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Seasonal highlights

Each season brings a different experience at our nature reserves. In spring, the air is filled with birdsong as they compete to establish territories and attract a mate. In summer, look out for young birds making their first venture into the outside world. Autumn brings large movements of migrating birds - some heading south to a warmer climate, others seeking refuge in the UK from the cold Arctic winter. In winter, look out for large flocks of birds gathering to feed, or flying at dusk to form large roosts to keep warm.


Waders and wildfowl linger well into spring, including curlews, grey plovers, bar- and black-tailed godwits, dunlins, pintails, wigeons, teals and brent geese. Smaller migrants arrive, such as sedge, reed and willow warblers, blackcaps and chiffchaffs, many pausing to sing in the bushes. Sand martins, swallows and house martins dart through over the harbour, and buzzards soar up above. Wheatears hop about the beach. Early butterflies coming out of hibernation such as red admirals and commas add colour, warming themselves in the sun. Hairy dragonflies can be seen not far from the Visitor Centre.

CurlewSand martinSedge warblerWheatear - male
CurlewSand martinSedge warblerWheatear


Little and common terns can be seen fishing in the harbour, while lapwings are busy feeding on the scrapes at Ferry and Breach Pools. Now is the best time to enjoy the reserve’s insect life, with common blue, gatekeeper and meadow brown butterflies and the day-flying moths, such as the cinnabar and six-spot burnet, feeding along the hedgerows. The Visitor Centre ponds are full of activity with displays from emperor dragonflies and the beautiful blues of the broad-bodied chaser dragonfly and azure and common blue damselflies. Keep your eyes peeled for common lizards basking on bare ground.

Blackcap - maleCommon tern - adultLapwingLittle tern - adult in breeding plumage
BlackcapCommon ternLapwingLittle tern


This can be an exciting season, with new birds turning up every day. Regular species at Church Norton are wheatears, spotted and pied flycatchers and redstarts. The wader migration is peppered with unusual birds such as little stints, curlew sandpiper and ruffs, especially on Ferry Pool. It can be easy to see 60 bird species in a day. Anything can turn up - maybe an osprey or honey buzzard, or a wryneck down the west side or by the Severals. It is one of the best spots for rarities in Sussex. October sees the arrival of wigeons, teals, pintails and an influx of brent geese. Painted lady and clouded yellow butterflies often grace the pathways around the Harbour, soaking up the last of the sun, and hummingbird hawkmoths are regular.

Curlew sandpiper - juvenileRedstart - maleFemale ruff (reeve)Wigeon - male
Curlew sandpiperRedstartRuffWigeon


The busiest time across the Harbour with up to 20,000 birds feeding and roosting across the reserve. Large numbers of dark-bellied brent geese, lapwings and black-tailed godwits use the harbour or surrounding fields, with a supporting cast that includes grey and golden plovers, lapwings and dunlins. We sometimes get visits from common and grey seals which can be seen basking on the islands, sleeping off a heavy meal. Slavonian grebes are a speciality offshore, and red-breasted mergansers sail into the harbour.

Brent goose - dark-bellied formGrey plover - winter plumageRed-breasted merganser - maleSlavonian grebe - breeding plumage
Brent gooseGrey ploverRed-breasted merganserSlavonian grebe

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Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 50.763115,-0.785525
  • Postcode: PO20 7NE
  • Grid reference: SZ857966
  • Nearest town: Chichester, West Sussex
  • County: West Sussex
  • Country: England

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