From the Chalk Curve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 21, 2018 by cliffdean

Intersecting curves of a splayed wash of shingle from old storm incursions, contained by a low repair loop.

The fine skin of turf covering the pebbles is green for now but will soon face desiccation. It is studded with the hills of Yellow Meadow Ant, each supporting its own little emerald island of plants, perched on top or hanging on the sides, profiting from fine soil and moisture thanks to the endeavours of the colony within.

Low tide, on the turn; purr of Beach Survey quad bikes
Continuous sounds behind me: the bass pulse of tankers passing beyond the horizon haze, Herring Gulls & Oystercatchers on the sands; before me, continuous Skylark song, twittering of migrant Linnets as they stream past.
Migrant bands of shining white, yelping Med Gulls are also passing through and a Greenshank is calling; black Cormorants take a diagonal path across to the sea

Up beyond them, in the blue, the Beauvais > Dublin flight crosses trails with Montego Bay > Brussels.

Birds are on territory :Reed Bunting on an elder, a Dunnock on brambles, a tumbling Lapwing in the air, a Reed Warbler deep in the reeds.

As the flood tide flushes lug-diggers homeward, excited Sandwich Terns fish in the shallows, rifle fire starts from Lydd and, as the pond-water warms, Marsh Frogs begin to chug


Bird list: B, BH, C, CA, D, ET, GJ, GK, HG, L, LI, MU, OC, PW, RB, RK, RO, RP, S, SU, TE, YW

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Dengemarsh circular

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

This was the first time we had walked the whole way round from Lydd, a 4-mile circular route with hardly any repetition or deviation but quite a few hesitations in the middle part through the RSPB reserve.

The first and last stretches of the walk, down Dengemarsh Road and back up a broad farm track respectively, have fewer birds and so give people time to chat, get to know each other and catch up with news. And, on this occasion, give time for the thick, bird-enveloping mist to disperse. Time too to speculate on the purpose of the traffic, remarkably heavy for a narrow, rough road which leads only to the sea, and composed of a surprising number of very expensive-looking vehicles. Can they all be sea anglers? If not, what?

By the time we arrived at Springfield Bridge, visibility was improving: we were able to see Linnets & Stock Doves in the birdfood strip, wildfowl on the lake and the first of very many pairs of Reed Buntings – the lakes’ marginal vegetation clearly offering them exactly the right nesting habitat. Listening in to bird calls is always an important part of RXbirdwalks and as we paid attention to the buntings’ contact notes and song, we began to hear the atmospheric marsh sounds of displaying Lapwings & Redshanks.

A bit further on, we came across the rapid rasping chatter of our first Sedge Warbler and spent quite a bit of time watching its fluttering song-flight and trying to distinguish bits of mimicry. Further on, a Reed Warbler was singing from lakeside reeds but rather too faintly to be of much use in comparison, but then two newly-arrived Lesser Whitethroats could be heard rattling in the taller willows, one of them giving good views.

With the sun now shining, Linnets & Dunnocks singing from the flowering gorse, we spent some time on the viewpoint, enjoying its broad panorama of the marsh and hoping for the sound of a Bittern (it kept quiet). As the air warmed up, a column of gulls and a couple of Buzzards spiralled in a thermal at the top of which were 3 Sparrowhawks – local breeding rivals or migrants?

The walk back, which attracts few bird-watchers, turned up a couple of Bearded Tits, fantastic close views of a hunting male Marsh Harrier and finally a glimpse of a Great Egret quietly fishing on the edge of a nearby gravel pit.

Blue Discs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 15, 2018 by cliffdean

The other day I was referring to a satellite view to show the position of a Winchelsea Beach house which, though recently rebuilt, is now being demolished once again. This building stands on the 17th century shoreline, much of which surprisingly remains naked shingle,only the silty hollows having been so far vegetated. Something surprised me: two grey discs on the shingle that I’d never previously noticed, so today I went in search.

Two pristine piles of blue boulders. Although I’d walked past near t them many times, they’re at such an angle that I never saw them. I say pristine but over the 60+ years they have lain there a colonization has taken place – that of the black lichen Verrucaria (maura?)which darkens most of the untrampled flints. The piles are pristine however because they have not been colonized further; they have not been blanketed in moss nor suffered an eruption of bramble or elder fuelled by rabbit droppings. They have not been hidden as have so many others.

Just nearby are two perfectly circular depressions which I have taken to be bomb craters, though I’ve never had this confirmed.

Land of Ammonia

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 14, 2018 by cliffdean

Friday: The misty world of Cadborough Cliff was delicately perfumed yesterday with manure from muck-spreading at Rye Marsh, where slippery black clods made walking more difficult and, once back in the car, smelly boots a liability.

Along the cliff line many of the Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps & numerous Linnets are back in place, though only 4 Whitethroats have so far returned, and I’ll be keeping an eye open for further appearances of a male Stonechat and a Raven there.

More than 30 brightly plumaged Chaffinches were very active in singing and seeing off rivals, with a few unseemly scuffles on the path, though I suspect that some of these will join the northbound flocks passing along the coast just now.

On the edge of Rye the pasture was busy with probing Starlings & Jackdaws, shuttling out from their nests in nearby roofs.

Across the marsh 30 Skylarks, 2 Sedge Warblers, 1 Yellow Wagtail. First Lesser Whitethroat for this year in the garden of Dairy Cottage. A single Lapwing stood among the foraging gulls in the World of Dung.

Around the whole circuit there were good numbers (6 of each)of singing Cetti’s Warblers & Yellowhammers (also reported to be in good numbers at nearby Crutches Fm)

House Sparrows are usually in Station Road & along the top of Cadborough Cliff but also today at Winchelsea Station and Dairy Cottage – 2 sites where I’ve never previously noticed them.

58 species and a million Euros

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 13, 2018 by cliffdean

Thursday: relentlessly cool and misty but with lots of birdsong from the woods beside the Powdermill valley.

On Crowhurst Lake and on shallow floods there remain wintering ducks in small number: Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Teal & Wigeon while potential breeding species – GC Grebes, Little Grebes, Mallard & Tufted Ducks as well as a lot of Coots – appear to be on territory.

Migrant Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps are already established, a dozen Swallows and a Sand Martin were hawking over the floods and a Sedge Warbler was singing alongside the river.

An unfamiliar song drew my attention to a very smart male Stonechat with a female appearing soon after; these have nested here before but are very thinly distributed as a breeding species in lowland Sussex. Although one Lapwing was displaying, I could only pick out 3 birds. The recently reported male Marsh Harrier was quartering the area. Although several pairs of Linnets had taken up residence and others were passing through, I was disappointed to find no Yellowhammers at all.

As I stood on a green wall waiting for a Water Rail to call (it didn’t), with the sound of Cetti’s Warblers in my ears, in my nose the stink of burning plastic from an illegal farm bonfire, I picked up a message from Rye Harbour to announce that, after months of suspense, a million Euro grant has been awarded to  the Discovery Centre project.

58 species altogether at the west end of the valley and along the old railway line.

From the Viewpoint

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 13, 2018 by cliffdean

Halfway down Rye Harbour Road, just at the end of the containers, you’ll find the fingerpost directing you to the Reedbed Viewpoint. It’s just a five-minute walk , ideal for those unable to go further or who, at busy times, wish to be somewhere quieter than the Beach Reserve. You cross some rough grassland to a raised platform with handy benches from which to enjoy the sights and sounds of many kinds of birds.

Parking is a problem – no more than the roadside verge which, at the moment, is reduced in most parts to deep muddy ruts – so you if you arrive by car you might need to leave in a better place.

Since Wednesday afternoon turned out warm and sunny, we decided to spend just an hour there, keeping note once more of all the species we could see or hear during that time.

During the brief walk across we saw Collared Doves, Stock Doves and a Mistle Thrush on the big rusty barn and could hear Oystercatchers & Redshanks behind us on the river. In the brambles were Long-tailed Tits and my first Whitethroat of the year.

From the platform we had spectacular views of  Mute Swans low overhead and the usual flights of Cormorants coming in to their tree nests; in the reeds was a singing Sedge Warbler, the usual loud Cetti’s Warblers, and in the distance, from nearby pasture, we could pick out the song of a Skylark and the form of a quietly feeding Whimbrel. Against the afternoon light the Silhouette Challenge presented Shoveler, Peregrine (in the Big Tree), Marsh Harrier & Swallow. No sign of Bittern unfortunately, nor Bearded Tits.

I’ve done a couple of one-hour counts, though around dusk, earlier in the year, recording 44 and 45 species respectively though with an overlap of about 10. This week we got 47, though with 15 of these were new to the list.

Long Pink Legs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 10, 2018 by cliffdean

Spring is here, it came in overnight: lambs on the back field, daffodils through the village, middle-age men driving convertibles with the top down, a sudden flush of migrant warblers. And, at Rye Harbour, two Black-winged Stilts, no longer the great rarities they were when I first happened upon a pair at Palmarsh in May 1965, but nonetheless only the second record for the reserve.

Over the last few years they’ve nested at a few sites in the south-east but ignored eminently suitable habitat,  assiduously adapted in fact, on our doorstep. I refer to “two” rather than “a pair” since the head pattern on both looks male. And they haven’t been doing any courting. At least that was the situation yesterday when I went over to Do As the Romans Do. They present little in the way of an identification challenge but….it had been a miserable day with no other reason to go out so I tramped the shingle track down to the Barn Ponds where the forms of half a dozen birdwatchers broke the horizon.

The Stilts were very easy to see, the birdwatchers mainly grandparents on school-holiday child-minding duties. There was an interesting variety of other birds to be seen & heard from that one spot so I made a list. It’s interesting: you look very carefully, you see everything and note in down in succinct BTO codes (though I don’t know it for BW Stilt), put your note-book away and suddenly three more species pop out of nowhere – suddenly calling or flying up from cover. At the end of an hour I’d counted 41 – then heard Curlews, not Barry’s ring-tone but the real thing: Number 42 which, as you all know, is The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.

This morning was even duller, misty too, big rain-puddles adding to the challenge presented by deep pot-holes on the marsh road as I drove to count Herons’ nests at Winchelsea. Ideal conditions are bright early-morning sunshine which will reflect from the birds’ white necks to pick them out among the twiggery. This was the opposite, but since I’d arranged to meet Michael from the NT, we went ahead anyway. And it was very nice: loads of birdsong including several Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Raven, Fieldfare…altogether 46 species which is pretty good for such a short stretch. Among the hundreds of Rooks & Jackdaws we discerned 11 Heron nests, 2 fewer than I’d seen a couple of weeks ago but maybe they just weren’t showing up.

I hadn’t been home that long when I got an email from Graham, also in the Antiente Towne, that he’d just seen a Hawfinch at the school gate. Good for Winchelsea but I didn’t expect it to stick around for long so texted Michael, now back at the office. A few minutes later he replied “It’s still here! And a Firecrest.” Twenty minutes later I was back in Friars Road, where I spent so many years of my life, but the Hawfinch had gone. However the Firecrest was there and by now the sun had come out, it was a warm, lovely morning with Herring Gulls hassling  Buzzards against clouds curling overhead. The Hawfinch did put in a brief appearance, back in the Field Maple where it had first been seen.

Back home but out in the garden to keep an eye open for Kites. No luck there, but singing Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler – and just as I was going indoors, another Firecrest singing in next-door’s Thuja.

And finally a nice Winchelsea news-story I came across yesterday.