Monday, 24 April 2017

Pennington Marshes

I've noticed bird reports from time to time at Pennington or Keyhaven Marshes and each time I've had to look up where exactly there were, never having actually had cause to visit them before. Well, finally last week I had the opportunity to do so though the outcome wasn't as rewarding as I'd hoped. A Kentish Plover, a long-standing bogey bird for me, had been found at last light at the reserve and was still present at first light the next day. Now the trouble with this species is that it often doesn't hang around that long and it's staying can often depend on the tide. It was high tide at first light so there was a good chance as the tide fell the bird would move and may well not be relocated so this still wasn't enough to tempt me on its own. There was however a second factor in play which was that I hadn't been sleeping that well all week due to work-related stress. Having woken up in the middle of the night once more I resolved that I was going to stop the project that was stressing me out so much. This made me feel much better and I was able to get back to sleep after this. To help cement this change of tack I decided to take the day off from work altogether and so whilst I wouldn't normally have contemplated going for such an unsure twitch, this morning when it came up as "still present" at 9:30 I decided to have a go for it.

The journey down was fine though as I progressed on the familiar route south and then westwards along the M27 and with there being no further news on the pager, I did start to wonder what on earth I was doing and heavy melancholy settled over me that I was certainly wasting my time with this trip. Still, I was half way there already and it seemed silly to turn around now so I stiffened my resolve and soldiered on. There was a long delay at Lyndhurst where they seemed to be letting south-bound cars through only a few at a time but finally I was through and some two hours after having set off I arrived at the rather over-crowded small parking area to the north of the main reserve. Fortunately someone was leaving just as I arrived so I was able to park up. Predictably, on inquiry it turned out that the bird had last been seen some time ago when it had flown off. No matter, I was here now and I might as well have a look around so I got tooled up and headed off down the path.

My spirits were immediately lifted by the beauty of the location: there was lovely gorse in flower everywhere I looked with the whole area filled with bird song. Whitethroats were clearly "in" en masse with loads of them to be heard everywhere. I wandered along, feeling much more glad that I'd come now, looking and listening at all the signs of spring around me. About half way down the track I was stopped by a very distinctive and loud call that I didn't recognise. It sounded to me all the world like a large pipit call but not a Richard's (which sounds just like a sparrow). Could it be something like a Tawny Pipit? I looked carefully but there was no sign of the bird which sounded like it was no more than thirty yards away. Now, as I think about it now I really kick myself that I didn't do the following:
1) record the call on my phone (I'd stupidly left my super-zoom back at the car which is the best for this sort of thing)
2) wade in there to see if I could flush it.
3) stick it out a bit longer
Had I done all those things then I may well have got a shiny self-found Tawny Pipit tick to my name but as it was, I was preoccupied by the dangling carrot of the Kentish Plover so when the bird stopped calling I gave up after about five minutes and headed off. Doh! The next day a Tawny Pipit was seen briefly a few miles away at Farlington Marhes - perhaps "my" bird!

At the sea wall, there was no obvious twitch line scoping anything so I wandered along until I came to a few people looking quietly over the mud flats to the west of the Butts Lagoon.

Butts Lagoon
Here I met LGRE who'd also arrived too late to see the bird but was still keen to get it on his year list. All the small waders seemed to be feeding out on these mud flats so we scoped together but there was no sign of it. Apparently the Kentish had been keeping to itself this morning anyway so it may well have been off on its own but it certainly wasn't with these other birds. There was a nice collection of waders though with Grey Plover, Turnstone, Knot, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Whimbrel all to be seen. Another birder reported that a Curlew Sandpiper and a Spotted Redshank were to be had further west along the sea wall so after a while LGRE, another birder and myself all headed off to take a look. The Curlew Sandpiper was in the middle of Fishtail Lagoon though rather distant. As you don't get to see this species every day (especially in Oxfordshire) I took a few digiscoped photos for the record.
Curlew Sandpiper
Further over on the same pool we found the Spotted Redshank, which was closer so I took a few more shots.

Spotted Redshank
We wandered as far as Keyhaven Lagoon where there was another Spotted Redshank in full summer plumage though it was very distant. Here there were a few Godwits and a single sleeping Greenshank, again rather distant.

Keyhaven Lagoon
All the while we kept looking out for the Kentish Plover on the mud flats but we could see precious few waders from this side. A distant calling Cuckoo was my first of the year though we couldn't see it. After a while we decided to head back to where we'd originally been looking. Whilst the other two hurried back, I took my time, taking in the spring sights and enjoying seeing all the waders on these wonderful pools that they had at this reserve. I also kept an eye out for any interesting flora though there wasn't actually that much on show. A few things caught my eye though.

Changing Forget-me-not - I love the coiled flower stems of this species

Germander Speedwell

Sheep's Sorrel

Sun Spurge
Back at the original watch point we all had another scan through though without turning up anything new. LGRE and his companion decided to head off to look for a Hoopoe that had turned up in Sussex whilst I decided to stay on a bit longer. I ducked down on the leeward side of the sea wall to eat my packed lunch out of the increasingly chilly wind. I met a lady who said that she'd seen some Bearded Tits though I couldn't see or hear any myself during my lunch break. I went back to scoping the mud flats in the company of just a single remaining birder.

After a while I decided to explore the other end of the reserve whilst I was here. I wandered along the sea wall, past the shingle spit where the bird had roosted at high tide. A Little Tern went by on the sea and there was the usual mix of waders on the various pools that were dotted about the place. I got good views of a Marsh Harrier as it quartered the scrub inland of the pools. Eventually, with time marching on I headed back along the path to car. All in all I was very much taken with what had turned out to be a lovely reserve and despite dipping my target bird I was pleased that I had come. If nothing else this day out had been the perfect antidote to my work stresses and I very much look forward to a return visit at some point in the near future.

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