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Wildlife, Animals and Birds


Anyone who was under the impression that the avian population of the Sussex coast consisted mainly of raucous and increasingly bold herring gulls would have been utterly astonished by Peter Lovett’s richly illustrated story about birds.  Even bird-orientated members of his audience may have been surprised by the number of different species that he had seen and photographed in places not far from Worthing, including Pagham Harbour, Pulborough Brooks, Shoreham Widewater and Cuckmere.  Most of the photos which he showed us were, in fact, taken locally but he also included some more distant sites, among them the wild far north of Scotland, where we were introduced to eider duck, great northern divers and mergansers.  However, he then told us that a great northern diver (also known as a loon) had been seen down south at Pagham, while a red-breasted merganser had been spotted at Shoreham.

















It appears that, with the onset of the colder months, Sussex-by-the-Sea attracts thousands upon thousands of birds from places like Iceland and the arctic.  For some, our county provides the avian equivalent of a convenient service station, where they can rest and refuel on their marathon migrations further south.  For others, our chilly waters, fields and beaches represent a relatively hospitable home-from-home, so that they remain here to over-winter.  Thus, the colder months are an especially exciting time for Sussex birdwatchers, and many of the photos that our speaker showed us were, in fact, taken in winter.



















Space does not permit me to mention all the different species that he captured on film, but here are just some of them: pintails, widgeon, twite, shelduck, shovellers, wheatears, dunlin, whimbrel, redwings, redshanks, turnstones, sanderlings, little grebes, great crested grebes, stonechats, little egrets, oyster-catchers, Brent geese, greylag geese and meadow pippets.  There were also shots of more familiar birds, including robins, thrushes, coots and herons, some of which, like starlings, are in serious decline.  Among the more unusual birds was an avocet – the RSPB logo – snapped at Pagham, and an ortolan bunting, a bird not normally seen in Britain, which appeared at Amberley Brooks.


And yes, the south coast gulls did have their due place in the afternoon’s proceedings.  We saw herring gulls and black-headed gulls in both summer and winter plumage, with the herring gull looking as proud and self-assured as a Norman baron. We also met the common gull, which is, in fact, far from common, and we saw a colony of kittiwakes on the white cliffs.  Sadly, like starlings and lapwings, kittiwakes are experiencing difficulties and are in decline.


















Peter Lovett’s brilliant photography showed us birds both in the landscapes favoured by them, and in close-up, allowing us to appreciate every detail of their plumage.  Modern technology even enabled him to indicate on the screen which places were taken from places accessible to wheelchairs, lest we should imagine that bird-watching necessarily involved scrambling over the Downs, or struggling through muddy woods.


The time passed so pleasantly that it was quite a shock when a cartoon bumblebee suddenly appeared on the screen with the unwelcome caption ‘That’s all, folks!’  Fortunately, it was not quite all, because our speaker offered us an encore in the form of a ten-minute sequence of photos showing British parasitic plants, including broomrape, toothwort, and yellow rattle.  Surprisingly, the latter plays a positive role in re-wilding.  It is only semi-parasitic and, unlike the others, it has leaves, but it can sap the strength of grass sufficiently to allow other wild flowers to re-colonise a meadow.


Another interesting fact which I took away from the talk was that, while the outer feathers of the cormorant are not waterproof, which helps it to dive, its inner feathers are waterproof and keep its body warm and dry at all times.


Text by Mercia McDermott.


Photographs by kind permission of Peter Lovett who holds the copyright on them.


It appears that, with the onset of the colder months, Sussex-by-the-Sea attracts thousands upon thousands of birds from places like Iceland and the arctic.  For some, our county provides the avian equivalent of a convenient service station, where they can rest and refuel on their marathon migrations further south.  For others, our chilly waters, fields and beaches represent a relatively hospitable home-from-home, so that they remain here to over-winter.  Thus, the colder months are an especially exciting time for Sussex birdwatchers, and many of the photos that our speaker showed us were, in fact, taken in winter.

Shelduck, Avocet and Lapwings

Little Egret fishing

Redshanks and Curlews feeding

Shovelers

Whimbrel


Interested to see more beautiful wild life photographs?


Should you wish to follow Sussex wildlife events throughout the year, then Peter Lovett's blog at www.sussexrambler.blogspot.com is a useful resource for the present and the past.  Use the search box, e.g. for "Common-spotted Orchids" and https://sussexrambler.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=common-spotted+orchids  comes up.  Scroll down and you may be amazed at the beauty of our native Sussex Orchids.



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