Archive for Winchelsea Beach

On the move

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 18, 2017 by cliffdean

On the Winchelsea Beach seawall, as we set off last Saturday, we were passed by constant flocks of Goldfinches which often fluttered down onto the roadside teasels. And if you turned your head in the other direction you could see Gannets gliding and diving on the horizon while from overhead came the trilling of Skylarks making landfall. I had made this walk a couple of times already in the last week and was surprised at how much had changed: the numbers of Chiffchaffs had decreased and House Martins, so very numerous before, were entirely absent, both species having plainly made their way south.

Among the passing Goldfinches we could often hear Siskins and Redpolls. While the former stayed in the air we were lucky to have good views of the latter as they alighted in bushes on the Beach Field. This is more than can be said for the several Goldcrests we came across, which typically hid in high canopy, showing mostly in silhouette.

The Fairy-ring Field by Castle Farm held its usual crowd of Pied Wagtails and just after one of the group asked if it were too late for Yellow Wagtails, two of them appeared – quite late in the season – both washed-out looking juveniles. Towards the Castle we found a couple of Stonechats though no Curlews or Egyptian Geese.

As we approached Castle Water, something greatly disturbed the birds upon it, which rose up in a great honking of Greylags and a range of ducks disappearing into the distance so we prepared to be disappointed but, whatever had caused the panic, things had settled down by the time we got into the hide. As usual there were hundreds of birds though not the range of waders there has been, nor the celebrated Little Gull. We did, though, have excellent views of hunting Marsh Harrier and a more distant Buzzard.

On the way back we ran into a Treecreeper on one of the big, gnarled willows in The Wood and at the southern end of The Ocean found a Great Egret feeding alongside a few Littles, providing a useful direct comparison of size, structure and stance.

As usual we saw a good range of species, numbering 67.



Always a winner

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 23, 2017 by cliffdean

Not a long walk at all – just over 4 miles there & back, but the route from Dogs Hill to Halpin Hide passes through such a range of habitats that it never fails to deliver a number of species it would be hard to find in many other places in the county. Birds of Shame still remind you, however, that it’s not a zoo and a tantalising sense  of chance remains. Yesterday we missed common but typical BoSs such as Bullfinch (but they’re always in the same place!), Kestrel & Marsh Harrier (no so common elsewhere but here should be reliable). All the  same we found 76 species on a cold,dark, drizzly morning.

Migrants were at last a notable feature of the walk,with a good deal of time spent listening to and trying to get a look at Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common & Lesser Whitethroat, Reed & Sedge Warbler. There was a Willow Warbler too, but a bit distant and feeble. We found flocks of Whimbrel feeding quietly on dry pastures as bubbling calls from above announced the arrival of further groups. Less expected was a single Curlew flying along the beach – most have by now departed.

Yelping calls of Med Gulls are such a part of the spring scene at Rye Harbour that it was hard to distinguish them as migrants apart from flocks of pure-winged adult corallini passing off-shore (with dark lines of Common Scoters flying beyond them) and although we had no luck in seeking out Lesser Black-backs on the roof of the caravan site club-house, a handsome pair settled for a while at Castle Water. I wasn’t sure what to make of a pristine pair of Common Gulls floating on The Ocean since the main northbound population went on north some weeks ago; were these late or thinking of sticking around to breed?

In the hide, another group pointed out to us a large brown raptor sitting with its back to us in the willows opposite which they thought was an imm Peregrine. Though at first unconvinced,  I had to agree with them once it turned to show its facial pattern. A Buzzard sat nearby, half-hidden in the leaves.

On the way back across the ridged grasslands we were treated to great views of a pair of Brown Hares and as we followed the fenceline looking for Corn Buntings, 3 Wheatears – all with differing plumage – jumped up out of rabbit holes.

The pools of West Nook Marsh were disappointing since the muddy margins are all overgrown by Crassula, offering little to the waders that should be dropping in there. Not even a Redshank.

Choosing to walk back along the shingle edge rather than the road, we came across a Ringed Plover and some confiding Turnstones but then the passing Swallows were joined by a few House Martins and as we watched them, a Swift passed across our field of view, way,way up.

Needless to say, the sun came out shortly afterwards.


The tail-end of Storm Doris

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 26, 2017 by cliffdean

Strong SW winds determined the course of today’s RXbirdwalk (from the relief of one sheltered spot to another) and our observational abilities, since we found it hard to keep our binoculars steady. It was quite cold too. And although I like to boast that this walk usually gets more than 60 species (usually more than 70 and in fact up to 85) today’s tally was a lowly 53, thanks to little birds sensibly keeping their heads down, roaring wind drowning out calls and a rough sea hiding most birds which might be floating upon it.


Details of upcoming Reserve map by Pete Smith of Picturemaps

Having made all those excuses, the walk was not without reward, starting with a trio of handsome Fieldfares feeding in the lee of bushes right beside the path at Winchelsea Beach. Emerging from a near-birdless (but sheltered!) Beach Field to scan The Ocean, I noticed a small grebe with a white front bobbing out in the middle but soon diving, never to resurface.

“Did you say a Little Grebe?” “No, it was a small grebe.”

(You have to make that clear because capitals – which would make it a proper noun – can’t be heard. There are two main schools of thought about writing species’ vernacular names: a) all words capitalized e.g. Lesser Black-backed Gull b) no capitalization except when proper nouns are involved e.g. Dartford warbler, Bewick’s swan. The latter is the convention adopted by SWT and The Times. It’s generally no problem, though it make species harder to pick out when you’re scanning a page, but ambiguities can occur, mostly with “little”. In a recent Times article advising a walk around Rye Harbour a sentence began, “Elegant terns hovered over the water…” Were these terns just elegant – or were they Elegant Terns, a very rare species in Europe and one that would see a good few people jumping into their cars and heading south-east. Capitalization would eliminate the ambiguity. To be honest the latter case would merit caps & bold: ELEGANT TERNS. (!!! too))

Anyway, once a grebe reappeared near that spot it was a brown and fully capitalized Little Grebe. So I must have imagined (blame the wind) the white front……HOWEVER, on the way back, I spotted it again, spending more time under than upon the water, slowly,slowly, closer and closer..a Black-necked Grebe. Vindication.


Photos in this post by Peter Matthews & Stuart Barnes

Emerging then from the renewed shelter of  The Wood and heading for the lee of Castle Farm,a large number of wagtails were spotted bouncing up & down from the filter beds over at the Water Treatment Works. I’d never been over there, though the shortcomings of local sewage provision had been the subject of a very interesting chat with someone from the IDB just this week. Why, I wanted to learn, was the road blocked with tankers & traffic lights outside the Co-op every time it rained?


So we made a diversion, past Curlews & Egyptian Geese, to the shelter of the pines treatment structures where there were not only 20++ Pied Wagtails but Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Starling & Wren. What I really wanted to see/hear was whether there were any Grey Wagtails,which breed in every other WTW in the area so why not this one. No sign however.




Upon arrival in the Halpin Hide,we were confronted with a great crowd of understated Gadwall backed up by more clearly heraldic Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon & Shelduck while Cormorants cruised over bearing sticks. No waders though apart from Lapwing & Oystercatcher, and no raptors at all. There were a lot of gulls about, on the fields and on the islands, giving an opportunity to sort through species and plumages of Black-headed,Common, Herring, Great & Lesser Black-backs, the latter two in fabulous breeding form. Although there have been plenty around since last weekend we only saw one – adult –Med Gull later on beside West Nook Meadows where we were also most surprised to see a large (for around here) flock of Barnacle Geese which had not been there earlier. The compactness of the group, the strengthening wind and their habit of suddenly chasing one another made it hard to get an accurate count but we settled for 55. Probably just hopped over the border from Scotney.



A Bigger Splash

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 3, 2016 by cliffdean

sbswalkgannets2nov2016-455Bird photos by Mike Mullis

Day of the Dead: a clear sky and sharp drop in temperature should provoke the kind of spectacular Woodpigeon migration we sometimes see in early November, but as I brush my teeth I scan from the bathroom window across the Wealden ridges from which no flocks approach.


But what there is, what continues, is another spectacle, of a couple of hundred Gannets fishing all across the bay – after Whiting, hypothesized a couple of sea anglers, passive in envious contrast to the whirling and plummeting out at sea, sometimes in series like the strikes of a naval salvo. Sometimes the Gannets are floating as unfamiliar elongated silhouettes on the bright water, at other times surging up through a cloud of spray. The adults’ white wings blink in the sunlight as they wheel in search of the next victim.


There were a few Red-throated Divers and flocks of white-necked G C Grebes, at the end of one of which was a smaller grebe. This remained the subject of we-should-of-brang-a-scope controversy until it paddled so close that its identity was confirmed as Black-necked. All the time we scrutinised it, hurtling Gannets provided a distracting backdrop.


Day of the Dead: b the Old Lifeboat House we warmed the freshly-installed bench dedicated to Jimper Sutton, narrator, author & subject of many stories, a man of many parts. I taught two of his children at Winchelsea where, for a time, he was the school’s football coach. While visiting teams were accompanied by young teachers in shell-suits, Jimper clumped along the tough-line in fishing gear and wellies, roaring encouragement in local style.


Following a fortifying Chilli con Carne on a Bed of Fries at the Norman the Conqueror (as someone calls it in an online review), we called in on the recently established little group of Common Seals alongside the Rother. As I watched them lolling about on the mud, I wondered whether I should lay off the pub lunches for a bit…..


Ah yes, in the walk from Cliff End to Rye Harbour & Castle Water, we saw 88 species


Interesting as always

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 15, 2016 by cliffdean


It was a quick walk in grey weather, otherwise I could have spent a long time photographing the colourful aliens along and behind the Front Ridge, where garden plants spill out over shingle unvegetated since the early eighteenth century until they meet natives doing the slow and humdrum job of colonizing silts from long-gone tides.


Off Dogs Hill, the sea was dark, the horizon swarming with Gannets and indeterminate gulls. Along the seawall, a thin stream of Swallows & small finches, including a few Redpolls. Robins are always wall-to-wall at Winchelsea Beach but they were ticking too from every other bit shelter including odd islands of gorse out by the Castle. Lots of Song Thrushes rushing about and by the Castle too a single Ring Ouzel – maybe the last of the influx.

Starved of rain, Castle Water has more than its fair share of islands lined with loafing Wigeon but without the waders that might spice it up. However, a brief show by a Bittern flying across the north end, a patrolling male Marsh Harrier to give the ducks a stir and a perched Merlin that made a lunge at a passing Meadow Pipit all added touches of drama.



Beneath wires at the north end of  Beach Field lies a freshly dead Mute Swan, a crescent of blood from its slashed neck sprayed across the pebbles. Since the foxes have not yet attempted removal, the Time of Death I would estimate as “this morning”, but as I pass later a Crow is taking an interest from the safety of the deadly wires.The corpse bears no ring.


75 species.


A dismal day with two remarkable moments

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 27, 2016 by cliffdean


Photo by James Tomlinson

Sunday, post-equinoctial & clashing with many other interesting events: The RX Bird Race! Team “Slow But Sure” has a proud history of high scores & low mileage for, rather than following the madding crowd on an autogeddon tour of reserves, we walk.


Photo by James Tomlinson

From Fairlight to Rye Harbour it’s about 15 miles, threading though a rich variety of habitats which supply a wide range of birds. The first couple of years we found 104 species but since then it hasn’t been quite so good and this year it was the poorest yet at 92.


We were favoured in one respect, which was the weather. It wasn’t good, until the afternoon but the threat of heavy rain, forecast in preceding days, had receded by early morning to the extent that we could risk dumping wet-weather gear at home.

It was a windy day, so hard to hear things and little birds kept their heads down. In addition it’s been warm, which has been great except that migrant populations have had little reason to shift. Clear skies and fair winds have assisted the departure of summer birds but those from the north have stayed put. Normally by this time there are many finches, pipits, larks and thrushes heading south.


Photo by James Tomlinson

We probably started too early. 6am seemed fair enough but it was dark and breezy. In the first half hour we had just one species: Robin. At the end of that time a young Buzzard was wailing. Then it became light but there wasn’t an awful lot to see.


Quite a few Gannets were fishing offshore, Sandwich Terns, the usual gulls. By the time we got to the end of the woods we knew we were in serious deficit for Market Wood had furnished us with just one species: Goldcrest.


Bee photos by Mike Mullis

A pause at Toot Rock revealed the First Wonderful Thing: not birds but a rock-face swarming with Ivy Bees, returning from nearby globes of musty-scented Ivy.


By lunch-time I was ready to give up; there was no chance of a respectable score.


But after a fortifying plateful of tuna pasta bake flown in from Chick Hill (hard on the heels of a Full English Breakfast on the cliffs) I was persuaded to stagger on through the longueur of Winchelsea Beach.


Photo by James Tomlinson

The tide situation suggested a route through Castle Water first, where we encountered the Second Wonderful Thing: in the smooth lee of Shingle Bank at the south end sat a vast flotilla of Whirligig Beetles, not whirling for once but just sitting, glittering like an armada of jet beads.


Individuals would briefly shed their brilliance as they dived down into the shallows as fuzzy black blocks only to bob up to the surface once more blazing with reflected sunshine. If we let our shadows loom onto the them they hustled away in a series of arcs but the plop of a small pebble would send them into a frenzy of whirligigging, the bigger ripples rolling out through a hundred intersecting vibrations.


Anyway…a few ducks at Halpin Hide then a long an terminal flog past inquisitive Egyptian Geese and down the road to Flat Beach for half a dozen new waders then collection and return to RSPCA Mallydams, entering wiggly ticks in the recording form on my knee. The winning team, The Pannel Beaters, had got 102 but although all the other teams had driven to Dungeness, our tally was not the lowest.


However I think a fresh approach is due for next year.



Dark & busy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 18, 2016 by cliffdean

The hot summer has gone and conditions for the first RXbirdwalk of the autumn were inauspicious. As rain pattered against the kitchen window I wondered whether we should call it off, but in the end headed once more for the picturesque starting point of Dogs Hill toilets. In the event, the bird list came to a surprising 76 species.

Thousands of Swallows & Sand Martins were moving east along the seawall together with hundreds of Meadow Pipits. Beyond the luggers of the low tide mark and the leaden sea, turning Gannets were startlingly white against a sky as dark as a Lesser Black-back’s back – if only graellsi. The backs, meanwhile, of Common Gulls, in diffuse light and against the wet sand were blatantly pearly.

Large numbers of hirundines were gathered over The Ocean and Castle Water, below them a single f Pintail among the usual Coots & GC Grebes. In late morning House Martins began to appear and were in the majority by the time we finished. There seemed, however, to be no other overhead migrants apart from several Grey Wagtails.

Chiffchaffs predominated through the Beach Field – we spent several minutes watching them dashing about in an exotic mix of Sumach, Buddleia & Bear’s Breeches. There were Blackcaps too, especially at the north end, but few Common or Lesser Whitethroats. As usual, it was a challenge to get a decent look at any of these as they crossed the paths at high speed, only to dive straight into the deepest, shadowiest Hawthorns which were Alive With the Sound of Ticking.

With seed-clogged teeth, we paused to chat to anglers about birds, fish and blackberry crumble before moving on to Castle Water, where the rain has done little to reduce the islands. Good for waders, I imagined, but it wasn’t apart from a few Lapwings, 3 Ruff and a very little Little Stint. No sandpipers at all, no Marsh Harriers. But then we picked out a couple of Snipe on the far bank and a flock of brightly coloured Black-tailed Godwits went swooshing past. If this account suggests that the lake was deserted, that was not the case for there was a constant movement of Greylag & Canada Geese, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall & Cormorants as well as visits by 5 species of gull and unremitting flurries of hirundines.

Back across the pallid Cynosurus prairies we disturbed just one Skylark and found a lone Whinchat. In the Wood were Green & GS Woodpeckers and a Treecreeper but the pools of West Nook Meadows, overgrown and contaminated with Crassula were almost birdless. At high tide, the sea was a lot paler then before, showing up the snouts of two Grey Seals, then the streamlined form of an Arctic Skua on its way south, ignoring nervous Sandwich Terns.