May can often be a good month for rare and uncommon visitors to the reserve and this year was a case in point! On the 15th, a male Red-backed Shrike was spotted on Castle Farm, the first record here since 2009. This species preys on invertebrates and small mammals which it impales on thorns in a ‘larder’ and which gives rise to the name ‘Butcher Bird’ (though I think the Old English ‘Wariangle’ meaning ‘destroying angel’ is more memorable still!). Even better, on the 16th May a Golden Oriole was heard on Narrow Pit, one of only a handful of records for this species at Rye Harbour. In addition, a Curlew Sandpiper was on Flat Beach on the 15th and 16th.
It seems to have been a very poor season for our breeding seabird this year, largely due to predation, the very dry conditions and an apparent lack of small fish in the sea. Conversely, high water levels early in the season meant that numbers of Black-headed Gull nesting on the reserve was quite low, and numbers have not recovered subsequently. While good numbers of Sandwich Tern were present early on little or no breeding appears to have taken place, with only a handful of birds present on Ternery Pool towards the end of the month. Similarly our Little Tern, despite prospecting both on the shore ridges and within the electric fence on Flat Beach, did not appear to have settled by the end of May, with very few appearing to be present. Similarly our waders seem to be having a hard time, with very few sightings of young and signs of extensive nest failure, particularly on Flat Beach. Fortunately it’s not all bad news however. Things are looking a bit brighter for the Common Tern for instance, with around 30 nests present on Ternery Pool and the Quarry by the end of the month, while there seem to be good numbers of warblers such as Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat and at least two pairs of Wheatear (out of around five) produced their first fledglings. There was also a small brood of Pochard at Castle Water during May. Notable waterfowl at Castle Water during May included booming Bittern, Great White Egret and up to three Garganey, while raptors during May included regular Marsh Harrier and Buzzard at Castle Water, two Peregrine and Hobby at Castle Water on the 3rd and 18th. The highlight however was 3 Red Kite over Harbour Farm on the 9th.
Moth trap catches during May consisted largely of Small Elephant, Heart & Dart and Common Swift, while highlights were the uncommon micros Five-spotted Ermel on the 25th and Bordered Ermel on the 26th. Dragonflies/damselflies during May included Hairy Hawker, Downy Emerald and Variable Damselfly, while a Willow Emerald on Harbour Farm on the 27th was only the second reserve record. Butterflies seemed few and far between though there were several records of Holly Blue and the odd Red Admiral during the month. Other notable invertebrates during May included a Pale Grass Eggar caterpillar on the Beach Reserve on the 28th May and two uncommon jumping spiders; Marpissa muscosa near Castle Water Hide on the 26th and Bianor aurocinctus (above) at Castle Water on the 28th, only the second reserve record. In addition, the rare Long-horned General soldier-fly (below) was found on Harbour Farm on the 29th. Plants in flower included Sea Kale, Yellow Horned-Poppy, Bee and Common Spotted Orchid, Grass Vetchling and Yellow Rattle.
Image: Alan Kenworthy