Archive for Castle Water

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.

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.