With their striking black and white plumage and upturned bill (below), avocet are one of those birds that even non-birders recognise. The name comes from an Italian word ‘avosetta’, and may relate to the black and white outfits worn by lawyers in certain countries, and in fact in some parts of England these birds were known as ‘lawyers’ (a name still used in some parts of America for the closely related American avocet). At the start of the 19th century avocet bred primarily on the south and east coasts, from Sussex around to the Humber estuary, but a combination of habitat loss, hunting and probably egg collecting saw numbers fall until it became extinct as a breeding bird in England in about 1840. The return of
the avocet to our shores occurred just after the start of the Second World War, when flooding of coastal areas to hamper invasion, coupled with exclusion of the public, created suitable breeding conditions, with the first returning birds breeding in Norfolk in 1941. Since then the species has gone from strength to strength, with about 1500 pairs nesting from the south coast to Cumbria! At Rye Harbour, the first breeding attempt was in 1994, but it was not until 2006, after excavation work on Harbour Farm associated with the sea-defence bank produced several saline pits with islands, that numbers really ‘took off’. This year we have had around 28 pairs, with many of the oldest chicks fledging by the end of the month.
Notable sightings during June included two garganey and a curlew sandpiper on Harbour Farm early in the month, two roseate tern (above) on Ternery Pool on the 27th and, best of the bunch, a golden oriole at Castle Water on the 18th. Among our breeding birds, black-headed gull seem to have had a good year, producing many fledglings, while Mediterranean gull numbers are well down, with only a few birds breeding and very few chicks produced. Sandwich and common tern numbers have also been low, while 11 pairs of little tern nested on Flat beach, producing their first chicks mid-month. Wheatear seems to be having a slightly better year, with five or so nesting pairs, and at least three sets of fledglings were present on Flat Beach from mid-month. In addition, up to six pairs of little ringed plover have been present on Harbour Farm, with a brood of three chicks seen on the 6th.
Interesting invertebrates seen during June included the Red Data Book soldier fly ornate general (above)and variable damselfly at Castle Water, brown-banded carder bee on Harbour Farm and the striking blue darkling beetle Helops caeruleus on the Beach Reserve. In addition, a visit by the British Arachnological Society on the 15th found several rare spiders including the tiny money spider Trichoncus affinis (only the third reserve record), Lathys stigmatisata and Haplodrassus minor. Plants in flower during June included viper’s bugloss, twiggy mullein, common spotted orchid and bee orchid.