Archive for Farmland

Kitestrike

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 6, 2017 by cliffdean

I had not visited this farm in the lower Brede Valley for a few months but on Saturday was interested to see how the breeding birds were getting on, especially the Corn Buntings which, a few years ago, were numerous there – the last, isolated, population between the Rother and the Downs. The bad news is that they seem to have gone – why or where a mystery.

But there was plenty of good news: apart from a lot of singing Skylarks, Linnets, Reed Warblers & Reed Buntings, there were several each of Whitethroat & Sedge Warbler. Whereas just a single pair of Yellow Wagtails was disappointing, a Cetti’s Warbler was the first I had recorded there and I was particularly pleased to find a family party of Stonechats. (Several years ago I had seen a young Stonechat in this locality but was cautioned that they’re very mobile once hatched, so didn’t count it as breeding record.)

Apart from some fields of hay & rye much of the area lies fallow this year ranging from mixed recent crops grown up tall together to stretches of bare earth and this latter has attracted several pairs of Lapwings to nest. These brave birds are the few in our area not breeding behind electric fences but their chances of raising young seem poor when faced with the range of predators on the prowl, including Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and…2 Red Kites which came flapping down the valley.

Just recently the now traditional late-May Kite Walkabout has provided many sightings of small flocks across the county ( and many, many more in Cornwall). Having seen none, in spite of hours enjoying the nice weather in our garden, I was starting to feel a bit left out, especially when my daughter texted that she was watching a flock of 6 at Chanctonbury Ring. so I was pleased to see those two.

When we had another look at the farm on Sunday, the grass which had been rowed up the previous day had mostly been packed into shiny black bales. The tractor driver carrying them to the yard pulled over and opened his cab window to announce, “You’re too late. You’ve missed the twenty Red Kites which were here yesterday!” After I had left that morning, silage harvesting exposed vulnerable little beasts beneath the cut grass and Kites appeared out of nowhere, swooping and diving in among the tractors. “How did they know?” the farmer asked.

There was still baling to be done so we kept an eye on the proceedings but just one Kite glided over, to join a Kestrel and a Buzzard, but soon drifted away.

 

The path less travelled by

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

Following our success last week in finding lots of the supposedly-vanished Yellow Wagtails in the extreme east of the county, I returned to check the adjacent tetrad behind the pleasure-domes of  Xamber. It was warm and humid as I left the seawall along a supposed bridleway with a wagtail-free pea-field on one side and sunny spots of greenery lining the caravan site on the other.

At a certain point my way was blocked by the broad and still waters of Broomhill Creek. My map showed that I had passed unknowingly a crossing place, having fallen victim once more to the Tall Summer Vegetation Menace which completely concealed not only the bridge but also, it seemed, any path on its far side.

There was little alternative but to meander with a mazy motion, following the creek back round towards Broomhill Farm. There was just one Yellow Wagtail out among the peas, quite a few Skylarks & Reed Buntings, a distant Marsh Harrier and the same Barn Owl we’d noticed the previous week. Plus various greenery-birds, including Lesser Whitethroat, along by the caravans. And, for much of the time, the calls of Sandwich Terns & Med Gulls coming from beyond the seawall. I wasn’t very happy though.

As I passed the cottages, the fungicide-spraying gentleman we’d chatted to the previous week came out to ask how I’d got on. He insisted that there really was a crossing place over there – lots of people used it – and a clear mown track the other side too. So it looked as if I’d have to blame my own oversight rather than ESCC RoW…but opted to blame the tall reeds instead.

So I shifted my sphere of operations westward to Pound Lane, where I was grateful for a bit of cloud cover until it got a bit cold. Once you’ve got past the retirement bungalows re-purposed as grey-painted designer hideaways you emerge into open sheep-grazing, unsuitable for Yellow Wagtails, There were, however, a couple of singing Corn Buntings on fence posts in pasture picked over by massed Jackdaws, Rooks and noisy young Starlings. To the north of the Wainway Wall, whose curving course follows the early mediaeval  Rother, a few shrill Yellow Wagtail calls came from vast arable fields. In spite of red dots on the OS map and even ESCC waymarkers there was not the slightest gap in the tall crops. Access would be a battle for anything less than an expedition armed with jungle knives and so I mapped the birds as well as I could.

On the way back, I called in on a derelict in which, a few years back, we’d found a Tree Sparrows’ nest stuffed between flimsy layers of wall. No sign of them now though, and I left with legs tingling from nettle stings.

Yellow

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 25, 2017 by cliffdean

The Sussex Bird Report for 2015 concluded: “There seems to be no sign of Yellow Wagtails seeking to breed in arable areas of the county.”

In fact, there are loads of them, but mostly east of Rye, in arable land that looks unappealing to the birdwatchers speeding hopefully towards Dungeness.

Yesterday, Alan P & I mapped them in TQ91Z, a tetrad covering Broomhill Levels. We couldn’t reach all of the square containing suitable habitat and didn’t bother with some that looked unsuitable but nonetheless found 37 birds at 31 sites. There were 6 established pairs and no doubt some of the other individuals will prove to belong together but it’s fair to say there was no shortage and, although there’s yet to be “proof of breeding”, there was little doubt as to what was on their minds. In bright sunlight, some of the males were truly dazzling.

The majority were crowded into oilseed rape fields in the SW corner of the tetrad while those in cereals were distributed more loosely. A pea-field was not grown up enough to provide cover.

In additions to the Yellow Wagtails we counted 5 singing Corn Buntings but did not attempt the many Skylarks, Reed Buntings, Linnets, Reed & Sedge Warblers.

The 37 species recorded in total included Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Whimbrel, Barn Owl and a couple of Sand Martins – our first autumn migrants. A group of 3 Brown Hares was, as the tractor-driver put it, “A sight for sore eyes.”

Between Rye & Winchelsea

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

Synchronising with the Freccia della Palude at Winchelsea Centrale on a morning cooler than it ought to be, thick with the night’s rain and scented with fading hawthorns, are two Cuckoos, ever more precious for all their louche wing-drooping as they promise to vanish from our world.

Along the lane,where the fly-tipped junk is engulfed by springtime weeds, Chiffchaffs sing from the willows and golden Yellowhammers skim the field-edge. Within the withered branches of the spring-fed oak just beyond the junction a dot is moving; moving in a way that reveals it as a Spotted Flycatcher. Another bird now reduced to a dot like the one that used to shrink to nothing as you turned off the television. And the Little Owl that used to sun itself on the rabbit-grazed bank has upped sticks ever since I told people this was a good place to see Little Owl.

Along the misty cliff-line though, the air is so crowded with voices welling up from prehistory  – Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Dunnock, Reed Warbler, Wren…. concentration is required to unravel the soundscape.

Deep and percussive pulses of Nightingale song issue from the shadows by a rope-swing beneath a clump of taller trees.

Max Ernst: Deux enfants menacés par un rossignol

Rossignol translates not only as Nightingale but also, magically, as “skeleton key”. The song is the key which unlocks deep and forgotten doors.

Usignolo di fiume, River Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, also deeply hidden, announces its presence in brief and blatant blasts. For a long time just one or two here, last year nine, this morning five.

Both end and beginning, this extensive dung-heap S of Dairy Cottage attracts much favourable attention from Yellow Wagtails, Jackdaws, Rooks, Greylag Geese, Stock Doves, a Herring Gull, Pied Wagtails & Swallows, the latter three commuting from nest-sites on Cadborough Cliff to profit from its fertility.

Joan Miro: Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement

Efforts have been made, across the arable fields, to impose productive uniformity and erase history by levelling out the snaking hollows of former creeks.  Comparatively birdless maize last year has been superseded by other cereals, currently inhabited by a couple of dozen Skylarks and four pairs of Yellow Wagtails. While one Mute Swan continues to incubate, two other pairs already have cygnets. Four Sedge Warblers are grating from scrubby ditches toward the Antient Towne, above which yet more dots denote the hanging on of the relic Swift & House Martin populations.

Only the surface of the ground is wet but by the time I reach the lane again I’m hobbling on high pattens claggy soil.

Beyond Scotney

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 10, 2017 by cliffdean

Two days out last week in sunshine & Skylark song along the quarried shingle beach SW of Lydd then turning in to the interior as far as a couple of derelict farms. A similar trail but slightly different results.

Once away from the town’s Rook-chorus, the regularity of Cetti’s Warblers becomes apparent, maybe a dozen alongside the road but none at all once we turn inland.

A raised spur of white pebbles betrays the old shore line.

From beyond the first shining rape field come the songs of woodland birds in the trees at the edge of the army camp: Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker and further along the buzz of the first spring Sedge Warbler is in competition with hurtling motorcycles.

Parties of Shelduck strut about the grassland while on the banks of the lakes there are still a few Wigeon & Teal not yet departed northwards. More surprisingly there’s a lone Brent; it looks healthy enough but has somehow become detached from those streaming up-Channel not far away.

The sunny weather guarantees plenty of coastal traffic and light aircraft from Lydd, their droning counterpointed by yelping Med Gulls, white-winged in the sunlight.

More white wings, long ones this time, show newly arrived Common Terns out with Black-headed Gulls on a spit.

On the Thursday, brilliant Yellow Wagtails are running among the cattle but on Sunday are frustratingly nowhere to be seen, until later when territorial birds are flying over the crops. Against the light but easily heard from the gravel pits are Avocets. A falcon flies up with prey and dashes away across the fields – it looks like aMerlin but was just too quick. A f Marsh Harrier is quartering the fields.

From rough grass alongside the track burst up Corn Buntings and one sings from an isolated willow just yards away. On Thursday, we had just one feeble view of this usually common bird

On the other hand, Tree Sparrows had been noisy and easy to see around an old cottage now uninhabited but for bees. there had been a brief flutter from a Little Owl too.

On Sunday we had to work a bit harder but managed to get good views of some alongside the concrete farm road.

After crossing big rape fields our clothes are mottled yellow with pollen.

At this junction repairs to the barn wall tell a story.

RIP LITUL RABIT U R IN HEVIN NOW WIV DA ANGLES AN CHUK BERE

 

The other side of the road

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 18, 2017 by cliffdean

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I’ve made quite a few excursions SW of Lydd but yesterday was able to visit Glebelands, NW of the town, thanks to involvement in the NE Silver Meadows survey. The idea behind this is to plot all the low-lying farmland prone to winter  flooding and therefore of potential benefit to waders and wildfowl. When  this survey was planned, however, there was no way of knowing that we’d enjoy an exceptionally dry winter with very little flooding to be plotted.

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All was not lost as far as I was concerned since  this fascinating  area which, lacking any public footpaths, would be normally be inaccessible to me.

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Its unusual character is immediately apparent from satellite photos which show small, mostly rectilinear, fields separated by rather straight, tree-lined ditches, all orientated SW-NE following to the old shingle beaches upon which they and the town itself are situated.

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The ditch-side trees in question are principally big Willows, formerly pollarded but now collapsing and sprawling into the waterways or across field edges and richly furnishing the area with feeding and nesting sites for Blue & Great Tits, woodpeckers and Little Owls. They, and the post & rail fence, are crusted with lichens. Fallen branches which would normally be tidied up have been left to rot. New Willows have been planted but the protective netting and  iron supports left in place to get absorbed into the bark.

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More or less parallel banks of silver shingle lie beneath a thin skin of turf, the pebbles exposed on ditch banks and in a small gravel pit hard alongside the nuclear-waste railway from Dungeness. The Google maps image, taken when summer drought emphasises the desiccated grassland on thinnest soils, shows this clearly.

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That small pit held 25 Teal while 6 Gadwall flew up from the adjacent Westbroke Petty Sewer. The presence of several Grey Herons was unsurprising since there’s a nesting colony in the nearby rookery. Stones from the pit are piled in 5m high mountain, from the summit of which I was keen to take in the panorama of the surrounding marsh.

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To the left of the railway, pasture; to the right, arable, from which Skylarks sing.

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To the right of this arable you can just make out the rushes of a real Silver Meadow, but one outside our survey area.

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This field is rather different, with its gorse clumps and a stand of Hawthorns, perhaps grown out of a patch of scrub. Dozens of Redwings & Fieldfares fly from the orange tops of the Willows and 3 Buzzards display overhead.

The older houses in this area all stand sensibly on shingle banks, the Rectory in its own green island of mixed tall trees from which issue continuously calls of Rooks & Jackdaws and the drumming of GS Woodpecker. I was surprised to find Butcher’s Broom on a ditch bank until I noticed that the whole of the Rectory garden appeared to have once been hedged with this species, presumably to exclude grazing animals. There were Goldcrests feeding in the Ivy and a Grey Wagtail in a shallow, overshadowed ditch, one Sparrowhawk in circulation being mobbed, now by Jackdaws, now by Goldfinches.

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Some alien tree species give a parkland appearance to some fields,with Horse Chestnut, Turkey Oak, White Poplar and even Monterey Cypress in places.

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As I wrote earlier, the ditches are quite straight, indicating that some formal organization had been undertaken in the past – but how long ago? A couple of irregular watercourses towards Caldecot Crossing can be seen, from the ghosted lines in satellite photos, to be the truncated remains of a former ditch system.

In the middle of nowhere

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 21, 2017 by cliffdean

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Oakhill Fleet lies just half a mile within the eastern boundary of Sussex (but that’s not it in the photo) and for the last few months has harboured an unusually large (for these days) congregation of Corn Buntings in company with a smaller contingent of Tree Sparrows. Just how large is a matter of conjecture since they are not easy to count, either hidden in rough vegetation on the ground or clustered in a couple of small willows or in transit between the two with at least half the flock doubling back as the others arrive in view. And then some whizz off elsewhere to Destination Unknown. Since they’re all mixed in together you can only make a rough species estimate based on the proportion of small to big blobs.

The significance of all this is that both species are now very restricted in the county (along with Yellow Wagtail, which is also present here in good numbers in the summer).

Last Tuesday, after a period of counting, recounting,recounting, the others reckoned on a total flock size of 150 birds comprising 120 CB: 30 TS but I was convinced there had been more like 200, since I’d counted 60 in a bush immediately before a flock of a good 100 came dashing off a nearby field.

I thought it might be a good idea to return at some point and take more time over it, but whereas I just thought about it Alan Parker -a man of action – was back there a couple of mornings later. Best laid plans – there were only 20 CBs there, but he did come across a couple of Lapland Buntings – much scarcer.

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We had walked out from Lydd across fields blue with frost,eventually following the route of two massive mediaeval sea walls: the Nod & the Tore. I’ve previously found it hard to do credit in photographs to these phenomenal bits of civil engineering, but in the low winter light, and coming from a different direction it was possible to give some idea of their scale and of the dramatic difference in field levels either side.

There were lots of nice frozen puddles, Strictly Jugendstil, but I think I’ve written enough about those for the moment.

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Along the way were Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Stonechats,a few gulls including one adult Mediterranean and 9 Bewick’s Swans.

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Apart from a male Marsh Harrier, there were at least 4 Buzzards, including a strikingly pale bird – photo below by Dave Rowlands.

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Past poignant deserted farms towards Oakhill Fleet,where there were 18 Egyptian Geese (we’d already seen 2 near Lydd) and 6 Brents,both just within Sussex.

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I always feel warmly towards the long-departed Moorhen which chose to wander 50m along this concrete road when newly-laid shortly after the war.

Back by Scotney Court,we could see a distant flock of White-fronted Geese, number uncertain since the Telescope Monitor had wandered off into the distance, and finally, at Quiet Life! Pits, 2 red-head Smew. On the way home,we had a quick look at the goose flock at the S end of the big pit and found 2 Tundra Bean Geese, which turned into 3 once a Greylag had shifted its bulk and 4 when they flew off.

Tired but happy… etc.

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