Trip reports

Trip to Titchfield Haven - 15th March - report by Rebecca Dunne

Trip to Titchfield Haven - 15th March - report by Rebecca Dunne

Sunday, 15 March 2020

The weather was rather dull but thankfully most of the rain saved itself for the journey there and back. Our trip had dwindled to 12 people with one of these failing to realise that Richmond is not always the first pick up point. Our driver, Terry, kindly went back to collect him but this delay meant that we were late arriving at the reserve and at Petersfield Services. Keen birdwatchers started us off here with song thrush, house sparrow, nuthatch and greenfinch while the rest of us drank coffee in the cafe. From the minibus some saw a kestrel and a red kite.

Eventually arriving on Titchfield Haven seafront, we were surprised by the strong wind as we exited the minibus. Luckily the reserve was much more sheltered than the seafront. The reserve is separated from the Solent by a road on a raised embankment. Behind this the reserve covers 369 acres of the Meon Valley encompassing a mosaic of habitats including river, fen, pools, reedbed and meadow. In front of the visitors' centre is the tiny Hill Head Harbour, where the River Meon flows into the sea. This held its usual pair of mute swans and the usual 50 or so turnstones which are so bold that some run around your feet. Oystercatchers sat on the one remaining sand bar by the harbour entrance.

Our first stop was Cottage Hide which looks more like a small garden shed. It is attached to a picture book, but rather run down, cottage behind the visitors' centre. We had to take shifts to go in and look at the feeders in front of it. Those who made it inside reported mallard, woodpigeon, house sparrow, robin, dunnock, gadwall, blue tit, great tit and reed bunting. Entering the reserve proper we enjoyed a pleasant stroll along the Boardwalk Trail which wanders across wooded marshland. We agreed that anything with a boardwalk seems much more exciting than a normal path! Walking slowly, we had nuthatch, wren, robin, scarlet elf cup fungi and best of all a pair of firecrest, which most of us eventually saw flitting around in the undergrowth. Bill pointed out the difference between the male and the female. The firecrests were at the junction with the boardwalk to Suffern Hide which looks across the river to reedbeds. Although fairly quiet little grebe, pairs of gadwalls, a cormorant, one pair of mute swans chasing off another pair in a fight over territory and a male marsh harrier provided interest. The marsh harrier carried a stick in its talons and disappeared into the reeds apparently nest building. We were later told that they might be trying here having failed further up river last year.

Continuing along the boardwalk the sun came out and we saw a brimstone butterfly and heard and saw chiffchaff; both signs of Spring. There were also good views of a goldcrest, loud but invisible cetti's warblers, blackbirds, a pair of dunnocks and a jay perched obligingly in a tree. We stopped for lunch at the spacious Meadow Hide where telescopes were necessary to clearly see the birds. However, the next hide, Knights Bank, overlooked the same meadows and gave everyone closer views of the birds. A large group of 100+ black-tailed godwit probing the damp grassland was particularly interesting because some were already in almost full bright, rust coloured breeding plumage whereas others remained in their dull beige winter colours. They will soon be off back to Iceland to nest. Mixed in with them were wigeon and every so often they all took off, the godwits flashing their white rumps and wing bars. Black-headed gulls were the most common gull on the stretch of water. A couple of mediterranean gulls proved hard to see but we also had a pair of great black-backed gulls, a lesser black-backed gull, herring gulls and a few a common gull. A single curlew took a lot of finding by most of the group, despite Jill's excellent directions. Along with these we had shelduck, male marsh harrier, grey heron, Canada geese, oystercatchers, teal, a lapwing, a female stonechat, a pheasant, magpie, coot and crows. It was an attractive pastoral scene through which trotted a handsome, well fed fox looking in much better condition than his urban relations.

Returning along the boardwalk to the visitors' centre greenfinch song was clearly picked out by some and others stopped for another look at the firecrests. To access the other half of the reserve you leave the visitors' centre and walk along the seafront road, entering the reserve again once you have crossed the river. Meon Shore Hide and Pumfrett Hide on the Scrapes Trail give the best views of the north and south scrapes so this is where we headed. These scrapes are protected by newly restored predator proof fences and from early spring are home to nesting gulls, avocets and terns. We were too early for terns but saw lots of black-headed gulls (amber listed) claiming territory, a pair of Mediterranean gulls and 5 avocets. One med gull made amorous advances to the other but 'she' kept flying off. Also, on the scrapes were shelduck, herring gull, shoveler, teal, gadwall, two redshank, moorhen, starlings, lapwing and oystercatchers which were roosting here during high tide. The closeness of the birds to Pumfrett Hide gave us a chance to study the beautiful summer plumage of a black-tailed godwit and we could all clearly see the bright yellow legs of a lesser-black backed gull.

Time was getting on by this point so we gave the other two hides on this side a miss, preferring to do a quick sea watch over the Solent and have time for tea and cakes. The wind had dropped a bit from the morning so it was possible to see a few birds in the waves. We found 2 male eider duck although the huge empty cruise ship leaving Southampton was of more interest to those without telescopes. By the time I found a female common scoter and two more male eider ducks everyone else was in the café! Our final count of species for the day was 57. Not huge but pretty good for this small reserve at a rather in-between seasons time of the year. Thanks to all who braved the trip.