Archive for Hastings

In the shade

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

On Sunday, shadow falling from the park’s tall trees cast a welcome cool on a day of mounting heat. Although at 9 Hastings was still pretty quiet, traffic noise built up as visitors poured into the town and after a while the detection of birdsong was enhanced by the identification by sound of arriving motorcycles.

There was a remarkable amount of song – a lot of Wrens especially (and they always make themselves heard) – but also Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Woodpigeons, Blackcaps & Chiffchaffs. A lot of Goldcrests too; we weren’t counting but it would have been interesting to have done so. My theory that the winter’s Firecrests might have stayed on to breed met with no support even after lengthy listening-in around ostensibly suitable habitats.

Caucasian Wing-nut – part of a shady stand of suckers by Shornden Reservoir

We spent a bit of time trying to identify trees. Out in the woods this is not too demanding but in this park it definitely is, thanks to the presence of about 400 different types, including forms & cultivars. As we moved around we passed through zones of musty perfume from flowering laurels.

The ponds provided interest not only from lazily cruising Carp but also a variety of spectacular dragonflies such as Emperor & Broad-bodied Chaser. At Buckshole Reservoir a Grey Wagtail seemed to be nesting in the concrete outflow structure and on Shornden the local Herring Gulls and a few Black-headed were joined by one Lesser Black-back.

From this open vantage point, a flock of Swifts could be seen wheeling over Bohemia.

 

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Too many birds!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 22, 2017 by cliffdean

firecrest-2pngFirecrest by Stuart Barnes

Not a huge number of species – 33 I think – but an awful lot of birds. Not just Robins, Blue & Great Tits (which were everywhere) but Goldcrests, Treecreepers & Nuthatches too. I’ve said before & I’ll say it again: birds for which you have to hunt in “wild” woodlands are packed into Alexandra Park and easier to see too.

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Treecreeper by Stuart Barnes

On a warm sunny morning, the trees were full of song and flitting, hard-to-focus-on bird-shapes and shadows, from the  stiff-winged display flight of Stock Doves to the silvery trill of Firecrests. The first of these latter was singing in the very place we saw one last year – was it there still or again? We found at least 5 of them, 3 above the road bridge where we also saw the only 2 Grey Wagtails, a characteristic bird of the park which I expected to find more widely.

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Following photos by Peter Matthews: Grey Wagtail

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 Cormorant

On Shornden Reservoir, a fine sinensis Cormorant and 4 species of gull: Black-headed, all adult,  on their way north; Herring adults & immatures, maybe resident locals; 3 Lesser Black-backs just arrived back from somewhere down the  Atlantic coast, maybe still en route, maybe planning a summer on St Leonards rooftops; finally a single Common Gull – the first I’ve seen in the park, not really the kind of place Common Gulls like.

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Lesser Black-backed Gull

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A bit of Park news: a grant has been obtained to renovate the greenhouse, which is now covered in plastic, protecting Prince Albert from the weather.

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Firecrest by Stuart Barnes again

Entrancing Bulverhythe

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

P1280375Beneath all this there is an ancient estuary. Beneath the road, the houses and the light, back-street industry, a deep layer of prehistoric peat.

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Adventures in Edgelandia: a glorious show of notifiable Common Ragwort. Horse owners get very anxious about it but in this case less so. Horses ignore Ragwort in its living state but get poisoned when it’s (unintentionally) fed to them dried in hay.

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Adventures in Shedlandia #1

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#2

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Dangerous rocks.

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Vagabond seaside species line the chainlink railside fence: yellow-horned poppy, sea kale, viper’s bugloss, teasel, knapweed, hemp agrimony…

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The golden ochre of the iron-rich cliffs

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More dangerous rocks #1

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#2…or it could illustrate a fly-tipper flinging bin-bags full of rubbish onto the beach.

I appreciate the thoughtful application of lower case.

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I’ve passed many times without noticing this geometric platform. It looks the size & shape to be the base of a pill-box….

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…though the brick superstructure looks a bit flimsy. Maybe it was a little sea-side kiosk.

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But no – I was right. It doesn’t seem that long since I walked along here but I’ve not previously seen this informative interpretation panel. Spike Milligan, it records, kept watch here.

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Two architectural traditions, one from the ancient Asian steppe, the other from early 20th century Europe.

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Gulls were clustered below the Cafe on the Beach, apparently feeding but upon investigation I discovered they were actually drinking fresh water from a spring in the shingle. Could this be the last vestige of the steam, now wholeheartedly concretized, that originally filtered through from the eponymous Gap?

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It’s clear enough and there are no others but it doesn’t show on Google maps which, however, offer a compensatory delight in the green ghost of a dismantled funfair.

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Sprites in the shrubbery

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 21, 2016 by cliffdean

It was a dull morning yesterday, but having already dumped a series of proposed walks on account of miserable weather, I was determined to go ahead and the sheltered nature of this lovely park (click on the “Alexandra Park” link at the foot of this post for more on its history and our previous visits) protected us from the wind.

As I noted in a previous post, we were surrounded by Wrens, Robins too, just everywhere but the other member of the Scrub Trio – Dunnock only in the more open spaces. We were keen to see the Kingfishers which have been reported on Facebook etc but they were nowhere to be found. The streams & ponds did hold a couple of Grey Wagtails however.

What was really interesting was the number of Treecreepers – starting to sing now – Goldcrests (likewise) and Firecrests. We saw 4 of the latter, 3 of them together in one spot (with a male showing a brilliantly orange crown), all reclusive at first. I suspect there could be many wintering in the park.

Altogether, we saw/heard 32 species. Looking at past lists, this seems pretty standard for winter. A conspicuous absentee was Greenfinch, which has returned to many breeding areas in the last fortnight. In the past I have recorded them in the 20s in winter. There are 3 urban species too which frequent surrounding houses yet rarely seem to venture into the park itself: Collared Dove, Starling & House Sparrow. Though we could hear the latter from nearby back gardens, but no sign at all of the others.

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Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 27, 2015 by cliffdean

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I’ve been listening out for House Martins, as part of this year’s BTO survey, visiting previous nesting sites, scanning over roof-tops and lurking in built-up areas. Since surveying for this species provides some unusual H&S risks involving humans who might object to strangers peering at their homes through binoculars the BTO provides helpful advice on managing enquiries and avoiding confrontations.

At home, it’s fine; next-door’s artificial nests are both occupied (though in five years the martins have shown no interest whatsoever in my high-quality box. There was a frenzy of activity last weekend when their first brood fledged, and further up in the village, opposite House Martin Central (the old Post Office Site (but not the really Old Post Office Site) or, if you’ve lived here longer, the old Garage Site) I noticed them collecting mud (beside the Old Gas-Holder Site) for a quick bit of ristrutturazione before getting down to the second session.

The design of some recent houses, in which the rafters project beneath the eaves, suits them well since it provides lots of corners. There are several more nests on another of these which stands on the old Village Hall site and in Winchelsea an older house of similar design seemed recently to be occupied by several pairs.

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Elsewhere, it’s not so good. The hilltop colony on council houses adjacent to Hastings Academy (the old Hillcrest School) (they had a competition to rename this school and chose this imaginative and evocative title) has dwindled away to nothing, while that on Rye Social Club seem to be composed mostly of broken cups when I looked the other week. Not just around here either: last week I noticed the eaves of a building in Arles were lined with dozens of nests yet only a couple seemed to be visited.

As usual, these surveys are based on randomly selected 1km squares. I imagine that armchair surveyors quickly pick out those squares devoid of houses in order to complete an easy zero return. But maybe there are also determined types who go & check just in case there’s a cave. I chose a couple of Wealden sites, unlikely to be occupied by HMs but nice to visit anyway and providing opportunities to check some non-random nests en route. One small colony we’d found during the Atlas on the outskirts of Robertsbridge was no longer in use even though one optimistic house-holder had installed three boxes. I had been informed that “the council had put up netting” to prevent martins nesting there but this was not the case at all.

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On the rocks

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 11, 2015 by cliffdean

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The Prologue: The forecast was once again misleadingly optimistic so, rather than sunshine, we had fog. Worse than that, I learned later from the news, a Killer Smog composed of industrial pollution from Those Europeans, Saharan dust from Those North Africans and particulates from Those Diesels They Were Encouraging Us to Buy A Few Years Ago.

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This Lesser Spotted Dogfish had evidently heard the news and decided to throw in the towel by wallowing forlornly in the shallows. Although I prodded it back into a deeper rivulet but it didn’t seem heartened.

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At Fairlight Cove, shingle has now washed through the granite bund to fill much of the lagoon though it has yet to bury the mass of plastic flotsam deposited there. Garden species dumped over the cliff-top provide the backdrop for developing shingle vegetation and an unknown benefactor has embellished posts, formerly bearing warning signs, with hanging sculptures.

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Once past the Cove, the serious beach begins. It’s a hard walk crunching through shingle, and a noisy one too when you’re listening for birdsong. Quite a few garden and woodland species could be heard from over the top, but we were interested in tracking down some scarce breeding birds, one of which was Black Redstart, occupying here its sole natural nesting habitat in the UK, where it normally favours urban rooftops, power stations etc.

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Two minute’s silence for Black Redstart – trying to get a bearing on the song. Photo by Mike Mullis.

The distinctive scratchy song is not too hard to pick out but actually seeing the bird is another matter against the desolate, near-vertical and crumblingly impregnable rock-face. The only chance you have is to pinpoint the origin of the sound or to spot the bird in flight – only to find it merges with the background once still again. One we failed to see, the other was a grey immature male.

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The fog sometimes lifted for a while, only to return, reducing gulls to silhouettes. A few flocks of Brent Geese passed on their way to the Arctic, one group trailing 4 Shelduck, and an out-of-habitat pair of Shovelers was swimming through the rock-pools. While a rock-hopping Wheatear was evidently a migrant, we weren’t sure what to make of a f Reed Bunting slipping along the scrubby edge of the Covehurst landslip. Peregrines, Sparrowhawks & Ravens patrolled overhead.

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This beach is one of the great treasures of our area, relative inaccessibility keeping it free of most human activity; in four hours we met a naked man doing yoga and just four other hikers.

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The rocks are so varied, so individual that visitors are misguidedly drawn to lug some favourites home, only to find that their lustre depends on a twice-daily exfoliating wash by the tide. The colours are a marvel to behold, from silver to gorgeous gamboge, rose madder and even purple, while patterns often suggest the aerial view of some contoured mesa country or a map of geometric Dutch landscape.

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Mud balls imprinted with wet pebbles suggest some barbaric jewellery…

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…there are archetypal pagan resonances…

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…and even, competing with the many, many faces of the Virgin found in clouds and burnt toast:

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…the Holy Grail. Frankly, this is what Hastings needs. Never mind the Seachange roads and industrial parks without takers, what the town needs is a flood of pilgrims gathered to wonder at this apparition in ironstone. (They could be excused approaching it on their knees, given the knobbly nature of the pebbles.)

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By coincidence, we later met a pilgrim in Barley Lane. When this hiker stopped for a chat, I noticed that he bore a cockle shell on his hat and enquired whether, by any chance, he was heading for Compostela rather than Hastings. Both, in fact, having left London on April 1st and arrived at this point via Canterbury. I showed him my miraculous photograph but he didn’t respond in any clear way.

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A granite bollard, just east of Ecclesbourne Glen. Maybe a fallen marker from the Coastguards which once stood there?

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Finally, we arrived in the picturesque Old Town…

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…heading straight through the busy car-park, past holidaymakers, huddling in hollows from the cool onshore breeze, to the Harbour Arm where we found a single Purple Sandpiper among Turnstones…

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…and this spectacularly prehistoric Sea Slater (in another hollow, a girl was shaking one off her shoe, screaming, “Aaagh!!! Look at this ******* great thing!!)

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We made a brief diversion into the Camera Obscura on the Stade. Unfortunately the guidance structure was damaged so, rather than an enchantingly antique panorama of the town, we got grey glimpses of No Parking signs and the little train. This served the useful purpose of killing twenty minutes before lunch, partaken at the excellent and convivial FILO.

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Untitled

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 9, 2015 by cliffdean

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