Wonders of the Beach Field

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 27, 2020 by cliffdean

Shingle still bare about three hundred years after it was cast up in a storm.

Cultivated blackberries, cast out from bungalow gardens or scattered by birds, in amongst the wild ones.

The Damson Tunnel

Hemlock stalks


Armoured Teasel leaves,

Scarlet hips; meals awaiting thrushes still on their way south.

I’m remembering the spring soundscape here.

Crimson haws

The Blackthorn thicket is opening up. For decades impenetrable, it now sprawls and collapses, at last inviting light and ingress.

Bomb crater

Two piles of Blue Boulders, a languishing ceramic ingredient.

No longer at the Beach Field: diverse materials eroding at different rates on the warm south side of the castle where migrating Pied & Yellow Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Linnets & a single Wheatear search the sunlit turf, sheltered for a while from the cold north wind.

High Weald AONB: Kent again

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 27, 2020 by cliffdean

Kent Ditch: only a ditch but dividing remarkably different administrative systems & priorities. Two of many signs in the area reminding us that the fields, woods & streams are PRIVATE and not for the likes of us.

Kent Ditch lower down, shortly to flow into the Rother. Isolated from its flood plain, imprisoned between steep banks, a conduit more than a river.



Hornbeam elbows

Looking to the past: rusting Vicon Lely hay turner like a pagan sun-disc.

 Industry > Luxury: oasts from hop-growing days now expensively convertedand surrounded by stables, sand-schools, tennis court & other trappings of wealth.

Hop garden revival (how will imports fare post B****t?)

Alcoholic landscape: hedgerow escapee hops from the past & beyond a new vineyard; changing climate, changing markets.

High Weald AONB walk #3: Burwash circular

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 23, 2020 by cliffdean

Vismig season

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 21, 2020 by cliffdean

Saturday 19th: RX birdwalk at Pett Level. At last, a busy stream of diurnal migrants passing north east into a brisk warm wind. it is, after all, mid-September, but overhead movement has been very thin so far. Siskins were the main component, with flocks every minute buzzing over or past, usually 20-30 but often c50. What’s more, as we moved around, we could see a number of strands with some flocks flying well out from the beach while others followed the canal or were visible, sunlit, against the vegetation of the old cliff-line. With this broad front of about half a kilometer there was no way you could get an accurate count from one point but there must have been thousands going through, heading no doubt for the Straits.

Second most numerous were 3 hirundine species, again passing continuously with Swallows most numerous, then Meadow Pipits – perhaps a couple of hundred – and then a handful of Chaffinches, Pied & Yellow Wagtails. Late in the morning a couple of Rock Pipits dropped in over the beach.

Grounded migrants were, however, hard to find in the bushes of the Pett Level Preservation Trust around Toot Rock, with only Chiffchaffs obvious but a sleek Hobby dashed across the top as we stood enjoying the view of the bay & marsh.

Around Pett Pools it was too windy to hear Bearded Tits but among the roosting gulls we could pick out some soo-to-depart Sandwich Terns and just-arrived Common Gulls, while other winter arrivals were 2 Brent Geese flying along the beach.

On the roadside pool there are now 32 Little Grebes which spend most of their time feeding in a tight pack, a behaviour I’ve only noticed in recent years.

High Weald AONB Walking Festival

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 17, 2020 by cliffdean

Every autumn for several years  the High Weald AONB has organised a Walking Festival in which groups can explore many beautiful locations in this “best preserved mediaeval landscape in Europe”.

This year, on account of Covid restrictions, the format has been changed. The AONB has produced maps and instructions for 50 self-guided walks, which are available online to download & print. They’re available for this month only but once downloaded can be referred to at any point.

I tend to think of the High Weald as being to the west of us, where I’m familiar with many of the areas closer to Hastings. Further into Sussex there are many places I’ve never visited, but always at the end of a longish drive.

But the AONB also covers part of Kent to our north, much closer but including interesting villages I’ve hardly ever visited. Maybe we’ve passed through to inject a bit of variety into the return from London but that’s it.

This presented an opportunity to go somewhere new, within half an hour’s drive. What’s more, in self-guided mode we had flexibility over date and time, enabling us to steer round dates with poor weather (so far there hasn’t been any) or other obligations. The chance to join a group in which we might talk with like-minded participants was compensated for by the quiet and our ability to set our own pace.

So far we’ve done two circular walks (there are linear routes with public transport connections): Benenden – Rolvenden and Rolvenden – Tenterden. In both cases the instructions worked well though I still prefer to follow the OS map on my phone. We’ve done walks of a similar format in France, Spain & Italy which employ symbols to clarify instructions, though these have occasionally relied on landmarks which have disappeared.

As always away from the coast, we met hardly anyone as we crossed deep, shady ghylls, pasture grazed by sheep & cattle, orchards of ripening fruit, beautiful old farmhouses fronting chaotic farmyards.

We could appreciate the characteristic Wealden building materials of ragstone, soft red brick, tile-hanging and white weather boards, noticing along the way pits from which the former two had been extracted.

At this time of year, the birds are neither varied nor conspicuous, bar wailing young Buzzards, piping Chiffchaffs and ubiquitous Woodpigeons.

The walks were also enhanced by pub lunches at venues inevitably called “The Bull” both recommended) shared with a friend and relatives rarely seen thanks to our limited cross-county orbit.

Nice weather, good birds, no photos

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 6, 2020 by cliffdean

As we turned off Dengemarsh Road to Springfield Bridge I saw a small white bird fly over the Dengemarsh Pit quite close to us and as it flipped to turn could see its dark underwing – an adult Little Gull! Not a rarity but I wasn’t expecting one. We had really good views of it hawking for insects and then sitting on a post, for a while conveniently close to a BH Gull for comparison.

Then a Kingfisher flew past and then one of the group pointed out an owl over the birdfood field – a Short-eared Owl! We had really good prolonged views of this too. Again, not a rarity but again not something I expected or see very often (since they don’t seem to like Pett Level).

And then – I caught sight too late of an egret flying off over the fields. It looked a bit small…but was soon followed by 5 Cattle Egrets. A short while later we found them again – with the cattle and with both Little & Great Egrets close by. The gull, the owl and the egrets were all close and perfect for photos except that no-one had a camera. Fine by me; we could look at them instead.

Scanning the fences for Yellow Wagtails & Whinchats we found the former easily enough but the little ochre dots were just too far away, though there was a pair of Stonechats. We’d seen a bigger ochre dot earlier on the roof of Brickwall Farm – a Wheatear.

With hundreds of Swallows, House & Sand Martins (and a single Swift) overhead, we fully expected a Hobby or two. They eluded us but Kestrel, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier & Buzzard were all seen repeatedly.

65 species


Biodiversity in a Brownian Landscape

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 3, 2020 by cliffdean

A brilliant and still start to the morning at Ashburnham Place, with Chiffchaffs darting through the trees and a Hobby chasing dozens of panicky Swallows over the walled garden.

Christian C & I spent most of the time on the sunny side of Broad Water where a mixture of resident woodland birds (Blue, Great, Coal & Long-tailed tits, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Green & GS Woodpeckers, Goldcrests & at least 3 Firecrests, including one singing)  and migrant warblers (Chiffchaffs, Willow & Reed Warblers, Blackcaps & Whitethroats) kept us busy. Two Spotted Flycatchers hawked from the top of a profusely fruiting Crab Apple.

Read about the richness of these historic planned landscapes here.

The comparative lack of waterbirds continues to be a bit of a mystery. There were a dozen Mallards & maybe 10 Moorhens and a Heron but that’s it. The lake is hardly disturbed though this time a couple of loud anglers and their beeping bite alarms broke the silence while the usual flock of feral geese has probably been displaced by holiday-time camping on the extensive South Lawn. Although there’s almost continuous fringe of reed, the banks are uniformly steep; there are no shallows where waterbirds might loaf and only the top end of the Broad Water is sheltered and hidden away.

There may be no geese, but the South Lawn was busy with Pied Wagtails, 23 of them running about among the blue cables and bright green patches where tents had so recently been installed. We’d seen a Grey Wagtail elsewhere and later in the day some Yellow Wagtails dropped in.

Back in the gardens round the house, I missed a Redstart but counted 17 Mistle Thrushes. I’ve seen none of the latter on the coast for months but there have been many more here. A subtle Sparrowhawk slipped through the shrubbery though, with its eponymous prey nowhere to be seen, it would have had to be content with a Robin, Greenfinch or Goldfinch.

44 species

Celebrity caterpillar

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 2, 2020 by cliffdean

A day of spectacular clouds in the open skies of Rye Harbour. I needed to call in on Barry for a general update but was pleased to combine that errand with a look at this remarkable caterpillar.

A couple of weeks ago, a Swallowtail butterfly was noticed on buddleia in the watch cottage garden then relocated on fennel nearby, where it laid several eggs. A meticulous search revealed their whereabouts since when they have hatched into large and colourful larvae, encouraged to indulge their appetite for yet more fennel.

Some of the caterpillars have already pupated, commencing their mysterious and magical metamorphosis under the appreciative gaze of a procession of naturalists keen to witness this unusual event.

Read the detailed SWT Swallowtail Diary here.

The remaining larva, having munched its fill, went on walkabout across the garden table before being returned to the safety of the fennel pot.

Too windy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 1, 2020 by cliffdean

The photos in this post were taken the previous week. On Sunday’s walk From Winchelsea Beach it was very dull to start with and with a very strong northerly wind. It wasn’t too cold but it was not good for looking at passerine migrants which, in such conditions, keep their heads down. In the bushes alongside the seawall we could hear Robins ticking but that’s about it.

A bit of luck however at the Horseshoe Pond when a Green Sandpiper flew up whistling before zig-zagging away over the shacks & Grandiose Designs. Although on the Beach Field we could see lots of quick movements they were of little warblers dashing from one bush into the darkest depths of another, hardly pausing at the berry level and identifiable only from contact notes as Willow Warblers, Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats & Blackcaps.

The lee of the westward side of The Ocean must have been packed with sheltering insects because hundreds of hirundines were swirling round there – mostly House Martins at that point though later over the fields we were seeing more Sand Martins.

The heavy rain since these pictures were taken had changed the colours: the shingle ridges had turned from grey to dark brown with animal tracks cut into the softened surface which no longer crunched beneath our feet.

As usual there were hundreds of birds on Castle Water, mostly Greylags, Lapwings & Cormorants but with various ducks, a few waders and dozens of Pied Wagtails scattered across the many islands. Wigeon have arrived in numbers in the last week and, with a bit of careful scanning, we picked out 11 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Ruff, 2 Dunlin & 1 Little Ringed Plover.

With the relative absence of birds we spent quite a bit of time looking at plants and historical landscape features like the endlessly varied eroded blocks of sandstone in the castle walls. Just nearby, a Redstart appeared at the base of a gorse bush, then briefly another. The sun was out by this time and 2 Buzzards came sailing over but my hopes of finding Whinchats along the fence-line was unfulfilled – frustrating since many had been reported from elsewhere.

Back in The Wood, stock Doves and a Treecreeper were calling but the greater pleasure was in the variety of butterflies on bramble in a sheltered patch of sunshine; there were Large & Small White, Meadow Brown, Small Copper, Holly Blue, Comma & Red Admiral, with a Peacock nearby and, on the more open grassland, our first Clouded Yellow of the autumn.

Back towards the shore, we failed to find any chats at the optimistically titled Chat Corner though there was one Wheatear perched on a crumbling concrete wall, a few recently-arrived Meadow Pipits and finally a Sandwich Tern passing along the shore where, by now, many people were now disporting themselves.

The weather had been so discouraging that I’d not expected to see more than 50 species but in the end we filled in the gaps to find 65.

Migrant hunters.

Seething Scrub & Sparrowful Stubble

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 25, 2020 by cliffdean

Monday Aug 24th: even the walk down from Winchelsea Station to Dumb Woman’s Lane was more eventful than usual, with a few warblers, a long tangled flock of Long-tailed Tits + hangers-on, a male Marsh Harrier and a flock of c50 House Sparrows in the hedge. The latter was especially interesting since I’ve never seen any number like that here. There are none in winter, then a few pairs move down to the bungalows in the lane for breeding. It could be that I’ve not been here when there have been extensive stubble fields, as there are now, in which sparrows may glean. There was a similar-sized flock in the ditch S of Dairy Cottage then at least 100 east of Ferry House. with a few subsidiary clusters along the way, there must have been a good 200 altogether which would have been a common enough sight years ago but is much less so now.

The west end of Cadborough Cliff was full of action, with warblers darting about everywhere through the gorse, willow & elder scrub. They were principally Whitethroats, but with a lot of Lesser Whitethroats &, Chiffchaffs and fewer Willow Warblers & Blackcaps, difficult to count. I had brief views of a beautiful orange-bellied male Common Redstart while an uncertain number of young Stonechats (local produce) were flicking their wings from the bush-tops.

It was like more Proper Birdwatching, though when there are so many migrants you hope for a few extras: flycatchers…or..a Garden Warbler? (I hardly ever see those on migration.) Further along the cliff there was plenty of buzzing, ticking and peeping to indicate the presence of more warblers, but steeper slopes and thicker scrub kept them better hidden.

Kestrels were moving between the cliff and fields, often harassed by Jackdaws, a Sparrowhawk sailed through (maybe heading for the sparrows?) and the wailing of young Buzzards provided seasonal background music. Goldfinches, Linnets, several Bullfinches and a few welcome Greenfinches were along the way but no Yellowhammers at all and only one Cetti’s Warbler. It looks as if Swallows are doing well on the houses towards Rye.


The stubble fields of Rye Marsh seemed pretty quiet at first and in fact I heard only a few Reed Warblers and no Reed Buntings. Skylarks were few, though a flock flushed by a jogger off the footpath suggested they were just out of the way and keeping a low profile, probably a good idea in view of the Peregrine which tussled with a Kestrel before making triumphant circuits clasping a dead bird – maybe a Starling.

Apart from a great big flock of Rooks & Jackdaws, it was raptors which animated this part of the walk, with up to 6 Buzzards and maybe the same number of Kestrels drifting back and forth. In vain I kept an eye on the former in the hope that some other raptor might join them.

On the dry fields there were just a couple each of Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear & Whinchat – the latter in a strip of unharvested linseed closer to Winchelsea.