Site Manager, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Rye Harbour is an incredibly important site for migrant birds, and one of the most easily encountered of these is the Barn Swallow. I’ve heard it said that whatever the month, Barn Swallows will be on the move, either coming or going from our shores. They travel between the UK where they breed, and southern Africa, and in both hemispheres their arrival is celebrated as a sign of spring. It’s not all that long ago that we had no idea where they went for the winter, and for thousands of years even some scientists thought that they hibernated in the bottom of ponds! It was the introduction of bird ringing in the 20th century that led us to discover their true destination.
The Whimbrel seen at Rye will almost always be birds that are on migration. This elegant cousin of the Curlew has a very restricted UK breeding range mostly confined to Shetland, so they will tend to pass though on a refuelling pitstop twice a year between April and May on their way north, and again from July to September on the return trip to southern Europe and Africa, though some birds do now overwinter with us too.
From Chiffchaff to Osprey, there are many more species whose annual journeys pass through Rye, and some such as Chaffinch and Goldfinch may not be species we always think of as migrants. Birds don’t only make annual movements either; migration can also be on much shorter timescales. For example, there are the daily movements of species between feeding and roosting sites governed by the cycle of the tides, or from a favoured tree used for roosting to a recently ploughed field.
And of course, not all migration is undertaken by birds – bats, whales and insects all migrate too. The Long-tailed Blue is an exotic migrant from the Mediterranean with a handful typically reaching UK shores each year – one such individual was found on the reserve this summer.
For what to spot at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in November - see here
This post is also available on Sussex Wildlife Trust website