Spotted redshank is one of those birds which I generally hear more than I see, so it was nice to actually lay eyes on one on the new saltmarsh on the 18th (though there were one or two sightings by others earlier in the month). This species breed in northern Europe and Siberia in boggy woodland and spends the winter in Africa and Asia. While not uncommon on migration in the UK, relatively few birds spend the winter here. The ‘spotted’ part of the English name refers to the breeding plumage, which is black with white flecks, though birds seen at Rye Harbour are usually in the dull, grey winter plumage.
With the approach of the breeding season we began to see many of our special birds setting up their territories. Oystercatcher, lapwing and ringed plover could all be found displaying during the month, while black-headed gull became increasingly evident and we also had our first Mediterranean gull (above) of the year on the 13th. Early in the month waders at Rye Harbour were still characterised by large numbers of golden plover (2000 on the 3rd), lapwing (a maximum of 1700 on the 17th) and curlew (379 on the 13th). Later on, there was some evidence of passage movement, with sightings of avocet (including ten on the New Saltmarsh on the 18th), up to 250 dunlin, 30 knot and 24 grey plover (all on Flat Beach on the 17th). Waterfowl numbers dropped off after the big counts earlier in the year, though counts of around 500 wigeon, 400 teal, 280 gadwall and 121 shoveler were still decent totals. Highlights this month were several sightings of cattle egret on Harbour Farm (with three on the 28th), a bittern, seen at Castle Water on the 10th, a spoonbill (below) briefly on the Beach Reserve on the 19th and up to two black-necked grebe on Long Pit. In addition, great white egret continue to be a regular sight at Castle Water with up to two recorded during the month and up to three goldeneye were present on Harbour Farm. Raptors included regular marsh harrier, with birds seen displaying towards the end of the month, and the occasional buzzard and peregrine. In addition, there were occasional sightings of barn owl at Castle Water. Passerine highlight during the month continued to be the three twite which were seen regularly on Flat Beach until the 18th, while other notable sightings included 180 fieldfare (and a redwing) at Castle Water on the 17th, 40+ skylark on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm on the 11th, up to two raven seen on several dates and occasional bearded tit at Castle Water late in the month.
Unseasonably warm weather late in the month brought out some early invertebrates including buff-tailed bumblebee, small tortoiseshell, clover leaf-beetle (below) and the parasitic fly Gonia picea on the 27th, the earliest ever record here. Other non-avian records during February included common seal in the River Rother on the 18th and 19th and water vole tracks on Harbour Farm late in the month! Plants in flower included Persian speedwell, red deadnettle and coltsfoot.