Tales from the riverbank

Take a stroll along one of the county's beautiful rivers and you might just see some of the season's feathered visitors, says Mike Russell...

OUR rivers have all been canalised in some way - the floodplains they serve drained and banks built up to make sure the water gets to the sea as quickly as possible. Despite this, they still evoke a sense of wilderness, a landscape where wildlife can still thrive.

Winter is a good time to wrap yourself up, don your wellies and take yourself off for a walk along a river bank. The Arun valley in flood teems with wild birds at this time of the year, many having journeyed from northern Europe and the Arctic Circle to spend the winter in warmer climes. You may be lucky enough to see a group of swans, smaller than the familiar mute swan, that ringing records prove have flown here from their breeding grounds in north-east Russia. They are Bewick's swans and are joined by hundreds of ducks such as pintail, wigeon and teal, filling the air with their evocative calls and whistles.

Moving east, the Adur valley holds fewer birds, but is worth a visit, especially at dusk, when up to a thousand rooks and jackdaws fly noisily into their roost at Ashurst. Just a mile down the valley at Beeding Brooks the rather bizarre occurrence of cormorants roosting on a large electricity pylon is a nightly spectacle.

The Rivers Ouse and Cuckmere also play host to wintering birds and walking beside any of these rivers you might be lucky enough to come across a short-eared owl quartering the wet meadows and grassland in search of small mammals. Over the last few years, little egrets have become a very welcome addition to these two river valleys, while green sandpipers can often be seen looking for food in the exposed mud when the tide goes out...

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