Winter arrivals and Forgotten Wrecks

There’s a chill in the morning air and the nights are drawing in. Trees shed their leaves and stand naked against the sombre November sky. Yet as the curlews melancholy call drifts across the saltmarsh, there is a stark beauty to this bleak and unforgiving time of year that gives Pagham Harbour and Medmerry an austere allure. Winter visitors seeking refuge and food are arriving from the north where their summer breeding grounds are now freezing. Under dramatic skies they transform the soundtrack of our reserves with their honks, quacks, whistles and squeals. These are the geese and ducks that flock to our protected areas in their thousands, including brent geese and pintail ducks for which Pagham Harbour is a particularly important haven.


Brent geese with their black heads and distinctive white neck patch often feed in flocks on the water, upending like ducks to reach vegetation beneath the surface. Pintails meanwhile, are arguably the most elegant of dabbling waterfowl, with long graceful necks. The males have a thin white stripe running down from their chocolate coloured heads and long thin tapering tail feathers that give rise to their name. They are joined by vast numbers wigeon and teal ducks. Male wigeon sport a very ‘punk-like’ yellow stripe across the top of their chestnut heads and a pink breast. A yellow bottom gives away the male teal, along with its green eye-patch that extends to the back of its chestnut head down to a grey body.


If you stand on Pagham Harbours North Wall at dusk on a winters evening, you may be lucky enough to experience a true winter wildlife spectacle as hundreds of brent geese and wigeon pass overhead to graze in the fields north of the reserve. The sound of beating wings can be heard over their honks and whistles, as the sheer numbers add to the darkening gloom.


Also this month we are delighted to host the Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War exhibition. This is part of a four year project from the Maritime Archaeology Trust designed to coincide with the centenary of the Great War. With over 1000 wartime wrecks along England’s south coast alone, the conflict has left a rich heritage legacy and many associated stories of bravery and sacrifice. The display is free to view in our Visitor Centre on the B2145 just north of Selsey.