• Sim Elliott

To Ferring Ryfe: bird watching and wellbeing

On Friday I set off to Ferring, as I wanted to explore the Ferring Ryfe, a small river between Ferring and Littlehampton - a bird watching venue new to me - to see what birds frequented the Ryfe. There were none, well none on this grey rainy Friday afternoon.


But finding no birds on Ferring Ryfe did not spoil the trip; as on the way I saw lots of other birds; in the Adur estuary at Shoreham, and on the Broadlands Park in Worthing. None of the birds I saw were rare; and none were new to me (although it was the first time this Autumn I have seen a flock of Brent Geese). I enjoy seeing any birds; rare or not.


Brent Geese Branta bernicla


I took many photos on the way. A few of my photos were quite good, some were mediocre, and some were terrible. But the quality is of little importance to me; the act of talking them focuses my attention and makes me look at the birds more mindfully. I note details, like the pattern of raindrops on a Coot, the speed that Turnstones move, and their continued changes of direction; the way Little Egrets wobble their legs when hunting fish to eat, presumable to get fish to move just in front of them. I spent 20 minutes looking at Turnstones turning stones.


Eurasian (Common) Coot Fulica atra

(Ruddy)Turnstone Arenaria interpres,


Little Egrets Egretta garzetta


Finding a flock of Brent Geese in a field by the road I was cycling along was special because it was unexpected. They are not rare birds by any sense of the imagination. I travel to specific venues (Cuckmere Haven, Widewater Lagoon, the Adur Estuary; the Arun etc.) but finding beautiful birds in unpanned locations seems more special. There was a flock of about 40 Brent Geese, all busily eating grass. They were "dark-bellied" Brent Geese, so presumably they were escaping the biting cold of Russia for a warmer winter stay in Ferring (according to the RSPB, "light-bellied" Brent Geese mainly come from Canada and the Arctic and over-winter in Ireland and the North of England)


The planned places I visited, aside from Ferring Ryfe, were the Adur Estuary in Shoreham and Brooklands Park in Worthing; taking a quick peek at the birds in the Widewater Lagoon while cycling past).


At the Adur Estuary apart from being fascinated by two Little Egret feeding in the shallows (it was low tide) and a small flock of Turnstones, turning stones for food, I saw a small murmuration of Starlings. Starlings are a very common bird; but when examined closely their iridescent feathers are stunning; I think of them as a British Humming Bird. Whilst standing under a tree they were perched in I could here their chorus clearly; it was a beautiful sound. And by the Ropetackle there were many House Sparrows; the most common UK garden bird. But they gregarious flutterings are a pleasure to watch. (In my garden I get around 30-40 Sparrows feeding from my bird feeders).


European (Common) Starling Sturnus vulgaris

Video of Starlings singing, River Adur

At Broadwater Park I was amused by the sight of Black-headed Gulls (In their winter plumage) lined up on posts across the pond; socially distanced for these socially distancing times. Along with Mallards, Herring Gulls, some Coots, a few Great Black-backed Gulls were some Teal; Teal are extraordinarily beautiful; and hadn't really noted how lovely they are before. The black plumage of the Coot made the tiny waterdrops of the rain visible on their feathers. It was possible (through the zoom lens of my camera) the spherical droplets of rain; not permeating the Coot's feathers because of the waxing they had done in preening.


Mallard pair (male and female) Anas platyrhynchos

Black-headed Gulls (winter plumage) Chroicocephalus ridibundus

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus

The day after a birding day I like to review my photos. When I review the photos it brings back the enjoyment of the day of birding; it also brings a new joy: noting things that I hadn't noted in the field.


With this journey I decided to make a map of the trip, and stick onto the map a good (in my opinion) photo of most of the species I had seen. I placed them close on the map to where I saw them in the field. (I use Strava (free version) to map my birding cycles. I took a screen shot of the journey map on satellite view and pasted into a Word document. I edited the bird photos with Paint; and then inserted them on top of the map in the Word document. Then I took a screen shot of the Word document to create a single jpg image).





There is nothing scientific about such a map; but making it brought back happy memories of the day. Savouring positive experiences really boosts my mood; and I was the making the map I was thinking ahead to where I could go to next.


People bird watch in different ways. Some take a scientific approach, noting species, numbers and their habitats. Some take a specific interest in rare birds, often rare migrants. Others are fascinated by birds' behaviour. Many just like the beauty of birds. It doesn't really matter how or why you look at birds; as long as you enjoy it.


Here is a list of what I saw:


Herring Gulls - gazillions!


Black-headed Gulls - several 100


Great Black-Backed Gulls - about 5


Coots - 9


Teal - 5


Mallards - 3


Turnstones - about 20


Little Egrets - 4


Heron - 1 (when riding past Widewater)


Cormorants - 3 (when riding past Widewater)


Mute Swans - 6 (when riding past Widewater)


Sparrows - 20-30


Starlings - several hundred








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