Spring is upon us and the blackthorn bushes are bursting into a froth of white blossom across our reserves. Goat or ‘pussy’ willow catkins are opening to show their ‘furry paws’ from which they get their nickname.

As they ripen, they turn yellow with pollen and are a magnet for the early bees, hoverflies and other insects. The air around the willow positively thrums with their sound of busy wings at this time of year. Lesser celandine and primrose add splashes of bright yellow and if you’re lucky you may find violets too.


Lesser celandine

Trees, bushes, and plants are waking from their wintry slumber, full of energy and vigorous growth. In turn, this sudden explosion of greenery brings out an army of hungry insects. Bees, butterflies, caterpillars, beetles… all eating, feeding, mating… This of course, is what our migrant birds have timed their arrival for. A feast for themselves and the families they come here to raise.

The first to arrive, normally mid-March, are wheatear and chiffchaff, followed closely by sand martin. Wheatears can be found along the beaches and open ground of both reserves. As the month progresses, sandwich terns can be seen checking out Tern Island in the harbour along with ringed plover, while whimbrel pause to feed before continuing their journeys and if you stand on the beach you can see swallows flying in low off the sea.

 Wheatear - Ivan lang

Chiffchaff John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

A variety of summer migrants will touch down on our shores over the coming months, some staying, some passing through. Our Discovery Zone close to the Visitor Centre and Glebe Meadow behind Church Norton Hide are good places to look for birds that have just arrived, including redstart, willow warbler, blackcap, and by May, spotted flycatcher.

Common redstart - Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

Willow warbler John Bridges (rspb-images.com)


Blackcap Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)

Spotted flycatcher Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

The bushes on the West Side often hide secretive lesser whitethroat, while cuckoo, whitethroat, reed bunting, reed and sedge warbler can all be heard, and observed, across both reserves.


Cuckoo - Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

Whitethroat John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

Reed warbler John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

Over on Medmerry avocets gather at the Stilt Pools to court and mate. Later in spring you can get good views of the precocious little chicks looking the fluffy pompoms on legs. Little ringed plover also frequent this area but can be spotted around Pagham Harbour’s Breech and Ferry Pools as well, along with common sandpipers, regularly seen stopping off before heading further inland.


Avocet and chick - Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

Common sandpiper Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

As the breeding season gets into gear, yellowhammers, corn buntings and linnets use fence lines, posts and bushes as prominent places to perform their songs, while high above skylarks pour out their liquid cascade.


Yellowhammer - Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Corn bunting - Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

By May little tern and common tern have joined the sandwich tern back in Pagham Harbour, nesting on Tern Island.

Little tern - Graham Goodall (rspb-images.com)

It is a cacophony of noise and sitting on the shore watching the terns fish in the languid waters of the harbour is one of our summer delights… but that’s another story.