should be easy to spot wheeling raptors but there aren’t any.

Those typical East European gas pipes still arch across obstacles.

A forest track diverges at right angles but beneath the moss and leaf mould is tarmac where it was once a road. It is still and silent but for small sounds of typical birds – Robins, Blackbirds, tits, sometimes a distant Hooded Crow, while from the bright and unblemished blue come sparse flight- calls of Chaffinches & Bramblings departing the cooling north.

Reclaimed by gardens more than forest, the cottages and small civic buildings stand silent with doors and windows hanging open. Bits are falling off. A tree has smashed one roof. The experience is not unfamiliar, for any reader of this blog will know the RXland woods contain ivy-swamped cottages while lonely farms, bereft of chickens and children, are collapsing out on the arable levels

But not whole villages. There are 200 out in the combined Exclusion Zone across the Ukraine/Belarus border, unrespected by the southerly wind of late April 1986.

Beware! Danger of Photographers!

They cannot resist artful arrangements: a bit of curtain pinned to a doorway for A FramingTexture.

Hastily abandoned toys for Added Poignancy.

Clapped-out Tin Trucks to emphasise  The Futile Goals of Technology.

Familiarity comes too from post-apocalyptic film scenarios, most powerfully of all in the uncanny prefiguration of “Stalker”.

In parts of Britain too there are Plague Villages, depopulated, rotted, evident by now only in soil marks and nettles.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 16, 2017 by cliffdean


A Mystery Solved

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on November 11, 2017 by cliffdean

Since people had been reporting Hawfinches around Penhurst Church, my friend Keith was keen to see one so we spent Friday morning leaning like cartoon farmers on gates along Penhurst Lane to survey the vari-coloured treetops of the estate he’d managed over so many years. Golden Hornbeams and Field Maples, and silence apart from squawking Pheasants from the 10,000 now put down annually, followed at 10.30 by a barrage of gunshots from the people who pay to kill them. An elegant blue-eyed lady in a smart car pulled up to tell us she’d had a Hawfinch on her bird table. None for us though.

In beautiful autumn light we walked through to the back of the churchyard past older graves of Ashburnham overspill and more recent ones including that of Harry H Corbett as House Sparrows chattered and a resolutely invisible Treecreeper shrilled. A couple of very distant Hawfinches flew along the tree crowns below, one perching briefly in a bare Ash.

I’d not previously been behind the huge barn, so not noticed the unusual bonding – three courses of stretchers for one of headers – which I learn is called a rat-trap bond. A Grey Wagtail ran about on the roof. And dark clouds suddenly boiled up over the ridge to the north.

One other birder was prowling the T-junction but had just a poor view, and we heard the softer flight call but that was it so we set off for a blazing orange Beech plantation down the straight and mysteriously titled Kane Hythe Road. Since hythe = harbour this has never made sense to me since far too high for any boat, but, after many, many years of puzzlement Keith put me right: it was originally Kemp’s Hide, which does make sense, but has suffered some centuries of scrambling to end as gobbledygook.

I suspect that last week’s Hawfinch flocks were either new arrivals which have dispersed into less conspicuous groups or perhaps moved on completely.

Harry R Hamilton memorial

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 11, 2017 by cliffdean

Tomorrow at 11am we’ll be laying a wreath on the stone which marks the crash site of Hamilton’s aircraft during the Battle of Britain.

Find out more about him here.

The memorial is situated 300m SE of Camber Castle, 200m S of Halpin Hide, beside a clump of oaks.