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Spring migrants arrive in force at the coast

This morning I was up early and already heading to the New Forest coast in the half-light of dawn, enticed by a weather forecast of light winds, overcast skies and intermittent drizzle – potentially good conditions for seeing grounded and low-flying migrant birds.

My first stop was Hurst Beach, where a rather tame Black Swan was keeping the local Mute Swans company, and 11 noisy Mediterranean Gulls fed in fields alongside the commoner Black-headed Gulls, including several adults in their smart summer plumage.

As I headed towards Keyhaven it seemed as though Chiffchaff song emanated from every Willow tree, and over the course of the morning I counted at least 20, many of which looked like new migrants. The Great Bustard from the Salisbury Plain reintroduction scheme, that has been present through the winter, had moved to a new field and was now accompanied by several Pheasants, but the distance, drizzle and poor light thwarted my attempts to get decent images.

Moving east, Pennington and Oxey Marsh held a couple of Barnacle Geese, a pair of hunting Marsh Harriers (pic below), and a single female Wheatear sitting on a grassy mound next to three playful young bunnies.

I rattled off a few shots in the hope of capturing this feeding Spoonbill at Oxey Marsh with its prey, and managed to get this reasonably sharp effort, although it’s a shame it was such flat light!

Two Common Seals were seen offshore and were relatively easy to spot in the calm conditions, but unfortunately too distant for photos, as was a loose flock of seven Eiders. A little burst of Meadow Pipit passage was a precursor to a couple of large flocks of chittering Sand Martins arriving in off the sea, totalling at least 60 birds. Hurst Castle and the lighthouse looked atmospheric in the background.

Heading back towards Keyhaven, a further four Spoonbills slumbered on Fishtail Lagoon, with five Ruff, a Spotted Redshank and a Water Pipit (pic below) also of note there. Avocets were present on most of the lagoons, and I counted at least 17 during the morning. Many are starting to act territorially, a further sign that spring is gathering pace!

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