Archive for RSPB

Dengemarsh circular

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 16, 2018 by cliffdean

This was the first time we had walked the whole way round from Lydd, a 4-mile circular route with hardly any repetition or deviation but quite a few hesitations in the middle part through the RSPB reserve.

The first and last stretches of the walk, down Dengemarsh Road and back up a broad farm track respectively, have fewer birds and so give people time to chat, get to know each other and catch up with news. And, on this occasion, give time for the thick, bird-enveloping mist to disperse. Time too to speculate on the purpose of the traffic, remarkably heavy for a narrow, rough road which leads only to the sea, and composed of a surprising number of very expensive-looking vehicles. Can they all be sea anglers? If not, what?

By the time we arrived at Springfield Bridge, visibility was improving: we were able to see Linnets & Stock Doves in the birdfood strip, wildfowl on the lake and the first of very many pairs of Reed Buntings – the lakes’ marginal vegetation clearly offering them exactly the right nesting habitat. Listening in to bird calls is always an important part of RXbirdwalks and as we paid attention to the buntings’ contact notes and song, we began to hear the atmospheric marsh sounds of displaying Lapwings & Redshanks.

A bit further on, we came across the rapid rasping chatter of our first Sedge Warbler and spent quite a bit of time watching its fluttering song-flight and trying to distinguish bits of mimicry. Further on, a Reed Warbler was singing from lakeside reeds but rather too faintly to be of much use in comparison, but then two newly-arrived Lesser Whitethroats could be heard rattling in the taller willows, one of them giving good views.

With the sun now shining, Linnets & Dunnocks singing from the flowering gorse, we spent some time on the viewpoint, enjoying its broad panorama of the marsh and hoping for the sound of a Bittern (it kept quiet). As the air warmed up, a column of gulls and a couple of Buzzards spiralled in a thermal at the top of which were 3 Sparrowhawks – local breeding rivals or migrants?

The walk back, which attracts few bird-watchers, turned up a couple of Bearded Tits, fantastic close views of a hunting male Marsh Harrier and finally a glimpse of a Great Egret quietly fishing on the edge of a nearby gravel pit.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 13, 2017 by cliffdean

Following a day of uncharacteristically heavy rain, we were glad to get out at Dengemarsh on a bright and typical September morning, relishing as ever the first view from the slightly raised Springfield Bridge across the back of the RSPB reserve, over wildfowl, Cormorants, Common Terns and a cruising Marsh Harrier.

Big crowds of Lapwings kept surging up, trialing 3 Ruff just below. From high up in the blue came the call of Golden Plover – at first just one still with a black belly flashing in the sunshine but then a flock of maybe 100 which stuck around for the rest of the morning either circling semi-visibly in the sky or settling for a while on an island adding their fluting chorus to the wailing of Lapwings.

We soon began to pick out raptors across the horizon: Kestrel, Hobby, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, and then high up a Carrion Crow was persistently harassing a smaller falcon  – a Merlin.

Another nice thing about coming in from Dengemarsh Road is that you meet very few people. The second we met at the crossroads by the hide (has this spot got a name?) was an RSPB guy who informed us that we’d missed some early morning action with a fall nearer the point – in fact there was a Wryneck still there at The Desert. It would be easy to locate since there would be a crowd of people watching it. While there have been occasions when I’ve really wished for such a crowd when fruitlessly searching for some interesting yet needle-in-a-haystack bird, I generally avoid them. The RXbirdwalks way is not to rush off after something supposedly more exciting but to visit a promising location and just see what’s there.

So we continued looking at a few warblers in the scrub and scanning the sky for birds of prey, and while watching a flock of 4 Buzzards, a big bird came gliding over the willows – an Osprey! There had been one or two about all week but – it’s not a zoo – you can’t be sure of seeing one but this bird stayed around for about 20 minutes, gliding, hovering & diving – inexpertly it seemed because after several unsuccessful lunges it caught a rather small fish and flapped off to consume it atop one of the many vertical structures Dungeness has to offer. A spectacular bird, one that I don’t see all that often and rarely as close as this, a useful opportunity to check the plumage details that made it (apart from the amateur fishing) a young bird.

It looked much closer at the time! Thanks to Stuart Barnes for the photo.

Reasoning that the open sky offered the best spectacle, we spent some time on the Viewpoint though by that time there were fewer birds in the air (apart from Golden Plovers) but a distant Peregrine put up a cloud of Starlings over at the chicken sheds. On the small pools to the west (I don’t know what they’re called either) we found Little Grebe, Sparrowhawk (8th raptor species) & Bearded Tits then, proceeding with effort over soft and sticky arable land, arrived at Brickwall Farm beside which 4 Whinchats and a very scruffy Stonechat perched in a weedy patch beside a skeletal barn.



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.”


RSPB Fore Wood

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 16, 2017 by cliffdean

This reserve at Crowhurst is a typical bit of Wealden Woodland,with all the usual features like steep-edged ghylls,old boundary banks, bell-pits and, at this time of year, beautiful ground flora of Wood Anemones & Bluebells, the latter perfuming the air.

There’s a lot of birdsong too, which is what we concentrated on during Saturday’s RXbirdwalk. The relative lack of habitat variation results in a limited number of species so the songs can be heard and compared repeatedly, but those species are present at what must be maximum density. This songscape is punctually embellished by the bass note of a train passing invisibly through the cutting on the wood’s north side.

Blue, Great & Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Nuthatch, Chaffinch & Woodpigeon could be heard – if not always seen – everywhere, with smaller numbers of Pheasant, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, GS & Green Woodpecker & Treecreeper.

Buzzards plainly had a nest in the vicinity, to judge by their constant presence low overhead,and above them, drifting Herring Gulls were howling. Oddly, we had just one fleeting encounter with Marsh Tits and heard Jays squawking just once too.

There was no sign at all of the LS Woodpeckers or Hawfinches mentioned on the info boards; I can recall seeing both here many years ago but don’t know if they are ever still recorded. But then, one never hears anything from this site. Plenty of local people walk here, exercise their dogs, a few children play but if any bird-watchers visit you hear nothing of it. Perhaps a dense population of common species is not seen as noteworthy.

Though there is evidence of rides being cut, coppice thinned and clearings opened up it’s all on a very small scale. We heard no Nightingales, probably since areas of dense scrub are limited, yet many Sweet Chestnuts look sick and could be cut back without much loss of amenity value.

A bit of variety was added during the short walk from the church (paying due respect to the very ancient hollow Yew in its raised churchyard),with a Whitethroat in the hedge right there, a Skylark singing from the cereal field beyond it, Jackdaws furnishing their nests with wool from a dead sheep, House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Collared Doves & Goldfinches around habitation, Yellowhammer, Mistle Thrush & Stock Dove on farmland around the wood itself.


Turned out nice again?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 1, 2017 by cliffdean

Week after week accounts of RXbirdwalks are prefaced in true British fashion by reflections upon the unreliability of weather forecasts. Same this time: the clouds promising a miserable dark and maybe rainy morning quickly and unexpectedly peeled back to reveal a clear sky which reflected in the fabulous ink-blue water of Dengemarsh and shone from the pale-gold reeds.

So that’s got the meteo out of the way. But – year upon year these reports are of necessity repetitive: the seasons turn bringing with them more or less the same birds to more or less the same places. I could forget all that and go for the unexpected, joining the glum cavalcade of rarity chasers but that does not appeal to me. What does change, most often & most interestingly, is the human context. This has always interested me: the personal/family/social/political backdrop to these birds trips, bird walks, birdsong, bird sightings.

Exemplary writing of this kind is found in “Adventure Lit Their Star” by Kenneth Allsop.

But there’s also a well-known intention to use birds as an escape  from all of that – a reviving reconnection with the non-human world. I do this of course but in the same breath, as it were, criticise those who wilfully fail to notice the impact of politics upon the wildlife that they imagine to be free of all that. So…apart from the weather Saturday’s RXbirdwalk was influenced by this:


…and I’m really not sure that that’s going to turn out nice.


So while we were wandering the Dengemarsh trail enjoying the birds, the light, the soundscape, the future was blighted for hundreds of people who believed they were flying to a better one and it was Raining In My Heart. Apart from the beautiful Marsh Harriers, the fabulous ice-coloured Smew, the acrobatic male Bearded Tit Showing As Well As Anything my spirits were lifted by a scabrous cartoon by Steve Bell, standing on the shoulders of the giant James Gillray.

I would post it here,but since this is a Family Blog…


…though I’m not sure what’s on the TV. More acceptable in those days perhaps…

Dodging showers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 5, 2016 by cliffdean

When we arrived at Springfield Bridge last Saturday, there was no wind at all and in the stillness you could listen in to an aural panorama of Bearded Tits, Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits,  Chiffchaffs and, less subtle – Coots & Greylag Geese. The phone lines were dotted with Starlings & hirundines while from a high hiding place among the girders, a Raven croaked from a nearby pylon.


A lot of Reed Buntings & Chiffchaffs were working through the reeds ahead of us while to the right a new sunflower field had attracted hundreds of Linnets, making me wonder why birdfood strips had not been planted before. Another cloud of Linnets rose up from time to time (usually coinciding with the passage of a Marsh Harrier) from another sunflower strip towards the bungalows.


This calm did not last for long for, very quickly, dark clouds approached on strengthening breeze. At first they seemed to be heading off for Ashford but before too long we were spattered with the first raindrops. I normally prefer to stay out of hides, finding them dark and restricting compared with the broad landscape outside but in these circumstances they came into their own, our scurrying transfers from one to another not always well synchronized with periods of respite.


The water level outside Makepeace & Firth Hides was low, and the islands exposed not yet infested with Crassula so we were able to make out a reasonable range of wildfowl and waders, including Pintail & Curlew Sandpiper, though a Little Stint was not visible.

The wind was stronger & stronger, allowing little to be heard from the viewpoint though the rake-straight necks of Great White Egrets stood out against the reeds. Eventually, a sharp shower caught us out in the open, luckily close to a small willow beneath which we cowered for the duration. It hadn’t seemed a very productive trip, so I was surprised, on totting up the species, to find we’d seen 67.

A cluster of migrants

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 1, 2016 by cliffdean


Encouraged by reports of crowds of Firecrests (my spellchecker suggests “Fried cakes”) at Dungeness point this week, we decided not to go there. We walked instead down Dengemarsh Road, expecting a good few of them in the rabbit-pruned gorse. There were none at all (though I had heard one singing before we started, as I walked down Chick Hill).

There were, however, Peregrines & Ravens, Reed Buntings & Meadow Pipits back on territory plus the usual Chaffinch, Great Tit, Dunnock etc plus 3 Wheatears, a Chiffchaff and a surprisingly early Common Sandpiper.

At that point only a light breeze blew so, apart from the crackling overhead cables, the crunch of gravel beneath our feet and the distant voices of the painting crew scaling a pylon, (no machine guns!) there was hardly a sound to distract from bird calls.

Around that end of the reserve there was plenty of noise from Cetti’s Warblers and Common Gulls in particular, the latter waiting patiently on posts for the rafts to be floated out. From the flooded meadows came shrill calls of either Water Pipits or maybe Scandinavian Rock Pipit – none of us competent to distinguish them on call.

A couple of Sedge Warblers & a Willow Warbler were singing, we had excellent views of a flying Bittern and rather poor ones of a lethargic Bean Goose with the Greylags. Further round, on the Pools With No Name, we had close views of Bearded Tit, 2 GW Egrets and scoped some late-staying Smew, including 2 white males.

A short walk at Scotney turned up a juv Little Gull, several Avocets, 6 brilliant Yellow Wagtails and 5 Corn Buntings.