Every so often we like to get away to what we consider a very special place. I have always loved the area around Selsey, Sidlesham and Pagham Harbour, and the Crab and Lobster at Sidlesham provides the perfect base in every degree, good walks, good food, and lovely accommodation.
On Friday the morning had been damp with drizzle and the occasional heavy shower, but when we arrived it had dried out and the sun was even looking to break through. Checked in, changed and we set off for the north wall of Pagham Harbour. As we walked along Mill Lane a male House Sparrow was taking a bath in the puddle by the road, but as I went to take a photograph it flew up into the bush. As we walked past though it returned to its ablutions.
We took the path through Halsey's Farm, and then out and across the fields towards the sea wall. As we approached the wall, a brown bird that I initially thought was a thrush flew from the hawthorn, and along the hedge and then up into a branch a little in front of us. I checked it with my binoculars and noticed that it clearly was not a thrush, and the shape of the head and beak told me it was a shrike. I quickly took some photographs, and then started to edge closer.
There were faint barrings on the flank, and the chest and belly were white. The back, head and neck were a greyish brown colour, while the tail and rump showed more showed more as a reddish brown. The bill was pale and large. I was thinking it was a Red-backed Shrike, but it was late in the year for one, so I started to see if I could get some better pictures.
It flew off again, but seemed to settle and it allowed me to move in closer.
There were no features that made me seriously consider anything other than Red-backed, but I did consult the internet and books when I returned to the hotel. It was a Red-backed, and as for it being late interestingly there was one reported on St Mary's in the Scilly Isles on the same day. It flew on once again, and then would fly down into the grass and caught an insect which it banged on a branch before eating. As we edged closer again it flew back around me and then over the hedge and out of sight. We waited for awhile but it didn't re-appear, so we decided to walk on and leave it hoping it would be there when we came back. I also wanted to see if there was anyone else who had seen it.
Up on the wall, there was a pair of Stonechat perched at the top of the bramble. There are birds that I love to photograph, and you will see a few in this post. Stonechat are definitely one of them. This male performed beautifully.
The tide was out, and there were several waders on the mud as we made our way alonmg a very muddy path. Oystercatcher, Redshank and Grey Plover could be seen, and the Curlew were both seen and heard calling. The sun light was low, and filtered through the cloud. At this time of year the light is always special here, and this evening it lit up the curlew on the mud.
A Mute Swan swam in one of the open rifes, the still water providing a lovely reflection.
We walked around to the Breech Pool, and by now the clouds were returning, but as ever the clouds seemed to enhance the marsh as the sun squeezed some light out from behind them.
Unbeknown to me Helen watched this Snipe fly in and settle on the far bank of the breech pool. When the sun did manage to get through it lit up the Snipe as it preened with its long thin bill.
We walked on to the sluice in the hope that the Kingfisher might be there, but we were out of luck. There were though several Wigeon by the edge of the water and dabbling in the water in the channel, and they always look very smart.
Scanning across the open mud, the light was making it look golden in colour, and this pair of Wigeon were silhouetted against the mud.
We left the sluice and started to make our way back. At the breech pool, Black-tailed Godwits were starting to fly in to bathe and feed. In total I counted 37, but it was likely this number was higher as they continued to drop in as we walked away.
As we walked back up to the stile at the end of the wall, I picked the shrike up again, it flew from the bush the Stonechat were in, and then back to the main hedge by the footpath. We watched it for awhile, but by now it was beginning to get a little gloomy. Finally it flew up again and over the hedge.
On the stream leading to the wall, a small group of Teal prepared themselves for the night time.
We walked back past the Crab and Lobster, and then around Sidlesham Quay, there had been a report of a Hen Harrier during the afternoon, and as we walked we scanned the march, but there was nothing. We walked as far as the gate for the visitor centre, and checked the stream by the path for Kingfisher. All was very quiet and we slowly made our way back in what was now a gathering darkness. Looking across the marsh we could see a very welcoming sight.
The next day after a very substantial breakfast we set off in sunshine and a stiff breeze to walk to the new area around Medmerry. There was quite a bit of activity along the footpath, with Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches feeding and drinking on the path, and chattering away in the hedges. Looking across the field there was a little gathering of Yellowhammers too.
The tide was rising, and the stream by the gate and footpath had more water in it, but no Kingfisher, there was though a Little Egret. Watching it I recalled the egret I had seen at Titchwell, where the yellow of the feet extended up the ankles. This bird had glossy black feet, like a pair of PVC leggings, and there was a definite contrast with the yellow feet and toes.
We went through the gate and headed towards the visitor centre, on both sides of the path there was a considerable amount of scrub, with plenty of teasel. This was proving a big attraction to the Goldfinches, and large flocks would wheel away above us with tinkling calls, and then drop back into the bushes and scrub. The sky was changing all the time, with blue sky and then dark clouds as the breeze moved the clouds through. The goldfinches were contrasted sitting in the bushes against the dark clouds.
With tide rising it was worthwhile checking the Ferry Pool, but apart from a few Redshank and these Wigeon there was little to report.
We took the footpath that leads towards Ham, it was a concrete road, and was used by the construction workers for access to the Medmerry site. As we walked alog I saw a Staot break from under a bush, and then race through the grass and back into cover. Away in the distance there were also two Roe Deer, the first I have seen here for some time.
The sun on the ivy was an attraction for the insects, and above all butterflies in the form of Red Admirals. We saw many through the day, and despite the ever increasing wind they were also on the wing. This individual though did look rather tatty.
We left the protection of the hedges and came out onto a footpath that was in open fields. The wind was constantly increasing, but for now it was coming across us and not a major problem. Scanning across the fields again I found three more Roe Deer.
As it turns out we were going to see at least another nine Roe Deer on the walk so much for not having seen any for sometime here.
We then decided to take the new path to the north of the Medmerry site, this would take us to the Bracklesham arm of the works. The area has been under constant threat from coastal erosion endangering the homes and livelihoods of people living on the peninsula. The Environment agency has built pioneering sea defences. The sea has been allowed to breach inland, so producing a vast area of flooded wetlands of both brackish and freshwater habitats. The area is owned by the RSPB, and will become a major reserve in the are, but for now it is very much work in progress. We made our way as much as we could along a new path but were forced to turn back when the path ran out, and we did not fancy walking through mud.
Wildlife was not that evident, although we did come across huge flocks of Jackdaw, Rook, and surprisingly Stock Dove, I don't think I have seen so many for quite a while. With the wind getting even stronger we walked on back to the main road, and then took the road to Ham farm. here the path leads to the new sea wall, and in the wind we could see large gatherings of gulls, and Canada Geese but not much else. On Monday the 4th November the area is supposed to flood for the first time as a high tide breaches the area, that may start to make a difference.
We turned back, and set off across the fields to Church Norton, where fortunately it just started to rain as we were near the hide. This was then the perfect spot to tale a rest and enjoy a coffee, while watching the waders return to the emerging mud as the tide receded, and up to five Great-crested Grebes in the main channel.
I managed to find the reported Spoonbill way off towards the spit. It was too far to photograph, which was a shame as for a Spoonbill it was incredibly active, feeding in the shallow water with the heading sway movement that characterises the bird.
The rain stopped and the sun came out so we set off once again. Looking across the mud I found a very pale, almost white Curlew feeding, at first I thought it was a Little Egret it was so pale, but I was able to make out the bill, and some markings on the wings
Birds could be seen everywhere in the channels that were created by the saltmarsh. This Grey Heron looked wonderful in the sunlight as it fished in the falling water.
One bird I expected to see a lot of this weekend was conspicuous by its absence, I saw a few away in the distance, but this was the largest flock of Brent Geese we came across.
As we made our way along the muddy footpath every so often we would come across a Curlew in the long grass or amongst the marsh. This one was feeding by probing under the grass,m but finally put its head up to allow me this shot.
We had walked a fair distance, but felt we need to do a bit more, so we decided to walk again to the north wall. The wind by now was very strong, and I wasn't surprised to find that the shrike having been seen this morning had now disappeared. We walked past a few birders standing in the field waiting for it. There was also no sign of the stonechat as we made our way on to the wall. There were the usual birds on the mud and the breech pool, and this Grey Plover looked quite splendid in the evening light.
The wind was very strong, and we made our way back below the wall to keep out of the wind, and then back for a drink, a bath, and our evening meal. Another lovely weekend in this wonderful location.