Too much confusion

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10, 2019 by cliffdean

To direct potential RXbirdwalkers to the starting points of our various routes I have tried: a) Ordnance Survey Grid References – clear and accurate but few people know how to use them b) postcodes – but some of the rural venues don’t have them c) an OS map laboriously copied together with OSGR, post-code, where it exists, and a massive red arrow to indicate the exact spot – works fine on the PC, and if walkers print it out for reference, and if they remember to take it with them…but if viewed on a phone, the arrow wanders off some distance from where it’s meant to be.

So I think I shall have to return to OSGR + postcode + maybe some verbal directions. With yesterday’s walk, which I’ve described as “Ashburnham Furnace”, additional scope for complication arises from the similar title “Ashburnham Place”, at which so far two participants have arrived, mystified to find no sign of the group… So in future I shall call yesterday’s walk “Penhurst”. Then nothing could possibly go wrong….

Since this is a walk I’ve led several times, I explored options to vary it a bit. There aren’t many, since footpaths in the surrounding are are few; in fact one part of the route along a concessionary path has been closed within the last year, blocking access to the lovely and remote Bunce’s Barn.

So, there was only one thing for it: go anti-clockwise. A tricky decision.

During a quick visit to the grave of Young Steptoe, we looked over into the derelict farmyard, where a Spotted Flycatcher sat on the barn roof, and then set off northwards, uphill to a point giving broad panorama westwards. There were family parties of Nuthatches, Blue, Great & Coal Tits and it was interesting to note the presence of House Sparrows & Collared Doves which I think retreat back to more populous areas in winter. At least 6 Buzzards were sailing and displaying against the clouds, an invisible Raven croaked and a Yellowhammer was singing from a roadside Oak. 20 years ago, the Flycatcher & Yellowhammer (the only ones we saw) would have been unremarkable but the Buzzards and Raven startling. There would have been near-total silence were it not for a relentless barrage of echoing gunshots from some not-distant-enough clay pigeon shoot, which persisted for most of the morning.

Dropping back down from the lane towards Rocks Farm, we entered the zone of old or re-seeded wildflower meadows, varied, colourful and full of insects: bumble bees, butterflies (Common Blue, Meadow Brown and later a Painted Lady), a 4-Spotted Chaser, damselflies and thousands of grasshopper nymphs. Birds singing from the flanking woods were Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Wren & Goldcrest but, apart from a few Dunnock, there were no birds in the hedgerows – no Linnets, no Whitethroats, no more Yellowhammers. The hedges look fine and the meadows rich but something is not right.

Something else which is definitely not right is the spread of Ash Die-back. Until very recently it seemed to be having a minimal effect, but now bare twigs protrude everywhere across the skyline.

In the shade of a woodland path, these crazy Yellow-barred Longhorn Moths Nemophora degeerella. Look at the length of those antennae!

A stag-headed schema is also revealed by the hill-shading in Yeakell & Garner’s map of the area from the late 18th century. For a better look, check Sheet 4

A Garden Warbler was singing from the hedge by Rocks Farm (again, there was plenty of GW habitat but this was out only one) and as we approached the ford we could hear a Grey Wagtail singing. A female strutted about on a roof-ridge and a Siskin was flying about in the trees.

You can find extensive information about the Ashburnham Furnace (the last to close in Sussex) on the Wealden Iron Research Group’s website.

One of the interesting plants on the older hay-meadows is Dyer’s Greenweed. Read about its importance to butterflies here and historic accounts of the use of this plant here

Down on the dam above the forge, another Grey Wagtail was present and a Marsh Tit singing. On the way back up to Penhurst, we found young Swallows being fed on the wires and both Goldcrest & Firecrest singing in a deep and shady ghyll. At the church we met the vicar again; his score had been 25 parishioners against our 43 bird species.


On the rocks

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 7, 2019 by cliffdean

Cliff End: the path to the seawall crosses an interesting small triangle of dry shingle, used by its owners as nothing more than a bonfire site.

Today there’s a forest of Slender Thistle, in which is feeding a crowd of young Goldfinches & Greenfinches, the latter good to see prospering in view of the sharp decline in their numbers.

At the cove, a huge  truncated coppice stool, maybe undercut and tumbled from the nearby landslip wood.

Beachgoers have been erecting primitive chortens from sandstone slabs, entry level if one looks as the supreme balancing feats online, and criticised by some for evicting small beasts which might otherwise hide beneath, though any pastime which strives for equilibrium seems to have much to recommend it

I was looking not for birds but for motifs in the cliff-face. Having done one painting a year or so ago, I was keen to return and see how familiar arts  looked. Different was the answer, in view of numerous rock-falls over the intervening period. Great heaps of tumbled Wadhurst Clay promised rich finds of Bone Bed, at the same time threatening instant death from more of the same dropping on your head.

My interest however lies more in the Ashdown Formations and massive blocks of Cliff End sandstone, interleaved with colourful shale & ironstone. Photos fail to do justice to the subtle colours. They are enhanced in rain, when it’s not so appealing for drawing.

If you want to learn more about this excellent bit of coast, look at this page from “Discovering Fossils”.

Two factors conspire to limit drawing time. One is the tide, which sweeps in at walking rate, rather quietly though so that a couple of times I’ve been taken by surprise to find it bubbling along to cut me off.

The other is the sun, which transforms the stone as it crosses the sky, its raking light producing then extinguishing patterns every half hour until some time towards midday it moves behind the headland to plunge the whole screen into shadow. The passage of the sun is relatively constant whereas the tide advances every day so, together with the changeable weather, it’s a challenge to keep track of available hours. And my hands get cramp.

The cave, in place for several thousand years, has now crumbled to a critical point and must soon vanish. Spluttering Fulmars still occupy it; their shadows leap growing and shrinking across the rock-face. An early post-breeding Grey Wagtail passed overhead.

I had never previously noticed that Jackdaws nest within the cascade of invasive alien Hottentot Fig.

Buttercup time

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 30, 2019 by cliffdean

After a week’s intensive birding with Hungarian Bird Tours– 6.30 starts and rather a lot of rain but loads of exotic species and refamiliarization with poorly-known songs (Icterine, Barred & Moustached Warblers) – I’m back among the golden pastures of Pett Level…

…where the species may be less colourful – no Hoopoes, Bee-eaters or Rollers – but the variety in a small area is certainly greater. And I don’t have to get on a plane or into a car to get there.

The other day we walked along the back of the marsh, finding about 70 sp including Garganey, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Greenshank and of course Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and what looked like a rapidly passing Honey-buzzard.

Catching up with my Breeding Bird Survey Late Visit over at silent Ludley, (the NW wind blowing away traffic noise) seasonal signs were young Rooks on the pastures, young Great, Blue & Long-tailed Tits in the trees, Linnets & Whitethroats in the hedges, noisy, mobile GS Woodpeckers dashing about to feed nestlings or fledglings and a single Yellowhammer.

Deathless in Vienna

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 29, 2019 by cliffdean

Headless in Vienna

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 29, 2019 by cliffdean

Judith, David & Salome

                                …and Budapest….

From the bridge

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 7, 2019 by cliffdean

Although a cold, cold, northerly wind was blowing, in the lee of Cadborough cliff you are protected from the worst of it, even if the birds seem a bit depressed. However right at the start we came across a f Stonechat carrying food, in the same place they bred last year (though later on we were unable to find the pair I’d seen recently in the middle of Rye Marsh). There were still plenty of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Whitethroats & Linnets plus a few Lesser Whitethroats & Cetti’s Warblers. Two Nightingales struck up from the taller vegetation and a Hobby raced along the cliff-line.

In Rye we checked out two sites for the ever-decreasing Turtle Dove, which hangs on in a few sites around the town. The first was unproductive (though a bird had been heard singing there earlier in the day) but at the station we managed to pick one out as it sat in an elder beside the Ashford line.

No longer sheltered from the wind, but with it at least at our backs as we crossed Rye Marsh, we were immediately confronted by a glowing m Yellow Wagtail. Further on we saw a pair and another single bird. Since their current status in the Brede Valley seems uncertain, these would be the only breeding birds west of the Rother, marking the very western edge of the Romney Marsh population. Apart from these and a small number of Reed Buntings & Warblers, Skylarks made up most of the interest of this end of the walk. 51sp.

Mostly Virgins

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 4, 2019 by cliffdean