Archive for Wetlands

58 species and a million Euros

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

Thursday: relentlessly cool and misty but with lots of birdsong from the woods beside the Powdermill valley.

On Crowhurst Lake and on shallow floods there remain wintering ducks in small number: Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Teal & Wigeon while potential breeding species – GC Grebes, Little Grebes, Mallard & Tufted Ducks as well as a lot of Coots – appear to be on territory.

Migrant Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps are already established, a dozen Swallows and a Sand Martin were hawking over the floods and a Sedge Warbler was singing alongside the river.

An unfamiliar song drew my attention to a very smart male Stonechat with a female appearing soon after; these have nested here before but are very thinly distributed as a breeding species in lowland Sussex. Although one Lapwing was displaying, I could only pick out 3 birds. The recently reported male Marsh Harrier was quartering the area. Although several pairs of Linnets had taken up residence and others were passing through, I was disappointed to find no Yellowhammers at all.

As I stood on a green wall waiting for a Water Rail to call (it didn’t), with the sound of Cetti’s Warblers in my ears, in my nose the stink of burning plastic from an illegal farm bonfire, I picked up a message from Rye Harbour to announce that, after months of suspense, a million Euro grant has been awarded to  the Discovery Centre project.

58 species altogether at the west end of the valley and along the old railway line.


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.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 18, 2018 by cliffdean

On a frosty morning at Doleham, the sun reflected brightly from the distinctive patterns of wildfowl plumage, especially the varied distributions of white.

I’ve often compared the patterns of different ducks to heraldic designs, like those on banners in mediaeval armies, quickly recognizable in the heat of battle.

But this morning I refined that image, in view of the equally distinctive colours of jet high overhead in the blue winter sky.

Nowegian, Easyjet, Thomson, Turkish…

Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon….

What’s that one – blue & yellow? Of course – Ukrainian! What else?

Going where (obviously Gatwick) coming from? And the ducks – coming from? Finland/ Russia? for the ducks, I can only refer to the Migration Atlas. For the planes – onto the LGW Arrivals page.

And now – long overdue on the Flightradar24 app. It’s amazing: I point my phone at the vapour trails high above my house to learn that the people on board are travelling from Paris to Montreal!

There’s a westward gap in the procession until moving so slowly at 11.10 comes the A380 from Kuwait. lumbering over to arrive half an hour later.

This silent rural spot the nexus of long distance winged travellers.

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.