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…

Guide in a Hide 28 January 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).

A most welcome sunny day at last for our Guide in a Hide event today, and visitors were plentiful!

Over 220 people came along and were treated to close views of many birds. 42 species were seen today with the Spoonbill taking centre stage once again. A Peregrine Falcon caused a stir, a Grey Heron just stood still, watching us and the incoming tide, the 300+ Pintail looked stunningly elegant and two close Redshank made the children laugh as they chased each other around.

Thank you to everyone who came along! Next event is 25 February 10am until 3pm. See you there…

Walk 01 Jan 2024

It was with a sense of relief that we could greet the New Year birds without roaring wind or hammering rain! About 27 Friends met up in the car park for a circuit around Flat Beach led by James, who warned us that we’d not be allowed home for lunch until at least 50 species had been found.

Hardly out of the car park, we noticed a couple of bigger birds with Starlings in the tree-tops – Fieldfares. This winter thrush comes down in the evening to roost at Castle Water after a day spent foraging windfalls in hinterland orchards but is rarely seen around the village. A single Mistle Thrush also rattled over – no cheering song this time.

Very quickly we found a flock of Brent Geese close to the path, then more flew in to join them till there were maybe 70 – an exceptionally large number for the reserve. Out on the horizon, however, long lines were passing up-Channel, already shifting back towards Siberia – a tiny fraction of the 91,000 which winter in Britain. Rye Harbour lacks the estuarine Eelgrass which is their preferred food so we’re lucky to have a small group which makes do with the saltmarsh.

Also present in exceptional numbers are Pintail, of which around 80 have recently been counted. Their distinctive, attenuated silhouettes and the white necks of the drakes could easily be picked out in flight, even when among many hundreds of other Mallard, Wigeon, Shoveler & Teal taking flight at the arrival of a Marsh Harrier high overhead.

Two uncommon birds were close to the path: the long-staying Spoonbill, easy enough to pick out but often not doing much, and a female Red-breasted Merganser preening on the water’s edge.

 Beyond them the islands were starting to get crowded with waders: Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Sanderling, Grey Plover pushed off their foreshore feeding grounds where they were kept on the move by holidaying humans before being evicted by the incoming tide. As we walked along the Haul Road, silvery mixed flocks were rushing in over our heads and a group of Golden Plovers – probably not from the beach – included an individual with belly already dappled dark with breeding plumage.

As usual there were dozens of Skylarks, several Stonechats, a few Meadow Pipits (and much-too-subtle Rock Pipits along the riverside), but once out on the shingle you leave behind many familiar species and even back towards the village we failed to track down Blue or Great Tits.

We had a competition for who could most closely guess the number of species noticed by at least two of the group. Two people guessed correctly that it had come out to 53 but no sooner had the group dispersed than a Sparrowhawk was hassled by a Magpie over the golf course and then the presence was flagged of a Golden Pheasant on the grass close to the reserve gate! This glowing red and yellow bird, escaped from a nearby collection, had been noticed previously in the car park. Not from round here, as they say, but nonetheless an unexpected explosion of colour on an already darkening lunch time.

Guide in a Hide 29 December 2023

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

My goodness, our guides in the hide were busy today! 132 people came along in just three hours; many locals and many visitors from London and Kent.

It was wonderful to show people large numbers of our winter ducks like Pintail, Wigeon and Teal, and it was amazing that 70-80 Brent Geese could almost hide themselves in the saltmarsh. Other highlights were Spoonbill, Red-breasted Merganser and a Peregrine flying through. Fast!

We met some lovely people today. Thank you so much for coming along – your interest in the wildlife and smiles when you see it really make it all worthwhile!

See you next year!

Walk 17 December 2023

December Bird Walk

Some highlights from Sunday’s Friends’ walk: Bright, low sunlight & chilly wind.

1) Spoonbill still on Salt Pool – head down & sweeping alongside a Little Egret – darting & stabbing.

2) A dashing fly-past by a juvenile Peregrine Falcon, probably the same which had notoriously hunted down a Kingfisher a day or two previously, probably regretting it later since they are reputed to taste foul (research indicates that Bee-eaters are less revolting and Wrynecks the tastiest of all).

3) Still on bright colours – the vivid orange Willows alongside the gravel pits are Coralbark Salix alba “Britzensis”, a German cultivar from c1878.

4) Three Red-legged Partridges, also non-native, originating from birds introduced for shooting, very hard to see as they creep about on the shingle ridges.

5) On mirror-like sand, shrinking with the advancing tide, hundreds of small waders down from the Arctic, making the most of fast-fading feeding opportunities: Dunlin, flanked by larger Grey Plovers, with a couple of silvery Sanderling chasing the incoming ripples.

For a full bird list, click HERE.