Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2021 by cliffdean

RXbirdwalks proceed cautiously, steering a course between seasonal advance, infection rates and weather. It does not seem useful to fix a schedule on account of prevailing uncertainties.

Yet the opportunities are so great, with so many beautiful places to visit, the always-unfamiliar drama of Spring and the newly unfamiliar experience of spending it at home, that I’m trying to arrange two RXbirdwalks a week.

Since the weekends are busy on the coast, with so many people in need of space, light & air, we’ll let them enjoy it and stick inland where no-one ever goes.

Mid-week, however, we’ll aim for the coast, though if the weather is windy or showery we might be better off in a sheltered wood.

I’ll have to balance up these factors close to the time and give (short) notice via the email list. So “weekend” might be Saturday or Sunday and “mid-week” could be anytime from Tuesday to Thursday.

So those on the list just have to keep on their toes and those who are interested but are on the list should get in touch at rxbirdwalks@gmail.com

At the moment, group size is restricted to 5, but don’t assume that it fills up immediately. We’re starting at 8am – better for birds, fewer people, less traffic. More details are on “About RXbirdwalks”

On recent walks we’ve been in lovely places, seen & heard loads of good birds, all in the Rye/Hastings area and away from the crowds.

100 species in a day – on foot!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2021 by cliffdean

Not me! Someone younger and stronger, with greater stamina! For some time attempts have been made on a bigger day-list for Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. 80 is not difficult, 90 is challenging. Is 100 possible?? We now know it is – and more! James Tomlinson, the only member of Slow But Sure pedestrian bird-race team not crumbling into decrepitude spent the other day going round and round the reserve – 14 miles in miserable weather and here is his report:

The Big đź’Ż Challenge report

Certain windows open up during March and April when early migrants start to arrive and some wintering birds are still present. These would be key birds in my challenge . Such as wintering Redwing, Fieldfare, Golden Plover, White Fronted Geese and arriving hirundines and Garganey for example.

I knew from recent observations that such a window was opening up with a Black Necked Grebe, Garganey and a long staying Spoonbill still here. Previous walks had seen 80-90 species on the reserve. My thinking was if I could manage to find 8-10 key species then the challenge to find 100 species on one day was achievable. The weather had different ideas, with low temperatures and cold north westerly winds and winters showers forecast, I set off from the harbour car park seeing my first bird- a Blackbird on the reserve sign, followed by House Sparrows, Dunnock, Meadow Pipit,  Rock Pipit & Oyster Catcher . The usual residents were on flat beach and getting the first 70 species ticked  off was easy.

I bumped into fellow birders Graeme and Brian who told me of a Wheatear by the red roofed hut and later they alerted me to a Yellow Legged Gull on the beach ( first for me in Sussex!) Onward, I circled Flat Beach seeing Skylark, Sandwich Terns  and a juvenile Spoonbill. Inland to Long Pit led me to Pochard, Great Crested Grebe,  and Goldcrest  by Harbour Farm pools. Little Ringed Plover, a singing Willow Warbler, and a Water Rail squealing in the reeds of Long Pit.

Reserve manager Barry was out and invited me for welcome coffee and cakes. While we chatted about birds yet to be found, the first bird of prey flew over- Marsh Harrier . With 70 species so far I set off again. Next was a singing Whitethroat followed by male and female Blackcap. After a 15 minute wait in the wood the Treecreeper I know is there made an appearance, and a Green Woodpecker yaffled.

At Castle Farm Raven and Buzzard circled overhead. Taking an alternative route to the view point I noted Goldeneye and another key species – Green  Sandpiper. I had seen this bird the day before at Saunders fishing pit. Further along at Carters were Yellow Wagtail and White-fronted Goose, pushing the number of key species up to 6! This was when I realised the challenge to find 100 species in a day was achievable.

At the viewpoint was Bullfinch and a Kestrel hovered near Bournes. There was a Peregrine over the castle, a Sparrowhawk circling and bird number 99- the beautiful Black Necked Grebe. Only 1 species to get now on the 2.5 mile walk back. Just after the woods at long pit we struck gold. A noisy handsome male Pheasant  was crowned Mr 100!

As it happened the challenge was not only achieved but beaten as I had forgotten to note the Dunlin  I saw, making the true count for the day 101. And to think there are  birds I see from day to day on the reserve which didn’t turn up for the challenge numbers – such as Mistle Thrush, Sanderling or Greater Spotted Woodpecker. It just shows how amazing  for the biodiversity of birds the reserve really is!

A big thank you to the Slow But Sure group Cliff Dean, David Rowlands, Alan Parker, Mike Mullis and Tim Waters who have been very influential in making this happen and Barry Yates for putting up with my consistent enquiries and of course Anne Yates for the loverly coffee.


Posted in Uncategorized on March 29, 2021 by cliffdean
The Rye Harbour Dicovery Centre is approaching completion. At the moment, the interior is being fitted out, staff and volunteers appointed and trained. Opening is envisaged May 17th.
The broad glass front frames the sky. In this photo there’s not much action, it’s just a (very welcome) blue, but once the changing cloudscape panorama resumes it will present an ever-changing spectacle.

The frosted-glass reedbed design casts beautiful shadows on the polished concrete floor
The windows frame marsh, saltings and river, where passing vessels will provide a constant reminder of this area’s tidal nature…
By the time you read this, the interpretation and retail area should be fitted out.
…and cafĂ© furniture will occupy this space.
As in The Cabins before, uninhibited canine curiosity provided us with some visits. Dogs will be allowed in the Centre, once it opens but with a strictly enforced code of conduct to ensure the comfort and safety of all visitors.

Creative imaginations are at work in both design and ingredients for the Lime Kiln Café. Cakes loom large and drinks will be dispensed in rugged crockery with colours reflecting the reserve environment.
The rear walkway gives separate access to the beautiful, versatile education space so that muddy students do not mingle with other visitors.
The phantom plovers crossing here are to alert you (and other birds) to the presence of glass.
Here, the tide is low, but on occasions the building will resemble an island.
It’s been a long time coming, not helped by a few unforeseen technical issues and a global pandemic. Hundreds of people have brought their skills, knowledge, efforts and goodwill to bear on this project which we expect to transform Green Tourism as part of a chain of wildlife sites in the 1066 & Romney Marshes area.


Posted in Uncategorized on March 27, 2021 by cliffdean

After a morning on the marsh (70 sp but nothing special apart from a first singing Blackcap) I was once more wielding the soil-miller beside the rusty disused gas-holder on Pett allotments. Not too much happening there either apart from lots of Greenfinch song and wholesae screaming when a Sparrowhawk glided over.

Then I heard a little call…sort of familiar but I couldn’t think what…and although it seemed close, I couldn’t see what was making it. Then, from beside the compost bins, I saw a little Robin-type bird drop to the ground in a Robin-type way. But when it jumped back, quivering, onto the fence post I saw it was a Codirosso spazzacamino – in Italian – Chimneysweep Redstart, rather more evocative than our plain Black. Though this one, a dull grey female or imm male was more cenerino.

You can see the very compost bins on the right – just to the left of the blue drums!

It didn’t stick around though; flew across the horse paddock and out of sight. Coming from? Going to?

Although we’ve had them once or twice on the roof of our house, this is an Allotment First.

There’s a traditional song in which the art of the chimneysweep is the vehicle for a series of lewd metaphors.

Better just the tune perhaps:

but if you want…….

Past the Equinox and looking forward

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22, 2021 by cliffdean

I just heard today from Sussex Wildlife Trust that the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre has been officially handed over to the Trust from Baxall Construction!!

It’s been several years since the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve launched into this project following an extremely generous legacy from from former residents Joyce & David Layton.

The Friends and SWT have worked closely together, along with hundreds of others who’ve contributed knowledge, skills, funds and goodwill to bring this exciting project to fruition.

The Discovery Centre will include office facilities for reserve staff, and a comfortable room for our many volunteers, a beautiful, versatile education area, a retail space, cafĂ© and a striking array of interpretation to inform visitors about the reserve’s history and astonishing wildlife.

It’s going to take several weeks to appoint new staff and train volunteers, and it’s still hard to say how anti-Covid measures are going to work out, but we hope to open to the public as soon as circumstances allow.

On the turn

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22, 2021 by cliffdean

Sat 21st: Winchelsea Beach – a clear, starry night is followed by a frosty morning. In The Wood a Treecreeper is probing loose bark to the optimistic communal warble of soon-departing Redwings, along with just-arrived spring Chiffchaff & brutally hammering GS Woodpecker.

In the hedge-line beside Castle Water: there’s a massed whistling of Starlings and what sounds like Fieldfare but could just be clever, confusing, Starling mimicry. On the path below them, northbound Chaffinches have dropped in to search for seeds while in the hazy distance above them a pair of Marsh Harriers is tumbling.

As I search the rabbit diggings for a first Wheatear (not yet) there’s a cheery twizzling of twenty Linnets dotted through the tops of the Honeybee Tree.

I’m interested to check the flock of Pied Wagtails which hangs around the Castle for any migrant White Wagtails which might have joined them, but just as I get there the whole chissicking lot decides to chase off a Peregrine.

Two birdwatchers ask my opinion on two birds on a barbed wire fence. One is a Meadow Pipit (like the wagtails, always here) (but are they? where do they go to nest?) but the other looks so pale, streaky and washed-out. What could it be? After much scrutiny and checking the Collins app, we come to the (slightly reluctant) conclusion that it’s a pale, streaky, washed-out Meadow Pipit.

On a sandy ridge, with cattle on one side of the fence & sheep on the other, where the scentscape alternates between malty silage and smarting ammonia, a strikingly, truly Pied male Wagtail makes me wonder why birders always describe the occasional White as “smart”.

Sitting on the crumbling wall of shuttered, interwar concrete, I’m peering through orange Coral-bark Willows to the bright blue water of the Ocean/Long Pit for a Black-necked Grebe that I missed earlier. It’s halfway to summer plumage, but just how halfway is relevant to the ongoing discussion about whether this is the same bird as one seen (always against the light) on Castle Water. (Spoiler: probably not.) A male Goldeneye (also missed earlier) pops up beside it; Quattrocchi.

Not The Back Garden Bird Race

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2021 by cliffdean

Noticing that the drizzle had ceased, I walked down the garden, past our skulking resident Pheasant, to listen in to the birdsong. There was a lot of it – very beautiful – and actually a lot of different species… Memories awoke of last year’s monthly Sunday-morning Back Garden Bird Race, launched by SWT’s Michael Blencowe as an antidote to Lockdown blues; intensive hours of looking and listening, frustration and triumph. Then I noticed that the traditional start-time of 10 was indeed approaching and rushed indoors to collect coat, binoculars, notebook & scope for a nostalgic hour on the patio.

Beside the singing thrushes – Song, Mistle & Blackbird, the ubiquitous 3 Musketeers of Robin, Wren & Dunnock, Great & Blue Tits, whistling rooftop Starlings & hooting Collared Doves there were the gulls on the field behind us: screeching Black-headed & squealing Common…but no Meds. Strutting, white-winged Med Gulls are one of the delights of spring here- in fact the first spring migrant (The Chiffchaffs are yet to settle).

Panic broke out as a male Sparrowhawk sped up next-door’s lawn at ankle height, setting off the local Crows, Jackdaws & Magpies over the background chorus of Rooks. Nervous Green- & Goldfinches swirled around for a bit.

A scour of the marshes below picked up GB & LB Gulls, Greylags & Curlews but at that point the light was still just too grey to identify some of the other blobs, though I was pretty sure I could see a f Merlin sitting on the bank of a dyke until a ewe walked up & sniffed it. A couple of northbound Meadow Pipits flew over (I was hoping to intercept a line of Brents out in the bay but it was not to be).

Med Gulls finally arrived in a crazy chorus of yeow! yeow!! – or is it gnau? I can’t decide, and then I noticed a small-headed pigeon watching me from above our bedroom window. A pair of Stock Doves has been visiting our feeders for the first time in 25 years but they’re quite cautious (unlike the neophyte Pheasant, soggy right now but resplendent in sunshine). This dove watched for a while before thinking better of it. A KROK-KROK came from a passing Raven & a Buzzard launched out of the trees downhill.

Sunshine broke through, weak, but enough to flash off the flanks of a Tufted Duck down on the Pools and the wings of a displaying Oystercatcher. Other newly available reflective species were the pair of feral Aylesbury Ducks, (which I have never counted but have as much right to be acknowledged as an IoW WT Eagle should one deign to drift this far….) and a Mute Swan which belatedly clambered out of a ditch.

As the hour of 11 tolled across the land, my tally stood at 44 species, which I think is much better than all those 2020 races. If, however, an official BGBR were to be reconvened I’m absolutely sure that I’d get nothing like that.

Here’s the list: Black-headed Gull, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Canada Goose, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Great Black-backed Gull, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Greylag Goose, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Magpie, Mallard, Meadow Pipit, Mediterranean Gull, Mistle Thrush, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Pied wagtail, Raven, Robin, Rook, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stock Dove, Tufted Duck, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Dallington Forest

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2021 by cliffdean

The forest is full of wonders, a shelter from the winter winds and Covid crowds of the coast. You can disappear here.

From the high sandstone dome open out broad Wealden forest panoramas, then you slip down into steep green-sided ghylls animated with the trickle, bubble and gloop of fat-flowing streams.

The ground is ridged and rutted with ancient wood-banks, saw-pits, braided holloways, enduring evidence of usage long vanished.

And now, thanks to a Rother Tree Webinar, I belatedly learn of the Dallington Forest Project on whose website you can find wonderful, revealing old maps and a fantastically detailed documentation by landscape archaeologist Nicola Bannister.

Drying out

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2021 by cliffdean

Sunday: In Combe Valley Countryside Park the floods are receding and, in the sunshine, the valley is delicately scented with stewing mud, above which Lapwings are tumbling and squealing. From far away you can hear the laughter of two young women, stumbling through the sludge as they negotiate the footpath at 3 Bridges.

Hundreds of ducks are still here, every so often whirling up in the sunlight: Gadwall, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck & Wigeon.

Further down, 6 White-fronted Geese – the real thing from Russia rather than feral like the Greylags & Canadas, are surprisingly tame, one adult & 5 immatures.

All along the Greenway, runners, dog-walkers and families are enjoying the space, light and air.

Courting Water Rails are trilling, unseen among the soggy vegetation, Skylarks sing above the Greenway.

A contrast, however, on Crowhurst Lake, where not a bird is to be seen. Little traffic is to be seen either, just the taller vehicles flashing past the gap in the green embankment which screens the Link Road. It doesn’t seem long since it was all mud, or that machines were driving in piles to support the road bridge, or that it was an unimpeded view of farmland, with not a car to be heard.

New for the allotment

Posted in Uncategorized on March 3, 2021 by cliffdean

Last Tuesday (February 23rd – life is getting busy again) : in the time between “The Life Scientific” and halfway through “Woman’s Hour” I recorded 33 species at our Pett allotment, pausing to note them down between bouts of vigorous soil-milling & raking.

The Rooks of the colony next to the quiescent Two Sawyers is getting busy, along with its basement-dwelling Jackdaws. Collared Doves are always round the pub too, and I could hear their hooting through the trees. For the first time, the languid song a of a Blackbird curled across the horse paddock, past the repeated phrases of Song Thrushes; from beyond them both came notes from a distant Mistle Thrush.

From even further down the road, among the screeches of Black-headed Gulls, was the yelping of a Med Gull, just arrived, and a little later a wandering band came drifting across, the Meds’ white wings shining in the sunlight.

From the tall trees by the Village Hall, Blue. Coal & Great Tits but no sign of the Marsh Tits which sometimes accompany them.

New for my Birdtrack list, which I’ve only been keeping since April 24th 2020 as a response to our newly-restricted World Of Lockdown, were Common Gulls overhead (always in past winters) a passing Cormorant (I’m sure I’ve seen those before) and 2 flyover Grey Herons (don’t recall those previously – where were they from? Winchelsea presumably. Where too (going SW)? To make themselves unwelcome at some pond I guess.)

This is the great thing about starting a list – you get excited about adding species you’d normally ignore. Like our garden, there are not many birds which actually land in the allotment (Robin, Blackbird, Woodpigeon….er…) no doubt put off – apart from the Robins – by the “big pigs in gardening gloves”. The interest comes from beside, above and beyond.

During the intervening week I’ve enjoyed watching a Kestrel which in turn watches from the phone lines which run diagonally across the allotment. It’s a beautiful male, looking exotically bright in the spring sunshine with its blue-grey head, rusty back and bright yellow legs. Its undertail coverts are a warm reddish colour, like a Hobby’s “trousers”, which is not shown in the Collins Field Guide.

Just checking through my records, the usual tally is in the mid-20s though I got higher scores a couple of times last autumn, with a previous high of 33 on October 9th. To what extent this reflects the number of birds rather than the amount of time idling I have yet to investigate.