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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Pett Level and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve: a Black-Necked Grebe & a Spoonbill. 25.01.22

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

I went to Pett Level, in part to see if I could see the Russian White-Fronted Geese that had been seen there of late; I didn't see them. But when I was in the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, I visited the Denny Hide on Castle Water, and finally saw the Black-Necked Grebe which I knew had been around for quite a few months. Another birder pointed it out to me, as he saw it in his spotting scope; which will tell you something of how far away it was. Prepare to be a little disappointed with my photos of it! They aren't very good photographically (they are very indistinct). But I am not disappointed with them; they are records of an enjoyable experience.

All the photos in my blog posts are designed to record significant experiences (the beauty or interest of birds and/or landscape that captured my attention on that day), that I can view in the future to recall those experiences. They are also designed to engender interest in nature and pro-environmental behaviours. If I get a good photo I am pleased, but I do not aim to take great photos. Every photo of mine is a record of an experience; so every photo is a "record shot".

Like my previous trip to Pett Level and Rye Harbour, see Pett Level and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve: a Great White Egret & a Spoonbill. 04.01.22, I started this walk at Cliff End (where Fairlight meets Pett Level), and walked to Winchelsea Beach, into the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife Trust). I took the train from Brighton to Hastings and then the Stagecoach 101 bus from Hastings Station to Cliff End (once an hour). From Rye Harbour I walked to Rye town station to get the train back to Brighton (changing at Hampden Park). However, unlike on 04.01.12, I took a different route through Rye Harbour; this time I walked to Castle Water, to visit the Denny Hide and then walked down to the harbour entrance to the reserve and walked to the Salt Pool to see if the Spoonbill was still there; it was. Unlikely my last trip to Pett Level, the tide was very low, so the submerged forest was visible.

The photographs are presented in chronological order. Birds seen (in chronological order):

Pett Level:

Curlews, Robin, Dunlin, Lapwing, Greylag Geese, Grey Herons, Herring Gulls, Redshanks, Coots, Grey Plover, Golden Plovers, Oystercatchers, Wigeon, Gadwall, Marsh Harrier, Tufted Ducks, Cormorants, Mute Swans, Moorhen, Pied Wagtails, Turnstone

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve:

Rock Pipit, Blackbirds, Moorhen, Magpies, Dunnock, Marsh Harrier, Wigeon, Shelducks, Shovelers, Curlew, Starlings, Tufted Ducks, Chicken, Robin, Cormorant, Black-Necked Grebe, Marsh Harrier, Gadwall, Mallards, Lapwing, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Woodpigeon, Little Egrets, Redshanks, Spoonbill

The highlights for me were getting a good very look at a large flock of Dunlin on the beach at Pett (a red listed bird); and the huge flock of Golden Plover on Pett Level, which performed acrobatics in the sky (see the video); the large number of Lapwing (also a red listed bird) on the marshes, and some good views of a Marsh Harrier over Pett Level. It was good to see the Black-Necked Grebe for the first time; and to see the Spoonbill (I presume the same one) in the same place (Salt Pool) at the same time (just before dusk)

Pett Level

Pett to Winchelsea Beach (west entrance to the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve) (map: Route in orange. There is a route map of my journey round Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, at the beginning of that section.

Pett Level/Cliff End (end of the Fairlight Cliffs) - the Sunken Forest

Buried under the rugged coastline near Hastings lies the last remnants of a great Stone Age forest. About 5,200 years ago, the prehistoric forest at Pett Level would have dominated the nearby landscape. Its array of oak, hazel and alder trees would have provided the perfect hunting grounds for the neolithic humans. But rising sea levels brought an end to the forest's dominion over the surrounding East Sussex skyline, with sea levels rising 30m since this age. About 5,200 years ago, the prehistoric forest at Pett Level would have dominated the nearby landscape. Its array of oak, hazel and alder trees would have provided the perfect hunting grounds for the neolithic humans.

Today, the remains of the sunken forest can sometimes be seen at low tide in the sand opposite the levels. This depends on whether recent sea conditions have buried the remains further underground. Spongy wooden roots, fallen trunks and tree stumps can be found across large areas of the beach near Pett Level. Pett: The Sussex village where a prehistoric forest is buried under its coastline - SussexLive

A Curlew flying down to the beach.

The Battery Observation Post on Toot Rock, part of the WWII Pett Emergency Coast Defence Battery

A fire control centre for a gun battery, the term is usually synonymous with Emergency Coast Defence batteries. A BOP might be purpose-built or be established in an existing building, such as a Martello Tower. The BOP usually housed a range-finder as well as a Dumaresq fire control computer. Pett Emergency Coast Defence Battery (2) (

Walking along the seawall (dyke) at Pett Level affords views over to marshes (north) and over the beach and sea (south) as the dyke is about 10 ft above sea level

Robin by a wheel of a truck parked on the Pett Level road

A flock of Dunlin

A Curlew and two Dunlin; for size comparison

Looking back to Cliff End

The Pett Level Marsh

Sheep and Lapwings

Greylag Goose

Grey Heron

Greylag Geese and Lapwings

Grey Heron and Greylag Geese

Herring Gull

Oystercatcher, Herring Gull and Redshank on the beach

Many Coots

Grey Plover on Pett beach

Curlews over Oystercatchers

Grey Plover

Curlew and Oystercatchers

Wigeon on one of the Pett Pools

Wigeon and Coots


Marsh Harrier

Widgeon in flight; spooked by the Marsh Harrier

Wigeon asleep



Three male Tufted Ducks and a Herring Gull

Wigeon in flight.


Cormorants landed to the east Pett Pool

Herring Gull, next to frozen drain


Lapwings, Golden Plovers (lots) and Sheep

Golden Plovers in flight.

Mute Swans


Pied Wagtail




Turnstone on a groyne post


Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail going

Rye Harbour Nurture Reserve (my route in range) - starting at Winchelsea Beach and ending at the Salt Pool. I returned to Rye station by walking up the Rye Harbour road to Rye

Rock Pipit on the sea wall north bank, Winchelsea Beach

Bunny on shingle

Female Blackbird



Marsh Harrier flies into the Wigeon above the first (west) pool of the Rye Harbour reserve


Shoveler ducks in the first pool

Curlew and Starlings

Female Tufted Duck in a small pool on the way to Castle Water

Farm Chicken


Castle Water

Wigeon asleep on Castle Water

Male Tufted Ducks

Camber Castle

Female Shoveler

Female Shovelers flying over Wigeon

Male Tufted Duck

Cormorants roosting

Views from the Denny Hide

Black-necked Grebe (third from left) amongst Wigeon and Tufted Ducks)

Black-Necker Grebes (third from left)

Marsh Harrier flying over Cormorants

Close up of the Marsh Harrier

Black-Necked Grebe and two Wigeon

Cormorant and Lapwings


Lapwings and Gadwall


Male Shoveler

A pair of Shovelers


Cormorants roosting

A pair of Tufted Ducks

Looking over Castle Water from the "viewing point" - further east from the Denny Hide

Female Shoveler and a Coot

Path to the main entrance (east) of the reserve.

Female Blackbird

A pair of Blackbirds

Great Crested Grebe in the reed beds by the east path


Martello Tower No.28 was the first Tower in Sussex, built on the west bank of the River Rother and commanded the then entrance to the Harbour. It is located in a moat and is known as the 'Enchantress Martello Tower'. Martello tower No. 28 survives well, and retains many of its original components and associated features, including its glacis bank.

Redshank in the New Saltmarsh

Little Egret


Curlew on the Salt Pool

Salt Pool - Lapwings, Redshank

and Little Egrets and Shekducks

Spoonbill - in the same location (Salt Pool) as I have seen this Spoonbill twice before

Lapwings on the Salt Pool

Sheep grazing around the Salt Pool



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