Patchwork birding – Itchen Meadows 16th Jan

Lovely afternoon for a walk, but unseasonally warm for the time of year. 8°C and bright sunshine. Light W breeze that picked up later. Temperature dropped rapidly by five degrees after 3.30pm

Parked up at Mansbridge reservoir at 1.30pm and collected 15 common garden species round the lake, including 2 COLLARED DOVES my local ‘bogey bird’. Also counted three pairs of COOT which is encouraging. One man fishing in silence, and a woman in a bright red coat having an agitated conversation on her mobile. Irritating.

Lots of ROBIN, BLACKBIRD and tit activity around Mansbridge Lock (2 MOORHENS) but otherwise quiet going under the motorway and out on to the pools. A couple of STOCK DOVES overhead (the first of eight birds) and then the familiar “chack-chack-chack” of a FIELDFARE just over the border stream. At least three birds here, probably five or six, but they moved around very quickly. First Patchwork yeartick of the day. These and the 20 REDWING in the same area, along with a calling male BULLFINCH looking great in the sunlight took me up to the first 20 species.

Little else around for the next twenty minutes or so. Chose to walk up the west side today, inside the Meadows beside the Navigation path. Exceptionally muddy of course, but nothing like the surface water that covered the whole area for six weeks this time last year.

First ‘surprise’ of the day was a single MUTE SWAN one on of the channels – very unusual here – and by the time I saw this I could also here BUZZARD calling and a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER drumming in the distance up near Decoy Wood. It was after 2.30pm by the time I got up to the wood and saw the first MAGPIE of the afternoon on the grass.

Thence up the Navigation, dodging the puddles and the brambles. The Airport crossing can wait till later – keep straight up the path scanning the Sanctuary on the right. At least 4 ROE DEER in here this afternoon, and great views again of the regular greying FOX. We acknowledged our customary nods of fellowship and he ambled off towards the river.

GREEN WOODPECKER and GOLDFINCH up by Lock House Lock, as well as more SONG THRUSHES and another Bullfinch, and then turning at the crossing paths towards the Fishing Club.


Always a place of beauty and peace. Feels like Turner should sit awhile and paint the tranquility with light.

LITTLE GREBE on the water, among Moorhen, Mallard and Mute Swan. Geese int he distance as I hoped – 4 GREYLAG among at least 20 CANADA Goose the latter bringing the patchwork yearlist onto a healthy and encouraging 60 species. Nothing unusual yet, but its good to connect with the more familiar, regular species. Highlight here was a charming GREY WAGTAIL (one of three I saw during the walk). He delighted me with a song-flighting display, with which I am quite unfamiliar. A thin, broken song, delicate and hopeful of spring.

I took the wooded path from here northwards, round behind the reedbed, among the familiar songbirds and looking out for the  elusive Goldcrest. No sign, and I noticed here too that up until now I have not met Long-tailed Tit this afternoon…

Emerge from the shade here blinking from under the railway bridge, ten or fifteen minutes shy of Eastleigh Sewage Farm. Lots of Gulls and corvids on the paddocks of course – well over 60 Carrion Crows around, raucous and bullying. Here a flurry of ‘day list’ birds : a male PHEASANT among the crows, with 20 or so STARLINGS and the first CHIFFCHAFF calling from somewhere on the embankment to my left. While scanning for that (with no luck) a group of three GREENFINCH went over. These have declined rapidly in the last twelve months and could now only be described as ‘occasional’ on these walks. Chaffinches have picked up and seem to have reversed their populations trend…

The Chiffchaff on the railway convinced me not to go up any further, and so turned back from here, taking in the reedbed this time. Paused to scan and sit, watching for movement among the grasses to see the elusive Reed Bunting. No luck – just a  couple of busy, scolding Wrens. Over towards the Fishing Club another Chiffchaff sang, and overhead Jackdaws now in larger groups are moving to their roost.

Light is fading, temperature cooling fast. The sunset starts to blaze away to the southwest


ROOKS appear from the west, crawing and grunting, squadrons of tired birds heading home to Allington Lakes. 40 species for the day, and out on the grass land north of the airport there are two more Roe Deer and small numbers of MEADOW PIPITS also heading to roost. Pied Wagtails going the other way, to the Airport car park where they gather in the warmth of the light.

Gulls too are moving south. Black-heads in formation, to roost at Weston Shore five miles south. Watch the larger ones more carefully, for LESSER BLACK-BACK and see five easily. A family group no doubt – two adults and three of last year’s young.

Back at Decoy Wood, I will head east around the meadows to be at the Country Park entrance by 4.30 and thus in with a chance of meeting the ‘regular’ Barn Owl. Sadly only one survives. His mate was found dead on the Sanctuary sometime last summer, and all three young were killed in collisions with aircraft. They do not learn… ‘Heard only’ STONECHAT in gathering dusk. Two birds, one glimpsed some distance off among the otherwise deserted Snipe-favoured grasses.

For twenty minutes I sat watching the Meadow, waiting, and he didn’t show. Never does when I wait in expectation. I do not learn…
Head down then and head for home. Half an hour at a brisk pace from here back to the car, picking up only the solitary GREY HERON I have met before, taking up its regular spot in an old dead tree to roost – a shaggy ‘blob’ on spindly legs making a quite ridiculous silhouette.

Back at the reservoir among lots of singing Blackbirds there was a party of LONG TAILED TITS fussing around, and I realised I had not seen any others today. Perhaps an oversight, but ticked with a flourish as I took of my muddy boots and drove off with a very satisfying 45 species in the bag and another inspirational walk in my favourite landscape


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