Archive for Coast

Landscape With Egrets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 29, 2018 by cliffdean

Actually I have no pictures of them, in fact I’m not sure whether anyone has good ones because at first they were a long way off, then afterwards very close but by then the excitement had died down.

A wonderful day though, dawning misty and golden, heating up into the low 20s, the bay an intense blue, hardly like home at all.

Three of us walked from Cliff End to Castle Water via the Conqueror, during that time finding 93 bird species – none particularly rare and as always missing several common birds that should have been there but just – weren’t: the Birds of Shame. This great variety which can be matched in few other parts of the country, is owing to the range of habitats along this stretch of coast. And although we saw a fair spread of migrants most were represented by a single individual – so no flood of birds then.

Back to the egrets though – Cattle Egrets, whose arrival has been exceptional this autumn. they have been scattered around the RX area as singletons, pairs, flocks small & large, the largest so far 19 at Combe Valley. There have been two near Pett Pools for a few days now so when we notice two little white heads poking up from a ditch just N of the Pools we assumed them to be the same. Until there appeared 4 more to the right, still rather far from us but all the same looking like Cattle rather than Little. And then they flew off to the back of the marsh – all the same size, looking good – and we took a farm track to get a better view.

Long before we arrived at the group of bullocks we’d identified as the landmark, we could make out even more white heads – 11 actually – but soon 5 of them flew back past us showing, in the lovely sunlight, the yellow bills and green legs of definite Cattle Egrets. Another 5 headed back toward the seawall, leaving just one on its own…unless there were more left in the ditch.

By the time we had walked back to the road, these birds were right beside it. wandering among the livestock hardly 50 m away.

Apart from that, what? For me the biggest surprise was a single Little Tern flying past Winchelsea Beach as we took a rest on a convenient memorial bench. And a lot of Stonechats on the reserve – I’d have said 20 but we just hadn’t counted until it was plain there were a lot passing through. Several Rock Pipits alongside the Rother….



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 10, 2018 by cliffdean

From the top of Chick Hill we can see dark shoals of Mackerel moving through the bay, attended by a crowd of white gulls & terns.

The sea is warm and high tide has moved round to morning, when the low sun glitters from silver flanks along the tideline. Thousands of pesciolini lie along the pebbles and float in the shallows where they have been driven onshore by hunting Mackerel which are in turn predated by splashing Gannets and up to 3 Grey Seals together.


Their big jelly discs of eyes stare fixedly, mournfully at the sky.

They provide a feast for Herring, Black-headed & Med Gulls which scavenge them from the shore while Sandwich Terns pick them from the sandy green water.

Last two photos from Dengemarsh by Tim Waters

Sea anglers too are intoxicated by the illusion of plenty, catch more than they can eat, sell a few on to seaside restaurants who offer them at prices inflated rather than reduced.

These though represent the last vestiges of populations largely destroyed by industrial over-fishing.

Read the 18th century accounts quoted in George Monbiot’s “Feral”.

Although stocks quickly recover in Marine Conservation Zones our local representatives are against such measures and want to be there at the end.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 3, 2018 by cliffdean

After greening up from a bit of rain, the grasslands are entering a new cycle of desiccation, the landscape returning to pallour.

Over the garden twitter the first brood of young House Martins and the nest outside our window has been incompletely renewed so we can hear them from bed. Seasonal wanders include invisible Nuthatches and stealthy Jays. The first migrant phylloscopus warblers are creeping around the oak foliage and young Buzzards wail from the old cliff-line.

The water in the roadside pool has receded to reveal a rim of mud which has attracted a few waders including Dunlin, Avocet, Ruff, Common, Green & Wood Sandpipers though it has been so hot that even at quite close range these birds were distorted by haze. One day 3 Ruff helped out by roosting on the near bank with a bunch of loafing Mallards; each was in a distinct plumage & moult, one all white at the front with big black spots.

From the mid-70s for about 25 years, this pool was pumped out by the SOS and brought in an amazing variety of waders which could all be studied at close range since they quickly became indifferent to passers-by, traffic and even back-firing cars. I recently happened up on a diary from that era which mentioned a flock of 40-odd Curlew Sandpipers! (I’m sure I’m not dreaming, but these days that would be remarkable anywhere. Needless to say, I now can’t find this reference.)

The other week I was at the British Library investigating the contact sheets Fay Godwin made in preparation for her 1979 book “Romney Marsh”. Although I hoped for revealing images of Rye Harbour from that era, they were few, however there were many more showing the repair of coastal defences, improvised dwellings, the stone piers of Smeaton’s Harbour and, most unexpectedly, a sheet showing numerous birdwatchers gathered at the “Wader Pool/Project Pool” on a hot day. Old-fashioned cars, hair-styles and telescopes and, really, a lot of people. Was it that, at that time, the Pools Project was the only show in town? (RHNR had only Ternery Pool then) Or could it have been the Pools’ Greatest Hit – a Least Sandpiper in 1984? With more time and a better magnifying glass it may be possible to identify some of the people present but first I have to struggle through layers of BL bureaucracy.

The pebbles are warm when we emerge from the sea every high tide and the water is so warm it doesn’t make you feel as if you’re going to die every time you wade in. In general the beach is pretty quiet, with scattered groups of sunbathers, a few heads of swimmers and a dark, glossy head beyond of an inquisitive Grey Seal watching patiently. It dives then pops up again, watching, a little unnerving if you’re swimming nearby but there seem to be no recorded instances of unprovoked aggression. Although up to 4 Grey Seals have been noticed, it could be that some or all originate from the release of rescued individuals from RSPCA Mallydams Wood, in which case they have positive memories of human benevolence and are hoping to be fed.

On a couple of days, 3 species of jellyfish appeared: transparent Moon Jellyfish Aurelia aurita, the lovely blue Cyanea lamarckii (several years since I’ve seen them) and beautifully marked Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. The appearance of Lion’s mane Jelly in other areas has given rise to some typically stupid Silly-Season articles in stupid newspapers for stupid people.

That smell….

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 31, 2018 by cliffdean

That springtime scent seeps in from the sea; it goes with sunshine and buttercups. Some people hate it and complain to the council, wanting Something To Be Done but I inhale deeply.

It comes from an algal bloom in the shallow waters of the bay. Sometimes the shallows are stained orange. Fishing lines are slimed and shrimp-nets fouled with it. The moorlog acquires a grey, slithery surface. The rich, fertile ferment oozes its oily perfume over the meadows and up the hill.

It’s called gullywater or Mayrot or Maybloom.

But today, after forty years of wondering, thanks to my EA informant, I discovered the organism’s scientific name:


Learn that name. You can win admiration this weekend by deploying it at BBQs or among fellow beach-goers. You can complain knowledgeably in the pub: “Yeah, it’s the ******** Phaeocystis innit?” In no time at all you’ll hear it on the Today programme.

Here’s what else I learnt:

Locally it’s believed to be cause by a combination of a few things

1.     Water reaching a critical temperature

2.     The nutrient loading caused by the Bognor weed banks breaking away and rotting down – subsequently pulled along the coast

3.     Nutrient enrichment caused by outfalls & run off.

OSPAR  did a study on it in Belgium, Holland and Germany. – below is the link to the full article.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 2, 2018 by cliffdean

In seeking shelter from the freezing wind I dropped down into the cliff-top Landslip Wood. Few passers-by notice it and nobody goes there.

In the years since I’d last visited this extraordinary site, blackthorn had closed up over its steep and obscure access tunnels but now the snow revealed the tracks of a previous visitor…


Exposed to relentless wind and salt spray, the stunted oaks that grow here crouch down into the incline but stretch out their limbs almost horizontally to grab at the seaside light. Negotiation of the tilted way requires a good deal of ducking and diving and, occasionally, some Limbo skills.

With the khaki sea pounding just below, the danger of approaching the cliff-edge is all too clear but from a distance you can recognise the skeleton tree where the Peregrine sits, while Fulmars skate past its roots exposed by previous rock-falls.

There’s nowhere else like this in the South-east nor, I suspect, in the whole of England.

New Year almost

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 5, 2018 by cliffdean

Tuesday January 2nd 2018: Since I’d wanted to join the Rye Harbour walk on the First (it was wet and windy but 18 people turned up, stayed the course and enjoyed watching murmurations of Golden Plovers & Lapwings as well as some scarcer birds such as Black-necked Grebe & Red-breasted Merganser) the customary RXbirdwalk was displaced till the following day when it was dark and grey but at least dry – till 11 o’clock.

This meant a change of plan to make the most of the two hours available: drive to the Pools and look out from the seawall and beach. There were plenty of birds again – the sky often full of Lapwings, Curlews, Dunlins & Starlings flushed up from the soggy pastures by unseen predators or maybe just popular panic. Sorting from these moving silhouettes the small groups of Golden Plovers & Ruffs was a stimulating challenge as was the separation of grey roosting waders into Grey Plover, Knot & Dunlin as they huddled on the shingle, thanks to the miserable weather undisturbed by strollers .

Likewise, the lines of birds roosting behind the roadside pool provided an interesting task since they comprised several species of gull & wader. Then there were the many dabbling and diving ducks with a Marsh Harrier cruising over them.

So, by the time the New Year Drizzle arrived half an hour early we had seen quite a variety of birds (40), though when I came to compile it the lack of you-see-them-every-time species such as Blackbird, Blue Tit & Robin felt strangely unbalanced. Once you get east of the Toot Rock bushes though, they just aren’t there.

Even shorter and darker

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 29, 2017 by cliffdean

Our wedding anniversary falls on December 21st, the Winter Solstice, which we sometimes celebrate with a walk on the inspirational Downs. Last week, however, the morning was gloomy enough at home but as we drove up towards Friston we entered the cloud-base. Two stoical dog-walkers passing at Crowlink  suggested “mistical” as an optimistic adjective.

As we headed south among fog-beaded sheep, the cliff-edge was hinted by the soft rush of waves and the scent of seashore wrack some time before it materialized from the grey.

The scant bird-list was gleaned more from cliff-face gargling of Fulmars and croak of unseen Ravens than by visible, colourless specimens (Meadow Pipit….er…)

However, with no view to detain us in admiration, we made unusually quick progress, turning our joint imaginations instead to the composition of limericks, inspired by my anniversary present: the new biography of the insufficiently celebrated Edward Lear.

“There was an old man in the fog…” was one attempt, quickly surpassed by “There was an old man in the mist…” which seemed to offer more possibilities, especially since we were aiming for the pub.

This classic, iconic landscape is usually pretty busy, not least with young visitors from SE Asia who, for some reason (there are plenty of good ones), are always present in large numbers, but once past the mistical dog-walkers I think we had made out just one indistinct figure in the gloom.

Once we’d picked our way down the slippery chalk track to the valley, selfie-taking normality was re-established among the Rock Pipits and challenging gull roosts

But, with so little to delay us, we arrived at the Cuckmere Inn with 45 minutes to spare before lunch so took one of the frequent, swaying, wi-fi equipped double-deckers back to Friston whence we aimed for the Giant’s Rest instead.