One bird which epitomises summer for me is the little tern (below), and their graceful display flights and chattering calls always brings a smile to my face. The smallest of all the terns this species is identified by its yellow beak with a black tip, yellow legs, and white forehead (the specific name ‘albifrons’ means ‘white forehead’). These are one of our rarest breeding seabirds, with around 2,400 pairs in scattered colonies around the British coastline, and its’ decline in the 20th century appears to be largely the result of human disturbance due to our increasing use of the coast for recreational purposes since the 1920s and 30s. In the early 1970s, for instance, there were less than five pairs nesting on the shingle at Rye Harbour. In order to protect this tiny colony, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve was set up in 1972, and the advent of wardening and the provision of electric fences, saw numbers rise steadily to a peak of 76 pairs in 1985. However, since then numbers have dropped gradually, due to increasing vegetation cover on what was once bare shingle (little terns like to have a clear view of their surroundings), and predation from ground predators such as fox and badger, and no birds nested here at all in 2008 and 2009. Since then, we have used decoys and sound recordings to tempt them back and in 2013 11 pairs nested, with about the same number present this year.
On Ternery Pool, breeding for our other seabirds was well under the way, with around 250 Sandwich tern, 80 common tern and 1500 black-headed gull, the latter with several hundred chicks. After a good start, only one pair of Mediterranean gulls nested, though occasional birds could still be found on the reserve throughout the month. May also several saw several sightings of little gull (below) on the Beach Reserve. As might be expected at this time of the year, there were a good selection of both migrant and breeding waders around during the month. Notable migrants included regular little stint, the occasional curlew sandpiper, small numbers of whimbrel and up to eight knot, while a flock of 47 black-tailed godwit was on Harbour farm on the 14th. On Harbour Farm and the Beach Reserve our breeding avocet produced their first chicks mid-month, while at least one little ringed plover brood was seen on Harbour Farm later on. Notable waterfowl during May included several sightings of garganey on Harbour Farm and at Castle Water, bittern from the viewpoint, and best of the bunch, a spoonbill on the new saltmarsh on the 13th. Notable passerines during May included three spotted flycatcher and three whinchat at Castle Water on the 15th, a turtle dove at the viewpoint, and three singing corn bunting on Castle Farm. In addition, our wheatear produced their first broods late in the month, with at least a couple present on Flat Beach. Highlights were a red-rumped swallow among around 200 hirundines and 60 swift at Castle Water on the 8th and a hooded crow briefly at the river mouth on the 3rd.
Moth numbers in the Lime Kiln trap picked up in May, with a good range of species recorded. The bulk of the catch was made up of small elephant hawk-moth and common swift, while the highlights were a white colon on the 14th and a shore wainscot on the 31st. Similarly butterfly numbers increased during the month, and included several painted lady and red admiral. Dragonflies included hairy hawker, downy emerald and four-spotted chaser, while damselflies included variable, red-eyed and large red. Invertebrate highlights during May during May included the parasitic fly Wagneria gagatea, the first record for the reserve, the jumping spider Pellenes tripunctatus, and the sea beet weevil Lixus scabricollis (below).
Plants in flower included yellow horned-poppy, viper’s bugloss, common vetch, sea pea (below) and yellow rattle.