Archive for Camber

Hill of Prumes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 28, 2017 by cliffdean

Looks boring, doesn’t it? Nobody goes there. In other words the quintessential venue for an RXbirdwalk. Broomhill; where’s the hill, where’s the broom? Though the latter might once have grown here, a hill is hard to imagine let alone a bustling fishing port – which it was until 1287. According to Judith Glover’s “Sussex Place Names” the earliest version of the name, dating from the late 12th century, is Prumhelle, from Prume-hyll “Plum-tree Hill” – but using an unusual dialect word rather than the South Saxon plume. That’s got that cleared up, but still no sign of a hill, let alone plum trees.

I guess the hill could have been a tall shingle bank, since truncated by the 1287 storm among others. On the soil map below you can see the settlement’s position on a spur to the south of the great (yellow) sweep of the Wainway. The remaining farm buildings and an abandoned cottage are perched on the pink band of shingle to the right.

The plan for this RXbirdwalk was to see breeding Yellow Wagtails, restricted in Sussex to this eastern extremity. Though weather mid-week suggested we’d run the risk of heat-stroke the morning itself dawned gloomy and windy, though the rain held off till midday. I usually have a look at the beach to add a few gulls & waders to the list but on this occasion all birds had been cleared out by massed kite-surfers thrashing through the grey summer waves.

This & other bird photos by Peter Matthews

There were indeed loads of  Yellow Wagtails and loads of Reed Buntings too, though the former favoured wheat and the latter oilseed rape. Last year the YWs were in the same location among beans, leading me to mistakenly assume that the crop was the significant factor whereas I now suspect it’s something to do with the soil since nearly all wagtails were situated between the former seawalls (now ploughed out) in the soil map below. As much as I love this map’s pretty colours and historic boundaries I can’t claim to understand much about the soil, I’m sorry to say.

These RSPB articles on their Breeding Ecology and Advice to Farmers are informative

While we were differentiating males, females and juveniles, a strikingly different male popped up then vanished again. It had a blue head – like the continental subspecies but of a pale blue-grey hue and with a white supercilium, suggesting the hybrid “Channel Wagtail” but I just didn’t get a good enough view.

There were plenty of other birds around, including Skylarks, Linnets & a pair of Corn Buntings as well as big crowds of House Sparrows & Starlings commuting between the interwar bungalows of Jury’s Gap and the fragrant sewage works. In the background, a pair of Marsh Harriers were quartering the fields. There were, of course, no other people around apart from two horse-riders and a distant dog-walker.

Just to the east of this chainlink fence, below the crops, below the soil, lie the remains of Broomhill’s church whose skeleton still stood into the early 16th century though flooded centuries before.

Beside Jury’s Gut loafed a few moulting Mallards in company with a small, dark duck with a clearly yellow bill. In size, shape and flight appearance it resembled a teal of some sort and upon reference to some more expert observers turned out to be – wait for it – a Yellow-billed Teal which now seems to be regarded as a geographical race of Speckled Teal, a South American species escaped from a collection.

As we approached the Kent Pen Wall, a Cuckoo flew over us then while we had a look along the sheltered and scrubby north side of the bank for Whitethroats & Linnets I took notice of the tree species for the first time. Beside two species of Willow, a hunched Oak and a fluttering White Poplar I was surprised to see a fruit tree – bearing, in fact, unripe…plums! Hardly possible it could remain from Prume hyll days, perhaps planted as an historical reference or jettisoned from a picnic. Strange coincidence though. Further along was a flowering Privet.

A further revelation came as we continued westward into the wind and towards Corn Bunting song. An isolated pond fits neatly, on the map,  into the vanished repair loop on a lost seawall; an ancient scour pool now tranquil enough but a relic of drama, danger and fortitude from the past.

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.

Railway relics alongside the Rother

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

In previous posts about the North Point/ Camber/E Guldeford area I have included images of the railway which once ran there. I have just come across this 2016 video on Youtube which gives more details:

 

Not A Bird Race

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 7, 2017 by cliffdean

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The Slow But Sure team has by now done the tried’n’tested Coastal Walk so many times now that they are sick of it. A new itinerary offered fresh thrills until it was noticed that more than half lay in the wrong county; a truncated version was geographically correct but lacked any woodland…but what the hell. East of the Rother it had to be, notwithstanding an absence of Nuthatches. Treecreepers. Marsh Tits. Never mind.

Setting off from the urban birdscape of Rye, we quickly found a Grey Wagtail on mud by the fishing boats and soon after that some Corn Buntings flew off the saltings – tantalising since the no longer frequent former habitats west of the river. Rock Pipits, Redshanks, Shelducks…I’m not going to list every species – far too boring apart from a pair of Egyptian Geese flying across – harsh calls like a reversing tone.

Northpoint Pit though, is very poor these days. Once upon a time it had a range of diving ducks, grebes, even Smew but now not even Coot. In winter, it’s not that disturbed either. There were at least a couple of Kingfishers.

The golden light of the photo above quite quickly gave way to the gloom and cold onshore breeze of subsequent ones. Quite a few extra birds were pilfered from the reserve across the river, including Brent Geese, Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Egret & Pintail.

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Cracking shot by Tim Waters

The cold open beach turned up one Sanderling so confiding it was almost trampled by one “team” member. Apart from that…an unwelcome reminder that those of us who thought they knew the names of all the seashells had forgotten most of them. We could of took the path behind the Sea Buckthorn & kept out of the miserable wind.

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Cracking shot by James Tomlinson

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Arriving at Camber (Great Tit!  Greenfinch! Chaffinch!) with more than an hour to go before “lunch”, and feeling that Scotney might be A Pit Too Far, we cut back across to the road where we admired a dramatic example of Holiday Bollard Carnage (photos would be too shocking) then crossed for a Via Dolorosa tick in the form of the celebrated Red-necked Grebe. This is now a very infrequent bird for this area, and one meriting re-acquaintance to avoid embarrassing misidentifications of Great Crested.

The last I had seen were fabulous breeding pairs on a very hot Corpus Christi at Bialystok fish-ponds, among Poles in summer wear, songs of Great Reed Warbler, Little Crake & Common Rosefinch and the choir in the church across the road.

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Cracking Shot by Dave Rowlands

On the sandy meadows: Song & Mistle Thrushes; from the last willow, a Green Woodpecker. Out across the arable land were hundreds of wailing Lapwings & Golden Plovers. Reed Buntings erupted from the ditches and Skylarks from one rough field on the way to the Little Bustard Shrine. Distant Buzzard & Great White Egret, very fleeting Merlin and finally, as drizzle set in, a Peregrine. No Tree Sparrows.

So it wasn’t a race, just another walk. But for 8 miles. 70 species were not bad, especially without woodland. Though if you correct this total by factoring in Walking Righteousness, it comes out at 100+. But it wasn’t a Bird Race.

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E Guldeford & beyond

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 16, 2016 by cliffdean

20160216_090304_001The north side of Rye was full of birds – the wrong sort as far as bird-watchers are concerned, since no group of tripod-bearers was gathered on the pavement to admire the many noisy House Sparrows, Starlings, Jackdaws, Collared Doves, Woodpigeons & Chaffinches like there was at Pett Pools for a single ibis.

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Most pictures by Tim Waters

And when fog drifted in, though the houses behind us were half-lost, their chattering, whistling, cooing bird chorus extended out across the serpentine ghost-creeks of long-lost Appledore Water.

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For a while only the tops of the turbine blades could be seen swishing above the fog-bank.

For a while, only Skylarks & distant traffic, until we doubled back to the Moneypenny willows where once more there was a tangle of birdsong: Robin, Great Tit, Dunnock, Song Thrush & House Sparrow.

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Tucked away in the pits were Coot, Moorhen, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Heron & a reticent Chiffchaff, against the backing drone of a grain drier. (And while on the subject of Clapped-out Vehicles, here’s a beautiful one stumbled across by Mike M in France:)

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Further out onto the marsh along the Wainway Wall, a breeze had cleared fog then dropped away completely. The turbines stood unproductive, the sounds in the stillness were of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Lapwings. Golden Plovers and heavy machine guns.

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This photo is reduced too much to see, but the pasture past the sheep is full of Lapwings, Starlings & Golden Plovers – all in thousands but the plovers maybe 3000. Who knows – maybe more? When confronted with clouds of birds, I give in. The 62 Mute Swans were more my skill-level.

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A Buzzard hunched on a power lines, a Merlin pounced on some unfortunate victim and a Kingfisher dashed past us.

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We walked/hobbled/limped eight miles & saw/heard / smelt/ intuited 58 species.

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Penultimate

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 31, 2014 by cliffdean

The Prologue: Just the other day, at the Lesser Yellowlegs site, a friend remarked, “Well, that’s a great end to 2014.” “It’s not over yet,” I replied.

Tuesday: Some German friends are over for the New Year so plainly a Splendours of Romney Marsh tour is on the agenda. On a wonderful bright frosty morning, we’re heading for Dengemarsh Road when it occurs to me that Lydd Ranges will be closed – that is, open i.e. no red flags, no shooting. So we park at Jury’s gap where I discover that I’ve left my rucksack at home. No matter – my camera is the only serious deficiency.

But no sooner have we left the cars when my phone starts to sing: an unfamiliar number and no-one at the other end. I close the call, it rings again, with the same result. Falling behind the others, and dodging a shingle truck, I text “Who is this?” The answer comes a few minutes later, just past the Army watch-house, on a very bad line and in competition with Redshanks. “It’s Alan” (he never uses his mobile; this must be serious; I’m about to be put in a difficult position) The signal fails….

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The phone sings again. “I’m at East Guldeford…” (Just up the road then – what can it be?). My eye ranges over the blue frosted shingle, the sunlit Shelducks & Mute Swans… “I’ve just found what I’m sure is a Little Bustard” (!!”£$%^&*!!!) “But I haven’t got a book to check. I haven’t seen one for about 30 years.” (Well, I have. We were lucky enough to see some in mid-France this year.) So I run through the field characteristics – as far as I remember them – and it sounds good. (He knew it must be one but worried it might be some maybe odd introduced species that he’d just not considered.) But the bird had flown off, its present whereabouts uncertain. I promise to use my more reliable phone to alert Barry but by the time I get through, Alan has succeeded in speaking to him and a search party has been mobilized.

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And my companions have dwindled into the distance.

How are they to realize how amazingly rare this bird is? Do I realize? I think it’s at least 50 years since the last record. Should I arrange some way of turning back to search for it? I’m torn. I don’t think the laws of hospitality would stretch that far. And since the bird’s present location is unknown….and since they can be very inconspicuous… Had I been told it was in view and Showing Well it would have been a different matter…. As it was, I caught up with the others and sort of enjoyed the walk.

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Later, as we return along the beach, I get another call. “I’m home now and had a chance to look at the book and it’s definite. No-one else has managed to find it but I got a couple of photos: a flight view and one on the deck.”

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We continued to Dengemarsh, me hoping the B*stard would be found somewhere convenient for the return journey. It wasn’t.

When I checked in Birds of Sussex I discovered that this was the first Little Bustard for the county in 100 years. So how do you get to find something like that? Well, it’s simple: you go out and look.

Why was Alan there at all? A few years ago it came up as a Neglected Tetrad for the Bird Atlas so he took it on and found a few scarce farmland birds – Corn Buntings, that sort of thing – and once the Atlas was over continued to make regular visits, some productive, some dispiriting. Nobody else goes there these days, apart from the occasional RXbirdwalk.

It’s patch-watching, where you take pleasure from minor variations in ordinary birds. Rather than hastening to join a crowd upon news of a rarity you go on your own with no particular expectations.

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I later recalled a meeting…years ago…at Watch Cottage when Richard Knight was RHNR warden. I think issues (the perennial ones) had arisen over a rare bird and we were trying organise some system in which people could be informed yet the bird protected from disturbance. This was way before mobiles and internet – really only just this side of post-cards. But the testing hypothesis was this: “What would we do about, say, a Little Bustard at Castle Farm?”

Across lost estuaries

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 23, 2014 by cliffdean

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Saturday: From Rye, we crossed the great sea-arm which once extended as far as Appledore. It now remains as wet fields cut through by snaky ghosts of old creeks until you arrive on the sand-banks and sea-wall of East Guldeford. The form of the former tidal inlet is masked by the railway cutting across it, however the trackside vegetation held berry-gulping Redwings & Fieldfares as well as a flock of Long-tailed Tits with which we kept company as far as the last Horse Chestnuts by the church.

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Beyond that point there are few trees. The footpath proceeds across sandy ridged pastures before doubling back to the lane to Moneypenny.

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Sadly, no sign of Tree Sparrows there nor much on the pits but soon afterwards, as we followed the course of the Wainway, we could hear Skylark calls from a stubble field. A number of flocks flew up, totalling more than 150 and beyond them some hundreds of Lapwings were pulsing in the air in response to 2 Buzzards & a Marsh Harrier cruising by the wind farm.

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On this map from “The Soils of Romney Marsh”, the dark red lines represent old sea walls. A succession of these push south-westwards, ever constricting the Wainway Channel, here visible as the palest yellow, once the southern curve of the Rother at the time it looped northwards to flow out by the Romneys north of Lydd. With the mid-section silting by the ?15th? century, this section remained as a tidal inlet until the 19th, progressively shortened by transverse walls. The profile of wall, salting and creek can still be discerned.

It is however, much more difficult to pick out the course of modern-day footpaths which seem to be entirely unmarked in this area. Our proposed route across to the Golf Club remaining inscrutable, we were obliged to go as far as Pound Lane, treated on the way to a spectacular aerial display of Lapwings & Golden Plovers. The latter are presumably the same as those that repose on Flat Beach – only a minute away as the plover flies – for part of the day.

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Cutting through the wilderness of Sea Buckthorn & tumbled blockhouses, we arrived on the beach and a different group of birds: gulls, piping Oystercatchers & distant, scuttling Sanderling.

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Following the tide line in the (vain) hope of catching up with Snow Buntings, a bit of seashell revision was in order. No surprise on a sandy beach, they were all bivalves bar one gastropod in the shape of a Whelk: Edible & Spiny Cockle, Mussel, Common Otter Shell, Slipper Limpet, Rayed Sunset Shell, Banded Wedge Shell, Oyster, Scallop & Queen Scallop. Many fragments of moorlog too, dislodged from the shelves further west and by now abraded to satisfyingly Brancusi smoothness.

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Up the Rother there was little to add, other than Redshanks stalking the interlocking spurs of glossy mud, a single Rock Pipit on the saltings and a mixed bunch of gulls & Canada Geese up by Rye. It was puzzling that North Point pit – once a good place for diving ducks and grebes – held virtually no birds even though no-one was wind-surfing. In a Hawthorn by the edge of the pit, however, we found a bright male Yellowhammer, not a rare bird in general but certainly unusual across the river on the reserve, where I’ve only seen one in recent years.

A Sparrowhawk over the car park brought the morning’s total up to 55 species. On this last RXbirdwalk of 2014 we had walked quite a bit further than intended – 12km – but had been pleased to make the most of a bright day among many grey ones.

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