Archive for Wittersham

Drowned lands

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 7, 2018 by cliffdean

The plan for Saturday was a walk around Wet Level, following the Rother  up as far as Potman’s Heath before turning back through the narrow lanes SW of Wittersham, where I first led a walk (in nicer weather) 5 years ago. Since I’d not been there for a while I thought it best to have a recce and it’s just as well I did since this was the view from Blackwall Bridge; our route, to the left of that concrete bank, lay under a couple of feet of water. In addition, the forecast was poor, leading me to postpone the walk, but then improved…

In the end, a couple of us made an impromptu visit to Combe Valley a closer flooded river valley but with more assured access. It was a gloomy morning so the photos are very dull compared with those on the Friends of Combe Valley News FB page, but they give the idea. After heavy rain, this green valley is turned into a huge lake to hold back water and prevent flooding of the coastal ribbon development at Bulverhythe.

The Flood Attenuation Pond was doing its job, the raised water level having lifted the unidentified water weed that covered its surface in summer and let it rolled back by the brisk wind. As I suspected, the duck numbers there were lower – about a dozen each of Gadwall & Wigeon – since in the rest of the valley they were spoiled for choice with shallow lakes spreading all along it.

Out in the middle though, the small flocks of the same species were a similar size so might well have been the very same birds that had just moved about, the exceptions being 3 Tufted Ducks and about 50 Teal. Gliding about were 18 Mute Swans and over on the slopes to the south were 77 Greylags and a single Canada Goose

More than 30 Snipe zig-zagged up from the fields to the south of the Link Road and further down a tight flock of about 50 Pied Wagtails was running about on floating vegetation. There were several Stonechats flicking their wings on tall weeds, Cetti’s Warblers loud in cover and Buzzards mewing overhead..

It seems quite astonishing that, until recently, developers were proposing to build a “Sports Village” and a load of houses on the football fields further down the valley, having miraculously remained ignorant of all the recent debate about building on flood plains. You can find out more on the Bulverhytheprotectors FB page.

Once we had cut back up to the Greenway E of Decoy Pond, we followed it as far as the old railway line, where I was pleased to see that the Quarry Wood team had been busy felling trees to expose the beautiful sandstone face of the eponymous excavation.

There were few birds until we reached the cutting near Samson’s Lane, when we ran into a mixed flock of small birds including Blue & Great Tit, Treecreepers & Goldcrests. Among them was a Marsh Tit – not really surprising but nonetheless the first I’d seen here, but then I heard the click of a Hawfinch and after a few minutes wait, caught sight of it in the top of the scrub which now fills this damp hollow – another new bird for me here. Even though, exceptionally, they are being seen all over the place, I can’t get used to seeing them. (Two local places where they’re quite easy: Hastings Cemetery & “Feathers”, Salehurst where, in both cases, they’re attracted to Yew.

Back in the lane, we came across this Green Hellebore, a rare plant in the wild in Sussex but this one now doubt originating in an adjacent garden.

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Wet & Gloomy Level

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 28, 2013 by cliffdean

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One reason for visiting the Rother at Wet Level is that few bird-watchers seem to go there. So there’s no blackboard to tell you What’s About nor does there seem to be any news on the internet. So there’s the possibility of being surprised. However, the reason it’s unvisited seems to be that, in spite of the promising-looking habitat, there aren’t a lot of birds there.

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And on a damp, grey, drizzly morning there were very few birds to be seen or heard. We tramped the muddy track beside the leaden river, meeting just one angler huddled in the darkness of his bivvy, crunched over Swan Mussel shells hauled out by long-gone Herons and strained our hears to pick up the occasional squeaks of little birds.

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Ghostly strings of Lapwings materialised from, and then were reabsorbed, into the murk. Wigeon-whistles could be heard from soggy,rushy hollows and floods beyond the river walls.

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It was only when we came to the muddy byre at Maytham that birds were numerous. A Sparrowhawk flashing along the driveway suggested that there might be food around and as we approached the cattle-shed a flurry of Chaffinches and House Sparrows erupted from the straw, accompanied by Pied Wagtails and a few Yellowhammers as Collared Doves looked down from the wires. Standing on one of the many banks, ancient and modern, that converge at the confluence of the Rother and Hexenden was a lone Egyptian Goose.

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Sprouting from peck-holes in a yard full of black-wrapped silage-bales were mysterious white fungi, identified later from photos as Common Porecrust (Schizophyllum commune) by Alan P, who artfully googled “fungi on silage bags“.

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Further up the river, towards the Cormorant Tree, a couple of hundred Wigeon flew up, not whistling but grunting like Tufted Ducks.

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Heading towards Smallhythe, we followed an old lane lined with Willow overdue for pollarding, Elder, Field Maple, Spindle and Blackthorn overladen with clusters of sloes. The former had attracted GS Woodpecker, Treecreeper & Goldcrest, the latter Bullfinches, Song Thrushes & Blackbirds. Sadly this came to an abrupt halt, spitting us out into a mile of sterile arable where there was hardly a bird to be seen.

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Back southwards over the top of Oxney we encountered some interesting hedges, a few more birds, including Red-legged Partridge, some large, ugly houses and some tasty pink and orange apples.

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A walk of two halves

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 12, 2012 by cliffdean

The first half of Sunday’s RXbirdwalk followed the Rother Valley westwards to Potman’s Heath. The weather was warm and still, the sky clear and ringing with Skylark song. Lapwings were tumbling in the sunshine and gleaming gulls foraging in the shallow flooded pastures. A Yellowhammer was singing near Blackwall Bridge and sleek Starlings had already taken position of the pumping station.

From the nearby slopes there intruded sounds of other terrafirma birds: the rookery at Blackbrook Farm, singing Robins & Dunnocks and yaffling Green Woodpeckers. A pair of Long-tailed Tits made their way to the end of a hedgerow, from which they looked out apprehensively across the open levels. A hidden Little Owl yelped from one of the old boundary-marker Oaks. Reed Buntings have in the last few days, reoccupied local marshes and here their song rang out from the ditch-side rushes.

The severe containment of the river (seen above), a culmination of centuries’ labour, makes it hard to visualize the landscape as it must previously have been. It masks the many creeks (below) once visited by the tide and obscures the reason for settlement there. Thanks to efficient drainage, hundreds of acres of once “drowned lands” are now productive but relatively devoid of the wildlife that must once have existed here.

As we approached the split of the river, a flock of 135 Wigeon and 7 Gadwall appeared overhead, their wings rushing as they moved up and down the valley. As the air warmed, the first Buzzards rose up over the adjoining countryside; 3 to the south with another calling, then 4 over woods to the north. Later, up to 4 (more?) birds together at any one time, wheeling and mewing. A male Kestrel displayed over Potman’s Heath, where the nervous trilling of Blue Tits betrayed the presence of a Sparrowhawk too.

Maytham Wharf Farm, like the cottage in the photo above it, sits on the mediaeval Knelle Dam which for three centuries blocked the river’s southern course, sending it round the north side of Oxney.

Look here at the 1801 Map of Kent by William Mudge

The second half of the walk entailed a return through the chain of creek-head farms along the SW side of Oxney, along a lane turning right angles to follow the boundaries of ancient square fields. Like the river, the lanes too are straightened, but this time with a narrow strip of asphalt which distracts you from their organic swelling and narrowing attested by the hedgerows. Especially conspicuous is the fanning out of the old lane on slopes which would have been muddy in winter.

In this half, we were among a different bird community, with numerous Great & Blue Tits, Robins, Wrens & Dunnocks, Treecreepers, drumming GS Woodpeckers, Chaffinches, Greenfinches in the gardens, Blackbirds, Redwings, Fieldfares but not a single Song Thrush. Buzzards were soaring overhead and the gulls on these higher fields were nearly all Common.

A mysterious building, with mysterious holes in it.