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On the move

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 18, 2017 by cliffdean

On the Winchelsea Beach seawall, as we set off last Saturday, we were passed by constant flocks of Goldfinches which often fluttered down onto the roadside teasels. And if you turned your head in the other direction you could see Gannets gliding and diving on the horizon while from overhead came the trilling of Skylarks making landfall. I had made this walk a couple of times already in the last week and was surprised at how much had changed: the numbers of Chiffchaffs had decreased and House Martins, so very numerous before, were entirely absent, both species having plainly made their way south.

Among the passing Goldfinches we could often hear Siskins and Redpolls. While the former stayed in the air we were lucky to have good views of the latter as they alighted in bushes on the Beach Field. This is more than can be said for the several Goldcrests we came across, which typically hid in high canopy, showing mostly in silhouette.

The Fairy-ring Field by Castle Farm held its usual crowd of Pied Wagtails and just after one of the group asked if it were too late for Yellow Wagtails, two of them appeared – quite late in the season – both washed-out looking juveniles. Towards the Castle we found a couple of Stonechats though no Curlews or Egyptian Geese.

As we approached Castle Water, something greatly disturbed the birds upon it, which rose up in a great honking of Greylags and a range of ducks disappearing into the distance so we prepared to be disappointed but, whatever had caused the panic, things had settled down by the time we got into the hide. As usual there were hundreds of birds though not the range of waders there has been, nor the celebrated Little Gull. We did, though, have excellent views of hunting Marsh Harrier and a more distant Buzzard.

On the way back we ran into a Treecreeper on one of the big, gnarled willows in The Wood and at the southern end of The Ocean found a Great Egret feeding alongside a few Littles, providing a useful direct comparison of size, structure and stance.

As usual we saw a good range of species, numbering 67.



Life & Trams in Lviv

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 17, 2017 by cliffdean

My strongest motivation for visiting Ukraine was reading “East WestStreet” by Philippe Sands.


Fascinating Bus Shelters of Western Ukraine

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 13, 2017 by cliffdean

You have to be quick – or slow – so I regret that I missed so many good ones, even the best. For such a basic structure, the variety is enormous in form, materials and decoration.

Those with the greatest pathos are marooned way out in the vast black-soil grain prairies.

Besides local liveries there are those adopted by village schools. While some are soiled with the tags familiar from our own depersonalised environment, others are the recipients of loving civic pride.

I am not the first person to take a typological interest in these humble yet ubiquitous buildings: there is a book!

“Soviet Bus Stops” by Christopher Herwig. The ideal Christmas present, not only for lovers of vernacular architecture but also for those who misspent their teenage years in one.

Lada Land

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 11, 2017 by cliffdean

There weren’t a lot of opportunities to see birds during this trip, and Casual Observations consisted primarily of Hooded Crows but we did make one boat trip in the Lower Dniester National Park, SW of Odessa. Though the park logo appetisingly depicts Demoiselle Cranes & Otter, I guessed that such specialities would not be on offer and indeed much of the trip followed a deep-water channel with steep banks occupied by anglers.

With just a few Whiskered Terns & Marsh Harriers – and very large numbers of Starlings – alongside us, I turned my attention to the variety of improvised shelters.

The captain had a radar which indicated large numbers of fish beneath us (no doubt steering clear of the lines).

While on the subject of fish, I saw this extraordinary specimen, so strange that for a few seconds I couldn’t work out what kind of creature it was  the fins and lack of legs give it away as an American Paddlefish, a species, since closely related to Sturgeon, imported into the former USSR for caviar.

And this strange fish was not in the Dniester but in an ornamental pond in the monstrously opulent estate of the wildly corrupt former president Yanukovych at Mezhyhirya, north of Kiev, where his state dacha was bloated into a vulgar palace set in manicured grounds contained within a security fence set 2m into the ground. (Mr Yanukovych is curently at an unknown address in Russia.)

In different circumstances we lured these massive Wels Catfish from the depths of the Chernobyl cooling pond with a skilful deployment of Custard Creams.

Back on the Dniester, we finally turned in to a shallow lake packed mainly with Coot but also Whiskered Terns, Great & Pygmy Cormorants, Great Egrets, Ferruginous Ducks, Mute Swans, GC & RN Grebes and of course cruising Marsh Harriers. I was looking ahead at some Caspian Gulls when I suddenly a much larger gull with a hefty black bill right beside – a juvenile Pallas’ Gull – but no sooner had I seen it than it was left behind, receding into the light….

So that was the birding excitement after which, apart from one Osprey, I turned back to home-from-home delights like this converted railway carriage…

…and the Human Interest of this group of ladies we guessed were Angling Widows. Unlike their contemplative husbands they were having a high old time with singing and dancing, picnic and, one suspects, The Consumption of Alcohol.

Apart From The Steps…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 9, 2017 by cliffdean

I must have been aware of Odessa beforehand but for so many people of my generation the name signifies a celebrated sequence in Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” during which tumbling panic ensues as innocent protestors are massacred by Czarist soldiers.

Now, they are named Potemkin Steps and are a popular place to be photographed against a view of the bay marred by a tall hotel built in mysterious circumstances and never occupied.

More recently, in Edmund de Waal’s “The Hare With Amber Eyes” I read of the fabulous wealth accrued by 19th century traders in grain from Ukraine’s fertile black soil, invested in magnificent palaces here, in Vienna and Paris

Following decades of neglect some of these splendours have been restored…

…while others are crumbling.

The streets and parks are shaded with tall trees.


“From the Clifftop”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 9, 2017 by cliffdean

On Sunday, a classic October morning in Hastings Country Park. Classic, that is, in the sense of blue sky, light NW breeze and inspirational views.

Not quite so classic for the birds for, although quite a few were passing through the numbers and variety were a bit lean. Overhead, the main protagonists were (yes, I know it should be singular but rather than Greek drama we’re talking) Goldfinches, backed up by much smaller numbers of Siskins, Redpolls, alba Wagtails & Meadow Pipits all moving east. Linnets & Starlings were, on the other hand, flying west, as were 3 GS Woodpeckers. Skylarks, as they are wont to do, were coming straight in off the sea while hundreds of House Martins (but few Swallows) were just milling about.

Large numbers of Meadow Pipits foraged on areas of rough grassland which, until a couple of years ago, formed part of an undifferentiated mass of even-aged gorse while Chiffchaffs fluttered about the bracken and in the remaining gorse blocks Goldcrests squeaked and Stonechats, at least 10 in all, twitched on the tops. We had brief & unsatisfactory encounters with 2 Ring Ouzels skulking deep in the scrub and could hear one Firecrest moving along the clifftop fence line ahead of us.

Although single Sparrowhawk & Hobby were brought to our attention by vigilante Carrion Crows, clouds billowing up over the scarp failed to bring with them any larger raptors. A total of 45 species all the same.

Lots of birds, few people.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 8, 2017 by cliffdean

Thursday: Dogs’ Hill to Castle Water. 79 species. This is not exceptional for this time of year, but as I have commented on previous occasions, there are not a lot of places where you could see such a variety of birds in such a short walk.

There was an eastward flow of diurnal migrants: lots of Swallows & House Martins, hundreds of Goldfinches accompanied by smaller numbers of Linnets, Redpolls, Siskins, alba Wagtails, Meadow Pipits & Skylarks. On the ground, Chiffchaffs everywhere but very few Blackcaps.

Most surprising was a pair of Coal Tits in scrub alongside the seaside track. Over several years I’ve submitted 61 complete Birdtrack lists for this site but today seems to be the first time I’ve recorded this species although at nearby Pett Level they’ve become frequent in recent years right down to the eastward edge of the PLPT land. I had a good look at these birds, which appeared to be the native rather than Continental type and after a few minutes they flew to more typical habitat  in a garden pine on The Ridge and half an hour later, one was calling from The Wood.

Along the southern edge of The Ocean (formerly confusingly known as Long Pit) a procession of small birds passing through the willows comprised Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tits and a Treecreeper, while Bullfinches & Goldcrests were calling from nearby bushes and a GS Woodpecker came flying over from the Beach Reserve.

By Castle Water I met one local birder who reported that the area round Halpin hide was “dead” but when I got there I found the lake full of birds including Little Gull, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Marsh Harrier & Peregrine. There were just two other people in the hide while in the wider landscape of Castle Farm there just a few distant dog-walkers. People sometimes complain that the Beach section of the reserve is too crowded, too busy, yet if you turn inland you have the place to yourself.