One of the bird highlights during February was a Jack Snipe on Harbour Farm on the 23rd. This close relative of the common Snipe is a winter visitor to the UK with breeding taking place in the far north of Europe and Russia. At Rye Harbour it is recorded more or less annually in small numbers, though this is a very secretive species and difficult to find, with most records the result of birds flushed when out and about on the reserve. While very similar to Snipe, the behaviour of the two species when flushed is quite different. Snipe tends to fly up when still some distance away and disappear into the distance calling loudly, while Jack Snipe waits until almost trodden on before moving, then dropping silently a relatively short distance away.
Good numbers of waders this month included 1000 Lapwing (above) and 2000 Golden Plover on 5th, 406 Oystercatcher on the 14th, 362 Curlew roosted on 5th declined to 234 by 21st, 150+ Dunlin on the 22nd and 120 Redshank on the 2nd, while other notable counts included 60 Sanderling on the 2nd and 45 Grey Plover on the 14th. In addition there were regular records of Ruff, with five at Castle Water on the 23rd, while Woodcock were recorded on 8th and 9th and several corpses along the shore. Signs of the advancing spring included displaying Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Lapwing, while from mid-month onwards we began to see increasing numbers of Avocet, culminating in a count of 36 on the 26th.
A cold week mid-month saw an in wildfowl numbers on and around the reserve, with particularly notable counts including 300+ Shoveler (above) at Castle Water on the 9th and around 3000 Wigeon on the 14th , 2 male Goldeneye and 3 female on Harbour Farm on 16th. Notable waterfowl included regular Spoonbill and Great White Egret, with 11 of the latter recorded leaving their roost at Castle Water on the 8th, 80+ White-fronted Goose flying over on the 1st and a Black-throated Diver at the mouth of the Rother on the 26th. This month also saw an increase in Black-headed Gull numbers as we head towards the breeding season, while the first Mediterranean Gull were present on the 28th.
Raptors included the usual suspects, with Buzzard, Merlin, Marsh Harrier and Peregrine all recorded during February. There were also saw two sightings of Hen Harrier, with a male over the Beach Reserve on the 14th and a ‘ringtail’ (immature or female) over Harbour Farm and the Beach Reserve on the 28th.
On the passerine front, the long-staying Shore Lark was still present on the Beach Reserve to mid-month, while there were several sightings of Black Redstart around the caravan park in Rye Harbour Village and a Firecrest was present at Harbour Farm Barns on the 22nd. In addition, 118 Fieldfare at Castle Water on the 19th was a good count for the reserve, while a Treecreeper was present on Harbour Farm on the 22nd and a Grey Wagtail near the viewpoint on the 28th.
Still quiet on the invertebrate front during February, though we did have the first Buff-tailed Bumble Bee and Honey Bee of the year and there were several sightings of butterflies including Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and even a Brimstone on Castle Farm on the 24th, a less than annual occurrence at Rye Harbour. The use of a bat detector during a period of mild weather later in the month turned up several species including Soprano Pipistrelle and Nathusius’ Pipistrelle on the 21st and Daubenton’s on the 23rd and Noctule and Common Pipistrelle on 25th while Water Vole (above) feeding signs were found in Nook Drain on the 3rd. Plants in flower included Red Deadnettle, Daisy (below), Common Whitlowgrass, Coltsfoot and Persian Speedwell.