Trip reports

Thorney Island Coach trip

Thorney Island Coach trip
Dark-bellied brent goose by Chris Gomersall (

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Our coach trip to Thorney Island on Saturday 15th February had plenty of room on the coach as many people who had booked seats apparently decided not to go. This was in all probability due to the weather forecast which promised both rain and wind in Olympic proportions. In fact there was no rain until minutes before we boarded the coach for the return trip, but the wind was another matter. Weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable, but as we arrived at Thorney Island I saw two dogs sail airborne past the coach window, and when they were followed in short order by a garden shed at the same altitude and blatantly breaking the speed limit it occurred to me that on this occasion at least the Met Office might have got it right.

Thorney was indeed once an island, but alas is one no longer. It used to be joined to the mainland by a causeway accessible only at low tide, but in the 1880s a sea wall was built on each side to bridge the gap and the space between them drained; thus it became a mere peninsular. In 1936 the island was handed over to the military in whose hands it currently remains but there is a public footpath around the perimeter of the island and also along the landside edge of the former channel which separated it. In places the footpath is barely wider than the seawall and often where it was exceptionally muddy it took care to keep ones feet and not get blown off. Did I mention that it was very windy?

So what did we see? There was a dearth of smaller passerines which were no doubt sheltering in the undergrowth, but on the water we had excellent views of Slavonian grebe and long-tailed duck, and saw more mergansers in one place than I have seen in a long while. Some of the group found a great northern diver, others were lucky enough to see an osprey. A few, who had obviously behaved exceptionally well in a former life scored both; I on the other hand managed neither. But among the large numbers of herring and black-headed gulls I was able to find a little gull. On a small spit of land only a short distance from the shore we found a group of oystercatchers, some turnstone and a solitary grey plover. A flock of avocets on the water were a welcome sight. Brent geese were commonplace, all appearing to be of the dark-bellied race and thus winter visitors from Siberia and Northern Russia. Otherwise only a few Canada geese and a single barnacle goose were seen. In total the group listed 43 species for the day.

Nice birds were found then, but the trip was worth the effort as much for the place as for the wildlife. There's a sense of desolation that I find particularly attractive, broken only by the security gate through which we had to pass at the behest of the military. Shall I go back? Yes, on a day when it's blowing a lot less than a full gale and hoping to see a lot more species as a result. Oh, did I tell you about the wind? There was a lot of it....

Thanks to Derik Palmer for this.

Editor's note. I wasn't aware that anyone saw an osprey on this trip but I didn't want to spoil the rhythm of the piece by removing the reference - happy to hear from anyone who did see one. Andrew and I saw an osprey at Thorney Island on a visit last summer.