On top of the Weald

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 14, 2018 by cliffdean

Starting out from the peak of a great sandstone dome, we look out across a forest panorama to the line of the downs beyond. Skylarks & Yellowhammers are singing while overhead a string of Herring Gulls makes its way north – maybe just as far as Bewl Water but perhaps to the Medway or Thames.

Plant photos by Martyn Comley, bird & insects by Stuart Barnes

Scanning the wooded ridges for landmarks, we pick out communications masts, towers, spires true and false, an obelisk, an observatory…the temple is hidden down in the park landscaped for “Mad” Jack Fuller who himself resides within a pyramid in the churchyard.

However, we’re soon dropping down a scrubby lane where Whitethroats sing from the bracken, up to the wood edge where there’s more song from Willow Warbler & Chiffchaff into pine plantations, comparatively silent until a crossroads admits sunlight and a sudden chorus of Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Siskin & GS Woodpecker

Over deeply incised streams and up, footfalls muffled by needles, into dark, dark, pine-scented stands of tall conifers from which trickle down the thin song of Firecrests. Struggling up towards any light are former inhabitants of the wood: Sweet Chesnuts. Neither they nor the cedars are native.

In a dramatic transition from dark, parallel trunks to greenery and sculpturesque limbs we enter a grove of massive sprwling beeches at the lip of a deep ghyll.

Perched in the sunlight is a scarce bird that such a short time ago was commonplace – a Spotted Flycatcher, and further on past sunny banks where Garden Warblers burble there’s another, very much at home around the sheds and phone lines of Glazier’s Forge.

Around the forge, the shrill song of a Grey Wagtail can be heard but it’s not till our return that it shows itself, brilliant yellow beneath and with metallic green Beautiful Demoiselles fluttering behind it.

Feeling the need to refer to the Historical Atlas of Sussex

A diversion into a field of cattle-poached clay baked hard and ankle-turning by the warm sunshine, our destination a small pond, its margins cloudy from the passage of a few dogs (them & their 4 owners, a horse and its rider were the only people we met in 4 hours). The surface is alive with with brightly coloured, busily copulating dragonflies.

Azure damselflies.

Large Red Damselfly

Ovipositing Emperor Dragonfly and (no pictures) Broad-bodied Chasers

It’s very quiet. Woods all around. No-one about. There’s a Buzzard overhead and then, like Zebedee in the Magic Roundabout reminding us it’s time to go, the midday sky-whale of the incoming Dubai flight.

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By popular request…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2018 by cliffdean

It is quite some time since I posted any Clapped-out Vehicles.

South-east still “Crowded”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 6, 2018 by cliffdean

Almost as soon as we left the car park, we could hear Ravens, and quickly spotted a group of 5 – presumably a pair + 3 young, picking at a rabbit carcass out on the otherwise featureless grassland of Mountfield Court. The other broods I’ve seen this spring have been of 2 youngsters, but I found that I didn’t actually know if that was the limit. It isn’t: BTO Birdfacts tells me that 4-6 eggs are laid, leaving me to wonder whether perhaps these local broods are limited because they are still at the outward edge of expansion…ie cautious? Does that make sense?

Their repartee could be heard over a wide area as we walked up the lane, past the beautiful gardens which are sometimes open to the public (the day after, it turns out). A lot of birds singing, including Goldcrest (visible) and Treecreeper (not) from the Red Oaks and – I didn’t recognise them in winter – Tulip Trees, now in flower wherever the sunlight struck them.

We aimed for the avenue between the Court and John’s Cross primarily to appreciate the extraordinary old Sweet Chestnuts (see my earlier post) dating from the 18th century. Venerable, battered, rotted, split and full of holes occupied at this time by dozens of noisy, nesting Jackdaws which dive back and forth through the foliage to their raucous begging young. The avenue resembled a street of tenements, like the splendid yet crumbling palazzi in Palermo, now multiply occupied with rowdy families, washing hanging over faded facades.

As usual, there was no-one around, apart from sheep-daubers (the same, I’m sure, we encountered at Brightling, who selflessly give the surrounding countryside the benefit of their truck radio.

I had twice postponed this walk since it had been so very, very wet but I can report with pleasure that the route is now fry and comfortably walkable. We saw 35 species, which is what you’d expect for a Wealden location lacking large bodies of water, including a family party of Marsh Tits.

Some of the tombstones in Mountfield churchyard looked as if paint had been poured over them. Keith Palmer tells me: “There are two realistic possibilities of white lichens that forms extensive patches on tombstones. One is Aspicilia calcarea and the other Haematomma ochroleucum (The blood-red referred to in the name only applies to the blood-red fruiting bodies which are rare at least in the south of England).

Garden Birds

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 4, 2018 by cliffdean

Our cats have not been Meeting Their Targets. Every time I look out of the window it is to see a sweet little hoppity baby bunny nibbling the lawn. The lawn is OK but they have done for our Dill. Morning spectacles of dismemberment and soggy bits between the toes have not been an adequate response. In addition, two brisk rats had taken to visiting the base of the bird-feeder to, joining the crew of Jackdaws, Woodpigeons, Collared Doves, Robins & Blackbirds already gleaning fallen grain. Then there’s the Grey Squirrel which wastes no time in unhooking the hanging feeder before dismantling it on the ground and consuming the contents.

The other morning I was woken by the bugling song of a Mistle Thrush from the top of a neighbour’s Thuja, When I went out to have a look, a pair of them flew off. Although in the past they have adopted one of our trees as a song-post that has not been the case for some years, since when they seem to have moved down the road a bit, coming to my attention only through distant song, brief rattles as they fly across the field and more prolonged, agonised ones as their nest is raided by Magpies.

From the same Thuja came the wheedling song of a Goldcrest as I sat nearby; I think they nest there, and also in a Yew in the front garden but whether it’s two separate pairs or on at alternating sites (and a third down the road) I have never, in all these years, established.

A pair of Shelduck flew across the back field the other day. There seem to be several pairs nesting in cliffline rabbit holes along the back of the level this years and I have seen one pair on a field just below us but cannot recall ever having seen them fly past the house.

That field – a maternity ward in April – is presently deep in hay rich with buttercups wherein forage families of Linnets. Every so often a shriek goes up from circulating Swallows, in pursuit of a hedge-hopping Sparrowhawk which dances about over the deep grass, hoping to grab a naive young Linnet but usually departs, distracted, frustrated and empty-taloned.

These hues & cries are sufficiently regular to interrupt any activity requiring concentration, as are the sounds from the flight-path beyond the Buzzards. Aware the other afternoon of an unusual amount of activity, I discovered from flightradar24 that some hold-up at LHR had set the incoming BA Johannesburg service in a holding pattern above us, along with smaller aircraft of less distant provenance.

Following a brief reconnaissance in late April, the House Martins have returned but, for the first time in years, have eschewed next door’s nest-boxes (in may years they have never shown the slightest interest in ours). They seem to be located up the road. Could the reason be that, since last year’s return, our neighbour has died? The martins were feeding last summer’s twittering brood during her funeral.

Beaney’s Lane

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 2, 2018 by cliffdean

 

One of several ancient highways dropping north from The Ridge between garlic-scented ghylls, this beautiful lane has only recently been saved from decades of neglect and abuse.

As you leave the Via Dolorosa, congested with hospital arrivals and school-run congestion, you first pass an abandoned waste disposal site: half-hidden behind a chainlink fence backed by dark Leylandii stands an asbestos shed with grass-filled gutters. In the yard, Garden Warblers sing from the scrubbed-over concrete.

Across the rack, a forgotten overflow of Japanese knotweed, moss-covered timber and tyres, but by now the traffic noise is replaced by Thrush & Blackcap song

A blockade of massive concrete Duplo pieces now impedes the progress of recreational car-torchers, though glass shards in a scorched corner mark a recent visit.

Beyond this point you pass between broad earth shoulders topped with Oak, Hornbeam, Hazel & Field Maple running in a green tunnel ,broadening in wet-weather braids and toward forsaken gateways, taking you into  a countryside of small fields, poor pasture golden with buttercups, grazed quietly by sheep.

The broad and once-busy thoroughfare passes Maplehurst Wood. A SSSI but hidden and now little visited, it bears the marks of edgeland practices such as fly-tipping: plastic debris which will never go away…

…deep mossy cicatrices left by long-gone off-roaders.

Now, in an initiative to re-create a coppice mosaic the dark world beneath light-seeking trees is opened into a broad glade where, on this misty morning in the humid High Weald microclimate, reanimated Sweet Chestnuts and foxgloves await the touch of the sun.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers, tending to their nestlings criss-cross the clearing; Nuthatches & Treecreepers call from the gloomy edges and the thin song of Goldcrests reels from Ivy.

Down past old pits & ponds, along a section constricted by a secondary embankment, you pass through the lower barricade onto the junction with Stonestile Lane, another old road now blessed with tarmac and consequently lined with crushed coffee cups and, thanks to speeding rat-runners, far too dangerous to walk along.

Though sheep still graze the meadows, market gardens beyond are abandoned, farmhouses smartly repurposed, their outbuildings rotting and unused.

That smell….

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

That springtime scent seeps in from the sea; it goes with sunshine and buttercups. Some people hate it and complain to the council, wanting Something To Be Done but I inhale deeply.

It comes from an algal bloom in the shallow waters of the bay. Sometimes the shallows are stained orange. Fishing lines are slimed and shrimp-nets fouled with it. The moorlog acquires a grey, slithery surface. The rich, fertile ferment oozes its oily perfume over the meadows and up the hill.

It’s called gullywater or Mayrot or Maybloom.

But today, after forty years of wondering, thanks to my EA informant, I discovered the organism’s scientific name:

Phaeocystis

Learn that name. You can win admiration this weekend by deploying it at BBQs or among fellow beach-goers. You can complain knowledgeably in the pub: “Yeah, it’s the ******** Phaeocystis innit?” In no time at all you’ll hear it on the Today programme.

Here’s what else I learnt:

Locally it’s believed to be cause by a combination of a few things

1.     Water reaching a critical temperature

2.     The nutrient loading caused by the Bognor weed banks breaking away and rotting down – subsequently pulled along the coast

3.     Nutrient enrichment caused by outfalls & run off.

OSPAR  did a study on it in Belgium, Holland and Germany. – below is the link to the full article.

https://oap.ospar.org/en/ospar-assessments/intermediate-assessment-2017/pressures-human-activities/eutrophication/trends-phaeocystis-blooms/

Delta + Plain + Mountain

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

At the beginning of May we spent 6 exciting days in Catalonia with Steve West of Birding in Spain. 2 days each in the Ebro Delta, Sierra de Guara & Pyrenees.

189 species, so many of these I’d only seen once or twice or not very well many I’d not seen for years, others I’d only seen in isolation so no opportunity to compare & distinguish songs. To get this in perspective, bird race teams can find such a number in one day – in fact the Catalan record is 230………

First morning: a 4-hour boat trip out from Tarragona in the company of Catalan & US birders: followed by Yellow-legged & Audouin’s Gulls with a few LB, MU & even HG thrown in. Soon attracting Balearic Shearwaters, a Northern Gannet & eventually Storm Petrels.

Out in the Delta, a hard-to-keep-up list of Greater Flamingos, migrant waders & terns (Whiskered, Caspian, Gull-billed), reed-birds (Reed, Great Reed, Savi’s W, Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron Purple Swamphen).  Passerines like Spanish Wagtail, Penduline Tit, Pied Flycatcher….Collared Pratincole….Osprey…Long-eared Owl…. You get the idea.

Of the three places we stayed – all good – this was my favourite: Hosteria de Guara. Won over by an amuse-bouche of fresh cockles in a gin&tonic jelly (unable to conceive of how anyone would come up with that).

Red-rumped Swallows, Melodious, Sardininan & Subalpine Warblers, Eagle Owl, Black Wheatear, Hoopoe, Bee eater, Woodchat Shrike, 

Lammergeier, Tawny Pipit, Orphean Warbler, Dartford Warbler

Half a mile of incredible inland cliffs with Lesser Kestrels, Alpine Choughs, Red-billed Choughs, Rock Sparrows, Bee-eaters, while along the river behind us were singing Nightingale, Golden Oriole, Wryneck, Melodious Warbler and on the roadside, Black-eared Wheatears.

Lark world: Thekla, Greater & Lesser Short-toed, Calandra all singing at once. Nearby: Stone-curlew, Little Bustard, Montagu’s Harrier, Roller

Chasing Spectacled & Dartford Warblers. Overhead: Golden & Short-toed Eagles, Red & Black Kites, Griffon Vultures.

Booted Eagle overhead, Tawny Pipits to the side, Orphean Warbler singing among the olives below

Lunch with Griffon Vultures gliding past at eye-level.

Picnic with Citril Finch, Black Woodpecker, Rock Bunting, Lammergeier, Goshawk, Booted Eagle, Crossbill, Red Squirrel, as well as exciting mountain specialities such as Dunnock! Robin! Chiffchaff! Goldcrest! Jay!

Rock Thrush, Red-backed Shrike, Northern Wheatear, both Choughs, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Dipper, Marmot, Chamois.

En route for Barcelona, crags by a dam, with Bonelli’s Eagle, Griffon & Egyptian Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush., then former dry country, now irrigated: Crested Larks. No more bustards or sandgrouse.