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. The shape of the adults is very reminiscent of a bird of prey, and the cuckoo uses this similarity to good effect, prompting small birds to mob it and allowing their nests to be pinpointed. At Rye Harbour, cuckoos can often be seen on the Beach Reserve, feeding on hairy moth caterpillars, a food which many birds avoid due to the fact that they are poisonous. The cuckoo gets around this by biting off the head, splitting the body with its beak and shaking the insect until the toxic contents fall out!
With spring passage in full swing during April, the reserve played host to a wide range of migrants. Wader highlights included up to three curlew sandpiper, two little stint, and a Temminck’s stint, while the best of the bunch was yet another Kentish plover on Flat Beach on the 26th. Other notable waders included up to 49 whimbrel, 36 bar-tailed godwit, 12 knot and smaller numbers of common sandpiper, green sandpiper, greenshank and spotted redshank (above). Breeding avocet numbers peaked at around 20 pairs late in the month, while small numbers of displaying little ringed plover were also present here. On Ternery Pool, up to 2000 black-headed gull, 800 Sandwich tern, 300 Mediterranean gull and 120 common tern were present during April, while the first of our little tern were seen on the 16th, with up to 18 recorded on Flat Beach by the end of the month. Notable waterfowl included a cattle egret at Castle Water on the 15th,
a common crane here on the 19th, and up to two red-breasted merganser (above) on the Beach Reserve early in the month, Raptors included the last merlin of the winter on the 4th, regular marsh harrier at Castle Water, and a common buzzard over the Beach Reserve on the 23rd, while a red kite over Harbour Farm on the 12th was the highlight. Early April saw the first of our returning summer warblers, with sedge warbler and reed warbler singing early in the month and willow warbler and lesser whitethroat a couple of weeks later. At Castle Water bearded tit were regular in the reedbeds, while small numbers of wheatear and yellow wagtail were scattered throughout the reserve. Hirundines included up to 10 sand martin, 11 swallow and the occasional house martin.
Catches in the Lime Kiln moth trap were still quite poor during April, mainly a small range of spring species, such as common, small and powdered Quakers, early grey and clouded drab. Something of a surprise however was a barred tooth-striped (above) which was found on the 1st of the month, a very uncommon species which in Sussex is confined to a few sites on chalk between Shoreham and Eastbourne! Butterflies included several brimstone, a spring species which is not often recorded at Rye Harbour, and orange-tip as well as peacock, small tortoiseshell and comma. Damselflies on the wing included large red, azure and blue-tailed, while dragonflies included hairy hawker and downy emerald. Plants in flower during April included sea kale, spring vetch, ground ivy and white deadnettle.