RXbirdwalks in February

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

All this month’s walks are at (hopefully) sheltered inland sites, along footpaths, forest tracks and quiet lanes, exploring the complex mosaic of habitats which make up the RX hinterland. The Beckley Woods route is new, the other two I’ve not done for a few years.

Saturday 10th: Beckley Woods

4 miles: Northwards through extensive deciduous and coniferous woodlands. Typical Wealden woodland species with quite a few of them singing by now – get to know the songs before too many join in!

Saturday 17th: TQ81S

4 miles: Mixed countryside north of Pett village, including Guestling Wood, arable & grazing land in the upper Pannel Valley. Wood and farmland species.

Saturday 24th: Mountfield & Glottenham

A longer walk of 5 miles: High Weald and river valley, including the magnificent avenue of ancient Sweet Chestnuts, Glottenham Ponds and the moated site of Glottenham Castle.

If you would like to join any of these walks contact me at rxbirdwalks@gmail.com (note new email address) for joining details.

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A Good Thing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 28, 2018 by cliffdean

Friday: the East Guldeford loop with Slow But Sure: down the Rother to the rivermouth, across to Camber and the Wainway Wall, back through Moneypenny. In the bright sunshine, a Mistle Thrush is singing in the tall trees by the fishing boats.

Since I was last here, something amazing has happened. For years, the banks of the river have been piled with rubbish, appalling amounts of plastic which shamed a picture-postcard town which prides itself as a prime regional tourist destination. (In fact, a blind eye is turned to litter in other parts of Tinseltown, especially the Cattle Market car park. On return from Cuba a couple of years ago I found it shockingly filthy compared with Havana.) Well, I hadn’t done anything about it either – such a mass of junk could not easily be cleared. (Wrong.) I’ve been searching through my photos for a “before” image for comparison but failed to find one. turning a blind shutter too.

Sometime around Christmas a lady came into the RHNR information centre to report how saddened she’d been by the squalor of the riverside upstream of Rye, asking if the reserve could do anything. I explained that the reserve has its hands full clearing the beach but suggested some potentially helpful contacts. I later discussed the problem with Andy Dinsdale, who organises Beach Cleans in other parts of Rye Bay (see Rye Bay Beachcombing Facebook page).

And that was it, till suddenly I see that the owners of Rye’s Mermaid Street Cafe had just got in touch with their friends and organised work parties, contacted Rother DC to cart away the spoil. In just two sessions of this brilliant Citizen Action they made an incredible difference.

Photos thanks to Rye Bay Beachcombing on Facebook

Since the refuse had accumulated over decades, it seems reasonable to hope that after this mass clearance little effort will be required to maintain a clean riverbank.

Thanks to Tim Waters for making Rye Harbour look like Mariupol

Following this metaphorical ray of sunshine, a thick mist drifted in. Apart from the usual Redshanks and a lolling Common Seal, wildlife sightings were restricted.

Once we got out to the Wainway Wall, we found a herd of 115 Mute Swans – about a quarter of the Romney Marsh winter population, accompanied by an Egyptian Goose, and lurking in the reeds round Moneypenny Pit, a long white neck ended in the long yellow bill of a Great Egret, now a regular bird in many of our wetlands.

Shingle streets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 25, 2018 by cliffdean

Beyond Drismal

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 22, 2018 by cliffdean

Sunday: The usual capricious forecast: rain at eleven, it says, but even by nine as I’m slipping on the muddy path beside the Crowhurst Powdermill Stream, my binocular eye-pieces are spotted with drizzle-drops. Few birds around but, from the trees along side the old railway track on the hillside, there comes a high=pitched, rapid drumming that sounds very much to me like a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. However I can’t get closer and have been fooled more than once by GS Woodpeckers choosing a slim branch to drum upon, so without hearing the call or setting eyes on the bird I can’t be sure. Tantalising though.

The attenuation pond hold more ducks than ever – around 200 in all, including 77 Shoveler, 74 Gadwall & 42 Wigeon. This permanent water is proving attractive to ducks, in spite of the walkers and dog-walkers passing by; I think the site is sufficiently open for the birds to keep a wary eye on the humans.

Downstream by Adam’s Farm (now miserably boarded up but at least now free of the horrible fly-tipping) there are Bullfinches calling from the orchard. But there’s more, I’ve recently learnt: wildlife that I’d never suspected.

If you were to look at this narrow stream flowing past Adam’s Fm you might think, as I did, that there would be little living in it. But, like me, you’d be wrong, for a fish survey last month of just a 30m stretch here revealed no fewer than 13 Brown/Sea Trout, 1 Gudgeon, 14 European Eel, 3 3-Spined Stickleback, 72 Stone Loach & 52 Brook Lamprey. This shows just how rich these small waterways are.

The far side of the Link Road, in the grey, the sounds were the rush & hiss of traffic, the crunch of gravel from passing walkers, cyclists and joggers, the drone of a helicopter appearing briefly beneath the clouds and the strangulated peal of Bexhill bells.

The digger has gone from the scoured out south bank, which operation appears to have been unlicensed and carried out in the middle of trout migration. A single Water Pipit took off from the fields nearby and – characteristically – headed off resolutely into the distance. About 250 Black-headed Gulls were loafing on the floods along with half a dozen Herring Gulls, a single Great Black-back & 16 Lapwings. There are Teal piping invisibly beyond the willow scrub on the north side but even the gunfire of pigeon shooters fails to stir them, and with rain falling more heavily I’m loath to explore further.

Back along the old railway line, a pause to admire the brickwork of the Sandrock Bridge, reminding me of whooping echos beneath the Skew Bridge by my grandmother’s house in Harpenden (both she and the house are long gone but the bridge is still there).

And the fine sandstone cliff at the south end of Quarry Wood. Dozens of Redwings wheezing in the taller trees, Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Jay, but this time no Hawfinch but there are Marsh & Coal Tits on a feeder in Sampson’s Lane.

Blocked

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 20, 2018 by cliffdean

From the green coast up into the frosty Weald, slithering and squelching through the muddy woods, beneath singing thrushes, past the gypsum conveyor belt…

…and the Yellow Jeep…

.. along the moss-banked old lane, dark, emerald or long-shadowed…

…to the reservoir, where winter rain has raised the water level into the marginal willows. The furnace dam is now drowned again, its clinker walls no longer prowled by herons but browsed by fish.

The curtain of branches not only precludes an easy scan of the lake but provides refuge for wildfowl which, a few weeks ago, were loafing in the open on mud below the Crassula lawns. Now the only clues to their presence are calls, wingbeats and ripples.

There are a few gaps towards the point by the old furnace site where it’s possible to scope meagre bands of Coot, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard & GC Grebe but the north end is obscured by a screen of willows. While I can hear Teal and glimpse the white flanks of Tufted Ducks, there’s no more to be seen…until a beautiful drake Goldeneye comes flying in from the dam end of the lake and splashes down  – near to 2 females which I’d not previously noticed.

…except for something on the shore which, for a change, is not a discarded drinks bottle but a female Tufted Duck, very freshly dead, no injuries, and a with a ring on its leg.

A British ring – nothing exotic – but it will be interesting to find out where this bird came from.

(UPDATE: the answer is – not far. It was ringed by Rye Bay Ringing Group as age 1st year, sex unknown on 26-Sep-2017 07:00:00 at Icklesham, It was found 115 days after it was ringed, 19 km from the ringing site.)

Less of a mystery, at 11.15, about the punctual rumble of the huge Emirates A380 crawling its way from Dubai towards Gatwick.

I’ve met no-one. Apart from distant gunshots from a Pheasant-shoot and the cold wind in the treetops there’s very little sound until a couple’s voices approach and then recede. Just one more thing: though Bullfinches are piping as usual from the lichen-tufted blackthorn on the old farm site, the great dark umbrella of Yew needs checking for Hawfinches. No sound.

Stretched

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

Although these High Wealden villages appear to be drifting apart, Saturday’s RXbirdwalk was instead extended by the closure of the former permissive path through from Ashburnham Furnace to Bunce’s Farm which required us to retrace our steps and take the route up through Rocks Farm instead.

I mourn the loss of the little barn at Bunce’s, its long-hidden ancient timbers rediscovered during the demolition of the functional accretions which disguised them, its reconstruction as a place of repose and instruction. You were free to open up the big doors, learn about Wealden meadows from panels inside or take garden chairs outside to contemplate the prospect of rolling fields and woods from the patio of age-softened bricks. It is now locked up and the path past it blocked.

Most of the interesting birds had, however, already been seen by the time we reached the locked gate. Already, as we descended the steep hill, grooved with a braid of holloways, towards the dam, the weir, the silted upstream and ex-industrial downstream and wartime roadblocks of Ashburnham Forge we were aware that the trees were full of Redwings & Blackbirds. Turning along the track towards the Furnace, streams of Redwings flew out before us, in the end totalling about 200. But up in the streamside alders there were smaller birds too: beside Blue Tits there were both Siskins & Redpolls, only a dozen and mostly the former. As usual these days, Buzzards were mewing overhead.

I was listening out for the click of Hawfinches, and as we passed a small beech plantation (still full of Redwings) I caught sight of the distinctive rounded, short-tailed finches moving about among the twigs. Soon, everyone was able to catch sight of them, and even better when they came our way. Always a challenge, choosing to perch just behind branches, there were nonetheless enough of them for all of us to see all the distinctive features, if not catch on to the calls since these were rather quiet. In the end, about 25 had crossed the lane.

Something I’d not noticed before, looking SE from the churchyard: that shed to the left of the  cottage…..

…actually a bit hard to see from this photo, but it’s an old railway carriage, or part of one.

Crumbled

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

The sandstone face of Cliff End edged a little further westwards last week when two significant rockfalls took place. The first fell from close to the Cave which, year by year, promises to vanish altogether yet with each collapse is revealed to reach further back.

The Fulmars which nest there are just having to shuffle a bit closer together while a few are now camped under the scrub on the very cliff edge.

The second fall was further west, a huge slab which has been leaning away most menacingly for the last couple of years but is now a heap of smashed rock on the beach. When I went down to look, two women had walked along that far and were returning right along the base of the cliff, having failed to make the connection between the rubble and how it got there. Unbelievably foolhardy (though having said that, none of the incautious visitors who do likewise have yet been flattened).

The bright green cascades to the right are the invasive alien Hottentot Fig.

A high tide then scoured away the shingle bank which has protected the rock since the mid-80s, allowing the landslip of softer material to slide down and drift away as slurry, carrying with it an unsightly ladder constructed recently by a nearby householder who had also failed to make the connection between “land” and “slip”.

With the shingle gone, the former beach is revealed, with big flat slabs of stone lying upon a bed of ferruginous sand (many years ago this same sand was said to stain washing hung out on windy days).