A pleasant surprise this month was the presence of at least four singing corn bunting on the reserve, two at the western end of the Beach Reserve/Harbour Farm and two on Castle Water/Castle Farm. While never a common breeding species at Rye Harbour, up to eight pairs were present in the past and winter flocks sometimes numbered in the 100’s. However, in recent years it has become only an occasional breeder. As its name suggests, this is a bird that often breeds in crop fields (one alternative name is ‘fat bird of the barley’) and was a familiar site throughout lowland Britain. However, changes in farming practices have seen a steep decline in numbers in the last 50 years, and it is now on the UK red-list (i.e. species whose decline has been the most severe).
Highlights from a good range of passage species included a Temminck’s stint on Harbour Farm on the 6th, 16 ruff on Harbour Farm on the 6th, 27 whimbrel on Flat Beach on the 13th, and 14 black-tailed godwit on the new saltmarsh on the 30th. In addition, little stint were seen on several dates (with two on Flat Beach on the 17th) and there were occasional sightings of common sandpiper and greenshank.
Image: Simon Linington
For many of our breeding waders breeding is well under, and this month saw the first hatching of avocet, ringed plover and oystercatcher on Harbour Farm and the Beach Reserve. Similarly, the season for our breeding seabirds is ramping up, with nest counts on Ternery Pool during May finding 1500+ black-headed gull, 380+ Sandwich tern and around 52 Mediterranean gull, while, up to 26 little tern were present on Flat Beach level and 150 common tern on the Quarry. Raptors during May included regular marsh harrier and hobby, buzzard on the 5th and 19th, and peregrine on the 6th. The highlight was a black kite (above) seen briefly over the Beach Reserve on the 17th, while six red kite over Rye Harbour village on the 13th were also of note. There were several sightings of barn owl on Harbour Farm and a short-eared owl was present over the Beach Reserve on the 30th. Apart from corn bunting, notable passerines included a turtle dove at Castle Water on the 28th, raven over Castle Water on the9th and Harbour Farm on the 14th (two) and singing garden warbler at Castle Water on the 19th and 28th.
Poor weather during the month resulted in very low catches in the Lime Kiln moth trap, the short list of species including small elephant hawk-moth, shears, muslin moth and shuttle-shaped dart. Butterfly counts were also poor, with only a few small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral and speckled wood recorded. However, collecting the skins of larval dragonflies and damselflies mid-month was very fruitful, the best of the bunch being downy emerald, red-eyed damselfly and hairy dragonfly, while variable damselfly was seen on the wing on 17th. Invertebrate highlight during May was probably the discovery of the ant-mimicking jumping spider Myrmarachne formicaria (below) on Harbour Farm, the first record for the reserve, while records of the uncommon ground beetle Polistichus connexus on Harbour Farm on the 1st and the caterpillars of pale grass eggar on the Beach Reserve on the 12th and 21st were also of note. In addition, a bat survey at Castle Water on the 28th found soprano pipistrelle, Nathusius’ pipistrelle, Daubenton’s bat and whiskered bat. Plants in flower included sea kale, sea pea, red clover, mouse-eared hawkweed, herb robert, yellow rattle and ivy-leaved toadflax.