Archive for Winchelsea

Arrivals & Departures

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 26, 2018 by cliffdean

Beneath a Wedgwood sky, Mistle Thrush song ricochets from tile-hung frontages as frantic commuters accelerate through the strait straight streets. (Strand Hill was granted respite recently but only because a presumed drunk had run off after smashing his vehicle into the Antiente Gayte, blocking the road for a couple of days.)

Herring Gulls howl territorially (though I can make out no nest) from chimney pots, echoing a racing ambulance while a mass of little-bird song streams from treetops and walled gardens.

Starlings are whistling from rooftops and diving into nests in the church wall (in a month, Swifts too) but out on the ewe-cropped pastures dense flocks of hundreds stab at the turf, a long journey still ahead of them.

In the ash-tops of Tinkers’ Lane, Redwings – north-bound too – are pausing and over them small groups of Chaffinches & Siskins are also on their way.

Grasslands are crowded with hundreds of (not really) Black-headed Gulls accompanied by dozens of (really black – headed) Med Gulls, nearly all of them hooded and ready for action

Beyond the hollows of abandoned streets, freshly arrived Chiffchaffs are singing while above the convivial cacophony of  nesting Rooks a  red-tailed plane passes on its way from Birmingham to Zurich.

Herons squawk their descent to white-stained nests (I made it 13) in tall Beeches on the stranded cliff where the necks of neighbouring nesters stand out blazing white; you can see them from the seawall.


…in which I apologise to Winchelsea.

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

Because, like so many lovely places around here, I take it for granted. Too lovely, too clean, too perfect, too historic, falling too easily into the picturesque “chocolate box” tradition of representation. First used – apparently – in 1892, the immediate online  definitions I found for this term were:

“superficially pretty or sentimental”

“something that looks very attractive, but is traditional and boring”

“pretty in a conventional or idealized way”

I don’t find it boring at all, even after many years of acquaintance. Nor do the rat-running drivers who, even on a Sunday, savour the challenge of accelerating round its thirteenth century right-angle bends.

And on a morning like this morning with the sun gleaming from white weather-board and casting deep shadow beneath the great domes of parkland trees, it really is pretty. But I jufte can’t ftoppe myfelfe antiquing uppe defcriptionnef of the Antiente Towne.

Guess what? Beneath the reassuring timelessness of thif traditionalle townfcape (why are images of this sort used on boxes of chocolates?? Both comforting I gueff) all is not so cosy. While it’s not Midsomer Murders there are still the traditionalle frictionf of village life – one caused by unwary outsiders calling it a “village”. There are social schisms, antagonistic factions, dozens of empty second homes (“we love it so much”)…I think I’d better stop there.. When I worked at the school, visitors would say, “What a gorgeous place! What a sweet little school! Surely you can’t have any problems in such marvellous surroundings!” to which I’d reply, “We don’t teach the trees.”

The church at first seemed inanimate, devoid of wildly gyrating Swifts, the only screams coming from motorbikes. But, on a nice morning like this, they were high up in the air – the Swifts that is. Still around, still feeding young deep in the putlogs of the mediaeval walls.

Birdsong right now is much diminished but those that persist evoke memories from the summer-holiday dreamtime: young Buzzards squealing just as we used to hear them as we cycled through Dutch pine forests, or Blackcaps still echoing out of the shadows as they always used to on picnic lunch-breaks as we headed south into France. Then so much mad yelping from Green Woodpeckers that it was hard to work out how many.

I’ve been keeping an eye on a pair of Pied Wagtails which chose to nest within the walls of this isolated sub-station, first alerted by one diving in there to avoid a marauding Sparrowhawk. Today, a juvenile was perching on one of the wires, along with what seemed an unnecessarily premature line of Swallows & Sand Martins (also disturbed by a passing SH – likely the same one but on this occasion already victualled with a victim). The adult was sitting on top of a nearby footpath finger, bearing a Twiglet-sized dragonfly in its beak.

For quite a few years there has been a very pale Buzzard at Winchelsea with a misleadingly pale rump. One if its pristine progeny was on the wing today, brilliant white below but for carpal patches & breast band, grey rather than brown on the upperparts and white rump. Spotless too was a juvenile Little Egret sitting in a sick and yellowing Sycamore by the canal, reassuring since I’d been unable to make out any in the trees although two idle young Herons are still hanging out in a nest there long after they should have left home and embarked on Career Paths. A couple more egrets flew out,  only to drop behind the canal parapet, and two adults and another juvenile came flying along the canal.

It’s puzzling, because I could only see three nests there but in the last few weeks there have been a dozen at Castle Water with more at Harbour Farm and Pett Pools. So are these from some unknown local source or – more likely – newly immigrated from France? The same questions apply to the group of 3 Cattle Egrets, 2 in breeding plumage, seen for just one afternoon last week at an “Undisclosed Site”.


Summertime Greens

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 15, 2017 by cliffdean

Following rain, after dew, grassy paths will soak you. Better to choose a an arable route where the tramlines will give a clear path. Up to a point, but the wheat is just long enough to lean over, soaking you all the same and, what’s more, bare claggy soil ensures an accretion of clods on your clumping summer footwear.

Never mind; there’s a Turtle Dove purring as soon as I open the car door at Winchelsea Stn, plenty of Skylarks are still singing, the odd Yellow Wagtail is still in situ and Winchelsea Swifts are hawking overhead.

After  the wheat, dew-beaded peas glisten in the low morning light, are low enough to keep the dew to themselves and bring joy to the hearts of many Woodpigeons which rise from the fields on clattering wings. The bridges are obstructed by vigorous, sprawling brambles which rip at your nice lightweight shirt.

(Note to self: Secateurs in backpack next time.)

Meadow Barley flanking the approach to a footbridge on sheep pasture.

But then some good news: a click from the smooth heads of (what is this crop??) denotes the presence of a Corn Bunting – two in fact and one is carrying food. So they’re still hanging on here as breeders. Then the giant dung heap south of Dairy Cottage has plenty of customers, mostly corvids but also two broods of fashionably grey Pied Wagtail fledglings, a single brilliant male Yellow Wagtail and an attendant flight of Swallows, appreciative of the flies.

At the Rye end, the nesting Herring Gulls on the workshop roof at Jempson’s yard have brown young by now. A worker going off-shift gets shouted at by his boss for lobbing the remains of his sandwiches out for the parents. On the edge of the town gardens, dozens of young Starlings are running about the pastures and…in a hedgerow behind Gibbet’s Marsh,another Turtle Dove is purring – a traditional place but they’re not always calling.

Along Cadborough Cliff the many, many breeding birds have gone quiet: feeding young, keeping a low profile apart from loads of Linnets twittering over the scrub, and there’s a third Turtle Dove at the start of the cliff, where I saw one last time. They’ve gone from ubiquitous to scarce in recent years and are hard to find in the broader countryside but around Rye town there’s still a little relic population.




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.