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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Bumblebee Surveying & Birding at Rye Harbour. Nesting Common Terns & a Curlew Sandpiper. 26.07.22

The primary purpose of this visit to Dungeness was bumblebee surveying, aa part of my role as a volunteer with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's Short-haired Bumblebee Reintroduction Project.

I got to Rye by train from Brighton, changing at Eastbourne on the way out, and Hampden Park on the way back.

Despite the desiccated nature of the landscapes, after weeks of little rain, we saw a lot of Butterflies on the two transects we surveyed: Rye Golf Club (with permission of the club) and Nook Drain, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, including many Buff-Tails, and Common Carders, and some Red-Tails, and a few Earlys and Gardens (all common) and quite a few rarer bees, including a good number of Brown-Banded Carders and a couple of Ruderals, and a Red-Tailed Cuckoo Bumblebee. We also saw some interesting solitary bees including a Maritime Leaf-Cutter and a Pantaloon Bee. We also saw some other interesting insects, including Sand Wasps, Six-Spotted Burnet Moths, a Mint Moth and lots of Gatekeeper Butterflies, Meadow Browns and some Common Blue Butterflies

The vegetated shingle and sand environment of the Rye Harbour provides a special habitat for bumblebees and solitary wasps; mining bees and digger wasps find it a particularly hospitable habitat.

Red-tailed cuckoo bumblebee

Bobmus rupestris. This is a large cuckoo-bee which is a social parasite on the common and widespread red-tailed bumble bee, Bombus lapidarius. Both species are all black with a red tail, but the female parasite has darker wings. Bombus rupestris (Fabricius,1793) | BWARS (BWAS). Like all cuckoo bumblebees, this species does not collect pollen to feed offspring, but instead takes over nests of the Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius). Red-tailed cuckoo bumblebee - Bumblebee Conservation Trust and the Red tailed workers feed her offspring.

Brown-Banded Carder Bumblebee

Maritime Leaf-Cutter Bee (a solitary bee)

Sea Holly

Six-Spot Burnett Moth on Sea Holly

Red-Tail Bumblebee

Buff-Tailed Bumblebee - Queen

Common Blue Butterfly

The Golf Course

Pantaloon Bee (a solitary mining bee)

Sand Wasp Ammophila sabulosa

Nesting biology

A detailed study of the behaviour and ecology of marked A. sabulosa females has been made at a Breckland heathland site (Field, 1992). Nests usually occur at relatively low densities. Normally, a female digs a short burrow, ending in a horizontal cell, in bare or sparsely vegetated sand. Later, she temporarily closes the nest entrance using sand and tiny stones, then hunts for lepidopteran caterpillars in vegetation. About half of all cells are provisioned with just one large caterpillar, which is carried back on foot as it is sometimes more than ten times as heavy as the wasp. Other cells are provisioned with two to five smaller caterpillars (see Olberg, 1959). An egg is laid on the first caterpillar provisioned and rarely hatches before permanent closure of the nest burrow. After the last caterpillar has been interred the wasp permanently closes the burrow with a much deeper plug of sand, and camouflages the entrance with debris so that it is invisible to the human eye. All nests are unicellular. The whole nesting cycle, from searching for a digging site to closing the nest permanently after provisioning, takes an average of eight to ten hours of activity. Marked females each dug and provisioned up to ten nests during a summer.


One of the most interesting aspects of this species' behaviour is that almost all females, as well as digging their own burrows and hunting for prey, parasitise the freshly provisioned nests of other A. sabulosa. When a female detects a conspecific's nest she digs through the closure plug and enters. If the nest is empty, she quickly comes out and re-closes it; but if it contains prey, she either steals one of the prey items, or eats the host's egg, replacing it with her own (brood parasitism). Some 28% of eggs laid in their own nests are later destroyed by conspecific brood-parasites and prey thieves. Some nests are brood-parasitised up to four times, each time by a different female. Miltogrammine flies (Metopia spp.) destroy another 5% of A. sabulosa eggs, so that overall only about two-thirds survive to hatch. Ammophila sabulosa (Linnaeus, 1758) | BWARS

Common Blue Butterfly

A type of Shield Beetle on Fleabane

Mint Moth

From 17.15 - bird watching; Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Little Egrets

Scenes of the incredibly low level of water in the pools and scrapes.


Oystercatcher with no water

Oystercatcher in flight.

Common Terns


Common Terns

House Sparrows

Nesting Terns and their Chicks in the Saline Pool

The Saline Lagoon - low on water

The Ternery Pool



Oystercatcher and Dunlin


Black-Headed Gull and Little Egret

Redshank and Dunlin



Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Dunlin

Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper

The curlew sandpiper is similar to a dunlin, but in autumn it looks cleaner and paler with a white eyestripe. It has a longer, more down-curved bill than a dunlin and will feed in slightly deeper water. Deep chestnut breeding plumage unmistakable in spring and summer. In flight it shows a bright white rump. Curlew Sandpiper Facts | Calidris Ferruginea - The RSPB

Population: UK passage: 740 individuals Curlew Sandpiper Facts | Calidris Ferruginea - The RSPB (Passage migrants)



Little Egret




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