Combe Valley (formerly known as Haven)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 12, 2017 by cliffdean

I was too busy to take more photos – a pity because the valley looked fabulous!

I hadn’t been into the valley for a couple of years – certainly not since the road was completed,but starting from the Garden Centre car park I was immediately surprised by the number of birds singing in the willows and flowering blackthorn hedges, especially Willow Warblers which I normally encounter in ones or twos as they pass straight through. Someone has been managing the Pebsham Valley as a water meadow – scrub has been cleared, it’s green and on a little pond there was a Green Sandpiper to prove it.

Up the hill beside the tip. multiple Linnets were trilling while Blackcap & Chiffchaff (& more Willow Warbler!) sang from the taller trees and Skylarks from the Great Rubbish Dome, now covered and no longer attracting hundreds of Herring Gulls & Carrion Crows. Pebsham Lake was looking good too, backed by trees, grazed by cattle. It’s regrettably shot over in winter but is now tranquil and picturesque – albeit originating from  a stream dammed by rubbish.

From the top of the hill we looked down on the SWT reedbed, more reeds getting invaded by willows and, on the south side of the stream, well-watered water meadows,Then there was a movement on the bare slope beside us: two male Wheatears so richly coloured, so strongly marked that it was hard to believe they were “just” Northern.

At the foot of the hill all we could see at first were Greylags till a pair – then a second pair – of Lapwings began tumbling. I had seen these before from a distance, or so I thought, but as we moved up the valley there were more – another 4 pairs – opposite the Water Pipit marsh (no WIs though). 6 pairs of Lapwings! I s this possible, squeezed between St Leonards & Sidley, when they have disappeared from almost every other part of the Hastings hinterland?

Along the river there were Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings, first Sedge Warblers and, in the well-managed water meadows on the north side, a couple of Little Egrets. Further west, however, the situation is not so great, as I’ve previously observed, since meadows within the SSSI have been allowed to get overgrown, the ditches silted, perhaps blighted by the road scheme. (I have to say that the road is very largely hidden and will be even more so in a couple of years when extensive tree planting matures. But you can hear it all too well.) So we discussed what could be done to get correct management restarted. Signs of Citizen Action are plain though, in the installation of Guerilla Benches and the fighting back of briars by secateur-wielding dog-walkers.  The remaining briars – plenty of them – were occupied by many more singing Linnets.

Further west, on the Attenuation Ponds where we saw Garganey the other week, there was yet another pair of Lapwings displaying. I really thought it was too overgrown (give it time though – what’s the management prescription for this area?) Swallows & Sand Martins were moving north over the ponds and my first Whitethroat of the year was singing from the bushes just s we turned up to Acton’s Farm.

Along the old lanes back towards Pebsham there were yet more Linnets, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps & Willow Warblers, but also Green Woodpeckers on the fields and Buzzards overhead. Reaching the old railway line – I had last been there while conducting Winter Bird Surveys in advance of the road scheme, I was keen to walk up to the stub of the old “17 Arches” viaduct which is signed as a “Viewpoint”.There were Nuthatches there Goldcrests & Jays too but no view since tall trees obstruct it – Railway Poplars no less. A view would be desirable but must be achieved at the expense of quite a few of these.

By the time we got back to the cars, we’d seen 61 species. There are quite few problems of governance, finance & management facing the  Countryside Park but notwithstanding all that, it’s a wonderfully rich natural area, a great resource for local people who are starting to see it from the Greenway and may at some point dare to venture out further.


Beyond Scotney

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 10, 2017 by cliffdean

Two days out last week in sunshine & Skylark song along the quarried shingle beach SW of Lydd then turning in to the interior as far as a couple of derelict farms. A similar trail but slightly different results.

Once away from the town’s Rook-chorus, the regularity of Cetti’s Warblers becomes apparent, maybe a dozen alongside the road but none at all once we turn inland.

A raised spur of white pebbles betrays the old shore line.

From beyond the first shining rape field come the songs of woodland birds in the trees at the edge of the army camp: Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker and further along the buzz of the first spring Sedge Warbler is in competition with hurtling motorcycles.

Parties of Shelduck strut about the grassland while on the banks of the lakes there are still a few Wigeon & Teal not yet departed northwards. More surprisingly there’s a lone Brent; it looks healthy enough but has somehow become detached from those streaming up-Channel not far away.

The sunny weather guarantees plenty of coastal traffic and light aircraft from Lydd, their droning counterpointed by yelping Med Gulls, white-winged in the sunlight.

More white wings, long ones this time, show newly arrived Common Terns out with Black-headed Gulls on a spit.

On the Thursday, brilliant Yellow Wagtails are running among the cattle but on Sunday are frustratingly nowhere to be seen, until later when territorial birds are flying over the crops. Against the light but easily heard from the gravel pits are Avocets. A falcon flies up with prey and dashes away across the fields – it looks like aMerlin but was just too quick. A f Marsh Harrier is quartering the fields.

From rough grass alongside the track burst up Corn Buntings and one sings from an isolated willow just yards away. On Thursday, we had just one feeble view of this usually common bird

On the other hand, Tree Sparrows had been noisy and easy to see around an old cottage now uninhabited but for bees. there had been a brief flutter from a Little Owl too.

On Sunday we had to work a bit harder but managed to get good views of some alongside the concrete farm road.

After crossing big rape fields our clothes are mottled yellow with pollen.

At this junction repairs to the barn wall tell a story.




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

Around their mud-brick house, nomads have improvised a number of intriguing structures.

I think this one may be a hen-coop, raised to evade predators.

In the distance: a trembling line of camels. closer to: Brown-necked Ravens & whistling Thekla Larks.

This enclosure comprises a remarkable range of materials…

…the least expected of which is a bicycle frame.

We’re hanging around not for the architecture but for the Desert Sparrows which find refuge in this tiny island of twiggery, moving with the encampment.

Irrigation from boreholes has given rise to an increased number of permanent dwellings which in turn have acted as stepping-stones for House Sparrows, bigger and bolder than their desert cousins, pushing the latter further into the wilderness.

They make forays among the grit but otherwise rest in the shade.

Bird photos by Ralph Hobbs.


Definitely Spring

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

Considering it was only the very beginning of April, the amount of birdsong on Saturday’s RXbirwalk was amazing. All resident species but for numerous Chiffchaffs and  the wave of Blackcaps which had arrived in the area just two days before, the complexities of the soundscape kept us busy from the very start, where busy cawing from the Two Sawyers rookery provided a constant background for the many other species round about.

Drifts of Wood Anemone whitened the floor of Guestling Wood as Blue, Great and a surprising number of Coal Tits fluttered overhead while loud calls of Nuthatches and GS Woodpeckers came in from trees further away. Out in the open, Skylark song was pitted in unfair competition against a crowd of Med Gulls on a freshly tilled field. Coots have consolidated their hold on the few small ponds in the area and Grey Wagtails could be heard at both Water Treatment Works and Pickham Mill but were very shy and hard to see. We saw & heard 41 species.

This Treecreeper, photographed by Stuart Barnes, was not only singing but dancing!

I’ve been in this area too long; I’ve got too used to it and take for granted the ease with which I step into a landscape others will travel long distances to experience. I get spoilt and lazy. On Sunday I went on my first longer Pett Circular for months, looping round the back of the village to Pannel Bridge, thence down the valley and across the marsh to the seawall. Loads of birds of course.

I must recommend at this point both current exhibitions  at the DLWP. While Elizabeth Price’s pretentiously titled show is very, very interesting and thought-provoking, that most relevant here is George Shaw’s,  of  woodland interiors, bearing traces of (illicit, transgressive) human occupation, so very reminiscent of the suburban woods where I played as a child yet infused with classical references owing to the works’ origins in a residency at the National Gallery.

At Pannel Bridge I was delighted to find a Yellowhammer singing from the  hedge. In decline nationally, they have all but disappeared from the lanes around Pett/Fairlight/Guestling and, although this has been a traditional site, I’d not seen a bird here for some years.

Ironically, this was more exciting than the Marsh Harriers, Med Gulls, Avocets and multiple Cetti’s Warblers in the rest of the valley.

As I was cutting across to the seawall, two shepherdesses driving ewes along the track towards me flushed a Cattle Egret from a nearby ditch. At first it dropped out of sight behind the Pools but soon flew back past me to perch on a post, where I took this poor photo, before it moved off once again,to content itself, in the absence of cattle, with a flock of sheep. From a serious rarity, this has become a scarce but regular bird in the RX area and has now bred in England. This all-white individual is however in non-breeding plumage.

Crowhurst new circular

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 26, 2017 by cliffdean

On today’s RXbirdwalk we climbed the hill again from The Plough to meet up with the old railway track. Looking down the valley, we saw a pair of Ravens being harassed by Crows & Jackdaws.

While there were plenty of Chiffchaffs singing and any number of Robins, Blackbirds, Blue & Great Tits, the Treecreepers & Goldcrests so conspicuous last week were few & far between. Strangely, no Mistle Thrushes either, though  there were a couple of Fieldfares in the treetops.

Once more, we looked at the form and distribution of trees, like the outgrown and now collapsing Field Maple on the old wood-bank (above) and the coppiced Ash among a drift of newly opened Wood Anemones (below).

In Quarry Wood, we noticed that what we’d taken for Primroses by The Cave were in fact Polyanthus. Planted there for some reason or resulting from the dumping of garden waste?

And not the only garden species, especially once you get south of the Sandrock Hill railway bridge (where two cyclists were struggling down the cutting (towards an attractively folded matress) complaining about the “poxy trees” which impeded their descent.

Besides this Flowering Redcurrant, there were Daffodils and Privet as well as an Apple Tree.

Other domestic residue is plainly unwelcome but, unattended to, slowly sinking into an archaeological stratum. This section of the track is lumpy with old  piles of builders’ rubble, now greened over.

A Green Woodpecker was calling from the tall Railway Poplars and my first Blackcap of the year was singing in a quarry just before Adam’s Farm.

Last year ESCC declared Adam’s Fm ready for disposal.

“L-shaped C16 timber-framed buildings, refaced in the C18 with red brick and grey
headers on ground floor and tile-hung above. Tiled roof. Sash windows with glazing
bars. Modern red brick porch. 2 storeys. 5 windows.”

It currently stands empty, on one estate agent’s website valued at just over half a million. In the garden there’s a fine Walnut (below). Just by the stub of the former viaduct a Little Owl flew across our path.

Once in the main valley we were exposed to the chill wind. On water meadows further down the valley at least 2 pairs of Lapwings were displaying but I would guess the ponds nearer to the road are no longer suitable – too overgrown and hundreds of fence posts to provide watch-points for marauding Crows. Linnets have returned to the scrub, 3 Cetti’s Warblers were singing and up to 3 Buzzards overhead at any one time. What used to be grazed water meadows further up the valley are now badly overgrown with rush, sedge and willow, with no sign of any management. Left like this they will soon be far too costly to recover.

The road construction scars are quickly greening over and the Greenway was being used by walkers, cyclists and equestrians. Traffic noise was loud however. On the western pond beneath Hillcroft Fm, among small numbers of Coot, Gadwall & Tufted Duck, I noticed 3 smaller ducks but the bright sunshine made it hard to make out any plumage details. When his light caught grey flanks on one sleeping bird I was pretty sure they were Garganey – a species I’d not seen here previously – and when it turned to allow the sun to shine on its broad white supercilium my suspicions were confirmed.

54 species altogether, though other observers had also seen Water Pipit, Marsh Harrier & Swallow.

Nowruz 2017

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

Somewhere new

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 20, 2017 by cliffdean

I’ve led several bird walks for people from Crowhurst but last week they led me to an area hardly 200m from my usual route but new and unsuspected. In fact, I had heard of Quarry Wood but had lacked the curiosity to find out more. From close to the car park where I’ve often been we took a turning up Sampson’s Lane which I’d also never noticed.

I was struck by the tall hedge-bank to one side, indicating that although it has dwindled away in usage it must have once been a more travelled thoroughfare. Later reference to the 1787 Yeakell & Gardner map showed that this lane was then part of a network serving Green Street and linking to the big north-south routes at Crowhurst Park & Breadsell Lane.

My perception of this part of Crowhurst is distorted by a major earthwork serving something which has come & gone since the Y&G map: the Bexhill Branch Line. Towards the top of the lane we turned right onto the abandoned railway track part of which now forms a local nature reserve, managed and documented by Paul Johnson & Lorna Neville on their excellent website Tales From Quarry Wood.

We were supposed to be looking/listening for birds,and there were plenty of Goldcrests in the ivy and Treecreepers on the old oaks, with regular Mistle Thrushes proclaiming from the treetops, but features of landform and tree use soon predominated. Parts of the track are dry whereas others run through an ill-drained cutting and the whole length is enclosed by tall woodland. Parallel to the regular profile of the railway runs a sinuous old wood-bank topped with gnarled Field Maple, the ditch on the uphill side suggesting that the steep bank below was in the past reserved as a copse. Some trees had plainly once been pollarded yet untended long since while others had been coppiced, but more through casual exploitation than any more coherent woodland practice.

This spectacular group of Scarlet Elf Cup was growing on some felled branches.

Further south we came to the eponymous quarry – of unknown date or purpose it seems – which is backed, just as the track passes through a fine railway bridge beneath Sandrock Hill by the equally eponymous Sandrock, a beautiful north-facing exposure of sandstone beside which grows a varied profusion of ferns.  Look at the website for more information and much better photos than mine.

This area was a clearing in relatively recent times, to judge from the post-colonial presence of hawthorn, blackthorn, elder and birch.

Once through the arch, there were notable differences in the trees, with spindle and Sycamore present but also, more conspicuous since closer, tall lines of Railway Poplar. To remind myself about this widespread and culturally significant hybrid I read the entry in Owen Johnson’s remarkable Sussex Tree Book where I was once more struck by Owen’s fluent, informative style which encourages one to flick through the pages as much for the pleasure of reading as for the search for knowledge.

Shortly before reaching the Link Road the path sweeps down past more quarries – this time overgrown – to the lonely Adam’s Farm, for centuries a busy site on the banks of a lovely valley but now forlorn and uninhabited beside a busy road.