The outdoor meeting in February was a visit to Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve.
A bright sunny day saw the thermometer climb above ten degrees Celsius for the first time in 2015. Snowdrops in flower and frogspawn in garden ponds were signs that spring was in the air at last.
Songbirds have also started calling at sunrise and into the day.
These signs of spring coupled with the half term holiday probably accounted for the large number of people visiting the coast around Titchfield Haven and why car parking near the reserve was so difficult.
Fortunately most people were visiting the sea shore and not the reserve so once inside the peace and quiet of the countryside prevailed.
Titchfield Haven nature reserve is located either side of the River Meon where it flows into the Solent.
There are three hides on the east side of the river; the Suffern Hide which overlooks the river and two hides looking over the meadows called the Meadow Hide and Knights Bank Hide.
Access to these hides is mainly by duckboards through the low lying ground. The Meadow hide has recently been rebuilt and has a panoramic view of the meadows.
On the west side of the river there are now four hides. The Meon Shore hide, the Pumfrett hide and the Spurgin Hide all overlook the scrapes which are shallow ponds suitable for wading birds.
The fourth hide overlooks a small pond amongst the reeds and has a very limited view.
The morning was spent visiting the hides on the eastern side of the river Meon.
A female Marsh Harrier was seen from both hides overlooking the meadows from where it was visible for a good half an hour as it slowly flew on a haphazard course about ten metres above the ground.
The bird’s slow flight and large size must fill the birds on the ground with fear and foreboding. Gulls, ducks and wading birds could stand its presence for a while but when one bird’s nerve failed they all took to the air in a bid to break the tension.
The Marsh Harrier continued its flight as if nothing had happened and after circling the reserve for a few minutes all the birds returned to resume feeding.
Marsh Harriers have almost become extinct in this country on at least two occasions but are now slowly recovering. The new stock of birds seems to be less liable to migrate over winter and a number, including the one seen, remain in this country.
The hides on the west side of the river Meon were visited during the afternoon but even before we reached the hides the loud staccato call of a Cetti’s warbler interrupted our walk.
The first hide visited was the Meon Shore hide and on the day of our visit was the only hide with a good display of birds. Small islands which were lettered to aid identification were dotted about the shallow scrapes and it was on these islands that the majority of birds rested.
At the time of our visit over three hundred Lapwing and numerous Snipe vied for space and food on these small islands.
Lapwing perfectly describes the flight of this bird and its alternative name of Peewit perfectly describes its call. During the winter Lapwing congregate in flocks which are the reason for the large numbers at Titchfield.
In spring the flocks break up and the birds disperse to pair- off for the breeding season. It is at this time of year that the male lapwing performs an aerial display in which they swoop and dive to attract a female all the while emitting a tuneful peewit call. One male bird had started to perform this display during our visit no doubt as a practice before the real thing.
Snipe are rather attractive birds when seen due to the gold and black stripes on their backs but the problem is spotting them against the dark mud and scrub. An informal competition was held to see who could spot the most snipe on one island and the winner amassed a total of eighteen birds.
Titchfield Haven was chosen for our visit because the weather can be unpredictable at this time of year but the warm winter sun made for a pleasant days bird watching.