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.

Walks

25 August – Southbound Migrants

Waders from the Arctic, seabirds, swallows, wagtails & pipits pass through at this time of year – we should find a fantastic variety, 6km, 3 hours.

Led by at least two experienced and friendly guides.

Meet in the car park at 9:00.

Free to members, with a suggested donation of £3 from non-members. Accompanied children welcome.

The return route will be clear if you need to leave early.

Please note that there are no formal toilet facilities once we have left the village.

Walks

28 July – Castle Water Reeds and Grasslands

Many birds will have young by now and islands should be exposed for early migrant waders. In addition, there are interesting plants on the damp lake edges and very dry shingle ridges, 8km, 4 hours.

Led by at least two experienced and friendly guides.

Meet in the car park at 9:00.

Free to members, with a suggested donation of £3 from non-members. Accompanied children welcome.

The return route will be clear if you need to leave early.

Please note that there are no formal toilet facilities once we have left the village.

Walks

23 June – Breeding Seabirds and Seaside Flowers

A circuit around Flat Beach to see and hear the noisy crowds of nesting gulls and terns which are such a special feature of this reserve. We’ll also look at some of the amazing shingle plants, 6km, 3 hours.

Led by at least two experienced and friendly guides.

Meet in the car park at 9:00.

Free to members, with a suggested donation of £3 from non-members. Accompanied children welcome.

The return route will be clear if you need to leave early.

Please note that there are no formal toilet facilities once we have left the village.

Walks

26 May – Castle Water Birds

There will be a mass of singing reedbirds plus breeding Cormorants and Little Egrets and probably displaying Marsh Harriers, 8km.

Led by at least two experienced and friendly guides.

Meet in the car park at 9:00.

Free to members, with a suggested donation of £3 from non-members. Accompanied children welcome.

The return route will be clear if you need to leave early.

Please note that there are no formal toilet facilities once we have left the village.

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)

Walks

28 April – Looking for Spring Migrants

Peak time for incoming waders, terns and small migrants!, 6km.

Led by at least two experienced and friendly guides.

Meet in the car park at 9:00.

Free to members, with a suggested donation of £3 from non-members. Accompanied children welcome.

The return route will be clear if you need to leave early.

Please note that there are no formal toilet facilities once we have left the village.

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 26 November 2023

2023-11-26

NOVEMBER BIRD WALK

We had a good turn-out of 16 for today’s Friends’ walk to Castle Water, in weather that was grey and cool but clear and very still so that sounds could easily be heard, be they birds, church bells, Sunday motorbikes or the trumpeting of the Marshlink as it approached Rye Station.

In order to reach that part of the reserve, we have to walk for 15 minutes up Harbour Road, which I tend to see as birdless, so sometimes punctuate that part of the trip with information about the village and its history. However this dismissal is unjustified, for there are quite lot of birds to be seen. Apart from marshland species like Gulls and Waders passing overhead, and garden birds like Sparrows, Robins and Blackbirds ,there was this morning a Mistle Thrush broadcasting its rich contralto to the whole neighbourhood from the top of the tallest Sycamore. We hear it every spring, when it can still be heard well down the track to the Discovery Centre, then after a few months’ pause, it sings again from late autumn, really getting under way from the solstice.

Black Redstart

A little further on, a Robin-shaped bird attracted attention as it perched on the roof of an asbestos shed in an overgrown yard. Though anonymous in silhouette, the game was given away when its tail quivered, revealing it as a Black Redstart, a bird which breeds right the way from central China to W Europe, where it finds the Channel a disincentive. So once you cross the water, you can find it in almost every town and farm, but at RHNR we see them only on migration or in winter. It is a scarce breeder in England, preferring industrial and derelict sites to the (similar) rocky mountain habitat where it can be found right up to the snow-line, and a small number of pairs can be found between Cliff End and Hastings Town Centre. By the way, this one wasn’t Black but grey, a female or young male.

While we were watching this little bird, showing its red tail as it flickered around the black anchor across the road, there were Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests foraging in the roadside Sycamores and Golden Plovers racing overhead.

Black-necked Grebe

We saw or heard 62 species – see the list below (not everyone sees everything) – including Marsh Harriers, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, a Peregrine, Ravens, flocks of Fieldfares just in from Scandinavia and masses of wildfowl at Castle Water  including Shelduck – just back from moulting on safe sand-banks in Heligoland – and a Black-necked Grebe, first noted a couple of days ago. If it is the same individual – and its habits suggest so – it first arrived in March 2021 then sat in very much the same spot for the rest of the year, moulting into glamorous breeding plumage without finding a mate to be impressed by it. The bird remained throughout 2022 until this spring when it vanished – till now. Where has it been over the summer? Did it find love? This is another bird which can be found nesting from just outside Calais right into Central Asia but is scarce in England – mostly in the E & Central areas. It’s another example of how Rye Harbour is On The Edge.

Marsh Harrier

These walks are a convivial way to share information, knowledge and skills with everyone finding something to contribute, from an extra (maybe better) pair of eyes to the latest useful app or experience from different regions. Leaders do their best to make sure everyone sees or hears the birds, learns how to look for and identify them, understands what the birds are doing, where they’re from and where, if anywhere, they’re going.

https://app.bto.org/birdtrack/pubcon/shared?subId=SUB47721064