Archive for the Uncategorized Category

TQ91D

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 23, 2017 by cliffdean

6am in hazy heat. Herring Gulls guard the Strand Gate as the first speeding commuters race towards its blind bend. Song Thrushes & Blackcaps in the trees, shrill Swifts dash round the church. I can’t understand why they don’t attract a regular audience since the few other local Swift colonies are in bigger towns where it’s harder to keep track of them without wandering into the path of traffic. In Winchelsea though, the graveyard provides comfortable benches and shady trees as well as longer-term accommodation.

This nice view from The Strand comes courtesy of a high-speed motorist who failed, a month ago, to take the right=angle bend and cleared a gap through the hedge. This came shortly after another car had left Rye Harbour Road at a velocity sufficient to punch a Desperate Dan style hole in the brick wall opposite.

A week or so later, another optimistic driver failed to take the riverine curves of Sea Road and ploughed into Sutton’s fish shop, demolishing one corner which remains propped up to this day though still doing business in a Blitz-style “More Open Than Usual” spirit. And then, during that brief, intense rain-storm, another vehicle doing the customary 70mph into a thirty limit at Pett Level aquaplaned into a car parked at the road side, destroying it. For some time now there has been no control of speeding on rural roads. In a cynical’ money-saving move, this life-saving function was handed over to “Big Society” groups of local Speedwatch activists who were duped into unpaid monitoring of local traffic yet were legally toothless – a fact soon realised by motorists and rather more slowly by the volunteers, who now concede it was a waste of time, benefitting only politicians who could claim that something was being done when it wasn’t.

Back to the nice stuff: poppies which have escaped the herbicide spray.

But who wants to know about that? We want the countryside to be lovely, “timeless”, “untouched” etc (incredibly, a recent Facebook comment described the Combe Valley as “untouched”, demonstrating with shocking clarity the naive way in which the landscape is perceived).

Birds then. Relaxing birds. Cetti’s Warblers again; out of five sites recorded in recent months, birds calling from just tow. Kingfisher! In the same place as last month yet the habitat just there includes only The Wrong Kind of Bank so the nest site may be on the Brede – just a minute for a hurtling sapphire (as long as it doesn’t cross paths with a hurtling car en route). Skylarks! not only out towards Winchelsea Beach but, for the first time I can hear those singing on Rye Marsh from streets at the very heart of the Antient Towne.  Herons! Fluffy-headed young still in nests when really by now they should have left home and got a job rather than hanging out with the Egrets. Reed Warblers! All along the Canal – if only Napoleon had foreseen the environmental benefits he would bring to our area…

Litter courtesy of a weekend home.

Little Owl! Pinpointed among the Little-Owl-coloured branches of the same old twisty-limbed Oak thanks to a cursing Song Thrush.

TQ91E

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 22, 2017 by cliffdean

An early morning circular walk from Winchelsea Station to Rye produced a good variety of birds, including some species I’d not seen there for a while. The Little Owl, for instance, at the junction of Station Road & Dumbwoman’s Lane, which had vanished for a year and a half shortly after I told people it was a good place to see them, was back again perched out in the open on top of a dead hawthorn bush.

I was actually searching for Cetti’s Warblers but they were keeping uncharacteristically quiet – not to be found in even the most regular spots and those I did hear were rather distant so hard to pinpoint: one along the railway line and another beside the A259, where I’d heard it from the car the previous day. as usual though, there were a lot of small birds, many with newly fledged young. The more notable were 10 Blackcaps, 16 Chiffchaffs, 62 Linnets, 13 Reed Buntings, 15 Reed Warblers, 3 Sedge Warblers, 34 Skylarks, 20 Whitethroats & 3 Yellowhammers.

A large dung heap just south of Dairy Cottage is attracting hundreds of Rooks & Jackdaws as well as pairs of Pied & Yellow Wagtails.

And although I’d given up on Corn Buntings, two were back again at the customary spots on Rye Marsh. This is also one of the few places west of the Rother where Yellow Wagtails still nest. Numbers last year were poor – perhaps they didn’t like the maize monoculture then –  but this year’s barley must be more agreeable since I found 4 pairs, one of them carrying food, while two others flying over were apparently visiting nests further from the footpath.

One of the most welcome sights & sounds came from here. See that house on the left with the two dormer windows? Well, those windows were open in the heat though the curtains still drawn so the occupants had the now-rare luxury of awakening to the drowsy purring of a Turtle Dove in the little tree just outside. That’s if they notice. Quite likely not. But it was sitting there in the sunshine, sometimes fluttering up in display flight.

Rye town is perhaps now the best (only?) place to hear them in our area: here at Cadborough Cliff, at Gibbets Marsh car park and Rye Station (Ashford platform).

Some things are more reliable, fly-tipping for example. Public spending cuts ensure that a mattress such as this embellish the landscape for months at a time.

“The School of Love” by George Shaw

In the shade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 21, 2017 by cliffdean

On Sunday, shadow falling from the park’s tall trees cast a welcome cool on a day of mounting heat. Although at 9 Hastings was still pretty quiet, traffic noise built up as visitors poured into the town and after a while the detection of birdsong was enhanced by the identification by sound of arriving motorcycles.

There was a remarkable amount of song – a lot of Wrens especially (and they always make themselves heard) – but also Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Woodpigeons, Blackcaps & Chiffchaffs. A lot of Goldcrests too; we weren’t counting but it would have been interesting to have done so. My theory that the winter’s Firecrests might have stayed on to breed met with no support even after lengthy listening-in around ostensibly suitable habitats.

Caucasian Wing-nut – part of a shady stand of suckers by Shornden Reservoir

We spent a bit of time trying to identify trees. Out in the woods this is not too demanding but in this park it definitely is, thanks to the presence of about 400 different types, including forms & cultivars. As we moved around we passed through zones of musty perfume from flowering laurels.

The ponds provided interest not only from lazily cruising Carp but also a variety of spectacular dragonflies such as Emperor & Broad-bodied Chaser. At Buckshole Reservoir a Grey Wagtail seemed to be nesting in the concrete outflow structure and on Shornden the local Herring Gulls and a few Black-headed were joined by one Lesser Black-back.

From this open vantage point, a flock of Swifts could be seen wheeling over Bohemia.

 

8 & 7

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 16, 2017 by cliffdean

On Friday of last week we had a walk in the Salehurst area with two principal objectives, namely a search for singing Firecrests and lunch at the Salehurst Halt. Both were achieved, with silvery songs from 8 of the former shimmering down from sombre stands of Western Hemlock, which seems to be their preferred breeding habitat in this area (where Goldcrests share the same sites, yet in other habitats eg Scots Pine only Goldcrests can be heard). Altogether we saw 44 bird species, including several new to the list since previous visits have been in winter, and one very interesting chair – an industrial design classic languishing in deep woodland.

The following day, the RXbirdwalk from Pebsham over into the Combe Valley Countryside Park reached as far north as the attenuation pond to the north of the BHLR, following reports on FB of up to 4 Hobbies. In warm sunshine we counted and recounted until 7 were in view at once, performing breath-taking aerobatics right in front of us in their pursuit of hapless flying insects. Although we’ve seen Hobbies on previous RXbirdwalks – in fact 40 of them once at Dengemarsh – these were the best views ever (and i can remember the days when Hobbies were scarce).

Kitestrike

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 6, 2017 by cliffdean

I had not visited this farm in the lower Brede Valley for a few months but on Saturday was interested to see how the breeding birds were getting on, especially the Corn Buntings which, a few years ago, were numerous there – the last, isolated, population between the Rother and the Downs. The bad news is that they seem to have gone – why or where a mystery.

But there was plenty of good news: apart from a lot of singing Skylarks, Linnets, Reed Warblers & Reed Buntings, there were several each of Whitethroat & Sedge Warbler. Whereas just a single pair of Yellow Wagtails was disappointing, a Cetti’s Warbler was the first I had recorded there and I was particularly pleased to find a family party of Stonechats. (Several years ago I had seen a young Stonechat in this locality but was cautioned that they’re very mobile once hatched, so didn’t count it as breeding record.)

Apart from some fields of hay & rye much of the area lies fallow this year ranging from mixed recent crops grown up tall together to stretches of bare earth and this latter has attracted several pairs of Lapwings to nest. These brave birds are the few in our area not breeding behind electric fences but their chances of raising young seem poor when faced with the range of predators on the prowl, including Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and…2 Red Kites which came flapping down the valley.

Just recently the now traditional late-May Kite Walkabout has provided many sightings of small flocks across the county ( and many, many more in Cornwall). Having seen none, in spite of hours enjoying the nice weather in our garden, I was starting to feel a bit left out, especially when my daughter texted that she was watching a flock of 6 at Chanctonbury Ring. so I was pleased to see those two.

When we had another look at the farm on Sunday, the grass which had been rowed up the previous day had mostly been packed into shiny black bales. The tractor driver carrying them to the yard pulled over and opened his cab window to announce, “You’re too late. You’ve missed the twenty Red Kites which were here yesterday!” After I had left that morning, silage harvesting exposed vulnerable little beasts beneath the cut grass and Kites appeared out of nowhere, swooping and diving in among the tractors. “How did they know?” the farmer asked.

There was still baling to be done so we kept an eye on the proceedings but just one Kite glided over, to join a Kestrel and a Buzzard, but soon drifted away.

 

The path less travelled by

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 4, 2017 by cliffdean

Following our success last week in finding lots of the supposedly-vanished Yellow Wagtails in the extreme east of the county, I returned to check the adjacent tetrad behind the pleasure-domes of  Xamber. It was warm and humid as I left the seawall along a supposed bridleway with a wagtail-free pea-field on one side and sunny spots of greenery lining the caravan site on the other.

At a certain point my way was blocked by the broad and still waters of Broomhill Creek. My map showed that I had passed unknowingly a crossing place, having fallen victim once more to the Tall Summer Vegetation Menace which completely concealed not only the bridge but also, it seemed, any path on its far side.

There was little alternative but to meander with a mazy motion, following the creek back round towards Broomhill Farm. There was just one Yellow Wagtail out among the peas, quite a few Skylarks & Reed Buntings, a distant Marsh Harrier and the same Barn Owl we’d noticed the previous week. Plus various greenery-birds, including Lesser Whitethroat, along by the caravans. And, for much of the time, the calls of Sandwich Terns & Med Gulls coming from beyond the seawall. I wasn’t very happy though.

As I passed the cottages, the fungicide-spraying gentleman we’d chatted to the previous week came out to ask how I’d got on. He insisted that there really was a crossing place over there – lots of people used it – and a clear mown track the other side too. So it looked as if I’d have to blame my own oversight rather than ESCC RoW…but opted to blame the tall reeds instead.

So I shifted my sphere of operations westward to Pound Lane, where I was grateful for a bit of cloud cover until it got a bit cold. Once you’ve got past the retirement bungalows re-purposed as grey-painted designer hideaways you emerge into open sheep-grazing, unsuitable for Yellow Wagtails, There were, however, a couple of singing Corn Buntings on fence posts in pasture picked over by massed Jackdaws, Rooks and noisy young Starlings. To the north of the Wainway Wall, whose curving course follows the early mediaeval  Rother, a few shrill Yellow Wagtail calls came from vast arable fields. In spite of red dots on the OS map and even ESCC waymarkers there was not the slightest gap in the tall crops. Access would be a battle for anything less than an expedition armed with jungle knives and so I mapped the birds as well as I could.

On the way back, I called in on a derelict in which, a few years back, we’d found a Tree Sparrows’ nest stuffed between flimsy layers of wall. No sign of them now though, and I left with legs tingling from nettle stings.

Dengemarsh

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 1, 2017 by cliffdean

For the previous couple of days, the forecast for Sunday had been one of uniterrupted sunshine, so I was a bit surprised, on arriving at Lydd, to note that the layer of cloud, rather than burning off, had formed a southern horizon smooth and livid with the promise of heavy rain. A check of the radar map showed a band as colourful as a bad bruise heading our way and by the time the last RXbirdwalker had arrived our various rain-avoidance strategies had been reduced by the first heavy drops and the flicker of lightning to Plan A i.e. sit it out in the car. Accuweather assured us that “rain would cease in 18 minutes”, which it did, upon which we proceeded down a deeply puddled Dengemarsh Road to Springfield Bridge.

As always, this approach allows a scan of the water and reeds, where, in addition to the usual waterfowl, we could see good numbers of Common Terns & Common Gulls and a brilliantly-lit f Marsh Harrier.While differentiating between songs of Reed & Sedge Warblers some Bearded Tits came flying past and then remained close to us, giving excellent close views. Much is the time we’ve wasted in the past, hoping for a brief glimpse of this bird, but here they were, almost as real as a photograph and pinging away loudly to imprint their call on those who didn’t already know it.

There were a lot of flowers and insects along the path too, and the yodelling of a territorial Redshank close by.

Four-spotted Chaser (and other wildlife photos)  by Stuart Barnes

Grass Vetchling

From the Dengemarsh Hide we looked out upon a raft on which were nesting several pairs of Common Terns, uneasy since accompanied by a pair of Herring Gulls. Ducking the dives of optimistic terns, the male HG sat patiently, awaiting the hatching of tern chicks which would provide a convenient buffet for its own young. An adjacent raft accommodated terns and a Common Gull, which appeared to co-exist peacefully. So far anyway.

It had become pretty windy as we approached the Viewpoint, when a brown bird appeared quite high up, approaching from ARC direction – a Bittern! – but dropped down before everyone could catch sight of it. From the mound we enjoyed more great views of both male & female Marsh Harriers, a few Swifts & House Martins and a rather more distant 2 Hobbies – fewer than expected but we did get a closer look later. A Common Whitethroat also sat up close by, prompting a sortie down as far as Christmas Dell where a Lesser Whitethroat was singing, in order to enjoy the comparison (and escape the wind). Well, we had an excellent opportunity to get used to its rattling song and could see exactly where it was – a couple of metres away in tall scrub – but just could not get a look at it – couldn’t even pick out its movements. As I always say, “It’s not a zoo.”