Sweet & Sore

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

It’s that time of year again. Again. Again. Always the same, never quite the same.

So here I am again/still, as in little post-war b&w family photos, delighting in blackberries. Sweet above but scarifying below where bare legs push through a prickly mesh of shoots snaring the track.

And then for the rest of the walk I’m picking seeds out of my teeth. I don’t recall that from my childhood: milk teeth, simpler teeth lacking the crevices of the aging jaw.

The Beach Field paths are alive, displaced by swelling blackthorn thickets, avoiding water trapped behind old river walls, admitting defeat in the face of the irrepressible bramble they wriggle in new directions, across dry shingle banks forested with teasel – prickly again – mortification of the flesh through leisurewear.

Once again the bushes are busy with flitting warblers, once again tantalizing with the briefest of glimpses before they dive into the dark hearts of windswept bushes. Common & Lesser Whitethroats, Willow Warblers identified on the merest hint of colour: rust, silver, lemon. There’s a Redstart too – just the flash of red in its start as it springs from the path into oblivion.

Loads of fruit though, not only the blackberries but sloes and damsons. At the south end of The Ocean a Treecreeper is calling from the willows and a Little Grebe is sitting on a late nest out on the water.

Sand Martins are pouring through southwards, hundreds and hundreds, clusters of tired birds resting on the barbed wire fence by the castle, erupting with gravelly calls. A Raven croaks overhead. But there’s hardly anyone around; a few anglers, some distant hikers clutching Reserve maps so for the half-hour or so I’m in the Halpin Hide I have the place to myself.

Lots of birds are scattered across the islands: hundreds of Lapwings but also a few Black-tailed Godwits, Common & Green Sandpipers, Dunlin, Little Ringed Plovers, Ruff and a single adult Curlew Sandpiper. Over on the bright green and very unwelcome Crassula some Snipe are probing with their long bills – the only bird equipped to penetrate the blanket of weed.

Ruddy Darter



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


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

From the top of Chick Hill we can see dark shoals of Mackerel moving through the bay, attended by a crowd of white gulls & terns.

The sea is warm and high tide has moved round to morning, when the low sun glitters from silver flanks along the tideline. Thousands of pesciolini lie along the pebbles and float in the shallows where they have been driven onshore by hunting Mackerel which are in turn predated by splashing Gannets and up to 3 Grey Seals together.


Their big jelly discs of eyes stare fixedly, mournfully at the sky.

They provide a feast for Herring, Black-headed & Med Gulls which scavenge them from the shore while Sandwich Terns pick them from the sandy green water.

Last two photos from Dengemarsh by Tim Waters

Sea anglers too are intoxicated by the illusion of plenty, catch more than they can eat, sell a few on to seaside restaurants who offer them at prices inflated rather than reduced.

These though represent the last vestiges of populations largely destroyed by industrial over-fishing.

Read the 18th century accounts quoted in George Monbiot’s “Feral”.

Although stocks quickly recover in Marine Conservation Zones our local representatives are against such measures and want to be there at the end.

Blue eyes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 4, 2018 by cliffdean


Can you see it? In the ditch, just left of centre. Hovering on glittery wings at one end of its 20m territory along this rather dry ditch in which the reeds have been chomped off square by hungry sheep unable to find much sustenance on the parched pastures.

We have walked in the hot sunshine across dry grass, humped old river-banks and dusty rills, once part of a tidal system, now farmland managed by the National Trust, whose Warden, Michael, has kindly offered to share with us his exciting discovery. We follow the ditches, keeping watch for dragonflies but those we see are Ruddy Daters, small & red.

Until, at last, we spot a bigger, bluer insect  – much,much bluer than any others on offer, Isfahan blue, cruising steadily up and down, never higher than the level of the surrounding fields.

Recorded in E Sussex only once before, it’s a Southern Migrant Hawker, several of which have arrived in our area over the last couple of weeks, and appear to be breeding. It colonised areas in the Thames Estuary a few years ago and looks as if it’s spreading.

Eggs are laid in the cracks in dried mud – a habitat in good supply this summer.

Good pictures courtesy of Michael Howard



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 3, 2018 by cliffdean

A beautiful warm evening at the Castle Water viewpoint, one and a half hours of ceaseless activity and variety as birds moved to roost in trees or reeds, to spend the evening in the bay or out in the sheep pastures. Hundreds of Lapwings, gulls, wildfowl and hirundines. Constant calls half-heard in the distance or right next to us. Plenty of insects which, however, seemed to be observing some kind of amnesty.

58 species in the end: 2 Marsh Harriers, 3 Great Egrets (and lots of Little), Bearded Tits (no, we couldn’t see them) and three species new to my Viewpoint List (which has only been going since last winter – Common & Green Sandpipers and…a Treecreeper in the willows behind us. Barry thinks this is a new bird for the reserve because much of the area contains few Trees to Creep in. The place I usually find them is “The Wood”, which is not actually part of the reserve.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 3, 2018 by cliffdean

After greening up from a bit of rain, the grasslands are entering a new cycle of desiccation, the landscape returning to pallour.

Over the garden twitter the first brood of young House Martins and the nest outside our window has been incompletely renewed so we can hear them from bed. Seasonal wanders include invisible Nuthatches and stealthy Jays. The first migrant phylloscopus warblers are creeping around the oak foliage and young Buzzards wail from the old cliff-line.

The water in the roadside pool has receded to reveal a rim of mud which has attracted a few waders including Dunlin, Avocet, Ruff, Common, Green & Wood Sandpipers though it has been so hot that even at quite close range these birds were distorted by haze. One day 3 Ruff helped out by roosting on the near bank with a bunch of loafing Mallards; each was in a distinct plumage & moult, one all white at the front with big black spots.

From the mid-70s for about 25 years, this pool was pumped out by the SOS and brought in an amazing variety of waders which could all be studied at close range since they quickly became indifferent to passers-by, traffic and even back-firing cars. I recently happened up on a diary from that era which mentioned a flock of 40-odd Curlew Sandpipers! (I’m sure I’m not dreaming, but these days that would be remarkable anywhere. Needless to say, I now can’t find this reference.)

The other week I was at the British Library investigating the contact sheets Fay Godwin made in preparation for her 1979 book “Romney Marsh”. Although I hoped for revealing images of Rye Harbour from that era, they were few, however there were many more showing the repair of coastal defences, improvised dwellings, the stone piers of Smeaton’s Harbour and, most unexpectedly, a sheet showing numerous birdwatchers gathered at the “Wader Pool/Project Pool” on a hot day. Old-fashioned cars, hair-styles and telescopes and, really, a lot of people. Was it that, at that time, the Pools Project was the only show in town? (RHNR had only Ternery Pool then) Or could it have been the Pools’ Greatest Hit – a Least Sandpiper in 1984? With more time and a better magnifying glass it may be possible to identify some of the people present but first I have to struggle through layers of BL bureaucracy.

The pebbles are warm when we emerge from the sea every high tide and the water is so warm it doesn’t make you feel as if you’re going to die every time you wade in. In general the beach is pretty quiet, with scattered groups of sunbathers, a few heads of swimmers and a dark, glossy head beyond of an inquisitive Grey Seal watching patiently. It dives then pops up again, watching, a little unnerving if you’re swimming nearby but there seem to be no recorded instances of unprovoked aggression. Although up to 4 Grey Seals have been noticed, it could be that some or all originate from the release of rescued individuals from RSPCA Mallydams Wood, in which case they have positive memories of human benevolence and are hoping to be fed.

On a couple of days, 3 species of jellyfish appeared: transparent Moon Jellyfish Aurelia aurita, the lovely blue Cyanea lamarckii (several years since I’ve seen them) and beautifully marked Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. The appearance of Lion’s mane Jelly in other areas has given rise to some typically stupid Silly-Season articles in stupid newspapers for stupid people.

Winchelsea Swifts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 2, 2018 by cliffdean

Stagnation or gestation? When no progress is discernible it’s hard to be sure.

It was eight years ago that I first approached the then incumbent with the idea of giving a helping hand to the colony of Common Swifts which nest in St Thomas’ Church. Over the intervening period I’ve tried a number of times to follow this up, with little progress until the last couple of years.

The Swifts arrive in late April, all the way from a winter hurtling through the skies of …. to nest in putlogs – the square holes left by scaffolding poles during the building’s construction in the early 14th century (remember that word, you might be able to impress people with it at parties and it could come in handy at Scrabble).

In this photo of the church’s east end, you can make out five putlogs, blocked to varying degrees.

There is competition for these sheltered sites within solid stone, principally Feral Pigeons, Jackdaws, Starlings and, on occasions, Pied Wagtails but the first two species on this list do not find favour with the church authorities on account of their untidy habits. As a deterrent, the accommodating cavities have been blocked, more or less completely, with rubble but in many instances gaps remain: some Starling-sized but others fit only for Swifts. The Starlings arrive first.

It occurred to me that if we were able to replace the randomly sized rubble with little stone doors featuring Swift-friendly gaps we could establish an increased number of secure nesting places. As so many houses across the country are improved to an air-tight, draught-free, Swift-proof standard, there should be a good take-up on ideal holes.

Together with my friend James we designed such a door, counter-weighted in an L-shaped bookend way so that it could just be slid into place, avoiding any modification to the ancient fabric. We discussed the scheme with the helpful churchwarden, John, obtained permission from the Diocesan architect but then, disastrously, James got ill and was unable to manufacture the Swift-doors. So that season came & went and thankfully James recovered but he then had to catch up with missed work.

So, we arrive in 2018, the Swifts are back without our assistance and I learn that Michael of the National Trust is keen to persuade townesfolk to fit Swift nest-boxes to their gracious homes. He is unaware of my long-stalled plans for the church but we soon join forces and meet with Audrey & Ray, SOS Swift Champions to plan a campaign of consciousness-raising. The first step will be a stall at the upcoming Winchelsea Fete on August 11th.

apart from a couple of stragglers fluttering round the church on glittering wings, his year’s Swifts have already left. Although they arrived late in a cold and rainy spring, the protracted periods of hot weather have enabled them to feed their young almost uninterruptedly so that now, as I write, they wheel high in the dawn sky, indistinguishable from all the rest, somewhere over southern Europe.