Archive for Winchelsea

Between Rye & Winchelsea

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

Synchronising with the Freccia della Palude at Winchelsea Centrale on a morning cooler than it ought to be, thick with the night’s rain and scented with fading hawthorns, are two Cuckoos, ever more precious for all their louche wing-drooping as they promise to vanish from our world.

Along the lane,where the fly-tipped junk is engulfed by springtime weeds, Chiffchaffs sing from the willows and golden Yellowhammers skim the field-edge. Within the withered branches of the spring-fed oak just beyond the junction a dot is moving; moving in a way that reveals it as a Spotted Flycatcher. Another bird now reduced to a dot like the one that used to shrink to nothing as you turned off the television. And the Little Owl that used to sun itself on the rabbit-grazed bank has upped sticks ever since I told people this was a good place to see Little Owl.

Along the misty cliff-line though, the air is so crowded with voices welling up from prehistory  – Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Dunnock, Reed Warbler, Wren…. concentration is required to unravel the soundscape.

Deep and percussive pulses of Nightingale song issue from the shadows by a rope-swing beneath a clump of taller trees.

Max Ernst: Deux enfants menacés par un rossignol

Rossignol translates not only as Nightingale but also, magically, as “skeleton key”. The song is the key which unlocks deep and forgotten doors.

Usignolo di fiume, River Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, also deeply hidden, announces its presence in brief and blatant blasts. For a long time just one or two here, last year nine, this morning five.

Both end and beginning, this extensive dung-heap S of Dairy Cottage attracts much favourable attention from Yellow Wagtails, Jackdaws, Rooks, Greylag Geese, Stock Doves, a Herring Gull, Pied Wagtails & Swallows, the latter three commuting from nest-sites on Cadborough Cliff to profit from its fertility.

Joan Miro: Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement

Efforts have been made, across the arable fields, to impose productive uniformity and erase history by levelling out the snaking hollows of former creeks.  Comparatively birdless maize last year has been superseded by other cereals, currently inhabited by a couple of dozen Skylarks and four pairs of Yellow Wagtails. While one Mute Swan continues to incubate, two other pairs already have cygnets. Four Sedge Warblers are grating from scrubby ditches toward the Antient Towne, above which yet more dots denote the hanging on of the relic Swift & House Martin populations.

Only the surface of the ground is wet but by the time I reach the lane again I’m hobbling on high pattens claggy soil.

On the wrong side

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 30, 2016 by cliffdean

p1000015A circumnavigation of Winchelsea on Friday was colourful and pretty but in bird terms unexceptional.


A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the reedbed at the west end of Pewis Marsh. Although they have for years been established alongside the canal on the Antiente Towne’s east side, I’d never previously heard one here.


And then as I later walked along the canal, I heard an unexpected flight-call heading my way – a Yellowhammer. These occur not far away in the Brede Valley on the western side of the Towne  and in fact have increased as a breeding species on the National Trust’s Crutches Farm there, but are not even an annual event on the Pett Level side.


Holes & blanks

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 29, 2016 by cliffdean


I looked in at Winchelsea Church this morning to see how the Swifts were doing. There didn’t seem to be any – perhaps I’d arrived too late. But just as I got back in the car one zoomed past, straight into a nest hole on the north side.


Several others then appeared overhead and dashed about the churchyard but I was unable to determine just where they were nesting. Old scaffold-holes, partly blocked with rubble to prevent access by Jackdaws & Feral Pigeons often leave smaller holes which are then exploited by Starlings & Swifts. We plan, once the Swifts have departed (in less than a month now) to plug the gaps with stones carved with only-Swift-sized holes.


As I stood, trying to see where the others were housed, I noticed at my feet the grave of two people I used to know (this is not the first time this has happened) (Spike Milligan, for instance, was invited to the school on several occasions. He was a loose cannon – he made a career out of it – so was guaranteed to say something shocking or inappropriate. You just held your breath.)

Arthur Roberts was an accomplished wildlife artist who lived at the Boat House, Pett Level. You can see his murals at Port Lympne. “Pett Nats” were once delighted when he donated a print for auction, but less keen to find it portrayed a gun-dog splashing out of reeds with a dead Pintail in its mouth. I never was sure whether the choice was made out of thoughtlessness or wicked humour.


If you look carefully, you can see that a white big-game hunter has been rudely interrupted in the middle of cutting horns from some antelopes he’s slaughtered. His current – unenviable – position is upside down in the elephant’s trunk in the top left-hand corner.


I then spent a short time in the Brede Valley in search of Corn Buntings & Yellow Wagtails. Worryingly, I could find neither though there were plenty of Skylarks, a few Yellowhammers & Whitethroats.

Slippery Steps

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 22, 2016 by cliffdean


Towards the end of a circular walk from Winchelsea to the Pannel Valley, we took our lives in our hands, first to cross the A259 (in Rome, I fear no evil and with a cry of “Remember Tehran!” march out into the traffic. In both those places a negotiation takes place between drivers and would-be road-crossers but in our law-abiding country the cars have a right of way & if you challenge it you must die) and then to climb the secret, hidden, forgotten & unknown Spring Steps.


I’ve not entered the Towne this way for a few years since when the steep stones have become dangerously slippery. Pausing for a moment to get my breath while pretending to admire the view, I noticed the slabs at my feet were shaped in a way just recently become familiar to me. In fact it was all a bit synchronistic. They were slightly curved, with a shallow channel cut along them.


Just a little time ago, this formation would have meant nothing to me, I would not have even seen it, but now I recognize them as coming from the gun-track of a Martello Tower, similar to a stone uncovered during scrub clearance on the PLPT land this winter. This stone (above) remains sharply carved since it has not been trodden by generations of Spring Steppers.


You can see the outer track on the illustration above. An iron rail was set into it, secured by bolts, the remains of which can be seen in the photo.


In the photo above you can see a vertical groove leading to a square hollow. Once the stones were in place, molten lead would be poured down this to solidify into a key.

Just last week, while we looked at the PLPT stone, someone asked, “So if this is just as fraction of the circumference, where are all the other stones?” After we had conjectured that  they could have been buried or broken up, Martin King tracked down the article below which supports the latter hypothesis.


So that was that, until I recognized that some of these same stones had been had lugged up Spring Steps. Very sensible, very heavy, but not necessarily from the same tower as that at Pett Level. Could more of these recycled stones be lying about, perhaps set as seats or steps in gardens for example?


We were looking at other stones in Winchelsea too. Old scaffolding holes in the church wall are partially blocked with rubble to prevent the nesting there (with only partial success) of Feral Pigeons & Jackdaws. Gaps still permit access by Starlings & Swifts however (there were about 20 in circulation) so we are planning, with the cooperation of the churchwarden, to install stone doors carved with a Swift-sized aperture. We’ve missed the deadline for this year’s breeders but plan to carry out the work this autumn.

Then there are the plant-rich walls  – shown here with Navelwort & Ivy-leaved Toadflax. I think that here the plants are just tolerated whereas over in St Valery Sur Somme they are encouraged, the species reflecting prior herbal usage.


But actually we were looking for birds. Thanks to the varied habitats along the walk, we found 73 species there and an additional 11 during a quick circuit of Flat Beach at RHNR.


Doing well

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 6, 2016 by cliffdean


In the usual chilly gloom (that brightened up once I got home), I counted the nests of Herons and Rooks in Winchelsea where, compared with previous years, both species seem to be present in healthy numbers.

Grey Herons used to nest along the southern part of the old cliff-line but several years ago began to shift up to the area around Greyfriars where, for the last few years they have been concentrated. For some reason this year some of them have returned to their formerly favoured area. There were at least 11 and maybe as many as 18 nests, not all of them easy to see since they are concealed by dense ivy.

Winchelsea contains the largest Rookery in Sussex, distributed in several sub-colonies which are not as helpfully discrete as they might be, making it difficult to define some. What’s more they too shift around from year to year so that groupings I used ten years ago no longer relate clearly to the present pattern. This is in addition to the usual hazards of clusters and overlapping. However there appeared to be 386 nests in all, though I could have missed some built in dense Holm Oaks. Overall, the population has shifted southwards, densest towards the corner opposite Newgate whereas Greyfriars Meadow now appears to hold no more than two nests.

Feeling a bit cross-eyed after all this scrutiny of twigs, I was relieved to encounter a few birds which could be detected by sound or appeared individually, for instance 4 imm Cormorants sitting in an Ash tree by the Strand, 2  Buzzards mewing by Greyfriars, 3 Cetti’s Warblers (2 along the canal & 1 by Newgate Cottages), several Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps and finally, surprisingly, a Little Owl, which flew out of a tree on the corner opposite St John’s Hospital.

On nearby farmland, at least 15 Corn Buntings are present, as well as 5 pairs of Yellowhammers.

Back in Winchelsea’s vibrant Towne Centre, Starlings & Jackdaws were vigorously laying claim to those holes in the church walls not effectively blocked to stop them.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 1, 2016 by cliffdean

I mislaid my gloves at least a month ago but have put off replacing them with the excuse that, with Spring On The Way, I would have little further need of them. But, following an uncomfortably cold couple of hours in the Brede Valley on Thursday I hastened to Hastings only to find that Spring has indeed arrived as far as the shops are concerned: a fetching range of colourful shorts is available but not a glove to be had. No ayran in Sultan either. It was a bad interval.


I had not been as cold, however, as the bundles of black feathers scattered across the dry soil where a few dozen corvids had been shot, no doubt more to encourage the others rather than to eliminate the damage they are said to inflict on newly-seeded fields. There were Rooks, Carrion Crows & Jackdaws, and when I suddenly remembered to check the corpses for rings I found three of the latter bore them. They would have been ringed not far away in the Pannel Valley, the one in the photo bearing also an easily readable plastic ring, fitted to study the movements of this numerous bird within the local area.

I was actually searching for the remnant population of Corn Buntings there and was pleased to see at least 15, maybe 10 more than that. What’s more, 5 pairs of Yellowhammers seemed firmly settled (that may be an illusion – they’re late nesters) and a dozen or so Skylarks were in song. Drama was provided by a dashing Merlin.

Saturday’s RXbirdwalk

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 22, 2016 by cliffdean

Mostly sheltered from the chilly NE wind by the enfolded land behind Winchelsea, this walk was full of birds – 63 species in all – ranging from point-blank close-ups of Treecreeper to fantastic views of Marsh Harriers, a bedlam of migrant gulls and a surprise Woodlark.

The secret is in the range of habitats available over this short walk: tall trees for woodpeckers and Rooks, pastures for returning flocks of winter thrushes, reeds for harriers & Cetti’s Warblers (Water Rail & Bearded Tit keeping an even lower profile than usual) and the scrape for wetland for gulls, ducks & waders.

The most densely birdy site was the Pannel scrape, which over the winter months can be a Teal’n’Lapwing-only experience is by now teeming with birds. A displaying Lapwing whirred past the hide, territorial calls too of Redshank & Oystercatcher while Avocets swept the shallows; all the usual dabbling ducks including several Pintail; a parade of gulls – BH, CM, MU, LB, GB – the Meds fabulously coralline and present in a variety of plumages.

The Woodlark was on a field planted with birdfood, a site on which a flock has wintered in some previous years along with various buntings and finches. But it’s a few years now since I’ve seen them there and I didn’t at first recognise the single-note contact call until I noticed a stubby bird perched on a phone line – a stubby bird with a noticeable supercilium… We saw it in flight when it called a bit but was not unduly vocal. Unexpected however.