Sunday, 5 November 2017

Short stays in the South

So I've moved again, this time to take up a teaching fellowship at the University of Portsmouth. I'm back living by the sea, but now as far south as I've ever called home. Living in a city again feels stifling, no garden, a good ten minutes to the shore (which is concrete and shingle). It all feels very un-inspiring.

After the first mad month of moving in, sorting out the bills and getting to grips with the new job, I was desperate for a chance to get out birding. Today I took advantage of the migrants hanging on in the south and had a flit around some of my first Hampshire sites; Blashford and Pennington Marshes.

First stop was Blashford to catch up with the lesser scaup that had been sighted during the week. We got to the reserve at 9 and had a good tramp round, but - despite the dozen or so birders on the lookout - failed to connect with the duck. The reserve itself is great, all boggy broad leaf woodland, good sized lakes and bags of waterfowl. The car park was haunted by nuthatch and tits, and their was a nice pop up cafe. We gave it 3 hours before heading to our next site of the day, Pennington.

After a lovely drive through southern heath, occasionally dodging the New Forest ponies, we made our way down narrow lanes to the carpark at Lower Pennington. Eager to get to the long staying grey phalarope, we hot footed it toward Oxey Marsh, only checking my phone en route. It was then I realised that I'd practically sprinted away from 2 cattle egret, mingling with the cows beside the camp site. Rookie error.

Torn, I made the tactical decision to carry on for the GP. As we wandered along the path that girdled the marsh, we met one birder after another, all happily reporting excellent views of the phalarope. After a morning stumbling round Blashford, we were happy to hear it. As we came around the bend to overlook the marsh, the little bird was directly ahead of us, flaunting itself in the sunlight as it fed a meter away from 2 delighted birders. I shouldered my camera and began snapping away.

I could have happily stayed that way for a few hours, the sun was warm and the bird was really confiding; but the thought of those un-ticked cattle egrets niggled away at me, and I soon found myself heading back the way I came, stopping only briefly to acknowledge the backside of a skulking dartford warbler as I went. 

As we got back to the car park I could see the cattle egrets glowing in the field ahead of me. If I'd only looked around after parking they would have been right there. Thankfully they hadn't shifted in the intervening hour. I watched them through the scope, occasionally moving for incoming cars or letting others share my view, and really appreciated how good my luck had been. Then, 2 new birds under my belt, I reversed away and headed for a well earned beer at home.

I'll have to scope out some more sites for next weekend. Maybe living down south wont be too bad after all.

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