Our third MSc field excursion of the autumn term was to Pagham Harbour near Chichester in Sussex, a coastal nature reserve managed by the RSPB since 2012. The large tidal harbour is the focus of the site, its mudflats and marshes playing host to impressive flocks of wintering waders and wildfowl. Surrounding the harbour is a mosaic of farmland, wet grassland, scrub, lagoons and small villages, all of which contribute to the superb avian diversity of the area and make for a pretty much peerless destination for a field ornithology trip.
To illustrate this diversity, we always have a light-hearted sweepstake to see who can most accurately guess the number of species we’ll see during the course of the day. This year’s estimates ranged from 29 to 130, but how many species did we actually see? Well, given that I noticed several people on my minibus fishing around the internet for clues I’m not going to say lest I spoil the fun for next year’s students! What I can divulge is that it was an excellent total, slightly above our usual average.
One of the star species included a small flock of avocets – the elegant black and white wader that serves as the RSPB logo – which recently started breeding in the area at the new Medmerry reserve. Medmerry is an innovative habitat creation scheme initiated by the Environment Agency that will be well-worth watching as it develops over the next few years. Other highlights included a large flock of wigeon descending over the harbour, and a peregrine putting the frighteners on lapwing, starling and black-headed gull flocks at Ferry Pool.
We finished at Church Norton, checking through the flocks of roosting waders on the south side of the harbour before moving to the shingle beach for a well deserved rest and a spot of seawatching. The sea was quiet, with only two great-crested grebes regularly in view and a single gannet passing distantly offshore, so a few of our number took to beachcombing. This impressive barrel jellyfish was probably the best find and a fine, distinctly non avian way to round off the day!