Waterside Natural History Society visit Warsash

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The weather appeared to be our greatest challenge on the day of our visit to Warsash.

Rain showers of a frequency that would confuse the Met office supercomputer posed the question of whether we should postpone our visit for another day. As the supercomputer has not yet been built we had to rely on the old adage ‘Keep a weather eye open’.

Even this was of little help as we stood in the rain trying to decide if we might get wet sometime during the day. In the end we decided to trust to luck and set out but still spent some time looking at the cloudy skies trying to decide if we should keep going or return to the car. Eventually we came to the conclusion that predicting the weather was a waste of time and we should carry on regardless.

Warsash is not regarded in the same league for bird watching as for instance Farlington Marsh or Keyhaven but it does form a microcosm of both with the added advantage of splendid views and a varied walk. There is a choice of directions from the car park. We could have turned north to walk inland along the River Hamble but decided to turn south towards the mouth of the river overlooking Southampton Water and the Isle of Wight.

The path, which is part of the Solent Way, is trapped between the tidal estuary on one side and a play area called ‘Strawberry Fields ‘on the other. It remains trapped by the high walls of the Maritime College before opening out on to a shingle spit protecting low lying reed beds and ponds. The path has suffered from undermining by high tides in places and also extensive pools of water after the recent rains.

Luckily the tide was ebbing at the start of our walk and fell to low tide on our return which provided ideal conditions for observing the bird life. Black Bellied Brent Geese were the most obvious of the birds on the mud flats with Herring and Black Headed Gulls for a white contrast. Taking a closer look through binoculars we could see hundreds of Dunlin feeding near the water’s edge. Redshank and Curlew made their own solitary way with the occasional Oystercatcher. Pintail and Gadwall swam on the ponds behind the shingle banks alongside Mallard and Wigeon.

On our return journey past the mudflats a loud high pitched alarm call of an Oystercatcher attracted our attention to a group of five trying to dispute an area of mud with a similar sized group of Brent Geese. The Geese lowered their heads horizontally to the ground, raised their wings, and retaliated with their short hooting sounds. The dispute was eventually resolved when both groups passed each other further along the sea line.

Bird behaviour forms an interesting subject in itself. For instance we came across a group of Grey Plovers on the mud flats which were difficult to identify at first because they were all sleeping with their heads tucked into their back feathers. This seems strange behaviour from the human point of view but with a long neck and hefty bill it makes sense to support the head and relax the neck muscles on a warm pillow. Many other types of bird relax in the same way but those with a short neck such as Owls and some Raptors obviously do not.

We also came across a Little Egret with a pronounced limp. Every time it put weight on its right foot its whole body dipped to one side and it had to open its wings to regain its balance which gave it a rather comical walk. This did not seem to affect the birds ability to feed and hopefully it will recover the use of its leg before a greater challenge comes along. At one point a Kingfisher landed near the water’s edge. Most birds tend to merge into the background but Kingfishers are strikingly visible with their luminous blue bodies. Nevertheless they are easily missed and we were lucky to have had such a good view.

A low sea wall overlooking Southampton Water provided a perfect spot for our lunch. We were able to see heavy black rain clouds to the south over the Isle of Wight, rain clouds to the west over the Waterside and rain clouds to the north over the Hamble River. Fortunately we were able to stay in our island of sunshine until we completed the walk back to the car park. The rain returned with a vengeance as we drove back home but we were fortunate not to have cancelled what proved to be a very pleasant and interesting stroll.