Archive for Darwell Reservoir


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 20, 2018 by cliffdean

From the green coast up into the frosty Weald, slithering and squelching through the muddy woods, beneath singing thrushes, past the gypsum conveyor belt…

…and the Yellow Jeep…

.. along the moss-banked old lane, dark, emerald or long-shadowed…

…to the reservoir, where winter rain has raised the water level into the marginal willows. The furnace dam is now drowned again, its clinker walls no longer prowled by herons but browsed by fish.

The curtain of branches not only precludes an easy scan of the lake but provides refuge for wildfowl which, a few weeks ago, were loafing in the open on mud below the Crassula lawns. Now the only clues to their presence are calls, wingbeats and ripples.

There are a few gaps towards the point by the old furnace site where it’s possible to scope meagre bands of Coot, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard & GC Grebe but the north end is obscured by a screen of willows. While I can hear Teal and glimpse the white flanks of Tufted Ducks, there’s no more to be seen…until a beautiful drake Goldeneye comes flying in from the dam end of the lake and splashes down  – near to 2 females which I’d not previously noticed.

…except for something on the shore which, for a change, is not a discarded drinks bottle but a female Tufted Duck, very freshly dead, no injuries, and a with a ring on its leg.

A British ring – nothing exotic – but it will be interesting to find out where this bird came from.

(UPDATE: the answer is – not far. It was ringed by Rye Bay Ringing Group as age 1st year, sex unknown on 26-Sep-2017 07:00:00 at Icklesham, It was found 115 days after it was ringed, 19 km from the ringing site.)

Less of a mystery, at 11.15, about the punctual rumble of the huge Emirates A380 crawling its way from Dubai towards Gatwick.

I’ve met no-one. Apart from distant gunshots from a Pheasant-shoot and the cold wind in the treetops there’s very little sound until a couple’s voices approach and then recede. Just one more thing: though Bullfinches are piping as usual from the lichen-tufted blackthorn on the old farm site, the great dark umbrella of Yew needs checking for Hawfinches. No sound.


Cold water: some reflecting the world, some blind to it

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

On a recent visit to Darwell Reservoir we’d seen a lot of wildfowl too distant to properly identify or count so yesterday I donned my neoprene wellies to haul my telescope for forty minutes, away from the echoing yells of dog-walkers through rain-enriched Wealden mud along old lanes lined with phantasmagoric hornbeams and way past the Yellow Jeep onto the carpet of crisp, frosty Crassula on the silted headwaters of the lake.

While the north bank was rusty in the low sunlight, the south was dark in deep, creeping shadow. Though the rain has raised the level, the old furnace causeway is still mostly exposed, and while the pond behind it was iced and opaque, the main water was mirror-like save for the ripples from diving GC Grebes.

It was silent but for those same grebes gargling and the flap of Cormorant wings, as their owners felt my presence was just that bit too unsettling, whatever Superior Fieldcraft I attempted. In the distance, in a different world, traffic passed noiselessly along the A21.

At once, an easy bird to spot, even with the naked eye, was a single Great Egret. There had been 2 before but the other has, I suspect, been the individual frequenting a garden pond for the last few days in nearby Netherfield Hill. In the absence of the real thing this one kept company with a similarly lonely Grey Heron, while a Little Egret was huddled among weeds further down.

Photo – through binoculars – by Keith Datchler

I had calculated that the still weather, coupled with raking afternoon light, would make counting fairly straightforward from the useful viewpoint of the black clinker causeway but had failed to take into account the winter shimmer over lake’s cold surface, not to mention deceptive chiaroscuro on the bodies of sleeping wildfowl.

However, nil desperandum, some count is better than none. Maybe. And it looked like: 7 Canada Goose,  141 Coot, 7 Cormorant, 30 Gadwall, 14 Great Crested Grebe, 7 Little Grebe, 37 Mallard, 7 Shoveler, 86 Tufted Duck & 19 Wigeon (a lot of Biblical 7s there…) I could not see the 2 Pochard we’d seen the other week nor any of the Goldeneye I would expect there.

While I was busy counting Coots which, in the middle of swimming across the lake, has decided to turn round, I heard Hawfinches clicking from the trees beside me but by the time I’d finished they had fallen silent and no amount of treetop-scanning could reveal their dumpy outlines. They could be after hornbeams – plenty of those – but also maybe the fruit of the big dark sheltering yew which marks the old farm site. A lone Hawfinch has been consuming yew berries in Hastings Cemetery for the last fortnight in Hastings and when I called in at “Feathers” after this expedition, 5 had been visiting a yew across the road from the shop.

With a startling roar, a huge flock of Woodpigeons burst from the woods opposite and swirled into the sky. There had been no obvious disturbance and I could see no raptor that might be responsible but more a more came clattering out of the trees where they had been sitting silent and unsuspected. 700? More?

As I made my way back along the muddy track, into the tree-splintered light of the early-setting sun, the woods before me began to rumble as the covered conveyor belt from the hidden gypsum mines stirred into action.

Coccothraustes latest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 24, 2017 by cliffdean

A day of two closely-related halves. Once more in the undiscovered, unknown, unspoilt and, this morning, unusually busy lanes of the beautiful High Weald around Ashburnham Furnace where deliveries & school-runs were replaced mid-morning by mud-splattered 4x4s ferrying Pheasant-blasting folk in folkloristic tweedy regalia.

Anyway, down to hard Hawfinch. We saw 2 straightaway downhill from the church sitting, like others made visible, in the tops of bare Ash trees. Then there was another down at the bottom at the dam above the old mill house. (Across the road, from a reedy patch of the old silted-up pond bay, came the pikking of a Water Rail – a new bird for me for this site. Up towards the Wildflower Meadows, celebrated but maybe not for much longer now that 10,000 Pheasants have been let loose there, caught the raucous call and upright silhouette of a Red-legged Partridge – another new bird, invited there to share the same fate as the Pheasants. As we climbed towards Rock Farm, the valley resounded with the primitive cries of fresh-faced tweedy beaters followed by money-making gunshots.

It was in Penhurst Lane that we had some really good views of Hawfinches as they fluttered up & down hedgerows or whizzed overhead. Although most seem to be quite subdued in colour, there was the odd splendid ochre’n’gunmetal male. There were about six around one cottage then a few hundred metres down the road another c15 flew over us. I believe people are still seeing even larger flocks but I was happy enough for these were more than I’d seen for decades in the is country.

Word has got around about these birds, partly from friendly locals enquiring what we (and, I imagine, others) are looking at and partly from coverage in the media (this is a media event??? Alexa Chung must be on her way as I write.) The landlord of the Netherfield Arms knew about them.

After lunch we went down the road for a “quick” slither & splosh along the horse-pulped paths to the back of Darwell Reservoir, coming across another loudly-ticking Hawfinch not far from the car-park. The woods were pretty silent but once we arrived in sight of the (still shrinking) lake we could see there were far more ducks than on my last visit – hundreds – but many once more too distant for certain identification or confident counting. There were : Canada Geese, Cormorants, Coots, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebes, Greylag Geese, Mallard, Mute Swan, Pintail (just the one…I think), Pochard, Teal, Tufted Duck, & Wigeon. In addition, 2 Great Egrets, 3 Little Egrets, several Grey Herons, 1 Green Sandpiper, Black-headed & Herring Gulls. Quite possibly more, but without a telescope they had to remain undiscovered, unknown & unreported.

And then, from the far side of the Furnace inlet, more metallic ticking and another 4 Hawfinches. I’m getting quite tuned in now to their calls and stubby treetop silhouettes.

Low water

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 30, 2017 by cliffdean

Sunday, Darwell Woods: the dense streamside vegetation close to Cackle Street was busy with birds, initially small flocks of Goldfinches & Siskins in the treetops (Redpolls audible but hard to see), then several Marsh Tits, both vocal and visible, accompanied by Blue, Great, Coal & Long-tailed tits, Goldcrests, Nuthatches, a Treecreeper and a GS Woodpecker.

Thereafter, the action was more sporadic, though still with regular Marsh Tits, as we made our way eastwards alongside an ancient hedgerow, At first, the path was ploughed up by horses (it’s a bridleway after all), then deeply incised through former usage by off-road vehicles. In both cases, the return to slithery, sticky Wealden  conditions was, I suppose, a seasonal delight.

East of the Conveyor Belt and past The Yellow Jeep, the deep & unwelcome carpet of Crassula helmsii was visible through the sprawling waterside willows, denoting a water level lower than I’ve ever seen it. This doesn’t mean that the level is unusually low, rather than that I don’t come here often enough to see it. Edging out of cover to see if any birds were frequenting the silted headwaters, we were surprised to see a Great Egret standing in the stream, with a Little Egret asleep to one side. This could be the first record of Great Egret for the site., perhaps unsurprising since they are quickly increasing and spreading in the area.

Just as interesting was the exposure of an old dam which I suspect held back the hammer pond for the nearby furnace. The bank of iron slag is topped by sandstone slabs to which are attached clusters of Zebra Mussels. So, side by side we have two very problematic invasive introduced species: a plant and a mollusc.

The view out onto the lake is normally much obstructed by trees, so it was rather exciting to walk out across this old dam to scan the open water. Apart from Tufted Ducks, Great Crested Grebes & Cormorants, there were Black-headed & Herring Gulls and Canada Geese on the far banks as well as some other ducks just too distant for identification without a telescope.

Unfortunately this was also the case with a tantalising small grebe keeping company with half a dozen distant Tufted Ducks. In spite of prolonged and squinting we were unable to get a clear enough view of the head pattern to decide for sure whether it was Black-necked or Slavonian – another good record in either case.

Heavy chunks of iridescent iron slag are bubbled and rippled like lava.

Bad Dudes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 15, 2017 by cliffdean

Deer trails through Dog’s Mercury

In recent years, my visits to the Darwell area have been in winter – from Mountfield or in summer, after dark, from Darwell Hole (for Nightjars). So our Good Friday walk from the latter as far east as Simmett’s Wood added a few new (summer) species to the default Birdtrack list.I should think we’ll be lucky to see any more Nightjars in the traditional “clearing”since it’s not really clear any more, having grown up very tall,no more Tree Pipits either. However……there were 4 Nightingales singing loudly there in the bright sunshine, accompanied by a Willow Warbler and a whole host of commoner species. 2 more Nightingales were singing a little further over just west of the Gypsum conveyor belt and a seventh at mysterious and magical Furnace Farm site. In addition, there were three females offering their support in the form of croaks and whistles. So – 10 Nightingales, arrived in just the last couple of days and already getting on with it.

Neglected and out-grown Hornbeam hedge

The woodland varies in species composition and contains the relics of previous usage in terms of wood-banks, ore zones pocked with bell-pits and outgrown hedges along forgotten lanes, yesterday all bathed in light filtered through fresh spring foliage. Songs of Blue, Great  & Coal Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Nuthatch echoed off bare oak boughs and the poles of ailing Sweet Chestnut. Siskins were flying about the tops of tall conifers.

Goldcrests too were ubiquitious and we came across 2 singing Firecrests, one in ivy, the other traditionalNorway spruce.

We were surprised to find no Marsh Tits but stoical about the non-appearance of LS Woodpecker, which has been seen there recently, and Hawfinch, which has not. One rotten trunk displayed many suspiciously small peckings.

To the east of the conveyor belt, tracks and deep, deep ruts were signs of recent off-roading activity which had reduced the tracks in this unusually dry spring to slurry. On the bright side, they provided drinking place for birds and breeding habitat for some insects.

Debris from collisions was scattered about…

…and a flipped 4WD lay not far from the traditional Yellow Jeep (crumbling ever further into the forest floor).


Relics of human recreation included these bottles enfolded in a mossy, wind-thrown stump, Red Bull cans and scatters of McDonalds wrappings.While I usually just get angry about witless littering, on this occasion I brought my “High Weald: My Weald” re-usable cotton bag into  devastating play and removed these items from their adopted woodland habitat.

Even from among the trees, the barking of displaying GC Grebes and howling of Herring Gulls could be heard while from gaps in the lakeside willows, Coots, Tufted Ducks & Mallards could be made out. A Grey Heron drifted in over the treetops – but from where? It should be nesting now.

Surviving from summer-time cook-outs on the shores of the shrunken reservoir, a ring of sandstone lifted from footings of the vanished farmhouse lies temporarily drowned.

The paintings of George Shaw (at the De LaWarr till June 18th) have further sensitized me to the pathos of human traces, like this deliberately yet inexplicably scarred tree. deep within the woods,

The farm site itself remains as a progressively overgrown clearing, leggy, flowering blackthorn festooned with lichen and inhabited by secretive Bullfinches; an approach to the lake beneath the dark tunnel of a Yew; a sandstone wall; ashore  composed of heavy black iron slag and fragments of terracotta plain-tile; domestic rubbish that has had a few decades  to become charming.

Corrugated Country

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 4, 2016 by cliffdean

20160703_094822Outgrown Hornbeam hedge on an old wood-bank.

Up & down across converging ghylls, through ancient countryside of little fields and old hollow lanes.

I’m reading “Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination” by Colin Morris, in which I discover that some of my ideas are out of date. It appears that the landscape was extensively settled, the forest cleared, routes and boundaries formed, long before the Romans arrived.


Hazels toppled, I guess, in 1987 are still alive and sending up slim trunks.


Typical woodland birds: Woodpeckers G & GS, Nuthatch, Treecreepers & Marsh Tits with young.

My favourite area is around the abandoned Furnace Farm, an overgrown promontory into the cinder-shored lake, once a stream-side settlement, with its low sandstone walls, brick scatter, lichen-bearded bushes and dark domed Yew.


The only birds on the lake are GG Grebes. Loud detonations from the far bank, neither shotgun nor gas-gun, are attributed – by a muddy, well-spoken dog-walker – to poachers (not very subtle ones) stunning fish with explosives.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 17, 2016 by cliffdean


Something quite new for all of us as we returned along the high ridge of Mountfield Lane: overhead in the ice-clouds, a partial rainbow abutting another, fainter arc. Later on, the more familiar rain-dog. Following the Fog-bow while we were on the Bird Race, this makes two new meteorological phenomena in a month! Stuart B was quickly onto it, identifying this beautiful effect as a Circumzenithal Arc. But how on earth can I tell people about it when I’m not sure how to pronounce it? Luckily, help is at hand:

…though I’m not at all convinced that the emphasis should be on the first syllable; I reckon it should be on the third. Anyway, it was all the more beautiful for being unexpected.

This frosty morning was the third RXbirdwalk I’ve led through this sharply undulating High Wealden countryside replete with typical features: steep-sided stream ghylls, wood-banks with outgrown hornbeam hedges, hillside braided holloways and small fields of poor pasture. Through these farm & woodland habitats we came across Redwings, Fieldfares, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Goldcrests and quite a few Marsh Tits.


We also spent a while blasting likely-looking streamside trees with LS Woodpecker calls but were met with no response.Variety, but frustration too is provided by Darwell Reservoir, the entire extent of which cannot be seen from any one point. Indeed, only glimpses can be had right now, thanks to the high water level which prohibits access to the few viewpoints.Through the trees, however, we could pick out Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and – best of all – three Goldeneye, two of them fabulous four-eyed males. While we were looking at these, a raptor appeared flying up the valley. Nowadays, Buzzards are in sight or earshot for much of the time, but this was an imm Marsh Harrier, not a species I’d seen here before. It seemed to be just passing through.


A short while later, a crark from overhead announced the arrival of a Raven which for a while was joined by another. There are now a lot of Ravens breeding in Sussex and it is suspected that even more pairs are missed since they’re nesting in trees out in the little-watched High Weald. The other notable bird observation was a flock of at least 100-150 Linnets close to Taylor’s Cottage. Though once present in vast numbers prior to the introduction of intensive farming, Linnets are now rather scarce in the winter hinterland, a flock this size being exceptional.


Mysteries are presented  by all sorts of man-made features. The tunnel beneath brick structure above has puzzled me on the many occasions I’ve passed it yet I’ve never come to any conclusions. On today’s walk however, the more astute Chris & Eliza looked more closely to discern that the wall above was the back of a former glass-house, the mysterious tunnel access to a boiler.