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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Over-wintering ducks and waders at RSPB Pagham Harbour on a very cold day. 27.11.21

I am a member of the Gay Birders Club; a great way of communicating about birding with British and international LGBT birders. This day in Pagham was one of the regular meet-ups of members Gay Birders Club. It is great to be meeting again; this was only the third meet-up in my area since we recommenced meeting after the covid lockdowns. To find out more about the Gay Birds' Club (enabling contact between LGBT birders worldwide) see Gay Birders' Club - Home (

It was a very cold day in Pagham Harbour (four degrees centigrade) with a strong wind but no rain or snow. The sky was mostly cloudy and the light level was very low; making it hard to take clear photos. Nevertheless, we had a great day.

Pagham is a wonderful nature reserve; in spring it is a site of international importance for nesting Common, Sandwich and Little Terns, Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers ; in the winter it is famous as a location for migratory birds from the arctic, Iceland Scandinavia and northern Europe; e.g. Brent Geese, Black-tailed Godwits, Teal, Wigeon

Pagham habitats:

  • Saltmarsh and mudflats: The intertidal area supports a vast number of invertebrates including ragworms, snails, shrimps and crabs which in turn form the staple diet of many wading birds that are attracted to the site in their droves. Specialist plants able to cope with the tidal influx also provide food for ducks, geese and finches.

  • Grassland and farmland: Farmland consisting mainly of permanent grass provides valuable feeding for waders at high tide and grazing for winter ducks and geese. Hedgerow and scrub offer cover, food and nest sites, while set-aside is used by ground-nesters.

  • Shingle and vegetated shingle: Breeding shorebirds, in particular little terns and ringed plovers, make shallow scrapes on the shingle spits and islands. Vegetated shingle also provides a home for yellow-horned poppy, sea kale and nationally scarce childing pink, which can only be found on two sites along the whole of the south coast.

  • Reedbed and lagoons: A mix of reedbed and fresh, salt and saline lagoons attracts a variety of birds, animals and insects. Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve, West Sussex - The RSPB

Birds seen: a Pied Wagtail, Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinch, Robins, Starlings, Blackbirds, a Stonechat, a Kingfisher, Kestrels, a Sparrowhawk, Carrion Crows, Jackdaws, Magpies, Wood Pigeons, Feral Pigeons, a Green Woodpecker, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Shovelers, Teal, Wigeon, Mallards, Coots, Moorhens, Black-Tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Lapwings, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Grey Plovers, a Turnstone, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Herring Gulls, a Common Gull, a Turnstone, a Great-Crested Grebe (possibly a Slavonian Grebe, as they had been been reported at Pagham, and it was far off), Black Headed Gulls, Great Black Backed Gulls, House Sparrows, Dunnock, a Collared Dove, and we heard a Wren. We saw no geese, which was a bit disappointing; but the geese at Pagham (Brent, Greylag and Canada) tend to settle in the pools south of the North Wall, on forage in the fields north of the North Wall; which is not visible from Church Norton. Pagham Harbour is a huge RSPB reserve; on shorter winter days it is not possible to visit it all is a single day! We also saw no Redwing or Fieldfare on berried trees and bushes; but it may have been a bit too cold for them to forage.

We started at the visitor centre, and walked to the Ferry Pool. We then walked down the south side of the Ferry Channel to Church Norton, where we looked over the harbour. We walked onto Church Norton beach for some sea watching and then walked back to Church Norton carpark, where a member ferried us back to the visitors centre in his car.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker on the path to the Ferry Pool Hide

From the Ferry Pool Hide: Shovelers and Black-Tailed Godwits

Shovelers are surface feeing ducks with huge spatulate bills. Males have dark green heads, with white breasts and chestnut flanks. Females are mottled brown. In flight birds show patches of light blue and green on their wings. In the UK they breed in southern and eastern England, especially around the Ouse Washes, the Humber and the North Kent Marshes and in much smaller numbers in Scotland and western parts of England. In winter, breeding birds move south, and are replaced by an influx of continental birds from further north.

The UK is home to more than 20 per cent of the NW European population, making it an Amber List species. Shoveler Duck Facts | Anas Clypeata - The RSPB

Lapwings over the Ferry Pool



Shovelors, Teal and Black Tailed Godwits - all winter migrants to Pagham

Black-Tailed Godwits (in summer plumage, heads turned) In summer, they have bright orangey-brown chests and bellies, but in winter they're more greyish-brown.

Their most distinctive features are their long beaks and legs, and the black and white stripes on their wings. Female black-tailed godwits are bigger and heavier than the males, with a noticeably longer beak (which helps the sexes to avoid competing for food with each other). They're very similar to bar-tailed godwits, which breed in the Arctic. Black-tailed godwits have longer legs, and bar-tailed godwits don't have striped wings. As the names suggest, the tail patterns are different, too. Black Tailed Godwit Facts | Limosa Limosa - The RSPB

Teal: Males have chestnut coloured heads with broad green eye-patches, a spotted chest, grey flanks and a black edged yellow tail. Females are mottled brown. They are thinly distributed as a breeding species with a preference for northern moors and mires. In winter, birds congregate in low-lying wetlands in the south and west of the UK. Of these, many are continental birds from around the Baltic and Siberia. At this time, the UK is home to a significant percentage of the NW European wintering population making it an Amber List species. Teal Duck Facts | Anas Crecca - The RSPB

A Goldfinch near the feeders.

Walking down the Ferry Channel: Moorhen

An eagle-eyed member of the group spotted a Kingfisher Kingfisher on the north side concrete pillar of the dismantled bridge across the Ferry Chanel of the Hundred of Manhood & Selsey Tramway (closed 1935)

The concrete block on which the Kingfisher is sitting sat is the from the original bridge; the concrete block above s a later addition, to support a gas pipe; now dismantled

Teal in the Ferry Channel

The Kingfisher flew to the south side pillar of the old tramway

Mallards further down the Ferry Channel

Curlew in the fields south of the path

The curlew is the largest European wading bird, instantly recognisable on winter estuaries or summer moors by its long, downcurved bill, brown upperparts, long legs and evocative call. Curlew Bird Facts | Numenius Arquata - The RSPB Curlew are winter visitors to Pagham form their breeding grounds in North Wales, the Pennines, the southern uplands and East Highlands of Scotland and the Northern Isles.

The UK's breeding population of curlews is of international importance, being estimated to represent more than 30 per cent of the west European population. There have been worrying declines in the breeding population throughout much of the UK, with the Breeding Bird Survey indicating significant declines in Scotland, England and Wales, and an overall UK decline of 42 per cent between 1995 and 2008. Earlier surveys recorded a 60 per cent decline in breeding numbers in Northern Ireland between 1987 and 1999. Curlews are also declining more widely across their global breeding range and, consequently, their IUCN status is near threatened. ... Within the UK, curlews breed on a range of habitats but are primarily birds of extensively managed rough grasslands, moorlands and bogs. The bulk of the breeding population (around 60 per cent) occurs in Scotland, with the majority of the remaining birds in northern England. Curlew Conservation - The RSPB

A Stonechat on the path to Church Norton

Shelducks in the Ferry Channel

Birds in the mud of the harbour, at low tide, around the Tern islands (where Common, Sandwich and Little Terns nest in the spring):

Grey Plover (winter plumage)

A few grey plovers stay through the summer and the first migrant adults arrive in the UK in July and the young in August and September. Peak numbers are seen between November and March and birds leave in April and May Grey Plover Bird Facts | Pluvialis Squatarola - The RSPB The Grey plover breeds in Arctic coastal regions across the north of Alaska, Canada and Russia. It nests on the ground in shallow scrapes created in dry, open tundra. Grey plover | The Wildlife Trusts


Dunlin (winter plumage); a small sandpiper and one of the UK's most common waders

Dunlins breed in the uplands of Scotland, Wales and England. Greatest numbers can be found on the Western and Northern Isles and the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland in Scotland, in the Pennines in England. They are found on all UK estuaries with largest numbers in winter. Dunlin Bird Facts | Calidris Alpina - The RSPB



Redshanks are resident birds at Pagham (as they are at all of Sussex's estuaries); but these residents are joined by large numbers of over wintering birds from Iceland

Redshanks breed in damp places like saltmarshes, flood meadows and around lakes, but during winter you'll see lots more of them on estuaries and coastal lagoons - as many as half of these birds may be from Iceland. Redshank Bird Facts | Tringa Totanus - The RSPB

There has been a significant decline in redshank numbers in many areas of the UK. On farmland, the main reasons for this reduction have been the drainage, re-seeding and fertilising of grassland. Redshank Conservation | Advice For Farmers - The RSPB

Redshanks and Teal

Teal (male)

These Teal are winter migrants, either from the UK breeding population in the north.

Teal (female)

Curlew and Teal

A Grey Heron and two Oystercatchers, with the Church Norton shingle spit in the background

Grey Plover, Teal (?) and Wigeon (?)

A Little Egret

There are large numbers of resident Little Egrets who breed, along with new-arrival breeding Cattle Egret, in the heronry on the North Wall in Pagham Harbour LNR

Teal and Redshank


Curlew and Teal

A teal foraging in mud; probably eating aquatic insects and larvae, molluscs, crustaceans. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World

We then walked to Church Norton Beach; there ere few birds to be seen; except a Common Gull and some Turnstones (probably a Canadian or Greenlandic bird)

Turnstones do not breed in the UK, and most are overwintering migrants or passage migrants but some non-breeding birds stay in the UK in the summer; so Turnstones are present for most of the year. Birds from Northern Europe pass through in July and August and again in spring. Canadian and Greenland birds arrive in August and September and remain until April and May. Turnstone Bird Facts | Arenaria Interpres - The RSPB

A Kestrel resting in a pine in the carpark at Church Norton

A rather prettily-coloured feral pigeon; well looked after, as we saw a local resident come to feed it.

All RSPB reserves are offering Robin Robin adventure trails for children to inculcate interest in birds and conservation. See: Robin Robin Aardman Film with Britain's Favourite Bird | RSPB



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