Pagham Harbour - an appreciation

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.


Your posting Steve made me think of my mid-late teens pre-car birding as well. I live in Lancashire and the birding mecca then, and perhaps still is, was Leighton Moss and it was possible to access via public transport. Me and a couple of mates used to get the train from Blackpool, change at Preston, change again at Carnforth and get off at Silverdale, which was only a minutes walk to the reserve centre.

We were then transported to a magical world of reedbeds and pools absent form my patches on the fringes of urban Blackpool. Sightings of Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Bearded Tit and Water Rail used to blow our minds and we just couldn't get enough of this magical birding world.

I suppose like your experiences at Pagham it was the surrounding habitats around Leighton Moss that were special too. After grilling the reserve we would then walk the semi-natural ancient woodland on the limestone pavements and the associated limestone grassland. These habitats still held Hawfinch and Red Squirrel in those days and even sightings of Green Woodpecker and Marsh Tit were savoured as they were absent on our patches back home.

I rarely go to Leighton Moss these days but when I do I can still feel that nostalgic magic and I look back to my early days on the 'Moss' with great fondness. Thanks for awakening some treasured memories!


Steve Gale said…
Hi Seamus, thanks for leaving such a personal comment. If our early birding days stir up so many happy memories then we must have been going about it the right way. I don't know if the birding youth of 2014 would put up with trains and buses... all the best, Steve
bob smith said…
Yes Steve your reminiscence about Pagham reminds me when I went there for the first time with Robert Hibberd. I was 14 and he was 16/17. We went by train to Chichester and then caught the bus to Sidlesham Ferry. It was the days when there was a rubbish dump beside the ferry. Cant remember what we saw but I do remember that on the way back Bob
H got his finger caught in a cigarette holder-a kind of brass ring attachment. He couldn't get it off but he asked the guard for a screwdriver and he had to go home with this attachment on his finger. His baby sister eventually removed it.
Pagham-Sidlesham Ferry again was where I first met Stuart H.

Best Wishes

Steve Gale said…
Priceless stuff there Bob! I cannot remember the rubbish dump, but can remember one splendid day that we spent at Pagham one sunny September, with 4 Red-necked Grebes and a few Clouded Yellows.

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