It was good to see a Smew on the reserve this month, with a ‘redhead’ (i.e. female or immature) present on the Quarry from the 9th until the end of the month. This species is a winter visitor to Western Europe from Russia and Scandinavia, with most spending their time off coast of the continent and with small numbers reaching the UK during cold weather. Once annual, sometimes in double-figures, this dainty duck has become an infrequent visitor to the reserve in recent years. The individuals we see are mainly youngsters and females; the much less frequently seen males tends to stay further north closer to their breeding grounds (this gives them a head start claiming territories in spring). Smew belongs to a group of ducks known as ‘sawbills’, so named for their serrated beaks which are used to hold onto their slippery fish prey (though Smew actually feed largely on invertebrates during the summer months). The word ‘Smew’ is probably related to Dutch smient and German Schmünte, both of which mean ‘wild duck’.
December saw a good range of waders on the reserve, with some big counts of some species - up to 3000 Golden Plover (above) on Flat Beach, 1500 Lapwing on Harbour Farm, around 150 Dunlin and 150 Knot on the shore and 122 Redshank on the New Saltmarsh on 15th. Highlights were several sightings of Spotted Redshank on Harbour Farm and a flock of at least 14 Ruff on the 27th. Similarly, some good counts of waterfowl during the month included around 800 Wigeon, 137 Teal and 86 Gadwall on 15th and 110 Shoveler at Castle Water on 31st, while a small flock of around 50 Brent Goose (below) were present on the New Saltmarsh late in the month. Apart from the Smew, waterfowl highlights were a Long-tailed Duck on Harbour Farm from 24th and Black-necked Grebe on Long Pit from 14th, while a flock of 60 White-fronted Goose were on Castle Farm on 25th and up to six Goldeneye were present on Harbour Farm throughout the month. In addition, around 100 Common Scoter were on the sea on 25th, and on 27th a young Shag was offshore and at least 11 Great White Egret were reported coming in to roost at Castle Water.
Raptors included regular Marsh Harrier and Buzzard at Castle Water, occasional Peregrine, with two at Castle Water on 17th, and Merlin on several dates. Highlight was a male Hen Harrier on Harbour Farm on 23rd, an increasingly uncommon sight at Rye Harbour. Passerine highlights were a Snow Bunting on the Beach Reserve on 5th, Firecrest at Watch Cottage on the 5th, Long Pit on 25th and Castle Water Hide on 27th and a Grey Wagtail on Castle Farm on 17th while a Black Redstart near the Discovery Centre on 30th was a pleasant surprise!