A much anticipated bird at Rye Harbour at this time of the year is the wheatear (below). This species breeds all around the northern hemisphere and in Britain is most closely associated with stony, sheep-grazed grassland in the north and west of the country. In the past however it occurred commonly on the downs in Sussex, though unfortunately the species was considered something of a delicacy in the area, with locals catching and selling the birds for a profit, and this, combined with the loss of their downland habitat, resulted in the virtual disappearance from Sussex. These days Rye Harbour is one of the few places in the county where they still breed, with up to 12 pairs nesting annually. The common name is a corruption of the rather earthier ‘white-arse’, referring to its white rump, though the local name in Sussex was the equally rude ‘arseling’!
As always, March was a month of two halves as far as the birds go, with a distinctly wintery feel to the start of the month, and a more spring like aspect later on as the first of the summer migrants arrived and spring passage kicked in. At the beginning of the month the reserve was dominated by large flocks of golden plover and lapwing on the Beach Reserve and a wide range of winter waterfowl both here and at Castle Water. Notable ‘winter’ visitors included the occasional bittern at Castle Water, two long-tailed duck and scaup on Long Pit, great white egret and spotted redshank on the Beach Reserve and merlin here and on Harbour Farm. As the season marched on and the weather improved, we began to see a distinct change. On Ternery Pool, tern and gull numbers built steadily, with up to 1500 black-headed gull, 145 Mediterranean gull and 500 Sandwich tern towards the end of the month, while up to 24 avocet were also present on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm. The first of our breeding summer visitors included wheatear on the 17th, a swallow over the Beach Reserve on the 29th and a little ringed plover on Harbour Farm on the 27th. Other notable migrants included a little stint on the new saltmarsh from the 22nd, four garganey on Harbour Farm on the 22nd, two black redstart at Ternery Pool on the 28th and green sandpiper on Harbour Farm on the 27th. In addition, a red kite was seen over Rye Harbour village on the 17th, and a short-eared owl over Ternery Pool on the 27th. Highlight was a Kentish plover which was present briefly on the Beach Reserve on 5th, the third year in a row this species has been recorded on the reserve during March!
The warmer weather, particularly towards the end of the month, saw an increase in insect activity on the reserve. At Lime Kiln Cottage, moth trapping turned up common and small Quaker, early grey, early thorn and Hebrew character, as well as the local diving beetle Dytiscus circumflexus (above) and the craneflies Trichocera regelationis and Symplecta stictica. Butterflies on the wing included small tortoiseshell, peacock and comma, while both buff-tailed and red-tailed bumblebee also put in an appearance. Other insects of note included dotted bee-fly, and the uncommon beetles bombardier beetle and Helops caeruleus. Plants in flower included ground ivy, red deadnettle and Persian speedwell.