Trip reports

Weekend outing to Pett Level & Rye Harbour, East Sussex on 30th January, 2016

Weekend outing to Pett Level & Rye Harbour, East Sussex on 30th January, 2016
Rye Harbour by John Birkett

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

An unscheduled diversion to Pett Level before the advertised Rye Harbour visit proved well worthwhile and we soon found large numbers of birds in view, both land- and sea-ward, from the seawall there. Most immediately obvious inland were numerous Coots scattered about on the grass surrounding the roadside pools and amongst these we found a score or so Curlew, at least 30 Ruff, a single Bar-tailed Godwit and, after some anxious minutes of searching, the long-staying Glossy Ibis. A range of commoner dabbling and diving ducks were busy on the pools and the calls of Bearded Tit and Cetti's Warbler were soon picked up from vegetation along nearby ditches. A dozen or so White-fronted Geese were spotted further inland, together with good numbers of Brent, Greylag and Canada Geese. Out on the sea, two Slavonian Grebes in with a group of Great Crested Grebes were the pick of our sightings, with two rafts of Common Scoters and fly-by Red-throated Divers, Kittiwakes and single Fulmar also noted.

It was past 11am by the time we eventually reached the Rye Harbour Reserve but by then the earlier strong wind had abated considerably and the sun had come out, giving brilliant viewing conditions from the two hides overlooking the new tidal lagoon on Flat Beach. Among the masses of waders present there, big numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers (probably 1,000+ of each) first caught the eye, but Oystercatchers, Dunlins and Knot were also well-represented, together with a few Ringed Plovers, Redshanks and Turnstones, and single Avocet, Grey Plover and Sanderling. At least six male Pintails were found amongst the more usual wildfowl species, while a handful of Skylarks feeding on the sparsely vegetated shingle around the lagoon were the sole passerines noted. Moving on, a covey of at least four Grey Partridges among Lapwings on a grassy shoreline knoll was the best of our sightings at Ternery Pool, where Little Grebes and a single Common Snipe were also new for the day and the densely-packed high-tide roost of several hundred Oystercatchers near the Crittall Hide impressed.

Turning further inland, we joined the track beside the edges of Narrow and Long Pits as far as the southwestern extremity of the latter. We encountered the day's only raptors, a male Marsh Harrier and female Sparrowhawk, on this stretch and, after passing the old barns, had a rare flurry of passerine sightings, including two Stonechats, two Reed Buntings and a Meadow Pipit. Two Egyptian Geese flew low overhead (our fifth goose sp) and, scanning back from the end of Long Pit, we found two Black-necked Grebes (our fourth grebe sp) and two female Goldeneye amongst many Pochards. The Rye Harbour reserve has now become so large that a full circuit is quite a challenge in a single visit and, having made a late start after our Pett experience, we had to terminate our tour at this point and head back to the car park. On the way, we marvelled at the vast numbers of Lapwings and Goldies that filled the sky as the light began to fade, but our final bird (our 82nd species of the day!) was a very pale Barn Owl that floated across our path and soon afterwards landed on a fence post just ahead of us, carrying a vole in its talons. After a couple of preliminary pecks at this prey, the owl proceeded to swallow it in one gulp! It was an exciting end to a successful day.....for us and the owl, at least!

John Parish (trip leader).