This month saw the first records of garganey (pair below) on the reserve for 2015, with one at Rye Harbour Farm on the 17th. This small duck, slightly bigger than a teal, breeds in small numbers at Castle Water, and is unusual amongst British waterfowl in that it is a summer visitor. Birds spend the winter in southern Africa, appearing on the reserve at the start of spring and begin their return journey around July. Females are fairly drab, but the males are super beasts, with a brown head and white eye-stripe, while both sexes have pale blue panels on the wings visible in flight. The English name probably comes from the rattling call of the male, and an old name for this species in Norfolk is ‘gargle-teal’.
While there was still a good range of wader species during March, the large numbers of individuals which have become typical of Rye Harbour during the winter were less evident as species such as golden plover and curlew moved off to their breeding grounds and lapwing flocks either moved on or broke up as local birds set up territories. There were some obvious signs of passage movement during March, with the appearance of little ringed plover and green sandpiper on Harbour Farm on the 23rd and the steady increase in avocet numbers, with 58 birds present on the 27th, though cold, northerly winds perhaps discouraged many species in this respect for much of the month. Notable records included up to 130 knot on shore ridges on the 13th, 22 ruff on Harbour Farm on the same date and several sightings of jack snipe on Harbour Farm and the Beach Reserve. Waterfowl during March included two booming bittern at Castle Water on the 27th, two spoonbill on the Beach Reserve on the 17th, great white egret on the Beach Reserve and at Castle Water on several dates, the male scaup on Long Pit early in the month and up to six goldeneye on Harbour Farm. Up to four marsh harrier were present, with the resident pairs beginning to display in preparation for the breeding season, while other raptors included merlin on Harbour Farm on the 19th and 20th and a peregrine over Harbour Farm on the 13th. At Castle Water, sightings of barn owl were regular, with perhaps two seen on the 8th. With the breeding season imminent, seabird numbers on the reserve increased throughout the month, with up to 110 Sandwich tern and Mediterranean gull present on around the breeding colonies. Passerines showed some signs of passage movement from mid-month, but as with other groups things did seem a bit slow! A black redstart was present on the Beach Reserve on the 13th, the first singing chiffchaff at Castle Water on the 18th (with four by the end of the month) and the first wheatear 17th, sand martin and swallow on the 21st. Also on the 21st probably the last of the winters fieldfare, with three at Castle Water.
The moth trap was run for the first time this month at Lime Kiln Cottage, though the cold weather resulted in only one bedraggled common Quaker in total! Elsewhere on the reserve Buff-tailed bumblebee queens were seen regularly, both peacock and small tortoiseshell were on the wing, and caterpillars of cream-spot tiger (below) and drinker began to emerge from hibernation later in the month. Other invertebrates during March included the spring hoverfly Cheilosia grossa and the rare beetles Odacantha melanura, Helops caeruleus and Badister collaris.
The plants in flower included common whitlowgrass, early forget-me-not, alexanders, coltsfoot and grey willow (below).