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Monday, 29 July 2019

Creeks & Saltmarsh Birding Trip

Milford Conservation Volunteers: Report on Creeks & Saltmarsh Birding Trip & with the Guides, Brownies and Rainbows.

On Saturday 20th July 2019 everything had been arranged to take 12 young ladies out onto the marshes with Andy, our Hurst Castle Ferry Skipper for the morning to see what summer birds we could identify and show the girls. MCV had funded this special trip as part of their Biodiversity Action Plan objectives to help youngsters engage more with local wildlife and their habitats. 

During the night and early hours of the morning, it had rained continuously for several hours, but as we arrived at the Hurst Castle Ferry pontoon to be picked up, it stopped raining and the weather improved. Nevertheless, Andy handed out dry rubber seat covers to each tripper.

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Jane and Rebecca (guiding leaders) had sorted out the necessary life belts and health and safety risk assessments had been undertaken. Permission had also been sought from each of the parents for us to capture a photograph of the girls enjoying their birding trip on the Dory. 

The visitors were welcomed bird by trip leader Keith Metcalf (MCV Conservation Officer). Richard Coomber (our knowledgeable birding guide) was also introduced and seven pairs of binoculars were handed out to all the girls with instructions on how best to use them correctly. We weighed anchor …….. it was about 35kilos ……..and away we sailed ….. okay, motored! Almost immediately, we located three Goosander in the harbour area which Richard had seen even before he had set foot on the boat! 

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Skipper Andy first took us up the central main Keyhaven River channel (Long Reach) towards Hurst Castle where on the outward journey we saw a number of wading birds along the mudflats e.g. Little Egret, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Cormorant and one or two Great Black-backed Gulls flying over us with their enormous wing-tip-to-wing-tip measurement of up to 1.7m (5ft 7inch) across. 

Our Skipper then noticed an isolated blackish coloured seabird with a yellowish bill. He immediately recognised the bird as a Common Scoter. Scoter’s are sea ducks and are usually seen further out into the Solent. This was an unusual sighting for the inner waters, though Andy confessed that he had been watching one close to the Castle for several preceding days! 

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As we approached the Castle we saw a few Little Terns, some of them hovering briefly before diving from 10 or 20 foot above the water trying desperately to catch small fish to take back to their chicks in their nearby nesting sites. 

Upon turning back, we saw five Turnstones and then a single bird more or less in full summer plumage feeding amongst the seaweeds next to one of the pontoons. 

We made our way back towards the entrance to Mount Lake, where we saw a Kestrel land on the top of one of the boat masts. We got close to it, but it just stayed put as we glided underneath it. It was in this general location that ‘sharp-eyed’ Richard saw a Whimbrel which is a scarce migrant. It differs primarily from the more commonly seen Curlew in that it has a shorter bill which is distinctly ‘kinked’ towards the end. It also has a ‘V’ on its lower back when seen in flight, but so does the Curlew so this should not be used as a diagnostic feature. If seen close enough, Whimbrel have a dark brown line in front of its eye and a pale line over. 

We also started to see a mixture of Sandwich and Common Terns resting in the short vegetation close to the waters edge and more Little Terns fishing for their supper. Not seeing many birds around Mount Lake, we returned the way we had come and made our way back across the water towards Hawkers Lake. After a while, we pointed out the RSPB notice board advising visitors to the area to keep away as there are nesting Terns on the raised shingle beach. We saw numerous Sandwich, Common and Little Terns as we moved smartly past this vibrant nesting area. 

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Quite soon after this we saw a single Brent Goose, who has remained in the Solent area for years after his friends and family have returned to Arctic Siberia. Another Brent has also been seen hanging around. This happens from time to time with some wintering birds and the Brent Goose we saw was probably the same one who has now remained with us for several years. A little further along Hawkers Lake we saw several Canada Goose which is now a regular breeding bird around the Solent area. We recorded about 18, but they were in quite long vegetation and kept popping their heads up at different times, so it was not easy to get an accurate count. A few Lapwing were seen quite a distance away, as was one of our largest sea duck, the Eider, which was too far off for anyone other than Richard and I to positively identify. If only we could have got a bit closer, but that would have taken us out into a choppy Solent so our skipper turned the boat. 

It was as we were returning along Hawkers that we briefly lost some depth of water. As far as the looks on the girls faces were concerned, this was undoubtedly the highlight and most enjoyable part of the trip as we asked them to move their collective weight from one side of the boat to the other to help free us. This is why all our trips are started on a rising tide just in case we accidentally get caught out in shallower water. Within a few minutes the boat freed its self and we continued merrily on our way. It was here that we also encountered two Peregrine falcons, one with a food parcel which she guarded protectively from her mate, who flew off to another part of the beach. 

Peregrine carrying Stock Dove
Photo Credit – Chris Corbin
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A number of other birds were recorded on the trip which bought our mornings tally to 28 different species. As we arrived back at the pontoon a few minutes behind schedule, we handed out gift wallets to each youngster to remind them of their birding visit. However, even before we docked, one of the girls shouted excitedly across to her Mum, “It was so good, we got stuck in mud!!!! ……… Keith said, ‘hey, what about all the birds we saw?’ 

As the girls were safely returned to dry land, the heavens opened and we all got thoroughly soaked making our way back to our vehicles. However, we think they all enjoyed the trip? 

Next year, we look forward to taking the girls back out again, and to inviting the Sea Scouts and Beavers to join us on a free birding trip around the exciting Keyhaven salt marshes.


Milford Conservation Volunteers
www.milfordcv.org


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