Bird Bonanza in Combe Valley Countryside Park
By David Dennis
Combe Valley Countryside Park is a beautiful area of open country, with a winter-flooded Combe Haven river valley as a central feature. Around the valley edges are lakes, ponds, and very extensive marshy reed beds, including the Filsham Reed Beds site of special scientific interest.
Remarkably, since the building of the controversial bypass between Bexhill and Hastings, the variety of birds in Combe Valley has increased. This is especially true of raptors. We now have barn owls, hobbies, kestrels, sparrowhawks, red kites, buzzards and marsh harriers hunting across the area from Crowhurst to Pebsham and Sidley. In particular, the marsh harriers often sit in trees north of Bulverhythe, moving into Combe Wood and then out across the valley at low level. The buzzards and red kites rise higher and higher into the blue, so it is best to keep looking down as well as up to see all the activity. Such birds are top predators, indicating their food supply of voles, rabbits and smaller birds is sufficient to maintain the increase in numbers and encourage breeding.
These raptors are accompanied by wading grey herons, little egrets and cattle egrets hunting both common and marsh frogs and toads. There are thousands of these amphibians in the ditches around Crowhurst and Pebsham lakes along with many smaller birds such as kingfishers, blue, great, bearded and long-tailed tits, black caps, stonechats, bullfinches and chaffinches. Other waterfowl include black and white swans, greylag and Canada geese, ducks – including mallard, shovelers, pochards, teal and gadwalls – coots and moorhens. One of the most spectacular sights in summer is the tree at Pebsham Lake where often more than 40 cormorants are roosting before catching fish at Glyne Gap rocks. On the Combe Valley coastal section around 400 turnstone waders commute between Bexhill and Greenland each year. Each bird species has its own feeding, breeding and migration pattern; some never leave the Valley, nesting instead in tall trees and bushes, others migrate thousands of miles away.
Male Reed Bunting
Walk the valley
There are many access points: take the 1066 Trail from Crowhurst cricket ground car park and walk along the edge of Crowhurst Lake, where in winter up to 80 greylag geese parade back and forth – or suddenly rise up en masse and fly off to another part of the flooded valley. In summer this is a haven for swifts and swallows, swooping for insects. Leave Crowhurst Lake and walk on the pathway under the bypass, noting the bat boxes and vole runs provided, then turn right along the greenway and walk to Sidley past several lakes. Here you will see herons and egrets feeding. If you decide not to go down the greenway but through the latch-gate into the valley proper, you’ll walk to a place locally known as Three Bridges. If these are not flooded, cross over the Combe Haven River and walk up towards Worsham Barns. Or turn left at Three Bridges instead of crossing and walk to Bulverhythe.
At the Bulverhythe turning you can take a path to Hollington or, by walking uphill through the woods, you can arrive at ancient Upper Wilting Farm. Wear proper boots and consider waders or at least wellingtons in winter as some paths are muddy and flooded. Never walk into a deeply flooded area, you can’t see badger holes and drainage ditch pits under the water and could be injured or at least soaked.
It pays to buy a good bird book such as the RSPB Birds of Britain and Europe with pictures and maps.
A social media organisation that helps you make friends with other birders.
Another organisation working continuously to preserve habitats in Combe Valley is Sussex Wildlife Trust.
Food for you and for the Birds!
You can get hot and cold refreshments at the Combe Valley Countryside Park Discovery Centre in Freshfields road next to Bexhill Road Recreation Ground, just before the recycling centre – on the right-hand side of the road as you drive north
What do birds eat?
Well, depending on type, the bigger birds eat the smaller ones, frogs and insects, especially dragonflies and damselflies. Some birds eat vegetation and berries. In the Valley we have millions of grasshoppers and crickets, especially Roesel’s Cricket which has noticeable greenish-yellow faceplates. Enjoy! The birds certainly do!
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