Archive for Rye Harbour NR

Celebrity caterpillar

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 2, 2020 by cliffdean

A day of spectacular clouds in the open skies of Rye Harbour. I needed to call in on Barry for a general update but was pleased to combine that errand with a look at this remarkable caterpillar.

A couple of weeks ago, a Swallowtail butterfly was noticed on buddleia in the watch cottage garden then relocated on fennel nearby, where it laid several eggs. A meticulous search revealed their whereabouts since when they have hatched into large and colourful larvae, encouraged to indulge their appetite for yet more fennel.

Some of the caterpillars have already pupated, commencing their mysterious and magical metamorphosis under the appreciative gaze of a procession of naturalists keen to witness this unusual event.

Read the detailed SWT Swallowtail Diary here.

The remaining larva, having munched its fill, went on walkabout across the garden table before being returned to the safety of the fennel pot.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 24, 2020 by cliffdean

Rye Harbour Reedbed Viewpoint, half an hour either side of sunset. Bearded Tits calling most of the time. Midges behaving themselves.

By the time I take note of how many Little Egrets are coming in to roost and start to count them an uncertain number are already sitting in a tree at the far end, where whitish smudges in the foliage suggest the presence of even more and there’s a noticeably bigger Great Egret perched up on top.

There’s a continual arrival of Cormorants and passing flocks of Greylag Geese. a female Marsh Harrier sails in silently and beyond it are tiny dots of some kind of hirundine. Quacks of Mallard & nasal Gadwall. Surprisingly, because it’s a bit early in the autumn, a Wigeon whistles. Behind me, a Sparrowhawk burdened with prey slides in to the tall willows. Herring Gulls never stop, more Little Egrets and 2 slow-flapping Greats slip in.

Water Rails but no vapour trails. 45 species.

Making tracks #2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 12, 2020 by cliffdean

A bee-line incised by hard hooves, soft paws and sharp claws down to the very beach-bones of the rippled turf.

A ring etched to the very pebbles by enzymes from a hidden mycelium. Magpie, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Stock Dove.

Standing out as green though it’s a ridge rather than a hollow; a causeway connecting two shingle banks, or perhaps a dam to keep long-lost tides at bay. Or both.

Ant hills & castle. Raven, Rook, Jackdaw, Starling

chdean · Recording – 20200609 – 080449
In the background, beyond the Willows of Castle Water: Cormorant nestlings, Chaffinch, Whitethroat, Coot
(Yes, I’ve managed to upload sound files! Thanks to Anny, Denzil, Michael & Tom for advice. It’s quite simple but I’m as diffident with these things as my grandmother was with telephones.)
It must be a Sign of the Times that I completely forgot to mention that another bird on a newly-uncovered island  on the lake behind the Willows was a Black-winged Stilt, which had been there for a few days. So it was no surprise and nowadays not even a very rare bird let alone one presenting any ID challenges.

Now grassed over, this inconspicuous hummock was a bunker on the Camber Castle Golf Club 1931-38/45.  The other golf club features are by now similarly subtle but can be seen clearly on contemporary aerial photos, including those taken by the Luftwaffe on May 10th 1940.

Below: in the background the lone Holly bush and to its right the dome of Oaks marking the crash site of Fl/lt Harry Hamilton’s aircraft on August 29th 1940.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 6, 2020 by cliffdean

Across the shingle wastes blow relics of rebellious anti-lockdown littering. We’re used to having crowds arrive on Bank Holidays though they usually take their rubbish home or at least put it in the bins. Over the last two weekends, people have just dumped litter everywhere, just left picnic stuff where they had been sitting as if they had had enough of being responsible citizens, doing what they’re told, staying home to beat the virus yet still seeing the mountain of corpses grow day by day, seeing a senior government figure ignoring the restrictions, telling blatant lies to excuse himself.

No rain for months; a record-breaking dry spell following a record-breaking wet winter. Soil crazed and dusty. Really nice for sitting in the garden though,and walking out early to places with few people, enjoying the trackless skies and infrequent traffic, a stillness dominated by birdsong.

Whitethroats sing from the frothy white umbels of crimson-streaked Hemlock, Lesser Whitethroats rattle from cover in the Hawthorn tops, Sedge Warblers rasp from the reedy brambles and there’s a Cuckoo somewhere too.  From taller trees in the plotland beyond, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs & Stock Doves

Scent of Elder, and pond-water stewing in the sunshine. Lambs & frogs

Crowds of Jackdaws & Rooks scour the dry pastures but the Corn Buntings are nowhere to be found: their hay field has been mown so they have moved on. Maybe none are now left west of Rye – till you get to the Downs.

The old beach ridges have dried out, crispy underfoot, crests smudged crimson with Sheep’s Sorrell but the silty gullies are vivid green, their edges zoned with golden Buttercups.

The contrast shows up old creeks and shingle spurs which have not been washed by tides for hundreds of years.

On Castle Water there’s a pair of Pochards with ducklings. Nationally, this is still a rare breeding bird but is increasing strongly with several pairs between here and Pett Level. Buzzards have become the reserve’s 100th nesting species, closely following Little Egret whose gobbling calls you can distinguish from the squeaky-wheel chorus of young Cormorants in the Willows.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 17, 2020 by cliffdean

No posts for a fortnight. No, I haven’t been away anywhere. The weather has been…well, you’ll have noticed. The political situation worse; no hope in sight.

And I’ve been busy. Doing lots of things.

Reading for example: “Middle England” by Jonathan Coe,”The Shepherd’s Hut” by Tim Winton, “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver

A stimulating SWT Landscape Innovation Conference at Sussex Uni: 300 people discussing the future – responding to the Climate Emergency and  finding ways out of the biodiversity crash.

Films: “Summer 1993”, “Reality”, “Zama”, “1917” “Bait”, “A Woman at War”, “Cold War” “Salvatore Giuliano”, “Parasite” – those are the interesting ones.

A hit on Tate Modern for Dora Maar & Nam June Paik with a sandwich in between then back to the birdsong at Battle Station. Margate by train to the Turner Contemporary for “We Will Walk – Art & Resistance in the American South”.

Lunch with one old bird-watching friend, Pete Roberts, briefly dropping in between Brazil & Tanzania; and sadly, the Westfield funeral of another, Dave Pankhurst.

I’ve been painting too: working on a couple of incomplete pictures from Brede High Wood, changing things on one from Canterbury Cathedral crypt and doing a larger version of a creek in the riverside saltings at Rye Harbour.

Lots of things relating to the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre: meetings, discussions and about six Hard-Hat Tours, on the latest of which a high tide spilled over the salting beneath us till the building was like an island, with fishing boats chugging on one side and thousands of Lapwings swirling about on the other. So dramatic!

The structure is just about finished; it needs fitting out and the digging of a service trench at eye-watering expense. Once it’s done though it will transform our relationship with our hundreds of thousands of visitors. It’s an inspirational project realized by, I guess, teams numbering hundreds of clever, skilful, dedicated & generous people.

Meanwhile…in spite of the weather, in spite of the reschedulings it has dictated, I’ve been out & about with RXBW groups, with RHNR groups and on my own.

The whole coast from Cliff End to the Rother is astounding right now – so many birds. Clouds of Lapwings, Curlews, Starlings & Ruff up in the air, disturbed constantly by up to 5 Marsh Harriers. Hundreds of dabbling ducks on the Pools, Greylag, Canada, Egyptian Brent & Whitefronted Geese on the marsh, with a couple of Great Egrets, Buzzards & Peregrines sitting on posts, Grey Herons starting to nest in the tall trees at Winchelsea among the hundreds of cawing Rooks. On the cliffs, Fulmars; on the moorlog, Grey Plovers, Dunlin, Turnstones, Oystercatchers & out at sea, G C Grebes, RT Divers & Common Scoters – that’s if it’s calm enough to see them.

On the field behind our house, 400 Common Gulls every morning, now accompanied by Med Gulls. Though it’s now past St Valentine’s Day, these have so far remained silent – I still await The Sound of Spring.

Lottery Time!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 12, 2020 by cliffdean

I’ve never previously led an RXbirdwalk in the main part of Rye Harbour NR. It is, of course, excellent for birds but the reserve runs its own programme of walks, which I would encourage anyone to attend, and there are always lots of bird-watchers there whereas one of the purposes of RXbirdwalks is to visit those many wonderful places otherwise little-visited. Just the other end of RHNR, for example, there are dog-walkers, runners and cyclists but very few bird-watchers and at Castle Water you can often have the place to yourself.

However…yesterday I had an appointment at The Cabins at midday to assist the inaugural draw of the 833 Lottery, set up last month to provide an additional income stream for the new Discovery Centre. That left three hours to look for birds on a grey, windy morning.

Since some of the group did not know the reserve’s backroads, we set off anti-clockwise, along the new bund into the wind. There were Brent Geese (new this year!), Shelducks & Redshanks on the marsh while over on the Salt Pool, masses of Lapwings, Golden Plovers & Wigeon, with Reed Buntings & a Stonechat along the fence-line. Passing Coots & Little Egrets we cut across to Corner Pools and along the puddly, pot-holed Ridge (out of the wind!) to the Barn Pools where we soon found 4 Goldeneye, including a four-eyed drake.

Connecting to the beach at Gasson’s Ruin, we walked back (with the wind!) past a huddled group of high-tide Grey Plovers, to the shelter of Denny Hide for the Smew which has been there. It wasn’t, but there were plenty of other waterbirds, including point-blank Dabchicks (giving wide berth to a hungry Cormorant) and rather more distant Pintails.

It had been quite a short walk in less than ideal conditions but we had nonetheless found 48 species by the time midday was approaching. Back in the Cabins, Mike Wilkins, who has taken on running the lottery, plugged in our hi-tech Random Number Generator. In large, friendly red letters, the screen unnervingly spelled out “FAFFLE“. With a few more knobs pressed, however, it was ready to go!

82!!! 17!! 38!

If you would like to support the reserve you can do so by buying up to 5 numbers – the more entries, the bigger the prizes! In formation below:

The Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve have established a small lottery to support the running of the Discovery Centre.

833 refers to the maximum number we can play under rules governing Small Society Lotteries.

Numbers cost £24 for 12 monthly draws and can be purchased from the information cabins or by emailing

The draws will be monthly, with the next one taking place on Feb .

Each month 60% of the stake money goes towards the development and on-going management of the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre, while 40% goes into the Prize Pot which is subdivided into 60%, 25% & 15% of the total.

Numbers are selected with a random-number-selecting machine and prizes will be sent to winners by cheque.

Normal service resumed

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 15, 2019 by cliffdean

No, I haven’t been anywhere exotic. I’ve been busy elsewhere, I hurt my knee and I got locked out of this account through forgetting which username to use. However…the weather being fine last Tuesday 11th, and my car needing some expensive attention, I left it at Skinner’s in Rye H Road to walk back home via Castle Water, finding 75 species en route. The first, inevitably, was Herring Gull but the second a Great Egret flying across the road as I walked out of the garage forecourt.

With the water level so high, few islands are left visible from Halpin Hide but there were a lot of Gadwall & Shoveler, a Buzzard, a squealing Water Rail, 2 Marsh Harriers quartering and a Merlin dashing past

This year I had returned from Morocco in time to lay the wreath on the Harry Harrison Memorial, only to find that the wreath itself had gone missing. By the time I’d tracked it down a week had passed but when I finally got there another was already in place.

Lichen-crusted tentacular arms of the original Oak planted by locally-based Canadian troops in 1940.

Just outside the hide, Bullfinches were calling from the scrub, then out on the grasslands there were Egyptian Geese, and a few Skylarks. While I was on the phone receiving the mechanic’s diagnosis a pair of Ravens flew over me.

Little birds probing The Wood’s tangle of collapsing Willows included Treecreeper, Long-tailed and, more unusually, Coal Tits. Crossing to the southern end of The Ocean, I came across a Black-necked Grebe (it must be the same one, winter after winter, always in the same area) but forgot to search more assiduously for Goldeneye.

By late morning spectacular clouds were moving in over Fairlight, at first to drag their deposits of rain across the sea, where Gannets’ wings caught the light and a long raft of Common Scoters appeared periodically on the swell.

A f Kestrel followed me for a mile along the sea wall and a Sparrowhawk was being mobbed by Jackdaws over the caravans. Over Pett Level the sky was dramatic, with massive, changeable clouds, rainbows and huge twinkling flocks of Starlings & Lapwings, accompanied by 22 Ruff.

Bird’s Eye Views

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 27, 2019 by cliffdean

A few years ago, at the Kino cinema in Rye, I saw the Spanish thriller “La isla minima” directed by Roberto Rodriguez released in the UK as “Marshlands”. It’s a great film but what really excited me were the titles, superimposed on vertical drone footage of the Guadelquevir estuary, Forms of creeks and sand-banks were rendered at first abstract and unrecognizable by the use of the unfamiliar viewpoint.

I was not new to this landscape, have spent many frustrating teenage hours attempting to cross the intertidal labyrinth of saltings in North Kent at  but was still, in the early 70s, representing it as flat. I often stayed with my friend Maggie  who lived in Upchurch,close to the Medway estuary, where I enjoyed low-tide hikes down the echoing channels to Milfordhope Island. One morning I’d been drawing the tide rising up a a creek looking towards Kingsnorth – essentially an uninterrupted horizon. Maggie’s partner, Keith, who had for some time lived on a barge in Twinney Creek, took one look and said, “That’s not how I see it at all. I see it more like this -“

He indicated her wallpaper which (it was the Seventies) was an Art Nouveau design of serpentine plant stems. I knew straight away what he meant: it was the contrast between prospect & usage.

A short while after “Marshlands” my friend Tim urged me to take a look at a film of the Woodland Trust’s Brede High Woods. When I saw it I was astonished at the transformation, when seen from above, of a place we both know very well. Especially in that low winter light, with raking tree shadows across the forest floor and the uncrossable reservoir reduced to a silver sliver in the frosty forest. Immediately I emailed the film-maker – Sam Moore – and asked him to shoot a promotional film for Friends of Rye Harbour NR.

Sam scrutinised the weather forecasts to select the perfect dawn: a luminous, glassy July sunrise which preceded the hottest day of the summer. The 2-minute cut below was edited for showing at the Rye Kino where the high quality projection and sound made an audible impact on audiences. This film has been shown and meetings and presentations, where its effectiveness has been quoted in the planning approval for the Discovery Centre project and in our application for a major HLF bid.

Conscious of the need to avoid disturbing breeding birds, we approached cautiously and kept the drone high, watching for the birds’ reactions. Conscious too of the need to reassure visitors that this filming was undertaken by an accredited drone pilot and with the Reserve’s permission, we made sure that Sam was accompanied at all times and engaged passers-by to explain our motives.

Uninvited drone activity can be intensely intrusive, irritating and potentially disruptive to wildlife so is otherwise unwelcome on the Reserve.

Enthused by the reception of the “Summer film”, we wanted to shoot one in winter, to encourage a wider spread of visitors throughout the year (there’s no shortage in the warmer weather but local accommodation and catering experience some slack in the cold). There were. of course, issues with the weather, but while a snowscape would be ideally picturesque it might present difficulties of access and, moreover, snow is no longer typical of our winters here. Having said that, it did snow and there were access problems but Reserve Manager Barry & I nonetheless rendezvoused with Sam on a foggy thawing morning when I was recruited to introduce Human Interest to the beginning & end of the cinema cut.

With no nesting birds to upset, this “Winter film” incorporated some ground-level footage and emphasized more the mechanical intervention of beach-feeding with a lugubrious pan across huge yellow shingle-shifters slumbering in the mist. Sequences also showed farming and fishing activities as part of the landscape.

For both films, Sam had created a soundtrack based on an electronic score sensitively selected from stock sites overlaid with bird recordings from the RHNR sound archive. They work very well but I was always interested in producing sounds derived entirely from environmental recordings, edited and manipulated to defamiliarize them in the same way that the aerial views had defamiliarized the visual landscape.

I can trace this back to my early teenage years when someone gave me a set of Ludwig Koch’s bird recordings on 78rpm vinyl. These were beautiful and instructive in their own right but it was when I experimentally slowed them down to 33rpm that the sounds seemed, astonishingly, to well up from an ancient, alien world. The next revelation came many years later when I discovered Olivier Messaien’s “Catalogue d’Oiseaux” in which familiar bird songs are unpacked and integrated with the moods of their habitats to make me hear them as if for the first time.

I’d also become increasingly impatient with the soundtracks to films about landscape or wildlife: cheery, soothing, “inspirational” or elegaic. Maybe I was seeing the wrong films (and, to be honest, I don’t see many since I avoid them) but the approach seemed cliched, unimaginative (in much the same way as the lazy application of stock “birdsong” to TV dramas, so often wrong in either season, locality, historical period or even continent).

Lacking either the musical vocabulary or technical means to realize this ambition, I contacted Brighton University’s Dept of Digital Music & Sounds Arts where the then Senior Lecturer, Maria Papadomanolaki eventually found me the right kind of student to take on the project.

Jamie Moore (no relation to Sam) made a series of recordings around the reserve, not just of birds but wind, water, machines and human voices (early on we crossed paths with a member of the village sea shanty group, who sang us several verses of “Blow The Man Down”) which he’s then treated and overlaid to produce an atmospheric soundtrack in which elements are sometimes recognizable & sometimes not but all have their origins on the reserve. It’s best to listen through headphones – or maybe better go along to the Kino!

We still have a superfluity of unused visual material and I’m in contact with some other sound artists to produce more evocative new films.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags on November 16, 2019 by cliffdean

On this blog I’ve tended to avoid writing about my role as Chair of the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, something which has occupied an increasing amount of my time over the last four years as, together with Sussex Wildlife Trust, we’ve realised the project to build a new Discovery Centre. I’ve focused instead on other aspects of local birding and sometimes on foreign trips.

However, after about three years of preparation the centre has this year been built. I’ve walked past the site many times, from the demolition the old Lime Kiln Cottage to its gradual replacement by a concrete slab, hoardings, pilings, superstructure, massive heavy windows moved by a buggy with suction cups, roof, Sweet Chestnut cladding…but until this Tuesday had not been inside. Following this visit I wrote this article for the FoRHNR Newsletter (coming out soon but you get a preview):

“It was emotional. I hadn’t been paying attention as we climbed into the building, still struggling to recognise familiar faces transformed by hard hats and hi-vis jackets into anonymous Playmobil people. Then I looked up…and…there, by contrast, was something I knew very well from years of sketches, plans, designs, projections, animations. But now it was real, and I was standing inside, part of it, enclosed within it. Solid, spacious, light; as we’d been telling everyone it would be. Decades of pipe-dreams, discussions, meetings, promotions, talks, lengthy cross-country drives, had finally materialized.

As Alan Leigh, Baxall’s Contracts Manager, was describing his firm’s creative approach and the structure’s characteristics I was distracted again, looking beyond him through the huge and heavy panes to the saltmarsh where a smoky wisp of Golden Plovers was wheeling. This is what we’d been telling people it would be like! Perhaps architects and builders get used to bringing concepts from the intellectual into the material world but it’s not something I’m used to and the effect was – as I told everyone – overwhelming.


It was meant to be a guided visit but as soon as the introductions were done, the group of SWT staff, Friends committee and major donors dispersed as eager explorers, like children in an indoor play-park, trying to match the angles and spaces with the rooms we thought we knew so well from repeated perusal of plans. More than one person whispered to me, “It actually looks bigger inside than out, like the Tardis!” It’s still a building site of concrete, wires, frames, pipes and lonely-looking toilet bowls, the windows criss-crossed with tape to guard against bird-strikes; there are still to be installed polished concrete floors, the ceilings and wall panels, doors and furniture. Still to be fixed are the folding doors which will give us three generous permutations of space in the education area, which will be named after the Layton family, whose huge bequest was catalytic in bringing this long-dreamt project to fruition.

While we had always pictured the view from here out over the reserve, windows onto the river came later in the design. The way the Rother is now framed, however, encourages a new appreciation of that tidal landscape. An even better one is gained up ladders to the roof level which, however, will not be accessible in the finished building. It was bright, blue-sky morning as I looked downriver on a shimmering flood tide together with Robbie Gooders, whose husband John, as one of my predecessors had, ten years ago, passionately advocated a new centre (he wanted a tower). It hadn’t worked out then but the ambition continued to smoulder and there we were, on top. Not a tower, it’s true, but no longer abstract. A glowing Kingfisher dashed past.

I’ve been thinking about what this building will mean to the Friends – as a community.

Up until now we’ve been able to get together more formally at meetings and walks and often too by chance – in hides for example and at the cabins. By next year though there will, for the first time, be a permanent place for us all to drop in, meet up, exchange news and get to know one another better, in other words to create a community that is closer, more coherent and will include those who up till now have had difficulty in accessing the reserve.

We will constitute a major presence within the county-wide wildlife community of the SWT and beyond that the nationwide network of Wildlife Trusts. Within this wider context, however, we will represent a strong local identity and pride in our outstanding reserve in its historic and wildlife-rich landscape.”

A lot of wind, a lot of rain and a lot of tide

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 29, 2019 by cliffdean