Archive for Woodlands

RSPB Fore Wood

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 16, 2017 by cliffdean

This reserve at Crowhurst is a typical bit of Wealden Woodland,with all the usual features like steep-edged ghylls,old boundary banks, bell-pits and, at this time of year, beautiful ground flora of Wood Anemones & Bluebells, the latter perfuming the air.

There’s a lot of birdsong too, which is what we concentrated on during Saturday’s RXbirdwalk. The relative lack of habitat variation results in a limited number of species so the songs can be heard and compared repeatedly, but those species are present at what must be maximum density. This songscape is punctually embellished by the bass note of a train passing invisibly through the cutting on the wood’s north side.

Blue, Great & Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Nuthatch, Chaffinch & Woodpigeon could be heard – if not always seen – everywhere, with smaller numbers of Pheasant, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, GS & Green Woodpecker & Treecreeper.

Buzzards plainly had a nest in the vicinity, to judge by their constant presence low overhead,and above them, drifting Herring Gulls were howling. Oddly, we had just one fleeting encounter with Marsh Tits and heard Jays squawking just once too.

There was no sign at all of the LS Woodpeckers or Hawfinches mentioned on the info boards; I can recall seeing both here many years ago but don’t know if they are ever still recorded. But then, one never hears anything from this site. Plenty of local people walk here, exercise their dogs, a few children play but if any bird-watchers visit you hear nothing of it. Perhaps a dense population of common species is not seen as noteworthy.

Though there is evidence of rides being cut, coppice thinned and clearings opened up it’s all on a very small scale. We heard no Nightingales, probably since areas of dense scrub are limited, yet many Sweet Chestnuts look sick and could be cut back without much loss of amenity value.

A bit of variety was added during the short walk from the church (paying due respect to the very ancient hollow Yew in its raised churchyard),with a Whitethroat in the hedge right there, a Skylark singing from the cereal field beyond it, Jackdaws furnishing their nests with wool from a dead sheep, House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Collared Doves & Goldfinches around habitation, Yellowhammer, Mistle Thrush & Stock Dove on farmland around the wood itself.

 

Bad Dudes

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

Deer trails through Dog’s Mercury

In recent years, my visits to the Darwell area have been in winter – from Mountfield or in summer, after dark, from Darwell Hole (for Nightjars). So our Good Friday walk from the latter as far east as Simmett’s Wood added a few new (summer) species to the default Birdtrack list.I should think we’ll be lucky to see any more Nightjars in the traditional “clearing”since it’s not really clear any more, having grown up very tall,no more Tree Pipits either. However……there were 4 Nightingales singing loudly there in the bright sunshine, accompanied by a Willow Warbler and a whole host of commoner species. 2 more Nightingales were singing a little further over just west of the Gypsum conveyor belt and a seventh at mysterious and magical Furnace Farm site. In addition, there were three females offering their support in the form of croaks and whistles. So – 10 Nightingales, arrived in just the last couple of days and already getting on with it.

Neglected and out-grown Hornbeam hedge

The woodland varies in species composition and contains the relics of previous usage in terms of wood-banks, ore zones pocked with bell-pits and outgrown hedges along forgotten lanes, yesterday all bathed in light filtered through fresh spring foliage. Songs of Blue, Great  & Coal Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Nuthatch echoed off bare oak boughs and the poles of ailing Sweet Chestnut. Siskins were flying about the tops of tall conifers.

Goldcrests too were ubiquitious and we came across 2 singing Firecrests, one in ivy, the other traditionalNorway spruce.

We were surprised to find no Marsh Tits but stoical about the non-appearance of LS Woodpecker, which has been seen there recently, and Hawfinch, which has not. One rotten trunk displayed many suspiciously small peckings.

To the east of the conveyor belt, tracks and deep, deep ruts were signs of recent off-roading activity which had reduced the tracks in this unusually dry spring to slurry. On the bright side, they provided drinking place for birds and breeding habitat for some insects.

Debris from collisions was scattered about…

…and a flipped 4WD lay not far from the traditional Yellow Jeep (crumbling ever further into the forest floor).

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Relics of human recreation included these bottles enfolded in a mossy, wind-thrown stump, Red Bull cans and scatters of McDonalds wrappings.While I usually just get angry about witless littering, on this occasion I brought my “High Weald: My Weald” re-usable cotton bag into  devastating play and removed these items from their adopted woodland habitat.

Even from among the trees, the barking of displaying GC Grebes and howling of Herring Gulls could be heard while from gaps in the lakeside willows, Coots, Tufted Ducks & Mallards could be made out. A Grey Heron drifted in over the treetops – but from where? It should be nesting now.

Surviving from summer-time cook-outs on the shores of the shrunken reservoir, a ring of sandstone lifted from footings of the vanished farmhouse lies temporarily drowned.

The paintings of George Shaw (at the De LaWarr till June 18th) have further sensitized me to the pathos of human traces, like this deliberately yet inexplicably scarred tree. deep within the woods,

The farm site itself remains as a progressively overgrown clearing, leggy, flowering blackthorn festooned with lichen and inhabited by secretive Bullfinches; an approach to the lake beneath the dark tunnel of a Yew; a sandstone wall; ashore  composed of heavy black iron slag and fragments of terracotta plain-tile; domestic rubbish that has had a few decades  to become charming.

Somewhere new

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 20, 2017 by cliffdean

I’ve led several bird walks for people from Crowhurst but last week they led me to an area hardly 200m from my usual route but new and unsuspected. In fact, I had heard of Quarry Wood but had lacked the curiosity to find out more. From close to the car park where I’ve often been we took a turning up Sampson’s Lane which I’d also never noticed.

I was struck by the tall hedge-bank to one side, indicating that although it has dwindled away in usage it must have once been a more travelled thoroughfare. Later reference to the 1787 Yeakell & Gardner map showed that this lane was then part of a network serving Green Street and linking to the big north-south routes at Crowhurst Park & Breadsell Lane.

My perception of this part of Crowhurst is distorted by a major earthwork serving something which has come & gone since the Y&G map: the Bexhill Branch Line. Towards the top of the lane we turned right onto the abandoned railway track part of which now forms a local nature reserve, managed and documented by Paul Johnson & Lorna Neville on their excellent website Tales From Quarry Wood.

We were supposed to be looking/listening for birds,and there were plenty of Goldcrests in the ivy and Treecreepers on the old oaks, with regular Mistle Thrushes proclaiming from the treetops, but features of landform and tree use soon predominated. Parts of the track are dry whereas others run through an ill-drained cutting and the whole length is enclosed by tall woodland. Parallel to the regular profile of the railway runs a sinuous old wood-bank topped with gnarled Field Maple, the ditch on the uphill side suggesting that the steep bank below was in the past reserved as a copse. Some trees had plainly once been pollarded yet untended long since while others had been coppiced, but more through casual exploitation than any more coherent woodland practice.

This spectacular group of Scarlet Elf Cup was growing on some felled branches.

Further south we came to the eponymous quarry – of unknown date or purpose it seems – which is backed, just as the track passes through a fine railway bridge beneath Sandrock Hill by the equally eponymous Sandrock, a beautiful north-facing exposure of sandstone beside which grows a varied profusion of ferns.  Look at the website for more information and much better photos than mine.

This area was a clearing in relatively recent times, to judge from the post-colonial presence of hawthorn, blackthorn, elder and birch.

Once through the arch, there were notable differences in the trees, with spindle and Sycamore present but also, more conspicuous since closer, tall lines of Railway Poplar. To remind myself about this widespread and culturally significant hybrid I read the entry in Owen Johnson’s remarkable Sussex Tree Book where I was once more struck by Owen’s fluent, informative style which encourages one to flick through the pages as much for the pleasure of reading as for the search for knowledge.

Shortly before reaching the Link Road the path sweeps down past more quarries – this time overgrown – to the lonely Adam’s Farm, for centuries a busy site on the banks of a lovely valley but now forlorn and uninhabited beside a busy road.

Something nasty in the woods

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 5, 2017 by cliffdean

In a radical departure from the routine, we convened after lunch to avoid rain during the morning. I normally avoid afternoon birdwatching apart from the occasional look at roosts because, on the whole, there are fewer birds and more people. And so it proved to be at Ashes Wood where we met a lot of the latter plus barky dogs while the former were represented by little more than Robins, Blue & Great Tits until a Coal Tit joined in from the pine-tops.

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Along the old estate road it was pretty muddy but when we branched off, in order to avoid the dog-herders, the impermeable Wealden clay really came into its own, providing squelchy, rutted fields and deeply puddled gateways. The “Adventure” section of the walk involved our attempt to hop across a stream which is usually no problem except that it was swollen with rainwater running straight off that impermeable clay and a bank had collapsed.  A hop would not be adequate to guarantee reaching the other side so we made out way through brambles & alders upstream where another crossing might be found. In fact, the cleft got deeper & deeper but just as we reached the uncrossable gurgling water we came across a macabre tableau.

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In a space where the Pendulous Sedge Had been flattened lay the skull of a youngish Fallow Deer stag, bound and tangled in yards of green webbing. Other parts of the skeleton lay at the edge of the clearing. The free ends of the webbing were wound around a pole. The complexity of the tangle contradicted initial theories of some unfortunate accident but what had been the purpose? Had the unfortunate animal been bound up alive? Left there to die? Sacrificed in some pagan rite?

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Giving up on the stream-crossing plan, we retraced our steps towards the mill pond, pausing in a grove of Western Red Cedar to try for Firecrest, which seems fond of this species. One duly appeared, hopping around in the bushes beside us. The pond has had much of its marginal vegetation removed and a bunch of farmyard geese installed so had rather few other waterbirds on it, just a few Moorhens, Coots, Mallards and a single m Tufted Duck. A brief excursion onto Beech Farm was more successful, however, with c180 Linnets (so scarce on the coast this winter) and a few Yellowhammers.

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By this time, the sun had come out,bathing the landscape in golden afternoon light and throwing long shadows across the ancient, hornbeam-lined hollow lane back up towards the road. As sunset approached,we came across the third pair of Mistle Thrushes we’d seen, Song Thrushes could be heard all across the valley and the welcome crooning of a Blackbird was about a fortnight early.

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Dark Days

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

So very dark, no guiding light to pierce the gloom, so many losing their way and I one of them.

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Heading eastward from Salehurst alongside the Rother, at one hand by rough riparian vegetation and senescent trees, at the other past dry maizy game cover bursting with pigeons & corvids, we arrive by anonymous light industrial units strangely isolated beside the straight Roman speedway of Junction Road. Cutting up to the puzzlingly named Eyelids we turn back along a broad lane, abandoned & overgrown, down deeply etched braided holloways into dark,dark Wellhead Wood.

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A fallen log is studded with Black Bulgar. (Of course, at the time we had no idea what it was. This insouciant identification has been arrived at following lively activity on the World Wide Web. Bulgaria inquinans.)

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There are not that many birds until we come to a clearing over which stream Redwings & Fieldfares. Nearby there’s a Treecreeper and a sweary Marsh Tit. Up the track past frozen puddles and pile of logs to a forest crossroads marked by a lone yellow chipper and  a first encounter with a winter swarm of little birds: at eye-level Long-tailed, Blue, Great & Marsh Tits, in the tree-tops Siskins, Redpolls & Goldfinches. No Crossbills.

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Off we set, back towards Salehurst. And this is where it all goes wrong. Or maybe right… I wrote on a previous post that the anonymous forest tracks have become even more confusing thanks to novel clearings created by otherwise excellent management. I thought I recognized this particular clearing, and just at the end of it, at the top of a line of Larches,we could see lots of little birds. Although I could hear Siskins, every bird I looked at was a Coal Tit. They normally come in twos or threes but here there were more, maybe 20, but I didn’t count them because, above their tweeting, another sound was insinuating itself into my consciousness: traffic. There shouldn’t be any. We should be facing a quiet bit of the valley served by quiet lanes, not the speeding vehicles I could hear a short way ahead.

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This map shows the extent of my straying in completely the wrong direction. I blame the lack of sun. (I recall our first morning in Sydney. Armed with a street map we set off but kept arriving at intersections inexplicable till I realised that I was unconsciously orienting by the sun, which was in the wrong half of the sky.)

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Turning back however, I found that two of my companions had stopped to count all those Coal Tits as they flew across the gap, and made it 40. Although  “Birds of Sussex” concedes that groups may on occasions comprise more than 30 birds, this was claimed as “the biggest flock of Coal Tits known to man” .

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By the time we had retraced our steps, time was getting tight so a visit to the lake at Park Farm was dumped in favour of a rapid retreat to the Salehurst Halt for Cotechino con lenticchie.

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Corrugated Country

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 4, 2016 by cliffdean

20160703_094822Outgrown Hornbeam hedge on an old wood-bank.

Up & down across converging ghylls, through ancient countryside of little fields and old hollow lanes.

I’m reading “Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination” by Colin Morris, in which I discover that some of my ideas are out of date. It appears that the landscape was extensively settled, the forest cleared, routes and boundaries formed, long before the Romans arrived.

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Hazels toppled, I guess, in 1987 are still alive and sending up slim trunks.

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Typical woodland birds: Woodpeckers G & GS, Nuthatch, Treecreepers & Marsh Tits with young.

My favourite area is around the abandoned Furnace Farm, an overgrown promontory into the cinder-shored lake, once a stream-side settlement, with its low sandstone walls, brick scatter, lichen-bearded bushes and dark domed Yew.

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The only birds on the lake are GG Grebes. Loud detonations from the far bank, neither shotgun nor gas-gun, are attributed – by a muddy, well-spoken dog-walker – to poachers (not very subtle ones) stunning fish with explosives.

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Impeded by piglets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 28, 2016 by cliffdean

20160228_110037This is what it looked like by the time I’d finished a last-minute Sussex Winter Bird Survey, though for the previous 2 hours it had been overcast, with a cold NE wind roaring through the treetops and birds keeping their heads down. This is fairly typical for bird surveys, when an early visit – miserable and unproductive – is traditionally recommended, yet as the survey concludes the sun comes out and the birds begin to sing. This one is a Survey of Two Halves: farmland & farmyard to start, with a bit of ancient woodland thrown in, followed by a mix of conifer & broadleaf plantations.

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In sharp contrast to the loveliness (even in the cold) of the characteristic Sussex countryside is the ubiquitous fly-tipping and roadside litter, where sociopaths are encouraged by the quietness of the lanes to jettison their refuse among the primroses.

I don’t understand it. In spite of all the cuts we still have an efficient refuse-disposal system, not like rural Turkey where the steppe glistens with plastic bags or the Syrian desert where bin liners (and worse by now) fly in the updraught. We have bins for differentiated collection; they are replaced on request. Why chuck stuff out along roadsides?

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Look: just yesterday this nice guy, Lloyd, brought us a smart replacement garden bin.

But this is not a Ranting Blog. It is all about the nice, relaxing countryside where everything is perfect, timeless and unchanging. As we know.

I’ve been doing these SWBSs since 2011, twice each winter and bit by bit, the bird numbers appear to be decreasing. The exception today was a large congregation of Carrion Crows.

Participants in pub quizzes will know, of course, that the collective noun is a “murder” of crows. These terms form a regular part of the quiz diet, together with James Bond films, chemical symbols, foreign currency, cartoon dogs and 80s pop music. I resent the pejorative implication since I think bunches of Crows are just being sociable. But anyway, there must have been 60 there today. More of a massacre.

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I found my short-cut at the northern end of this circuit to be suddenly closed by a wire fence and, beyond it, the installation of a…..(check Wikipedia) drift or drove of pigs. This looks like a drift. A pink one. They made a jolly sound (which had been puzzling me from a distance) and occasioned no great inconvenience since I just had to hop across this winding Wealden stream, wondering as I did do whether the digging and dung would pollute it with silt and phosphates. Not a new phenomenon in the High Weald, replete with Saxon -den suffixes, and this started me thinking that a) the surrounding woods are the epicentre of the Wild Boar population b) the fence didn’t look boar-proof, so that c) stripy young might soon be expected.

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