In my mid-to-late teens, pre-car and in my birding dawn, I forged a bond with a lovely part of West Sussex - that of Pagham Harbour. It was my regular coastal haunt mainly because I could reach it by public transport. In those days you could catch a train from Sutton to Chichester, where I then walked across the road to get a bus that, after half-an-hour of twisting country roads, dropped me off at Sidlesham Ferry.
My fellow birders would normally be a combination of the Greenway brothers, Paul Butler, Nick Gardner and Stuart Holdsworth. Sometimes I would cadge a lift with Dave Eland, which meant that the inconvenience of public transport was dispensed with. although I always found the train journey in particular enjoyable - happy memories of Bewick's Swans and Short-eared Owl in the Amberley area (and, of course, I had an ongoing list for this particular journey).
My first visit was on a dull and drizzly early October afternoon in 1975. I had five lifers - Grey Plover, Pintail, Corn Bunting, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. The latter two species fed feet away from me on the mud at Sidlesham Ferry, a place that, over the years, was to provide me with unparalleled views of waders, including one very confiding Wilson's Phalarope.
I soon settled on a regular circuit, leaving the Ferry and walking around the southern edge of the harbour to Church Norton, scanning the mud flats as I went along, watching the tide ebb and flow, seeking out the flooded channels and the surprises that they might hold. On reaching the beach I would turn north and walk to the mouth of the harbour, looking out to sea and inland in equal measure, always something to observe, more than enough for a birder in the infancy of experience.
As time went on I ventured further - always on foot - to take in the Severals reed bed; the farmland behind; hiking to Selsey Bill or even ending up at Pagham lagoon which necessitated a long winding wander around the northern side of the harbour.
Some memories have held fast. My first Bonxie that was sitting on a shingle spit off of Church Norton on September; a stunningly close Little Tern feeding along one of the channels by the severals on a still hot May morning; rafts of Slavonian Grebes bobbing in winter seas; two House Martins defying the end of November to hawk above the churchyard while a Barn Owl quartered beneath. Of course there were rarities, none more so than the UK's first Greater Sandplover that appeared in December 1978. I went back on New Years Day 1979 for a second helping only to watch the bird shivering and being barely strong enough to open its eyes. It was never seen again after that.
I haven't visited Pagham for over four years. Too long. If you haven't been, and you get the chance, do go. It has that magical combination of being blessed with high bird numbers, a great diversity of species, a variety of habitats and scenery to die for.