A more or less annual visitor to Rye Harbour at this time of the year is the Slavonian Grebe. This species breeds in small numbers in the UK, with about 30 pairs in central and north-eastern Scotland, while wintering birds occur all around the British and Irish coasts. At Rye Harbour the best time to see this species is during December and January, with up to three seen in recent years. Called the horned grebe in North America due to the tufts of golden feathers present on its head during the breeding season, the British name refers the defunct state of Slavonia (now eastern Croatia). Like many grebes, Slavonian grebe has its legs right at the end of the body, excellent for swimming, terrible for walking and both the Latin name Podiceps and the Gaelic spàgritòn mean literally ‘arsefoot’!
A feature of the reserve during January was the huge numbers of birds present on the abundant standing water. A wetland bird survey count on the 19th found 3300 golden plover, 3046 lapwing and 196 redshank, while other high counts included 600 dunlin and 90 sanderling (above) on the 16th, 600 oystercatcher and 500 curlew on the 9th and 145 knot and 95 grey plover on the 24th. Also of interest, at least 28 ruff were present on Flat beach on the 20th. Notable species included the long staying spotted redshank on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm, and at least two jack snipe and unseasonal common sandpiper and greenshank on Harbour Farm. Waterfowl numbers were also high, and counts on the 18th and 19th found 875 teal, 756 wigeon, 741 mallard, 485 gadwall and 297 shoveler, while a count of 108 shelduck on the 17th was a record for the reserve. Less common species of waterfowl recorded during January included two long-tailed duck and the male scaup on Long Pit, and two great white egret, a Slavonian grebe and bittern at Castle Water. Raptors included upto three marsh harrier recorded at Castle Water and the occasional merlin and peregrine on the Beach Reserve, while barn owl was present regularly at Castle Water late in the month. Notable passerines included three firecrest at Castle Water on the 23rd (with one on the 25th), six brambling on the Beach Reserve on the 10th and bearded tit from the viewpoint on the 19th.
Photo by Darius Baužys
Despite the wet weather there were a few invertebrate records during the month. Flies included the first drone fly of the year on the 13th, while the winter gnat (sort of a spindly crane-fly) Trichocera regelationis was recorded at Lime Kiln on the 25th. Sorting through moss from areas of shingle on the 12th turned up several species of true bug including Taphropeltus contractus, Scolopstethus affinis and bishops mitre bug (above), so called because its shape resembles an ecclesiastical hat! Moss sorting also found the tiny money spider Centromerus dilutus, the first time this species has been recorded on the reserve.« December 2013 | February 2014 »