After first being spotted during December, the small flock of three twite was still present on the Beach Reserve throughout January. In the UK around 8000 pairs of twite breed mainly in the uplands of north west Scotland, with smaller populations in north Wales and the Pennines. Numbers of breeding pairs have decreased significantly in recent years, with the southern Pennine population, for instance, contracting by over 80% between 1990 and 2005. As a consequence, the species is currently on the red list of Conservation Concern. During the winter many birds move down to coastal areas, particularly in the east of the country, where they favour saltmarsh and feed on the seeds of plants such as sea aster, glasswort and annual sea-blite. In our corner of Sussex they are a very irregular visitor in small numbers with the last record at Rye Harbour four birds in November 2004.
January saw some good counts of waterfowl with 586 wigeon and 191 pochard on the 20th and 206 teal and 118 shoveler on the 19th, while a whopping count of 404 gadwall (above) on the latter date was one of the highest counts ever on the reserve. Waterfowl highlights included bittern at Castle Water on the 12th, up to two black-necked grebe on Long Pit, regular great white egret and goldeneye and cattle egret on two dates, with four roosting at Castle Water on the 20th and two on Castle Farm on the 31st. Offshore, the highlight was large numbers of cormorant on the 3rd, with at least 1,127 recorded coming in of the sea and heading towards Castle Water. The remainder of offshore records for January related largely to small numbers of great crested grebe, red-throated diver (a maximum of six on the 20th), gannet (singles on 12th and 20th) and brent goose (four on the 20th), with a flock of around 10 common scoter on the 6th. Numbers of golden plover remained high during January, with a maximum of at least 2000 on Flat Beach on the
Image: Nick Gardner
7th, while curlew numbers peaked at 391 roosting on Harbour Farm on the 2nd and lapwing 491 on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm on the 20th. Other notable wader counts during the month included 43 grey plover on the 20th and 42 ringed plover on the 24th, both of these on the Beach Reserve. Up to three marsh harrier where present at Castle Water and on Harbour Farm during the month (as well as up to two buzzard), while single peregrine were sighted on several dates. In addition, both short-eared owl and barn owl were recorded at Castle Water on the 23rd. In addition to the three twite on the Beach Reserve, passerines during January included 16 fieldfare at Castle Water on the 20th, mistle thrush at the entrance to the reserve on the 10th, regular kingfisher on Harbour Farm, with two on the 31st, and stonechat on several dates. The highlight was a Dartford warbler (above) near Castle Water Hide late in the month. Invertebrate sightings during January included yellow dung-fly (below) and the bluebottle Calliphora vicina, while a workparty at Castle Water on the 23rd found several overwintering wasp spider egg sacs. Plants in flower during January included gorse, annual mercury, red deadnettle and, rather surprisingly, mouse-eared hawkweed, with one found on the Beach Reserve on the 10th!