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A winter's day on the New Forest coast

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

Russ writes:

Early warnings of lingering fog didn’t materialise, so this morning I took the opportunity to visit the New Forest coast between Lymington and Keyhaven, part of a nature reserve managed by Hampshire County Council. This is arguably the best site in Hampshire for the variety of coastal birds on show, with large numbers of wildfowl and waders and several regionally scarce species. I’ve been visiting the site for over 25 years (and even lived adjacent to it for a couple of years), so I’m always interested to see how the habitats and species have changed.

Today, I covered the stretch of seawall between Oxey Point and Iley Point during my three-hour visit, with early cloud dispersing to leave a glorious sunny day and only the lightest of easterly breezes. As it was high tide, most of the waders were roosting on offshore saltmarsh adjacent to Oxey Lake, including a smart flock of 13 Avocets. They were joined by two slumbering Spoonbills, while a trio of male Eiders and seven Goldeneye fed offshore. A flock of five Spotted Redshanks and two Greenshanks patrolled the adjacent lagoons, and Kingfisher, Stonechat (pic below) and Water Rail were also recorded.

Moving on to Butts Point, a wintering Chiffchaff showed well as it fed in vegetation on the margins of the lagoon, and a Cetti’s Warbler occasionally burst into song. A Long-tailed Duck was distantly visible in Keyhaven Harbour, and a trio of Marsh Harriers rose out of Keyhaven Reedbed, with one heading south over the saltmarsh towards the Isle of Wight. At Keyhaven Lagoon another Spoonbill was present (pic below), together with five Ruff including a colour-ringed bird that is most likely from a Dutch scheme (details TBC). A couple of elusive Water Pipits frequented the damp pasture behind the lagoon, and another Water Rail squealed amongst the rushes.

The supporting cast included three Peregrines and a pair of Ravens, and it was notable that the area still supports a healthy Rabbit population, in contrast to many sites in the New Forest interior where they are now absent or much reduced.

This coastal strip has always been at risk of being ‘loved to death’, and today I was passed by a steady stream of dog-walkers, runners, cyclists, birders, photographers and walkers enjoying the fine weather. However, most birds become habituated to people when they walk along regular paths, and it was only when an errant dog took a shortcut through the lagoons at Oxey Point (as it chased after its oblivious owner) that I saw any obvious negative impact on the wildlife. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the diversity and abundance of birds on site is higher now than it was 25 years ago, despite the heavy people pressure.

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