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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

An afternoon at RSPB Pagham Harbour: a Lizard, Curlew Sandpipers and Cattle Egret. 06.09.22

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

I went to RSPB Pagham Harbour, a place I have visited many times before, by train and bus. I took the train from Brighton to Chichester (55 minutes, two trains an hour), and then picked up the 51 bus at Chichester bus station (next to the rail station) to RSPB Pagham Harbour - stops outside (25 minutes, three buses an hour in winter) 51 Bus Route & Timetable: Chichester - Selsey | Stagecoach (

I arrived at 14.45, when the sun was out, and I saw a common lizard basking in the sun; I left at 17.30, when the sky was dark, and it was windy and rainy, and the Lapwings looked rather windswept. From Summer to Autumn in three hours!

The photos are presented in chronological order. Section of text in italics are quotations; sources given eat end of quotation

Birds seen: Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Lapwings, Black-Tailed Godwits, Curlew Sandpipers, Redshanks, Mallards, Gadwall, Black-Headed Gulls, Starlings,

Common Lizard

Living up to its name, the common lizard is the UK's most common and widespread reptile; it is the only reptile native to Ireland. It is found across many habitats, including heathland, moorland, woodland and grassland, where it can be seen basking in sunny spots.

Also known as the 'viviparous lizard', the common lizard is unusual among reptiles as it incubates its eggs inside its body and 'gives birth' to live young rather than laying eggs. Adults emerge from hibernation in spring, mating in April and May, and producing three to eleven young in July. Common lizard | The Wildlife Trusts

Ferry Pool

The little wader is a Curlew Sandpiper (Summer Plumage). This was conformed by a birder next to me with a scope. There was also reporting of Curlew Sandpipers in the Ferry Pool on Bird Guides

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. Population: UK passage: 740 individuals. Curlew Sandpiper Facts | Calidris Ferruginea - The RSPB

Black-Tailed Godwits and Lapwings

Low Tide at Sidlesham Quay

Cattle Egret at North Wall

We walk in single file along the narrow path that runs along the bank, overlooking the harbour. It’s not the first time that our local RSPB group has met for a walk in the last six months, but there’s a sense of revived camaraderie as we catch up with the latest news and point out birds and butterflies to one another.

To the south, glinting in the low evening sun, the water in the harbour is dropping as the tide goes out. Clouds of sand martins swirl above our heads, chattering away as they feed on the rising flies in the breeze. There are just a few lingering swallows among them. Waders are flying in to land, hungrily stabbing the emerging mud for worms. Among the redshanks, dunlins and curlews is a grey plover with its black, white and grey “judge’s wig” plumage.

Country diary: clouds of chattering sand martins swirl above our heads

Pagham Harbour, West Sussex: It is thought that seven pairs of cattle egrets have nested and at least 10 young have fledged here (Rob Yarham, 14.12.21, The Guardian). Country diary: clouds of chattering sand martins swirl above our heads | Birds | The Guardian

In a field, about 20 white cattle egrets walk around the feet of a herd of cows, picking at the invertebrates disturbed by the cattle. Occasionally, when a cow moves suddenly, an egret flaps its wings and dances to one side to avoid being kicked. Most of the cattle egrets are adults, still showing their summer orangey crests, but at least four of the birds are young – fledged this year – without the orange feathers. All are thicker-set, with squatter necks than little egrets, with heavier, pale beaks.

The cattle egrets began to congregate on the Selsey peninsula in large numbers in the winter a few years ago, before some started to nest and breed at Pagham Harbour in 2020 – the first time in Sussex. Cattle egrets first bred in Britain in 2008, in Somerset, and in Hampshire for the first time in 2019. This year, it is thought that seven pairs nested and at least 10 young fledged at Pagham.

This Cattle Egret seemed to picking off the flies from around this cow's eyes.

Sea Aster

Windswept Lapwing


Little Egret in White's Creek




Curlew flying over the marshes


Little Egret



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