Monday, 3 November 2014

31st October / 1st November - Pagham Harbour, West Sussex

Once again it was away to Sidlesham for the weekend, however when we booked the weekend back in June we never once believed that the weather would be almost the same as it was then in June!  After having checked in we set off for the North Wall at Pagham in short sleeve t-shirts the sun warm on our backs, and a warm breeze in the air.  We were reminded though that it was autumn as we walked the path through Halsey farm as a large Parasol mushroom was sitting in the sunshine by the side of the path.


We made our way through the fields, negotiating some damp and muddy patches, but it was nowhere near as bad as it has been over the years.  Along side the stream there was a large flock of Canada Geese grazing on the grass, and in amongst them you could see the orange heads of male Wigeon, and here their soft whistles as the moved amongst the geese.

The tide was on the turn, and heading back up the creeks, the sun while unseasonably warm was understandably low in the sky due to the time of year, and this combined to provide some wonderful light.

As we reached the breech pool we could see quite a few Black-tailed Godwits at roost and others preening in the water, again the light picking out the reflections and subtleties of the plumage.


I didn't actually count them, but I would estimate there was well over a hundred across both of the pools.  This individual was having a real splash about, enjoying a cool dip on a warm Halloween.


Teal were also present in good numbers, preferring to gather against the reeds.  here the water was very still, and the reflections from the reeds and the ducks were stunning, the golden light adding to the scene.  The Snipe here was an added bonus.


The tide was rising in White's Creek, but he water was still, there were Wigeon further down the creek along the edges, but this lone Black-headed Gull came close, and the still calm water cast provided a lovely reflection.


On the other side of the wall, in the sluice pool a bird that gets overlooked on many occasions, looked spectacular in the colours that surrounded it as the ripples caused by it feeding twisted the reflections.


The intent was to walk down to Pagham, and we set off past the horse paddocks, and then to the road, and through the field to the footpath rather than along the edge of the marsh.  As we entered the field it was clear this route was blocked as large machinery was fenced in blocking the route.  As we stood there though looking to see where to go a yellow butterfly flew past.  It was a Clouded Yellow, and very quickly it became clear that there was another away off in the distance.  I watched them fly around hoping they would settle, then one headed back making a beeline for what I thought was a dandelion.  As it flew over what I thought was a flower, it became clear this was yet another Clouded Yellow, probably a female as the one above it was showing the dark wing tips of a male.


After awhile the male gave up and flew off, leaving the female sitting on the grass, and allowed me the chance to get closer.


Three Clouded Yellow was the highest total ! have seen of this migratory butterfly, the warm southerly winds probably having blown them to the south coast for the day.

The decision was to turn back, and make our way along the side of the creek, the tide was still away out, and the path was not too wet.  The low light in the harbour was creating distant silhouettes against the silver shimmer of the mud.


A stationary Black-headed Gull in the water cast the perfect reflection in the mirror like water.


The trees and bushes were in the full sun as we walked along by the side of the mud.  There was also a quite pungent smell from the ivy that covered many of the bushes.  This was a big attraction to Red Admirals, and they were everywhere.  


We counted five on one bush, and again they were probably migrants that have drifted north in the warm southerly breeze, and were making the most of the flowering ivy.


There was an air of calm and quiet, as everything concentrated on enjoying this amazing weather, on the edge of the water Wigeon would dabble.


And Herons relaxed on the rocks, all felt just wonderful.


The mood didn't even change when a flock of Golden Plover flew past, it seemed as if they were just enjoying themselves rather than reacting to a possible threat, then came very close to us to allow us to hear the sound of the rush of air through their wings as they passed.


Notice the one Black-tailed Godwit in amongst them, the sun highlighting the white wing bars.

A pair of duelling butterflies caustic our eye, one was definitely a Red Admiral, the other was smaller and paler though and we waited to see if it would settle, and it did on the pebbles, a painted lady, and one of the first I have seen for over two years.


From the pebbles it went up to the trees, settling on a flowering branch.


The Painted Lady, like the Clouded Yellow and the Red Admirals was probably yet another migrant.

Out on the water the peace and serenity continued.  A family party of Mute Swans swam gracefully along the shore, five cygnets being a good achievement by this time of the year.


It was clear that the tide was now rising a a slightly quicker speed, and we decided to head back to the North Wall.  I did pause though to catch a singing Robin in one of the bushes.


The sluice is a favourite spot for a Kingfisher, and the objective was to get there and wait and see if it turned up.  As we walked through the reeds though I heard a Kingfisher call, and clearly it had been there and had decided to move on.  

As we came up to the Salthouse I could see across the paddocks, and I noticed a shape moving above the distant hedge.  I knew at once it was an owl, and called to Helen.  Definitely an owl, I was now unsure what type, but as it came past the distant reeds it was clearly a Short-eared Owl, and it was hunting the rough ground beyond the paddocks.

We walked down to gate, and was able to make a distant owl, a little closer.



We watched as it flew around the field, but never coming close.  It continued hunting here for about ten minutes, flying around, pouncing into the grass, but coming up quickly indicating that it hadn't been successful.  The it disappeared from view behind the distant reeds, and satisfied we decided to head back to the wall.  Across the harbour the tide was much higher and the low setting sun cast an orange glow on the water.


Up on the wall we were just setting off when I picked up the owl in the field just beyond the breech pool.  This time it was a little bit closer and we stood and watched as it hunted the rough grass once again.







It stayed a fair way off, and these are not the crippling photos are long for of Short-eared owl, but they tell the story of what was a wonderful 30 minutes watching this bird hunt.  For me any owl is magical, and gives a sense of wildness.  You feel privileged to be allowed to into their world, they exude a patience and persistence as they hunt that can only be admired.

As the owl drifted away we both became aware that the sun was setting fast, and that we would need to cross the field back to Sidelsham soon before it became to dark.  We were also aware that it was still quite balmy, and that we were still in short sleeves, it was truly crazy weather.

We headed back along the wall, stopping only to watch a Kingfisher zip past us, its call alerting us once again to its arrival.

The setting sun was creating a wonderful scene across the marsh.  I would love to claim credit for this picture, but this one is down to Helen, a lovely scene capturing a beautiful end to a wonderful day.


The next morning the wind had picked up slightly, but still from the south and quite warm.  Over breakfast a band of cloud had delivered a short shower, but as we set off for Church Norton, the cloud was off to the east, and had been replaced once again by warm sunshine.  It was hard to believe that this was the first day of November.

The ivy was once again an attraction to the insects, and a Red Admiral was disturbed from the flowers, and then settled in amongst the lichen on the branches.


Long-tailed Tits called from within the bushes, probably scouring the leaves and lichen for small insects brought out by the sun.  One came very close.


A large female Sparrowhawk flew low across the salt marsh in the direction of the quay scattering a flock of Meadow Pipits.  Curlew could be heard calling across the marsh, and as ever little Egrets could be seen hunting in the many creeks.  

Another Sparrowhawk flew above the tree tops as we approached the visitor centre, this time upsetting the Goldfinches.  There was very little on the Ferry Pool other than this flock of 14 Avocet hiding in amongst the flock of Black-headed Gulls.


We walked along the sea wall towards Church Norton, more Red Admiral were on the bushes, but other than that there was nothing else of interest until we reached the churchyard where a kestrel was hunting.

We walked through the church yard, but there was only a few Blue Tits and a calling Chiffchaff that refused to show.  It was pretty much the same as we walked down to the beach and past the Severals, in fact it reminded us so much of the last time we were here in June.

Rather than walk down to Selsey we turned back and took the path through Greenleaves Farm.  A Common Darter settled on the nettle bush in the sunshine, is this really November?


A funnel mushroom was also close by, I love the little chunk taken out of the gills, I wonder who was responsible for this?


We hadn't seen many geese over the last two days, but we had heard them out on the marsh.  Their calls alerted us to a large flock that was coming off the marsh and into the fields.


After the first flock had dropped behind the trees more came from the marsh, these flying in front of Sidlesham Quay.


As we walked the geese would come quite close over our heads.


And then finally we saw where they were going, into the middle of one of the cereal crop fields to feed.


All the fields have posts with string tied between them in an attempt to put the geese off, but as you can see the geese just manoeuvre their landing between the string, and the attempt to keep them off fails dismally.

As we walked to the visitor centre a pair of Kestrels were hunting around the edge of the Ferry pool.




We made our way back to Sidlesham, the intent being lunch at the Crab and Lobster, then on to the North Wall once again.  As we approached the quay a Little Grebe called form the pond, and I found it close to the reeds.  The reflections and light once again making for a lovely scene.


Walking through Halsey's farm the Parasol was still there but today there was also another Painted Lady, sitting amongst the fallen autumn leaves on the path.


Just like yesterday afternoon the light was now getting to its best, a Little Egret stalking the edge of a creek through a reflection into the water and a long shadow across the mud.


The Wigeon whistled from the field as we walked on to the wall, and a pair of Little Grebes could be seen diving in the back pools.  As we walked up to the breech pools a Black-headed gull was flying around the pool, and continually diving head first into the water.  It was a strange behaviour, it wasn't fishing, it was just plunging hard into the water.


All we could think was that it was trying to either wash or had an  irritation it was trying to get rid of through washing.

As you can see by the ripples on the water the wind had increased significantly, and was also much cooler than earlier.  The North Wall is quite exposed, but it was definitely a change in the weather. 

We made our way to the sluice, and was immediately rewarded by the call of a Kingfisher, and then managing to see it sitting on one of the exposed blocks in the creek.


It then flew to sluice gate, and we walked around to the other side to see if we could get a better view, but only succeeded in flushing it, and it sped off back down the wall and away out of sight.  What we could see though was the reason for the popularity of this spot, quite a few fish in the water.


A change of plan now, we had intended to walk down to Pagham, but decided then to stay put in the hope that the kingfisher would return, and the Short-eared Owl put in another performance.  I was more confident about the Kingfisher coming back than the owl appearing as the wind now was quite strong, and did not make for the ideal hunting conditions it would have enjoyed last night.

The sun flirted with us from behind an increasing amount of cloud, but when it did come out it would turn White's Creek into a shimmering silver scene.


Time slipped on, and the owl didn't show, a Buzzard raised hopes when it appeared in a tree, and flying low over the distant hedges, but there was no owl.

Just as we were about to leave the Kingfisher returned, again calling to alert us of its presence.  As I rushed back to the sluice I saw it on one of the posts, but as i raised the camera it was off, and all I managed was this poor flight shot.


Another familiar sound came from above and a Spitfire flew over our heads heading north, it was all happening at the end of the day.


We then turned into what was now a cold wind and made our way back to Sidelsham and the warmth of the Crab and Lobster.  Perhaps not as rewarding a day as yesterday in terms of wild life, but very satisfying from the point of being outside and enjoying this lovely spot.  We had been incredibly luck, who would believe short sleeves the order of the day at the end of October and start of November.

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