Friday, 30 November 2007

More cliffs

About 15 miles north of the White Cliffs of Dover, the cliffs of Thanet are lower (but just as white). This bay is cut off by high tides, and so gives a safe roost to waders in winter.

At low tide (when the waders are feeding over the rocks and sand) the face of some of the cliffs show holes, which seem to be interlinked as brick arches line the interiors.
Were these smuggling hideaways from the customsmen, or storerooms for fishermen, or maybe just safety holes to shelter anyone cut off by the tide?
Botany Bay itself - was it so named before or after the Australian namesake I wonder? Sorry, no answers, just questions. Oh, the big red box is a lifeguard's hideaway, providing shelter for the occasional Black Redstart.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The Cliffs, with a bit of history

Cicero called these cliffs 'moles magnificae'....
covered with Samphire, which still grows here in profusion.

For those who don't know the village, Kingsdown is at the foot of the northern edge of the White Cliffs of Dover - beyond, the flat lands and shingle beach extend through Walmer, Deal and Sandwich towards Thanet.When Julius Caesar tried to invade Britain in 55BC, he sailed along these cliffs until he found a beach where he could land, being pursued along the coast by the Cantii, some in horse-drawn chariots. There is a memorial plaque on Walmer green, indicating where Caear may have landed - it may just as easily have been on Kingsdown beach.

For a good summary of the expeditions, see the Athena Review site; for a brilliant "artist's impression", read the hillarious Asterix in Britain, or watch the film.
Translation: The Britons were like the Gauls, and many were decendants of gauls who had settled in Britain. they spoke the same language, but had a special way of talking:
"Good gracious, that's a bit of a surprise". "It is, isn't it?"

More recently, an army camp and rifle range of concrete and sand were established beneath the cliffs; the camp (including the main house and camping area) has been washed away, with the main damage being done about 10 years ago when a blizzard and north-easterly gale dumped much of the beach on the road.
The rifle range in also under attack from the sea, but the MOD is fighting back by putting up lots of signs (Canute, where are you?)

Wildlife is the main beneficiary of the gradual dereliction:
Fulmars are already checking out the nesting sites for next year,

a Black Redstart has been seen from time to time,

and various plants are colonising the harsh environment - including Sea Lavender, above.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Beating the bounds

The hedgerows on the chalk are brightened up in autumn and winter by the fruits of the summer flowers. The Spindle is one of the brightest, taking its name from one of its main uses - its hard wood was used to make spindles for making thread from wool (a task carried out by 'spinsters' of course).

In my home village, far, far away, there was an annual tradition of Beating the Bounds - a walk around the boundary of the parish, hitting each boundary stone with a stick to reinforce the limits of the village in the minds of the inhabitants, and to warn off encroachers from outside.
The youngest walker was 'bumped' on each stone too, presumably better to impress the places in his memory.

This tradition is not upheld in Kingsdown so far as I know, but on a pleasant morning today a similar walk was done here - keeping a list of birds seen on the way.

I'm not much of a one for lists, although I keep a year list and a life list for both birds and butterflies [for the record, the birds lists are 182 and 215 at the moment].

The list (ignoring the sea, which is fickle at the best of times) was 34 species today, with many absentees like kestrel, rook, house sparrow and collared dove, but welcome surprises like two pairs of bullfinches, and a firecrest just down the road.

There were 57 varieties of UFOs (Unidentified Flyover Objects) calling a similar number of variations on 'cheep', but I can't count these.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Autumn in Kingsdown Wood

It's a great time for kicking up leaves in the wood. And under the leaves are all kinds of fungi which, in accordance with my promise, I'm not going to name.

These look yummy, don't they. Probably kill you in a trice.

The October 1987 storm blew many trees over, as they had shallow root systems in the thin layer of clay overlying the chalk. The holes left by the roots have sometimes been taken over by critters - possibly foxes in the one pictured above. Another hole was occupied by bees as painfully recalled by my daughter.

Hawthorn trees......

...and Hazel coppices.

The Old Man of the Woods

Looking north over St Mary's church, Walmer and Deal's gasometer, towards Ramsgate where a ferry has docked..... and below, Ripple Mill.

Re the worrying storm forecasts.....

My earlier postings of storm warnings this coming weekend appear to have been superceded by a climbdown by the forecasters concerned. They are still insiting on a high chance of a storm wave, though the high winds are not expected to arrive down south.

"The main threat to Holland and the East/SouthEast coast of England from storm wave 1 (and probably also storm wave 2) will be the North Sea storm surge which will coincide with a series of exceptionally high tides - close to highest possible tides on and after 24th November. The Full Moon on 24th is also a lunar perigee full moon (i.e. closest to Earth) which makes the Moon look a little bigger and make it most effective at tide raising."

High tide
on Sunday (and it's a high one at 6.3m) is at 11am in Deal.

But if it doesn't happen, please forget that you read about it here first! If it does happen, I hope you're not on the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory boat trip on Saturday.

The 'official' forecast for later in the week is for northerly winds up to gale force in the North Sea, so we may see another wave of Little Auks blown our way.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Day trip to France

A day trip to France, and the expected rain only arrived after nightfall - the cold wind didn't trouble the Pride of Dover/Calais but certainly inconvenienced us.
Although not a birding trip per se (if it had been, I'd have hunkered down in the hide at Oye Plage and stayed out of the wind) the crossing gave a chance of a bit of seawatching - plenty of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Great Black-Backs, as well as a few parties of large auks.
The Gannets flew alongside the ship, giving easy photo-opportunities if the photographer could only stand still and upright.

The beach at Wissant held plenty of gulls, including a fully-black-headed gull and what appears to be a Yellow-Legged Gull (below), shunned by its neighbours.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Ramsgate Cemetery

You can't beat a good cemetery in the autumn, and Ramsgate is a marvel. Nicely positioned at the top of a hill (so migrant birds can see it), well wooded and quiet, it always has a good selection of wildlife on view.
Well actually, it's anything but quiet with these chaps around - hundreds roost here, and whizz around shrieking all day. The trees have an impressive array of holes that have been occupied by the parakeets.
Time to stroke a squirrel?

I thought you were supposed to hibernate in a hole or a dray, not on a branch?

And now a marvellous photo of a Firecrest...
or rather a holly branch were a firecrest was (flighty things, aren't they?)

I don't want to keep worrying you but.......

The forecast of damaging storms next week which I posted here, has been amended, and a warning has been sent to the Environment Secretary.

Latest update from Piers Corbyn - taken from letter he has sent to Hilary Benn MP:

"Our best forecasting knowledge at this moment suggests the high risk of a two stage unfolding emergency situation. (at 80% confidence that both of these dangerous weather stages will occur., ie a 20% chance that one or other will not substantially materialize).

1. Deep Low pressure systems and storm(s) tracking through northern parts of the UK and heading into South Scandinavia – causing gale damage in northern UK inland and a Northerly wind over the North Sea in their tail giving a potential North Sea storm surge driving sea water to the south of the North Sea.

2. Deep energetic Low(s) tracking across Central or South parts of the British Isles producing damaging winds inland, a high likelihood of local tornado developments – eg along south coast and onshore gales which are likely to lead to threats to or actual breaches of sea defences on the vulnerable parts of the South Coast and the ‘inner Bristol Channel’, including or near Bristol, Cardiff and Gloucester. This development can also give a strong North wind in the North Sea as it passes into Europe adding to any tidal storm surge or raised sea level already there.

Given recent confirmation of expected developments in Sun-Earth relations we are now over 90% confident that there will be major damaging storm(s) including serious risk of breaches of sea defences* in a number of parts of the UK in the period 23rd to 26/27th November and therefore it is in the public interest for those involved in Emergency Services - and the public - to be given maximum advance warning.
We make this information freely available in the public interest. (* NB Full Moon 24 Nov 14.31hrs)."

It should be noted that the techniques for medium and long-range forecasting have not been universally accepted - so the Met Office isn't issuing warnings (yet?)

PS great photos of last week's surge in the East Kent Mercury!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Rifle Range

A fiery sunrise today, with an east wind. A Peregrine was able to hang motionless above the cliffs, facing into the breeze, when not being chased by the local jackdaws.

A Short-Eared Owl (second of the month) flew in, setting the jackdaws off again.

Another surprise visitor was a juvenile Dark-Bellied Brent goose on the sea wall. It paddled around, desultorily grazing on the sparse vegetation, and at one point watched a flock of its relatives fly north.
A walk around Foreness at lunchtime produced another Short-eared Owl flying west offshore, a female Eider drifting west and diving, and a green-ringed adult Mediterranean Gull on the lawns.

Med. Gull and Black-headed Gull