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

Wednesday: The footpath down from Crowhurst alongside the Powdermill Stream is a narrow muddy struggle, so tilted at times and slippery that it promises to tip you down into the waterside brambles.

The attenuation pond holds more and more wildfowl. Today the count is 50 Gadwall, 4 Little Grebe, 10 Mallard, 128 Shoveler & 54 Wigeon. The number of Shoveler is particularly noteworthy.

In the valley proper it’s business as usual ie next to nothing. The few ducks on the ponds have probably just flown over from the main flocks N of the road apart from 120 Greylags and an unknown number of Teal piping from inside willow thickets. Otherwise, a total of 40 Coot & 11 Mute Swans from the whole site.

Alongside the Combe Haven stream, the issue is not so much mud as encroachment of bramble, which flourished during the path’s prolonged closure for construction of the Link Road. A narrow way has been trampled open and, to judge from the amputations, local walkers have been doing their best with secateurs (for once I remembered to bring mine – but not proper gloves so I ended up with punctured and bloody hands) but at points one is shouldered off the flat and down the slippery river bank..

The path along the intriguing old Bexhill Line is well trampled, although not an official footpath and only one section – Quarry Wood –  belonging to the local community, and it was pleasing to meet a couple of families out with their children for half-term walks.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 16, 2018 by cliffdean


I’m rethinking next week’s walk at Mountfield after a recce yesterday.

I had not fully taken into account the amount of rain that had fallen during the night. The village pond had spread across the lane to a depth of about 20cms. and all the fields were very very wet, not just in the valleys but even on slopes (where they were also very slippery). Shaggy cattle had poached gateways into deep wallows.

It’s a pretty place, it was a nice morning, but it was hard work, with few interesting birds by way of distraction (though the chestnut avenue was as fascinating as ever). In the alders you can see below a mixed flock of Siskins & Redpolls made a buzzing twitter that could be heard a couple of hundred metres away but it was hard to see just how many there were.  Nearby, a busy pair of Ravens was croaking. Apart from that, the best place was around the Village Hall car park, with lots of  common birds.

The upshot is that I’m going to re-schedule this walk in April, by which time it might have dried out a bit, there’ll be some migrants and more song.

Old Chestnuts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on February 16, 2018 by cliffdean

It’s several years since I had a look at the monumental avenue leading to Mountfield Court, in fact it may have been as far back as an early RXbirdwalk in May 2011.

The trees there merit more frequent admiration however, as ancient survivors of cropping, lightning and storms. most notably that of October 1987. Though appearing extremely old, they most likely date from the construction of the Court in about 1740 and some, having put up with three centuries of rigorous weather were finally toppled on that memorable night, remaining now, if at all, as stumps.

Most suggestivo is this specimen by the gate, this morning glistening & dripping as the night’s heavy rain percolated through its burrs and twisting fissures.


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

There were lots of birds to be seen on the Friends’ Walk at Castle Water yesterday afternoon but what made it memorable was the overwhelming cloudscape brought in on the chill NW wind.

As much as we felt jeopardised by the sweeping tendrils of sleet, they somehow passed either side.

At the lake itself, rafts of duck were one minute monotone, the next burnished in golden light. Marsh Harriers criss-crossed the reeds and breeding-plumage sinensis Cormorants looked completely unfamiliar as they swam through flocks of Gadwall. Single Little & Great Egrets glittered as they flew against the dark background. A dozen Ruff dashed around in front of us and a pale duck overhead with Mallards turned, most unexpectedly, to be a male Goosander!

“You seem to have had very bbbad luck with your weather Mr Turner.”

With an appreciation of landscape still dominated by Romantic painters, the sky was soon being described as Turneresque, referring perhaps to this 1830 view of Winchelsea…

…though I would have upped to stakes to Altdorfer…

…or John Martin.

As we returned towards the Reedbed Viewpoint, another 3 Great Egrets came in over our  heads to roost by the lake, and then another 2. So – altogether 6 Great Egrets, when only a few years ago they were still rare birds.

Year of the Dog

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 11, 2018 by cliffdean

Five Minutes of the Dog was more than enough yesterday, when our arrival at Beckley woods coincided with that of a dog-herder who unloaded one lot after another of her yapping charges, walking them down the track a little way before returning to her big van to shovel out another contingent.

It took us quite a while to get away from the disturbance, but even as we regained sufficient calm to listen in, there were surprisingly few birds calling. It was only upon reaching deciduous plantations in the stream valley that some semblance of the woodland soundscape re-emerged. Besides Robins & 5 species of Tit, there were, beyond the branches, mewing Buzzards and croaking Ravens (neither of those present when I first started coming here). But the most refreshingly spring-like sound was that of Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming.

A recent article from Rare Bird Alert  (08 Feb 2018) proposes that the drumming patterns of individuals, though sounding much the same to us, is different  from male & female birds. It’s only very recently that I learnt that females drum too. And yaffle, in the case of Green Woodpecker (which was calling a little way over).

Another article (06 Feb 2018) seeks to explain why woodpeckers don’t wreck their brains with all that hammering.

Another question is how Grey Squirrels – the presumed culprits – position themselves to gnaw at reserve signs, this one for the SWT Flatropers Wood where, as you can see in the photo below, active management has been carried out to open up a sheltered glade for the benefit of butterflies by thinning out a dense thicket of young birches.

The main interest of this walk lies in the intensely varied woodland structure, resulting from different purposes and histories.

For instance, in this spot you can see ,to the left, remnants of former oak, with colonising Holly & Silver Birch, backed by a more recent plantation of Scots Pine & Larch while to the right is an area planted with Beech. The ground flora either side of the path is very different as result.

As we paused here, with rain arriving two hours ahead of schedule, my thoughts turned naturally enough to Black Treacle. We were munching on flapjack thoughtfully provided by Eliza. This week it was enhanced not by cheese nor chili, but by the iconic Lyle’s molasses.

I was thinking even more of the classic tin design, enigmatically featuring a dead lion. I guess those of us who know, know. But to an outsider this must seem very odd. Beyond the Biblical reference however, is the curious belief in ancient & mediaeval times that bees generated spontaneously from putrefying flesh, an apparent bit of lazy confusion with bluebottles. Even more surprising was that, while Golden Syrup was first marketed (in the green tin) in 1884, and in 1904 became the world’s first brand, tins of Black Treacle were first sold only in 1950!

Moving out of the woods into deeply puddled Bixley Lane, we cut across some little meadows which were planted up some 20 years ago with trees. There were more bird here than anywhere else but on account not of the uniform & rather sterile plantations right) but the unruly, ancient hedgerows which enclose them (left).

You can see why, from this detail of an outgrown Ash hedge, with its nooks & crannies, ivy & bramble. But apart from that obvious food source, I wondered whether the finches, tits, Treecreepers & Nuthatches foraging there (and mostly ignoring the plantations) were not following ancestral pathways in a way similar to hefted sheep on the fells.

Definitely unhefted (though, I don’t know..because I used to see them around these lanes 20 years ago) was a Hawfinch which flew out of cover to perch conveniently for a minute or so. I could hear others and a few minutes later caught sight of at least 3 in flight. And I thought: is this the Year of the Hawfinch? It’s certainly the Hawfinch Winter like no other in living memory but what happens next? Will they all clear off back to wherever they originated? Or will some of these immigrants remain (lots of Hornbeam! lots of Yew!) to form the basis of a reinvigorated UK population? To become as unremarkable as Little Egrets?

Tammurriata nera

Winged beings from another world

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on February 9, 2018 by cliffdean

Here’s one….

…and here’s another…

…and another – see that tree on the right? See the Carrion Crow on top?

See the record-shot dot, down and left from the Crow?

Well, this is what it should look like, and actually does if a) you’re lucky b) not looking through an inadequate camera c): an observant householder in central France: a Gros-bec casse-noyaux.

If you want to see them in Hastings Cemetery, as several lucky/patient people have over the last few days, you first find this very informative panel just in front of the crematorium, where you can learn a bit about some of the illustrious Hastings dead.

You then proceed to this area, where there are Jays, Magpies, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and, ticking invisibly in the Yews, Hawfinches.

Sometimes, you can hear the flight call or even little fragments of song but they remain well hidden among the evergreen needles or the dark foliage of Holm Oaks (do they eat the acorns?)

What you have to do is stand back and Watch This (or another) Space as the birds break cover, whizz across the path (I saw 12-15 at one point) and, if you’re patient/lucky, they sit in one of those bare trees, where they are easily identified because they look like this:

Employing your full range of fieldcraft, however, you may be able to sidle round to get better light, or shuffle closer. Or, if you’re quiet and still, they might just not notice you, and land quite close, affording vues which can only be described as “cracking”…or “cassants”

If you go though, please be sensitive to the groups of mourners bidding farewell to their loved ones. They do not generally stray into Hawfinch World, so if you skirt left round the crematorium no-one’s grieving will be impinged upon.

Mainly on the plain – cold but dry.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on February 7, 2018 by cliffdean

All bird photos by Peter Matthews

An improbably sumptuous Swamphen-Formerly-Known-As-Gallinule surveys his reedy kingdom. Marsh & Hen Harriers cruise beyond as the reedy wheeze of a Penduline Tit to originate from the local football pitch and turns out to be a mimetic Spotless Starling. Never mind – soon after there’s a real Penduline Tit – not on a goal-post – and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker picking at scrubby lakeside trees.

Last week I was in Extremadura, near Trujillo, about 3 hours’ drive SW of Madrid, on a Mon-Fri trip run by Oriole Birding.

Each day we were out at daybreak into a landscape grey with frost. Luckily, once the sun came up we were quickly warmed though sheltered valleys were still white at midday. And as thermals began to form, dolefully hunched vultures, kites, storks and eagles rose into the air.

Thekla Larks, hordes of Spanish Sparrows, Hoopoe, Iberian Shrike, Azure-winged, now rebranded as Iberian, Magpies.

Maybe this was the place with Black-winged Kites, and a surprise unseasonal Wryneck in the roadside ditch. I can’t remember.

Rock Sparrows, Little Owl. 

We visited steppe, dehesa, wetlands and mountains to search for typical birds of the region, returning only at sunset to a roaring fire and excellent local food at our comfortable Casa Rural.

Great & Little Bustards, warily walking across vast pastures, calls & flickering wings of Pintailed & Black-bellied Sandgrouse high against the dark blue, hundreds of Calandra Larks doing impressions of Green Sandpipers, and unexpectedly early Great Spotted Cuckoo.

Flooded rice fields attracting White Storks, crooning families of Cranes, real wild Greylags, wintering Wood Sandpipers, fugitive Bluethroats, hurtling flock of Common Waxbills & Red Avadavats, a skulking Dartford Warbler. In the distance, by a corpse, a Raven is dwarfed by an accompanying Black Vulture.

Lunch stop with olive-eating Song Thrushes taking shelter in umbrella pines, Black Vultures cruising low overhead and piles of picnic rubbish beneath the bushes.

Driving through a white village where Spotless Starlings whistle from the wires and faded junk mail is stuffed in the doorways of locked up houses.

Through challengingly narrow streets to a castle where – eventually – there’s a lone Alpine Accentor…

…and, if you look down carefully, Blue Rock Thrushes on a rooftop alongside a ginger cat, a Short-toed Treecreeper on rocks, a Rock Bunting on grass and Sardinian Warblers cursing from brambles.

Hawfinches, Black Redstarts..

From another castle ramparts, dozens of Griffon Vultures gliding past at eye level.

Anyway, you get the gist. You can read a very much more detailed report with excellent photos by clicking here. Good fun.