Talk 13 July 2024

Swifts by Sophie Streeter from the Hastings and Rother Swift Conservation Group.

The Friends were treated to an excellent and informative talk about Swifts yesterday. Sophie Streeter is a volunteer with the Hastings and Rother Swift conservation group – a group of volunteers dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of the Swift. Their aim is to protect and enhance the traditional nesting sites of these iconic summer visitors and to establish new nesting sites where appropriate in the Hastings and Rother area of East Sussex. They will also advise on the supply and installation of Swift nest bricks, soffit boxes and call systems. In December 2021, the Swift moved to the RED LIST of Highest Conservation Priority, as very sadly these beautiful birds are in trouble with a 58% drop in breeding numbers in just 25 years.
The talk to The Friends was beautifully illustrated with stunning images and videos of Swifts flying, catching food, roosting, nest box camera’s etc. I think we were all amazed at seeing young Swifts doing ‘press-ups’ to strengthen their wings before leaving the next box!
Sophie shared her in-depth knowledge of facts and information about Swifts and talked about the various ways in which we humans can help this species that is at risk of extinction in the UK. All in all a very interesting and inspirational talk.

For further information see

https://e-voice.org.uk/hastingsandrotherswifts

or

https://www.swift-conservation.org

Guide in a Hide 25 May 2024

A very strong and deceptively cold wind did not deter the visitors to our Guide in a Hide day today. We welcomed 136 adults and a whopping 58 children. 35 species of birds were seen through telescopes and binoculars.

The stars of the day, right outside Gooders hide, were four gorgeous Avocet chicks. Just a few days old, they were already sweeping their beaks through the water to feed themselves. It’s amazing isn’t it?

Thank you to everyone who came along. The guides are always thrilled when children are so interested in seeing the birds, like Ruthie and little Harry here.

Talk 11 May 2024

The Conservation of Marianne North’s Paintings at Kew Gardens by Rachel Witt

Rachel Witt, an experienced and talented Paintings Conservator gave a talk to the Friends of RHNR on the local Victorian artist Marianne North and the conservation of some of her paintings that are held in the Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens.

Marianne was a brave and unconventional artist who was born in 1830 in Hastings and died in 1890. She had a privileged upbringing and following her father’s death, travelled extensively to paint, concentrating on botanical subjects.

Her unusual choice of painting materials led to many challenges in the restoration process and Rachel detailed some of these, along with how the gallery, funded by Marianne to display her enormous number of paintings was restored to the state it is today.

If anyone visits Kew Gardens and is interested in botanical paintings then a visit to this gallery is a must!

All in all, an enjoyable talk.

Walk 28 April 2024

Leaders Cliff & Stephen welcomed seven “frequent flyers” and five “first timers” on a morning with a promising southerly breeze and an unreliable promise of no rain.

Since the last walk, fresh migrants had arrived; the first we saw being a pair of House Martins over the village (the first had also been seen in other nearby locations the previous day). We once more took the track alongside Narrow Pits both to shelter from the wind and profit from the great range of songbirds in the varying habitats there. Listening in to the many songs, we distinguished 8 species of warbler, including Garden Warbler which, unlike the others (Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed, Sedge & Cetti’s) only passes through here on migration.

Garden Warbler © Biillyboy, Flickr

Overhead, the Black-headed & Mediterranean Gulls were joined by screeching Common Terns and then a wave of migrating Swifts – the very first individuals had been seen only a week previously. All four species had found a thermal and were spiralling upwards.

The original intention had been to continue as a far as the Barn Pools, but the path there was likely to be flooded so we turned east, away from the scrub, into wind and clearly approaching rain. At the end of Salt Pool, we once more came across the famous Spotted Redshank, blacker than ever – even its red legs had darkened – and then the shower forced us into a quick march to the shelter of the Denny Hide. From here, we could see the nesting Black-headed Gulls were joined by a few Common Terns. With water levels still so high, island nesting spaces and feeding edges are restricted, but the latter were patrolled by Turnstones, already resplendent in tortoiseshell breeding colours.

Round at Flat Beach, the creeks were busy with feeding Avocets, now joined by numerous arctic-bound Bar-tailed Godwits in contrasting winter grey and summer chestnut. Up to 98 of these were present, alongside Whimbrel probing the saltmarsh, their trilling calls providing an atmospheric soundtrack. This short walk had turned up no fewer than 65 species!

Walk 13 April 2024

With leaders Cliff Dean and David Bentley, eight of us met in the car park which was otherwise a battleground for territorial male Blackbirds. Clearly the surrounding grass and gardens provide all they need in terms of worms, cosy corners for nesting and song-posts on bushes, fences and rooftops; so ideal in fact that pairs are densely crowded and boundaries constantly disputed.  

The preceding days had seen an arrival of many small birds from their wintering grounds in various parts of Africa, so we diverted from our habitual route around Flat Beach through the village and along the track alongside Narrow Pits. Here, Bramble & Hawthorn scrub of varying heights to one side and water and Willow to the other provided diverse habitats for a range of warblers, some of which (Chiffchaff & Blackcap) had been present for a fortnight but others (Whitethroat, Reed & Sedge Warbler) had come in during the week while one (Lesser Whitethroat) had arrived overnight – via an eastern rather than western route.

Most of these birds were hard to see but their songs were loud and distinctive so we spent a lot of time carefully listening, attentive too to the kinds of habitat from which the songs emanated. We watched a Whitethroat’s display flight, dancing about in the air above brambles and noticed BTO Breeding Evidence: not only a Singing Male but a Pair In Suitable Habitat and in fact Nest Building.

Beside these incoming migrants there was quite a range of vociferous resident species, including a Song Thrush delivering excellent mimicry of a car alarm – perhaps the result of living not far from the busy car park! Overhead were squawking Black-headed and yelping Mediterranean Gulls, in the background braying Greylag Geese and one lucky birdwalker caught the call of a Cuckoo.

For those unfamiliar with this Wall of Sound, it can be hard to distinguish one song from another, so we tried to start with Entry Level songs – monotonous Chiffchaff, explosive Cetti’s Warbler, chortling Green Woodpecker for instance – then fill in the gaps…. Some people make a big deal about identifying birds from song but those same people will go to a pub quiz with a music round in which they will instantly recognise songs from the first two notes; and that’s without the birds’ contextual clues of season, habitat etc.

Photo Barry Yates Jun 2023

Emerging past a hedge-hopping Sparrowhawk and rasping Sedge Warbler in the warm shelter of the bushes we were exposed to a cool breeze on the causeway to Cuckoo Corner where, to one side were Shelduck, Shoveler and displaying, newly arrived Little Ringed Plovers, and to the other, for comparison, chunky Ringed Plovers and…and…the previously mentioned wintering Spotted Redshank but now almost moulted into fabulous summer plumage of jet black, charcoal grey and the eponymous Spots  as well as an eye-ring in silvery white. Restrained yet dramatic, it must be off to the Arctic very soon so take the opportunity to have a look – at the southern end of the Salt Pool.

Talk 13 Apr 2024

Pett Level – Then and Now by Keith Swallow

Members of the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve were privy to a very informative and enjoyable talk by the author Keith Swallow today.

Keith initially developed a love of Romney Marsh and the surrounding area as a child, whilst visiting his Grandparents, and has gone on to live in the area. He has a passion for researching local history and has written several books.

The talk brought many aspects of Pett Level back to life. Keith took us back in time to the Pett Level of the Napoleonic wars with its eight Martello towers situated between Winchelsea Beach and Cliff End and the downfall of these structures; the importance to local life of the Ship Inn (then situated at the heart of Pett Level village, which was where the shingle is now, opposite Pett Pools); the contentious undertakings of the local landowners, and much, much more.

All in all, an excellent talk, enjoyed by a packed audience.

Guide in a Hide 30 March 2024

It was a sunny Guide in a Hide event on Easter Saturday, and there were many birds to show our 245 visitors.

A total of 40 species of birds included a variety of ducks, waders and gulls, newly arrived swallows and Sandwich Terns but most excitement was caused by a White Stork flyover (probably one of the re-introduced birds from the Knepp Estate).

Thanks to everyone who came along, we really enjoyed meeting you and showing you the birds.

The next Guide in a Hide event is on 27 April, 10am – 3pm.

Walk 09 March 2024

Ten of us met on a morning finer and warmer than expected and soon our attention was drawn to a Wren singing loudly from beside the path. Until we leave the buildings and bushes of the village and holiday park, Wrens are singing all around but usually tucked away in the undergrowth. This one was sitting out in the open, however, giving us the chance to appreciate the rich reddish-brown and fine barring of its plumage, its fine, sharp bill. It’s another of those common birds (right across the UK, right across the Northern Hemisphere, in fact) at which we too rarely take a good look.  

Not long afterwards, by the Salt Pool, another Wren shot across the path in front of us and dived into the brambles, quickly followed by another tiny bird, though a green one. It was a Goldcrest, rather out of place there and, while many Goldcrests in the temperate UK stay in one place, others move south for the winter while yet more leave cold continental forests, cross the North Sea and may pass further south. One ringed bird was recovered I the Russian Baltic. So, this one might have been a local wanderer, or returning further north in England, or even facing a longer sea crossing, in and out of the wave troughs. At any rate, it gave the runaround to Xavier as he tried to get a photo. 

At this point we got a message from another Friend that he’d seen a Spotted Redshank at the far end of the Salt Pool, an individual that has been around for a few months but is not always easy to find. They breed right across the high arctic and most winter in central Africa, but some save themselves the trouble of several thousand km of flight by staying much further north. A couple of hundred might be scattered across the UK and maybe ten in Sussex. Much paler than Common Redshank, which helpfully kept close for comparison, Spotted Redshank is grey above, rather than brown, and white below, with a clear pale supercilium. It’s more slender, has a distinctly different flight pattern and an easy-to-learn call.  

Back at Flat Beach, the high tide roost of waders crammed on the remaining shingle islands comprised twelve species while a similar range of wildfowl were on show, including still large numbers of Pintail. Rather distant were three resting Sandwich Terns, having just arrived from wintering areas off W Africa. A few have taken to staying in W Sussex during the colder months but have yet to favour this area. How many remain to breed this year at Rye Harbour remains to be seen. 

At the start of the walk each person had predicted how many species we might find. The highest guess was 50 but we ended up with 63, on a lovely morning when star of the show was the Spotted Redshank, a new bird for everyone.

(Bird photos – Xavier Marrs)

Guide in a Hide 25 February 2024

Guide in a Hide (GIAH) is part of the Discover Rye Harbour project, funded by the National Lottery Fund through Sussex Wildlife trust (SWT).

Another terrific GIAH day today, with plenty of birds to show our visitors! Thank you to 153 people who came along and braved the cold wind.

There were hundreds of birds on flat beach today, and we were able to show visitors 37 different species, of which 300 Golden Plover, 350 Dunlin, 60 Grey Plover and 40 Avocet were among the many highlights.

Thank you so much for coming along, we do enjoy telling you all about the birds and reading your lovely feedback!

Look forward to seeing you next time, Easter Saturday, 30th March, 10am until 3pm.

Guide in a Train – February 2024

During February half term, some of the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve ‘Guide in a Hide’ volunteers became Guides on a Train!

Children travelled for just £1, and really enjoyed looking through our binoculars to tick off what they saw on the worksheets provided.

We spotted 33 species of birds, including Red Kite, Lapwing, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Moorhen, Buzzard and amazingly, through a train window, a tiny Goldcrest!

Several people remarked on how friendly and helpful everyone was and what a great idea this was.
One lady messaged to say “Amazing!! The kids really enjoyed it, particularly my daughter Lyra! She loves birds. She asked for a bird camera for Christmas and loves seeing the birds we get in the garden every day.”

Lyra took it all very seriously, amusing her fellow passengers by exclaiming “look everyone, there is a Pheasant…. tick it off!”

We were thrilled to bits with the fantastic comments from the children and how interested and enthusiastic they were.

Hopefully we have inspired some of those children to continue to watch and enjoy birds – and maybe we’ll see them again soon…at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve!

With thanks to the Kent and East Sussex Railway team for putting on this excellent event and asking us to help!

Hope to see you next year…