By Mike Russell
Senior Conservation Advisor
It’s been pretty hard to escape wind and rain on any field trip this winter but on our first bird safari to Pagham Harbour this year, we managed to stay reasonably dry , although we did get blown about a bit.
We went to the northern part of Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve and despite the conditions, there were plenty of birds around and we were treated to some spectacular aerial displays by thousands of geese, ducks and waders. Huge skeins of Brent geese moved between the saltmarsh and surrounding fields their soft calls filling the vast skies as they passed overhead. At times these were joined by hundreds of lapwing and golden plover, rising as one unit at the merest hint of any danger, but there was more of a hint when a peregrine flew over the harbour, literally every bird on the mudflats took to the air on this occasion. Everything settled back down once the danger had passed and we could all enjoy the very close views of curlew, redshank and hundreds of teal and wigeon.Seeing so many curlews flying around us it is so sad to think that this species has just been placed on the red data list as it is one of the fastest declining species in the UK.
By midday, the tide was right out and the mudflats and shoreline were being probed by a variety of wader beaks. Dunlin, bustling about, their beaks acting like sewing machines as they searched for food, while redshank, a few knot and a single bar-tailed godwit took advantage of the vast array of food suddenly opened up for them. The shorter-beaked grey plovers and ringed plovers looked for more surface morsels whereas the busy turnstones rummaged amongst the seaweed and stones along the edges. A red-breasted merganser, complete with spiky-punk hairdo, dived under the water in the one remaining channel of open water.
It wasn’t a day for small birds; anything that took to the air was immediately blown far away.Unfortunately, while having lunch, a kingfisher sped right by us, but with sandwiches and flasks in our hands rather than binoculars, not many of us managed to get a good view of it. Still the pair of stonechats we spotted right at the beginning of the walk was a great start to the day.
Pagham Harbour is a brilliant place at any time of year, but if you don’t mind getting wet, wind and cold then the winter is really the time to get down there and enjoy the wonderful avian spectacle that awaits you.
red-breasted merganser / Alison Playle