Archive for Castle Water

Why, oh why?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 30, 2018 by cliffdean

This weather is just stupid. Something should be done. Look out for me on the Facebook “Angry People In Local Newspapers” page, grimly pointing at rain or with arms tightly folded across my chest, scowling at wind.

For yesterday’s RXbirdwalk which, as Calendar Enthusiasts among you will know, was almost in May, I wore lined trousers, a thermal base layer and thin fleeces under a ski jacket. And gloves, which were a bit thin. And a hat. I was comfortably warm – though I’m not sure about the others – and did not overheat even during brisk walks across the windswept open pastures near Castle Water.

In the fierce NE wind, the little birds kept their heads down and although plenty of them were singing it was a challenge to get a look apart from a few Common Whitethroats which delivered a bit of song while clinging onto exposed twigs and Sedge Warblers which ventured from their lairs at the hearts of skeletal Elders…..(in view of the local demographic I should clarify that I’m talking trees).

The wind, cold and gloom were however good for pinning down aerial feeders close to the surface of the lakes, where hundreds of Swallows, with smaller numbers of House & Sand Martins, Swifts and Common Terns swirled about. Giving directions to point out the scarcer Sand Martins was difficult: “It’s going left, left, past the gorse..” Which gorse?” “The gorse on the – oh yes, I see, but anyway it’s gone back right, right, under the fence, now back left, right…over the Tufted Ducks” etc. Moving at a more helpful speed in the back ground were a m Marsh Harrier and a couple of Buzzards.

Our hopes for a bit of respite in the cosy hide were frustrated by the loose door catch: a westerly wind would blow it shut but as soon as we opened the slots it flew open, admitting a forceful current of cold air. It was warmer outside, in the lee of the bushes where a steadfastly invisible Lesser Whitethroat was rattling.

I’ve done three walks in the Castle Water area this week, two in the Castle itself, and seen different birds on each occasion (obviously with a majority overlap). On account of the cold, I wasn’t keeping a list on this occasion but would have said it was pretty lean as far as variety went, so I was very surprised when the species total came out at 72. There are, after all, always a lot of common species along this stretch, and there were a few other things you can’t see everywhere, including Egyptian Geese (but watch this space…), great views of a Cuckoo, a Raven, lots of Med Gulls and, interestingly a pair of Common Gulls.

We had already heard Whimbrel passing through and seen a group of seven drop in to rough grassland at Winchelsea Beach but just as we ended the walk at Dogs Hill Road, we spotted a line of flying birds hugging the shore of the otherwise deserted grey sea: about 20 Bar-tailed Godwits heading rapidly towards no doubt better weather in the Arctic. As they passed, they tipped to show their tundra-red bellies, apart from one still in silvery winter plumage. Fired by migratory zeal, these were an inshore fragment of a larger movement, with 828 passing Dungeness during th


From the Viewpoint

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 13, 2018 by cliffdean

Halfway down Rye Harbour Road, just at the end of the containers, you’ll find the fingerpost directing you to the Reedbed Viewpoint. It’s just a five-minute walk , ideal for those unable to go further or who, at busy times, wish to be somewhere quieter than the Beach Reserve. You cross some rough grassland to a raised platform with handy benches from which to enjoy the sights and sounds of many kinds of birds.

Parking is a problem – no more than the roadside verge which, at the moment, is reduced in most parts to deep muddy ruts – so you if you arrive by car you might need to leave in a better place.

Since Wednesday afternoon turned out warm and sunny, we decided to spend just an hour there, keeping note once more of all the species we could see or hear during that time.

During the brief walk across we saw Collared Doves, Stock Doves and a Mistle Thrush on the big rusty barn and could hear Oystercatchers & Redshanks behind us on the river. In the brambles were Long-tailed Tits and my first Whitethroat of the year.

From the platform we had spectacular views of  Mute Swans low overhead and the usual flights of Cormorants coming in to their tree nests; in the reeds was a singing Sedge Warbler, the usual loud Cetti’s Warblers, and in the distance, from nearby pasture, we could pick out the song of a Skylark and the form of a quietly feeding Whimbrel. Against the afternoon light the Silhouette Challenge presented Shoveler, Peregrine (in the Big Tree), Marsh Harrier & Swallow. No sign of Bittern unfortunately, nor Bearded Tits.

I’ve done a couple of one-hour counts, though around dusk, earlier in the year, recording 44 and 45 species respectively though with an overlap of about 10. This week we got 47, though with 15 of these were new to the list.

Im Abendrot

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

The Reedbed Viewpoint: just a week later, just about the same time – sunset five minutes later – the same number of species in that hour but about ten of them different! Other qualities different too, no doubt influenced, as so were we, by the cold wind blowing onto out backs, the bare trees not the shelter I’d hoped for.

Relative silence from the Cormorants and absolute silence from the Blackbirds apart from the odd chatter of alarm, but barking and growling from a pair of Great Crested Grebes – not there before, but now it’s a week on in the season – standing up in the water and doing their symmetrical weed-shaking dance. (You know that they do all this, the knowledge is safely tucked away, but then you look again and think, “What???“)

Vast lines of gulls cross with the shining trails of evening airliners; the sun sinks in poignant splendour.

No crepuscular chorus from Bearded Tits or Water Rails this time, but swirling crowds of Starlings which arrive and circulate, looking as if they’d like us to leave before they settle down. Two Marsh Harriers gliding silently, geese splashing in noisily, the pointed outline of a Green Woodpecker dashing across to the shelter of the willows.

It’s free, it’s five minutes from the road, it’s cold. As we retreat to the car we disturb the Barn Owl from its floodlit perch before the wall of  shipping containers.

Lupercalian sunset

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

Lupercalia, the Roman, likely pre-Roman festival which more or less coincides with St Valentine’s Day, is a celebration of fertility set to mark the start of birds’ nesting season. It certainly does seem to be reflected in a seasonal shift, these days characterised by rivalrous trios of Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tits, the arrival of Med Gulls (actually I still have neither heard nor seen one) and the onset of a cohort of songs in which the Blackbird is pre-eminent.

This year, those first languorous warming-up notes unreeled at sunset from a clump of willows beside the Reedbed Viewpoint at Rye Harbour, to a background of gurgling & crooning from the Cormorants and strangled Water Rail shrieks as wave after wave of Common Gulls glided in from the hinterland and a Great Egret headed for the shelter of the lakeside trees.

I stood there for just an hour during which time I saw or heard 44 species, the last of which was a Barn Owl which I’d only glimpsed at long range only to find it a few minutes hovering right in front of me. As I walked back in twilight to the road I was surrounded by singing Blackbirds and I once more turned over in my mind the colourful Lupercalian rites described by Plutarch, who writes :

“…many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

Unfortunately, few informative illustrations seem to be available but those curious about shaggy thongs need look no further than this Australian product:

Harry R Hamilton memorial

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

Tomorrow at 11am we’ll be laying a wreath on the stone which marks the crash site of Hamilton’s aircraft during the Battle of Britain.

Find out more about him here.

The memorial is situated 300m SE of Camber Castle, 200m S of Halpin Hide, beside a clump of oaks.

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.


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.