Archive for Pett Level

Birds, bees & seals, but mainly egrets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 1, 2018 by cliffdean

Another lovely morning for this RXbirdwalk, another amazing bird list – 70 sp – plus military archaeology & Ivy Bees.

Things started well even before everyone had arrived, as I got to the top of the seawall and noticed a long-winged bird approaching us with Jackdaws in pursuit – a Red Kite! Still infrequent here. There weren’t a lot of warblers around Toot Rock – all difficult to see, but other common species, Sparrowhawk overhead (the sky behind dotted with hirundines), Kestrel on the wires and an indeterminate number of GS Woodpeckers on the telegraph poles. Only I could hear the Siskins passing over but we saw regular flocks of Goldfinches & Linnets which, once we got out onto the seawall, were revealed as eastbound migrants. About time too.

Most birdwatchers visiting Pett Level stop off on the seawall, have a look at the Pools, but few have a look around the Toot Rock area. It could be because from the road much of it is hidden by Alders or the tall hedge of Blackthorn, but it’s very good for birds, offers fantastic views of the marsh from the top of the rock and contains interesting military structures from WWII.

Since time was getting on, we drove along to the Pools, where the rising tide had driven an interesting collection of roosting waders: Curlews, Redshanks, Lapwings & single Oystercatcher & Bar-tailed Godwit. Then there were gulls and the usual waterbirds on the pool itself – and a Water Rail pikking in the reeds.

As so often happens, all the landbirds kept going up in alarm, accompanied by packs of Starlings. At first the disturbance seemed attributable to patrolling Marsh Harriers (4 of these) but eventually we picked up the suspected Peregrine high against the clouds, getting hassled by gulls until it got down to business and stooped stupendously down to the shore. In a different modus operandi, a distant Hobby was snatching insects over towards Hog Hill.

And then there were the egrets, for the first time at Pett (for me at least) 3 species. 5 at the side of the easternmost pool turned out to be Little but then we picked out some little white shapes – wobbling in the heat haze – at the back of the marsh with a group of cattle they seem to favour above the many others on offer. Only clearly Cattle Egret when in flight, they appeared to number 5 again. Then a large white bird with a long neck was spotted some way off, which I insisted was a swan until I got it in the scope when I had to apologize on account of its big yellow bill. And Great-Egret-rather than-Mute-Swan shape. As we watched that, 2 Wheatears appeared on the fence below us while Sandwich Terns and a Gannet were feeding over the sea behind us, sometimes passing over the glossy heads of Grey Seals.


Landscape With Egrets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 29, 2018 by cliffdean

Actually I have no pictures of them, in fact I’m not sure whether anyone has good ones because at first they were a long way off, then afterwards very close but by then the excitement had died down.

A wonderful day though, dawning misty and golden, heating up into the low 20s, the bay an intense blue, hardly like home at all.

Three of us walked from Cliff End to Castle Water via the Conqueror, during that time finding 93 bird species – none particularly rare and as always missing several common birds that should have been there but just – weren’t: the Birds of Shame. This great variety which can be matched in few other parts of the country, is owing to the range of habitats along this stretch of coast. And although we saw a fair spread of migrants most were represented by a single individual – so no flood of birds then.

Back to the egrets though – Cattle Egrets, whose arrival has been exceptional this autumn. they have been scattered around the RX area as singletons, pairs, flocks small & large, the largest so far 19 at Combe Valley. There have been two near Pett Pools for a few days now so when we notice two little white heads poking up from a ditch just N of the Pools we assumed them to be the same. Until there appeared 4 more to the right, still rather far from us but all the same looking like Cattle rather than Little. And then they flew off to the back of the marsh – all the same size, looking good – and we took a farm track to get a better view.

Long before we arrived at the group of bullocks we’d identified as the landmark, we could make out even more white heads – 11 actually – but soon 5 of them flew back past us showing, in the lovely sunlight, the yellow bills and green legs of definite Cattle Egrets. Another 5 headed back toward the seawall, leaving just one on its own…unless there were more left in the ditch.

By the time we had walked back to the road, these birds were right beside it. wandering among the livestock hardly 50 m away.

Apart from that, what? For me the biggest surprise was a single Little Tern flying past Winchelsea Beach as we took a rest on a convenient memorial bench. And a lot of Stonechats on the reserve – I’d have said 20 but we just hadn’t counted until it was plain there were a lot passing through. Several Rock Pipits alongside the Rother….

Looks & feels like Autumn

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 24, 2018 by cliffdean

Monday 24th: A still, clear morning, cold enough to make me wish I’d worn gloves (only thin ones of course). The sky was full of hirundines mostly House Martins, these remaining for the rest of the day, making up, I guess for feeding time lost during the bad weather, especially since they do not appear to save energy by roosting in reedbeds as do Swallows & Sand Martins. Every time I scanned the sky it was speckled with these birds, together with dragonflies closer to.

These four photos were sent to me by Martin King, who took them during Sunday’s heavy rain. They show House Martins clinging to the walls of Coastguard Cottages…

…resting on the slate roof (the browner birds are juveniles)…

…and perching on an open sash, from which some had fluttered into a bedroom. Similar behaviour was reported from of the parts of the county.

There was a steady procession of Meadow Pipits too but little else apart from a few Chaffinches, Siskins & Skylarks. 

Dozens of Chiffchaffs were flicking their tails through the browning leaves and crimson berries of canalside Hawthorns but these were the only warblers I could see, apart from one Blackcap and a few local Cetti’s.

In the wobbling mirage off Cliff End dozens of wheeling Gannets were catching the sunlight. The Fulmars seem finally to have departed from the cliff face, softer parts of which have collapsed further in the rain, leaving pipework from long-vanished bungalows projecting into thin air.

On the shingle bank were a few Linnets & Pied Wagtails, one Wheatear and the first two Rock Pipits of the autumn. A f Sparrowhawk skimmed over the moorlog before resting on a groyne. I suspect it was a migrant, stalking the southbound herds of pipits.

Nearing the Pools I could hear Wigeon, Redshank & Water Rail calling, the crowd of Little Grebes numbering more than 40, and as I reached the flag pole I noticed one, then two Cattle Egrets feeding among the – er – cattle. They were rare so recently but now everyone has seen them since a) they have increased year on year b) they tend to stick around for long periods out in open habitat where they can be located thanks to their liking for…cattle.

In late morning I was out in the garden keeping an eye on the sky when up the field, low down & not 50m away came a f Hen Harrier pursued by a couple of Jackdaws, giving great views as it twisted and turned to shake them off. This is  species that these days I don’t see every year. Over the course of the next couple of hours, I added Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Hobby & Buzzard to the list as well as a couple of Ravens.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 30, 2018 by cliffdean

It all started when, in the middle of a meting in Crowhurst, I received this photo from Linda W on Whatsapp. She asked me what I thought.

Well, I’ve only seen Canvasback in field guides but that’s what that long beak suggested to me. But where had she seen this interesting bird?

Pett Pools, apparently, just down the road from me. And it had been there a couple of days. Had I failed to notice it then? No, it turned out, what with the poor weather I’d been doing other things. However once I’d finished in Crowhurst I made my way pretty sharply to Pett where, in the company of Linda and Chris & Mark G, watched it in pretty awful light.

In short, the head/bill shape was pretty convincing and the bird was diving all the time as if very hungry (like, after a long flight) and although there were 20+ Pochard on the pool it remained separate from them though this prevented a potentially diagnostic size comparison. Comparing its shape with that of Pochards (once they had woken up and availed us of their silhouettes) we felt that this bird was not one of them.Back at home I found a useful article by Martin Garner from which I deduced that this bird looked good, but until some others had looked at it I felt it would be premature to claim a first for Sussex. I had another look in better light this morning with Alan P but couldn’t find the bird later on and still don’t feel sure.

Shortly after Alan left, I noticed 3 egrets flying over me. Several Little Egrets have been feeding at the roadside pool recently but these were stubby Cattle Egrets! They dropped down just east of the pools, predictably enough with cattle but after about 10 minutes flew off high toward Rye town. I later heard there were 10 at Dungeness. There were a lot of other birds around, including Marsh Harriers, Ravens, Bearded Tits, loads of Sandwich Terns, Gannets and at lunch time 8 Buzzards and a Hobby over my house.

So high tide found me once more on the seawall, this time in the company of Robin H. I couldn’t see anything that resembled the Duck of Mystery but there were single Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit & Common Sandpiper at the pool. Out to see I was surprised to see a late Fulmar gliding past and even more surprised when yet another Cattle Egret flapped past that, going west! In my attempt to point it out to Robin, I lost it. It just vanished. Looks like there could be more on the way though – a flock of 51 has been reported in Devon!

Still dark

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 28, 2018 by cliffdean

In the warm and silent pre-dawn twilight I’m awake and scratching thanks to the attentions of a marauding mosquito, so by five I’m sitting down the garden with a cup of coffee.

At five past, a Tawny Owl squeaks above the sleeping glampsite opposite and curlews bubble from the beach as the incoming flight from Johannesburg rumbles above the clouds, following those from Lagos, Perth & Riyadh.

Scattered lights tremble along the rim of the bay, culminating in the illuminated bank and pulsing flash of Dungeness, answered by Calais as a second owl responds to the closer one and a blue ambulance light flutters between them along the Icklesham ridge.

At 05.20 red brake-lights behind the seawall announce the arrival of a lug digger following the ebb tide, also signalled by the first Herring Gulls, Robins begin clicking around the dark gardens and a Crow caws from the roof as a line of transatlantic flights follows the North Downs across into Europe.

A few minutes later the first rooster has awoken.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 10, 2018 by cliffdean

From the top of Chick Hill we can see dark shoals of Mackerel moving through the bay, attended by a crowd of white gulls & terns.

The sea is warm and high tide has moved round to morning, when the low sun glitters from silver flanks along the tideline. Thousands of pesciolini lie along the pebbles and float in the shallows where they have been driven onshore by hunting Mackerel which are in turn predated by splashing Gannets and up to 3 Grey Seals together.


Their big jelly discs of eyes stare fixedly, mournfully at the sky.

They provide a feast for Herring, Black-headed & Med Gulls which scavenge them from the shore while Sandwich Terns pick them from the sandy green water.

Last two photos from Dengemarsh by Tim Waters

Sea anglers too are intoxicated by the illusion of plenty, catch more than they can eat, sell a few on to seaside restaurants who offer them at prices inflated rather than reduced.

These though represent the last vestiges of populations largely destroyed by industrial over-fishing.

Read the 18th century accounts quoted in George Monbiot’s “Feral”.

Although stocks quickly recover in Marine Conservation Zones our local representatives are against such measures and want to be there at the end.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 3, 2018 by cliffdean

After greening up from a bit of rain, the grasslands are entering a new cycle of desiccation, the landscape returning to pallour.

Over the garden twitter the first brood of young House Martins and the nest outside our window has been incompletely renewed so we can hear them from bed. Seasonal wanders include invisible Nuthatches and stealthy Jays. The first migrant phylloscopus warblers are creeping around the oak foliage and young Buzzards wail from the old cliff-line.

The water in the roadside pool has receded to reveal a rim of mud which has attracted a few waders including Dunlin, Avocet, Ruff, Common, Green & Wood Sandpipers though it has been so hot that even at quite close range these birds were distorted by haze. One day 3 Ruff helped out by roosting on the near bank with a bunch of loafing Mallards; each was in a distinct plumage & moult, one all white at the front with big black spots.

From the mid-70s for about 25 years, this pool was pumped out by the SOS and brought in an amazing variety of waders which could all be studied at close range since they quickly became indifferent to passers-by, traffic and even back-firing cars. I recently happened up on a diary from that era which mentioned a flock of 40-odd Curlew Sandpipers! (I’m sure I’m not dreaming, but these days that would be remarkable anywhere. Needless to say, I now can’t find this reference.)

The other week I was at the British Library investigating the contact sheets Fay Godwin made in preparation for her 1979 book “Romney Marsh”. Although I hoped for revealing images of Rye Harbour from that era, they were few, however there were many more showing the repair of coastal defences, improvised dwellings, the stone piers of Smeaton’s Harbour and, most unexpectedly, a sheet showing numerous birdwatchers gathered at the “Wader Pool/Project Pool” on a hot day. Old-fashioned cars, hair-styles and telescopes and, really, a lot of people. Was it that, at that time, the Pools Project was the only show in town? (RHNR had only Ternery Pool then) Or could it have been the Pools’ Greatest Hit – a Least Sandpiper in 1984? With more time and a better magnifying glass it may be possible to identify some of the people present but first I have to struggle through layers of BL bureaucracy.

The pebbles are warm when we emerge from the sea every high tide and the water is so warm it doesn’t make you feel as if you’re going to die every time you wade in. In general the beach is pretty quiet, with scattered groups of sunbathers, a few heads of swimmers and a dark, glossy head beyond of an inquisitive Grey Seal watching patiently. It dives then pops up again, watching, a little unnerving if you’re swimming nearby but there seem to be no recorded instances of unprovoked aggression. Although up to 4 Grey Seals have been noticed, it could be that some or all originate from the release of rescued individuals from RSPCA Mallydams Wood, in which case they have positive memories of human benevolence and are hoping to be fed.

On a couple of days, 3 species of jellyfish appeared: transparent Moon Jellyfish Aurelia aurita, the lovely blue Cyanea lamarckii (several years since I’ve seen them) and beautifully marked Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. The appearance of Lion’s mane Jelly in other areas has given rise to some typically stupid Silly-Season articles in stupid newspapers for stupid people.