Dark & busy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 18, 2016 by cliffdean

The hot summer has gone and conditions for the first RXbirdwalk of the autumn were inauspicious. As rain pattered against the kitchen window I wondered whether we should call it off, but in the end headed once more for the picturesque starting point of Dogs Hill toilets. In the event, the bird list came to a surprising 76 species.

Thousands of Swallows & Sand Martins were moving east along the seawall together with hundreds of Meadow Pipits. Beyond the luggers of the low tide mark and the leaden sea, turning Gannets were startlingly white against a sky as dark as a Lesser Black-back’s back – if only graellsi. The backs, meanwhile, of Common Gulls, in diffuse light and against the wet sand were blatantly pearly.

Large numbers of hirundines were gathered over The Ocean and Castle Water, below them a single f Pintail among the usual Coots & GC Grebes. In late morning House Martins began to appear and were in the majority by the time we finished. There seemed, however, to be no other overhead migrants apart from several Grey Wagtails.

Chiffchaffs predominated through the Beach Field – we spent several minutes watching them dashing about in an exotic mix of Sumach, Buddleia & Bear’s Breeches. There were Blackcaps too, especially at the north end, but few Common or Lesser Whitethroats. As usual, it was a challenge to get a decent look at any of these as they crossed the paths at high speed, only to dive straight into the deepest, shadowiest Hawthorns which were Alive With the Sound of Ticking.

With seed-clogged teeth, we paused to chat to anglers about birds, fish and blackberry crumble before moving on to Castle Water, where the rain has done little to reduce the islands. Good for waders, I imagined, but it wasn’t apart from a few Lapwings, 3 Ruff and a very little Little Stint. No sandpipers at all, no Marsh Harriers. But then we picked out a couple of Snipe on the far bank and a flock of brightly coloured Black-tailed Godwits went swooshing past. If this account suggests that the lake was deserted, that was not the case for there was a constant movement of Greylag & Canada Geese, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall & Cormorants as well as visits by 5 species of gull and unremitting flurries of hirundines.

Back across the pallid Cynosurus prairies we disturbed just one Skylark and found a lone Whinchat. In the Wood were Green & GS Woodpeckers and a Treecreeper but the pools of West Nook Meadows, overgrown and contaminated with Crassula were almost birdless. At high tide, the sea was a lot paler then before, showing up the snouts of two Grey Seals, then the streamlined form of an Arctic Skua on its way south, ignoring nervous Sandwich Terns.

RXbirdwalks in September

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2016 by cliffdean
I’ve been busy this month. It’s not getting much calmer either, but I am free this Saturday and, for a shorter period, on the Saturday after.
Early starts are advisable during migration times – and to avoid the phew-what-a-scorcher torrid heat we’ve all been enjoying.
Saturday 17th 8am: Winchelsea Beach & Rye Harbour
As always, lots of birds, likely surprises, and you can see the new Battle of Britain memorial
Saturday 24th 8am: Pett Level
Warblers, waders, wildfowl. Fantastic variety in a short distance.
If you’d like to join a walk contact me on rxbirdwalks1066@yahoo.com

Cantus Arcticus

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2016 by cliffdean

Einojuhani Rautavaara died on July 27th.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 12, 2016 by cliffdean


Back to tantalising glimpses of migrant warblers slipping through dew-beaded bushes, always dismembered by twigs or yellowing leaves or bars of golden sunlight and sharp shadow: Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap. A Kingfisher whistles up & down the Canal, crossing paths with Reed & Sedge Warblers.



From the cliffs, the Fulmars have run away to sea but a Peregrine remains to keep the Jackdaws on their toes (and the solitary Feral Pigeon which has made Canal Bank its home for the last month). Out in the bay, dissolved in sunlight, Sandwich Terns are screeching.




Wheatears are running along the seawall and out on the dry meadows, hirundines whirling overhead, a few Grey Wagtails making their way along the coast.




Already, the tight timetable of my “short walk” is badly over-run thanks to encounters with Pete Rouse & Andrew Killick, who reports Whinchats along the Canal & Green Sandpiper at the scrape. In the distance, a Hobby is performing aerobatics over the Pools.




Turning back much too late at 3 Gates, with 70 species in the bag – as they say – passing dog-walkers, sweating runners an a couple of bird-watchers at the road-side, I suddenly hear, out of the blue, a Tree Sparrow!


Surely not? But surely. I never see them here. But one of the roadside birders has heard it too and in fact some right-size birds are moving about in the phragmites, hard to see properly. Are they not just House Sparrows? Could the “Tree” designation be wishful thinking? But you hardly ever get HS along here either. And the call is Tree. Finally one pops up on top – the plumage is not at all clear but it doesn’t seem to have a bib and does seem to have a brown cap. Then it flies into reeds right by the road and the visiting birder – who turns out to be Alan Kitson – manages to get a confirming photo (on the SOS Sightings page). A juvenile hence the inconclusive look. there are others incogniti in the reeds – he thinks 4. As I walk back towards Toot Rock I can hear Tree Sparrow calls again from the clear blue sky, moving westwards.

But coming from and going to where? In once-upon-a-time days, not so very long ago, when hundreds wintered around the Pannel Valley, many were ringed but I’m not sure a single recovery resulted.


Wartime crash site

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 28, 2016 by cliffdean

IMG_3791A painting of Hamilton’s aircraft by Alex Hamilton (no relation)

For some time I’ve been engaged in a project to install a memorial stone in memory of Harry Hamilton, a young Canadian pilot who met his death when his Hurricane crashed near Camber Castle. For many years, the site has been marked by a clump of Oaks – there are no others in that area – but most visitors don’t notice them and there’s nothing to say why they are there.

Well, this project is approaching fruition since a suitable stone (once part of Smeaton’s Harbour) has been donated by the Environment Agency and is about to have an inscription carved.


Along the way, many kind people have come to our aid with information, suggestions and contacts. I recounted their contributions in the most recent Friends of Rye Harbour NR Newsletter, since when even more have appeared on the scene. The latest, just today, has been Peter Mackenzie Smith who has compiled a fascinating timeline of the Second World War around Rye. He has most kindly given me permission to reproduce it on this blog – look for it among the Pages on the right hand side of the screen.

In it, he details many more crash sites in the immediate area. Where personnel are named, some of their details can be found here.

Peter leads “A Walk Through WWII Rye” for the Rye Arts Festival on September 18th & 24th. Only a few tickets left when I wrote this!

Too warm, too busy

Posted in Uncategorized on August 28, 2016 by cliffdean


…hence no recent posts. Life’s Rich Pageant + weather not at all conducive to sitting indoors at the computer. More conducive by far to sitting in the garden where up to 36 species in a day, in or over, including Hobby, Whimbrel, Grey & Yellow Wagtails & Spotted Flycatcher.


The week began at Pett Level with diggers massed on the seawall awaiting transport by barge to Fairlight Cove where they are now engaged in the construction of a third bund which will connect the two already present in an expensive attempt to prevent the loss of cliff-edge houses. A rumbling and clunking comes from round that corner as granite boulders are deployed at the base of the cliffs and, as we swim each day at hight tide, a tug is towing the rock-barge out to a safe depth before it should founder on the ebb tide.

White is the colour on the high-tide shingle as citizens of Toot Rock swan over the seawall in their gleaming white bathing robes while a groyne further along is decked with the shirts of Orthodox Jewish boys who are wading into the shallows.

Earlier in the week, from the garden, I noticed a coastguard helicopter hovering over Camber, learning only later that it was attending an incident in which five young men from London had come down for a fun day on the beach but ended up drowned, their parents back at home carrying on a normal day unaware of what was unfolding.



From the wall, the latest, ever-bigger Grandiose Designs can be admired with gasps of envy. This one is on Chick Hill, where it replaces a humble bungalow called Rudyards. Behind the wall, another little place called Stella Maris has been replaced with yet another plus-size box now called By The Sea, new owners perhaps wanting to distance themselves from the names Catholic resonance.


At Old Marsham, cattle occupying a field of mown rushes attract a flock of c25 Yellow Wagtails; more pass overhead, accompanied by the occasional Grey.


During the first Slow But Sure coastal walk for quite a while, on sunny but very windy Monday, we scraped 80 species which is not great for this time of year. Excuses were that the wind kept kept the warblers down in cover while bright sunshine silhouetted distant waders. We didn’t – can you believe this? – see a Blue Tit, which must constitute the Bird Of Most Extreme Shamefulness Ever.


At Dogs Hill a Dutch family reminds me of nice house-exchange holidays we spent in the Netherlands when our children were little. Arriving from the Rye direction along the cyclable concrete road they have gained the mistaken impression that this country is as civilized as theirs but are now pausing to absorb the fact that the path aheadwill shortly run out delivering them into the meat-grinder of reckless 70mph traffic along Pett Level. (Sadder but wiser, they turned back.)


Along at Winchelsea Beach, paths through the Beach Field are being constricted and displaced by the progressive spread of Blackthorn, unchallenged, it would seem, by walkers who instead now avoid the place leaving plump blackberries unpicked.




By the Fairy-ring Field we reached the bleached world of bone-white Crested Dog’s-tail, so dazzling with the sun behind you that the camera shuts down to make the sky & trees darker than they really are. If you look against the light, however, the same grass is golden ochre.


The season is pretty much over along Cadborough Cliff, with just a few Whitethroats & Linnets remaining but it’s a nice walk all the same, this time undertaken¬† daringly anti-clockwise.


The most interesting bird/birds however was/were Turtle Dove/s which I saw four times: once in the usual place at the north end where one flew off in Rye direction, again midway when one flew west and then twice around the junction with Station Road. This now, tragically, seems to be the only place locally where you have a good chance of seeing and hearing a bird which, twenty years ago, was common.


Phragmites, a common, wildlife-rich, reed, highly responsive to air and light, is in one of its most characteristic phases, adorned with glossy purple seed-heads.Half of Rye Marsh, so recently full of birds, has changed hands to become a maize monoculture. In the breeze, the reeds to one side hiss while to the other rattle broader leaves of corn .





Migrant Watch

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 5, 2016 by cliffdean

I got a phone call this morning from a young woman working for Ferrari News Agency. She had tracked me down from this blog, it would appear, as someone who – yes – watched birds at Pett Level. She wanted to know whether I’d seen anything “interesting” on Sunday.

I could have kept her for some time while I discussed the breeding success of Pochards (3 broods at Pett Pools this year; still a very rare breeder in Sussex) but I already had an idea that this was not what she was after. Had I, she clarified, seen any migrants? Once again I could have told her about Willow Warblers or Sand Martins but I’d been forewarned by my wife and then by another birding friend who’d had similar calls.

“You’re not interested in birds are you? You’re talking about human migrants”. I’m still not sure why she had to go about it in such a roundabout way.

It was already in the newspapers: five Iranians had landed on Sunday in full view of public and waiting police and paramedics. A Border Patrol cutter was attending close inshore. I wasn’t there.

Since the news – unappetisingly sparse – was already a day old, it was plain that she was trying to pad out these few facts with a bit of drama in order to fuel the reprehensible current anti-immigrant hysteria. I told her how friendly & hospitable I’d found ordinary Iranians and how ashamed I feel at this country’s antagonism towards people in desperate need. Yes, as a tourist Iran feels very friendly on the street , but read the Amnesty International report and you’ll see that there are very good reasons why some people would want or need to get away.

I went on in this vein for a while. When I paused for breath she asked, undeterred, “Do you know any other birdwatchers who might have seen something interesting, some migrants?”

My wife returned home to report that she’d earlier taken yet another call from Ferrari, this time enquiring whether she had been “frightened” about this arrival. Not at all, she told them. Was she not “worried” by the thought of these “strange people” being around? This is a holiday area, she explained, in summer it’s full of “strange people”. (I’d have added that most of them live here.) The most worrying thing, she added, was these poor people were desperate enough to make such perilous crossings.

………Well, did she know anyone else who was “worried”?


It was plain that they had invented a story but just needed a couple of names to give it a smear of credibility. They obviously like the idea of immigrants being spotted by birdwatchers, those guardians of the coast who stand between cowering coastal communities and the famous “swarms”. It might have a bit of Ealing Comedy, a bit of “Tawny Pipit” charm. But if you click on the link to Ferrari, you’ll see that the papers they work for and some people who’ve worked there, give the enterprise less of a warm-hearted glow.

Maybe they’ll go with it anyway: PLUCKY TWITCHERS NET TERROR BOAT perhaps.