Always a winner

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 23, 2017 by cliffdean

Not a long walk at all – just over 4 miles there & back, but the route from Dogs Hill to Halpin Hide passes through such a range of habitats that it never fails to deliver a number of species it would be hard to find in many other places in the county. Birds of Shame still remind you, however, that it’s not a zoo and a tantalising sense  of chance remains. Yesterday we missed common but typical BoSs such as Bullfinch (but they’re always in the same place!), Kestrel & Marsh Harrier (no so common elsewhere but here should be reliable). All the  same we found 76 species on a cold,dark, drizzly morning.

Migrants were at last a notable feature of the walk,with a good deal of time spent listening to and trying to get a look at Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common & Lesser Whitethroat, Reed & Sedge Warbler. There was a Willow Warbler too, but a bit distant and feeble. We found flocks of Whimbrel feeding quietly on dry pastures as bubbling calls from above announced the arrival of further groups. Less expected was a single Curlew flying along the beach – most have by now departed.

Yelping calls of Med Gulls are such a part of the spring scene at Rye Harbour that it was hard to distinguish them as migrants apart from flocks of pure-winged adult corallini passing off-shore (with dark lines of Common Scoters flying beyond them) and although we had no luck in seeking out Lesser Black-backs on the roof of the caravan site club-house, a handsome pair settled for a while at Castle Water. I wasn’t sure what to make of a pristine pair of Common Gulls floating on The Ocean since the main northbound population went on north some weeks ago; were these late or thinking of sticking around to breed?

In the hide, another group pointed out to us a large brown raptor sitting with its back to us in the willows opposite which they thought was an imm Peregrine. Though at first unconvinced,  I had to agree with them once it turned to show its facial pattern. A Buzzard sat nearby, half-hidden in the leaves.

On the way back across the ridged grasslands we were treated to great views of a pair of Brown Hares and as we followed the fenceline looking for Corn Buntings, 3 Wheatears – all with differing plumage – jumped up out of rabbit holes.

The pools of West Nook Marsh were disappointing since the muddy margins are all overgrown by Crassula, offering little to the waders that should be dropping in there. Not even a Redshank.

Choosing to walk back along the shingle edge rather than the road, we came across a Ringed Plover and some confiding Turnstones but then the passing Swallows were joined by a few House Martins and as we watched them, a Swift passed across our field of view, way,way up.

Needless to say, the sun came out shortly afterwards.

 

RSPB Fore Wood

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

This reserve at Crowhurst is a typical bit of Wealden Woodland,with all the usual features like steep-edged ghylls,old boundary banks, bell-pits and, at this time of year, beautiful ground flora of Wood Anemones & Bluebells, the latter perfuming the air.

There’s a lot of birdsong too, which is what we concentrated on during Saturday’s RXbirdwalk. The relative lack of habitat variation results in a limited number of species so the songs can be heard and compared repeatedly, but those species are present at what must be maximum density. This songscape is punctually embellished by the bass note of a train passing invisibly through the cutting on the wood’s north side.

Blue, Great & Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Nuthatch, Chaffinch & Woodpigeon could be heard – if not always seen – everywhere, with smaller numbers of Pheasant, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, GS & Green Woodpecker & Treecreeper.

Buzzards plainly had a nest in the vicinity, to judge by their constant presence low overhead,and above them, drifting Herring Gulls were howling. Oddly, we had just one fleeting encounter with Marsh Tits and heard Jays squawking just once too.

There was no sign at all of the LS Woodpeckers or Hawfinches mentioned on the info boards; I can recall seeing both here many years ago but don’t know if they are ever still recorded. But then, one never hears anything from this site. Plenty of local people walk here, exercise their dogs, a few children play but if any bird-watchers visit you hear nothing of it. Perhaps a dense population of common species is not seen as noteworthy.

Though there is evidence of rides being cut, coppice thinned and clearings opened up it’s all on a very small scale. We heard no Nightingales, probably since areas of dense scrub are limited, yet many Sweet Chestnuts look sick and could be cut back without much loss of amenity value.

A bit of variety was added during the short walk from the church (paying due respect to the very ancient hollow Yew in its raised churchyard),with a Whitethroat in the hedge right there, a Skylark singing from the cereal field beyond it, Jackdaws furnishing their nests with wool from a dead sheep, House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Collared Doves & Goldfinches around habitation, Yellowhammer, Mistle Thrush & Stock Dove on farmland around the wood itself.

 

Bad Dudes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 15, 2017 by cliffdean

Deer trails through Dog’s Mercury

In recent years, my visits to the Darwell area have been in winter – from Mountfield or in summer, after dark, from Darwell Hole (for Nightjars). So our Good Friday walk from the latter as far east as Simmett’s Wood added a few new (summer) species to the default Birdtrack list.I should think we’ll be lucky to see any more Nightjars in the traditional “clearing”since it’s not really clear any more, having grown up very tall,no more Tree Pipits either. However……there were 4 Nightingales singing loudly there in the bright sunshine, accompanied by a Willow Warbler and a whole host of commoner species. 2 more Nightingales were singing a little further over just west of the Gypsum conveyor belt and a seventh at mysterious and magical Furnace Farm site. In addition, there were three females offering their support in the form of croaks and whistles. So – 10 Nightingales, arrived in just the last couple of days and already getting on with it.

Neglected and out-grown Hornbeam hedge

The woodland varies in species composition and contains the relics of previous usage in terms of wood-banks, ore zones pocked with bell-pits and outgrown hedges along forgotten lanes, yesterday all bathed in light filtered through fresh spring foliage. Songs of Blue, Great  & Coal Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Nuthatch echoed off bare oak boughs and the poles of ailing Sweet Chestnut. Siskins were flying about the tops of tall conifers.

Goldcrests too were ubiquitious and we came across 2 singing Firecrests, one in ivy, the other traditionalNorway spruce.

We were surprised to find no Marsh Tits but stoical about the non-appearance of LS Woodpecker, which has been seen there recently, and Hawfinch, which has not. One rotten trunk displayed many suspiciously small peckings.

To the east of the conveyor belt, tracks and deep, deep ruts were signs of recent off-roading activity which had reduced the tracks in this unusually dry spring to slurry. On the bright side, they provided drinking place for birds and breeding habitat for some insects.

Debris from collisions was scattered about…

…and a flipped 4WD lay not far from the traditional Yellow Jeep (crumbling ever further into the forest floor).

RIP LITUL JEPE U R IN HEVIN NOW WIV DA ANGLES AN LEMMY FROM MOTORHED

Relics of human recreation included these bottles enfolded in a mossy, wind-thrown stump, Red Bull cans and scatters of McDonalds wrappings.While I usually just get angry about witless littering, on this occasion I brought my “High Weald: My Weald” re-usable cotton bag into  devastating play and removed these items from their adopted woodland habitat.

Even from among the trees, the barking of displaying GC Grebes and howling of Herring Gulls could be heard while from gaps in the lakeside willows, Coots, Tufted Ducks & Mallards could be made out. A Grey Heron drifted in over the treetops – but from where? It should be nesting now.

Surviving from summer-time cook-outs on the shores of the shrunken reservoir, a ring of sandstone lifted from footings of the vanished farmhouse lies temporarily drowned.

The paintings of George Shaw (at the De LaWarr till June 18th) have further sensitized me to the pathos of human traces, like this deliberately yet inexplicably scarred tree. deep within the woods,

The farm site itself remains as a progressively overgrown clearing, leggy, flowering blackthorn festooned with lichen and inhabited by secretive Bullfinches; an approach to the lake beneath the dark tunnel of a Yew; a sandstone wall; ashore  composed of heavy black iron slag and fragments of terracotta plain-tile; domestic rubbish that has had a few decades  to become charming.

Combe Valley (formerly known as Haven)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 12, 2017 by cliffdean

I was too busy to take more photos – a pity because the valley looked fabulous!

I hadn’t been into the valley for a couple of years – certainly not since the road was completed,but starting from the Garden Centre car park I was immediately surprised by the number of birds singing in the willows and flowering blackthorn hedges, especially Willow Warblers which I normally encounter in ones or twos as they pass straight through. Someone has been managing the Pebsham Valley as a water meadow – scrub has been cleared, it’s green and on a little pond there was a Green Sandpiper to prove it.

Up the hill beside the tip. multiple Linnets were trilling while Blackcap & Chiffchaff (& more Willow Warbler!) sang from the taller trees and Skylarks from the Great Rubbish Dome, now covered and no longer attracting hundreds of Herring Gulls & Carrion Crows. Pebsham Lake was looking good too, backed by trees, grazed by cattle. It’s regrettably shot over in winter but is now tranquil and picturesque – albeit originating from  a stream dammed by rubbish.

From the top of the hill we looked down on the SWT reedbed, more reeds getting invaded by willows and, on the south side of the stream, well-watered water meadows,Then there was a movement on the bare slope beside us: two male Wheatears so richly coloured, so strongly marked that it was hard to believe they were “just” Northern.

At the foot of the hill all we could see at first were Greylags till a pair – then a second pair – of Lapwings began tumbling. I had seen these before from a distance, or so I thought, but as we moved up the valley there were more – another 4 pairs – opposite the Water Pipit marsh (no WIs though). 6 pairs of Lapwings! I s this possible, squeezed between St Leonards & Sidley, when they have disappeared from almost every other part of the Hastings hinterland?

Along the river there were Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings, first Sedge Warblers and, in the well-managed water meadows on the north side, a couple of Little Egrets. Further west, however, the situation is not so great, as I’ve previously observed, since meadows within the SSSI have been allowed to get overgrown, the ditches silted, perhaps blighted by the road scheme. (I have to say that the road is very largely hidden and will be even more so in a couple of years when extensive tree planting matures. But you can hear it all too well.) So we discussed what could be done to get correct management restarted. Signs of Citizen Action are plain though, in the installation of Guerilla Benches and the fighting back of briars by secateur-wielding dog-walkers.  The remaining briars – plenty of them – were occupied by many more singing Linnets.

Further west, on the Attenuation Ponds where we saw Garganey the other week, there was yet another pair of Lapwings displaying. I really thought it was too overgrown (give it time though – what’s the management prescription for this area?) Swallows & Sand Martins were moving north over the ponds and my first Whitethroat of the year was singing from the bushes just s we turned up to Acton’s Farm.

Along the old lanes back towards Pebsham there were yet more Linnets, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps & Willow Warblers, but also Green Woodpeckers on the fields and Buzzards overhead. Reaching the old railway line – I had last been there while conducting Winter Bird Surveys in advance of the road scheme, I was keen to walk up to the stub of the old “17 Arches” viaduct which is signed as a “Viewpoint”.There were Nuthatches there Goldcrests & Jays too but no view since tall trees obstruct it – Railway Poplars no less. A view would be desirable but must be achieved at the expense of quite a few of these.

By the time we got back to the cars, we’d seen 61 species. There are quite few problems of governance, finance & management facing the  Countryside Park but notwithstanding all that, it’s a wonderfully rich natural area, a great resource for local people who are starting to see it from the Greenway and may at some point dare to venture out further.

 

Beyond Scotney

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 10, 2017 by cliffdean

Two days out last week in sunshine & Skylark song along the quarried shingle beach SW of Lydd then turning in to the interior as far as a couple of derelict farms. A similar trail but slightly different results.

Once away from the town’s Rook-chorus, the regularity of Cetti’s Warblers becomes apparent, maybe a dozen alongside the road but none at all once we turn inland.

A raised spur of white pebbles betrays the old shore line.

From beyond the first shining rape field come the songs of woodland birds in the trees at the edge of the army camp: Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker and further along the buzz of the first spring Sedge Warbler is in competition with hurtling motorcycles.

Parties of Shelduck strut about the grassland while on the banks of the lakes there are still a few Wigeon & Teal not yet departed northwards. More surprisingly there’s a lone Brent; it looks healthy enough but has somehow become detached from those streaming up-Channel not far away.

The sunny weather guarantees plenty of coastal traffic and light aircraft from Lydd, their droning counterpointed by yelping Med Gulls, white-winged in the sunlight.

More white wings, long ones this time, show newly arrived Common Terns out with Black-headed Gulls on a spit.

On the Thursday, brilliant Yellow Wagtails are running among the cattle but on Sunday are frustratingly nowhere to be seen, until later when territorial birds are flying over the crops. Against the light but easily heard from the gravel pits are Avocets. A falcon flies up with prey and dashes away across the fields – it looks like aMerlin but was just too quick. A f Marsh Harrier is quartering the fields.

From rough grass alongside the track burst up Corn Buntings and one sings from an isolated willow just yards away. On Thursday, we had just one feeble view of this usually common bird

On the other hand, Tree Sparrows had been noisy and easy to see around an old cottage now uninhabited but for bees. there had been a brief flutter from a Little Owl too.

On Sunday we had to work a bit harder but managed to get good views of some alongside the concrete farm road.

After crossing big rape fields our clothes are mottled yellow with pollen.

At this junction repairs to the barn wall tell a story.

RIP LITUL RABIT U R IN HEVIN NOW WIV DA ANGLES AN CHUK BERE

 

Camp-followers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 9, 2017 by cliffdean

Around their mud-brick house, nomads have improvised a number of intriguing structures.

I think this one may be a hen-coop, raised to evade predators.

In the distance: a trembling line of camels. closer to: Brown-necked Ravens & whistling Thekla Larks.

This enclosure comprises a remarkable range of materials…

…the least expected of which is a bicycle frame.

We’re hanging around not for the architecture but for the Desert Sparrows which find refuge in this tiny island of twiggery, moving with the encampment.

Irrigation from boreholes has given rise to an increased number of permanent dwellings which in turn have acted as stepping-stones for House Sparrows, bigger and bolder than their desert cousins, pushing the latter further into the wilderness.

They make forays among the grit but otherwise rest in the shade.

Bird photos by Ralph Hobbs.

 

Definitely Spring

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 4, 2017 by cliffdean

Considering it was only the very beginning of April, the amount of birdsong on Saturday’s RXbirwalk was amazing. All resident species but for numerous Chiffchaffs and  the wave of Blackcaps which had arrived in the area just two days before, the complexities of the soundscape kept us busy from the very start, where busy cawing from the Two Sawyers rookery provided a constant background for the many other species round about.

Drifts of Wood Anemone whitened the floor of Guestling Wood as Blue, Great and a surprising number of Coal Tits fluttered overhead while loud calls of Nuthatches and GS Woodpeckers came in from trees further away. Out in the open, Skylark song was pitted in unfair competition against a crowd of Med Gulls on a freshly tilled field. Coots have consolidated their hold on the few small ponds in the area and Grey Wagtails could be heard at both Water Treatment Works and Pickham Mill but were very shy and hard to see. We saw & heard 41 species.

This Treecreeper, photographed by Stuart Barnes, was not only singing but dancing!

I’ve been in this area too long; I’ve got too used to it and take for granted the ease with which I step into a landscape others will travel long distances to experience. I get spoilt and lazy. On Sunday I went on my first longer Pett Circular for months, looping round the back of the village to Pannel Bridge, thence down the valley and across the marsh to the seawall. Loads of birds of course.

I must recommend at this point both current exhibitions  at the DLWP. While Elizabeth Price’s pretentiously titled show is very, very interesting and thought-provoking, that most relevant here is George Shaw’s,  of  woodland interiors, bearing traces of (illicit, transgressive) human occupation, so very reminiscent of the suburban woods where I played as a child yet infused with classical references owing to the works’ origins in a residency at the National Gallery.

At Pannel Bridge I was delighted to find a Yellowhammer singing from the  hedge. In decline nationally, they have all but disappeared from the lanes around Pett/Fairlight/Guestling and, although this has been a traditional site, I’d not seen a bird here for some years.

Ironically, this was more exciting than the Marsh Harriers, Med Gulls, Avocets and multiple Cetti’s Warblers in the rest of the valley.

As I was cutting across to the seawall, two shepherdesses driving ewes along the track towards me flushed a Cattle Egret from a nearby ditch. At first it dropped out of sight behind the Pools but soon flew back past me to perch on a post, where I took this poor photo, before it moved off once again,to content itself, in the absence of cattle, with a flock of sheep. From a serious rarity, this has become a scarce but regular bird in the RX area and has now bred in England. This all-white individual is however in non-breeding plumage.