Regular daily sightings from the reserve at RXwildlife website.
The late spring period is perhaps the only time that nightingale can be heard singing around Rye Harbour, with one or two birds usually heard by the Narrow Pits and near the caravan park. Nightingales winter in West Africa and arrive in Britain around about June, with most British breeders occurring in the south-east corner of England.
Image: Noel Reynolds
April is a good time to see brown hare on the reserve, particularly the grassy ridges near Camber Castle. At this time of the year, females can sometimes be seen fending off the attentions of amorous males, standing on their hind legs and ‘boxing’ their suitors (it’s this bizarre behaviour which gave rise to the phrase ‘mad March hares’, though it is not confined to this month).
Image: Bohringer Friedrich
This month saw the first records of garganey (below) on the reserve for 2015, with one at Rye Harbour Farm on the 17th. This small duck, slightly bigger than a teal, breeds in small numbers at Castle Water, and is unusual amongst British waterfowl in that it is a summer visitor.
February saw the first records of Mediterranean gull for 2015, with up to six birds present among larger numbers of black-headed gull at Ternery Pool late in the month. This striking gull, with its pure black head, drooping bright red beak and pale wings was first recorded in the UK in the mid 19th century, with the first breeding in 1968.
January saw the addition of a new wader species to the Rye Harbour list with the arrival of a lesser yellowlegs on the reserve. Initially present at Pett Level from the 25th December, this bird was first seen at Rye Harbour on the 2nd January, at the western end of Harbour Farm, and spent the rest of the month shuttling between the two sites.
One species I think of as a real harbinger of winter at Rye Harbour is the smew. This small duck belongs to a group known as ‘saw bills’ due to the serrated edge to their bills, and includes species such as red-breasted merganser and goosander.
This month saw regular sightings of an immature spoonbill on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm. This exotic looking species has actually been an annual visitor to the reserve since the 1970s, so it’s not what you would call rare, but there’s something about the long flattened bill and stately stance that gets many birders, including me, quite excited!
Bird highlight during October was a white-winged black tern which was present at Castle Water from 12th of the month. This species breeds from south-eastern Europe to Australia, but in Britain it is a rare vagrant with only a handful of records each year, and this is only the second record at Rye Harbour in almost 20 years.
These days, little egret is a familiar sight on the reserve, particularly feeding in the channels on the new saltmarsh or wading on Flat Beach, and in recent years up to 100 of these white herons have been counted roosting at Castle Water. This was not always the case however. The first sightings in Britain were not until the 1950s, and at Rye Harbour not until 1986.
A regular feature of the reserve at this time of the year is whinchat. This species breeds all the way from Europe to western Asia and winters in Africa, and though it is fairly common throughout most of this range, its has decreased dramatically in Britain, with numbers halving between 1995 and 2008, possibly due to agricultural intensification.
For me, the bird of the month was a summer–plumaged black-necked grebe which was present on Ternery Pool from the 6th to the 8th. This species is more or less annual at Rye Harbour, and while it has been recorded every month of the year, has occurred largely during the autumn and winter months in recent years.
Sandwich tern is the largest of the three species of tern which nest at Rye Harbour, and also the first to arrive, with the first birds seen as early as late February in some years. Named after Sandwich in Kent (where it now, unfortunately, does not nest), its pale grey back, black cap with a shaggy crest and black bill with a yellow tip, as well as its raucous ‘kerrick’ call make it a very distinctive species.
One bird which epitomises summer for me is the little tern, and their graceful display flights and chattering calls always brings a smile to my face. The smallest of all the terns this species is identified by its yellow beak with a black tip, yellow legs, and white forehead (the specific name ‘albifrons’ means ‘white forehead’).
A sound which is eagerly awaited at this time of the year is the call of the first cuckoo of the spring. The lifestyle of this species is well known, the female laying her eggs in the nests of songbirds such as dunnock, reed warbler and meadow pipit, and the young then ejecting the eggs or young of the host and being raised by the unfortunate foster parents.
A much anticipated bird at Rye Harbour at this time of the year is the wheatear. This species breeds all around the northern hemisphere and in Britain is most closely associated with stony, sheep-grazed grassland in the north and west of the country.
As we move towards March the reserve is increasingly showing signs of the spring to come. Many birds have been singing and displaying since December, but this activity now seems to be taking on increasing urgency as the birds stake out their territories for the coming breeding season. One of the most obvious signs of spring is the return of black-headed gull and the odd Mediterranean gull to Ternery Pool, with up to 1500 of the former and 11 of the latter present here at the end of the month.
A more or less annual visitor to Rye Harbour at this time of the year is the Slavonian Grebe. This species breeds in small numbers in the UK, with about 30 pairs in central and north-eastern Scotland, while wintering birds occur all around the British and Irish coasts. At Rye Harbour the best time to see this species is during December and January, with up to three seen in recent years.
Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa
A regular visitor over the last few years has been a spotted redshank which has frequented the pits and pools on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm during the winter months. This species breeds across northern Scandinavia and Northern Asia and winters around the Mediterranean, tropical Africa and Asia and also on the south coast of Britain.
A pleasant surprise on the reserve during November was a female long-tailed duck which was present on the Beach Reserve from 10th to the end of the month. This species breeds all round the northern hemisphere, and in Europe winters mainly in the Baltic, with up to four million birds present in the mid 90’s (though since then numbers have dropped considerably).
Bird highlight during October was a dotterel which was present on Flat Beach on 12th October. This relative of the ringed plover breeds on Arctic tundra and high mountain plateaus in northern Europe, with a small population in northern Scotland. It winters in a narrow belt from Morocco to Iran, and at Rye Harbour usually turns up during spring or autumn passage, most frequently during late April/early May and September to early October and quite often in with flocks of golden plover.
Bird of the month was a tawny pipit which was present at Castle Water briefly on September 5th. This large, pale pipit breeds from Asia, to Western Europe, with the closest birds in northern France, and winters Africa and southern Asia. It is an occasional vagrant to Britain, with around 30 birds a year reaching our shores, and there have been only seven records at Rye Harbour since 1970, with a few more dating back to the 1900’s.
A feature of the Beach Reserve and Rye Harbour Farm during August is the large numbers of yellow wagtail, and this year was no exception, with around 450 late in the month. This species is a summer visitor to Britain, arriving in April and leaving for its African wintering grounds around September.
One species which is always very popular with birders at Rye Harbour is roseate tern. Despite breeding worldwide, this is an uncommon species in Britain, with a population of less than 70 pairs, the main colonies in northern Scotland, north-east England and north Wales. First recognised as a distinct species in 1813, breeding numbers have been on something of a roller coaster since then.
With their striking black and white plumage and upturned bill, avocet are one of those birds that even non-birders recognise. The name comes from an Italian word ‘avosetta’, and may relate to the black and white outfits worn by lawyers in certain countries, and in fact in some parts of England these birds were known as ‘lawyers’ (a name still used in some parts of America for the closely related American avocet).