Archive for Dungeness

Dengemarsh clockwise

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 19, 2017 by cliffdean

In a radical new approach, we walked a little way down Dengemarsh Road from Lydd before branching off left down the footpath through arable land to the back of the reserve. It adds just a mile to the usual circuit and was more interesting than I anticipated. To our left, flocks of Snipe erupted from the frosty rape fields while on the other side were hundreds of Lapwings, Golden Plover & Starling as well as Egyptian Geese and one out-of-place Brent. The path is broad and easy to follow, though the first footbridge has (livestock-proof?) bars across it rendering it fairly human-proof as well. Gymnastic and limbo-dancing skills are required at this point.

A small bird diving into bramble revealed itself as a wintering Chiffchaff. A blue jumble beside the bush revealed itself as a retired scarecrow, the baler twine employed to secure its plastic-bottle head disturbingly reminiscent of the ligature around the neck of Tollund Man, the spilling straw guts adding to the sense of sublimated sacrifice.

What with this and the nearby Concrete Corpse, a narrative is emerging…

In opting for a clockwise circulation I had realised that we’d be looking into the low winter sun for much of the time but this provided opportunities to sharpen identification skills through studying silhouettes and discounting colour distortions arising from strong shadow. Otherwise the blue sky was a fabulous backdrop to flying WigeonGreylag Geese, Marsh Harriers and twinkling flocks of Lapwings & Golden Plovers. Bitterns, Bearded Tits & Water Rails, however, kept their heads down.

Back on Dengemarsh Road, when one of our group picked up a distant flying flock of white birds the long necks and rapid wing-beats distinguished them as 13 Bewick’s Swans – on tour, presumably from Darkest Horsebones. As we followed their progress down the peninsula they passed at least 5 Marsh Harriers before swinging round and dropping out of sight somewhere near Scott Hide. When they passed us again, much closer, I was, unfortunately, looking in the other direction so only got a back view.

Two more mysteries. Once you pass the farms there’s nothing much down Dengemarsh Road and yet there’s a constant stream of traffic. The vehicles could be those of anglers or dog-walkers but a surprisingly large proportion braving the potholes and puddles were expensive white SUVs; what can it all mean? Then, an odd rumbling sound preceded the appearance of two teenage lads cheerfully hauling trolley-cases down the corrugated concrete road, one clutching a print-on-canvas of a fast car (not a white SUV) as if planning to set up home. But where? The only potential accommodation was a caravan beside the chicken sheds. Seasonal pluckers perhaps.

  In the fields beside us were crowds of Golden Plovers, colour and details brilliant with the light now behind us. Lobbed into the roadside crops lay a Prosecco bottle. It occurred to me that ten years ago this would have been no more likely than the Egyptian Geese, both Signs of the Times.

On the way home, two of us made a diversion to Hastings Cemetery in search of Hawfinches, 7 of which had been seen the previous day, and after a bit of strolling among the funereal yews, spotted one sitting in a bare tree – Showing Well, as they say tough, as usual, my attention was taken by tombs – the Robertsons (of the eponymous Street), the Ionides (formerly of Constantinople, late of Windycroft).



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

Following a day of uncharacteristically heavy rain, we were glad to get out at Dengemarsh on a bright and typical September morning, relishing as ever the first view from the slightly raised Springfield Bridge across the back of the RSPB reserve, over wildfowl, Cormorants, Common Terns and a cruising Marsh Harrier.

Big crowds of Lapwings kept surging up, trialing 3 Ruff just below. From high up in the blue came the call of Golden Plover – at first just one still with a black belly flashing in the sunshine but then a flock of maybe 100 which stuck around for the rest of the morning either circling semi-visibly in the sky or settling for a while on an island adding their fluting chorus to the wailing of Lapwings.

We soon began to pick out raptors across the horizon: Kestrel, Hobby, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, and then high up a Carrion Crow was persistently harassing a smaller falcon  – a Merlin.

Another nice thing about coming in from Dengemarsh Road is that you meet very few people. The second we met at the crossroads by the hide (has this spot got a name?) was an RSPB guy who informed us that we’d missed some early morning action with a fall nearer the point – in fact there was a Wryneck still there at The Desert. It would be easy to locate since there would be a crowd of people watching it. While there have been occasions when I’ve really wished for such a crowd when fruitlessly searching for some interesting yet needle-in-a-haystack bird, I generally avoid them. The RXbirdwalks way is not to rush off after something supposedly more exciting but to visit a promising location and just see what’s there.

So we continued looking at a few warblers in the scrub and scanning the sky for birds of prey, and while watching a flock of 4 Buzzards, a big bird came gliding over the willows – an Osprey! There had been one or two about all week but – it’s not a zoo – you can’t be sure of seeing one but this bird stayed around for about 20 minutes, gliding, hovering & diving – inexpertly it seemed because after several unsuccessful lunges it caught a rather small fish and flapped off to consume it atop one of the many vertical structures Dungeness has to offer. A spectacular bird, one that I don’t see all that often and rarely as close as this, a useful opportunity to check the plumage details that made it (apart from the amateur fishing) a young bird.

It looked much closer at the time! Thanks to Stuart Barnes for the photo.

Reasoning that the open sky offered the best spectacle, we spent some time on the Viewpoint though by that time there were fewer birds in the air (apart from Golden Plovers) but a distant Peregrine put up a cloud of Starlings over at the chicken sheds. On the small pools to the west (I don’t know what they’re called either) we found Little Grebe, Sparrowhawk (8th raptor species) & Bearded Tits then, proceeding with effort over soft and sticky arable land, arrived at Brickwall Farm beside which 4 Whinchats and a very scruffy Stonechat perched in a weedy patch beside a skeletal barn.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 1, 2017 by cliffdean

For the previous couple of days, the forecast for Sunday had been one of uniterrupted sunshine, so I was a bit surprised, on arriving at Lydd, to note that the layer of cloud, rather than burning off, had formed a southern horizon smooth and livid with the promise of heavy rain. A check of the radar map showed a band as colourful as a bad bruise heading our way and by the time the last RXbirdwalker had arrived our various rain-avoidance strategies had been reduced by the first heavy drops and the flicker of lightning to Plan A i.e. sit it out in the car. Accuweather assured us that “rain would cease in 18 minutes”, which it did, upon which we proceeded down a deeply puddled Dengemarsh Road to Springfield Bridge.

As always, this approach allows a scan of the water and reeds, where, in addition to the usual waterfowl, we could see good numbers of Common Terns & Common Gulls and a brilliantly-lit f Marsh Harrier.While differentiating between songs of Reed & Sedge Warblers some Bearded Tits came flying past and then remained close to us, giving excellent close views. Much is the time we’ve wasted in the past, hoping for a brief glimpse of this bird, but here they were, almost as real as a photograph and pinging away loudly to imprint their call on those who didn’t already know it.

There were a lot of flowers and insects along the path too, and the yodelling of a territorial Redshank close by.

Four-spotted Chaser (and other wildlife photos)  by Stuart Barnes

Grass Vetchling

From the Dengemarsh Hide we looked out upon a raft on which were nesting several pairs of Common Terns, uneasy since accompanied by a pair of Herring Gulls. Ducking the dives of optimistic terns, the male HG sat patiently, awaiting the hatching of tern chicks which would provide a convenient buffet for its own young. An adjacent raft accommodated terns and a Common Gull, which appeared to co-exist peacefully. So far anyway.

It had become pretty windy as we approached the Viewpoint, when a brown bird appeared quite high up, approaching from ARC direction – a Bittern! – but dropped down before everyone could catch sight of it. From the mound we enjoyed more great views of both male & female Marsh Harriers, a few Swifts & House Martins and a rather more distant 2 Hobbies – fewer than expected but we did get a closer look later. A Common Whitethroat also sat up close by, prompting a sortie down as far as Christmas Dell where a Lesser Whitethroat was singing, in order to enjoy the comparison (and escape the wind). Well, we had an excellent opportunity to get used to its rattling song and could see exactly where it was – a couple of metres away in tall scrub – but just could not get a look at it – couldn’t even pick out its movements. As I always say, “It’s not a zoo.”


Turned out nice again?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 1, 2017 by cliffdean

Week after week accounts of RXbirdwalks are prefaced in true British fashion by reflections upon the unreliability of weather forecasts. Same this time: the clouds promising a miserable dark and maybe rainy morning quickly and unexpectedly peeled back to reveal a clear sky which reflected in the fabulous ink-blue water of Dengemarsh and shone from the pale-gold reeds.

So that’s got the meteo out of the way. But – year upon year these reports are of necessity repetitive: the seasons turn bringing with them more or less the same birds to more or less the same places. I could forget all that and go for the unexpected, joining the glum cavalcade of rarity chasers but that does not appeal to me. What does change, most often & most interestingly, is the human context. This has always interested me: the personal/family/social/political backdrop to these birds trips, bird walks, birdsong, bird sightings.

Exemplary writing of this kind is found in “Adventure Lit Their Star” by Kenneth Allsop.

But there’s also a well-known intention to use birds as an escape  from all of that – a reviving reconnection with the non-human world. I do this of course but in the same breath, as it were, criticise those who wilfully fail to notice the impact of politics upon the wildlife that they imagine to be free of all that. So…apart from the weather Saturday’s RXbirdwalk was influenced by this:


…and I’m really not sure that that’s going to turn out nice.


So while we were wandering the Dengemarsh trail enjoying the birds, the light, the soundscape, the future was blighted for hundreds of people who believed they were flying to a better one and it was Raining In My Heart. Apart from the beautiful Marsh Harriers, the fabulous ice-coloured Smew, the acrobatic male Bearded Tit Showing As Well As Anything my spirits were lifted by a scabrous cartoon by Steve Bell, standing on the shoulders of the giant James Gillray.

I would post it here,but since this is a Family Blog…


…though I’m not sure what’s on the TV. More acceptable in those days perhaps…

Dodging showers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 5, 2016 by cliffdean

When we arrived at Springfield Bridge last Saturday, there was no wind at all and in the stillness you could listen in to an aural panorama of Bearded Tits, Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits,  Chiffchaffs and, less subtle – Coots & Greylag Geese. The phone lines were dotted with Starlings & hirundines while from a high hiding place among the girders, a Raven croaked from a nearby pylon.


A lot of Reed Buntings & Chiffchaffs were working through the reeds ahead of us while to the right a new sunflower field had attracted hundreds of Linnets, making me wonder why birdfood strips had not been planted before. Another cloud of Linnets rose up from time to time (usually coinciding with the passage of a Marsh Harrier) from another sunflower strip towards the bungalows.


This calm did not last for long for, very quickly, dark clouds approached on strengthening breeze. At first they seemed to be heading off for Ashford but before too long we were spattered with the first raindrops. I normally prefer to stay out of hides, finding them dark and restricting compared with the broad landscape outside but in these circumstances they came into their own, our scurrying transfers from one to another not always well synchronized with periods of respite.


The water level outside Makepeace & Firth Hides was low, and the islands exposed not yet infested with Crassula so we were able to make out a reasonable range of wildfowl and waders, including Pintail & Curlew Sandpiper, though a Little Stint was not visible.

The wind was stronger & stronger, allowing little to be heard from the viewpoint though the rake-straight necks of Great White Egrets stood out against the reeds. Eventually, a sharp shower caught us out in the open, luckily close to a small willow beneath which we cowered for the duration. It hadn’t seemed a very productive trip, so I was surprised, on totting up the species, to find we’d seen 67.

Up Early

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 28, 2016 by cliffdean


Calculating the dates as surely as those inspired by rays streaming between the sarsens of Stonehenge, Tim Waters, veteran of  Slow But Sure and  The Lava Lamps of Recall, has been out by dawn to photograph the sun blooming behind that great industrial monument, Dungeness Nuclear Power station


While the sun powers plants, people, winds and waves the uranium drives lights, pumps, fridges, computers, electric toothbrushes and his camera battery.





Dawn calligraphy of first-flight condensation trails and silhouettes of passing marine traffic



And a ghost bus on Brede Bridge.

Gorse & gravel

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 12, 2016 by cliffdean

Dengemarsh Gully is a strange and alluring place, a nexus of incongruity so ruined and lonely and in-between that it must surely draw in rare birds. Well, it might do, but not for me, not so far. But then I don’t go there very often, not like the regulars who patrol the area with even greater vigilance than the armed police, so I don’t deserve to find rare birds there. Anyway, in truth I go there for the edgelandy weirdness.

Like the other week when our walk coincided with the arrival of a squad of pylon-painters whose outlines, once they’d swarmed up, clotted the steel gridwork like figures from a Stanley Spencer painting.


Then there’s always the ground-level spectacle of improbable litter slowly smothered by moss, like this wing-mirror folded like a taco.

But although Sunday was a sunny day with an onshore wind there were not a lot of birds there other than the usual traffic of Cormorants overhead, Carrion Crows & Ravens. I really thought we were on to something when I heard an unfamiliar song coming out of the gorse, but after a bit of hard staring the only candidate was a Chiffchaff and I had to concede that, although the song was structurally different, it had a certain Chiffchaffy rhythm & timbre.

reed b

Reed Bunting – Stuart Barnes


The Myrtle Cottage memorial stone has been cleaned up or replaced. It commemorates the last fisherman to live there, Len Prebble born there in 1927. In an interview in 2000 re recalled:

“I was born at Dengemarsh and spent my childhood there, it was wonderful, just
idyllic. We were free to wander over the beach and make our own fun using what was
there. To get to and fro Lydd to Dengemarsh we had to open and close seven gates. I
remember collecting glowworms from the wood sage and putting them in a jar so we
could see to read by them. The broom and gorse was beautiful on both sides of the
sewer [Dengemarsh sewer]. On the open beach there were areas of broom, not the tall
stuff that grew over near Spindle Cottage, where the power station is now, but the
stuff that grows close to the beach. There was more on the east side of the
Dengemarsh road than the west. Terns nested in the thrift and we collected gulls eggs
by the dozen in the war and Mother preserved them in isinglass. We went over to the
Oppen Pits to collect Black Headed Gull’s eggs. There was a well at Dengemarsh for
ships to put in there for water. They would roll barrels up the beach and fill them. We
had a pump for our water and sometimes it would become salty, then we went over to
the springs. The spring water was beautiful and when we went over there we collected
watercress. We used to walk to Muddymoor Pit and then over two ridges. We
scrapped the shingle down and could see the water running in always from the sea
side landwards, it never ran the other way. [He is talking about the Springfield area]
Father used to catch eels up the Dengemarsh sewer and Grandfather had a garden in
the Garden Hole and we used to go out there. We would walk down towards
Muddymoor and then turn towards Galloways. It was an area in the beach that was
lower and had good soil in it. It was very sheltered, didn’t dry out and grandfather
grew good produce there. I expect the army has bulldozed it in now. There was
always loads of foxgloves, dolly bells (campion), shoes and stockings [birds foot
trefoil – I think], the stuff like red string (dodder), milkmaids along the sewer,
bugloss, stonecrop white and yellow, yellow iris and French may in the garden
(valerian). We used to pick sloes from the bushes, the low ones on the beach and
always picked pounds and pounds of blackberries. Butterflies were everywhere they
went up in clouds as you walked along, lots of blues, it’s so different now – dead looking

and rubbish dumped and all that awful barbed wire. What a mess the army has made, they have ruined the ranges.”


Garden plants like Spanish Bluebell, Lesser Periwinkle & Red-hot Pokers survive among the rubble of the ruined cottages

“Down at Dengemarsh we used to go seine netting that was my favourite form of
fishing. We had a road right down to the beach so didn’t have a problem getting fish
away like they did at Dungeness. When the mackerel shoals were around we could
have literally tons of fish so we used the “Bobs-up” system of getting the fish back to
Lydd. We would haul baskets up the flagpole so up in Lydd they could see how many
carts we needed – two baskets – two carts or one upside down basket meaning send
all the carts you could muster. The mackerel were taken back to Lydd, washed and
packed in boxes on Gilletts bit of the Rype, in front of Vulcan Cottages. There was so
much fish it was sent to Billingsgate on special trains. Dengemarsh had four boats,
four winch houses and a big shed made of driftwood to keep the boats in, in summer –

sun ruins a boat. There was a lifeboat capstan at Dengemarsh and coastguard houses.
The houses were sold off to professional people wanting to get away from it all.
Before engines came along (just after the First World War) the boats used sail or had
to be rowed. My Grandfather used to row round to Folkestone or Hastings to sell his
fish and sometimes fish his way back. We had to leave Dengemarsh during the war
but brought the boats back again in 1946. We lived up in Lydd then and by 1958 had
to abandon it as stuff was continually being stolen. You could not carry on without
living there and as the beach was being eroded and we had got used to having
electricity and water up in Lydd that was the finish. “

You can find the rest of his reminiscences as well as those of other past residents of the peninsula in this Natural England document.

Screenshot 2016-04-12 16.54.31

Dengemarsh in 1960 – from the Google Earth (click View >Historical Imagery & use slider bar)

We made the usual pilgrimage to the mysterious Concrete Corpse, about which I found this exceptionally informative article.

Back on the RSPB reserve, the most interesting thing, on wet meadows strangely devoid of birds, was a flock of 6 Water Pipits which, for a change, sometimes alighted on fence posts to give fair but should-of-brang-a-scope views of the warm, plain undersides, bold supercilium, white outer tail feathers etc. They flew about too but in the nice sunshine were inconveniently silhouetted and declined to call apart from the odd squeak.

sedge w

Sedge Warbler – Stuart Barnes

It was a pleasure too to listen in to a cluster of Sedge Warblers once we got to the bramble brakes around the hide where they were engaged in their hectic, buzzing, rasping outpourings of song. Then the blasting Cetti’s Warblers and watchful Marsh Harriers that we’ve all got so used to.

And another meteorological phenomenon – a sun halo.