Archive for Woodland Trust


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 4, 2019 by cliffdean

We are so privileged to live among such beautiful places, all within a short distance. And not just beautiful but varied and well-managed. on subsequent days I’m at Winchelsea (National Trust), Rye Harbour (Sussex Wildlife Trust) and this morning in Brede High Woods (Woodland Trust).

I made some videos of birdsong; not very good sound because they’re just made on my phone where the shrill sounds sound very shrill while the deeper notes are lost. And the interesting sound stops as soon as I start to record only to recommence the moment I stop.

Holman Wood : Running water in an iron-rich stream, Chaffinch, Cuckoo, Song Thrush, Blackbird

Holman Wood: Scots Pine plantation; Wren, Cuckoo, Robin, Song Thrush, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff.

Holman Field: Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Blue Tit, Dunnock.

Both Willow Warblers pass through the coast on migration but don’t stay to breed. You find them in birches and scrub around Wealden clearings. Garden Warbler seems especially numerous this spring. Its song is described as a “burble” a word which I took to have its origin in “Jabberwocky” but unlike “galumphing” its use is ancient, imitative, from “bubble”.

Olivier Messiaen based a solo piano piece on it: “La Fauvette des Jardins”. You have to wait nearly 5 minutes for the burbling to get going but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s well worth the wait.

Hidden behind the tangle of waterside willows you can hear: Reed Warbler, Coot, Little Grebe, Mandarin.

Among the mine-pits in a hornbeam coppice: Early Purple Orchid, Song Thrush, Marsh Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Cuckoo, Blue Tit.

Brede High Heath: Bluebells, Cuckoo, Robin, Chaffinch, Carrion Crow

I was surprised to find that the Ladybird book of “What To Look For In Spring” is the only one of that quartet missing from my bookshelf. Maybe I just left it somewhere else but it means that I’ve had to resort to this too-small reproduction.

In Charles Tunnicliffe’s poignant compendium a mother and her small daughter peep from their cottage door to welcome the Cuckoo calling from the washing-line post. His characteristic outline stands out before the blossoming fruit tree and beyond him Jackdaws are plotting to block the chimney.


Bright & breezy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 11, 2019 by cliffdean

Looking at the black dots on the BBC weather forecast, I had not been sure that a walk in Brede High Woods was a good idea. My wife, as she tapped portentously on the Strong Wind dot marked 50, agreed. The exclamation mark enclosed in a little triangle agreed with her. But, I figured, we’d be a small group, stick to open or sheltered areas and be quick enough on our feet to avoid getting brained by a tumbling billet (I was right – to save you worrying.)

But it was pretty elemental and sadly my phone videos don’t give the full range of the mighty soundscape, coarse overload masking the range of awesome treemusic from the whistling in the high twiggery to thrashing branches, groaning of rubbing boughs and occasional worrying snap and crunch of falling limbs.

As the gale drove clouds through the sky beyond the swaying canopy, pulses of light would bar the woodland floor with Expressionist shadows only to have the scene collapse into monochrome a moment later.

The chances of hearing birdsong above all this seemed slim but in fact tits, Treecreepers, Nuthatches and even Goldcrests were detectable since they occupied a different part of the sonic spectrum.

The glade beneath the pylon lines was filled with a bass drone from the power cables but as we dropped beneath the turbulence into a sheltered ghyll this sound was replaced by the trickle and gurgling of a rain-swollen stream – too swollen to jump across so a diversion was required to the foot of a towering Sitka Spruce plantation. Although we’d dropped well below the blasted forest ridge, the wind here was funelling up a tributary and by now attaining the ferocity promised in the black dots.

A tremendous chorus of rumbling, hissing, rattling, rasping & creaking. Luckily only the odd bits bouncing down, ricocheting off intervening branches. A GC Grebe barking down on the reservoir was in keeping with the cacophony overhead.

Making our way between mine-pits where the bare leaves were starred with splotchy rosettes of Early Purple Orchid, we made out way out onto the open dam, getting blown sideways as we crossed. A pair of slender Grey Wagtails fluttered along the water’s edge and although on the exposed water of the churning lake only a GC Grebe and a few Coots & Tufted Ducks were bobbing we could hear Little Grebes trilling from the reed bed.

As we skirted the creek by Sandpit Wood a rotten Alder ended its life as a tree by crashing down into the water, then in the flooded jungle at the reservoir’s head the wind noise drowned out sounds of our approach, giving me hope we’d be able to get a look at some of the Teal & Mandarins hiding there. No chance – the usual battering of wings against willow and fleeing silhouettes with a glimpse of orange & eye-stripe and that’s it.

Scarlet Elf Cap

There seemed the slimmest chance of catching up with a big flock of Redpolls seen a few days earlier in the birches of Holman’s Field and in fact they had wisely vacated the slender birch-tops but, as we approached across recently flailed scrub, a most unexpected Woodcock burst out of a little bramble and gave us good views as it flew along the woodland edge. 

Clearance too has been undertaken by the Woodland Trust along the famous Nightingale Alley, where regenerating Birch & Hornbeam has become too open for the eponymous migrants, though I suspect that a couple of years’ regrowth at least will be needed before it’s suitable.

Breezy above, still below

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 11, 2018 by cliffdean

The forest floor close to the biggest Wild Service Tree is littered with distinctive gold & copper (and sometimes green) leaves. (They do not, however, fall in neat rows; I arranged these.)

Woodlands are not generally exciting places to watch birds in September (too many leaves, not enough song) but on a breezy morning like today Brede High Woods offered shelter, stillness and a degree of solitude. There were a few dog-walking ladies, united by some pink item in their apparel, but none yelling and their charges obedient (even the one well-coated with mud and so keen to greet us, called off at the last moment).

And it’s dry underfoot! Those who know the area will savour the novelty of this condition, especially in the spot depicted below:

People who have enjoyed RXbirdwalks “Nightingale Walks” have also enjoyed “Deep Mud In Total Darkness” – an experience offered by this crossing where an additional Adventure Quotient was added by the attempt to avoid the deepest sludge by balancing on untrustworthy logs. I must confess that I never considered the origin of this ancient slough but the Woodland Trust are now on the case. It’s just that some woodland grips have got silted up, impeding the drainage. A mini digger and a couple of pipes look set to keep future expeditions out of the soft & smelly.

The Woodland Trust’s excellent management of this wood is widely recognised, but there are times you really notice it. For example along the N bank of the reservoir are paths and woodland littered with discarded plastic tree-tubes. But this is owned by Southern Water, whose profits apparently do not allow for their collection.

Another aspect I noticed was that although I’ve visited this wood hundreds of times I still often feel as if I’m exploring. This not because I have a poor memory or sense of direction or that paths have become impassable but that those same paths remain wandering, muddy (at any other time), informal, the woodland structure constantly changing to provide visual surprises, tracts dark and mysterious.

If you’d like to know what plans are afoot for the next 5 years, take a look at the Management Plan here.

In twilight

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 27, 2017 by cliffdean

I was quite relieved the other evening, to pick out a fragment of Nightingale song to one side of the birds on which we were focusing. By late May they tend to have quietened down but I’d been away or too occupied with other things to lead a walk any earlier in the month. Earlier in the month, indeed, in places where the idea of actually leading a walk to hear this ubiquitous songster would have seemed absurd – like mounting an expedition to hear a Blackbird.

But this is England, where the hope of hearing a Nightingale – south-eastern and getting scarcer – makes a good core objective around which can be wrapped the many other delights of a woodland dusk like songs, scents, stars and silhouettes.

Starting among tall trees, we were surrounded by the rich song of Blackcap, Blackbird, Song Thrush & Wren, with the tiny sound of a Goldcrest high up in Scots Pines. Then a nervous GS Woodpecker which eventually led us to its nest of cheeping chicks, and out onto the north end of Sedlescombe Heath with its burbling Garden Warblers, distant Cuckoo and the 2 Nightingales. As usual, the loudest of these, though just a couple of metres from us remained resolutely hidden in bramble but, as I keep saying, with these birds it’s not the visual that makes them remarkable.

Everyone had plenty of opportunity to savour the unique resonance of this celebrated song, together with interlocution from another one not far off. Following the headline act the chorus tailed off more quickly than I expected and further on at “Nightingale Alley” not a bird was to be heard other than a Tawny Owl. In pines though we had been surprised by loud calls moving across the treetops – a protesting Hobby!

Birdsong in BHW

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

An unexpected heavy shower ceased before the walk began but left scents in the air and drops rattling down in the breeze. After that, alternating cloud and sunshine sent pulses of light through darker coppice.

From the start, the principal songs were Chiffchaf, Wren & Blackcap, the first simply onomatopoeic, so easy to learn, the second distinctively shrill  but the third sharing warbles and fluty notes with some other woodland birds.

Management by the Woodland Trust has resulted in a kaleidoscope of variation, be it of tree species, structure or intensity of light, these variables reflected in the birds present therefore in the songs emerging, often  from an invisible source. Moving away from the car park area and past denser bramble,we began to encounter more Robins and a single desultory  Nightingale.

Besides learning songs, we were looking for breeding evidence, following the BTO guidelines. At first the Blackcaps were no more than Singing Males (S) but soon we encountered a madly ticking and scolding bird – definitely Agitated (A) though at what we could not see. There was also a GS Woodpecker feeding very busily to suggest it had young in a nearby nest but if it did, we couldn’t hear them.

Round the corner,with opened up heath to the left and tall Scots Pines to the right, we heard two new birds: a Common Whitethroat (S), and some Siskins which maybe bred here earlier in the year  but now were not really doing anything special and were too high and quick  to check for youngsters, so just (H) –present in suitable breeding habitat.  More conclusive evidence was provided by a family procession of Long-tailed Tits,which gave us not only FL – recently fledged young – but great views of the brownish coloration compared with their busy parents’ pink & black.

Sadly there was no sign of Tree Pipit at the clearing but an area of tall scrub in the middle gave us Garden Warbler – an allegedly “difficult” song and the much easier Willow Warbler in the light birch fringes. The former – most considerately – was singing not 20m from a Blackcap, whose song is most easily confused with it. They share similar habitat and I’d just been reading in the BTO Volunteer magazine that Blackcaps will sometimes mimic Garden Warbler to deter incomers, but these two were very distinctive, adhering to the classic structures.

There were  a couple  of interesting moments of cognitive dissonance, where songs could be heard quite at odds with the habitats were looking at. The first was as we searched a very bare chestnut coppice, littered with dead diagonals of branches windthrown back in 1987. Small noises in the tops suggested Spotted Flycatcher but we just couldn’t see it/them. Then a Garden Warbler sang – completely wrong: no scrub, no cover. A short distance ahead however, passes a pylon line, the wood beneath it cleared ever five years and obviously coming up for another trashing since the scrub had grown up to Garden Warbler level.

The second occurred while we were in dark and creepy Hornbeam coppice, surrounded by flattened bluebells and ancient bell-pits, having just paid our respects to the Big Wild Service tree. Typical was a pair of Marsh Tits,scolding in typical fashion Through the wriggling branches came the chatter of a Reed Warbler. No cover, definitely no reeds, except that just downhill, out of the  coppice and through a dense screen of willows, is the reservoir.A shallow projection where an old road drops below the surface permits the growth of a stand of phragmites. Hence the Reed Warbler. Other wetland species were calling unseen from the lake: Coot & Little Grebe.

Above the heather of Holman Field, Buzzards (P) pair in suitable habitat, were circling quietly, then from the tall Scots Pines calls of Coal Tit & Goldcrests.




Star birds

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


Apart from the glittering crystals that sparkled from frozen leaf-litter, the main benefit conferred by yesterday’s frost was the firming up of otherwise inevitable Brede High Woods mud. The sharp winter light cast dramatic shadows and lit the bare upper branches with such clarity that it should have been easy to clap eyes on the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which called so loudly and so close to us so soon after we left the car park. But good light, bare branches and eight pairs of searching eyes were not sufficient to find it even though it must have flown straight over our heads to call for a second time the other side of the path. Good though, so scarce, so retiring and in a part of the wood where I’ve not encountered them previously.


A stealthy approach to the silted-up head of the reservoir – via the Wild Service Tree – permitted us views of Great Crested & Little Grebe, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard & Mandarin, the last, unfortunately, dull in the shadow of the overhanging bank rather than blazing orange in the light.


Our target was, however, Crossbills, which had been reported for the last few weeks in Holman Wood. After some minutes of listening in to nothing but Coal Tits, we found a young orangey male Crossbill perched at the top of a tall spruce, chip-chipping away happily. Just the one though, although Crossbills are sociable birds. Later, 2 flew up through Streetfield Wood and Jane B saw another 5. In that same tree a pair of Siskins, the male as bright as an American warbler were dashing about, repeatedly returning to the same place, while in nearby trees many more Siskins were fluttering about trilling and wheezing. Smaller numbers of Goldfinches & Redpolls could be heard up in the pine-tops.


Other than the usual forest birds, the other species of interest was a Raven croaking on Sedlescombe Heath.

35 species.

Drizzly but golden

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

A morning of anticyclonic gloom – a forecast of little black clouds – but the damp interior of Brede High Woods was saturated with autumn colours, these illuminating the constantly varying woodland structure and composition from the coppery tones of Oak & Sweet Chestnut to the rich yellows of Hornbeam, Hazel & Field Maple.


We concentrated on recognising birds’ contact notes and flight calls – essential since so many of them remained steadfastly out of sight or appeared only briefly as silhouettes, Blue, Great, Coal, Marsh & Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Wrens, Goldcrests & Great Spotted Woodpeckers the most frequent in the former category, Siskins in the latter.

The most significant invisible bird was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which called loudly from the treetops close to us as our eyes were directed downwards in a search of leaves from a big Wild Service Tree. This woodpecker, so hard to find nowadays, has for years appeared in the are we heard this one yet with intervals of years between records. It moved off eastwards before falling silent and unknowable. We did however find some more spindly WST saplings in the flat & boggy Borrow Area on the northern bank of the reservoir.


Lack of water in the lake permits better views from the dried-out margins and has revealed part of the old causeway, normally drowned. Beside the usual Little & Great Crested Grebes, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Mandarin, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coots & Grey Heron,a big surprise was a pair of Pintail, a species I’ve never previously recorded here. Almost as scarce was a juv Mute Swan, whose singing wing-beats we’d heard from the wood as it had circled overhead.

Smaller birds around the reservoir were 2 Grey Wagtails, a Kingfisher & Kestrel. Altogether we “saw” 41 species.