Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Seeds, Salt Marshes and Sea Birds

I am trying to expand my sea bird and wader ID skills and a perfect place to do this locally is at the salt marshes at Keyhaven. These are internationally important stretches of the coast for waders, both visiting and breeding, and although it was high tide when we were there, I still managed to get some shots of birds that were new to me, which made me happy.

When we arrived yesterday we realised that the recent storms had had a serious impact on the shingle spit that protects the marsh from the ravages of the sea, and there were various mechanical diggers at work mending it....

You can just see Hurst Castle, one of Henry VIII's sea defences, in the background. Charles I was imprisoned here in 1648 before being taken to London for trial and execution.

There are usually Mute Swans in evidence on the sheltered tidal waters as well as Brent Geese who fly in in their hundreds....

Taking exception to Poppy

Brent Geese
The salt marsh is protected from the sea by the shingle spit; on one side cold grey waves were pounding the shore (at the height of the recent storms they had lifted the beach huts and smashed them to pieces) while on the other all was peaceful...



Hurst Lighthouse, on the far side of the marsh, guides ships through the perilous waters of the Solent. It was updated in 1867 from an original building dating to the 1700s and still works today....

We'd barely been on the tidal marsh for five minutes before I spotted some waders. These are Turnstones, one of my favourite coastal birds, so-named because of their habit of flipping stones over to look for food underneath. They are listed as an Amber Status bird by the RSPB, so it was good to see them here.

Next to the Turnstones, there was a new bird for me: Black-Headed Gulls. There were several bobbing about and I managed to get quite close for some pics before they all took off. Their heads are not black at all, more chocolate brown, and they too are amber status birds (which means they aren't critically endangered as red list species are, but that they have shown signs of species decline in recent years). I thought they were Rather Lovely, but then I am biased, because I am definitely a bird person (as well as being a moth person - you can imagine the strain this causes during the summer months when my moths all too often end up as supper for my birds).

Black-Headed Gull

Black-Headed Gull

Not long after the Gulls I spotted my second New Species For The Day, and it was an impressive one. I could tell that by looking at it, even though I had no idea what it was....

The birders among you will know these are Red-Breasted Mergansers, and (according to a lovely man I met who was also taking pics of them) it's rare to see them at Keyhaven at this time of the year. A quick Google when I got home told me their breeding ground is usually in the north of the country, and they are both salt and fresh water birds. They are Green Status, so hopefully no trouble ahead for them. I thought they were smashing. M and the kids don't share my fascination with birds so they walked on ahead while the camera-man and I chatted away happily about all the birds we'd seen at Keyhaven.

After the Mergansers, we took the dogs down to the beach where the waves were pounding. Poppy (relatively new to the sea) got drenched by a wave. Ted (not new to the sea) wisely kept his distance and remained dry. They had fun, sniffing the assorted bottoms of various dogs...


The Coast Guard flew over while we were there....


And there were several mermaid's purses (egg sacks) on the beach facing the Isle of Wight and the Needles. Presumably, these had been washed up by the recent storms. We've seen them here before, although not in such great numbers. Presumably, there must be a breeding ground for sharks and rays somewhere near by. Exciting thought.

Having had our fill of the (very) windy beach, we walked back up to the Salt Marshes to see what else we could find. No one else in my family is much interested in birds, so they all wandered on ahead while I kept stopping to see what I could see. I really must get into the habit of taking binos with me and I would really like to get a more powerful camera for taking bird pics as well. Probably a saving up job. In the mean time, mine does OK as long as they aren't too far away.

There were a couple of New Species For Me further up the marshes. A Great Crested Grebe (green status). Apparently, although tres elegant in water, they are clumsy old things on land because their feet are placed so far back on their bodies!

Great Crested Grebe

Next to the Grebe there was a Cormorant. I hadn't appreciated the yellow facial markings before...


There were the usual assortment of fishing boats, including this one with a rather good name which we all appreciated....

And I really liked this image of a house out on the marshes. It looks timeless, no?

Ted and Pops had had some run-ins with swans, so they were on High Alert as we walked back to the car....

After all that bird-related excitement, M and I went to our local garden centre and stocked up on seeds and some new plants. I am focusing on making the garden pollinator-friendly this year, which includes making a new bed along the fence line, so I got some wildflower seeds for it. These were marketed as 'wildlife friendly.' I am very glad seed manufacturers have started doing this- it makes it much easier to buy the right things. I was also pleased to see that a lot of the seeds were of old or wild varieties, which, unlike many that you get in garden centres, are the versions that the pollinators can actually use. 

I got a Salvia (victoria), Night Flox (for the moths), Ox-Eye Daisy (moths, bees, butterflies), Field Scabious (ditto), Bergamot, Nasturtium (jewel mix), an annual mix of conflower, corn marigold and poppy (amongst others) which will self-seed in future years, a Flowering Lawn mix ( harebell, cowslip, poppy- can't wait for that one to grow), Night-Scented stock (for the moths) and Verbena (purple elegance) for the butterflies. I also got a couple of Hellebores to go by the hedge and some forget-me-knots and narcissus.

I also got a new peanut feeder for the garden, which has already gone down well....

This is Bumble, our female chaffinch, so named for the bumble foot she sports on her right foot. She's been like this for about two years now and it doesn't seem to upset her unduly. It's a fungal infection that particularly affects female chaffinches, but she manages well with it.
Our resident and highly intelligent Jackdaw, Spartacus.


Mr Nuthatch

Mrs Nuthatch (or it could possibly be the other way round)

The Snazzy peanut holder and an upside-down Blue Tit

Peanut holder and Nuthatch
After all that bird, plant and wildlife related excitement I needed a cup of hot water (I don't drink tea or coffee, only water and wine (!)), but when we went in to make one we realised there was no electricity. The power cut lasted until around 4 this morning, which meant that, for several hours last night, we went back about 300 years. There were no lights anywhere along the lane, no buzzing from electrical equipment, and the stars when we took the dogs out for a pee before bed were the brightest I've seen them in years. I even saw a shooting star.
We cooked by candle light then all snuggled up in the sitting room in front of the fire, reading and playing scrabble. We made the boy's beds up down there where it was warm and cosy and they and the dogs had a great night all cuddled up together in front of the fire. What an adventure! Although I am glad it is back on today....

To round off what has been a Rather Nice Few Days, M came home with these for me, by way of a thank you for all the driving etc I've been doing while he's been cast-bound. Actually, I feel I should add in the interest of honesty, that this is only half of them. There were 24 red roses waiting for me with a Really Rather Nice bottle of red. What a well trained husband. It's almost worth him breaking a bone again....

I'll leave you with a pic of those two doggy people fast asleep sharing a blanket. Happy Days....

 CT :-)


  1. What an interesting post, and I felt I was there beside you! It's a long time since i was last down Keyhaven way though - probably 30 years or so. I was really surprised to read that the Black Headed Gulls are Amber now, as they have always seemed as common as muck to me! I envy you the Mergansers (never seen one) and the Grebe (ditto). And the LLT's on your coconuts. They won't come into our garden as we just have seeds out (can't afford a bigger spectrum of food this winter) and nor were the Goldfinches particularly attracted by the Niger seed I put out. One came, had a good nosh, and was never seen again.

    Great array of seeds - they should look wonderful. Nice Helebores too. Mine don't seem inclined to do much apart from leaves this year (probably gasping for air and doing the breast stroke in the border).

    We have some red wine set aside for next Sunday night, when hopefully I will feel like drinking it. I have still seriously lost my appetite though, and everything tastes wrong and I'm not enjoying it. The weight loss is good, but not the right sort of weight loss as it's based on starvation!

    1. Keyhaven is great- one of my favourite places and never overly stuffed with people, which is a bit part of its appeal ;-)

      We've not had any Goldfinches this year yet and they were with us by now last year. I've tried peanuts before and they went down like a lead balloon so I'm not sure why everyone's so keen on them now. The coconut halves have definitely replaced last year's favourite of fat balls- everybody turns their beaks up at fat balls now. Apparently, they are sooo last year.

      I am sorry your appetite is still diminished- not being able to enjoy a nice glass of vino is the pits, and food too- I'm a definite foody, its a big part of the enjoyment of my day so I really sympathise. Hopefully this week you'll kick it into touch.

  2. HI CT. Wow what an interesting post filled with wonderful bird shots and you even saw birds you had not seen before. Wow! LOVE the red feeders as do the birds I see. glad the cast is off and was wonderful of hubby to give you 24 red roses. They look lovely.

    1. Hi Margaret :-)

      I am getting increasingly interested in seabirds so it was just lovely to spend some time on the marsh and see some I'd never seen before. Now I can't wait to go back at low tide!

      Hope all is well? CT x

  3. You've got some lovely photos here. Like you, I would like to get a camera with a bigger zoom as I never really get any good shots of the birds! I need a new peanut feeder too as the bottom has fallen off of mine!

    1. I put our feeders very close to the kitchen window and use the zoom so garden shots are generally OK. It's out in the wild that aren't so good :-)

  4. Lovely to see all the sea birds, beautiful great crested grebe, and glad that the shingle spit is being repaired so promptly. Poor Pops, swan and wave lessons both in one day.

  5. Those pictures of diggers are a familiar sight along the coast at the moment. The Red-Breasted Mergansers were a good find! Glad it was good news for M with his wrist, your roses are lovely.
    Sarah x

    1. Yes it's all taken a real battering this winter hasn't it? I expect Chesil was badly hit too. I thought the Mergansers were great- now can't wait to do more coastal bird spotting x

  6. You saw some great birds-like me hoping to improve your sea bird skills. Lovely post with all your garden birds and new peanut feeder. I must take a picture of my feeders....bird free most of the time...although I did think I saw a LLT yesterday evening....maybe!
    Pretty flowers from hubby and clean doggies...perfect.

    1. Keyhaven is such a great place to practice bird ids because they are so close. Really hoping your birds return soon- I wonder where they all are?

  7. Lots of wonderful photos, CT. I love visiting salt marshes - so I would be in my element there and the sea birds are terrific, especially the Red Breasted Mergansers and the Turnstones. The Great Crested Grebes are a favourite bird of mine, too.
    Poor Poppy must have been a bit shocked by the wave and Swans, but she still has that ready-to-have-fun look.
    The seeds all look great, I'm still choosing some of my wildlife ones at the moment.

    1. We're going to try Langstone harbour near Portsmouth at the weekend - it's also meant to be fantastic for waders etc, so hopefully I'll get some more interesting shots.
      Poppy never learns, she is completely unconcerned about these things- even more of a terrier than Teddy :-)

  8. I love Keyhaven too. We last went there on a summer evening and I had been wondering how the storms had affected the salt marsh. Well done to all those diggers for shoring up Hurst Spit!

    Like BB, I have always thought that Black Headed Gulls were common. We certainly see plenty of them down on the coast and they come inland to feed in the wet fields. Seeing their heads turn black again is a sure sign of Spring!

    The Mergansers are stunning. You were lucky to see them!

    1. Yes, they were doing a great job. Never-ending at the moment I should think!
      Its quite shocking how many birds are now on amber and red status. I've been reading up a lot on it recently and it is a concern.
      I loved the Mergansers- had never heard of them before so it was a real treat to see them.

  9. Amazing that you got to see so many different breeds of bird, especially with all the work that was going on. Good to know that the damage is being repaired too. Hope that your electricity stays on. xx

    1. Keyhaven is a really special place for birds and it's even better at low tide. Electric all fine so far, thanks :-)

  10. You saw some great birds on your walk CT - love the Turnstones :) I love the photo of the timeless house in the marshes :) You've bought some great seeds to plant to attract moths and other pollinators :)

    I've put the moth trap out recently and managed to get my first 2 moths of the year - so they are about :)

    Hope you don't get any more power cuts!

    1. I know- we were really spoilt. Or rather, I was- no one else was that interested so I'm glad I have all my blog friends to share the excitement with!

      I must put my moth box out too. I keep meaning to but time is whizzing past, as usual. I shall make a concerted effort. Hope you'll do a post on what you got? x


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x