Archive for Romney Marshes

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.

Advertisements

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.

Dengemarsh

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.”

 

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.”

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

20170217_105651

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.

20170217_102728

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.

screenshot-2017-02-18-04-49-36

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.

20170217_102929

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.

20170217_104515

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.

screenshot-2017-02-18-04-56-26

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.

20170217_115232

20170217_120036

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

20170217_120052

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

20170217_120100

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.

20170217_105334

20170217_111012

20170217_111553

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

20170217_124855

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.