Late January, and we are back at the Crab and Lobster in Sidlesham. Arriving Friday afternoon we didn't have time to get out before dusk, but this morning after some overnight rain, the skies were clear and there was some really nice sunshine. It was also a little warmer than it has been over the last week, and after yet another lovely breakfast, helen and I set of on our usual walk around the harbour.
Early morning I had heard the lovely bubbling call of the curlews in the field our room overlooked, and as we walked past the old ferry area a single Curlew could be seen in amongst the saltmarsh.
We walked along the footpath, with the tide rising in amongst the marsh. At the rife that enters the main harbour we stopped to look for Kingfisher, but could only find a Redshank. Along the path towards the visitor centre Great Tits and Blue Tits called from the trees, while a large flock of Goldfinches fed on the teasels just outside the centre. Despite the cold weather over the last few there were signs of spring, a Song Thrush was singing in the trees, and there was also some Pussy Willow buds appearing on the branches.
We walked through the discovery centre, and then out towards the Ferry pool. The water level here is very low as a result of the various breaches of the bank over the last year. The RSPB now have plans to sort this out and to make the pool a better wetland site along with a new hide, but this will not be complete until later in the year. Today though there were plenty of birds about, several teal, a single Black-tailed Godwit, and about 20 Wigeon, their reflections standing out clearly in the glass like water.
From the Ferry Pool we took the path towards Church Norton. A sharp call from above and a green Sandpiper flew over our heads and down towards the Ferry Pool. As it dropped out of sight I could see the white rump stand out in the sunshine.
On a cleared part of the reeds a pair of Moorhen were displaying to each other, bobbing and flicking the tail. Its not often I stop to watch this particular bird, but again they can be quite spectacular especially in the winter sunshine.
There was very little on the Long Pool, but as we came out pf the bushes we could see that the tide had risen considerably now, with the waders including Avocet roosting on the salt marsh as the water rose.
The path was muddy in places, but not as bad as I thought it might be. With the tide high there was nothing much to see, with the islands in the distance providing safe places for roosting.
Gulls patrolled the edge of the salt marsh looking for any snippet of something to eat. One very white individual revealing itself as a Mediterranean Gull, but it was very distant for any credible photograph.
Another bird that could not provide a credible photograph was the regular female peregrine sitting on one of the islands in the middle of the harbour. She is the lump seen in the middle of the picture on top of the vegetation.
A little earlier alarm calls and the crash of wings from Woodpigeons alerted me to another Peregrine overhead but moving away towards Church Norton.
i scanned the harbour but could not get a good enough view, there were Shelduck and Teal about, and the islands were full of Cormorants and the larger gulls. With it now reaching high tide we headed down to the beach where there were plenty of Turnstone feedinng at the edge of the surf.
Their judgement of the size and power of the waves is impressive as this morning the sea coming in on to the beach was quite rough.
As we headed south I turned to see a large flock of Grey Plover suddenly appear from the harbour, probably as a result of a foray by one of the peregrine.
Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls again patrolled the water, this time the crashing surf being the focus of attention, and also this time the Mediterranean Gulls came closer. An adult bird it is just starting to get its breeding plumage, a jet black hood to contrast with its all white plumage and bright red bill.
Cloud was building up now, and it looked quite threatening away to the bill. The sun though was still coming through the cloud and casting a strange silvery light on the water. A single Turnstone on the groyne silhouetted against the brightness of the water.
More Turnstone still fed on the pebble beach, as always providing the perfect composition.
We walked as far as the Lifeboat station when it started to rain so this was the perfect time to pause, grab a drink and wait for the dark clouds to role away to the east. we then had a decision to make, whether to continue on and do the round walk we have done previously through Medmerry, or to retrace the walk back to Church Norton and Sidlesham so that we could get to the North Wall before dusk. We chose the latter and set of back along the sea wall.
Gulls continued to fly up and down the beach, the tide now receding, and as a result the power seemed to have gone out of the waves. On one of the crabbing huts a group of Black-headed Gulls gathered.
All looks calm in the photograph, but this is just a snapshot in time, birds would come while others would go, sometimes they would arrive and occupy a space on the roof, while other times they would knock a bird out of the way as they came in. As they did so they would call and fight. I moved a little more in line for a different view.
Again signs of spring with their chocolate brown hoods beginning to appear, and then along beaches and open water pools the raucous noise of their calls will drown out any other birds as they go about the business of breeding.
Much more serene were the Mediterranean Gulls swimming just off shore. here you can see the lovely white a greys in the wings and the complete absence of any black apart from around the head, a true snowball.
An Oystercatcher fed close in amongst the surf, a black and white bird against as white back ground.
As we had walked south a Great Black-backed Gull was sat on one of the groyne posts, and as we returned it was still present. Behind it you can see the dark clouds of the rain shower that was now trundling away towards the east.
At Church Norton we walked along the board walk, the tide was falling fast and a drake Teal wound its way through the emerging vegetation.
A Curlew too was moving through the grasses.
At first I thought the Curlew was the bird I was looking for here, the long staying Whimbrel, but then closer in I found it, the sdark stripe on the crown and eye stripe clearly visible on a much darker bird. However it was flushed by another birder who didn't seem to see it. It flew away past me but I was able to get some flight pictures.
As we walked along the raised path the clouds were starting to clear and the sun was making a welcome return. Looking across the fields there were still some dark clouds about. With the sun being so low it produced a dark sky and quite dramatic scene with the sky contrasting the winter trees in the foreground.
The walk between Church Norton and Sidlesham can normally be a little bleak. At high tide to salt marsh is flooded and there is little moving, while at low tide everything disappears from view into the channels between the salt marsh. But today the tide was just turning and birds were moving. Out on the water there were Wigeon Teal and Shelduck, the Avocet were now in view along with Grey Plover and a few feeding Black-tailed Godwits. On the salt marsh itself a Grey Heron sat taking in the sunshine that had now well and truly returned.
It was once again quiet on the Long pool, with only a single Little Grebe to show for it.
Movement in the reeds themselves though was interesting, I hoped for a Bearded Tit, but as the tops of the reeds gave way they revealed a female Reed Bunting, not quite the same but still worthwhile.
We made our way back to the Crab and Lobster where we changed into wellington boots as we expected the fields through Halsey's Farm to be quite wet and muddy. As it was the fields were not too bad, but the change made it easier.
As we walked across the fields, from behind us we could hear the calls of Brent Geese, and turned to see a huge skein of Brent Geese coming towards us from the east where they had probably been grazing on the fields north of Sidlesham.
We stood, watched and listened as they passed above us heading towards the North Wall fields.
It appeared that the gees could not settle, and as we got closer to the wall they were up again, and then heading back from where they had come from. The huge flock passing in front of the hugely impressive cumulus clouds that were building away to the north of the peninsula.
Up on the main path of the wall, the tide was out sufficiently to expose plenty of mud, but not too much to leave the area open and barren. A Grey Plover fed close to us, its cautious approach a contrast to that of the Redshank, that were feeding at the edge of the water.
Wigeon were continuously calling from the field on the other side of the wall, and many were taking the opportunity to have a good wash before the sun slipped away.
Further on the fields were covered in Wigeon, and a little further back there were Curlews, and Black-tailed Godwits feeding amongst the long grass.
The Wigeon were nervy, a small portion of the flock taking off while the others all raised their heads and whistled loudly, but stayed in position not leaving the field.
We walked to the sluice in the hope of finding the Kingfisher there but there was no sign of it, the water was still very cloudy as the tide fell away, not good for seeing the small fish it feeds on.
we hung around waiting in the hope that it return while scanning across the fields in the forlorn hope that maybe an owl might appear. The light, as always was amazing producing a lovely panorama.
On the other side of the sluice a pair of Teal dabbled amongst the duck weed. The drakes green flash on its head shining brightly in the sunshine.
Back on the other side more Teal sat at the edge of the water, allowing me to get quite close.
As is usually the case, suddenly all the lapwing went up, taking with them the Redshank and Curlews. For a short moment there was pandemonium as the sky was filled with waders and I frantically scanned for the presence of any sort of raptor, then things calmed down and the majority settled back on to the mud, while the Lapwing continued to bob about in the air like large butterflies.
With the sun sinking lower in the sky and the cold suddenly starting to come up through the ground (wellingtons are not the warmest footwear!), we decided to make our way back, pausing as we reached the entrance to the field to take on the view of the North Wall across the marsh with the sun setting.
In the stream running through the field, the Wigeon were all gone, and all that remained was a pair of Teal. It is as if the drake has just realised that all the others have gone and they were on their own.
We made our way back to the pub, looking forward to a warm bath (which only one of us got) and a wonderful dinner. Once again the weather gods had shone on us here. Waking on Sunday morning we were faced with a quite horrible day, we were lucky!