Archive for Winchelsea


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

6am in hazy heat. Herring Gulls guard the Strand Gate as the first speeding commuters race towards its blind bend. Song Thrushes & Blackcaps in the trees, shrill Swifts dash round the church. I can’t understand why they don’t attract a regular audience since the few other local Swift colonies are in bigger towns where it’s harder to keep track of them without wandering into the path of traffic. In Winchelsea though, the graveyard provides comfortable benches and shady trees as well as longer-term accommodation.

This nice view from The Strand comes courtesy of a high-speed motorist who failed, a month ago, to take the right=angle bend and cleared a gap through the hedge. This came shortly after another car had left Rye Harbour Road at a velocity sufficient to punch a Desperate Dan style hole in the brick wall opposite.

A week or so later, another optimistic driver failed to take the riverine curves of Sea Road and ploughed into Sutton’s fish shop, demolishing one corner which remains propped up to this day though still doing business in a Blitz-style “More Open Than Usual” spirit. And then, during that brief, intense rain-storm, another vehicle doing the customary 70mph into a thirty limit at Pett Level aquaplaned into a car parked at the road side, destroying it. For some time now there has been no control of speeding on rural roads. In a cynical’ money-saving move, this life-saving function was handed over to “Big Society” groups of local Speedwatch activists who were duped into unpaid monitoring of local traffic yet were legally toothless – a fact soon realised by motorists and rather more slowly by the volunteers, who now concede it was a waste of time, benefitting only politicians who could claim that something was being done when it wasn’t.

Back to the nice stuff: poppies which have escaped the herbicide spray.

But who wants to know about that? We want the countryside to be lovely, “timeless”, “untouched” etc (incredibly, a recent Facebook comment described the Combe Valley as “untouched”, demonstrating with shocking clarity the naive way in which the landscape is perceived).

Birds then. Relaxing birds. Cetti’s Warblers again; out of five sites recorded in recent months, birds calling from just tow. Kingfisher! In the same place as last month yet the habitat just there includes only The Wrong Kind of Bank so the nest site may be on the Brede – just a minute for a hurtling sapphire (as long as it doesn’t cross paths with a hurtling car en route). Skylarks! not only out towards Winchelsea Beach but, for the first time I can hear those singing on Rye Marsh from streets at the very heart of the Antient Towne.  Herons! Fluffy-headed young still in nests when really by now they should have left home and got a job rather than hanging out with the Egrets. Reed Warblers! All along the Canal – if only Napoleon had foreseen the environmental benefits he would bring to our area…

Litter courtesy of a weekend home.

Little Owl! Pinpointed among the Little-Owl-coloured branches of the same old twisty-limbed Oak thanks to a cursing Song Thrush.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 22, 2017 by cliffdean

An early morning circular walk from Winchelsea Station to Rye produced a good variety of birds, including some species I’d not seen there for a while. The Little Owl, for instance, at the junction of Station Road & Dumbwoman’s Lane, which had vanished for a year and a half shortly after I told people it was a good place to see them, was back again perched out in the open on top of a dead hawthorn bush.

I was actually searching for Cetti’s Warblers but they were keeping uncharacteristically quiet – not to be found in even the most regular spots and those I did hear were rather distant so hard to pinpoint: one along the railway line and another beside the A259, where I’d heard it from the car the previous day. as usual though, there were a lot of small birds, many with newly fledged young. The more notable were 10 Blackcaps, 16 Chiffchaffs, 62 Linnets, 13 Reed Buntings, 15 Reed Warblers, 3 Sedge Warblers, 34 Skylarks, 20 Whitethroats & 3 Yellowhammers.

A large dung heap just south of Dairy Cottage is attracting hundreds of Rooks & Jackdaws as well as pairs of Pied & Yellow Wagtails.

And although I’d given up on Corn Buntings, two were back again at the customary spots on Rye Marsh. This is also one of the few places west of the Rother where Yellow Wagtails still nest. Numbers last year were poor – perhaps they didn’t like the maize monoculture then –  but this year’s barley must be more agreeable since I found 4 pairs, one of them carrying food, while two others flying over were apparently visiting nests further from the footpath.

One of the most welcome sights & sounds came from here. See that house on the left with the two dormer windows? Well, those windows were open in the heat though the curtains still drawn so the occupants had the now-rare luxury of awakening to the drowsy purring of a Turtle Dove in the little tree just outside. That’s if they notice. Quite likely not. But it was sitting there in the sunshine, sometimes fluttering up in display flight.

Rye town is perhaps now the best (only?) place to hear them in our area: here at Cadborough Cliff, at Gibbets Marsh car park and Rye Station (Ashford platform).

Some things are more reliable, fly-tipping for example. Public spending cuts ensure that a mattress such as this embellish the landscape for months at a time.

“The School of Love” by George Shaw


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 6, 2017 by cliffdean

I had not visited this farm in the lower Brede Valley for a few months but on Saturday was interested to see how the breeding birds were getting on, especially the Corn Buntings which, a few years ago, were numerous there – the last, isolated, population between the Rother and the Downs. The bad news is that they seem to have gone – why or where a mystery.

But there was plenty of good news: apart from a lot of singing Skylarks, Linnets, Reed Warblers & Reed Buntings, there were several each of Whitethroat & Sedge Warbler. Whereas just a single pair of Yellow Wagtails was disappointing, a Cetti’s Warbler was the first I had recorded there and I was particularly pleased to find a family party of Stonechats. (Several years ago I had seen a young Stonechat in this locality but was cautioned that they’re very mobile once hatched, so didn’t count it as breeding record.)

Apart from some fields of hay & rye much of the area lies fallow this year ranging from mixed recent crops grown up tall together to stretches of bare earth and this latter has attracted several pairs of Lapwings to nest. These brave birds are the few in our area not breeding behind electric fences but their chances of raising young seem poor when faced with the range of predators on the prowl, including Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and…2 Red Kites which came flapping down the valley.

Just recently the now traditional late-May Kite Walkabout has provided many sightings of small flocks across the county ( and many, many more in Cornwall). Having seen none, in spite of hours enjoying the nice weather in our garden, I was starting to feel a bit left out, especially when my daughter texted that she was watching a flock of 6 at Chanctonbury Ring. so I was pleased to see those two.

When we had another look at the farm on Sunday, the grass which had been rowed up the previous day had mostly been packed into shiny black bales. The tractor driver carrying them to the yard pulled over and opened his cab window to announce, “You’re too late. You’ve missed the twenty Red Kites which were here yesterday!” After I had left that morning, silage harvesting exposed vulnerable little beasts beneath the cut grass and Kites appeared out of nowhere, swooping and diving in among the tractors. “How did they know?” the farmer asked.

There was still baling to be done so we kept an eye on the proceedings but just one Kite glided over, to join a Kestrel and a Buzzard, but soon drifted away.


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.