Keyhaven was chosen as a winter venue for the Natural History Society as it is also a winter venue for many migrating flocks of birds. Unfortunately coastal areas are prone to windy conditions, even when it appears calm inland, and this was the case on the day of their visit.
Cold, wet and windy it may have been but it did not deter the ten hardy souls and a dog called Archie that strolled round the coast as if on a summer’s day.
Birds may seem immune to bad weather but very few were seen on the mud flats uncovered by the low tide. Only a few Turnstones walked along the shore with their beaks constantly moving the litter in search of food. These birds seem to be oblivious to humans, or anything else for that matter, probably relying on their camouflage for protection.
The plaintive cry of a Curlew could be heard over the salt marsh and after a few moments first one then another was seen flying low between watercourses.
The building of a sea wall from Keyhaven to Lymington has left a series of shallow lagoons on the landward side which are sheltered from the cold onshore wind and many of the wading birds could be found there.
Redshanks were easy to spot by their red legs and Black tailed Godwits have a distinctive shape even with their heads tucked down onto their backs. Wigeon, known as Whistling Ducks from their high pitched call, were heard before being seen in large numbers.
The smaller ducks were identified as Teal from the dark green wedge on their heads and there were several Pintail ducks. Pintails are identified by the white tapering stripe up their long neck rather than by their tails.
Coots with their black bodies and white bridge over their beak were everywhere and seem to have become the Wood Pigeon of the wetlands. Little Grebes played hide and seek by popping up above the water only to disappear when binoculars were focused on them. Tufted Duck and Gadwall, already in pairs, were busy feeding on the lagoon.
Far away over the mudflats Shellduck could be seen, recognisable by their size and brightly contrasting white, black and brown colours.
Two of our group took a shorter path back to the car park and were lucky enough to see a Jay, Reed Bunting and a Spoonbill.
The Spoonbill is one of the birds that may take up residence in this country if global warming continues but for now they are scarce enough to provide a good deal of interest. Little Egret, another bird which has already become established, was seen throughout the walk either feeding in the shallows or flying between lagoons.
The main part of the group taking the longer route was also not disappointed. Where the mudflats gave way to a rocky shore Dunlin grazed on the water line and on a rocky island Grey Plovers could be seen amongst the Black Headed Gulls. On the partially flooded meadows inland hundreds if not thousands of birds took shelter.
Most of them were Wigeon but there was also a large flock of Golden Plover and a number of Lapwings that took to the air at the slightest hint of a flying predator. Further inland on a campsite, abandoned for the winter, a large flock of Black Bellied Brent Geese fed and chattered away to each other.
The Natural History Society was formed over forty years ago and many of their members have a lifetime of memories. It was recalled that many years ago the trees at the start of their walk at Keyhaven were alive with Turtle Doves.
The Christmas song tells of two Turtle Doves and a Partridge in a pear tree. It is very unlikely these days that a partridge will be seen in a pear tree and even less likely that more than two turtle doves will be seen during the whole year.
The few birds we have gained from the continent are little recompense for the native birds we have lost.
Waterside Natural History Society did not have a planned indoor meeting for December because of the holidays but look forward to new activities in the New Year.