• Sim Elliott

Arundel WWT & the Arun: a Grey Wagtail, a Sedge Warbler, a Red Kite, and a Marsh Harrier, 26.04.21

As I now feel confident about using public transport again, I decided on Monday to visit the Arundel Wetland Centre (Wildfowl and Wetland Trust) and then take a walk along the Arun to Amberley.

Barnham Station

To get to Arundel by train it is is necessary to change trains at Barnham. Next to Barnham station was a large Rookery. Whilst waiting for the train to Arundel I observed the Rooks' behaviour, it was fascinating. Rooks are social corvids, forming very large flocks. Rooks also form life-long partnerships and "spend a lot of time close together, feeding one another, displaying and vocalising together and preening. They also act at the same time, one copying the other’s movements. ... Rooks like to play with different objects, including sticks and stones. They will often play tug-of-war with another Rook. Although they don’t use sticks as tools, they do play with them, as well as use them to build nests" Rook Behaviour Guide | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. I observed these Rooks mirroring each other at their nests. Rookeries are very noticeable at this time of the year, when Rooks nest, because of the Rooks' loud cawing; watching them play with sticks and add them to their nests is fascinating; and reminded me that nature is all around us, it is not necessary to go far to see nature, nor go to a designated nature site, such as a Nature Reserve or Wetland Centre, to see nature. The Rooks from this Rookery were not at all shy of humans, and flew onto the station platforms frequently, looking for crumbs from passengers snacks.

I also saw a pair of Collared Doves, foraging for food, on the station's platforms. I changed at Barnham again on Tuesday 27.04.21, on the way to Pulborough, and saw these Collared Doves again. When you see a bird once in a location it may not be in its home territory (many birds have a small territory in which they live), but seeing them more than once in the same area suggested that that it may be their specific territory; although it is not always possible to know whether you are seeing the same individuals. Collared Doves range covers the whole of the UK so they could be found almost anywhere, but they only came to the UK in the 1950s, after a rapid spread across Europe from the Middle East. Collared Dove Bird Facts | Streptopelia Decaocto - The RSPB


On the walk from Arundel Station to the Wetland Centre, I saw this Grey Wagtail. I saw it in flight first, it was clearly a Wagtail from it's "jizz" ("a birding term to describe a birds unique overall character and impression using shape, proportions movement etc. Once you become familiar with a species you pick up on the jizz to make a quick ID. Sometimes it gets you to a bird family quickly, or sometimes straight to a particular species"). Jizz - Identify this - Wildlife - The RSPB Community. I initially thought it was a Yellow Wagtail, but after checking with a fellow birder (via a Facebook posting in a bird group, a very good way of checking identification), it was "only" a Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea, still an RSPB red list bird (UK breeding estimate :38,000 pairs). Yellow Wagtails, Motacilla flava, are much rarer and a summer migrants from Africa. Grey Wagtails are more colourful than its name suggests with slate grey upper parts and distinctive lemon yellow under-tail. Its tail is noticeably longer than those of pied and yellow wagtails. They have gradually increased their range in the past 150 years and in the UK have expanded into the English lowlands from the northern and western upland . Likes fast-flowing rivers in summer their greatest densities are in the hills of England, Scotland and Wales ,Grey wagtail Bird Facts | Motacilla Cinerea - The RSPB. This Grey Wagtail was perched next to the Arun, by the Queen's Street Bridge, in a town right next to the hills of the South Downs. Knowing a bird's typical habitat and range is very important for identification.

I think it is important not to use the word "only" in bird watching, as it implies a negative comparison, which can have negative impact on well-being; downward comparisons are never helpful for happiness. I was originally disappointed that I had "only" seen a Grey Wagtail, not a Yellow Wagtail; but seeing a Grey Wagtail, like seeing any bird, is something special, if you take time to attend to its appearance and behaviour. Another problematic use of "only" is when it is used in relation to the number of species seen on a particular birding outing. When I visited RSPB Pulborough Brooks the next day (Tuesday 27.04.21) I was initially pleased with what I had seen (I saw Greenshanks and an Egyptian Goose, which were new to me, and birds that I have seen many times before, but were pleasurable to see). However, when I spoke to other birders on the site they had seen more species than me (including seeing Nightingales, which have just returned from Africa and I would have liked to have seen). I began thinking its was shame that I "only" saw the Greenshanks and the Egyptian Goose, and a few "common" birds. But really, how many species you see, or how rare they rare, are not important to wellbeing; enjoying what you see, especially when you look with sustained sustained mindful observation of appearance, behaviour, habitat etc., whatever you see, is the key to enjoying bird watching I believe. A Herring Gull doing something very interesting is just as interesting and enjoyable as seeing a very rare bird, or a large number of species.

When I walk through landscapes I enjoy finding interesting features, like this plaque from the Arundel Queens Street Bridge across the Arum, memorialising the fact that building of the bridge was instigated by Edward Blaxton, when he was mayor of Arundel. The history of bridges is fascinating, as the ability to cross a river has a profound impact on the history of settlement in Sussex. When I am walking around I try to notice things aside from birds; I am fascinated by the built environments as well non-built environments

This photo was taken Peter Trimming / Bridge at Arundel / CC BY-SA 2.0 Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

On the bridge was this sign that maid me chuckle. When choosing images to visually support key messages it is wise to choose images that convey visually the underlying meaning of the words/text that they support. I am no sure that the icon of the two swans on this sign supports the message of social distancing!

Arundel Wetland Centre (Wildfowl and Wetland Trust)

NGOs (Non Governmental Organisation) play an important role in the conservation of birdlife. One of the most famous is the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, instigated by the naturalist and artist Peter Scott. The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's mission is to "save critically endangered species from extinction, work with communities around the world who depend on wetlands and inspire people to take care of nature." Our work | WWT. Their wetlands centres are lovely places to see Wetland birds. Their wetland centres manage existing wetland habitats, or create new wetland habitats, which then become the homes of indigenous wetland species, at those birds' volition (to the degree to which birds have volition). They are also have collections of non-indigenous wildfowl for conservation purposes, some of these are in contained aviaries, to protect them

The only aspect of WWT sites I have some concerns about are aviaries which contain wildfowl which are not there for conservation purposes; for example there is a new aviary at the Arundel Wetland Centre which included Avocets and Redshanks, along with endangered wildfowl from elsewhere in the world, that are not now endangered and are native to the UK. I prefer to see Avocets and Redshanks free in their natural habitats. I saw Avocets on Saturday at the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, and Redshanks can regularly be seen in the wild on the Adur Estuary. I also have some concerns about reference collections of non-native, non-endangered birds only there for display purposes, such as the new Pelican Cove "exhibit". Although these may have value in motivating pro-conservation behaviour, they are not in an optimal habitat for their well-being, although I did not see any distressed behaviour in the Pelicans. The Arundel WWT says: The new Coastal Creek aviary is landscaped with rocks, shoreline vegetation and waterfalls, to recreate a coastline feel, giving the seaducks and waders inside a more natural environment. Standing 15 metres tall and 40 metres long the aviary offers plenty of space for the birds to take flight. Coastal Creek Aviary opening to visitors | WWT. However, the vast majority of birds live in areas of the centre that are their natural habit (either existing landscapes or human-made landscapes that replicate their natural habitats) where they are free to come and go as they please.

Here is a Tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) - there are around 16,000-19,000 breeding pairs in the UK with 100 000 in in winter because of birds moving to the UK from Iceland and northern Europe. Tufted Duck Facts | Aythya Fuligula - The RSPB. I saw one pair in a pond, and one in a large expanse of water surround by reeds; here is a Tufted duck in a pond.

Next I saw are some Greylag Goslings

The ancestor of most domestic geese, the greylag is the largest and bulkiest of the wild geese native to the UK and Europe. In many parts of the UK it has been re-established by releasing birds in suitable areas, but the resulting flocks (often mixed with Canada geese) found around gravel pits, lakes and reservoirs all year round in southern Britain tend to be semi-tame and uninspiring. The native birds and wintering flocks found in Scotland retain the special appeal of truly wild geese. Greylag Goose Facts | Anser Anser - The RSPB

Numbers: UK breeding:46,000 pairs; UK wintering:140,000 British-breeding birds and 88,000 from Iceland

I find Greylag inspiring wherever I see them, whether it is in the pond of my local park (Queen's Park) or in "wilder" habitats (e.g. on the gravel banks of Rue Harbour), or in the Wetland Centre!

Red-breasted Geese, Branta ruficollis, are a non-native species: native to the Arctic tundra and winter around the Black Sea. Red Breasted Goose - All creatures.... - Wildlife - The RSPB Community. They are occasionally seen in the UK as escapees from ornamental ponds and lakes. One of the impacts of colonialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the collection of non-indigenous species from areas colonialised by Britain, for the pleasure of seeing "exotic" animals in England's stately homes (often funded by the profits from slavery) and this can be seen in the exitance of Red-breasted Geese and Egyptian Ducks in the landscape. These animals well-being must have been suboptimal as they evolved in completely different habitat to England's landscapes. This interest in exotic "specimens" extended to children of colour, slave children were often brought to the UK by the slave-owning country-house aristocracy, to display. When these children reached puberty they were often sent back to their own countries. This was inhumane. The existence of these children is evidenced in eighteenth and nineteenth century painting commissioned by slave-owning nobility which depicts slave children, along with exotic animals, including birds. See Britain's Green and Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England's Colonial Connections, Corrinne Fowler (2020)

When I saw this lovely Wagtail I wondered whether this was a Pied Wagatial, Motacilla alba yarrellii, or a much rarer White Wagtail, Motacilla alba alba; as it seemed slightly whiter than Pied Wagtails, but I came to the conclusion that it was Pied Wagtail

Both Pied and White Wagtails are generally treated as different subspecies of a single species - which confusingly is known as White Wagtail. The ones that we tend to refer to as "White Wagtails" in the UK are perhaps better referred to as "continental White Wagtails". They pass through the UK on their way to breed in Iceland and Scandinavia in the spring, and on their way back in the autumn (when they are more difficult to distinguish). A few may also overwinter in the UK. If the back is very dark grey, or black, then you have a Pied Wagtail. If it is a much paler grey then you might have a continental White Wagtail. A Pied Wagtail or a White Wagtail or - Identify this - Wildlife - The RSPB Community

Dalmatian Pelicans, Pelecanus crispus are native in Asian countries as China and India, as well as to the southern regions of Europe, especially Greece. These six Pelicans were acquired by the WWT in October of 2020. In the brand new Pelican Cove exhibit opening this April. Dalmatian pelicans were a familiar sight in UK wetlands 2000 years ago, but they became extinct here as their wetland homes were drained and people hunted them for food. These big birds are built to fish with a huge throat pouch under an oversized beak that holds up to 3 buckets of water, acting like a net to scoop up prey. Take a Peek at Pelican Cove | WWT

There has been talk of "re-wilding" Dalmatian Pelicans: rewilding advocate Ben Macdonald makes the case for a careful reintroduction of the birds in the near future

From bill to tail, Dalmatian pelicans grow up to six feet in length, and have wingspans of up to 11.5 feet (3.5m) – dwarfing the UK’s existing largest bird, the common crane, which has a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres. Its size means it rivals the wingspan of the largest albatross species, and it is among the heaviest flying birds.

The fossil record reveals the birds would have been very common in areas such as Somerset, Norfolk and parts of Yorkshire around 12,000 years ago, but due to hunting and drainage of wetlands, pelicans became extinct in the UK, with the last fossil from around 43AD – the time of the Roman occupation of Britain. Enormous Dalmatian pelicans could return to British skies after 2,000 years under ambitious rewilding plans | The Independent

Greylag Geese can't read!

More Greylag Goslings

Next I saw a pair of Eurasian Coots, Fulica atra and their gorgeous young

All-black and larger than its cousin, the moorhen, the Eurasian coot has a distinctive white beak and 'shield' above the beak which earns it the title 'bald'. Its feet have distinctive lobed flaps of skin on the toes which act in the same way as webbed feet when swimming. It patters noisily over the water before taking off and can be very aggressive towards other" Eurasian Coot Bird Facts | Fulica Atra - The RSPB

Its always good to see a Robin; however common they are.

Coastal Creek Aviary

Some juvenile Avocets, Recurvirostra avosetta in the Coastal Creek Aviary; I would have preferred not to see them in an aviary

These are Scaly-sided Merganser, Mergus squamatus; beautiful ducks which demonstrate how human exploitation of land, in this case forests, threatens bird life.

The Scaly-sided Merganser is also known as the Chinese Merganser. This is a large, handsome duck that resembles a cross between its closest relatives, the Red-breasted Merganser and Common Merganser, though the scaled flank feathers of both sexes are distinctive. It is a rare bird of forested lakes and rivers, its restricted range overlapping with those of both Red-breasted and Common Mergansers. Most birds breed in the Russian Far East, with small numbers in North Korea and North-east China. Little studied in the wild, it is a declining and globally Endangered species, threatened by the large-scale deforestation of the forested river valleys it favours for breeding. Scaly-sided Merganser - British Waterfowl Association

I saw Three Red-Breasted Mergansers at Widewater Lagoon at the end of of 2020; it was one of the highlights of my bird year!:

The Spectacled Eider that I saw next is a spectacular duck; and illustrates how the human exploitation of hydrocarbons and climate change threatens diversity and abundance of bird life.

The Spectacled Eider (Somateria fischeri) is a large sea duck that breeds on the coasts of Alaska and northeastern Siberia. They are named for the large white “spectacles” around its eyes, the Spectacled Eider’s striking look sets them apart from other marine birds.

When they are not nesting, these ducks spend most of the year in the frigid waters of the Arctic, where they eat bottom-dwelling mollusks and crustaceans. During the winter months, these ducks move far offshore to deep waters, where they often gather in dense flocks in openings of nearly continuous sea ice.

Unlike other sea ducks, Spectacled Eiders appear to remain in only a few areas and become vulnerable during their moulting season as they cannot fly away from a hazard. Spectacled Eiders also use long large cracks in the ice where water flows in their migration.

The U.S. population is approximately 3,000-4,000 nesting pairs.

Historically, Spectacled Eiders nested along much of the coast of Alaska, from the Nushagak Peninsula in the southwest, north to Barrow, east nearly to the Canadian border, and along much of the Arctic coast of Russia. However, climate change and oil and gas development have drastically reduced their habitat range. As a result the western Alaskan population of Spectacled Eiders dropped by 96 percent between 1957 and 1992.

The threat of oil and gas development in and near Teshekpuk Lake, known as an Important Bird area of global significance, is a possible threat to the Spectacled Eider’s future. Representative Doc Hastings’ proposed legislation to drill in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could open up the most sensitive areas like Teshekpuk Lake to drilling and lead to the downfall of this threatened species.

The Spectacled Eider also faces possible threats from oil and gas development in the Arctic Ocean as there is currently no effective way of cleaning an oil spill in the Arctic sea ice environment. Spectacled Eider - Endangered Species Coalition

I saw many other non-native ducks and geese; they were all beautiful, and very interesting, but I am not going to discuss them here, as my main interests in ornithology are indigenous UK species, and their conservation; the re-introduction of indigenous species that are currently extinct in the UK, and introduced species that have become feral (in three sense of having escaped from domestication and become wild, i.e. can live independently of human intervention) in the UK.

Here is another Greylag Goose, with Goslings; the wild goose that is the ancestor of most domestic geese.

A diving duck (I know not which species), legs akimbo!

A Herring Gull, Larus argentatus, having a bath. Herring Gulls are so ubiquitous they get little attention from bird watchers; but their behaviour, especially of juveniles, is fascinating to watch

Whilst walking around the Wetlands centre I heard the distinctive sound of a Great Crested Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major, drumming.

It has a very distinctive bouncing flight and spends most of its time clinging to tree trunks and branches, often trying to hide on the side away from the observer. Its presence is often announced by its loud call or by its distinctive spring 'drumming' display. The male has a distinctive red patch on the back of the head and young birds have a red crown. Great Spotted Woodpecker Facts | Dendrocopos Major - The RSPB

They will happily tuck in at [garden] feeders containing peanuts, sunflower seeds and fat, and sometimes peck at apples in search of grubs inside. In late spring, adult woodpeckers often bring their offspring to feeders. Leaving dead trees standing where they are will mean a supply of wood-boring grubs and other bugs, great spotted woodpeckers' principal food source. Attracting Great Spotted Woodpeckers to your Garden - The RSPB

Walking through the reed beds I heard the sound of and then eventually saw a Sedge Warbler, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus. They are summer visitors, and winter in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their habitat in the UK is marshes, reedbeds and wetlands, where they perch on reeds and willow branches.

It is difficult to see birds whose habitat is mostly reeds; the week before last I saw a Reed Bunting in Broadland's Park, in Worthing, in the reeds around the lake. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction when a get a sight of a warbler or bunting.

This Coot is showing it's amazing bulbous feet made of lobed flaps of skin on the toes, which act like webbed feet when swimming, and mean they can walk on lilies and on water when they are taking off into flight.

A Canada Goose and her goslings, Branta canadensis.

The Canada goose is our largest goose and maybe our most familiar. They are a common bird across most of the country, nesting on park lakes, flooded gravel pits and reservoirs. Canada geese are not native to this country, having been introduced from North America about 300 years ago. After the Second World War, they spread across the UK, ... they can congregate in large numbers. Canada goose | The Wildlife Trusts

This is a Whooper Swan, Cygnus cygnus; it "is a large white swan, bigger than a Bewick's swan. It has a long thin neck, which it usually holds erect, and black legs. Its black bill has a large triangular patch of yellow on it. It is mainly a winter visitor to the UK from Iceland, although a small number of pairs nest in the north. The estuaries and wetlands it visits on migration and for winter roosts need protection. Its winter population and small breeding numbers make it an Amber List species. Whooper Swan Facts | Cygnus Cygnus - The RSPB

This Whooper Swan is not a winter visitor, whilst it is not held at the Wetland Centre against its will, it is resident here all year, so it is not following the typical life course of Whooper Swans seen, now rarely, elsewhere in the UK.

There are also Berwick Swans Cygnus Columbianus bewickii, at the Wetland Centre .

Bewick's swan was named in 1830 by William Yarrell after the engraver Thomas Bewick, who produced the first illustrated guide to birds: The History of British Birds (2 volumes, 1797 and 1804) it is a subspecies of the Tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus),a small Holarctic swan.

Bewick's swan adults are white all over and young birds greyish with a pinkish bill. Compared to the similar whooper swan, these swans have proportionally more black and less yellow on their bill. They're also smaller than both mute and whooper swans and have faster wingbeats. Bewick's Swan Facts | Cygnus Columbianus bewickii - The RSPB

Every autumn, Bewick’s swans face a dangerous migration to the UK from northern Russia. Along their 3,500km route between the breeding and wintering sites there are predators, fewer wetlands and the risk of hitting power lines, but if they don’t migrate, they will be caught in the ice and snow of the arctic winter. In spring, they do it all again as they fly back to Russia. We also fear the rapidly changing climate of the Arctic will affect them. Monitoring Bewick's swans | WWT

The only swans that can be seen in the UK are Mute, Whopper and Bewick, and only Mute Swans breed in the UK. There are some Black Swans, Cygnus atratus, native to Australia which have escaped from ornamental collections

I took a boat ride (a "Boat Safari") in the Wetlands Centre, starting along the plant-filled wet meadow, onto the woodland "carr "( a type of waterlogged wooded terrain that, typically, represents a succession stage between the original reedy marsh and the likely eventual formation of forest Whittow, John (1984). Dictionary of Physical Geography.) The carr has willows and black poplar. The final section is the reed bed, where I saw this Tufted Duck.

Just before I left the Wetland Centre I heard some loud Black-headed Gull calls; I looked up up and saw two birds having a bit of a barney.

And last but not least, another humble Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos. Mallards are so common that bird watchers almost never mention them. When children say "duck" they are almost always referring to Mallards. But their ubiquity leads us to overlook their phenomenal beauty.

A walk to Amberley, along the River Arun

As soon as I left the gates of the Wetland Centre I saw this Mute Swan on her nest, in a brook next to the road that leads into the Wetland Centre, and as I looked up I saw three Mallards flying.

I have never walked from the Black Rabbit (the popular riverside pub in Arundel) to Amberley along the River Arun. I have wake from Littlehampton to the Black Swan in Arundel but never further. The walk was a revelation; it is such a beautiful part of Sussex; it felt to me a quintessential expression of Sussex downland countryside: gentle hills, sheep grazing the short grass of the uplands; the sound of warblers and buntings in the reeds along the river banks, birds of prey high in the sky, villages with flint-faced buildings. This landscape and ecology is not entirely "natural"; downland short grass ecology only exists because humans started grazing with sheep; the birds of prey have only recently made a come back partly due to human intervention.

This is the church of Saint Mary's in Burpham, seen from the river bank. A cruciform church with south aisles and porch and west tower. North transept and arch of south transept Norman, nave arcade Transitional-Norman, chancel C13, tower C15. The south transept, south aisle and porch were demolished in 1800 and rebuilt on the old foundations by Sir Thomas Jackson in 1868-1869, when the church was restored. Good large village church of medieval