A blustery day at Farlington Marshes

At the southern end of the A3 a busy junction with the A27 is where roads meets coast, producing an incessant roar of traffic. But this is the hinterland of Langstone Harbour, at the northern end of which lies Farlington marshes. Here, the muddy foreshore at low tide and the pools among rough grazing marsh and reedbeds comprise Farlington Marsh nature reserve, managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. It is famed for its waterfowl and shorebird populations, especially in winter.

Female Kestrel preening following its Sunday lunch (Chris Feare)

Sunday 5 March was probably the worst of recent days to visit the site. A blustery and cold westerly wind, increasing in strength during our visit and punctuated by very heavy rain and hail showers, did not provide the best conditions to see the area’s birds. This was demonstrated just after our arrival. In darkening skies we decided to walk from the western car park and immediately behind the entrance gate Christine spotted a Kestrel sitting atop a fence post, eating a vole, only about 5 metres away. The bird was far more interested in its prey than in us and so I took out my camera. The bird was visible in the image but in the moment that it took me to compose the photo the lens was drenched and the Kestrel appears to be embedded in bubbles! After we had returned to the car for the 15 or so minutes of battering rain and hail to pass, we began the walk again and amazingly found the Kestrel still present, preening itself and appearing to be totally unconcerned by our close presence. This time the cleaned and dried camera did what it was supposed to do.

Timing events exquisitely, we took a shortish walk along the sea wall, returning just in time to avoid the next downpour. The low tide revealed extensive mudflats upon which large numbers of Redshanks and Dunlins probed, with a few Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits seeking deeper prey in the mud. Teal appeared to be surfing in the mud surface, bodies horizontal with necks and bills held low and outstretched in the mud surface or in shallow water. Shelducks, Mallard and Wigeon were also present on the grazing marsh but, for elegance among the ducks, pride of place must go to the Pintails, especially the males, as these colourful birds waddled among the grass or upended on the open water, at which the full extent of their pointed tails was revealed.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese taking to the air (Chris Feare)

Periodically the sky filled with Dark-bellied Brent Geese, most of which were feeding in the rough grassland. There were probably over 1000, a far cry from my early birdwatching days when the sight of a small flock of this then-rare race on the Lincolnshire coast caused great excitement among local birdwatchers. Now they are so abundant that they are of concern to farmers, depleting the yields of some of their crops. The grazing marsh also provided ideal habitat for large numbers of Lapwings and Starlings, both of whose numbers have declined markedly over the period that Brent Goose numbers have rocketed.

Black-headed Gull with black cap ready for the breeding season (Chris Feare)

The Brent Geese will soon leave for their Siberian nesting grounds but Black-headed Gulls were already showing signs of spring, many sporting their black caps in readiness for the forthcoming breeding season.

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