One of the highlights of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in recent years has been the increase in avocets with large numbers now breeding – 68 pairs this year!
Just look at the graph of breeding pairs since the nature reserve was established in 1970… and it's mostly due to the saltmarsh re-creation that followed the sea defence improvement works.
The question is… Where have these birds come from and where do they go in winter?
We always try to look for birds with colour rings as it is very interesting to see where birds move to and from. In the last few years there have been many birds present with colour rings on the nature reserve including little egret, little stint, oystercatcher, common sandpiper and many gulls. Three avocets have now been recorded with colour rings and all were ringed as chicks at their breeding sites.
FJ75132 is the most interesting avocet as the bird has been recorded on multiple occasions. It was ringed as a chick at La Saline Neuve, a coastal site in western France 440 km away on 20th June 2007. It was first recorded at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve on 9th June 2010. It was present as a breeding bird in the nearby Pannel Valley in 2011, 12 and 13. On 23rd March 2014 it was seen in the Pannel Valley, but by July of the same year it was back at Rye Harbour where is stayed until at least 19th August. In March 2016 it was back in the Pannel Valley and this year it has bred at Rye Harbour. We know the bird winters in France as there are many records at a number of different sites each winter.
The two other avocets were ringed as nestlings in England. EY04573 was ringed 12th June 2012 at Seal Sands, Teesmouth, Stockton-on-Tees. This site is 432 km away and it was seen on the nature reserve on 27th March 2015. EY78217 - photo below - was ringed as a nestling near the Beaulieu River in Hampshire on 29th May 2014, this site is 155 kms away. This bird was recorded several times this summer with two young in front of the Gooders Hide.
We are always keen to receive reports of colour ringed birds on the reserve. A photo is the best but if not it is essential to record the colour combinations. This should include which legs the rings are placed on and whether they are above or below the "knee" joint. Some are just plain but others will have letters and numbers printed on them and these would be needed. So the one above is left: dark green over blue, right: yellow over light green, all above the "knee".
Most avocets have already left the reserve for the winter, but a few may stay around until the rest return, towards the end of next February.