Archive for Combe Valley Countryside Park

Late Arrivals

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 24, 2018 by cliffdean

The first one was me. Having advised participants on last Saturday’s Combe Valley RXbirdwalk to bring secateurs I was, at the last minute, unable to lay my hands on any in our own house. They’re the kind of thing that are always lying around until you need them. And then I’d got less than a mile down the road when I realised I’d left my phone on charge in the kitchen… I am normally well organised. This is not the Real Me you are seeing.

Also late, and much more worrying, have been Swifts this year. So much so that people were posting anxious messages, anxious that following a period of inexorable decline, The Year With No Swifts might suddenly, and finally, arrived. You read the frightening articles about mass extinctions and tell yourself it can’t really be happening but in the background lurks a science-fiction headline: The End Of Swifts/Turtle Doves/Spotted Flycatchers – so many to choose from.

But the previous day, over the Sussex Highlands at Brightling we had seen a steady trickle passing north a fortnight late and now they were whizzing low past us, finding plenty to eat above the green wetlands. Not swarms, but better than nothing which, a few days previously, had seemed a desperate possibility.

Another sign of the season’s turn, if more punctual, for another declining bird, was the harsh sound of brown young Starlings, just out of the nest and noisily begging for soggy black invertebrates which their dutiful parents ferried back from the fields. They won’t hang around; in a few days they’ll have moved out to feed in packs, leaving hectic nest-sites silent for another year.

Since the clear night had left a heavy dew, we took the route along the old railway line, through a green tunnel of overhanging trees echoing with birdsong. End-to-end Robins & Wrens with matched-up Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps.

Out in the valley a Cuckoo was calling, Lapwings displaying and we listened in to Reed Buntings, Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and eventually, as we moved from scrub to phragmites, Reed Warblers. A single Lesser Whitethroat sang invisibly from bushes just east of Acton’s bridge.

As we followed the river, 2 migrant Common Sandpipers fluttered along in front of us.

The path round beneath the stub of the old viaduct looks set to be lost to encroaching brambles. In spite of the best efforts of those who wielded secateurs, it needs more forthright management to be kept clear. However, it’s not a public footpath and it’s not clear who owns the land so how will that happen?

While snipping, however, we were accompanied by the fluttering of dozens of Beautiful Demoiselles, the sparkling iridescence of their wings at rest like intricate Tiffany glassware. Just one Yellowhammer remained in this area which once held several pairs before the road wiped out their habitat. Whether they have left the area or merely dispersed is not clear.


Nightingales & Swifts

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

Thursday: A bright morning, a cold wind and a bemusing confusion of birdsong as soon as I opened the car door.  Mostly a mass of common species apart from a very welcome Nightingale in full song beneath the tall silver pylon. Later, I heard another in scrub on the southernmost section of the old railway line.  As I approached the pond, a Hobby shot past at high speed.

A stream of Herring Gulls, with a few Lesser Black-backs, was coming in high overhead from the north-west. From where? Darwell? Bewl? The Medway or Thames?

Few waterbirds remain, with nothing unusual, but healthy numbers of warblers have arrived; along my 4-mile route I found 13 Chiffchaffs, 21 Blackcaps, 20 Whitethroats, 9 Sedge Warblers, 3 Reed Warblers & 4 resident Cetti’s Warblers, most of these singing males.

A male Stonechat was still singing and a male Marsh Harrier on patrol. On the rapidly drying meadows I could see 3 Lapwings but no display going on.

As the morning progressed, a few Swallows & House Martins appeared and finally 2 Swifts.

Along the southerly section of the old railway track another Nightingale was singing, while further on there was a wonderful perfumed profusion of common woodland flowers, with Bluebells, Wood Anemones, Wild Garlic, Early Purple Orchids & Yellow Archangels among the most conspicuous.

60 bird species recorded.

58 species and a million Euros

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

Thursday: relentlessly cool and misty but with lots of birdsong from the woods beside the Powdermill valley.

On Crowhurst Lake and on shallow floods there remain wintering ducks in small number: Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Teal & Wigeon while potential breeding species – GC Grebes, Little Grebes, Mallard & Tufted Ducks as well as a lot of Coots – appear to be on territory.

Migrant Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps are already established, a dozen Swallows and a Sand Martin were hawking over the floods and a Sedge Warbler was singing alongside the river.

An unfamiliar song drew my attention to a very smart male Stonechat with a female appearing soon after; these have nested here before but are very thinly distributed as a breeding species in lowland Sussex. Although one Lapwing was displaying, I could only pick out 3 birds. The recently reported male Marsh Harrier was quartering the area. Although several pairs of Linnets had taken up residence and others were passing through, I was disappointed to find no Yellowhammers at all.

As I stood on a green wall waiting for a Water Rail to call (it didn’t), with the sound of Cetti’s Warblers in my ears, in my nose the stink of burning plastic from an illegal farm bonfire, I picked up a message from Rye Harbour to announce that, after months of suspense, a million Euro grant has been awarded to  the Discovery Centre project.

58 species altogether at the west end of the valley and along the old railway line.

Crowhurst circular

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 25, 2018 by cliffdean

During a walk whose course was dictated by the desirability of sheltering from the cold NE wind, we followed the old railway cutting and returned alongside the Powdermill Stream to a last stretch of very muddy, slippery footpath into the village.

Of note were a remarkable number of vivid Scarlet Elf Cap growing on dead wood in the damp bed of the railway track. I see from various websites that these are edible.

In one spot they grew just beneath another richly coloured species, the Emerald Elf Cup – or Green Stain Fungus though not as fruiting bodies.

Along the line there’s an interestingly varied succession of trees, towards the southern end enriched with a variety of garden species introduced through the past (I hope) dumping of domestic & builders’ rubbish. One I’d not previously noticed was Stags-horn Sumach.

We’ve got Sumach powder in our kitchen, introduced to it via Turkish/Iranian cookery, but I’m not clear which species is used for this.

There are still at least 200 dabbling ducks on the Flood Attenuation Pond, the majority Shoveler, but there wasn’t time to count them.

Although there were frequently Buzzards overhead, my attention was attracted to one much higher than usual, way up at the base of the clouds. It was gleaming white beneath, with rather deeper wings than a Buzzard and short, spread, reddish tail: a Red-tailed Hawk. This is a N American species favoured by falconers and sometimes escaping into the wild.


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”.