Roadside developments

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 25, 2016 by cliffdean

Since I last had a look at the area downstream from Crowhurst several works connected with the Link Road have been completed. Yesterday I led a group from the village looking at the way the site was developing. The area’s extraordinary silence has, of course gone forever, to be replaced with the constant hum of traffic but the news is not entirely bad.

The Flood Attenuation Pond, just north of the road in the Powdermill Valley has retained a pretty constant water level whereas I had understood it would fill and drain according to rainfall, giving a frequently changing amount of mud. Instead, its permanent water has attracted a small population of wetland birds – small, but more constant than the inexplicably lacking wildfowl of the main valley. There were Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Mute Swan, Coot & Moorhen as well as a Little Egret. The rough margins held Reed Buntings & Stonechats. The water’s edge has been colonized by Greater Reed-mace yet no Phragmites while the northwest corner is growing willow at a healthy rate which threatens to obscure sight of the water over the next couple of years. A new raised bridge crossing from the east bank of the stream presents an elevated viewpoint.

After such a prolonged rainless period, the zone between the road and the river looks very dry and is becoming scrubbed over with hawthorn & willow. Tracks both east and west have become overgrown and more difficult of access, in the latter case because extended closure of the path between Acton’s & Hillcroft Farms prevented walkers from using the riverside path. In this area there were Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers & more Stonechats. A harrier which flew along the opposite side, against the light, was probably Marsh but something made me think it could be Hen. Unfortunately it glided behind trees before I could get a good enough look.

Around Three Bridges, a Water Pipit flew up calling and further west, close to the now-completed-and-quite-useful Greenway, the call was coming from a group of 4 pipits but it was hard to say whether they were all Water or mixed with Meadow, of which there were quite a few. The shallow ponds near there were frequented by 4 Cormorants, c10 Teal, BH & Herring Gulls and a lot of Pied Wagtails.

In spite of the intrusive new road, there are still plenty of birds in the upper valley – I noted 55 species and extensive planting of woodlands, hedges, scrub & grassland should provide plenty more habitat. Whether formerly breeding Lapwings will tolerate the disturbance, in fact whether the wetlands are managed in a way that will suit them, remains to be seen.

0-60 in 1 hour

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 25, 2016 by cliffdean


My “short walk” – from the toilets to 3 Gates through the PLPT land by the canal then along the seawall passes through a variety of habitats therefore a good range of birds. It takes just an hour out and half an hour back (having seen everything) unless I stop to talk to someone.

This morning there were 60 species out and another 3 on the return. How many places are there where you can see so many in such as short time?

Mostly the Same Old Stuff of course and some of those can remain inexplicably hidden but this morning’s stroll enlivened by Brent Geese (18), Whitefronts (at least 2), Rock Pipit, Marsh Harrier, Bullfinch, Grey Wagtail, Water Rail…not much migration but a few Goldfinches, Linnets, Lesser Redpolls, Siskins & Skylarks.

The best thing however was a group of about 20 Bearded Tits sunning themselves in the branches of a dead willow in reeds not far from the road. On my way out there had been no more than the slightest pinging yet 20 minutes later there they all were, out in the light and whizzing about in the surrounding vegetation. Yet just the other day we’d been trying to see them at the Castle Water viewpoint, where feeble calls had got closer and closer without a sign of the birds themselves.


Interesting as always

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 15, 2016 by cliffdean


It was a quick walk in grey weather, otherwise I could have spent a long time photographing the colourful aliens along and behind the Front Ridge, where garden plants spill out over shingle unvegetated since the early eighteenth century until they meet natives doing the slow and humdrum job of colonizing silts from long-gone tides.


Off Dogs Hill, the sea was dark, the horizon swarming with Gannets and indeterminate gulls. Along the seawall, a thin stream of Swallows & small finches, including a few Redpolls. Robins are always wall-to-wall at Winchelsea Beach but they were ticking too from every other bit shelter including odd islands of gorse out by the Castle. Lots of Song Thrushes rushing about and by the Castle too a single Ring Ouzel – maybe the last of the influx.

Starved of rain, Castle Water has more than its fair share of islands lined with loafing Wigeon but without the waders that might spice it up. However, a brief show by a Bittern flying across the north end, a patrolling male Marsh Harrier to give the ducks a stir and a perched Merlin that made a lunge at a passing Meadow Pipit all added touches of drama.



Beneath wires at the north end of  Beach Field lies a freshly dead Mute Swan, a crescent of blood from its slashed neck sprayed across the pebbles. Since the foxes have not yet attempted removal, the Time of Death I would estimate as “this morning”, but as I pass later a Crow is taking an interest from the safety of the deadly wires.The corpse bears no ring.


75 species.


Call of the Wild

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 9, 2016 by cliffdean

It’s been a fantastic week for Ring Ouzels – those wild mountain blackbirds that drop in – if you’re lucky – during October, passing through briefly, some years absent and other erratic, from European uplands down as far as North Africa.

Wary, streamlined, silver-winged, with that resonant chuc-chuc! contact note and shrill flight call, they favour downland hilltops but around here have to make do with Fairlight (a reasonable enough upland), Cliff End (a small lump) and Toot Rock (scraping the barrel).


Bird photos by Kirsti Matthews

Most autumns you feel fortunate to cross paths with one or two. Sometimes you don’t see them, just hear the call from the dark depths of a thorn bush or cathc sight of a slim dark thrush diving into cover. A couple of years ago I felt elated to see 4 on Cliff end only to learn later that 300 had made landfall on the Firehills. But that was a once-in-a-lifetime event and, as lifetimes go, this week has not been too bad. I’ve lived at Pett Level for very nearly 40 years but have never seen so many Ring Ouzels there, nor so consistently nor Showing so very Well.

I suppose that last week’s strong easterly winds must have drifted migrants across the Channel. Numbers have been increasing over the last few days till this morning when there seem to have been about 15 – not just a glimpse but repeated close views even when we were slashing & burning at the PLPT work party they were whizzing back & forth. Often, Ring Ouzels are only present for the first hour or two: they drop into coastal cover, maybe feed for a bit then head onwards. These, however, have been hanging around all day, allowing even the undeserving late risers the chance to see them.


Yesterday – Saturday – RXbirdwalkers at Hastings Country Park found themselves assembling alongside the massed ranks of the Friends of HCP but the two groups took separate routes. We turned off downhill towards Warren Road – a traditional RZ site – and almost immediately heard calls. It turned out that maybe 10 birds were feeding at a garden Rowan hidden, unfortunately, behind an Atlas Cedar. so we could see birds swooping across but then they’d be concealed by the needles. When we sidled up to the garden gate for a better view the Rowan was empty, though we could still hear calls from various gardens. All this lurking around houses was a bit awkward since we didn’t want to intrude on the householders’ early-morning routines but those who emerged were interested to know what we were looking at and a fair bit of People Engagement was undertaken.

We found more, and had much better views thanks to proximity & improved light, on the north side of Warren Glen,where there were about 6, and then a flock of 8 flying from Place Farm. So maybe a total in the mid-20s. However Trevor F who lives nearby reckons he counted 31 in his garden – not all at once though.

Apart from the ouzels (also ousel, from Old English osle “blackbird,” from West Germanic *amslon- (source also of Old High German amsala, German amsel), probably from PIE *ams- “black, blackbird” (source also of Latin merula “blackbird,” Welsh mwyalch “blackbird, thrush,” Breton moualch “ouzel”). (I was wrong – I was sure it was a corruption of oiseau=uccello) the visible migration was weak on Saturday, but with the drop in temperature this morning it was pretty busy, especially LI,GO,SK,MP,PW, so looks fair for the week ahead.




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


Early yellow light stretching long shadows across the hillsides. Calls coming from overhead. Bands of purposeful Goldfinches and lines of alba Wagtails – well, I enter them as Pied because I expect that’s what they are but I don’t really know – are heading east along the seawall along with Meadow Pipits and streams of hirundines while from high above them I can hear Skylarks arriving off the sea. I used to find their invisibility mysterious and exciting but since I’ve discovered some other people can see them perfectly well it just makes me feel anxious.

Though some Linnets are passing through, dozens are dropping in on a freshly cultivated field before being chased about by a small male Sparrowhawk. I search along the chainlink fence of the sewage works for warblers – I’m hoping of course for Yellow-browed which have been so numerous in some parts of the country that they’ve had to call the army in to deal with them – but there’s only Chiffchaff. Later on, a long string of Long-tailed & Blue Tits makes a break for it across a hedgerow gap and, as they shoot out from the leaves, I can see lots of Chiffchaffs among them – again a typical situation for YB but no sooner have they reached the other side than the vanish deep into the shadows.


It has to be October too because Jays are criss-crossing the countryside, Stakhanovite in their single-minded acorn harvest, Mistle Thrushes have reappeared on the drier fields and shrill Rock Pipits have joined the mobs of Meadow Pipits on the shingle.


It’s noisy, now that sunrise coincides more closely with the desperately accelerating current of commuters which blends seamlessly into the School Run – little passengers in red sweatshirts still brushing their hair. From Fairlight Cove too comes a rumbling and clanking where diggers are fashioning, at great public expense, yet another bund of Norwegian granite to protect perilously perched properties.


Secretive Song Thrushes are numerous in the blackthorn thickets of the PLPT land where I’m checking apple trees tangled and congested from decades of overshadowed neglect but still bearing fruit – perhaps better this autumn since last winter’s work has let light in once more. I wonder what the varieties can be; on the charts they all look the same – apart I guess from Knobby Russets.


Halfway through the afternoon I get a call from Pat B who, noting the onshore wind, has optimistically stationed himself  in the lee of a groyne at Cliff End and promptly seen a Sooty Shearwater! Shortly afterwards I’m there too but all we see are Gannets, a few distant Sandwich Terns and rather a lot of Common Gulls in an interesting variety of plumages.

That is, until the very moment that I pack up my telescope when an Arctic Skua appears, looping the loop over the horizon.

That is, until I extend my tripod once more, when it loses interest in the chase and drops beneath the horizon to vanish between the waves.



Dodging showers

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

When we arrived at Springfield Bridge last Saturday, there was no wind at all and in the stillness you could listen in to an aural panorama of Bearded Tits, Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits,  Chiffchaffs and, less subtle – Coots & Greylag Geese. The phone lines were dotted with Starlings & hirundines while from a high hiding place among the girders, a Raven croaked from a nearby pylon.


A lot of Reed Buntings & Chiffchaffs were working through the reeds ahead of us while to the right a new sunflower field had attracted hundreds of Linnets, making me wonder why birdfood strips had not been planted before. Another cloud of Linnets rose up from time to time (usually coinciding with the passage of a Marsh Harrier) from another sunflower strip towards the bungalows.


This calm did not last for long for, very quickly, dark clouds approached on strengthening breeze. At first they seemed to be heading off for Ashford but before too long we were spattered with the first raindrops. I normally prefer to stay out of hides, finding them dark and restricting compared with the broad landscape outside but in these circumstances they came into their own, our scurrying transfers from one to another not always well synchronized with periods of respite.


The water level outside Makepeace & Firth Hides was low, and the islands exposed not yet infested with Crassula so we were able to make out a reasonable range of wildfowl and waders, including Pintail & Curlew Sandpiper, though a Little Stint was not visible.

The wind was stronger & stronger, allowing little to be heard from the viewpoint though the rake-straight necks of Great White Egrets stood out against the reeds. Eventually, a sharp shower caught us out in the open, luckily close to a small willow beneath which we cowered for the duration. It hadn’t seemed a very productive trip, so I was surprised, on totting up the species, to find we’d seen 67.

RXbirdwalks in October

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2016 by cliffdean

Since posting these a few days ago I’ve had to make a few alterations. These are highlighted.

Sat 1st: Dengemarsh

Sat 8th: Hastings Country Park

Sun 16th: Doleham

Sun 23rd: Castle Water

Sat 29th: Brede High Woods

If you would like to join any of these walks please email me on