Steamy in Beckley

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 29, 2018 by cliffdean

On Saturday evening there was an extraordinary electric storm with constant rumbling and flickering, lightning wriggling among the clouds yest never a strike or detonation. It reminded me of accounts from the First World war, when coastal towns could hear the barrages from the Front. The absence of loud thunderclaps allowed me to go to sleep before the rain started, but when I arrived in Beckley Woods the next morning it was plain there had been a lot of it

Mist was hanging in the air, the trees were dripping and a lively flow rushed down gutters and streams.

This walk was a repeat of a circular route we’d followed in the winter, to notice the contrasts, but once the group had arrived, we set off in the opposite direction in order to seek some interesting species I’d located shortly beforehand. First was a singing Firecrest – one of 3 – which was close to a Goldcrest so we could hear the difference. Although the treetop Siskins had fallen quiet, we found a Garden Warbler burbling on the edge of a clearing with comparison again provided by a nearby Blackcap. A little further on, we came upon a Raven’s nest in a pylon, the 2 fledglings perched high on top.

Speckled Yellow

Now that the leaves are out, it takes a lot of patience to get a look at some birds. Whereas Marsh Tits will come out to see you off their territories, we heard a Treecreeper singing very close to us but just could not see it. We heard 4 more Garden Warblers, lots of Blackcaps, a Willow Warbler and a Whitethroat along the way, none of them visible. So it only remains to learn the songs, which is pretty difficult when you are confronted with several at once. Thank goodness for Entry-Level Chiffchaffs. 

’87 survivor

This is the time of year when you can easily locate GS Woodpeckers’ nests, owing to the noisy begging of their nestlings, and in fact we found two nests within 100 of one another.

Alder Buckthorn

Guelder Rose is Ukraine’s national plant, its vivid scarlet berries a frequent sight and symbol. These formed the hedge around an old wooden church I visited last year.

There was a lot of other interest, for instance two less common shrubs Guelder Rose & Alder Buckthorn, both perhaps introduced into Flatropers Wood by the SWT for their wildlife value, the latter perhaps an older planting for the manufacture of gunpowder  – more certainly the case around Powdermill Reservoir.

Flatropers hosts some mighty Wood Ant mounds. Braving trouser-invasion, I tried out this trick with a late Bluebell which the ants turn pink by spraying it with formic acid. Strangely, there seem to be no Wood Ants at all in the nearby and apparently similar Brede High Woods.

Photo from British Dragonflies

The night’s storm had left deep puddles in trackside ruts, now patrolled by dragonflies. We had fantastic views of courtship, mating and ovipositing by a pair of Broad-bodied Chasers.

In the open areas of Beckley Woods, the sunshine was now strong and humidity high, making us glad to get back to our vehicles.


Too much…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 26, 2018 by cliffdean

Haring caught up with the last episode of “The Woman In White” (Oppressive Men meet Violent Deaths; Oppressed Women find Love & Fulfillment) I switched on my phone to find a message that the very astute Stephen – also called Message – had just discovered a Broad-billed Sandpiper at Rye Harbour. Another rare wader! Just the previous weekend there had been a Terek Sandpiper which I’d not seen (too much to do and I’ve seen two others there in recent years) but Broad-billed is something else.

I had actually seen the previous one at Rye Harbour but that had been in 1982! I remember watching it quite close from the hide at Ternery Pool; somewhere – somewhere buried deep in the loft – are my notes from that encounter. It’s amazing to think that back then Ternery Pool was the reserve’s only wetland (Castle Water was not to be purchased for another ten years!) (but at least you knew where to look).

Prior to that I’d seen them near Ravenna during a hot, humid August where it was hard to sleep for the sweat & mosquitoes and you’d just doze off when the campsite tannoy would play a morning fanfare to announce “Il ghiaccio è arrivato!!”

So, once I’d located my rarely-used telescope, I was off, There was already a small group of Dungeness birders while beyond stood a meagre representation – Phil & Barry – from the local area. Luckily, the bird was still in view, albeit a bit distant in grey light, marching about on the mud of the re-created saltings among a whole lot of other migrant waders. Sometimes it would vanish behind a strip of vegetation or down into a creek but was distinctive enough to spot once it re-emerged and, borrowing Phil’s superior optics, I could plainly see the diagnostic back & head pattern, the heavily streaked upper breast and, as it stood backlit against some water, the slightly decurved bill. It looked pretty different overall: more solid and darker than nearby Dunlin which, helpfully, sported summertime black bellies.

In fact the supporting cast was pretty amazing with so many shorebirds showing such a graduation of spring moult, many of them justifying our move into cool and global nomenclature such as Red Knot & Black-bellied Plover, which I’d previously eschewed to avoid the sense of US Cultural Imperialism.

As time went on, the light faded but more and more  dedicated birders came hurrying down the path. However there remained an invisible county boundary between the two groups.

The next morning, Slow But Surers were early but late; on site at first light to find the bird had flown, though Alan had a little compensation with 3 Black-winged Stilts flying over. Black-winged Stilts! From the wildly improbable to the almost predictable in just a few decades! I decided to let someone else do the searching and parasitise their efforts, so called in for a tranquil hour at the Reedbed Viewpoint (55sp including Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, Great Egret) before heading down to the Beach Reserve. Hmmm – very few cars in the car park, a scatter of birders rather than a clump suggested a lack of success. As the morning moved on more folk arrived, a mixture of regulars and opportunists. The former savouring the wonderful wader spectacle (Avocet, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Knot, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Whimbrel), the latter dismissing it.

So, by lunch-time things had returned to normal. By late afternoon, another message came in – a reported Stone-curlew – but not confirmed. And then 3 Black-winged Stilts (presumably the early morning’s trio – but where had they been in the meantime?) on the Salt Pool! Well, Broad-billed Sandpipers are hard to see and present some interesting ID challenges but Stilts are Stilts and are all over the place once you leave the UK.

So we’ll see what today brings.


Garden Birds

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 24, 2018 by cliffdean

In addition to the surrounding houses, their trees & shrubs, our garden enjoys a nice view north across to Hog Hill and Rye Bay so when I’m working out there (this rarely involves actual gardening) I often keep a list of the birds I see or hear.

There are some self-made rules to this: although binoculars are permissible, a telescope is not, nor is perusal of the levels or sea for extra swans etc, although a NE wind may blow in Oystercatcher calls from the beach or even Coot-noises from the Pett Pools and these count, I suppose this is allowed since I’m passive rather than active…..(the policy lacks rigour, I have to admit).

Monday was a very pleasant afternoon when. more or less in order of appearance, there were: Buzzard, Jackdaw (always here though some head off for Udimore at night) always noisy, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Greenfinch (wheezing from the tree-tops, especially welcome now they’ve got scarce), Woodpigeon, Green Woodpecker (calling from the little wood round the glampsite across the field), Linnet (suddenly in a little flock on the field, now the young are out of the nest), Goldfinch, Herring Gull (always overhead or on the roof but especially watchful since our freezer tripped & we had to chuck out a few bits of meat), Robin, Blackbird, Pied Wagtail (noisily calling on the roof, there all spring but I never have found out where they nest – in an outbuilding I guess – and from this day absent – I suppose their young had fledged), Carrion Crow, Med Gull (constant calling from a group following a tractor; when they fly up I can see they’re all immature birds), Black-headed Gull (ditto) Chaffinch, Swallow (3 pairs from the farm up the road), Blackcap, Starling (now feeding young), Jay (Star Bird! I rarely see them here – what’s it up to?), Pheasant, Red Kite (Star Bird#2! Circling overhead), Magpie, Rook (never used to see them here till a small rookery was established across the road about 5 years ago. Now they even come to the feeders), Wren (keeping quieter than usual), Great Tit, Peregrine (alarm calls as it whizzes across towards the coast), Blue Tit, Song Thrush (I suddenly realise there’s one singing down the road but I’ve only now filtered it out from other sounds), House Martin (Oh! 2 overhead! so far they have ignored the nest boxes apart from a cursory inspection by some birds at the end of April), Sparrowhawk (more alarm calls, then hawk-calls as 2 dive across the field, I never see more than one – what are they up to?), Mistle Thrush (they nest just down the road but days go past with no sign), Grey Heron, Raven (croak of an unseen bird), Cuckoo (calls drifting in from the Pannel Valley), Collared Dove (only now? Where have they been all afternoon?), Great Spotted Woodpecker (from that same little wood across the field).

38 species but it’s all very disruptive and I don’t get much done.

Late Arrivals

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 24, 2018 by cliffdean

The first one was me. Having advised participants on last Saturday’s Combe Valley RXbirdwalk to bring secateurs I was, at the last minute, unable to lay my hands on any in our own house. They’re the kind of thing that are always lying around until you need them. And then I’d got less than a mile down the road when I realised I’d left my phone on charge in the kitchen… I am normally well organised. This is not the Real Me you are seeing.

Also late, and much more worrying, have been Swifts this year. So much so that people were posting anxious messages, anxious that following a period of inexorable decline, The Year With No Swifts might suddenly, and finally, arrived. You read the frightening articles about mass extinctions and tell yourself it can’t really be happening but in the background lurks a science-fiction headline: The End Of Swifts/Turtle Doves/Spotted Flycatchers – so many to choose from.

But the previous day, over the Sussex Highlands at Brightling we had seen a steady trickle passing north a fortnight late and now they were whizzing low past us, finding plenty to eat above the green wetlands. Not swarms, but better than nothing which, a few days previously, had seemed a desperate possibility.

Another sign of the season’s turn, if more punctual, for another declining bird, was the harsh sound of brown young Starlings, just out of the nest and noisily begging for soggy black invertebrates which their dutiful parents ferried back from the fields. They won’t hang around; in a few days they’ll have moved out to feed in packs, leaving hectic nest-sites silent for another year.

Since the clear night had left a heavy dew, we took the route along the old railway line, through a green tunnel of overhanging trees echoing with birdsong. End-to-end Robins & Wrens with matched-up Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps.

Out in the valley a Cuckoo was calling, Lapwings displaying and we listened in to Reed Buntings, Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and eventually, as we moved from scrub to phragmites, Reed Warblers. A single Lesser Whitethroat sang invisibly from bushes just east of Acton’s bridge.

As we followed the river, 2 migrant Common Sandpipers fluttered along in front of us.

The path round beneath the stub of the old viaduct looks set to be lost to encroaching brambles. In spite of the best efforts of those who wielded secateurs, it needs more forthright management to be kept clear. However, it’s not a public footpath and it’s not clear who owns the land so how will that happen?

While snipping, however, we were accompanied by the fluttering of dozens of Beautiful Demoiselles, the sparkling iridescence of their wings at rest like intricate Tiffany glassware. Just one Yellowhammer remained in this area which once held several pairs before the road wiped out their habitat. Whether they have left the area or merely dispersed is not clear.





Common Sands



Mining Community

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

Out In The Crowded South-East

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 21, 2018 by cliffdean

Friday; an up-country expedition to listen for Firecrests – and anything else of interest – in the forests west of Brightling. The satellite view shows dark patches of conifer plantation but when you get there, it’s all Scots Pine – the Wrong Sort Of Conifer – until you get in deeper. Away from the loud radio playing from a truck in the field where otherwise one might strain to hear Skylarks (scarce inland), Yellowhammers & Whitethroats.

And there are belated Swifts overhead, moving steadily northwards.

While the farmward side of the track was light enough for birch and bramble there were the odd Willow & Garden Warbler, both of which count as Interesting to those of lacking both on the coast.

Down, down deep green declivities lined with forgotten hedges outgrown and overweight, stretching for sunlight but slowly sinking. It looks as if there should be Wood Warblers, but they are no more.

Frequently there are the distinctive reminders of October ’87: tipped-up root-plates anchoring wind-thrown trees still aiming skywards.

Across a garlic-tinged stream meandering musically between interlocking spurs and up the other side to The Right Kind Of Conifer, and sure enough there’s a Firecrest singing; just up the slope are two more. Goldcrests too, in  ratio of about 3:1.

Further on, at the lip of a steep bank, there are mighty Beech outgrown pollards incised with crowded initials

Great rotten stumps, ravaged by GS Woodpeckers, crawled over by Nuthatches and sprouting massive bracket fungi.

Multiple thrushes echo their repetitious song through the trees. There should be Nightingales, there should be Turtle Doves but instead we are dominated by the drone, urgent and unceasing, of a motor-mower: it’s Friday so stripes must be sheared across the doll’s-house lawns of weekend hideaways in readiness for the arrival of occasional occupants.


At Glazier’s Forge there have been beleaguered House Sparrows in the past. None now, but Swallows, a handsome m Grey Wagtail singing on a dung-heap and a very nice small pond, with tadpoles, leeches and Broad-bellied Chasers. From the spiky conifers behind us comes the chatter of Crossbills.

You get the idea. It’s Rudyard Kipling country, still feeling ancient, still connected by converging thoroughfares running down the ridges between a crow’s foot of deep Wealden ghylls. You don’t meet anyone.

There’s no-one to ask if, even with the aid of OS map, GPS and waymarkers, you still lose your way.

And where once-working farms have become toytown models planted on a dais of sterile green turf, those waymarkers seem to have gone missing.

Then there are confusing forks in the path.

So you just have to rely on helpful livestock. Firecrest score was 6, the last shimmering song issued from Completely The Wrong Kind Of Tree – a roadside shelterbelt of deciduous species.

Goldcrests 5: Firecrests 0

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 16, 2018 by cliffdean


Luckily, one of the statistically important “random 1km squares” in the Sussex Ornithological Society’s Firecrest survey this year includes some very nice countryside around the village of Iden.

Not all random squares are so favourable; some have little access while others were proposed which entirely lacked suitable habitat (in the middle of Pett Level, for instance – that one was discarded I’m glad to say).

Iden, though, is beautiful and accessible, criss-crossed as it is by footpaths maintained by the excellent parish footpath team (if you want to see good stiles, go to Iden; if you want a nice walk, go to Iden). But it doesn’t seem to have any breeding Firecrests. Goldcrests, yes: in yew hedges and tall leylandii they were singing but of the Firecrests silvery song there was not a note.

Apart from those two I found 39 other species during my walk, with songs coming from every direction, and the landscape was brilliant green in the sunshine, further illuminated by extravagant matrimonial flounces of Hawthorn blossom and golden carpets of buttercups. In addition, there are beautiful old houses, the most perfect of which are devoid of life: gate closed, ample gravel drive empty of vehicles, curtains drawn; no children, no chickens, owners occupied elsewhere.

After a few fruitless attempts to turn the sound of begging baby Robins into Spotted Flycatcher calls I regretted that these days I heard the latter so infrequently that I had lost the capacity to distinguish them, so was pleased to hear that Robin-sound followed by a distinctive tik-tik coming from the dark foliage of an old Oak pollard in a horse paddock just opposite the gracious Victorian Iden Park and the bird shortly flew into the more open branches of an adjacent Plane. Later on, as I sat down to take a phone call in the churchyard, another Spotted Flycatcher popped out of the Yews to perch for a second on a tombstone before diving back among the needles.

Overhead there was a continual stream of gulls: Black-headed, Herring and especially white-winged, yelping Mediterranean heading, I would guess from Rye Harbour to the pastures of the Rother Valley.

As I walked back up towards the crossroads, I noticed two distant dots moving in a distinctive fashion and through the binoculars confirmed that a Jackdaw was giving a Red Kite a hard time as it moved through. Now regular, though I don’t think settled, in this area, kites are being seen just about every day, sometimes in small flocks. It’s the season – established only in recent years – when British-bred young birds go walkabout in what appears to be an anti-clockwise direction, sometimes accumulating in puzzlement at headlands before eventually returning to their natal areas. Other people see them more than I do.

Back home I went to enjoy the sunshine in our garden and found two Red Kites circling over there too.