Archive for Wetlands

Combe Valley (formerly known as Haven)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 12, 2017 by cliffdean

I was too busy to take more photos – a pity because the valley looked fabulous!

I hadn’t been into the valley for a couple of years – certainly not since the road was completed,but starting from the Garden Centre car park I was immediately surprised by the number of birds singing in the willows and flowering blackthorn hedges, especially Willow Warblers which I normally encounter in ones or twos as they pass straight through. Someone has been managing the Pebsham Valley as a water meadow – scrub has been cleared, it’s green and on a little pond there was a Green Sandpiper to prove it.

Up the hill beside the tip. multiple Linnets were trilling while Blackcap & Chiffchaff (& more Willow Warbler!) sang from the taller trees and Skylarks from the Great Rubbish Dome, now covered and no longer attracting hundreds of Herring Gulls & Carrion Crows. Pebsham Lake was looking good too, backed by trees, grazed by cattle. It’s regrettably shot over in winter but is now tranquil and picturesque – albeit originating from  a stream dammed by rubbish.

From the top of the hill we looked down on the SWT reedbed, more reeds getting invaded by willows and, on the south side of the stream, well-watered water meadows,Then there was a movement on the bare slope beside us: two male Wheatears so richly coloured, so strongly marked that it was hard to believe they were “just” Northern.

At the foot of the hill all we could see at first were Greylags till a pair – then a second pair – of Lapwings began tumbling. I had seen these before from a distance, or so I thought, but as we moved up the valley there were more – another 4 pairs – opposite the Water Pipit marsh (no WIs though). 6 pairs of Lapwings! I s this possible, squeezed between St Leonards & Sidley, when they have disappeared from almost every other part of the Hastings hinterland?

Along the river there were Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings, first Sedge Warblers and, in the well-managed water meadows on the north side, a couple of Little Egrets. Further west, however, the situation is not so great, as I’ve previously observed, since meadows within the SSSI have been allowed to get overgrown, the ditches silted, perhaps blighted by the road scheme. (I have to say that the road is very largely hidden and will be even more so in a couple of years when extensive tree planting matures. But you can hear it all too well.) So we discussed what could be done to get correct management restarted. Signs of Citizen Action are plain though, in the installation of Guerilla Benches and the fighting back of briars by secateur-wielding dog-walkers.  The remaining briars – plenty of them – were occupied by many more singing Linnets.

Further west, on the Attenuation Ponds where we saw Garganey the other week, there was yet another pair of Lapwings displaying. I really thought it was too overgrown (give it time though – what’s the management prescription for this area?) Swallows & Sand Martins were moving north over the ponds and my first Whitethroat of the year was singing from the bushes just s we turned up to Acton’s Farm.

Along the old lanes back towards Pebsham there were yet more Linnets, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps & Willow Warblers, but also Green Woodpeckers on the fields and Buzzards overhead. Reaching the old railway line – I had last been there while conducting Winter Bird Surveys in advance of the road scheme, I was keen to walk up to the stub of the old “17 Arches” viaduct which is signed as a “Viewpoint”.There were Nuthatches there Goldcrests & Jays too but no view since tall trees obstruct it – Railway Poplars no less. A view would be desirable but must be achieved at the expense of quite a few of these.

By the time we got back to the cars, we’d seen 61 species. There are quite few problems of governance, finance & management facing the  Countryside Park but notwithstanding all that, it’s a wonderfully rich natural area, a great resource for local people who are starting to see it from the Greenway and may at some point dare to venture out further.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 15, 2017 by cliffdean

Since the scheduled day – Sunday – was promised worse & worse weather I shifted the walk to Saturday when the said was forecast to shine brightly. In the event, the sun did not shine all Saturday morning and the “heavy rain” threatened for Sunday has yet to appear. Nonetheless, the drizzle would have made for a dreary walk.

A cold night had preceded our arrival at Brede Bridge, leaving the flooded grassland shining with sheets of ice which, as they thawed in the aforementioned sunshine, began to groan, creak, then crack. In the absence of birdsong this provided the soundtrack to the early part of our plod along the sinuous river wall towards the confluence of Brede & Doleham Stream.


Apart from Black-headed Gulls on the floods and Common Gulls on the pastures, a few Crows in the trees and the odd Robin & Wren creeping through the streamside vegetation, there weren’t many birds until a f Merlin came speeding up the valley, low over the rushes, paused briefly on a hawthorn then carried on out of sight. Usefully, a Kestrel appeared shortly afterwards to point up the difference in colour.

It suddenly occurred to me that the reserve’s shallow pools might be frozen and devoid of the promised wildfowl, so it was with some relief that, as they came into view I could detect ripples. The not-so-good news was that the only birds there seemed to be sleeping Canada Geese and a few Mallard. The “not much about” theme persisted as we followed the tall trees of the railway line, keeping an eye & ear open for woodland species such as BT, GT, CT, LT, TC, GC, NH & even WK. Not a single bird apart from some calling Redwings overhead and the cheerful whistling of a Nuthatch from across the valley.


Upon arrival at a higher viewpoint, however, we could see that a lot more ducks were present, many half-hidden in the reeds. As they became aware of our presence many swam out into the open to a piping chorus of Teal calls. An initial estimate of just 20 Mallards rose to 75 and 50 Teal to 250. 4 Shoveler became 20 (the white-breasted males easy to pick out, females much less so) but Gadwall & Wigeon stuck in single figures. Canadas & Mute Swans presented fewer difficulties with 66 & 6 respectively, a single Greylag announcing its presence with loud honking. Since there’s so little disturbance at this site the birds are not too flighty and, if they do lift off quickly settle  once more.

Sidling past the sharp-horned Shetland cattle, and watched from a distance by grey Konig horses, we made our way down the river bank but finding little apart from a few Snipe, a small flock of Pied Wagtails skittering on the remaining ice and Meadow Pipits – but no Water Pipits – rising from the fields.


We had already seen a couple of Buzzards flopping about but on our return a f Marsh Harrier arrived and as we watched it could see another 2 Buzzards down a Snailham. Then someone spotted an aerial dispute towards Doleham Halt involving another Buzzard and a Peregrine which was in turn being buzzed by a small, fluttering, stooping falcon, by its modus operandi clearly the Merlin again…..yet as I watched, I couldn’t help thinking that the tail was a bit too long…yet it really did look small and was doing all the right Merliny stuff. Peeling away from the single-handed mobbing, it hung in he air in a suspiciously Kestrely fashion but wasn’t hovering. My shoulders were beginning to ache as I followed it, finally gliding low enough to relinquish its silhouette status and reveal a patch of Kestrel rustiness.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 24, 2016 by cliffdean

20161222_092417Out in the Brede Valley for the monthly BTO wildfowl count the other morning.


Cool and misty to start but warm sun prevailing after the first hour. Punctual Mistle Thrushes in full song from tall treetops along the railway line. Catkins, gold of Hazel, purple of Alder. The valley floor still & silent but for duckmusic, farming sounds from the periphery. Up in the blue an incoming procession of aircraft: little orange Easyjet buses alternating with huge white Emirates galleons lumbering towards the metropolis.


Hundreds of duck are crowded into the main pool, hard to count among the rushes till flushed in a whirring rush by a passing Marsh Harrier or Buzzard but quickly settling for there’s little other disturbance at this tucked-away site.

No longer the case at Pett Level, unfortunately, where the evenings are punctuated with gunfire as a shooting syndicate exploits the passage of birds over farmland between  the protected areas of Pannel Valley and Pett Pools. Exasperating, since they contribute nothing to the measures which support these wildfowl, but then neither do the reserves confer any right of ownership over wild birds. Pett’s loss is however the gain of more secure sites such as Rye Harbour & Doleham.


With birds either half-hidden or whirling round in a flying mass, it’s always difficult to get an accurate count but the numbers this month were about 450 Teal, 50 Wigeon, 40 Mallard & 25 Shoveler, plus 2 Mute Swans & a Cormorant. No Gadwall or Pintail. A few Moorhens & Little Grebes on the Brede and later a honking crowd of 70 Greylag & 10 Canada Geese appeared.


A Kingfisher sped off along the deep Doleham Ditch and 2-3 Water Pipits squeaked overhead from time to time.


Greening up

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


Back in the winter the National Trust cleared 40 years’ worth of willow scrub from its former reedbed at the foot of Chick Hill. As you can see in the picture above, it looks devastated (it is!) As usual, as whenever woods or coppiced, heaths restored or grassland cleared of scrub, some people complained that the Trust was Destroying Nature.


The willow had constricted reed to two areas which by now are once more flourishing, sending out rhizomes to colonize areas long since overshadowed. Parts which just a short time ago were still bare mud have sprouted bright green mounds of Celery-leaved Buttercup which is now being superseded by Great Willow-herb and Purple Loosestrife.


The Trust has inherited two unwelcome invasive species: The tall green plant to the left of the photo above is the infamous Japanese Knotweed, almost impossible to eradicate, while along the stream are the pink flowers of Himalayan Balsam, easier but labour-intensive to remove.


Plans are afoot to install a sluice which will permit the retention of higher water levels. However, householders in downstream interwar floodplain development are sensitive to the risk of flooding. This wooden structure is designed to strain out floating debris which might otherwise block the exit culvert and lead to an unintended backup of rain water.  The reedbed itself is fed by a few small springs on adjoining farmland, most potential floodwater draining along the separate Marsham Sewer



The desilting of the former ditch system has created open-water habitat for invertebrates including dragonflies; the ditch below is currently busy with Whirligig Beetles. It should also encourage the return of Water Voles.




Extreme Wellie

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 12, 2016 by cliffdean

20160112_095649I’m getting a bit tired of mud. Especially when it’s been poached by ecologically-valuable Konig horses which, from terra firma, watch quizzically as I flounder along their previous routes – which they now wisely avoid. However I felt it would be to my advantage (it wasn’t) to get a better view of the very many ducks distributed across the Doleham verywetlands.


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As you can see from this late 18th century map, the Doleham water meadows had, at some time previous to that, been divided into narrow strips by some enterprising landowner. The reeds along those dividing ditches now provide screens which permit waterfowl to move easily from one half-hidden partition to another. This makes it a secure habitat for them but also one frustrating accurate wildfowl counts.

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If you were to take this aerial view today much of it would be water.


The viewpoint at the back, approached with a good deal of squelching imbalance proved to be inaccessible but even from here, large numbers of Mallard & Teal could be glimpsed hiding out in willow scrub beside the railway line.


On the open water there were several hundred ducks, mostly Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal & Wigeon as well as 6 Tufted Ducks & 2 Pintail,  along with a couple of hundred Canada & Greylag Geese. Looked at with the light (but unfortunately without gloves, which I’d left in the car), they were mixed and milling, many concealed. Against it, they were crowds of silhouettes, bursting up in a cloud of sun-silvered spray at the approach of a Marsh Harrier but soon settling.

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Hoping for Water Pipits, I walked eastwards along the soggy bank of a former water-course but eventually found my way blocked by deep water lying in the braided beds of old channels. Just a few Meadow Pipits. As I turned back, I caught sight of a small figure approaching from the direction of Brede Bridge. A quick look through binoculars was enough to identify it as Tim Waters, around whom were flying 2 Short-eared Owls, his Cracking Shots shown below.

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Bottom left…

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…and bottom right.

I have a new, excitingly science-fiction phone which is so sensitive that I find I’m taking photos without realizing it. And in burst-mode. Some are rather beautiful in an Abstract Expressionist way:


But zoom + shaky hands does nothing to enhance the precision which may be needed to identify these strange lichens growing on a Victorian railway arch:


Sunny Dengemarsh

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 8, 2015 by cliffdean

P1240738Sunday: No fog this morning but a blue sky through which passed Pied Wagtails, Siskins, Lesser Redpolls & Meadow Pipits – the latter also in large numbers on the rough fields and shingle alongside Dengemarsh Road. From the scrawny lichen-plated Elder by the roadside came the calls of Chiffchaffs closely followed by the birds themselves. Other silhouettes moved about in the fading foliage, revealing themselves eventually as House Sparrows, Reed Buntings, Blackcaps & Goldcrests. Chiffchaffs & Goldcrests were calling from the gorse all the way down Dengemarsh Gulley, mixed in with Blue & Great tits, Robins, Dunnocks, Wrens & Chaffinches, though there was no sign at all of the Coal Tits & Firecrests (let alone Yellow-browed Warbler) seen not a mile away towards the point.

Down towards Pen Bars and the Concrete Corpse we found Linnets & Goldfinches and heard a Kingfisher in the ditch while Ravens croaked over the sparkling bottle dump.

Back at Springfield Bridge, while scanning the various wildfowl and watching an inflopping Great White Egret, we could hear continuous Bearded Tit calls and then had great views of the birds sitting up on an elder bush and whirring across the lake. They were flying up high, in irruptive mode, and a few minutes later, just as we’d watched a Sparrowhawk skim across the flooded meadow, a group of Bearded Tits dropped straight out of the air above us into the reeds.

3 Marsh Harriers, in a useful variety of plumages, were on view for most of the time, with Lydd Church as always a handy landmark for locating these and a couple of flying Egyptian Geese. Yet more Bearded Tits seemed to be everywhere, as were Cetti’s Warblers blasting from cover, and Meadow Pipits with a smaller number of washed-out Yellow Wagtails.

After pausing at the viewpoint in the sunshine we cut back across the stubble fields above which there suddenly appeared Buzzards: 3 at first, then 6, with another 2 lower down, profiting from the rising air warmed up by the sunny stones.

Stripping the willow

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 2, 2015 by cliffdean


The National Trust are doing a great job in reinstating their reedbed at the foot of Chick Hill following 30+ years of neglect during which willows had not only invaded the reeds but grown tall and shaded them out. Losers were not only Reed Warblers but numbers of local wagtails, finches and buntings which once used the reeds as a winter roost. Chief beneficiaries were the local Magpies, which converge to spend the night there, having presumably forsaken the nearby alder wood, long called Magpies’ Hall.


The only way to make a real difference is to use heavy machinery, with the obvious caveat that heavy + bog = loss of equipment, so the contractors have brought into play a 12-ton digger with extra-wide tracks, acquired in Ireland where it was used on bogs. Apart from a bit of sabotage by mice gnawing into its wiring, this machine has made short work of the difficult conditions and once the willow is cleared will clear out a ditch system allowing better water management.

Of course, it looks terrible but hopefully local residents are able to imagine the benefits that will accrue in terms of greater diversity of birds & insects as well as the seasonally changing beauty of the reeds themselves.

Helpfully consistent north-east winds this week have played a part in minimizing the inconvenience suffered by neighbours by blowing smoke directly up the Marsham valley, away from dwellings.


 PS I hoped to follow this up with a nice video of Stripping The Willow but a search of Youtube found only fumbling dancers unable to tell their left from their right.