Archive for Romney Marshes

Exotic Spaces in German Modernism

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 27, 2018 by cliffdean

Guided once more among tiny square fields of the Misleham planned landscape by  Jill Eddison’s enduringly fascinating study, we stuck to the grid of moss-middled mediaeval lanes through the north-western quarter to shelter from the cold winter wind.

The little meadows around the village are busy with Thrushes, both Song & Mistle, with Blackbirds, Redwings & Fieldfares, with hopping Magpies, waddling Jackdaws and watchful Buzzards. Straight hollows fold in the turf where regular ditches once ran.

Willows, Poplars, Ashes: leaning, bent & battered, burdened with ivy, fallen, sprawling, split, holed, hollowed, waving the stumps of ancient amputations. Hopeless, half-grown skeletal Elms and smooth, optimistic new Walnuts.

The rare and wonderful lead font in the church depicts Labours of the Months aligned with the inexorable progression of the zodiac, a widespread theme of comforting certainty, a confirmation of the world’s divine order. Here it is in continuation: the alleviation of top-heavy trees through pollarding.

A Sparrowhawk chases past us up the lane.

Reading the signs of typical Marsh Houses, aided sometimes by the fabulous Romney Marsh Soil Map, which explains pretty much everything.

Arriving within sight of Old Farm, we noticed little birds flying up from the keep to perch on convenient overhead wires: Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits & Skylarks so to get a better view and better idea of the numbers we tip-toed through the turnips along the footpath and through the ewes to the mighty corrugations of the farm outbuildings (the far side is a crowd of portacabins, but I was drawn by the irresistible lure of the picturesque).

On the turf, a collection of northbound Common Gulls, some still with grubby winter heads, others ready for action in gleaming white. Buzzards again and again but maybe just the same one – or two; a strikingly patterned 2w m Marsh Harrier.

On approaching the ikonik church, we were grateful to see a photographer had already picked up the big iron key from Becket’s Barn, but by the time we joined him, he was struggling to unlock the inner door.  After a prolonged bout of ineffective fiddling, it was concluded that there was in fact no mechanism to engage with and that the door was secured with an inner latch, the string to which had become detached.

It occurred to me that a church photographer would not be a bad companion since he would not be firing off shots in clattering burst mode nor receiving calls about other rare churches which had been sighted.

Latch detail.

So, back to St Augustine’s via Baldwin’s Sewer and the sandy, badger-riddled embankment of the Rectory.

An evocative interior with its spreading columns, rippled brick floor green with damp, scrap of assassination mural, tragic memorial to serial child mortality, Winkle marble tomb slabs, the aforementioned lead font.

Pews bear rows of books to be taken for a donation, among them this excellent study:

“p72 Fragile Boundaries: Three Infectious-Erotic Topographies.”

It’s the kind of book I’d people to see me reading, hopefully coming to the conclusion that I’m much cleverer than I really am. I may use the dust jacket to disguise my copy of “Lady Don’t Fall Backwards“.

And, by way of further entertainment between prayers, you can play Monopoly…


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).

Heiligenschein time

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

A still and misty morning at Lydd.

Entering Potato World, the dew-heavy grass has in no time licked the wax from my boots and within fifteen minutes I can just feel the freshness seeping in…

Overhead, a Great Egret emerges from the dazzle.

The prospect of wading through a big field of glistening leaves persuades us to take a drier route along the crest of a huge old seawall where a Barn Owl is snoozing beside a crimson hawthorn.

From this elevated viewpoint, the low sun casts a silver halo around our shadows but by the time I think about it the iridescent beads have begun to evaporate and no convincing photo is to be had.

It’s about a quarter of the way across

Since the diversion has taken us some way off our intended path we cut back in the shadow of a long tall hedge. In the shadow – that means the green cereal shoots are still wet. But from a pretty birdless beginning, we’re starting to flush Blackbirds, Song Thrushes & Blue Tits from the mass of twigs. Then a Goldcrest, and some Redwings which tower up away across the fields. But also there’s the significant dot of a small raptor which has shot past us to alight on a branch.

A f Merlin, which not only ignores us but makes a sudden pounce onto a hapless insect which it proceeds to consume. Once done it sits there, looking about and permitting a number of Cracking Shots.

There’s nothing at all on the fields but these ditchside lines of bushes secrete dozens of birds.

And approaching the overgrown island of an abandoned farm we can hear Tree Sparrows, Corn Buntings and many more thrushes, including Fieldfares.

It’s quite hard to count them as they flee from bush to bush, split up, double back, fly off, return, but there must be 50 each of Tree Sparrow & Redwing, 20 each of Fieldfare, Blackbird & Song Thrush and 10 of Corn Bunting as well as Blue & Great Tits, Reed Buntings, Robins, Wrens & Goldcrests.

You can see why: in this lonely, deserted space there is little disturbance and the thorns are heavy with berries.

Hill of Prumes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 28, 2017 by cliffdean

Looks boring, doesn’t it? Nobody goes there. In other words the quintessential venue for an RXbirdwalk. Broomhill; where’s the hill, where’s the broom? Though the latter might once have grown here, a hill is hard to imagine let alone a bustling fishing port – which it was until 1287. According to Judith Glover’s “Sussex Place Names” the earliest version of the name, dating from the late 12th century, is Prumhelle, from Prume-hyll “Plum-tree Hill” – but using an unusual dialect word rather than the South Saxon plume. That’s got that cleared up, but still no sign of a hill, let alone plum trees.

I guess the hill could have been a tall shingle bank, since truncated by the 1287 storm among others. On the soil map below you can see the settlement’s position on a spur to the south of the great (yellow) sweep of the Wainway. The remaining farm buildings and an abandoned cottage are perched on the pink band of shingle to the right.

The plan for this RXbirdwalk was to see breeding Yellow Wagtails, restricted in Sussex to this eastern extremity. Though weather mid-week suggested we’d run the risk of heat-stroke the morning itself dawned gloomy and windy, though the rain held off till midday. I usually have a look at the beach to add a few gulls & waders to the list but on this occasion all birds had been cleared out by massed kite-surfers thrashing through the grey summer waves.

This & other bird photos by Peter Matthews

There were indeed loads of  Yellow Wagtails and loads of Reed Buntings too, though the former favoured wheat and the latter oilseed rape. Last year the YWs were in the same location among beans, leading me to mistakenly assume that the crop was the significant factor whereas I now suspect it’s something to do with the soil since nearly all wagtails were situated between the former seawalls (now ploughed out) in the soil map below. As much as I love this map’s pretty colours and historic boundaries I can’t claim to understand much about the soil, I’m sorry to say.

These RSPB articles on their Breeding Ecology and Advice to Farmers are informative

While we were differentiating males, females and juveniles, a strikingly different male popped up then vanished again. It had a blue head – like the continental subspecies but of a pale blue-grey hue and with a white supercilium, suggesting the hybrid “Channel Wagtail” but I just didn’t get a good enough view.

There were plenty of other birds around, including Skylarks, Linnets & a pair of Corn Buntings as well as big crowds of House Sparrows & Starlings commuting between the interwar bungalows of Jury’s Gap and the fragrant sewage works. In the background, a pair of Marsh Harriers were quartering the fields. There were, of course, no other people around apart from two horse-riders and a distant dog-walker.

Just to the east of this chainlink fence, below the crops, below the soil, lie the remains of Broomhill’s church whose skeleton still stood into the early 16th century though flooded centuries before.

Beside Jury’s Gut loafed a few moulting Mallards in company with a small, dark duck with a clearly yellow bill. In size, shape and flight appearance it resembled a teal of some sort and upon reference to some more expert observers turned out to be – wait for it – a Yellow-billed Teal which now seems to be regarded as a geographical race of Speckled Teal, a South American species escaped from a collection.

As we approached the Kent Pen Wall, a Cuckoo flew over us then while we had a look along the sheltered and scrubby north side of the bank for Whitethroats & Linnets I took notice of the tree species for the first time. Beside two species of Willow, a hunched Oak and a fluttering White Poplar I was surprised to see a fruit tree – bearing, in fact, unripe…plums! Hardly possible it could remain from Prume hyll days, perhaps planted as an historical reference or jettisoned from a picnic. Strange coincidence though. Further along was a flowering Privet.

A further revelation came as we continued westward into the wind and towards Corn Bunting song. An isolated pond fits neatly, on the map,  into the vanished repair loop on a lost seawall; an ancient scour pool now tranquil enough but a relic of drama, danger and fortitude from the past.

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.


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.”



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.”