Beyond Peasmarsh

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on December 12, 2018 by cliffdean

Although I’ve taken a few photos here and there of red phone boxes deserted and overgrown, I had previously walked past, oblivious to that at the top of Mackerel Hill (does the name arise from an earlier time when ,at its foot there flowed a broad and fishable estuary rather than the deep conduit that presently drains green meadows?).

That could be because this one is not the iconic Sir Giles Gilbert Scott K2 model (he also designed Liverpool Anglican Cathedral (perhaps influenced by Etchingham Church) & Battersea Power Station – and Bankside Power Station, now Tate Modern) from 1926 but the aluminum & glass K7 designed by Hugh Neville Condor in 1962.

Whereas the red boxes have often been lovingly converted into homes for libraries or defibrillators, or transported as ornaments in to private gardens, the K7s have not endeared themselves in the same way. To what archaeological category do their remains attest? Not industrial, as in all those re-purposed barns, oast-houses & mills, nor defensive, such as castles, Martello towers & pill-boxes.  Maybe “Signals & Communications”: beacons, semaphore stations, sound mirrors & radar installations?

Not only had I failed to notice this individual kiosk (from Turkish köşk ‘pavilion’, from Persian kuš )  but had never really noticed or reflected upon the BT logo over which snails now graze upon lichens. Its a piper apparently, long since replaced by a “Connected World” logo. I’ve never noticed that either; poor consultants & designers, paid all that money     

 “Although a recognisable symbol, Piper was not taken to people’s hearts. He entered the world to much ridicule, both for the expensive nature of his birth (estimated £50m) and for what some saw as pretentiousness. Observers said he looked like he was knocking back a yard of ale. Others poked fun at his clam-like hands.”

Tearing ourselves away from the K7, we dropped down through Mill Wood and its sequence of composition, the tree species changing down the slope: Hazel, Ash, Hornbeam, Holly, Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Field Maple; shortly after noticing Alders up ahead, the ground beneath our feet squished as we drew level with them on the spring line.

Beyond, the shooting estate,with its blue feeder drums, camouflaged shooting-butts and golden maize-strips, there was much less o n the decoy pond than on my previous visit, when c500 Wigeon had been gathered there. This time there were 25 Mute Swans and a scatter of other waterbirds but perhaps those Wigeon had dispersed onto the flooded levels of the nearby Rother.
On the edge of a game-strip, other than dozens of Pheasants and a few scuttling Red-legged Partridges, we noticed some little birds which turned out to be Reed Buntings and brilliant Yellowhammers. Not many, and pathetic to get excited about a bird once so common; similarly when we came across some Greenfinches feeding on rose-hips in a planted hedge-row at Swallowtail Farm, both species almost eradicated through different human influences.

As always there was time for admiration of standard Wealden features, be they fantastically outgrown Hornbeam hedges or…

…vernacular architecture  dominated by white weather-boarding but in this case ornamental tile-hanging.

Our walk terminated in the extraordinary, cider-scented old orchard at Beckley, where dozens of rattling thrushes gorged themselves on fermenting windfalls.

We spent quite while listening and watching for Fieldfares & Redwings, as Blackbirds dashed about, SongThrushes chattered from cover and Mistle Thrushes plundered the sticky white berries from green clusters of Mistletoe, scarce in much of the county but ubiquitous here.


Not “The Potato Walk”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 3, 2018 by cliffdean

Back to muddy Lydd. Not too muddy, thanks to the banks of ancient shingle beneath shallow topsoils.

The one sunny day of the week, a brief chance to emerge free from rain and wind, a chance to savour winter shadows stretching across Arable land that, at a passing glance, you’d dismiss as birdless. (You’d be wrong, as I’ve repeatedly insisted in this blog. We saw 61 species though I have to admit that about 15 of these were on the gravel pits rather than farmland.)

Almost immediately, a skein of skinny-silhouetted geese approached over wind-tilted bushes and pale pylons. Waiting, waiting, to hear the diagnostic calls….yes, Whitefronts – I counted 78, a figure contested by my companions who, however, had gone by estimate. I find that my estimates (and usually theirs too) come to only about half to two-thirds of the actual figure. When a conveniently static flock comes into view I find it helpful to recalibrate by estimating then counting. Well, I don’t know just how “helpful” it is because I don’t seem to get much better at it.

Just past a sloshy, gnawed-out stretch of keep, we inspected a scatter of swans, noticing from a distance that a couple looked smaller. From a better viewpoint we could confirm that these were indeed Bewick’s – 2 adults + 2 young, framed by the background sheds of Horse Bones Farm (no, I can’t find the origin of this resonant name. Can anyone help?) Another big white bird parked out alongside a ditch was a Great Egret.

Distant clouds of Lapwings & Golden Plovers were moving across the open horizon, and from the dizzy heights of the Tor Wall we began to see the first silver flicker of Fieldfares moving through and between the isolated crimson hedgerows, hundreds and hundreds of them, diving across gaps and dotting bare willows. Not a single Redwing however.

There were a few Buzzards, a zooming knee-level Sparrowhawk and quite a few Skylarks, though the biggest group was only 20.

A variety of “garden birds” was secreted on the scrubby island of twisted trees around the ruins of Little Scotney : Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Wren, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, even a Goldcrest.

But the species for which we’d made this sortie was, as usual, Tree Sparrow. they were there; you could hear them chattering and occasionally spot one moving among the branches of these Willows & Ashes. A small flock of not more than 10 rushed across the track into a skeletal Elder, where they then hid.

It was at this point that the lure of “Potatoes” gave way to the rival lure of “Waterbirds” and we turned south rather than north, along the Moorhen-printed concrete track to Red House, past c20 Corn Buntings & 10 Egyptian Geese to Scotney Court and the World of Warning Signs around dark blue water twinkling with the white flanks of GC Grebes, Wigeon & Tufted Ducks. Thence past Quiet Life! & Pigwell to steaming mugs of Pilot cocoa.

Tim’s “World of Sheds”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 28, 2018 by cliffdean

When news broke last week that Dungeness’ Skeleton Shed – the most photographed building in the world after the Eiffel Tower –  had finally collapsed, mourning was widespread and the “Dungeness Then & Now” Facebook page overwhelmed with photographic eulogies depicting this humble structure from all angles and in all lights.

I look forward to acquiring a Skeleton Shed T-shirt to go with the fish-bone one from The Pilot.

My friend Tim Waters, whose photos have often embellished my posts had been a long-term fan and sent me the following images from the times when this shed was still fleshed out with planks.

Tim has taken many photographs mystical sunrise and moonrise over Dungeness, from slopes along the back of the marsh, down on the headland itself or even from within the shed.

Some camera enthusiasts will be surprised to learn that there are sheds in places other than Dungeness, but tucked away in the Weald where, as we know, nobody ventures apart from Tim, me, and, occasionally slow But Sure and RXbirdwalkers.

Below are some lonely woodland  shelters without a tripod in sight.

And while on the subject of concrete, we were recently discussing the distribution of yellow Xanthoria lichens (most on the top, few on the sides) on this Stanton Shelter close to Camber Castle. When faced with lichen-related questions I turn to Keith Palmer, who explained, “They like the nutrients in bird droppings (these lichens go by the highly impressive name ornicoprophilous – loving bird dung!). As the droppings get washed down the stone by rain the nutrients become more diluted so there are fewer of them. The lichens will develop of course where birds perch frequently – for example before entering a nest site.”

Inspired by the outpouring of rickety cabins, Alan Parker has contributed these from Marina Allotments

Tim again, out in yesterday’s fog:

RXbirdwalks in December

Posted in Uncategorized on November 26, 2018 by cliffdean

If you’d like to join any of these walks, stake your claim and get joining instructions by emailing me on

At this time of year horrible weather may lead to changes or cancellations but you will be notified if this occurs.

SUNDAY 2nd: Combe Valley CP

Apparently quite a few birds there now and plenty of water but you never know. Wildfowl, raptors, thrushes…Water Pipits flying into the distance…. Mud likely.

Saturday 8th: Peasmarsh – Beckley

A new route through a very interesting bit of countryside comprising all kinds of habitats & historical features in a fairly short distance. Farm & woodland birds plus ducks if they haven’t been shot at. Pheasants a certainty.

SUNDAY 16th: Winchelsea Beach – Castle Water +Avocet?

The usual loadsabirds walk with the possibility of extending to lunch at the Avocet Tea Rooms if people like – taking us into the afternoon & maybe round the Beach Reserve for even more loadsabirds.

(SUNDAY 23rd: It’s a bit close to C*******s so I expect most of you will be engaged in a retail frenzy but if not and there are a few folk free we could arrange something eg Brede Valley, Dengemarsh…)

Saturday 29th: Long walk N of Burwash.

If you’re feeling bloated and in need of fresh air & exercise this – another new route and actually off the RXmap – may be the solution. It’s about 7 miles out in the High Weald out to the Rother and past the mysterious & inexplicable Stonegate Station, past muddy farms & through old woods to forges, hollow ways & a rock-star mansion. Probably more walking than birds but no-one goes bird-watching there so we don’t know exactly what we might find.

TUESDAY January 1st 2019: Pett Level

A short walk, on the other hand, along the sea wall to see what’s about apart from loads of people. Usually quite a lot of birds for such a brief stroll & memorable previous years have included Black Brant & Lesser Yellowlegs. 


Grey days

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 25, 2018 by cliffdean

The countryside between Peasmarsh & Beckley is surprisingly diverse in terms of historic features and current land use so is likely to feature as the destination for a future RXbirdwalk, if shorter than the 7-mile circular we undertook the other – grey- day. The birds are fairly standard farm/woodland species apart from wildfowl attracted to a lake on a shooting estate

While walking through woods I’ve often got my head down to look at evidence of tree species reflected on the forest floor, the varying leaf colours often more obvious than the bark & shapes of the trees themselves.

Here, the Oak is interspersed with blackened Aspen

Silver Birch, Hazel, Sweet Chestnut

Red Oak

There are former pastures planted up about 20 years ago with mixed copses composed of both native & exotic species and when I looked more closely at the sample above I realised that I was out of my depth. I think the pale undersides are Bird Cherry while the larger leaves are Red Alder. 

While some berry-bearing species attract a few thrushes, the complete lack of understorey renders them a curiously sterile habitat.

Strewn along the indentation of a tyre-track are Aspen, Goat Willow, Silver Birch and….Wild Service Tree.

The stile below is a killer: too high, rickety and slippery.

Duckless but not luckless

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 19, 2018 by cliffdean

Fine autumn colours in Winchelsea too for last Saturday’s RXbirdwalk, though in this country many of the trees have already been stripped of their faded foliage by strong winds. On this still morning the first thing I noticed was the ringing song of a MIstle Thrush, a month earlier than usual, followed by busy rattling as a courting trio flew through the twigtops. At least one further male was singing in Tinkers’ Lane and perhaps yet another towards Wickham Manor. Other woodland species to be heard were Jay, Nuthatch & Goldcrest.

Since it’s November, we crept through the boggy triangle of Pewis Wood in search of a Woodcock. No luck there, but half an hour later one flew out, with a characteristic clap, from the edge of a birdseed field on Hog Hill, giving us all varying bits of a view. A few minutes earlier we’d seen a Stoat or Weasel running along the hedgerow by Jordan’s Farm.

Down in the Pannel Valley we had close views of a juv Marsh Harrier quartering the reedbeds and heard a few half-hearted snatches of Cetti’s Warbler song but neither saw nor heard a duck of any kind. Coots, yes, Moorhens too but not so much as a Mallard. A first.

Nothing on the Scrape but gulls. But gulls are not nothing and many people spend a LOT of time studying them. From a steady stream of gulls along the old cliff-line there dropped in to rest, bathe and preen a constantly changing groups composed of Black-headed, Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed, all of them adults apart from some juvenile Herring Gulls. Since birds were dropping in and departing every minute, it made for good practice looking for their distinguishing features.

On our return along the canal, we had good views of Buzzard & Sparrowhawk. It’s always a pleasure to see young people out in the fresh air enjoying the countryside, so I was pleased to see a young man taking a keen interest in the field by Newgate. But there was something about his measured walk and downcast eyes, together with his outfit & roll-up tucked behind the ear that reminded me of Labours of the Seasons: Gatherynge Uppe of ye Magicke Mushroomes.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags on November 17, 2018 by cliffdean

Ever since I bumped into one unexpectedly inside La Rocca at Asolo back in April 1977 (when, by unlikely coincidence, there was one at Rock-a-Nore) I’ve failed to catch up with Wallcreeper apart from a split-split-second glimpse from the cable-car at Zakopane, so I’ve just been with some RXbirdwalkers on a short trip to Aragon & Catalonia with Steve West of Birding in Spain.

The advantage of local knowledge became quickly apparent when we pulled off the main road by some very dull-looking arable land next to a stream flanked by an alfalfa processing plant. If you didn’t know,you’d keep on driving, but after a short scan it became apparent there were Little Bustards creeping about the fields. The more you looked, the more there were. A bit later on we stopped at plots earmarked for light industrial development where, among the warehouses, c70 Stone Curlews stood morosely among the puddles. Then, among bright yellow poplars, blue sky drifting with gossamer and White Storks on nest platforms, we looked over a lake with wildfowl, Kingfishers, Marsh Harriers (like home), Red Kites (not like home) & Swamphens (not at all like home, though in fact one was found dead at Pett Pools in the mid 70s).

The Wallcreeper site was a surprise too. My knowledge of the area is so scanty that I hadn’t realised we were close to Riglos, where I’d last been in august 1978, camping in boiling heat, having driven down in a tiny Fiat 126. It was a pleasure to stand staring up the puddingstone crags to where ragged clouds streamed and Griffon Vultures soared through blue sky, looking like a setting from Game of Thrones. And, in due course, we saw Wallcreepers, famously charismatic on account of their inaccessible habitat and glamorously distracting flight colours.

Lots more birds, I won’t do a Trip Report, but the warmth, pure mountain light and autumn colours were beautiful.

We’d been watching Griffons, Lammergeier & Golden Eagle circling that mountain behind when a Wallcreeper flew across the rock face in front of us. Then a Black Woodpecker wailed from the golden hillside scrub but never showed itself.

Our last morning, Thursday, began in the muddy Ebro Delta, dark and showery with the promise of heavy rain later. Dark & ghastly too as messages came in announcing one ministerial departure after another from the swamp that is Brexit, followed by flurries of satirical comment. Overhead, against dark clouds, huge swarms of Common & Spotless Starlings & great lines of Glossy Ibises flew from roost as Moustached Warblers chattered invisibly in the reeds.

I was looking out across a muddy rice field poked at by egrets & ibises when I got another message, but this time it was not disastrous. Far from it. SWT had approved the contractor for the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre. It’s going ahead! At last!