Archive for Rye Harbour NR

Too much…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 26, 2018 by cliffdean

Haring caught up with the last episode of “The Woman In White” (Oppressive Men meet Violent Deaths; Oppressed Women find Love & Fulfillment) I switched on my phone to find a message that the very astute Stephen – also called Message – had just discovered a Broad-billed Sandpiper at Rye Harbour. Another rare wader! Just the previous weekend there had been a Terek Sandpiper which I’d not seen (too much to do and I’ve seen two others there in recent years) but Broad-billed is something else.

I had actually seen the previous one at Rye Harbour but that had been in 1982! I remember watching it quite close from the hide at Ternery Pool; somewhere – somewhere buried deep in the loft – are my notes from that encounter. It’s amazing to think that back then Ternery Pool was the reserve’s only wetland (Castle Water was not to be purchased for another ten years!) (but at least you knew where to look).

Prior to that I’d seen them near Ravenna during a hot, humid August where it was hard to sleep for the sweat & mosquitoes and you’d just doze off when the campsite tannoy would play a morning fanfare to announce “Il ghiaccio è arrivato!!”

So, once I’d located my rarely-used telescope, I was off, There was already a small group of Dungeness birders while beyond stood a meagre representation – Phil & Barry – from the local area. Luckily, the bird was still in view, albeit a bit distant in grey light, marching about on the mud of the re-created saltings among a whole lot of other migrant waders. Sometimes it would vanish behind a strip of vegetation or down into a creek but was distinctive enough to spot once it re-emerged and, borrowing Phil’s superior optics, I could plainly see the diagnostic back & head pattern, the heavily streaked upper breast and, as it stood backlit against some water, the slightly decurved bill. It looked pretty different overall: more solid and darker than nearby Dunlin which, helpfully, sported summertime black bellies.

In fact the supporting cast was pretty amazing with so many shorebirds showing such a graduation of spring moult, many of them justifying our move into cool and global nomenclature such as Red Knot & Black-bellied Plover, which I’d previously eschewed to avoid the sense of US Cultural Imperialism.

As time went on, the light faded but more and more  dedicated birders came hurrying down the path. However there remained an invisible county boundary between the two groups.

The next morning, Slow But Surers were early but late; on site at first light to find the bird had flown, though Alan had a little compensation with 3 Black-winged Stilts flying over. Black-winged Stilts! From the wildly improbable to the almost predictable in just a few decades! I decided to let someone else do the searching and parasitise their efforts, so called in for a tranquil hour at the Reedbed Viewpoint (55sp including Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, Great Egret) before heading down to the Beach Reserve. Hmmm – very few cars in the car park, a scatter of birders rather than a clump suggested a lack of success. As the morning moved on more folk arrived, a mixture of regulars and opportunists. The former savouring the wonderful wader spectacle (Avocet, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Knot, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Whimbrel), the latter dismissing it.

So, by lunch-time things had returned to normal. By late afternoon, another message came in – a reported Stone-curlew – but not confirmed. And then 3 Black-winged Stilts (presumably the early morning’s trio – but where had they been in the meantime?) on the Salt Pool! Well, Broad-billed Sandpipers are hard to see and present some interesting ID challenges but Stilts are Stilts and are all over the place once you leave the UK.

So we’ll see what today brings.



Why, oh why?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 30, 2018 by cliffdean

This weather is just stupid. Something should be done. Look out for me on the Facebook “Angry People In Local Newspapers” page, grimly pointing at rain or with arms tightly folded across my chest, scowling at wind.

For yesterday’s RXbirdwalk which, as Calendar Enthusiasts among you will know, was almost in May, I wore lined trousers, a thermal base layer and thin fleeces under a ski jacket. And gloves, which were a bit thin. And a hat. I was comfortably warm – though I’m not sure about the others – and did not overheat even during brisk walks across the windswept open pastures near Castle Water.

In the fierce NE wind, the little birds kept their heads down and although plenty of them were singing it was a challenge to get a look apart from a few Common Whitethroats which delivered a bit of song while clinging onto exposed twigs and Sedge Warblers which ventured from their lairs at the hearts of skeletal Elders…..(in view of the local demographic I should clarify that I’m talking trees).

The wind, cold and gloom were however good for pinning down aerial feeders close to the surface of the lakes, where hundreds of Swallows, with smaller numbers of House & Sand Martins, Swifts and Common Terns swirled about. Giving directions to point out the scarcer Sand Martins was difficult: “It’s going left, left, past the gorse..” Which gorse?” “The gorse on the – oh yes, I see, but anyway it’s gone back right, right, under the fence, now back left, right…over the Tufted Ducks” etc. Moving at a more helpful speed in the back ground were a m Marsh Harrier and a couple of Buzzards.

Our hopes for a bit of respite in the cosy hide were frustrated by the loose door catch: a westerly wind would blow it shut but as soon as we opened the slots it flew open, admitting a forceful current of cold air. It was warmer outside, in the lee of the bushes where a steadfastly invisible Lesser Whitethroat was rattling.

I’ve done three walks in the Castle Water area this week, two in the Castle itself, and seen different birds on each occasion (obviously with a majority overlap). On account of the cold, I wasn’t keeping a list on this occasion but would have said it was pretty lean as far as variety went, so I was very surprised when the species total came out at 72. There are, after all, always a lot of common species along this stretch, and there were a few other things you can’t see everywhere, including Egyptian Geese (but watch this space…), great views of a Cuckoo, a Raven, lots of Med Gulls and, interestingly a pair of Common Gulls.

We had already heard Whimbrel passing through and seen a group of seven drop in to rough grassland at Winchelsea Beach but just as we ended the walk at Dogs Hill Road, we spotted a line of flying birds hugging the shore of the otherwise deserted grey sea: about 20 Bar-tailed Godwits heading rapidly towards no doubt better weather in the Arctic. As they passed, they tipped to show their tundra-red bellies, apart from one still in silvery winter plumage. Fired by migratory zeal, these were an inshore fragment of a larger movement, with 828 passing Dungeness during th

From the Chalk Curve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 21, 2018 by cliffdean

Intersecting curves of a splayed wash of shingle from old storm incursions, contained by a low repair loop.

The fine skin of turf covering the pebbles is green for now but will soon face desiccation. It is studded with the hills of Yellow Meadow Ant, each supporting its own little emerald island of plants, perched on top or hanging on the sides, profiting from fine soil and moisture thanks to the endeavours of the colony within.

Low tide, on the turn; purr of Beach Survey quad bikes
Continuous sounds behind me: the bass pulse of tankers passing beyond the horizon haze, Herring Gulls & Oystercatchers on the sands; before me, continuous Skylark song, twittering of migrant Linnets as they stream past.
Migrant bands of shining white, yelping Med Gulls are also passing through and a Greenshank is calling; black Cormorants take a diagonal path across to the sea

Up beyond them, in the blue, the Beauvais > Dublin flight crosses trails with Montego Bay > Brussels.

Birds are on territory :Reed Bunting on an elder, a Dunnock on brambles, a tumbling Lapwing in the air, a Reed Warbler deep in the reeds.

As the flood tide flushes lug-diggers homeward, excited Sandwich Terns fish in the shallows, rifle fire starts from Lydd and, as the pond-water warms, Marsh Frogs begin to chug

Bird list: B, BH, C, CA, D, ET, GJ, GK, HG, L, LI, MU, OC, PW, RB, RK, RO, RP, S, SU, TE, YW

From the Viewpoint

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 13, 2018 by cliffdean

Halfway down Rye Harbour Road, just at the end of the containers, you’ll find the fingerpost directing you to the Reedbed Viewpoint. It’s just a five-minute walk , ideal for those unable to go further or who, at busy times, wish to be somewhere quieter than the Beach Reserve. You cross some rough grassland to a raised platform with handy benches from which to enjoy the sights and sounds of many kinds of birds.

Parking is a problem – no more than the roadside verge which, at the moment, is reduced in most parts to deep muddy ruts – so you if you arrive by car you might need to leave in a better place.

Since Wednesday afternoon turned out warm and sunny, we decided to spend just an hour there, keeping note once more of all the species we could see or hear during that time.

During the brief walk across we saw Collared Doves, Stock Doves and a Mistle Thrush on the big rusty barn and could hear Oystercatchers & Redshanks behind us on the river. In the brambles were Long-tailed Tits and my first Whitethroat of the year.

From the platform we had spectacular views of  Mute Swans low overhead and the usual flights of Cormorants coming in to their tree nests; in the reeds was a singing Sedge Warbler, the usual loud Cetti’s Warblers, and in the distance, from nearby pasture, we could pick out the song of a Skylark and the form of a quietly feeding Whimbrel. Against the afternoon light the Silhouette Challenge presented Shoveler, Peregrine (in the Big Tree), Marsh Harrier & Swallow. No sign of Bittern unfortunately, nor Bearded Tits.

I’ve done a couple of one-hour counts, though around dusk, earlier in the year, recording 44 and 45 species respectively though with an overlap of about 10. This week we got 47, though with 15 of these were new to the list.

Long Pink Legs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 10, 2018 by cliffdean

Spring is here, it came in overnight: lambs on the back field, daffodils through the village, middle-age men driving convertibles with the top down, a sudden flush of migrant warblers. And, at Rye Harbour, two Black-winged Stilts, no longer the great rarities they were when I first happened upon a pair at Palmarsh in May 1965, but nonetheless only the second record for the reserve.

Over the last few years they’ve nested at a few sites in the south-east but ignored eminently suitable habitat,  assiduously adapted in fact, on our doorstep. I refer to “two” rather than “a pair” since the head pattern on both looks male. And they haven’t been doing any courting. At least that was the situation yesterday when I went over to Do As the Romans Do. They present little in the way of an identification challenge but….it had been a miserable day with no other reason to go out so I tramped the shingle track down to the Barn Ponds where the forms of half a dozen birdwatchers broke the horizon.

The Stilts were very easy to see, the birdwatchers mainly grandparents on school-holiday child-minding duties. There was an interesting variety of other birds to be seen & heard from that one spot so I made a list. It’s interesting: you look very carefully, you see everything and note in down in succinct BTO codes (though I don’t know it for BW Stilt), put your note-book away and suddenly three more species pop out of nowhere – suddenly calling or flying up from cover. At the end of an hour I’d counted 41 – then heard Curlews, not Barry’s ring-tone but the real thing: Number 42 which, as you all know, is The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.

This morning was even duller, misty too, big rain-puddles adding to the challenge presented by deep pot-holes on the marsh road as I drove to count Herons’ nests at Winchelsea. Ideal conditions are bright early-morning sunshine which will reflect from the birds’ white necks to pick them out among the twiggery. This was the opposite, but since I’d arranged to meet Michael from the NT, we went ahead anyway. And it was very nice: loads of birdsong including several Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Raven, Fieldfare…altogether 46 species which is pretty good for such a short stretch. Among the hundreds of Rooks & Jackdaws we discerned 11 Heron nests, 2 fewer than I’d seen a couple of weeks ago but maybe they just weren’t showing up.

I hadn’t been home that long when I got an email from Graham, also in the Antiente Towne, that he’d just seen a Hawfinch at the school gate. Good for Winchelsea but I didn’t expect it to stick around for long so texted Michael, now back at the office. A few minutes later he replied “It’s still here! And a Firecrest.” Twenty minutes later I was back in Friars Road, where I spent so many years of my life, but the Hawfinch had gone. However the Firecrest was there and by now the sun had come out, it was a warm, lovely morning with Herring Gulls hassling  Buzzards against clouds curling overhead. The Hawfinch did put in a brief appearance, back in the Field Maple where it had first been seen.

Back home but out in the garden to keep an eye open for Kites. No luck there, but singing Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler – and just as I was going indoors, another Firecrest singing in next-door’s Thuja.

And finally a nice Winchelsea news-story I came across yesterday.

Bird’s-eye View

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 4, 2018 by cliffdean

Most interested people will have seen the drone film we had made last year. There are a few longer versions on the SWT website but this 2 minute cut had the widest and most effective diffusion through screenings at Rye’s excellent Kino cinema where it was greeted with gaps of admiration and wonder (no, I’m not exaggerating).

We were so pleased with it that we’ve asked the film-maker, Sam Moore to produce a winter version. His idea was to wait for snow, or at least a hard frost thought I felt that, with recent winters having been so mild, we’d probably have to settle instead for low sunlight, winter vegetation etc.

I was proved wrong when  it really did snow, but with such strong winds and unpredictable visibility that it looked as if we’d miss the opportunity after all. In the event, yesterday’s forecast seemed to offer a brief window of relict snow before the thaw set in so we met at 8am.

In fog.

However…there were atmospheric effects to be recorded with distances, structures and the low-tide sand-patterns dissolving into grey. We then headed off to Castle Farm where the shingle ridges would be emphasised by the snow lying still between them.

Luckily our presence coincided with that of the shepherd, who proceeded to check the ewes on the nearby Fairy-Ring Field. As he drove around it, the sheep followed, allowing Sam to get some great vertical shots of the Land Rover in a swirling vortex of woolly backs. I think…because it was hard to see the screen over his shoulder in what was by then nice sunshine.

Next stop was the Reedbed Viewpoint, where fabulous Art Nouveau patterns of blue open water, grey ice, white snow and pale gold reeds could be seen from above.

And finally back to the Beach Reserve where the tide was rushing up the river and through the sluice into the dendritic saltmarsh creeks, visitors strolled down the road and a fishing boat made its way down to the sea.

The day was significant for the reserve in another way, for Warden Chris Bentley was vacating Lime Kiln Cottage to take up residence in Rye.

In case you don’t know – click…

Whereas the first film showed the reserve on a day of astonishing stillness, colour and warmth (30C!), appearing deserted and exotic, this one will show a landscape at once mysterious and accessible, wild yet farmed, fished and much-visited

Im Abendrot

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 26, 2018 by cliffdean

The Reedbed Viewpoint: just a week later, just about the same time – sunset five minutes later – the same number of species in that hour but about ten of them different! Other qualities different too, no doubt influenced, as so were we, by the cold wind blowing onto out backs, the bare trees not the shelter I’d hoped for.

Relative silence from the Cormorants and absolute silence from the Blackbirds apart from the odd chatter of alarm, but barking and growling from a pair of Great Crested Grebes – not there before, but now it’s a week on in the season – standing up in the water and doing their symmetrical weed-shaking dance. (You know that they do all this, the knowledge is safely tucked away, but then you look again and think, “What???“)

Vast lines of gulls cross with the shining trails of evening airliners; the sun sinks in poignant splendour.

No crepuscular chorus from Bearded Tits or Water Rails this time, but swirling crowds of Starlings which arrive and circulate, looking as if they’d like us to leave before they settle down. Two Marsh Harriers gliding silently, geese splashing in noisily, the pointed outline of a Green Woodpecker dashing across to the shelter of the willows.

It’s free, it’s five minutes from the road, it’s cold. As we retreat to the car we disturb the Barn Owl from its floodlit perch before the wall of  shipping containers.