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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Food Week: Bird Walks

Milford Conservation Volunteer officers Tony Locke and Keith Metcalf had two delightful family walks around two of Milford-on-Sea’s beautiful nature reserves as part of the Food Week festivities. On Tuesday 8th April, 25 children (aged from 2 years to 9 years) and their parents and grandparents joined Tony and Keith at Sturt Pond nature reserve for the first of the nature walks.

Peacock butterfly 
Starting at Sea Road car park, Keith explained that the group would probably hear more birds than they saw, so it was important to walk as quietly as possible – have you ever rambled with twenty kids trying to keep quiet? Anyway, the very first bird we heard was a cockerel in one of the nearby back gardens, which we excluded from the total number of bird species seen or heard during the walk.

We heard one summer visitor, when a Chiffchaff conveniently and repetitively called out his own name ‘chiff-chaff, chiff-chiff, chaff-chaff, chiff-chaff’. I think you get the idea. Birds we saw on our walk included; Little Egret, Common Gull, Turnstone, Reed Bunting, Redshank and Meadow Pipit.

During the walk, we played recordings of some of the bird songs of birds we were seeing to encourage them to come closer so that the children got very good views of the birds. The most obliging being a male Chaffinch who came to investigate why his territory was being invaded by a rival. After a brief viewing, the group quickly moved on so that the chaffinch could return to keep guard of his wife and territory.

A little further along the Solent Way footpath, which had been cleared of more debris by the volunteers a few days before, we were able to hand out special duck and swan food pellets so that the children could feed the birds on the pond. We explained that whilst it was nice to feed the birds with bread, it really is not what they should feed on and we were able to distribute proper grain pellets, which the birds were happy to pick up from the surface of the pond. Sometimes there are so many people feeding the swans with bread that much of it is left over and rats quickly start infesting the reserve.

Stopping at the ‘crabbing bridge’ we were also able to explain that the children didn’t need hooks on the end of their lines to catch the crabs and that a cotton bag of food, or a piece of bacon tied to the end of the line catches just as many crabs. Unfortunately, some lines are still supplied with hooks attached and we suggest that these are removed before the children start crabbing.

Over the years, we have seen many swans; mallard and gulls swallow hooks, which can lead to a very unpleasant untimely death!

On a happier note; the group moved along to the Bird Hide, where at one point we had 23 children and their parents crammed into it ………… it normally comfortably seats 6 – 8 people! Here, Tony and Keith were able to point out some of the birds closest to the hide and played more bird recordings of the birds the children were viewing from the hide.

The following day, the MCV bird walk guides (Tony and Keith) were joined by teenage group member, Emily-Jane who has been visiting the Pleasure Grounds with her granddad on Task-Team sessions since she was six-years old. Numbers of visitors were however significantly lower that at Sturt Pond, with just one Milford resident, with his grandson from Reading. Despite this, we enjoyed a lovely walk around the Grounds and were encouraged by the grandson who was extremely inquisitive to find out as much as he could about birds from his three guides.

Goldcrest - Smallest British bird
Using the bird recordings, we were briefly able to see Britain’s smallest bird, the Goldcrest at very close quarters and were even able to see his gold stripe down the centre of his head opening and closing as he tried to out-call the recording while he tried to figure out which one of the five of us was impersonating him!

The group were also privileged to see a family of 4 Buzzards being mobbed by rooks about 100 foot above the tree canopy and a male Sparrowhawk in display plummeting towards the ground.

Additional birds seen during the walk included Nuthatch, Feral Pigeon, Goldfinch, Blackcap, Goldcrest, Jay, Rook and Song Thrush. A Great-spotted Woodpecker was also heard calling, making a total of 40 different species seen or heard over the two days.

During the walk we were also able to point out many of the more common wildflowers in flower, including, Lady’s Smock, Kingcup, Dog-violet and Bluebells, three species of butterfly – Comma, Peacock and Orange Tip, plus a Queen Buff-tailed bumblebee prospecting for a new home on the woodland floor.

Tony, Keith and Emily would like to thank the parents and grandparents for bringing their children on the two walks, which appeared to have been enjoyed by one and all.

See you at the next Food Week nature walk in 2016. 

Keith Metcalf - Conservation Officer

To find out more about MCV (Milford Conservation Volunteers), please visit;

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