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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

RSPB Pagham Harbour. A Water Rail. 01.11.21

Last Monday I walked on my own from the visitor centre to Church Norton beach; this Monday (01.11.21), I walked with a friend from the visitor centre to North Wall - along the saltmarsh path from Sidelsham Quay on the way out, and via Halsey's Farm on the way back. As the clocks had gone back, it was darker earlier, which afforded my first ever sighting of a Water Rail at the end of the day.

On the way to Pagham we stopped off at Arundel (for a coffee at Swanbourne Lake café) and saw the Cattle Egrets again in a field in Mill Road.

We stopped at the Ferry Pool first at Pagham; there were few birds on the pool but there was a Cattle Egret to the north of the pool (with cattle) and to the south this bird of prey (probably a buzzard) on a bush

There were a few Redshanks on the Ferry Channel, as there often are.

And further toward Sidlesham Quay Oystercatchers and Curlews


A late Red Admiral


Another Curlew

An Oystercatcher

A Curlew

Bar Tailed Godwits


Wigeon and Mute Swans at White's Creek

Wigeons breed in central and northern Scotland and also in northern England. Many birds visit the UK in winter from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. Wigeon Duck Facts | Anas Penelope - The RSPB

A Curlew

Another Curlew, close to the breach pool

Bar Tailed Godwits in the background

More Wigeon

A Kestrel toward the end of the path back to the visitors centre


An allusive Water Rail, as the sun began to set

Smaller and distinctly slimmer than the moorhen, the water rail is a fairly common but highly secretive inhabitant of freshwater wetlands. It has chestnut-brown and black upperparts, grey face and underparts and black-and-white barred flanks, and a long red bill. Difficult to see in the breeding season, it is relatively easier to find in winter, when it is also more numerous and widespread. Although usually secretive they can become confident but are still far more often heard than seen. Water Rail Bird Facts | Rallus Aquaticus - The RSPB

A small relative of the Moorhen and Coot and about the same size as a Redshank, the Water rail lives in reedbeds and freshwater wetlands where it feeds on invertebrates and small fish. Secretive and rarely seen, Water rails are more often heard calling; making a sound like a piglet squealing, they are unmistakeable. Around 1,100 pairs nest in in the UK. Water rail | The Wildlife Trusts

Behaviour Western and southern populations of this species are mainly sedentary (Snow and Perrins 1998), whereas others are fully migratory, moving overland on a broad front between breeding and wintering grounds (del Hoyo et al. 1996). After mild winters the spring migration begins in late-February, otherwise it occurs from March to mid-April (Snow and Perrins 1998) or May (del Hoyo et al. 1996). In Europe and Russia the autumn migration occurs from August to December (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). The species breeds in single pairs or small family groups (Snow and Perrins 1998) although large concentrations of breeding birds may occurring in extensive wetlands, with nests 20-50 m apart where population densities are high (Taylor 1998). After breeding the species may pause on passage in favourable habitats between early-July and early-September (Taylor 1998) to undergo a flightless wing-moult (Snow and Perrins 1998) that may last for c.3 weeks (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Snow and Perrins 1998). Outside of the breeding season the species remains solitary (Taylor 1998, Snow and Perrins 1998), but may occasionally congregate into small groups of up to 30 individuals during the winter (Taylor 1998). The species regularly uses well-defined paths between favoured food sources within its habitat (Snow and Perrins 1998). Habitat The species requires muddy ground for foraging (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and shows a preference for shallow still or slow-flowing water (del Hoyo et al. 1996) 5-30 cm deep (Taylor 1998), surrounded by dense riparian, emergent, submergent or aquatic vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding It breeds in reedbeds and other emergent vegetation in fresh and saline swamps, fens and marshes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor 1998) and at the fringes of open fresh or saline lakes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor 1998). Other habitats include clay pits, gravel pits, peat excavations (Taylor 1998), river oxbows and channels, damp meadows and rice paddy-fields (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Rather than occupying large uniform wet areas in larger habitats, the species shows a preference for wetlands that form a mosaic with drier patches and areas of trees (e.g. willow Salix spp. [Taylor 1998]) or other fringing scrub (Taylor 1998). Non-breeding On migration and in the winter the species frequents riverbanks (Urban et al. 1986), canals (Urban et al. 1986), gravel pits (del Hoyo et al. 1996), farm sewage outfalls (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor 1998), marshy areas (Iceland) (del Hoyo et al. 1996), bracken on islands (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor 1998), flooded blackberry Rubus spp. thickets (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor 1998) and other very small wetland patches (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet The species is omnivorous, its diet consisting predominantly of animal matter (Snow and Perrins 1998) such as worms, leeches, molluscs, shrimps, crayfish, spiders, terrestrial and aquatic insects and larvae, amphibians (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor 1998) (e.g. frogs, toads and newts) (Taylor 1998), fish, birds and mammals (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It also takes plant matter (especially during the autumn and winter) including shoots, roots, seeds, berries and fruits (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site The nest is a substantial cup of vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor 1998) that is usually positioned in thick stands of reeds or rushes on the ground in or near water, or rarely on a tree stump or in the open (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor 1998). Nests placed in water are built up if the water level rises (Urban et al. 1986). Western Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) - BirdLife species factsheet



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