Past Events

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!

Past Events

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.

Past Events

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)

Past Events

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.

Past Events

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.

Past Events

Walk 11 Nov 2023

Eleven of us turned up to enjoy this month’s beautifully sunny and warm walk around Flat Beach. We had already enjoyed views of a Spoonbill sweeping the shallow water of a pool on the saltmarsh when we came across a Dartford Warbler in the brambles at Cuckoo Corner. One or two of these little heathland birds winter on the reserve in most years though it’s not clear where they come from. Not Dartford, certainly, though that’s where the first type-specimens were “collected” (ie shot) in the late 18th century. (Actually it was Bexleyheath, at that time a desolate area still frequented by highwaymen.) The nearest few pairs breed not far away at Hastings Country Park.

Dartford Warblers are long-tailed, skulking scrub-birds, usually hard to see well and they either hide or flit from bush to dense bush but we didn’t have to wait too long before it perched up on a Hawthorn, showing off its grey-brown upper-parts, deep pink breast and red eye in the sunshine.

This and the spoonbill were new species for some on the walk and we then searched for – but failed to find – something even scarcer: a Grey Phalarope which had been present for the previous two days. This is an arctic-breeding wader which winters well out in the Atlantic but was one of many oceanic birds driven onshore by recent storms. It had been on a flooded field which remains unnamed on the Picturemaps Tea-towel on sale in the Discovery Centre (on which all other known sites are identified). It has been suggested that the adjacent “Pool With No Name” might be called the “Sand Martin Pool” on account of the wall-with-holes installed there years ago to encourage them to nest. However, they have never shown it any interest and it’s now completely underwater.

We don’t just concentrate on scarce species; we saw a lot of other birds – more than 50 species – including several Stonechats, a Kingfisher and hundreds of varied waterbirds, all of which noisily took flight at the detonation of the 11 o’clock Armistice Day maroon.

Past Events

Walk 22 Oct 2023

After the wind and heavy rain of the previous day, we had brilliant, calm and remarkably warm conditions for our Friends’ walk on Sunday, which took us beyond Salt pool as far as Barn Pools then across to the beach. We saw a fantastic variety of birds, with very good views of many.

Other people we met expressed surprised that Swallows were still dashing through in late October but the 2021 Sussex Bird Report cites  December 5th as the 10-year average  last date (while in that year, the last Swallow was seen on Dec 31st!) From the car park we had already seen House Martins over the village (10-year average, November 20th).

Duck numbers (at least Mallard, Wigeon & Teal are building up on Salt Pool) but the real drama there was provided by hunting packs of Cormorants and mixed herons (Grey Heron, Little & Great Egret) corralling fish in the shallows then all suddenly decamping to a new location with a great flapping of black, white & grey wings. 3 Great Egrets, with long, snaky white necks and big yellow beaks, took little notice of us as we passed them; it was hard to believe that they were very rare here till less than 20 years ago. On the ground nearby we had close views of 2 beautiful Golden Plovers.

Another summer migrant still present, mostly alongside Narrow Pits, was Chiffchaff. We must have seen 10, especially in the company of roaming bands of Long-tailed Tits (more than 20 of these following the stream by the holiday park). But no “last date” is given for Chiffchaffs since, while some proceed south, others stay for the winter.

Overhead, we could frequently hear calls from Siskins and Redpolls but against the bright blue sky they were very hard to see, like the Sparrowhawk which passed low at high speed but unlike a Marsh Harrier circling up in the sunlight. The conifers by the Barns often provide cover for Goldcrests and, with a bit of patience, we were able to pick out 3 of them moving through the dark foliage.

From Crittall Hide, we were alerted by the angry croak of a couple of Crows to a brown young Peregrine they were persecuting high above Ternery Pool and as we watched them twisting and turning, we also picked out couple of distant Buzzards. 

We saw/heard 69 species, though not everyone saw or heard all of them, while other people on the reserve recorded at least a dozen in addition. To see the list, click on the link below:

Past Events

Walk 14 Oct 2023

Six of us joined the Friends’ 08.30 Walk beneath a pure blue sky full of lark song. Swallows streamed across the salt marsh where the dazzling low sun raked rusty samphire and glaucous purslane while silhouetted Avocets swept the shallow pools.

As the Swallows are leaving, other birds arrive: Four Blackbirds could have been arrivals (especially one flying high over the village) and we saw about ten Stonechats around Flat Beach.

On Salt Pool, just beyond grazing Wigeon sat a solitary Brent Goose, but our attention was directed more towards the spectacle of 2 Kingfishers which often hovered for several seconds at a time, their backs flashing in the sunshine.

It’s always fun to estimate, then try counting, the long line of Cormorants roosting on Ternery Pool; the results vary but come out at around 350.

A last departing Wheatear consorted with Linnets among silvery grasses on the shingle, a vanguard of Golden Plovers could be heard piping and the first Rock Pipit of winter squeaked over the Discovery Centre.