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Farlington Marshes 9 January 2019

Farlington Marshes, 9 January 2019


It was a beautiful sunny morning when seven of us met at the entrance to the Reserve, but it was cold and when we got out onto the sea wall it was extremely cold, because of the wind off the sea. But we survived and saw some wonderful birds.


As we walked out along the sea wall the tide was only about half way up so the muddy shore and creeks were exposed and many waders were feeding close to the wall. There were plenty of Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Curlew and a few Oystercatcher and Lapwing. But after a few minutes we found three waders amongst the others which we could not put a name to. They were pale and rather plump and nondescript and roughly the size of Redshanks but with shorter, dark legs. The only bird I could think of was Knot but I had not seen a Knot for a very long time so could not tell if they were Knots or not. When I got home I looked at all seven of my field guides and they were clearly Knots and not any other wader. They are a very scarce bird at Farlington and rare at Pagham but in the Wash they occur in millions. I think we may have seen some at Farlington many years ago. We also saw a few Black-tailed Godwits flying over us as they made for the pool. We searched the harbour for Avocets and eventually found a bunch of pure white birds huddled together on the side of a creek but too far out to see them clearly. However, Hugh S. took a photo with his small camera and then blew up the image 60 times so we could see that they were indeed Avocets, even if rather blurred.


A little further along the wall the creeks right beside it were full of ducks feeding.They were so close to us and the sun behind us that we could see every feather on them. There were lots of Teal, about a hundred Pintail and a few Wigeon. Further out were plenty of Brent Geese and dazzling white Shelduck. We searched in vain for Bearded Tits in the reedbeds around the pool but the wind was blowing the reeds all over the place. As we turned eastwards saw many Curlew in the grass fields and a Snipe landed beside a pool. The usual Magpie, Crow, Jay and Wood Pigeon were seen and a few Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls flew over while a Greater Black-backed Gull was sitting in the fields. The most amusing site of the morning was a cock Pheasant chasing a very much smaller hen around all over the place. He just would not give up and was still at it 10 minutes later when we had to move on. There were few small birds around but a Skylark was heard singing, a few small flocks of Starlings flew past and a sole Song Thrush scurried around some bushes; others seen included Wren, Robin and Pied Wagtail.


But then we noticed a lot of Dunlin feeding on the mud and small flocks were constantly joining them. Some of these small flocks flew just over our heads and made a whooshing noise as they went over. A little later all the Dunlin flew up off the mud in an enormous flock and started making strange patterns in the sky, just like Starlings or Sardines, except that the whole flock of Dunlins turned from black to silver in a split second every time they turned. It was the most amazing site and we watched, mesmerised, for a few minutes before they landed on the mud. After five minutes they rose again and gave us another magical performance. Behind us in the distance another enormous flock of Dunlins was doing the same thing and there were smaller flocks as well. It was virtually impossible to estimate the numbers of birds in these large flocks; there might have been 5,000, 10,000 or even 15,000


After that we didn’t really mind if we saw another bird but as we rounded the last bend we found a small flock of Red-breasted Mergansers, two males and three females, out in the channel. The ponds were full of ducks, as usual, and the sun was still shining so they were sunbathing on the banks; lots of Wigeon and Teal, more Pintail and some Mallard and brightly-coloured Shovelers. There were a few Coot and Moorhens as well as some Lapwings, glistening green in the sun. Out on the grass fields we could see large flocks of Brent Geese, probably 2-3,000 in all, the usual flock of about 1,000 Canada Geese with a white goose amongst them and a flock of about 200 Shelduck. As we reached the information hut we watched, from about 15 yards, a flock of about 20 Black-tailed Godwits, a Grey Heron flew over and a Blue Tit was feeding in a tree. We searched the reedbeds for Bearded Tits, again in vain. By the time we reached the cars we had seen at least 40 different birds. Whether we saw 50,000 birds is anybody’s guess but it certainly seemed like it. Farlington is an exceptional place for birds in the depths of winter.


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