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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Birds at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, 24.04.21; including Avocets and Whitethroats.

This was a very special day, as it was the first time I travelled on a train and bus for seven months, due to anxiety about covid-19 (and needing to shield my mother who was having cancer treatment). Now I have had my second jab (so has my mum, and her cancer is in remission) it seemed safe enough to use the train. I was planning that it would be just one train to Rye, but there was a rail-replacement bus between Hastings and Rye (as there often is); so I had to tackle my slight phobia of returning to buses too. And it was OK; I won't say I didn't feel anxious - I did on the small bus with quite a lot of people in it - but I coped and now feel ready to return to birding by bus and train. I do not have a car as I hate driving, and I want to reduce my carbon footprint; I don't fly either; all my birding is by foot, bus, bike or train; depending on distance.

I used to travel through Rye twice a month, before covid, on my way to Dungeness, where I volunteer with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's Short-Haired Bumblebee Reintroduction Project, which entails a train (or two) from Brighton to Rye and then a bus from Ryde to Dungeness RSPB; a journey of 2 hours 40 minutes. Because of the journey length. I don't have sufficient time to visit the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, which is a 3 mile walk from Rye Station; so I had been looking forward to a day trip to Rye Harbour for a long time. I am resuming bumblebee surveying in Dungeness next month.

Rye Harbor Nature Reserve is managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust Rye Harbour | Sussex Wildlife Trust The landscape, habitats and archaeology of the Rye Harbour Reserve fascinate me. The habitats are partly "natural" (estuary, and shingle beach, separated from Dungeness (the largest shingle spit in Europe) by the estuary of the Rother) and partly "human-made" i.e. constructed/managed pools and lakes and saltmarshes; however the distinction of "natural" and "human-made" habitat is quite problematic, as all of the landscape of Sussex e.g. estuaries and the Downs (and everywhere else in the world) are partly human made; thus is the nature of the Anthropocene epoch of geological time in which we live.

Rye is particularly interesting, as it is a landscape which has a large diversity of marine, estuary, saltmarsh, and saline pool habitats, with remnants of military buildings from the Tudor and Napoleonic periods and the Second World War, constructed to defend the coast from invasions, and marking the ancient shorelines: Camber Castle (500 years ago), Martello Towers (200 years ago) and Blockhouses (75 years ago). Progressively the sea has retreated - Rye town was originally a coastal port - it is now two miles for the coat; where Rye Harbour is located.

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is one of Britain’s most important conservation sites, a rare coastal landscape of outstanding geological, biological, cultural and heritage value on the unspoilt coastal boundary of East Sussex and Kent.

A mosaic of interlocking shingle ridges, saltmarsh, intertidal grazing, reed-beds and saline lagoons, we are home to some 4,275 species of plants and animals, including more than 200 rare or endangered birds and mammals. It enjoys many national and international protections. About Rye Harbour Nature Reserve | Sussex Wildlife Trust (

Because of quite strong winds there were not as many birds to see (easily) as on a more still day. The highlights for me were Avocets and Whitethroats (which according to some regular Rye Harbour birders that I spoke to have only just this week arrived back at Rye from their annual migration to/from Africa), both were new-to-me sighting, I also enjoyed the Whimbrels and Skylarks (and all the birds I saw really!): I saw: a Little Egrets, Skylarks, a Goldfinch, Avocets, a Robin, House Sparrows, Shelducks, Greylag Geese, a Stonechat, Cormorants, Little Grebes, Oystercatchers, Coots, Whitethroats, Great Crested Grebes, Blackbirds, Woodpigeons, Herring Gulls, and a Linnet.

I arrived at the Reserve at 11.30 and left at 18.55. These photographs are presented in chronological order of their taking.

A Little Egret in front of a bank of Oystercatchers (Flat Beach)

A Skylark; Skylarks are quintessentially field birds, who nest and forage in field and open countryside; I was a little surprised to see them foraging on very shingly ground with very little grass, and walking on tarmac - I have never seen this before.

I was very pleased to capture this male Linnet; Linnets are extremely difficult to photograph as their are flighty birds. Linnet populations are sadly decaling:

The same Linnet

A Grey Heron flying.

A Cormorant in flight.

A Goldfinch.

A Great Tit.

A Mallard in flight.

A Shelduck in Flight

Two Avocets - these were a new-to-me sighting; I went to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve because I knew Avocets where there at the moment.

The avocet is a distinctively-patterned black and white wader with a long up-curved beak. This Schedule 1 species is the emblem of the RSPB and symbolises the bird protection movement in the UK more than any other species. Its return in the 1940s and subsequent increase in numbers represents one of the most successful conservation and protection projects. Avocet Bird Facts | Recurvirostra Avosetta - The RSPB In 1947, the coastal marshes of East Anglia were flooded to defend the country against potential invasion. This created the perfect breeding ground for avocets, and they returned to our shores after being extinct from the UK for more than 100 years. Since then, numbers have continued to grow across the UK. Avocets | RSPB Conservation - The RSPB

A Black-headed Gull in flight.

A Robin

A House Sparrow

A Shelduck

A Shelduck dabbling.

Dabbling Ducks A dabbling duck is a type of shallow water duck that feeds primarily along the surface of the water or by tipping headfirst into the water to graze on aquatic plants, vegetation, larvae, and insects. These ducks are infrequent divers and are usually found in small ponds, rivers, and other shallow waterways, or else they may stay near the shallow, slower edges of larger waterways and swamps. Dabbling Duck Definition - Learn the Dabblers (

An Avocet in flight.

Two Greylag geese with goslings.

Cormorants; I saw about 200 cormorants in total, clustered into small groups in the Ternery Pool

Little Grebes in the Long Pit


A Coot

Avocets; a group further south east from the first Avocets I saw.

A Moorhen.


A Whitethroat - freshly arrived from Africa.

The male whitethroat does, indeed, have a white throat! Arriving from Sub-Saharan Africa in April, it can be spotted on grassland and scrub, and along hedgerows. It is bigger than the lesser whitethroat. The whitethroat is a medium-sized, long-tailed warbler of grassland, scrub and hedgerows. It is a summer visitor and passage migrant, breeding in many areas, but avoiding urban and mountainous places. Males whitethroats build nests out of twigs and roots and the females then decide which to take. whitethroats winter in Africa, leaving our shores in early October and heading as far as South Africa. Whitethroat | The Wildlife Trusts

A Great Crested Grebe, Long Pit

Another Whitethroat

Shelducks in flight.


The whimbrel is a large wading bird. It has longish legs and a long bill which curves near the tip. It is brownish above and whitish below. In flight, it shows a white 'V' shape up its back from its tail. In the UK, this species only breeds in north Scotland. It is a passage migrant to other areas in spring and autumn on its way from and to its wintering areas in Africa. The Shetland and Orkney breeding population has been slowly increasing.

It is a Schedule 1 species of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Whimbrel Bird Facts | Numenius Phaeopus - The RSPB

A Greylag Goose.

Greylag Geese in flihgt


A Whimbrel sandwich; with two Greylag Geese

A Blackbird.

An Avocet in flight and a Coot

Avocets toward dusk, gathering to roost collectively?

Woodpigeons; a always like to put in a shout for "common" birds; Woodpigeons may be ten-a-penny but they are still beautiful birds.

And a Herring Gull in flight.



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