One bird which is typical of the winter months is the fieldfare and January saw at least 50 birds at Rye Harbour on Castle Farm on the 14th. Fieldfares breed throughout Europe, reaching as far as North Africa and China, and small numbers have even bred in UK, mainly in Scotland and Northern England, but also in Kent in 1991. However, the overwhelming majority are seen during the winter months when flocks can be found roaming the hedgerows or hopping over fields in search of food. Like many thrushes, fieldfares are omnivorous, feeding largely on invertebrates during summer, but preferring berries in the winter (though they may feed on molluscs if berries are hard to come by). The name fieldfare itself appears to be very old, perhaps dating back to the 11th century, though the jury is out on its etymology. The consensus seems to be that it means ‘field dweller’, though I think I prefer another interpretation which has it as ‘grey piglet’! This species also has a wide range of regional names in the UK, including ‘blue bird’ or ‘blueback’ referring to its bluey-grey mantle, or the likes of ‘frost bird’ or snow bird’ obviously referring to its appearance during our winter.
The long-staying red-breasted merganser was recorded regularly during the month, mainly on Harbour Farm but also on the Ternery Pool and the Quarry, with perhaps a second bird present on the 1st, while a black-necked grebe was present on Ternery Pool throughout (with another on Long Pit on the 6th). Great white egret continues to be a regular occurrence with sightings at Castle Water on the 8th and 17th and over Narrow Pit on the 10th, while up to five goldeneye were present on Long Pit and Harbour Farm on the 21st and 49 pintail on Flat Beach on the same date. In addition, three white-fronted goose were seen at the western end of Harbour Farm on the 14th. Less welcome were flocks of 17 and 26 Egyptian goose (above) at Castle Water on the 14th and 26th respectively, the highest counts of this introduced species on the reserve since records began! There were still good numbers of golden plover and lapwing on the Beach Reserve during January, with maximum counts of 2500 and 1200 respectively over Flat Beach, while at least 225 curlew were present on the overnight roost on Harbour Farm on the 2nd and 150 knot on the shore on the 27th. Other waders recorded during the month included up to 66 dunlin, 43 ringed plover, 25 redshank (below) and smaller numbers of knot, ruff, bar-tailed godwit and grey plover. Offshore sightings during January consisted mainly of a few red-throated diver and great crested grebe, with the highlights being five black-throated diver and 12 velvet scoter on the 2nd. Raptors during the month included marsh harrier at Castle Water on the 9th, merlin here on the 14th and peregrine over the Beach Reserve on the 10th. Passerine highlight during January were up to three Dartford warbler on Harbour Farm behind Ternery Pool, the highest count yet for this species on the reserve, while five bullfinch were seen near the track to the north of Harbour Farm on the 18th, and 50+ fieldfare were on Castle Farm on the 14th.