Day 1: Saturday - Meet and Pagham Harbour birding
It's a 30 - 40 minute drive to Pagham Harbour, where we will soon be scanning vast flocks of winter waders, ducks and grebes. Offshore we should find Slavonian Grebe, Red breasted Merganser with perhaps Red-throated Diver and sea duck too. The Norton shingle spit is a favourite location to find Mediterranean Gulls feeding in the surf and from here we can also search through the huge flocks of Dark-bellied Brent Geese for any hidden Black Brant. Marauding Peregrine frequently cause mass panic hunting over the harbour, and if time permits we may try for any owls that have been reported.
Day 2: Sunday - Selsey Peninsula
A full day exploring the Selsey Peninsula, including many parts of Pagham Harbour less widely known. Taking a sea-watch off Selsey Bill (jutting 8 miles into the English channel) we are likely to find Gannet, Kittiwake and auks plentiful with good chances of Red-breasted Merganser, both scoters, Slavonian and Great-crested Grebe, Great Northern Diver or even Black-throated Diver. Back on land, Black Redstart can be found in sheltered spots and Firecrest, Chiffchaff and sometimes Dartford Warbler overwinter. Waders in the harbour usually include Knot, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit. Avocet and sometimes Whimbrel can be found in certain spots, and the distinct 7-note flight call of the latter is a lovely sound in the depths of winter. On Sidlesham Ferry we scan from the cosy new hide, sometimes finding a wintering Green Sandpiper. Other parts of the harbour we visit for Rock Pipit, Water Rail, Kingfisher or perhaps Bearded Tit and using the local grapevine we may again make a late-afternoon attempt for any reported owls.
Day 3: Monday - Arun Valley
We set off for Arundel where top targets will be Bewick's Swan and Siberian Chiffchaff, with Great White Egret, Mandarin Duck, Firecrest, Cetti's Warbler, Bullfinch, Peregrine and Marsh Harrier also possible. The water meadows of the Arun Valley can teem with winter thrushes, plus masses of Wigeon and Teal, and if time permits we will try for Water Vole at known sites. The wild South Downs are one of the best sites in the UK for Grey Partridge and walking over these gentle, rolling hills we should see large flocks of finches feeding in stubble and field margins. In turn these attract hunting Hen Harrier and the occasional Merlin while Raven is common here. As dusk approaches we stake out a regular site for Short-eared and Barn Owl, both of which can be confiding in cold weather, and Brown Hare are likely too.
Day 4: Tuesday - Chichester Harbour
A superb day in the field, exploring the eastern parts of Chichester Harbour including East Head - a sand spit curving out into the harbour. A great place to watch Sanderling dart back and forth at the tideline and where offshore channels can hold any sea duck or divers. The sheltered waters of the harbour sometimes have Sandwich Tern and there is a small population of Common Seal, it's always worth looking for this engaging species. Around the margins of this extensive sandspit we may find Stonechat and Reed Bunting with plenty of confiding Skylark feeding at the tidal edge. The mudflats and foreshore attract thousands of Dark- bellied Brent Geese and the adjacent greensward often has a swirling mass of Golden Plover and Lapwing. Snowhill Marsh is worth a check, offering a good chance of Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and elusive Jack Snipe. We will visit known sites for Firecrest and should see good numbers of Yellowhammer, Rock Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher and much more during a busy day.
Day 5: Wednesday - West Sussex Commons and Dean Woods
We will have a little time in the Chichester area to catch up with any species that we may have missed, and the peninsula often has a rarity! We may be able to sneak over the border into Hampshire to look for Black-necked Grebe which winters around Hayling Island, before visiting one of the West Sussex Commons to try for Dartford Warbler, Stonechat or perhaps Woodlark. In the afternoon we explore West Dean Woods for Red Kite, Raven, Common Buzzard, and winter thrushes. Taking a walk deep into the woods we have an excellent chance to view Hawfinch, this valley being the one of the only regular sites for this species in the county. If the weather conditions are fine, we have the possibility of watching soaring Goshawk as their display season begins. Brambling, Linnet and Yellowhammer feed in the game crops at woodland fringes with Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Treecreeper often vocal from the trees. Tawny Owl can be heard calling late-afternoon and at dusk we can check out a regular site for Little Owl.
Day 6: Thursday - East Sussex including Rye Harbour
We transfer to Rye in East Sussex, driving roughly two hours though any good birds en route will be welcomed and we may make a diversion to add to our list. On the west side of Rye are Pett Pools and Levels, always worth checking, and watching from the sea wall we have a great view inland to where grey geese graze by day. Russian White-fronts are likely with other possible species including Ruff, Redshank and Lapwing. Offshore, the sea holds good numbers of Red-throated Diver, Common and Velvet Scoter and in the afternoon we visit Rye Harbour, an excellent reserve with extensive gravel lagoons and hides, supporting good numbers of wildfowl and waders which in turn attract hunting Marsh Harrier and Peregrine. A few Twite have spent recent winters on the reserve, Great White Egret are regular and late-afternoon we may get lucky with Bittern, Water Rail or Barn Owl as they become more active.
Day 7: Friday - Dungeness
We spend our final day birding the Dungeness Peninsula just over the border in Kent. A totally unique habitat comprising the largest shingle peninsula in Europe within which resides Dungeness Bird Observatory, RSPB Dungeness Reserve and an atomic power station! On the way we stop at Scotney Gravel Pit for ducks, grebes, grey geese, Marsh and Hen Harrier, Merlin and Peregrine. Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting can be found around the farms. Continuing on to Dungeness RSPB, we use the facilities and perhaps grab a cuppa in the warmth of the centre (RSPB Membership Cards required) while watching Tree Sparrows on feeders. We visit comfortable hides and walk good trails seeking birds of interest such as Bittern, Smew, Goosander, Goldeneye, Bearded Tit, Cetti's Warbler, Kingfisher, Great White and Cattle Egret. Moving to the beach, we check out the loafing gulls for Caspian Gull - seen every winter, they can rarely resist a piece of bread! Around the fishing boats we may find Glaucous or even an Iceland Gull especially if the weather has been cold. Offshore the sea can be busy with Red throated Diver, Common Scoter, Gannet, Kittiwake and auks. All in all, a fine site to conclude our holiday.
Day 8 : Saturday - Departure
We leave the Rye area, returning to our original hotel to pick-up vehicles and for drop-offs at the Railway Station etc.