By Dr Barry Yates
Reserve Manager Rye Harbour
The heaviest book on my bookshelf is ‘The Migration Atlas’ and its 884 pages describe the information we have on the travels of our British birds. Bird migration is an amazing phenomenon of fuelling, endurance, navigation and timing. And nearly all birds seen in Sussex undertake these dangerous journeys. It’s much easier to list the ones that don’t often move far: nuthatch, wren and dunnock.
Next time you think November is cold, wet and miserable remember that many birds fly thousands of miles to spend their winter in Sussex because of our predictably mild climate. If you go outside tonight listen carefully and you could hear the clear fluty notes of redwing overhead that are arriving from Scandinavia. This small thrush comes here to feast on the berries in our hedgerows and is often accompanied by its larger relative the fieldfare that calls a distinctive chack-chack. All thrushes feed on worms and insects in grassland, so need the ground to be wet and frost free, saving those bright red berries for the freezing days. This is when the thrushes will be tempted into the gardens that have a supply of berries. Have you got some? If you are really lucky your berries might also attract a visiting flock of waxwing.
Our coastal wetlands are warmed by the sea and attract large flocks of Brent geese that nest in Arctic Russia. Alongside them will be other Arctic visitors in the form of long legged wading birds such as bar-tailed godwit, knot, dunlin, sanderling and golden plover. The Sussex coast has three ‘harbours’ – Chichester, Pagham and Rye - with protected areas for these global travellers where their habitat is maintained and disturbance minimised. Visiting one of these sites you have a good chance of seeing large spectacular flocks of Arctic birds.
So our Sussex birds are not ours. We share them with places thousands of miles away. Sussex is part of an international network of places that need wildlife sites to be maintained and not developed.