Archive for Wetlands

Beyond Drismal

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 22, 2018 by cliffdean

Sunday: The usual capricious forecast: rain at eleven, it says, but even by nine as I’m slipping on the muddy path beside the Crowhurst Powdermill Stream, my binocular eye-pieces are spotted with drizzle-drops. Few birds around but, from the trees along side the old railway track on the hillside, there comes a high=pitched, rapid drumming that sounds very much to me like a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. However I can’t get closer and have been fooled more than once by GS Woodpeckers choosing a slim branch to drum upon, so without hearing the call or setting eyes on the bird I can’t be sure. Tantalising though.

The attenuation pond hold more ducks than ever – around 200 in all, including 77 Shoveler, 74 Gadwall & 42 Wigeon. This permanent water is proving attractive to ducks, in spite of the walkers and dog-walkers passing by; I think the site is sufficiently open for the birds to keep a wary eye on the humans.

Downstream by Adam’s Farm (now miserably boarded up but at least now free of the horrible fly-tipping) there are Bullfinches calling from the orchard. But there’s more, I’ve recently learnt: wildlife that I’d never suspected.

If you were to look at this narrow stream flowing past Adam’s Fm you might think, as I did, that there would be little living in it. But, like me, you’d be wrong, for a fish survey last month of just a 30m stretch here revealed no fewer than 13 Brown/Sea Trout, 1 Gudgeon, 14 European Eel, 3 3-Spined Stickleback, 72 Stone Loach & 52 Brook Lamprey. This shows just how rich these small waterways are.

The far side of the Link Road, in the grey, the sounds were the rush & hiss of traffic, the crunch of gravel from passing walkers, cyclists and joggers, the drone of a helicopter appearing briefly beneath the clouds and the strangulated peal of Bexhill bells.

The digger has gone from the scoured out south bank, which operation appears to have been unlicensed and carried out in the middle of trout migration. A single Water Pipit took off from the fields nearby and – characteristically – headed off resolutely into the distance. About 250 Black-headed Gulls were loafing on the floods along with half a dozen Herring Gulls, a single Great Black-back & 16 Lapwings. There are Teal piping invisibly beyond the willow scrub on the north side but even the gunfire of pigeon shooters fails to stir them, and with rain falling more heavily I’m loath to explore further.

Back along the old railway line, a pause to admire the brickwork of the Sandrock Bridge, reminding me of whooping echos beneath the Skew Bridge by my grandmother’s house in Harpenden (both she and the house are long gone but the bridge is still there).

And the fine sandstone cliff at the south end of Quarry Wood. Dozens of Redwings wheezing in the taller trees, Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Jay, but this time no Hawfinch but there are Marsh & Coal Tits on a feeder in Sampson’s Lane.


Drowned lands

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 7, 2018 by cliffdean

The plan for Saturday was a walk around Wet Level, following the Rother  up as far as Potman’s Heath before turning back through the narrow lanes SW of Wittersham, where I first led a walk (in nicer weather) 5 years ago. Since I’d not been there for a while I thought it best to have a recce and it’s just as well I did since this was the view from Blackwall Bridge; our route, to the left of that concrete bank, lay under a couple of feet of water. In addition, the forecast was poor, leading me to postpone the walk, but then improved…

In the end, a couple of us made an impromptu visit to Combe Valley a closer flooded river valley but with more assured access. It was a gloomy morning so the photos are very dull compared with those on the Friends of Combe Valley News FB page, but they give the idea. After heavy rain, this green valley is turned into a huge lake to hold back water and prevent flooding of the coastal ribbon development at Bulverhythe.

The Flood Attenuation Pond was doing its job, the raised water level having lifted the unidentified water weed that covered its surface in summer and let it rolled back by the brisk wind. As I suspected, the duck numbers there were lower – about a dozen each of Gadwall & Wigeon – since in the rest of the valley they were spoiled for choice with shallow lakes spreading all along it.

Out in the middle though, the small flocks of the same species were a similar size so might well have been the very same birds that had just moved about, the exceptions being 3 Tufted Ducks and about 50 Teal. Gliding about were 18 Mute Swans and over on the slopes to the south were 77 Greylags and a single Canada Goose

More than 30 Snipe zig-zagged up from the fields to the south of the Link Road and further down a tight flock of about 50 Pied Wagtails was running about on floating vegetation. There were several Stonechats flicking their wings on tall weeds, Cetti’s Warblers loud in cover and Buzzards mewing overhead..

It seems quite astonishing that, until recently, developers were proposing to build a “Sports Village” and a load of houses on the football fields further down the valley, having miraculously remained ignorant of all the recent debate about building on flood plains. You can find out more on the Bulverhytheprotectors FB page.

Once we had cut back up to the Greenway E of Decoy Pond, we followed it as far as the old railway line, where I was pleased to see that the Quarry Wood team had been busy felling trees to expose the beautiful sandstone face of the eponymous excavation.

There were few birds until we reached the cutting near Samson’s Lane, when we ran into a mixed flock of small birds including Blue & Great Tit, Treecreepers & Goldcrests. Among them was a Marsh Tit – not really surprising but nonetheless the first I’d seen here, but then I heard the click of a Hawfinch and after a few minutes wait, caught sight of it in the top of the scrub which now fills this damp hollow – another new bird for me here. Even though, exceptionally, they are being seen all over the place, I can’t get used to seeing them. (Two local places where they’re quite easy: Hastings Cemetery & “Feathers”, Salehurst where, in both cases, they’re attracted to Yew.

Back in the lane, we came across this Green Hellebore, a rare plant in the wild in Sussex but this one now doubt originating in an adjacent garden.

Dengemarsh clockwise

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 19, 2017 by cliffdean

In a radical new approach, we walked a little way down Dengemarsh Road from Lydd before branching off left down the footpath through arable land to the back of the reserve. It adds just a mile to the usual circuit and was more interesting than I anticipated. To our left, flocks of Snipe erupted from the frosty rape fields while on the other side were hundreds of Lapwings, Golden Plover & Starling as well as Egyptian Geese and one out-of-place Brent. The path is broad and easy to follow, though the first footbridge has (livestock-proof?) bars across it rendering it fairly human-proof as well. Gymnastic and limbo-dancing skills are required at this point.

A small bird diving into bramble revealed itself as a wintering Chiffchaff. A blue jumble beside the bush revealed itself as a retired scarecrow, the baler twine employed to secure its plastic-bottle head disturbingly reminiscent of the ligature around the neck of Tollund Man, the spilling straw guts adding to the sense of sublimated sacrifice.

What with this and the nearby Concrete Corpse, a narrative is emerging…

In opting for a clockwise circulation I had realised that we’d be looking into the low winter sun for much of the time but this provided opportunities to sharpen identification skills through studying silhouettes and discounting colour distortions arising from strong shadow. Otherwise the blue sky was a fabulous backdrop to flying WigeonGreylag Geese, Marsh Harriers and twinkling flocks of Lapwings & Golden Plovers. Bitterns, Bearded Tits & Water Rails, however, kept their heads down.

Back on Dengemarsh Road, when one of our group picked up a distant flying flock of white birds the long necks and rapid wing-beats distinguished them as 13 Bewick’s Swans – on tour, presumably from Darkest Horsebones. As we followed their progress down the peninsula they passed at least 5 Marsh Harriers before swinging round and dropping out of sight somewhere near Scott Hide. When they passed us again, much closer, I was, unfortunately, looking in the other direction so only got a back view.

Two more mysteries. Once you pass the farms there’s nothing much down Dengemarsh Road and yet there’s a constant stream of traffic. The vehicles could be those of anglers or dog-walkers but a surprisingly large proportion braving the potholes and puddles were expensive white SUVs; what can it all mean? Then, an odd rumbling sound preceded the appearance of two teenage lads cheerfully hauling trolley-cases down the corrugated concrete road, one clutching a print-on-canvas of a fast car (not a white SUV) as if planning to set up home. But where? The only potential accommodation was a caravan beside the chicken sheds. Seasonal pluckers perhaps.

  In the fields beside us were crowds of Golden Plovers, colour and details brilliant with the light now behind us. Lobbed into the roadside crops lay a Prosecco bottle. It occurred to me that ten years ago this would have been no more likely than the Egyptian Geese, both Signs of the Times.

On the way home, two of us made a diversion to Hastings Cemetery in search of Hawfinches, 7 of which had been seen the previous day, and after a bit of strolling among the funereal yews, spotted one sitting in a bare tree – Showing Well, as they say tough, as usual, my attention was taken by tombs – the Robertsons (of the eponymous Street), the Ionides (formerly of Constantinople, late of Windycroft).

Cold water: some reflecting the world, some blind to it

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

On a recent visit to Darwell Reservoir we’d seen a lot of wildfowl too distant to properly identify or count so yesterday I donned my neoprene wellies to haul my telescope for forty minutes, away from the echoing yells of dog-walkers through rain-enriched Wealden mud along old lanes lined with phantasmagoric hornbeams and way past the Yellow Jeep onto the carpet of crisp, frosty Crassula on the silted headwaters of the lake.

While the north bank was rusty in the low sunlight, the south was dark in deep, creeping shadow. Though the rain has raised the level, the old furnace causeway is still mostly exposed, and while the pond behind it was iced and opaque, the main water was mirror-like save for the ripples from diving GC Grebes.

It was silent but for those same grebes gargling and the flap of Cormorant wings, as their owners felt my presence was just that bit too unsettling, whatever Superior Fieldcraft I attempted. In the distance, in a different world, traffic passed noiselessly along the A21.

At once, an easy bird to spot, even with the naked eye, was a single Great Egret. There had been 2 before but the other has, I suspect, been the individual frequenting a garden pond for the last few days in nearby Netherfield Hill. In the absence of the real thing this one kept company with a similarly lonely Grey Heron, while a Little Egret was huddled among weeds further down.

Photo – through binoculars – by Keith Datchler

I had calculated that the still weather, coupled with raking afternoon light, would make counting fairly straightforward from the useful viewpoint of the black clinker causeway but had failed to take into account the winter shimmer over lake’s cold surface, not to mention deceptive chiaroscuro on the bodies of sleeping wildfowl.

However, nil desperandum, some count is better than none. Maybe. And it looked like: 7 Canada Goose,  141 Coot, 7 Cormorant, 30 Gadwall, 14 Great Crested Grebe, 7 Little Grebe, 37 Mallard, 7 Shoveler, 86 Tufted Duck & 19 Wigeon (a lot of Biblical 7s there…) I could not see the 2 Pochard we’d seen the other week nor any of the Goldeneye I would expect there.

While I was busy counting Coots which, in the middle of swimming across the lake, has decided to turn round, I heard Hawfinches clicking from the trees beside me but by the time I’d finished they had fallen silent and no amount of treetop-scanning could reveal their dumpy outlines. They could be after hornbeams – plenty of those – but also maybe the fruit of the big dark sheltering yew which marks the old farm site. A lone Hawfinch has been consuming yew berries in Hastings Cemetery for the last fortnight in Hastings and when I called in at “Feathers” after this expedition, 5 had been visiting a yew across the road from the shop.

With a startling roar, a huge flock of Woodpigeons burst from the woods opposite and swirled into the sky. There had been no obvious disturbance and I could see no raptor that might be responsible but more a more came clattering out of the trees where they had been sitting silent and unsuspected. 700? More?

As I made my way back along the muddy track, into the tree-splintered light of the early-setting sun, the woods before me began to rumble as the covered conveyor belt from the hidden gypsum mines stirred into action.


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.”


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.