Rye Harbour Wildlife – December 2017
Bird highlight this month was probably a Dartford warbler seen on Harbour Farm on the 28th. For much of the 20th century numbers of breeding Dartford Warbler in the UK were quite low, with harsh winters and loss of suitable heathland to breed on the main culprits. However, numbers began to recover during the latter part of the century and a survey of breeding pairs in 2006 found over 3200 territories in the UK, an increase of around 70% since the previous survey in 1994. At Rye Harbour the species is largely an irregular winter visitor to the reserve. The English name comes from Bexleyheath near Dartford from where the species was first described at the end of the 18th Century, while the local name ‘furze hen’ reflects its’ liking for heathland on which to breed.
As is often the case at this time of year, the bulk of wader numbers during December was provided by golden plover, with flocks of up to 3000 birds present on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm, while 800+ lapwing and 200+ curlew were also recorded during the month. Other wader sightings during the month included a ruff on Castle Farm on the 10th, small numbers of black-tailed godwit, with five at Castle Water on the 6th and 16th, a knot on Flat Beach on the 10th and small numbers of bar-tailed godwit. Notable waterfowl sightings included regular black-necked grebe, with at least four present on the Long Pit on the 5th, up to four goldeneye, one or two male red-breasted merganser on Harbour Farm and the Beach Reserve throughout the month, regular great white egret, with at least three at Castle Water on the 23rd and a bittern (above) at the viewpoint on the 26th. In addition at least four ruddy shelduck were present on the Beach Reserve on the 15th. Individuals of this species recorded in the UK are likely escapees from captive populations (the closest native populations are in south-east Europe), but still, this was the first record of this attractive species at Rye Harbour since 2005. Raptors included several sightings of merlin on Harbour Farm during the month, with an immature peregrine also here on the 23rd, while a buzzard was seen at Castle Water on the 10th and there were regular sightings of marsh harrier with two seen on both the 14th and 23rd. In addition to the Dartford warbler, passerine sightings during December were fairly limited, with regular stonechat around the reserve, seven fieldfare on Castle Farm on the 10th, two raven over the Beach Reserve on the 3rd, and a small group of long-tailed tit on Harbour Farm on the 19th, an unusual record for this part of the reserve.
As might be expected very little in the way of non-avian sightings during December, though a previously undiscovered patch of the uncommon plant white horehound found at Castle Water was a nice surprise, as were stoat (below) and weasel on the Beach Reserve!