Archive for Pett Level

Crumbled

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 14, 2018 by cliffdean

The sandstone face of Cliff End edged a little further westwards last week when two significant rockfalls took place. The first fell from close to the Cave which, year by year, promises to vanish altogether yet with each collapse is revealed to reach further back.

The Fulmars which nest there are just having to shuffle a bit closer together while a few are now camped under the scrub on the very cliff edge.

The second fall was further west, a huge slab which has been leaning away most menacingly for the last couple of years but is now a heap of smashed rock on the beach. When I went down to look, two women had walked along that far and were returning right along the base of the cliff, having failed to make the connection between the rubble and how it got there. Unbelievably foolhardy (though having said that, none of the incautious visitors who do likewise have yet been flattened).

The bright green cascades to the right are the invasive alien Hottentot Fig.

A high tide then scoured away the shingle bank which has protected the rock since the mid-80s, allowing the landslip of softer material to slide down and drift away as slurry, carrying with it an unsightly ladder constructed recently by a nearby householder who had also failed to make the connection between “land” and “slip”.

With the shingle gone, the former beach is revealed, with big flat slabs of stone lying upon a bed of ferruginous sand (many years ago this same sand was said to stain washing hung out on windy days).

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New Year almost

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 5, 2018 by cliffdean

Tuesday January 2nd 2018: Since I’d wanted to join the Rye Harbour walk on the First (it was wet and windy but 18 people turned up, stayed the course and enjoyed watching murmurations of Golden Plovers & Lapwings as well as some scarcer birds such as Black-necked Grebe & Red-breasted Merganser) the customary RXbirdwalk was displaced till the following day when it was dark and grey but at least dry – till 11 o’clock.

This meant a change of plan to make the most of the two hours available: drive to the Pools and look out from the seawall and beach. There were plenty of birds again – the sky often full of Lapwings, Curlews, Dunlins & Starlings flushed up from the soggy pastures by unseen predators or maybe just popular panic. Sorting from these moving silhouettes the small groups of Golden Plovers & Ruffs was a stimulating challenge as was the separation of grey roosting waders into Grey Plover, Knot & Dunlin as they huddled on the shingle, thanks to the miserable weather undisturbed by strollers .

Likewise, the lines of birds roosting behind the roadside pool provided an interesting task since they comprised several species of gull & wader. Then there were the many dabbling and diving ducks with a Marsh Harrier cruising over them.

So, by the time the New Year Drizzle arrived half an hour early we had seen quite a variety of birds (40), though when I came to compile it the lack of you-see-them-every-time species such as Blackbird, Blue Tit & Robin felt strangely unbalanced. Once you get east of the Toot Rock bushes though, they just aren’t there.

Making the most of it

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

Emerging from another day of roaring wind and lashing rain to see a forecast for frost, sunshine and calm I determined to make the most of perhaps the last decent day of 2017 by extending the ever-longer “short walk” along the seawall across Pett Level and back along the Canal.

The first bird of interest was a Chiffchaff, in the Marsham Reedbed. Two new pools were dug there this autumn but were frozen over. Fulmars have returned in force to the cliffs, where a Peregrine was perched out on an overhanging branch.

On the PLPT land, areas which have been cleared of blackthorn the resulting rough vegetation concealed dozens of Song Thrushes, foraging safely there with Blackbirds, protected from strong winds and hidden from Sparrowhawks.

Across the Canal, Redwings & Fieldfares were continuing to strip the hawthorns, the latter an infrequent visitor along this stretch though common enough a little inland.

The marsh was covered with birds, which a pair of Marsh Harriers sent up in great wavering clouds: Curlews, Lapwings & Golden Plovers in a fabulous spectacle, filling the air with mournful wails and whistles. There were more Golden Plovers than I’d ever seen here – at least 600 – but probably a detachment from just down the road at Rye Harbour.  Ruff can be a bit tricky to pick out on the ground – though one has a helpfully pure white head – but once in the air were easier to distinguish.

On the beach opposite, Turnstones, Dunlin & Grey Plovers were waiting for the tide to drop, lined up at the points where moorlog would first be exposed like commuters clustered where the doors would be on a train yet to arrive.

The Pools were occupied by the usual ducks but at the east end a Great Egret sat in the reeds. It has been hanging around for a week or so, sometimes hunched on the bank among Cormorants along with the crazy,mixed-up Wigeon-killing GBb Gull.

Hundreds of Greylag & Canada Geese spread across the marsh, we managed to pick out a couple of Whitefronts.

Nothing much to add from then on; 72 species but no Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Stonechats or Reed Buntings.

The low, raking light emphasises WWII gun positions dug into the landward side of the Napoleonic-era Canal parapet, looking towards and invading force that never came.

A quick lunch, then off to the Reedbed Viewpoint at Castle Water to witness the orange sunset drama, as dark Fieldfares on their way to roost crossed rose-pink plumes of vapour from shining jets high above, Cormorants converged into the bare trees, shadowy Marsh Harriers cruised the fields and, as the reedbeds blackened, Water Rails signed out in a squealing choir.

It’s not a zoo

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 27, 2017 by cliffdean

Dawn over Pett Level. Flocks of Yellow Wagtails move west through twittering whirls of Swallows & House Martins. A Greenshank calls overhead and the young Buzzard commences its day’s begging. In the still air, the calls of Sandwich Terns, Curlews & Oystercatchers drift in from the beach.

The sky is scored with trails from dozens of westbound flights originating from cities now busy in daylight.

I don’t usually schedule RX Birdwalks in August since people are away or busy getting bronzed or dragged down into the grandparenting vortex and anyway the migration is only just starting. But over the last week or so there have been a lot of small migrants as well as a variety of waders passing through. On Tuesday I found no fewer than 74 species at the west end of Pett Level (though my record is 76) including my first (and last?) Swifts for 3 weeks, while on Friday morning I saw more warblers at Winchelsea Beach than I can ever recall seeing before. Local bird-ringers have been catching loads of birds this week but not so much that morning. Puzzling. There must have been hundreds of Whitethroats flitting around gardens and horse paddocks, with many Lesser Whitethroats and Willow Warblers, slightly fewer Blackcaps, several Spotted Flycatchers and a Redstart.

So Saturday’s walk would be an excellent opportunity to catch up with all these species, the only problem would be keeping up with them all.

Not so. Was it the clear night that encouraged all these little birds to lift up into the heavens and steer by the stars southward? No doubt, for few remained and were hard to see. Typically, you catch sight of them as they whizz across a gap or hop out onto the surface of a bush, but even as you raise your binoculars and attempt to fix the spot with a lightning memorization of shadow or twiggery they are gone. Maybe you can follow a trail of quivering leaves or a silhouette in the depths and, if lucky, catch enough of a glimpse of a diagnostic fragment to know what you’re looking at.

Beside the canal the Pett Level Preservation Trust maintains rich and varied habitats full of flowers, insects and birds. During the last week a Kingfisher has been regular here as well as a hunting Sparrowhawk.

So it was hard work but we did see nevertheless a reasonable range of species (59) by lunch time, the first of which was a Hobby hurtling through the Coastguard gardens in pursuit of hirundines but making do with a dragonfly. Also prowling through the gardens, now sufficiently wooded to merit their presence, were a couple of Jays, which used to be quite scarce birds here. A couple of days previously one of these Jays had departed from the usual keynote squawks to mimic the hungry keening of a young Buzzard. Jays can be disconcertingly accomplished mimics (check Xeno-canto) but for most of the time settle for Default Raucous. The Buzzard itself was hunched on a derelict owl box while its ragged parents soared overhead.

Following clearance last winter by the Trust, this sheltered glade in front of Toot Rock has attracted many small insectivorous birds.

Following my plan to find bushes full of warblers, we repaired to the beach where the rising tide should (next plan) edge waders off the moorlog and straight past us. Which it did, but they were all Turnstones. Nothing wrong with Turnstones, especially at this time of year when there are still adults in fabulous tundra-tortoiseshell breeding plumage, except that recently on an ebb tide both at Pett and Rye Harbour, I’ve seen instructive varieties of species and plumages at close hand as hungry birds have converged from their high-tide roosts. Curlew Sandpipers even.

However, the stones were warm, the sunshine warmer; it was like being on holiday with a soporific sound-track of ericking Sandwich Terns.

Definitely Spring

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

Considering it was only the very beginning of April, the amount of birdsong on Saturday’s RXbirwalk was amazing. All resident species but for numerous Chiffchaffs and  the wave of Blackcaps which had arrived in the area just two days before, the complexities of the soundscape kept us busy from the very start, where busy cawing from the Two Sawyers rookery provided a constant background for the many other species round about.

Drifts of Wood Anemone whitened the floor of Guestling Wood as Blue, Great and a surprising number of Coal Tits fluttered overhead while loud calls of Nuthatches and GS Woodpeckers came in from trees further away. Out in the open, Skylark song was pitted in unfair competition against a crowd of Med Gulls on a freshly tilled field. Coots have consolidated their hold on the few small ponds in the area and Grey Wagtails could be heard at both Water Treatment Works and Pickham Mill but were very shy and hard to see. We saw & heard 41 species.

This Treecreeper, photographed by Stuart Barnes, was not only singing but dancing!

I’ve been in this area too long; I’ve got too used to it and take for granted the ease with which I step into a landscape others will travel long distances to experience. I get spoilt and lazy. On Sunday I went on my first longer Pett Circular for months, looping round the back of the village to Pannel Bridge, thence down the valley and across the marsh to the seawall. Loads of birds of course.

I must recommend at this point both current exhibitions  at the DLWP. While Elizabeth Price’s pretentiously titled show is very, very interesting and thought-provoking, that most relevant here is George Shaw’s,  of  woodland interiors, bearing traces of (illicit, transgressive) human occupation, so very reminiscent of the suburban woods where I played as a child yet infused with classical references owing to the works’ origins in a residency at the National Gallery.

At Pannel Bridge I was delighted to find a Yellowhammer singing from the  hedge. In decline nationally, they have all but disappeared from the lanes around Pett/Fairlight/Guestling and, although this has been a traditional site, I’d not seen a bird here for some years.

Ironically, this was more exciting than the Marsh Harriers, Med Gulls, Avocets and multiple Cetti’s Warblers in the rest of the valley.

As I was cutting across to the seawall, two shepherdesses driving ewes along the track towards me flushed a Cattle Egret from a nearby ditch. At first it dropped out of sight behind the Pools but soon flew back past me to perch on a post, where I took this poor photo, before it moved off once again,to content itself, in the absence of cattle, with a flock of sheep. From a serious rarity, this has become a scarce but regular bird in the RX area and has now bred in England. This all-white individual is however in non-breeding plumage.

At the heart of the Level

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

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A few hours of sunshine saw me getting re-acquainted with the miniature landscapes of gate-posts, each unique in its pattern of growth-rings, cracks, stains, lichen incrustation and bird droppings, all interrelated.

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Immediately, an unseen raptor put up a great cloud of Lapwings & Starlings – goodness knows how many there are at the moment – with a line of 14 Ruff rushing past at its base and the piping of Golden Plovers at the back – not a regular bird at Pett but 110 today. A Raven jumps up from the field too.

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The rain has left snakes & crosses of electric-blue floodwater among the yellowing grass.

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Processional shingle-shifters trundle across the skyline.

The horizon is once more smudged with great flocks of birds as first a low-level Sparrowhawk speeds across in front of me, then I disturb a Peregrine from its perch.

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Squelchy mud-music enlivens the densely-printed gateways.

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A Water Pipit flies up from a muddy ditch-edge and squeaks away to another, atypically not too distant. This is the only one I’ve seen at Pett this winter so, with optimism overcoming experience, I decide to quick-march over towards the spot where it came down then make the final approach with Extreme Stealth. Eyes fixed, no blinking allowed, I side up to this new ditch, closer, closer, searching for some movement till suddenly, out of nowhere, the bird is up and heading off across one, two, three, four ditches and down again. The usual field characteristics: call, pale flanks, irritating behaviour.

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From the seawall

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

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Friday: Frosty morning, bright sun on the mass of geese assembled on Pett Level. Trundling trucks, their headlights visible since before sunrise, trail pale clouds of dust down to the moorlog where hundreds of Dunlin scuttle across the pickled trunks of prehistoric oaks.

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Cold fingers focusing binoculars on bright but distant Greylags until the white front of a Whitefront catches the light,then one by one a dozen more. A few hundred Lapwings wheel up squealing with 5 Ruff mixed up among them. Then the pale grey back of a Pinkfoot catches my eye. No sign of the Taiga Beans though.

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At the half-frozen Pools the Wigeon numbers are up, dense herds grazing the crisp grass then bursting up with a roar of wings as a dark young Marsh Harrier glides towards them. Yet more Lapwings up in the air.

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Back at Toot Rock, I’m just approaching the Glenview bridge when thin, metallic trilling fills the air and a flock of  c40 Waxwings passes in front of me. This is exactly the same place they frequented 6 years ago. Ringed birds further north return to the same sites – could older individuals recall this spot as the location of a former winter holiday? (I looked up longevity of WX – unknown – oldest ringed bird just over 2 years.) But this time they didn’t hang around – no berries on the Hawthorns – but kept flying north along the canal. I looked at the bushes there – no sign – and alerted people in Winchelsea & Rye but no luck there either.

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