Friday, 29 May 2015

Winchelsea Heronry and other busy birds

Last year we went for a sunny walk and a picnic around Winchelsea and along the Royal Military Canal. During our walk we spotted a heronry in the trees. As it was mid-June, it was hard to make out the chicks from the adults. This week, we went back.
    Being us, we had to get our priorities straight, and started off with a suitably civilised coffee sitting out in the garden at the Ship, at Winchelsea Beach.
Looking across the level towards the heronry

Garden at the Ship
      Next, we parked near the canal below Winchelsea, and walked along to find the herons. It was a glorious sunny day, and everything looked absolutely beautiful. Fresh greens, reflections in the water, yellow flag irises, drifts of white cow-parsley and hawthorn blossom, water lilies - fabulous. We could hear loud bird song from the reeds, which we later identified as reed warblers. I wouldn't know one if I saw one - they are one of so many anonymous little brown things.

Winchelsea from the canal

Beautiful and peaceful
Yellow flags
      The heronry is on the far side of the canal, in high trees in the wooded escarpment below Winchelsea. It is suitably inaccessible for the protection of the birds, but easily visible from the towpath. There have been previous internet posts about it, so clearly it is no secret. Neither Philosopher or myself have ever seen such a thing before. Herons return to the same place year after year to breed - I have no idea how long the Winchelsea heronry has been established, but from the large size of the sprawling nest areas, made from dead branches, I'd guess a long time.
      Here they are - the tall grey adults are easily distinguishable from the smaller chicks. We only saw two or three chicks, but more were probably hiding in the foliage. Some of the photos are a bit blurred because of the distance. Who else has seen a heronry?

Heronry actual size
First sight of the herons

Two parents, one baby

Two families visible here

Larger chick
Here are just a couple more pictures from our walk back to the car. Water lilies and cloud shadows.

     At home, our garden birds have also been busy. Followers on Facebook will have seen the somewhat fuzzy picture of the wood pecker on our bird-feeder. Here he is again. This morning we arrived home from shopping to find the garden literally crowded with baby starlings and their parents. You could have heard the sqawking racket down in the Old Town. We always see a few, and have several nests nearby, but this looked like a mass fledging - the beginnings of our own murmeration?  Anyone else seen this?
Great spotted woodpecker

Starling invasion

Friday, 22 May 2015

Sandgate, Hythe, car-boots and skateboarding dog.

Last weekend our old friend +Shaun Mckenna came down to stay. He is one of the script-writers on the BBC Radio Four WWI series, 'Home Front', which is being broadcast every day for four years - the duration of the war, to mark the 100 year anniversary. 
    Many of the episodes are set in Folkestone, and apparently, in the next series, the action moves to Sandgate. Shaun had never been there, so an expedition was swiftly organised.
    Philosopher and I have visited Sandgate before, when we first arrived in Hastings, and back then, we weren't that impressed. Although it has an attractive High Street, only one antique shop had looked our sort of thing, and we had grave trouble finding a decent cup of coffee. We ended up in a very uninspiring place with sticky red carpet, smelling of Jeyes Fluid. (Can you still get Jeyes Fluid? Yes, you can, I've just Googled it. Today it is marketed as an 'outdoor' disinfectant, but is presumably the same stuff which was poured down school bogs by the gallon.)
    However, in a very short time, Sandgate has come up in the world. We left Shaun yacking in the offices of the Sandgate Society, and found an excellent new coffee place, 'Loaf', just along the street. Coffee excellent, good cake, nice loos.
Loaf at Sandgate

   Next, a prowl about. Shaun wanted to find the site of the Bevan Military Hospital, which treated over 12,000 men during the course of the war. Now, a modern apartment block occupies the site. I liked this extract from its history:

    'The central court was entirely devoted to open-air treatment, and here the most obstinate cases of septic poisoning were rapidly cured; so much, indeed, were the patients benefited by their sojourn here that whenever any of them for one reason or other were moved indoors they invariably begged, even in wintry weather, to be taken back. This open-air sea ward was sheltered from the rains and winds by a transparent roof and storm blinds, erected through private generosity, and only in the event of the most severe gale was this ward vacated.'

    Perhaps the overstretched Hastings Conquest Hospital could just line up rows of beds on the beach?
    During our wanderings we found this lovely little house - birthplace of Hattie Jacques.
Hattie Jacques' birthplace
    Of course, the big Sandgate name is H G Wells. There was an exhibition about his work, 'War of the Words' in the High Street, and we  parked near an early home of his by the beach. In our earlier visit to Sandgate, Philosopher and I found the grand house he had built for himself, Spade House, designed by eminent Arts and Crafts architect, C F A Voysey. It is now a private nursing home.
H G Wells' first Sandgate home

Spade House, then and now

    Plenty of antique shops to visit this time too.
    We had lunch at the sea-front restaurant at the Ship Inn, which was just fine. The pub looks tiny from the front but is very long and narrow, stretching back into a new extension. I had a good scallop salad.
Ship Inn, Sandgate
     After, we headed for Hythe. We took Shaun to see the bones in the church crypt - see previous post. I'm sure them bones will inspire future creativity. We cruised the shops, and had a cup of tea and a scone sitting outside in the sun. It was all very good, particularly for me, as I had found a spaghetti poodle in the antiques centre - a rare occurence, believe me.
     Next morning, we got up early to go to the Elm Tree Car boot Sale. Shaun confessed that he wanted an old 'Viewmaster' 3d slide viewer, and we actually found one, in its original box, complete with reels of Lourdes and Rome.
     I got this Jemima Puddleduck for the garden. She is quite old, and so bad she is beyond good. Poor Philosopher had to carry her (she is heavy) and forgot where we had put the car.....
Very bad.....
Then Shaun bought me these..... published in 1960. I can't wait to read them. These are volumes 2,3,4. I've ordered the first in the series from Ebay.

    Then, down to the Old Town, and the skateboarding dog. I've never actually seen one 'live'....

    Finally, in case readers are thinking Battleaxe does nothing but wallow in the depths of the most fatuous kitsch, we went to lunch at the Jerwood, and looked at the new Ibrahim El-Salahi-Haraza exhibition. Hmm. I do try, honestly, but I'd rather have my spaghetti poodle.....

Friday, 15 May 2015

Beautiful Hastings - garlic in Alexandra Park, and bluebells

It is unusual to be able to admire beautiful bluebells and flowering wild garlic, both at their best at the same time. This year has been a little odd.
   We have a little ritual every year, visiting the wild garlic at the very top of the upper part of Alexandra Park, in the thicket above Shornden Reservoir. (Here's an odd thing. Why do so many locals refer to it as Alexander Park? It was named after Princess, later Queen Alexandra when she opened the park with her husband, later King Edward VII in 1882). 
    It was a beautiful sunny Sunday. As usual, we walked to the park from home. First thing, we saw a group of people by the War Memorial, commemorating VE Day.
VE day ceremony in Alexandra Park
    Plenty of vivid green spring trees to see, but cherry blossom torn off by the recent high winds. We stopped for a coffee in the excellent eat@The Park cafe. They have greatly expanded the volume of outside seating available, which is good.
    Walked along our favourite path 'The Ride' in the Upper Park. My attention was drawn to the enormous sweet chestnut trees with multiple trunks, which must have been coppiced many years ago and then neglected.
'The Ride'

Once-coppiced chestnuts
    Last year, the garlic was good, if a little trampled. This year, it was perfect.
Path to the garlic


    In the garlic. I found a bird's egg shell  - I think it is a blackbird's.
Blackbird's egg shell

    Then, we walked up through Bohemia, and down through Summerfields Woods. Poked my head into the Walled Garden - lots of people busily working.
Busy-ness in the Bohemia Walled garden
     The bluebells in the wood were stunning - the best we have ever seen them. Why is it so hard to get a good colour when photographing bluebells? You can see here, the first photo is a good blue, but the second one is more purple.
Bluebells, Summerfields Woods

More bluebells

     Finally, down through the town, and lunch at Ada Turkish Restaurant.
     A lovely walk - Hastings at its best.