Archive for Combe Valley Countryside Park


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 17, 2018 by cliffdean

Wednesday: The footpath down from Crowhurst alongside the Powdermill Stream is a narrow muddy struggle, so tilted at times and slippery that it promises to tip you down into the waterside brambles.

The attenuation pond holds more and more wildfowl. Today the count is 50 Gadwall, 4 Little Grebe, 10 Mallard, 128 Shoveler & 54 Wigeon. The number of Shoveler is particularly noteworthy.

In the valley proper it’s business as usual ie next to nothing. The few ducks on the ponds have probably just flown over from the main flocks N of the road apart from 120 Greylags and an unknown number of Teal piping from inside willow thickets. Otherwise, a total of 40 Coot & 11 Mute Swans from the whole site.

Alongside the Combe Haven stream, the issue is not so much mud as encroachment of bramble, which flourished during the path’s prolonged closure for construction of the Link Road. A narrow way has been trampled open and, to judge from the amputations, local walkers have been doing their best with secateurs (for once I remembered to bring mine – but not proper gloves so I ended up with punctured and bloody hands) but at points one is shouldered off the flat and down the slippery river bank..

The path along the intriguing old Bexhill Line is well trampled, although not an official footpath and only one section – Quarry Wood –  belonging to the local community, and it was pleasing to meet a couple of families out with their children for half-term walks.


Beyond Drismal

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 22, 2018 by cliffdean

Sunday: The usual capricious forecast: rain at eleven, it says, but even by nine as I’m slipping on the muddy path beside the Crowhurst Powdermill Stream, my binocular eye-pieces are spotted with drizzle-drops. Few birds around but, from the trees along side the old railway track on the hillside, there comes a high=pitched, rapid drumming that sounds very much to me like a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. However I can’t get closer and have been fooled more than once by GS Woodpeckers choosing a slim branch to drum upon, so without hearing the call or setting eyes on the bird I can’t be sure. Tantalising though.

The attenuation pond hold more ducks than ever – around 200 in all, including 77 Shoveler, 74 Gadwall & 42 Wigeon. This permanent water is proving attractive to ducks, in spite of the walkers and dog-walkers passing by; I think the site is sufficiently open for the birds to keep a wary eye on the humans.

Downstream by Adam’s Farm (now miserably boarded up but at least now free of the horrible fly-tipping) there are Bullfinches calling from the orchard. But there’s more, I’ve recently learnt: wildlife that I’d never suspected.

If you were to look at this narrow stream flowing past Adam’s Fm you might think, as I did, that there would be little living in it. But, like me, you’d be wrong, for a fish survey last month of just a 30m stretch here revealed no fewer than 13 Brown/Sea Trout, 1 Gudgeon, 14 European Eel, 3 3-Spined Stickleback, 72 Stone Loach & 52 Brook Lamprey. This shows just how rich these small waterways are.

The far side of the Link Road, in the grey, the sounds were the rush & hiss of traffic, the crunch of gravel from passing walkers, cyclists and joggers, the drone of a helicopter appearing briefly beneath the clouds and the strangulated peal of Bexhill bells.

The digger has gone from the scoured out south bank, which operation appears to have been unlicensed and carried out in the middle of trout migration. A single Water Pipit took off from the fields nearby and – characteristically – headed off resolutely into the distance. About 250 Black-headed Gulls were loafing on the floods along with half a dozen Herring Gulls, a single Great Black-back & 16 Lapwings. There are Teal piping invisibly beyond the willow scrub on the north side but even the gunfire of pigeon shooters fails to stir them, and with rain falling more heavily I’m loath to explore further.

Back along the old railway line, a pause to admire the brickwork of the Sandrock Bridge, reminding me of whooping echos beneath the Skew Bridge by my grandmother’s house in Harpenden (both she and the house are long gone but the bridge is still there).

And the fine sandstone cliff at the south end of Quarry Wood. Dozens of Redwings wheezing in the taller trees, Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Jay, but this time no Hawfinch but there are Marsh & Coal Tits on a feeder in Sampson’s Lane.

Blue sky, Cold fingers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on December 13, 2017 by cliffdean

Saturday: A bright, frosty start at Crowhurst with House Sparrows chattering from the gutters and a Grey Wagtail rather than the usual Pied flitting round the recreation ground. The usually muddy footpath was a palimpsest of frozen footprints, leading from the sounds of garden birds out to farmland from where we could already see that the Flood Attenuation Pond (a catchier name must surely have evolved by now?) was not completely frozen.

Areas of water had been kept open partly by a group of 9 Mute Swans and partly by an interesting crowd of ducks. In addition, Greylag Geese could be heard from the bank. Our Good Fieldcraft practice of inconspicuous observation from the shadow of the streamside alders was soon abandoned in favour of getting some warmth from the low sun, so we sidled subtly  closer to the wildfowl, followed by a Cetti’s Warbler and a pair of Stonechats in the rough ground alongside the ditch.

An initial count of Wigeon & Gadwall was compromised by an additional flotilla moving out from the reedmace where they’d been hidden but in the end there seemed to be 10 Coot, 40 Gadwall, 1 Little Grebe, 17 Mallard & 37 Wigeon with 41 Greylags & 3 Herons on the bank behind them. All of these waterbirds are present courtesy of the Link Road which droned and rumbled and occasionally wailed with emergency vehicles behind them. Before the road, the only permanent water in the Powdermill Valley was in the stream itself and there was little more in the Combe Haven area.

Down beyond the road the bushes accommodated quite a few Fieldfares and several Bullfinches while the rushy meadows held at least 25 Meadow Pipits. No sign of Water Pipits though, and actually not much water at that point, the autumn having been so dry.

Further down, in the area once grazing meadows but now reed and willow, a patch of the former had been mown, though under what management prescription I don’t know. But at least it suggests that some management is taking place, unlike the fields S of the road which are scandalously abandoned even though they’re SSSI. From the dark, damp depths of the willows came the prolonged and agonised scream of a Water Rail. If you don’t recognise this shriek, you’ll have no idea that the skulking birds are present. And – I have to add – I don’t suppose that the rails think the sound is “agonised”. They probably think it’s “quite nice”.




On the wire

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 4, 2017 by cliffdean

Encouraged by reports and photos like that above, taken by Tim Waters in the Brede Valley (it shows Whinchats, a Stonechat & a Spotted Flycatcher all on the same bit of fence), I decided that Combe Haven, a similarly rough river valley would offer similar species and therefore be a good venue for Sunday’s RXbirdwalk. It’s rare that these ideas work out exactly (see “It’s Not A Zoo”), the weather was dull and cool, the few warblers shy and hard to see.

Things began to look up as we heard Greenshank calls coming from the attenuation pond down the Powdermill Valley and once we got down there we had good views of 2 of them flying low over the water among a flurry of Sand Martins. Other species occupying the shallow, weedy water were Grey Heron, Cormorant, Little Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall, Mute Swan, Moorhen & Coot. The otherwise silent tree cover across the stream suddenly burst into life at Adam’s Farm when a tribe of Long-tailed Tits passed through, drawing in its wake Great & Blue Tits, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a couple of Spotted Flycatchers.

Further on, the cluster of bushes beneath the old railway embankment was busily clicking with Blackcap contact notes. They were difficult to see as they dashed across small gaps and over our heads, along with other fleet passerines but what at first had seemed a couple of birds was probably nearer twenty. We also had good views of Lesser Whitethroat and less good ones of a young Bullfinch which kept popping up.

Along the river bank we finally ran into a group of 4+ Whinchats in instructively varied plumage, along with Common Whitethroats and resolutely hidden Chiffchaffs & Willow Warblers. The useful-comparison Stonechats came later as we joined the Greenway by Acton’s Farm: a smart juvenile and an exceedingly threadbare, tailless, moulting male.

Those ex-grazing meadows south of the Link road embankment are part of the SSSI but have not been managed for years and are degenerating into willow scrub. No-one wants to take responsibility for them or even seems to know who owns them, while my emails to Natural England in Lewes have gone unanswered. Left for much longer they will cost a fortune to get back in good condition.

The wooded parts of Royal Oak Lane are not usually very productive but upon stopping to listen for Treecreeper we found ourselves looking (albeit vertically) at a Firecrest and then the twitten dropping back down to the Plough was busier than I’ve ever seen it, with Great, Blue, Coal & Long-tailed Tits, Blackcaps, Goldcrests, GS Woodpecker, Nuthatch & Treecreeper.

Altogether we saw 56 species.

Otto Dix: Totentanz

8 & 7

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

On Friday of last week we had a walk in the Salehurst area with two principal objectives, namely a search for singing Firecrests and lunch at the Salehurst Halt. Both were achieved, with silvery songs from 8 of the former shimmering down from sombre stands of Western Hemlock, which seems to be their preferred breeding habitat in this area (where Goldcrests share the same sites, yet in other habitats eg Scots Pine only Goldcrests can be heard). Altogether we saw 44 bird species, including several new to the list since previous visits have been in winter, and one very interesting chair – an industrial design classic languishing in deep woodland.

The following day, the RXbirdwalk from Pebsham over into the Combe Valley Countryside Park reached as far north as the attenuation pond to the north of the BHLR, following reports on FB of up to 4 Hobbies. In warm sunshine we counted and recounted until 7 were in view at once, performing breath-taking aerobatics right in front of us in their pursuit of hapless flying insects. Although we’ve seen Hobbies on previous RXbirdwalks – in fact 40 of them once at Dengemarsh – these were the best views ever (and i can remember the days when Hobbies were scarce).

Combe Valley (formerly known as Haven)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 12, 2017 by cliffdean

I was too busy to take more photos – a pity because the valley looked fabulous!

I hadn’t been into the valley for a couple of years – certainly not since the road was completed,but starting from the Garden Centre car park I was immediately surprised by the number of birds singing in the willows and flowering blackthorn hedges, especially Willow Warblers which I normally encounter in ones or twos as they pass straight through. Someone has been managing the Pebsham Valley as a water meadow – scrub has been cleared, it’s green and on a little pond there was a Green Sandpiper to prove it.

Up the hill beside the tip. multiple Linnets were trilling while Blackcap & Chiffchaff (& more Willow Warbler!) sang from the taller trees and Skylarks from the Great Rubbish Dome, now covered and no longer attracting hundreds of Herring Gulls & Carrion Crows. Pebsham Lake was looking good too, backed by trees, grazed by cattle. It’s regrettably shot over in winter but is now tranquil and picturesque – albeit originating from  a stream dammed by rubbish.

From the top of the hill we looked down on the SWT reedbed, more reeds getting invaded by willows and, on the south side of the stream, well-watered water meadows,Then there was a movement on the bare slope beside us: two male Wheatears so richly coloured, so strongly marked that it was hard to believe they were “just” Northern.

At the foot of the hill all we could see at first were Greylags till a pair – then a second pair – of Lapwings began tumbling. I had seen these before from a distance, or so I thought, but as we moved up the valley there were more – another 4 pairs – opposite the Water Pipit marsh (no WIs though). 6 pairs of Lapwings! I s this possible, squeezed between St Leonards & Sidley, when they have disappeared from almost every other part of the Hastings hinterland?

Along the river there were Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings, first Sedge Warblers and, in the well-managed water meadows on the north side, a couple of Little Egrets. Further west, however, the situation is not so great, as I’ve previously observed, since meadows within the SSSI have been allowed to get overgrown, the ditches silted, perhaps blighted by the road scheme. (I have to say that the road is very largely hidden and will be even more so in a couple of years when extensive tree planting matures. But you can hear it all too well.) So we discussed what could be done to get correct management restarted. Signs of Citizen Action are plain though, in the installation of Guerilla Benches and the fighting back of briars by secateur-wielding dog-walkers.  The remaining briars – plenty of them – were occupied by many more singing Linnets.

Further west, on the Attenuation Ponds where we saw Garganey the other week, there was yet another pair of Lapwings displaying. I really thought it was too overgrown (give it time though – what’s the management prescription for this area?) Swallows & Sand Martins were moving north over the ponds and my first Whitethroat of the year was singing from the bushes just s we turned up to Acton’s Farm.

Along the old lanes back towards Pebsham there were yet more Linnets, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps & Willow Warblers, but also Green Woodpeckers on the fields and Buzzards overhead. Reaching the old railway line – I had last been there while conducting Winter Bird Surveys in advance of the road scheme, I was keen to walk up to the stub of the old “17 Arches” viaduct which is signed as a “Viewpoint”.There were Nuthatches there Goldcrests & Jays too but no view since tall trees obstruct it – Railway Poplars no less. A view would be desirable but must be achieved at the expense of quite a few of these.

By the time we got back to the cars, we’d seen 61 species. There are quite few problems of governance, finance & management facing the  Countryside Park but notwithstanding all that, it’s a wonderfully rich natural area, a great resource for local people who are starting to see it from the Greenway and may at some point dare to venture out further.


Crowhurst new circular

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

On today’s RXbirdwalk we climbed the hill again from The Plough to meet up with the old railway track. Looking down the valley, we saw a pair of Ravens being harassed by Crows & Jackdaws.

While there were plenty of Chiffchaffs singing and any number of Robins, Blackbirds, Blue & Great Tits, the Treecreepers & Goldcrests so conspicuous last week were few & far between. Strangely, no Mistle Thrushes either, though  there were a couple of Fieldfares in the treetops.

Once more, we looked at the form and distribution of trees, like the outgrown and now collapsing Field Maple on the old wood-bank (above) and the coppiced Ash among a drift of newly opened Wood Anemones (below).

In Quarry Wood, we noticed that what we’d taken for Primroses by The Cave were in fact Polyanthus. Planted there for some reason or resulting from the dumping of garden waste?

And not the only garden species, especially once you get south of the Sandrock Hill railway bridge (where two cyclists were struggling down the cutting (towards an attractively folded matress) complaining about the “poxy trees” which impeded their descent.

Besides this Flowering Redcurrant, there were Daffodils and Privet as well as an Apple Tree.

Other domestic residue is plainly unwelcome but, unattended to, slowly sinking into an archaeological stratum. This section of the track is lumpy with old  piles of builders’ rubble, now greened over.

A Green Woodpecker was calling from the tall Railway Poplars and my first Blackcap of the year was singing in a quarry just before Adam’s Farm.

Last year ESCC declared Adam’s Fm ready for disposal.

“L-shaped C16 timber-framed buildings, refaced in the C18 with red brick and grey
headers on ground floor and tile-hung above. Tiled roof. Sash windows with glazing
bars. Modern red brick porch. 2 storeys. 5 windows.”

It currently stands empty, on one estate agent’s website valued at just over half a million. In the garden there’s a fine Walnut (below). Just by the stub of the former viaduct a Little Owl flew across our path.

Once in the main valley we were exposed to the chill wind. On water meadows further down the valley at least 2 pairs of Lapwings were displaying but I would guess the ponds nearer to the road are no longer suitable – too overgrown and hundreds of fence posts to provide watch-points for marauding Crows. Linnets have returned to the scrub, 3 Cetti’s Warblers were singing and up to 3 Buzzards overhead at any one time. What used to be grazed water meadows further up the valley are now badly overgrown with rush, sedge and willow, with no sign of any management. Left like this they will soon be far too costly to recover.

The road construction scars are quickly greening over and the Greenway was being used by walkers, cyclists and equestrians. Traffic noise was loud however. On the western pond beneath Hillcroft Fm, among small numbers of Coot, Gadwall & Tufted Duck, I noticed 3 smaller ducks but the bright sunshine made it hard to make out any plumage details. When his light caught grey flanks on one sleeping bird I was pretty sure they were Garganey – a species I’d not seen here previously – and when it turned to allow the sun to shine on its broad white supercilium my suspicions were confirmed.

54 species altogether, though other observers had also seen Water Pipit, Marsh Harrier & Swallow.