February saw the first records of Mediterranean gull (below) for 2015, with up to six birds present among larger numbers of black-headed gull at Ternery Pool late in the month. This striking gull, with its pure black head, drooping bright red beak and pale wings was first recorded in the UK in the mid 19th century, with the first breeding in 1968. At Rye Harbour, the first nesting occurred in 1987, when two pairs bred, but it was not until the early part of the 21st century that breeding really ‘took off’ on the reserve, with numbers rising rapidly from two pairs in 2001 to 176 pairs in 2010. Since then, however, numbers have fallen drastically, with only one unsuccessful pair in 2014. Something of a pirate, Mediterranean gull steals food from the other gulls and terns with which it nests, mainly black-headed gull and Sandwich tern at Rye Harbour. This behaviour may be particularly important when feeding chicks, and it seems that poor food availability for these species has had a knock on effect, resulting in the poor show for our ‘Meds’ over the last few years.
Still good numbers of waders present on the Flat Beach during February, with golden plover (2000) and lapwing (1000) as usual providing the bulk. Elsewhere on the reserve high counts included 490 dunlin, 88 knot and 64 grey plover on the shore on the 17th, and on Harbour Farm 330 curlew on the 26th and 25 ruff on the 27th. Wader highlight was the lesser yellowlegs which was still present at the western end of Harbour Farm up to the 21st, though a count of 18 jack snipe on Harbour Farm on the 27th was notable in being the highest count ever for this species at Rye Harbour. In addition, a purple sandpiper was present on the Quarry on the 27th and a green sandpiper on Harbour Farm on the 26th, while it was also good to see the first avocet of the year, with four on Flat Beach on the 19th and 11 on Harbour Farm on the 27th of the month. Notable waterfowl included Slavonian grebe, black-necked grebe, smew and scaup on Long Pit, two great white egret on Harbour Farm on the 5th and Castle Water on the 6th Pit , 18 white-fronted goose on Harbour Farm on the 13th, up to 10 goldeneye on Harbour Farm, and several sightings of bittern at Castle Water throughout the month. Offshore, 80 common scoter were present on the 12th and 60 red-throated diver on the 13th. Raptors during February included marsh harrier on several dates, with four at Castle Water on the 27th, a common buzzard over Harbour Farm on the 6th and peregrine on Harbour Farm on the 3rd and Castle Water on the 27th. Skylark numbers remained high on the new saltmarsh during February, with a flock of 135 present on the 6th, while elsewhere on the reserve 35 meadow pipit were present on Harbour Farm on the 9th, and at Castle Water a chiffchaff was heard on the 10th, kingfisher were seen on the 8th and 23rd and several sightings of bearded tit included six on the 27th. Passerine highlight, and a pleasant surprise, were several corn bunting on Harbour Farm and the Beach Reserve on the 9th, including a singing male at Ternery Pool, while Harbour Farm also hosted a grey wagtail on the 9th and two raven on the 5th.
Towards the end of the month increasingly spring-like weather encouraged the first queen buff-tailed bumblebees out of hibernation, with sightings on the shore on the 27th and the Beach Reserve on the 28th. At Lime Kiln Cottage, late winter insects included common green shieldbug on the 27th and small numbers of yellow dung-fly from about mid-month, while common lizard (above) was found late in the month. Small mammals recorded on Harbour Farm early in the month included common shrew, pygmy shrew and field vole. Plants in flower included coltsfoot and Persian speedwell.