March produced the first booming bittern of the year, with a single male heard regularly at Castle Water from the 12th. Until recently this has mainly been a winter species at Rye Harbour, with up to 10 in cold years, though up to two booming males have been recorded in recent years. The story of breeding bittern in the UK has been one of ups and downs. Drainage of its reedbed habitat, coupled with persecution, saw it become extinct as a breeding species by 1886. However, by 1911 it had re-established itself, and numbers slowly increased until the 1950s, with around 80 booming males. Another decline followed (down to 11 booming males in the late 1990’s), before numbers recovered to at least 156 ‘boomers’ in 2015, largely due to increased conservation effort, funded mainly by the EU Life Program. This has created at least 400ha of reedbed habitat in recent years (18ha of this at Castle Water through the ‘Reedbeds for bitterns’ project). The booming call of the male has given rise to several local names including ‘bog-bull’ and ‘mire drum’, while Its scientific name Botarus stellaris literally means ‘starry bull-ox’, a reference to both its song and its speckled plumage.
Cold weather during March meant that it was a very slow start this year, though by the end of the month we were beginning to see the first signs of spring. Up to 63 avocet were present on Harbour Farm by the end of the month, many staking out their claims to the islands on which they will nest. The first Sandwich tern of the year was on the Quarry on 12th, with 110 present on Ternery Pool the 25th, while also at Ternery Pool, 127 Mediterranean gull were recorded on the 21st, and two common tern on the 31st. There were also increasing signs of our breeding waders ‘picking their spots’ and species such as lapwing, ringed plover, little ringed plover, oystercatcher and redshank (above) were all displaying by late March. Migrant passerines included the first wheatear of the year on the 25th (a very late first date, though slightly earlier than 2015 when the first date was the 27th) the first swallow (Beach Reserve) and sand martin (three at Castle Water) on the 27th and a small flush of warblers late in the month which included numerous chiffchaff and a few willow warbler and blackcap. Other notable sightings during the month included probably the last of the winter’s redwings, with 26 from the viewpoint on the 25th, two raven on Harbour Farm on the 22nd, two bearded tit at Castle Water on the 22nd, three firecrest, also at Castle Water, on the 24th, up to 20 ruff on Harbour Farm on the 24th and 40 snipe on West Beach on the 21st.
Still a little bit slow this spring invertebrate-wise, what with the cold weather persisting until late in the month. The moth trap at Lime Kiln was only run on the 30th, turning up small numbers of common Quaker, an angle shades and two great silver water beetle, while there were occasional sightings of drone fly, peacock, small tortoiseshell, buff-tailed bumblebee and caterpillars of both cream-spot tiger and ruby tiger. Grubbing on the shingle on the 17th turned up a few bombardier beetle (below), rosy woodlouse and ant woodlouse, the latter in a nest of yellow meadow ant. This month also saw the first record of common lizard for the year, a surprisingly active individual at Castle Water on the 23rd, while two brown hare were present near the hide hear on the 21st. Plants in flower included Persian speedwell, red deadnettle, Danish scurvygrass, common Whitlowgrass and coltsfoot.