Sunday, 15 April 2018

Hides Hills and Woods, The River and the Heaven

Farlington Marshes ; the large peninsular that juts out into Langstone Harbour, separating Portsmouth from Hayling Island is a wonderful place to visit in Winter. This triangular walk can throw up some fascinating sights in ever changing circumstances. The tide can be at any level depending on your time of visit, throwing wildlife in all directions looking for food, either inland or out to sea.
The weather always plays it's part too. Being so exposed it is open to the elements, so going prepared for all extremes is a must, especially this time of year. It's easy to get caught out. 
Being just able to squeeze my van under the height restriction at the entrance to the car park, I met up with Chris. We decided to walk through to the information hut first as the pools nearby had been showing a rare Garganey Duck in recent days.
Proving fruitless on this occasion as we reached the building, we cut across back to the seawall
The viewing point looking onto the scrapes was eye watering thanks to the bitingly sharp easterly as it ruffled the shallow waters.
The tide was out but had begun it's slow return. Most of the waders and ducks were still out in the bay on the exposed silt grabbing the last morsels before they were covered once more, giving much needed respite to the worms and crustaceans from their incessant foraging.    

Chris alerted me to a lone Greenshank feeding before us. They are always quite obvious being so pale against the water and reed beds.
As we carried on edging the marsh and the exposed tidal mud either side of us, many duck were close at hand.
Overwintering Wigeon like to graze on the grass.
Shoveler have a beak for completely different applications as they like to sift through the water. When not on dry land that is. Well, dry ish, as the whole area was rather moist after the recent wet weather patterns.
All around the marsh the haunting call of the Curlew rebounded everywhere. There must have been a couple of hundred there easy.

Point field is the most southerly tip of the peninsular and the place Short Eared Owls have been regularly seen in the last few years spending their winter gorging on voles and mice.
This year they have been scarce here. Flooded fields not helping the matter as they prefer roosting on the ground as well as taking advantage of the bounty therein.

We made our way north then took the path inland and west towards the information hut that edges the pools and reed beds.
Thoughts of that rare male Garganey duck drove us eagerly to the lake once again. A few Teal, Canada Geese and Mallard were all we could pick out however.

A couple of Black Tailed Godwit seemed interested in our presence as they looked up in unison from their feeding routine. The male on the left was starting to enter into it's beautiful russet summer plumage.
Chris and I stared for what seemed like an eternity at the reeds for that characteristic white striped head of the Garganey. Always in our heads the thought of turning up the negative as is quite common when wanting to observe something rare. Then, as I looked through my binoculars, a small brown white frowned bird shot into focus and splashed onto the water before!
Only a little larger than as our most diminutive duck, the Teal, it shadowed a pair of Mallard along the lake.

The Mallard weren't too happy with it's presence so it decided the lake wasn't big enough for the both of them and flew off.

Luckily it landed a little further up for some better views
And to pal up with the Teal instead, who didn't mind it tagging along.
Garganey breed in scattered locations around the British Isles and in very small numbers.  No more than 100. They are usually migrational and seen here on passage.

As I ventured neared the lake edge for closer views of our white eyed friend, a small flock of Brent Geese were happily grazing a few feet from me. I stopped and turned to look, as they did in return. I backed off so as not to disturb them any further and put up all the birds.

A lucky chance meeting with our quarry for once, we headed off pleased with our sighting to the sea wall once more to view the birds heading inland as the tide rose.
Shelduck were the first to fly over into the marsh from the rising water, denying them of any more feeding opportunities.
Pintail also...

The forecast of bad weather was looming. The S word isn't usually banded about too often on the south coast. It showed itself the week before so we thought in our innocence we were out of the woods after one freak occurrence. Chris lives just over the south downs and that side of the hill usually bears the brunt of the weather so with knowledge aforethought he wisely set off home in case he became stranded. Wise fellow...

I, on the other hand with knowledge and flippancy, headed further south to Hayling Island with the east and westerly points as destinations.
The easterly point was, in non meteorological terms known as 'blowing a hooley'. I could see the band of snow sweeping across the hills in the distance, so after a few minutes I gave up and headed to the relative shelter of the west side.
As I arrived, the blizzard began. I sat in the van overlooking the bay thinking of the fool I was slowly becoming. Maybe it wouldn't settle and I would be ok to travel home?
Thankfully it didn't, although one did wonder for quite a while.

As I drove north off the peninsular, the snow began to ease so I dropped into a favourite haunt on the oyster beds just before the bridge that links the island to the mainland.
Many gulls were around getting prepared for the incoming breeding season. None more so than the latest edition to the wildlife here, the Mediterranean Gull. Their distinctive grating ironic call brayed out distinctively before me.
Some settled on the sea. Others flew high above as they have a propensity to do.
The oyster beds themselves give great protection from the rougher waters in the bay and a great breeding site for Gulls and Terns.

My next destination was to be home and to await what sort of weather system would be inflicted on us overnight.


We awoke the next morning to find another blanket of white before us. A good two to three inches had settled.
We strapped on our boots, got thermalled up and set off for a walk in the winter wonderland.

As we reached the front, a summer migrant, the Chiffchaff was desperately looking for some food and wondering if it had turned up in the wrong country no doubt!
The beach was covered more extensively than before.

A lovely summer plumage Common Gull gave great contrast on the shore.

Again, as of the last blizzard to hit our walk turned up some Dunlin, picking at the morsels on the shore.

Something had been here before us...

As of our last trudge through the snow, we decided on a pitstop and warm up in town at Ben's Flavours. His breakfast dish called Shakshuka really did the trick, plus a couple of his delicious cakes to takeaway. They have a new addition to their family in the shape of little Gus the pug. Sarah gave him plenty of attention! 

For lunch, it was off to the local pub but halfway there along the front I witnessed a carrion crow doing something I hadn't seen before. It was snow bathing!
Albeit it distance so as to not disturb it, it took quite a while to wash itself.

The narcissi gave a great contrast to the snow.

After lunch, Sarah dropped me off at The Haven for an afternoon walk. From the seawall a container ship slipped slowly up Southampton Water to the terminal to unload.
The snow capped Downs on the Isle of Wight looked quite bizarre and out of place.
The Haven gave up a rare sight too.

Looking back to our home of Lee on Solent. So weird to see it with a white shroud.

The Turnstones on the shore looked on with ambivalence to the whole situation.

The Sanderling were there as usual, huddled up at their high tide roost.

I walked on to the shore by the Meon Huts in case a Black Redstart happened to be there like before. No luck this time.

Although it was going to be a little muddy no doubt I reckoned on walking along the canal path north.

The monochrome world was wonderful to photograph.

Although it makes for interesting photography, Nature struggles in environments such as this, so it will be interesting to see what impact it has in the coming seasons in the Flora and Fauna.

The usually indolent Buzzard I found partaking in it's usual pastime... 

The canal path not only follows it's namesake but tracks the Meon Valley and river of the same name. Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve extends a couple of miles towards Titchfield Village itself along the valley bottom. It's quite common to witness a Marsh Harrier hunting along the reed beds here and by chance I saw one quite distant and adjacent  to my position doing exactly that.
It was turning into a raptor fest as Kes hovered just above me in search of hidden rodents in the snow too.

It gave up for a while to rest so I doubled back and squelched my way back to the shore.

The quintessential photo of a Robin in the snow presented itself, so how could I resist?

I was now back at the bridge on the harbour road

Redshank searched for morsels in the harbour at low tide

My time was up, so I began my long walk back home.

Snow gives up some wonderful scenery but practically it can be a right pain and for a lot of Nature can mean life or death. Luckily it was gone in a couple of days and everything get back to some form of normality. It was mid March, Spring was just a few days away, surely the weather would improve wouldn't it ?
The title of this post is a line taken from the poem The Snow Storm by Ralph Waldo Emerson