A trip to the coast

At the end of November we headed to Keyhaven Marshes for some coastal bird watching with our Young Naturalists. We were last here with the group a couple of years ago so it was great to return again with some who came last time and take some of our newer members who had never visited this part of the coastline before.

Pleasantly surprised by the weather (I had been keeping an eye on the forecast all week and been expecting to get wet), we headed off from the car park under a lovely blue sky. Deciding once again to list the different bird species spotted, we were quick to see collared dove, house sparrow (bathing in puddles along the side of the road) and starling. We scanned the first area of reeds for marsh harrier but were unsuccessful, settling for mallard, black-tailed godwit and grey heron instead.

Keyhaven view

Keyhaven on a lovely blue sky day

Following the path we watched a number of turnstone rummaging for insects, crustaceans and molluscs on the shoreline. On our way to Keyhaven Lagoon we added black-headed gull, little egret, brent goose, magpie, pintail, gadwall and wigeon to our list. Pausing by the lagoon we watched mute swan, coot, shelduck, avocet and Canada goose for some time and flock of linnet also flew over our heads. Whilst walking along the path between Keyhaven Lagoon and Fishtail Lagoon we saw buzzard, curlew, redshank, dunlin, stonechat, lapwing, shoveler, teal and herring gull. Out in the Solent we saw great crested grebes and on pausing to chat to a group on the corner by Butts Lagoon we were directed towards a pair of peregrine, perched either end of a concrete block on an island.

Peregrines

Peregrines perched on a concrete block in the Solent with Hurst Spit behind

The group also told us they had seen red-breasted merganser from this corner as well, so we spent some time trying to pick these out using the scope and were rewarded for our patience.

Bird watching

Looking at the Red-breasted merganser

We carried on along the path, noting down great black-backed gull, moorhen, blackbird and carrion crow. We found a sheltered spot to stop for lunch (it was still a bit windy out on the sea wall) before heading inland and following the path past the old tip.

Walking

Heading inland towards lower Pennington Lane and the ancient highway

Here we did not spot what was spooking the lapwing and golden plover but we did enjoy watching them flocking overhead.

golden plover

Golden plover

lapwing

Lapwing

We decided we had enough time to make a brief detour towards Pennington Marsh so headed along the lane, watching kestrel, pheasant, robin, chaffinch, jackdaw, wood pigeon, rook and dunnock and hearing the distinctive call of a Cetti’s warbler. We then turned back and headed towards Keyhaven and the car park, following the ancient highway and watching cormorant and tufted duck on the pond by the landfill site. Along this path we also saw meadow pipit, blue tit and great tit and heard a nuthatch calling.

Finally we paused again by the bridge over Avon Water, scanning the reed bed and trees behind for signs of a marsh harrier. We spotted a large bird perched on the top of a distant tree and whilst this is a good place to see marsh harrier, with its back turned to us we couldn’t say for certain it wasn’t a buzzard. We let Will decide whether or not this was a sighting and he quite rightly decided it wasn’t, as we couldn’t be certain. It had been worth the look though as whilst here we saw a kingfisher fly past, a very lovely bird to be last on our list.

Keyhaven view 2

Keyhaven

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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A Day by the Sea

On Monday Jo and I spent the morning working with the Milford Conservation Volunteers at Keyhaven. Although we mainly work at Blashford Lakes and Fishlake Meadows we have a number of other sites to look after. The reserve at Keyhaven is large, consisting of almost all the saltmarshes and mudflats outside the sea wall between Hurst Beach and the Lymington River. It is an important reserve for nesting gulls and terns in the summer and for waders and wildfowl in the winter. Its value is greatly enhanced by the neighbouring Hampshire County Council nature reserve, together the two reserves make one of the largest areas managed for nature conservation in the county.

The work we were doing was on the one small area of the Trust reserve that is inside the seawall. The wall here used to be a rather porous construction of timber and clay, as a result the land behind it was wet and quiet salty. Since the wall was reconstructed just over 25 years ago the saltwater has been kept out more effectively and the area has become drier and fresher. A lot of species are adapted to live in the narrow habitat band that lies between the saltiness of the sea and truly freshwater, as this habitat is very restricted these species tend to be very local and frequently rare. A time of rising sea level might be thought of as one which would bring benefits to these species, but in fact many are in decline. Our modern seawalls are effectively engineered so that they keep almost all of the saltwater outside and freshwater inside, the fuzzy edge that was the home of the brackish habitat lovers has been squeezed.

I was approached last year by a group of local residents interested in the potential of getting the brackish elements back, by finding a way to get some more seawater onto the marsh. It was really exciting to have such interest in what is often perceived as a dull habitat. Although we are still looking at how they goal might be achieved there is interest in the idea from both Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Monday’s task was to tackle some of the scrub that has established since the site has become fresher so that the former open character can be restored. We coppiced lots of willow and cleared a large area of bramble thicket. Hopefully once there is a more salty regime this will help to limit the regrowth of much of this scrub and encourage brackish marshland habitat.

 

P1090874
Clearing bramble thicket with the Milford Conservation Volunteers, (and collecting rubbish).

 

Goings on

This Sunday we are holding our annual Lymington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve Open Day. For details see: 2017 Keyhaven event flyer

It is a joint venture with the Hampshire County Council, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the New Forest National Park to celebrate the wildlife of the marshes between Lymington and Keyhaven. There will be a range of local conservation groups present and a range of walks, bird ringing, a seashore search, birdwatching, activities, light refreshments and much more. If you have never been to the reserve or have but would like to find out more come along, all the details are in the link.

Talking of events I will also flag up that on the following Sunday, the 24th September we will be hosting the Bird Trail Event at Blashford. This is aimed at young birdwatchers and there will be a number of teams going around the reserve that day, so the hides will be very busy and I would suggest that regular visitors might like to give us a miss that day. The event is jointly organised between the Wildlife Trust and Hampshire Ornithological Society part of our goal of bringing on the next generation of wildlife enthusiasts. As well as using the hides the area around the Centre will be busy with other activities.

Coastal Bird and Wildlife Spotting

Yesterday was a great wildlife spotting day. On opening up Tern Hide, a male Goldeneye was clearly visible on Ibsley Water and this was soon followed by views of an otter on the far side of Ivy Silt Pond, a first for me at Blashford and a great start to the day.

It was then time to head over to Keyhaven Marshes with our Young Naturalists, on our first outing from Blashford Lakes.

minibus

Young Naturalists on our first outing to Keyhaven, raring to go on a great bird spotting adventure

We got off to a great start, with views of a juvenile marsh harrier from the car park and even better views once we had started walking of it hunting over the reed bed. We also watched a fox making its way through scrub and grassland, disturbing the birds as it got closer to them.

group

In total, we clocked a grand figure of 74 different species, including a great white egret, 2 Dartford warbler, a peregrine, a ruff, Mediterranean gull, eider and red-breasted merganser. A number of species were present in large flocks, such as golden plover, knot, dunlin, wigeon, teal, black-tailed godwit and lapwing. The bird spot of the day though had to go to Jackson, who spotted 3 spoonbill flying over. We kept our eyes peeled for them as we carried on walking and had distant views of them feeding out on the salt marsh.

The find that excited the group the most however, was this dead juvenile Brent goose, close enough to the footpath for Bob to reach so we could take a closer look. On close inspection it appeared to have perished from natural causes as there were no obvious signs of predation. The bird would likely have hatched somewhere on the Taymyr peninsula, in northern Siberia, making the long journey here to overwinter on our warmer shores. Whilst many do survive the journey, this goose had a somewhat sadder ending!

Thanks to Bob for joining us for the day and providing a wealth of local site and bird watching knowledge, and to Nigel for driving the minibus.

hurst-castle

Hurst Castle with the Isle of Wight behind

 

Down by the Seaside

I was at Keyhaven Nature Reserve today with the Blashford Young Naturalists on a birdwatching trip. We saw over 70 species including a juvenile marsh harrier, a great white egret, 2 Dartford warbler, a peregrine, a ruff and 3 spoonbill, altogether a very good selection of birds. Not only did we see a lot of species but also a lot of birds, with many species in hundreds, with large flocks of golden plover, knot, dunlin, wigeon, teal, black-tailed godwit and lapwing.

I was a keen birdwatcher at the same age as our Young Naturalists and the day’s outing made me reflect upon the changes in our birdlife in that time. Several species we saw such as marsh harrier, spoonbill, Mediterranean gull and little egret would have been very rare highlights of any day and the idea of seeing a mega-rarity like great white egret quite fantastic. At their age I had seen a single marsh harrier but all the others were just images in the bird book.

Of course there were a few species that we would have seen then that we did not see today, birds like grey partridge and yellowhammer which were once common all over the place are now very local and largely lost from the Hampshire coast.

Things have probably always been changing more that we think, but there seems good evidence that the rate of change is accelerating. There could be several reasons for this, climate change, habitat change and the effects of active wildlife protection to suggest but a few. Possibly the rate of change is due to the interactions between these several factors all going on together. If any of our Young Naturalists keep their interest for a lifetime I wonder what they will be seeing (and not seeing) in another fifty years?

A Day by The Sea

On Sunday I spent the day at the Lymington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve open day. This annual event is run jointly by the Wildlife Trust, Hampshire County Council and the New Forest National Park. The marshes are famous for their wildlife and have been nature reserves for many years. The grazed marshes and fields are a county council owned reserve and the saltmarshes outside the seawall are a Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserve, together making a huge protected area.

Reserve Open Day

Reserve Open Day

The Open Day gives us a chance to promote the protection of the area with local people, many of whom walk around the reserve regularly without necessarily knowing just how important they are for wildlife. As usual there was a good turn out of local conservation groups, a range of walks and activities for younger visitors.

Bird ringing demonstrations are always popular and if you can catch a kingfisher to show people, all the more so!

kingfisher

kingfisher

I actually spent most of the day manning a telescope set up overlooking Normandy lagoon, allowing people to see a wide range of birds. In total we saw 58 species from the one spot during the day. It would have been a good few more if the wind had not got up making smaller birds stay low and out of sight. Species we did see ranged from little stint and curlew sandpiper to yellow wagtail, gannet and wheatear. I saw every species but one, and this was the bird of the day, a marsh harrier which flew over when I went to get a cup of tea! Perhaps the most unexpected sighting was a common seal that spent several hours just off the seawall and was seen by most who stopped to look.

Normandy Lagoon

Normandy Lagoon