Archive for Combe Valley Countryside Park

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.

Roadside developments

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 25, 2016 by cliffdean

Since I last had a look at the area downstream from Crowhurst several works connected with the Link Road have been completed. Yesterday I led a group from the village looking at the way the site was developing. The area’s extraordinary silence has, of course gone forever, to be replaced with the constant hum of traffic but the news is not entirely bad.


The Flood Attenuation Pond, just north of the road in the Powdermill Valley has retained a pretty constant water level whereas I had understood it would fill and drain according to rainfall, giving a frequently changing amount of mud. Instead, its permanent water has attracted a small population of wetland birds – small, but more constant than the inexplicably lacking wildfowl of the main valley. There were Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Mute Swan, Coot & Moorhen as well as a Little Egret. The rough margins held Reed Buntings & Stonechats. The water’s edge has been colonized by Greater Reed-mace yet no Phragmites while the northwest corner is growing willow at a healthy rate which threatens to obscure sight of the water over the next couple of years. A new raised bridge crossing from the east bank of the stream presents an elevated viewpoint.


The Big Society (remember that?) is in evidence in the work of a Phantom Bench-builder who has thoughtfully provided several seats for Quiet Contemplation.

After such a prolonged rainless period, the zone between the road and the river looks very dry and is becoming scrubbed over with hawthorn & willow. Tracks both east and west have become overgrown and more difficult of access, in the latter case because extended closure of the path between Acton’s & Hillcroft Farms prevented walkers from using the riverside path. In this area there were Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers & more Stonechats. A harrier which flew along the opposite side, against the light, was probably Marsh but something made me think it could be Hen. Unfortunately it glided behind trees before I could get a good enough look.


Around Three Bridges, a Water Pipit flew up calling and further west, close to the now-completed-and-quite-useful Greenway, the call was coming from a group of 4 pipits but it was hard to say whether they were all Water or mixed with Meadow, of which there were quite a few. The shallow ponds near there were frequented by 4 Cormorants, c10 Teal, BH & Herring Gulls and a lot of Pied Wagtails.


In spite of the intrusive new road, there are still plenty of birds in the upper valley – I noted 55 species and extensive planting of woodlands, hedges, scrub & grassland should provide plenty more habitat. Whether formerly breeding Lapwings will tolerate the disturbance, in fact whether the wetlands are managed in a way that will suit them, remains to be seen.


Mountains & meadows

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 14, 2016 by cliffdean


This is Water Pipit habitat in Combe Haven. There were 2-3 there this morning. It’s one of the scarcest wintering birds in the county, with known sites thinly scattered as you can see in the map below taken from “Birds of Sussex”.


Yet the easternmost sites shown here are not Combe Haven (which surprises me because I thought I’d seen them there during the Atlas period – I’ve only just noticed this) but Pett Level & Pannel Valley and the upper Brede Valley (where there were 3 yesterday). During the early 2000s, remarkably high numbers were seen at Combe Haven – up to 57 – but in more recent times I don’t think the total has ever exceeded single figures. They are difficult to see since they hang about in inaccessibly soggy places. If you disturb one, it immediately heads off into the distance, distinguished only by its shrill flight call and – if you’re lucky – a glimpse of white flanks & outer-tail feathers. If you do get a Cracking View of a winter bird it has a few more diagnostic features while if you’re lucky enough to get a look at one in spring it’s very pretty – sometimes at first glance almost like a Wheatear.

If you do want a better look, then go to the Alps where they nest among gentians and the clunking of cow-bells. I would love to know where these Crowhurst birds spend their summer but, according to the Migration Atlas, there is not a single recovery of a ringed bird between breeding & UK wintering sites. If we knew, we could set up a great twinning scheme between this abused valley and some lovely mountain reserve…..


I was expecting to “see” Water Pipits today but that was not the case with a bird I’d never seen here before. I’d just finished talking to a dog-walker and set counting a small line of Gadwall on the far side of the flood when an adult Little Gull flew across my field of view. They’re beautiful, dainty gulls which I rarely see around here and never way from the coast. However in the last week a number have been turning up, including one in the Brede Valley yesterday so it wasn’t a complete surprise. while I watched it dipping down to the water in typically marsh-tern-like fashion, another appeared, and then an immature with the black W wing-pattern. There were a lot of other gulls idling on the banks or water, including c30 GBs and one Mediterranean.

Otherwise, the usual inexplicably small numbers of wildfowl, the usual birds but more than 50 sp all the same.





The New Reality

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 22, 2015 by cliffdean

Sunday: No photos – far too dark in spite of the forecast of “light cloud”. I walked down the Powdermill Stream from Crowhurst to get an idea of how the new Link Road looked and sounded. From that distance you could clearly hear the traffic passing; that hissing or rushing sound of tyres on tarmac, for which there seems to be no specific term. People suggest “susurration” which refers to a whispering or rustling sound but generally of natural things: rivers or leaves, rather than hurtling vehicles.

Sunday morning, so not too much traffic, the noise both carried by and competing with the brisk SW wind. Motorcycles were definitely noisy and intrusive. While the sight of ordinary cars was hidden by banks and wooden baffles, the tops of vans and lorries projected above them.

Rain has filled up the attenuation pond to a level where shallows and marginal vegetation are mostly underwater so there weren’t so many ducks: 14 Gadwall, 3 Wigeon & 1 Shoveler. There were though large numbers of gulls washing there then loafing on fields by Acton’s Fm – 400 Black-headed & 200 Herring Gulls, with just a few Common Gulls.

Closer to the road and from higher points like Hillcroft Fm, the noise is very intrusive; that remarkable, improbable survival of silence in the valley is now consigned to oblivion. To my surprise, I found I was repeatedly confused by the novel traffic sounds, wondering why a motor-bike was travelling at speed towards Royal Oak Cottage (it wasn’t; it was further over) or how cars were coming up behind me when there are no roads (living in the past…). Looking westwards up the river I more than once mistook the glimpse of a white vehicle for a flying swan or egret.

There seemed to be very few birds down the valley but from 3 Bridges upstream it was more interesting. 3 Water Pipits flew up calling from shallow floods on the W side of the stream (as a useful comparison there’s a small flock of Meadow Pipits where the bridle path crosses over) and a fine, silver-winged male Marsh Harrier was patrolling.

The “Greenway” is slowly taking shape, a surfaced path coming down from Acton’s Fm as far as the road. once completed, it could give good views over some of the wetlands, though passers-by may discourage birds from using them. We’ll see. In spite of its suburbanising quality, I’d appreciate something like the Greenway running down from the village alongside the stream, where the path is now so narrow, muddy and slippery that it’s becoming difficult to use. In the valley the same is happening as paths are restricted by the encroachment of scrub, therefore trampled into muddy ruts.