April is a good time to see brown hare (below) on the reserve, particularly the grassy ridges near Camber Castle. At this time of the year, females can sometimes be seen fending off the attentions of amorous males, standing on their hind legs and ‘boxing’ their suitors (it’s this bizarre behaviour which gave rise to the phrase ‘mad March hares’, though it is not confined to this month). Similar to the familiar rabbit, hares can be told by their longer black-tipped ears and longer legs, this latter allowing them to reach speeds of up to 40 mph. Unlike rabbits, hares do not use burrows, rather resting in depressions in the ground called ‘forms’ Brown hares used to be very common in England, though changes in agriculture, possibly coupled with increased numbers of foxes, a major predator, in recent years has seen numbers fall considerably.
No great numbers of waders during April, though a good selection of species. Migrants included small flocks of golden plover, curlew and dunlin, small numbers of snipe and ruff and the occasional greenshank and common sandpiper. Good numbers of whimbrel and bar-tailed godwit were also present, particularly towards the end of the month, and two spotted redshank was on Harbour Farm on the 23rd. The wintering purple sandpiper was seen until 16th. By the end of April, our breeding waders had already set up territories, most notable among these being perhaps 25 pairs of avocet and five pairs of little ringed plover. Breeding seabird numbers on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm included peak counts of 500 Sandwich tern, 126 Mediterranean gull, 70 common tern and 35 little tern, while notable waterfowl included two booming bittern, up to five garganey and a great white egret at Castle Water and four red-breasted merganser offshore on the 9th. Raptors included the resident breeding marsh harrier pair at Castle Water, a buzzard at Castle Water on the 4th, a peregrine over Harbour Farm on the 4th and, later in the month several sightings of hobby including two at Castle Water on the 24th. In addition, the occasional barn owl was present on Harbour Farm with a short-eared owl here on the 18th.
Passerines during April included a good selection of passage migrants and summer visitors. Hirundines included up to 50 house martin, 30 sand martin and 20 swallow, while 40 swift were seen at Castle Water on the 27th. This month also saw an influx of warblers, with blackcap, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, reed warbler, whitethroat and lesser whitethroat all singing by the end of the month, while a garden warbler at Castle Water on the 27th and a wood warbler on the Beach Reserve on the 23rd were notable. Other passage migrants included at least two nightingale on Narrow Pit on the 22nd and whinchat on the Beach Reserve and on Harbour Farm on the 14th and 27th. The first cuckoo of the year was seen on the 16th on Harbour Farm, with up to 10 present by the end of the month, while small numbers of wheatear and yellow wagtail were also recorded. Very unusual here were sightings of jay on 6th and 19th. Finally, a flock of six corn bunting on Harbour Farm on the 6th was a pleasant surprise.
Still very poor for moths during April, the Lime Kiln trap empty more often than not, and with only the odd common Quaker, small Quaker and clouded drab to show for my efforts! Caterpillars were far more obvious, with oak eggar, cream-spot tiger, garden tiger and drinker all recorded during April. Still early days for dragonflies and damselflies, though large red damselfly and hairy hawker were seen at Castle Water, while butterflies included small copper, small tortoiseshell, peacock and speckled wood, then a painted lady on 28th. . Other interesting invertebrates during the month included dotted bee-fly and lesser thorn-tipped longhorn beetle (below), only the second reserve record. Plants in flower included common whitlowgrass, Danish scurvygrass, ground ivy and hawthorn.