Archive for Castle Water

Always a winner

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 23, 2017 by cliffdean

Not a long walk at all – just over 4 miles there & back, but the route from Dogs Hill to Halpin Hide passes through such a range of habitats that it never fails to deliver a number of species it would be hard to find in many other places in the county. Birds of Shame still remind you, however, that it’s not a zoo and a tantalising sense  of chance remains. Yesterday we missed common but typical BoSs such as Bullfinch (but they’re always in the same place!), Kestrel & Marsh Harrier (no so common elsewhere but here should be reliable). All the  same we found 76 species on a cold,dark, drizzly morning.

Migrants were at last a notable feature of the walk,with a good deal of time spent listening to and trying to get a look at Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common & Lesser Whitethroat, Reed & Sedge Warbler. There was a Willow Warbler too, but a bit distant and feeble. We found flocks of Whimbrel feeding quietly on dry pastures as bubbling calls from above announced the arrival of further groups. Less expected was a single Curlew flying along the beach – most have by now departed.

Yelping calls of Med Gulls are such a part of the spring scene at Rye Harbour that it was hard to distinguish them as migrants apart from flocks of pure-winged adult corallini passing off-shore (with dark lines of Common Scoters flying beyond them) and although we had no luck in seeking out Lesser Black-backs on the roof of the caravan site club-house, a handsome pair settled for a while at Castle Water. I wasn’t sure what to make of a pristine pair of Common Gulls floating on The Ocean since the main northbound population went on north some weeks ago; were these late or thinking of sticking around to breed?

In the hide, another group pointed out to us a large brown raptor sitting with its back to us in the willows opposite which they thought was an imm Peregrine. Though at first unconvinced,  I had to agree with them once it turned to show its facial pattern. A Buzzard sat nearby, half-hidden in the leaves.

On the way back across the ridged grasslands we were treated to great views of a pair of Brown Hares and as we followed the fenceline looking for Corn Buntings, 3 Wheatears – all with differing plumage – jumped up out of rabbit holes.

The pools of West Nook Marsh were disappointing since the muddy margins are all overgrown by Crassula, offering little to the waders that should be dropping in there. Not even a Redshank.

Choosing to walk back along the shingle edge rather than the road, we came across a Ringed Plover and some confiding Turnstones but then the passing Swallows were joined by a few House Martins and as we watched them, a Swift passed across our field of view, way,way up.

Needless to say, the sun came out shortly afterwards.


Nowruz 2017

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

The tail-end of Storm Doris

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

Strong SW winds determined the course of today’s RXbirdwalk (from the relief of one sheltered spot to another) and our observational abilities, since we found it hard to keep our binoculars steady. It was quite cold too. And although I like to boast that this walk usually gets more than 60 species (usually more than 70 and in fact up to 85) today’s tally was a lowly 53, thanks to little birds sensibly keeping their heads down, roaring wind drowning out calls and a rough sea hiding most birds which might be floating upon it.


Details of upcoming Reserve map by Pete Smith of Picturemaps

Having made all those excuses, the walk was not without reward, starting with a trio of handsome Fieldfares feeding in the lee of bushes right beside the path at Winchelsea Beach. Emerging from a near-birdless (but sheltered!) Beach Field to scan The Ocean, I noticed a small grebe with a white front bobbing out in the middle but soon diving, never to resurface.

“Did you say a Little Grebe?” “No, it was a small grebe.”

(You have to make that clear because capitals – which would make it a proper noun – can’t be heard. There are two main schools of thought about writing species’ vernacular names: a) all words capitalized e.g. Lesser Black-backed Gull b) no capitalization except when proper nouns are involved e.g. Dartford warbler, Bewick’s swan. The latter is the convention adopted by SWT and The Times. It’s generally no problem, though it make species harder to pick out when you’re scanning a page, but ambiguities can occur, mostly with “little”. In a recent Times article advising a walk around Rye Harbour a sentence began, “Elegant terns hovered over the water…” Were these terns just elegant – or were they Elegant Terns, a very rare species in Europe and one that would see a good few people jumping into their cars and heading south-east. Capitalization would eliminate the ambiguity. To be honest the latter case would merit caps & bold: ELEGANT TERNS. (!!! too))

Anyway, once a grebe reappeared near that spot it was a brown and fully capitalized Little Grebe. So I must have imagined (blame the wind) the white front……HOWEVER, on the way back, I spotted it again, spending more time under than upon the water, slowly,slowly, closer and closer..a Black-necked Grebe. Vindication.


Photos in this post by Peter Matthews & Stuart Barnes

Emerging then from the renewed shelter of  The Wood and heading for the lee of Castle Farm,a large number of wagtails were spotted bouncing up & down from the filter beds over at the Water Treatment Works. I’d never been over there, though the shortcomings of local sewage provision had been the subject of a very interesting chat with someone from the IDB just this week. Why, I wanted to learn, was the road blocked with tankers & traffic lights outside the Co-op every time it rained?


So we made a diversion, past Curlews & Egyptian Geese, to the shelter of the pines treatment structures where there were not only 20++ Pied Wagtails but Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Starling & Wren. What I really wanted to see/hear was whether there were any Grey Wagtails,which breed in every other WTW in the area so why not this one. No sign however.




Upon arrival in the Halpin Hide,we were confronted with a great crowd of understated Gadwall backed up by more clearly heraldic Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon & Shelduck while Cormorants cruised over bearing sticks. No waders though apart from Lapwing & Oystercatcher, and no raptors at all. There were a lot of gulls about, on the fields and on the islands, giving an opportunity to sort through species and plumages of Black-headed,Common, Herring, Great & Lesser Black-backs, the latter two in fabulous breeding form. Although there have been plenty around since last weekend we only saw one – adult –Med Gull later on beside West Nook Meadows where we were also most surprised to see a large (for around here) flock of Barnacle Geese which had not been there earlier. The compactness of the group, the strengthening wind and their habit of suddenly chasing one another made it hard to get an accurate count but we settled for 55. Probably just hopped over the border from Scotney.



From the Viewpoint

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 29, 2016 by cliffdean


…and it’s all free! An extraordinary, rich soundscape as a huge procession of roosting birds passes over Castle Water in the hour before sunset.


Squadrons of incoming Cormorants crossed paths with thousands of howling gulls streaming in from the Weald on their way to the bay. As mist condensed there, Greylag Geese arrived from the Brede Valley to pause on pasture for a while before heading off across the border to Scotney. They were closely followed by Mute Swans which had spent a happy day trampling rape fields in the valley; these though splashed in to the lake for the night.


High overhead, dissolving into the darkening blue, came hundreds of Fieldfares full of apple from a day in the orchards, passing on towards the willows of Narrow Pits, nowadays also the preferred roost for the few Little Egrets I saw. A couple of Marsh Harriers had appeared, circling over the far end of the pit.

From the scrub and reeds came the sound of sedentary species like Blackbird, Dunnock, Cetti’s Warbler and shrieking Water Rail and from the water itself the varied quacks of Mallard & Gadwall, piping Teal and squeaking Coots, mostly hidden from view until a gunshot sent hundreds of birds into the air, silhouettes revealing the presence of Shelduck, Tufted Duck & Pintail as well as long skeins of Lapwings over the fields. No Wigeon though – their whistles oddly absent.


A rush of wings from Starlings dashing to their night-time haunt at Camber while a different lot were gyrating in the distance over Winchelsea Beach conifers (what determines these differing nocturnal preferences? Are they winter visitors from completely different countries?) These were eclipsed by the denser and noisier silhouettes of Jackdaws, assembling for the short journey to their favourite wood at Udimore. From surrounding arable farms Stock Doves & Woodpigeons converged, fluttering down into concealing branches.

No Pied Wagtails however. Only one Wren and no Goldcrests though once upon a time these too gathered here.


The ducks settled, the gulls stopped, the Cormorants had all arrived and the Peregrine, which had sat motionless in the Big Tree since my arrival, vanished. The dark reeds were triangulated by the calls of signing-off swampbirds. A few Grey Herons squawked and a Great White Egret came in silently.


With the sun finally slipping away, the temperature dropped sharply, Venus sparkled where orange met green met blue and suddenly the small dark form of a Bittern flapped over the reeds.


It’s all for free, a five-minute walk from the road, there every night and every morning – as well as the bits in between.

Interesting as always

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 15, 2016 by cliffdean


It was a quick walk in grey weather, otherwise I could have spent a long time photographing the colourful aliens along and behind the Front Ridge, where garden plants spill out over shingle unvegetated since the early eighteenth century until they meet natives doing the slow and humdrum job of colonizing silts from long-gone tides.


Off Dogs Hill, the sea was dark, the horizon swarming with Gannets and indeterminate gulls. Along the seawall, a thin stream of Swallows & small finches, including a few Redpolls. Robins are always wall-to-wall at Winchelsea Beach but they were ticking too from every other bit shelter including odd islands of gorse out by the Castle. Lots of Song Thrushes rushing about and by the Castle too a single Ring Ouzel – maybe the last of the influx.

Starved of rain, Castle Water has more than its fair share of islands lined with loafing Wigeon but without the waders that might spice it up. However, a brief show by a Bittern flying across the north end, a patrolling male Marsh Harrier to give the ducks a stir and a perched Merlin that made a lunge at a passing Meadow Pipit all added touches of drama.



Beneath wires at the north end of  Beach Field lies a freshly dead Mute Swan, a crescent of blood from its slashed neck sprayed across the pebbles. Since the foxes have not yet attempted removal, the Time of Death I would estimate as “this morning”, but as I pass later a Crow is taking an interest from the safety of the deadly wires.The corpse bears no ring.


75 species.


Dark & busy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 18, 2016 by cliffdean

The hot summer has gone and conditions for the first RXbirdwalk of the autumn were inauspicious. As rain pattered against the kitchen window I wondered whether we should call it off, but in the end headed once more for the picturesque starting point of Dogs Hill toilets. In the event, the bird list came to a surprising 76 species.

Thousands of Swallows & Sand Martins were moving east along the seawall together with hundreds of Meadow Pipits. Beyond the luggers of the low tide mark and the leaden sea, turning Gannets were startlingly white against a sky as dark as a Lesser Black-back’s back – if only graellsi. The backs, meanwhile, of Common Gulls, in diffuse light and against the wet sand were blatantly pearly.

Large numbers of hirundines were gathered over The Ocean and Castle Water, below them a single f Pintail among the usual Coots & GC Grebes. In late morning House Martins began to appear and were in the majority by the time we finished. There seemed, however, to be no other overhead migrants apart from several Grey Wagtails.

Chiffchaffs predominated through the Beach Field – we spent several minutes watching them dashing about in an exotic mix of Sumach, Buddleia & Bear’s Breeches. There were Blackcaps too, especially at the north end, but few Common or Lesser Whitethroats. As usual, it was a challenge to get a decent look at any of these as they crossed the paths at high speed, only to dive straight into the deepest, shadowiest Hawthorns which were Alive With the Sound of Ticking.

With seed-clogged teeth, we paused to chat to anglers about birds, fish and blackberry crumble before moving on to Castle Water, where the rain has done little to reduce the islands. Good for waders, I imagined, but it wasn’t apart from a few Lapwings, 3 Ruff and a very little Little Stint. No sandpipers at all, no Marsh Harriers. But then we picked out a couple of Snipe on the far bank and a flock of brightly coloured Black-tailed Godwits went swooshing past. If this account suggests that the lake was deserted, that was not the case for there was a constant movement of Greylag & Canada Geese, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall & Cormorants as well as visits by 5 species of gull and unremitting flurries of hirundines.

Back across the pallid Cynosurus prairies we disturbed just one Skylark and found a lone Whinchat. In the Wood were Green & GS Woodpeckers and a Treecreeper but the pools of West Nook Meadows, overgrown and contaminated with Crassula were almost birdless. At high tide, the sea was a lot paler then before, showing up the snouts of two Grey Seals, then the streamlined form of an Arctic Skua on its way south, ignoring nervous Sandwich Terns.

Too much

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 10, 2016 by cliffdean

While I try to keep the itineraries of RXbirdwalks reasonably far from the madding crowd, it sometimes makes sense to follow at least part of the well-trodden paths and so, although I prefer to approach Castle Water from the west, a direct route to the Viewpoint seemed worthwhile on Sunday to make the most of the celebrated booming Bittern…and the Hobbies.

Well, both of these were keeping a low profile but from the Viewpoint the mass of song and varied traffic of birds was fantastic and we must have seen about 40 species in the half-hour we sat there in the sunshine. In fact, the Viewpoint would be a good place for a Big Sit – how many species you can record in a certain time from one well-chosen spot. Yet there are people who are not aware of its presence even though it’s not exactly a secret, but no signs denote its presence but for a footpath fingerpost. The lack of adequate parking may underlie this reticence, since there is only a strip of flattened muddy verge available on an otherwise fast and busy road.

There may not have been Hobbies but we did have prolonged close views of two Cuckoos in the nearby willows while a pair of Marsh Harriers prowled up and down before us, Common Terns and a range of warblers & finches sang from the scrub & reed.

As usual, we spent quite a bit of time analyzing the tangle of birdsong, especially disentangling the allegedly confusing Reed & Sedge Warbler while familiarizing ourselves with the call of Egyptian Goose, by now a regular species.The landscape looked fabulous in the bright, warm, (health-threatening) sunshine.

Although in the end we found 82 species (the highest tally ever for an RXbirdwalk and 83 if you include the big white hybrid goose which, anyway, sees itself as a Greylag) the only unexpected bird was a rather distant summer/plumaged Black-necked Grebe at Castle Water. Not completely leftfield, since one (I think it may be the same) had been at Pett Pools until recently, and more Instructional than Cracking, thanks to the range. The best thing at that point is, to my ears anyway, the crazy soundtrack of the Cormorant colony.

We were lucky to track down a few more subtle species such as Corn Bunting & Goldcrest at Castle Farmyard, a Treecreeper in The Wood, a pair of Bullfinches and a calling Water Rail at the end of The Ocean.

At the end of the long, hot (and nameless?) track (what is it called?) (I just call it “The Back Track”) back into the village, we saw what we thought would be our last two new species (Houses Sparrow & Martin) until, in a They-think-it’s-all-over moment, a Peregrine glided above the rooftops.