Archive for Winchelsea Beach

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

Blue Discs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 15, 2018 by cliffdean

The other day I was referring to a satellite view to show the position of a Winchelsea Beach house which, though recently rebuilt, is now being demolished once again. This building stands on the 17th century shoreline, much of which surprisingly remains naked shingle,only the silty hollows having been so far vegetated. Something surprised me: two grey discs on the shingle that I’d never previously noticed, so today I went in search.

Two pristine piles of blue boulders. Although I’d walked past near t them many times, they’re at such an angle that I never saw them. I say pristine but over the 60+ years they have lain there a colonization has taken place – that of the black lichen Verrucaria (maura?)which darkens most of the untrampled flints. The piles are pristine however because they have not been colonized further; they have not been blanketed in moss nor suffered an eruption of bramble or elder fuelled by rabbit droppings. They have not been hidden as have so many others.

Just nearby are two perfectly circular depressions which I have taken to be bomb craters, though I’ve never had this confirmed.

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