Saturday, 31 October 2009

Waders and Seabirds in the Lagoon on Brownsea Island

We have just arrived home after a wonderful afternoon on Brownsea Island, the nature reserve in Poole Harbour . A warm, soft grey afternoon of calm waters, but a sky where storm clouds were gathering out to the west. Gales are forecast for tonight.

There are so many photographs from today, but here are just a few of the numerous birds, both resident and migrant, who were feeding in the sheltered lagoon in the late afternoon. The light was falling and birds were feeding or settling to rest on mudflats or on the still water. As well as the birds in the images below, we saw Shoveller Duck, Shellduck, Wigeon, Knot and Oystercatcher among those that we could recognise.

A Little Egret

A Greenshank watching the water for fish.

A pair of Redshank.

Brownsea Island has the largest flock of Avocets Britain. This graceful black and white wader is the bird used on the logo of the RSPB.

Cormorants, black back gulls and a grey heron among a mixed flock on the far mudflats.

Greenshank and Redshank together in the shallows.

Friday, 30 October 2009

"The Silver Mist" and a valley walk

The Silver Mist

The silver mist more lowly swims
And each green-bosomed valley dims,
And o`er the neighbouring meadow lies
Like half-seen visions by dim eyes.
Green trees look grey, bright waters black,
The lated crow has lost her track
And flies by guess her journey home:
She flops along and cannot see
Her peaceful nest on oddling tree,
The lark drops down and cannot meet
The taller black-grown clump of wheat.
The mists that rise from heat of day
Fade field and meadow all away.

John Clare (1793 - 1864)

This morning I walked into the valley, where peat-stained pools collect the downwashed rain that runs from heather covered hills. A mist dulled the sky and obscured the distant view towards the sea.
Back across the heath and down the lane. Meeting no one. Only a stonechat rising alarmed out of a gorse thicket and the crunch of flint underfoot on the forest track.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Down the lane to Linford

The long way home around a narrow lane that winds downhill,out of the town and down into oak woods and a green valley. Pastures where a commoning farmer grazes his ponies. Deep broadleaved woodlands where oak, birch and beech are turning to brown and gold. Inclosures where young trees can grow without harm from grazing stock. A barking dog and the scent of woodsmoke rising from the chimney of a cottage in the lane.

Across pasture land to the turning oaks of Linwood.

A pony grazing the green at Linford Bottom.

Young beeches turn to autumn gold in Linford inclosure.

A track to the moor just north of Picket Post.

An old bay mare and her chestnut colt foal wander and feed by the lane at Linford.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

On Stanpit Marsh

I had things to do in Christchurch today, but the morning was full of sun and bright clouds, so I set off early and walked for an hour in a favourite place by the sea. Stanpit Marsh is a 96 hectare nature reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest on the eastern side of Christchurch Harbour. The marsh floods with salt water on a high tide and is home to many rare saltwater plants. So many species of migrant and resident birds find shelter and food in the marshland or on the mudflats of the harbour. Dragonflies and other insects thrive on summer flowers.

More details about the wildlife of the harbour and the marsh can be found at and stunning photographs of harbour birdlife can be found on the Christchurch Harbour Ornithology Group website

Christchurch Harbour is the place where the Dorset River Stour and the Hampshire River Avon meet the sea on the eastern edge of Poole Bay.The ancient name for the market town of Christchurch is Twynham, the Place Where Two Rivers Meet.The harbour is sheltered from prevailing south westerly winds and longshore drift by the bulk of Hengistbury Head.

I took the footpath that circles the edge of the marsh, along board walks, over the pebble beach on the water`s edge and over wooden bridges where shoals of tiny fish can be seen in the pools beneath.The mudflats were teeming with seabirds and waders and I longed for a pair of binoculars to see them better. Lapwing,geese, curlew, oyster catchers, knot and numerous other small waders fed and cried across the water. Several pairs of Little Egrets stalked the marsh for prey. Cormorants flew low down the harbour towards the open sea and families of mute swans swam in and out of reeds on the opposite bank. The Priory Church stood sentinal over the water as it has for nine hundred years.

A brisk walk on a clear, fine day. Here are some views of marsh and water taken along the way. Click on photos to enlarge for detail.

Across saltmarsh and river channel to Hengistbury Head.

Over reed beds to the Priory Church at Christchurch.

A Little Egret searching for food in the marsh.

Across the marsh and Christchurch Harbour. Beach huts line the spit of sand that runs eastwards from Hengistbury Head. The harbour mouth is a narrow gap called The Run where fast, deep water rushes between the spit and Mudeford Quay. In the far distance, behind the beach huts, lies the English Channel and the chalk cliff of Tennyson Down on the Isle of Wight, where the white spikes of The Needles rocks stand out of the sea.

The tide comes in.
In the main harbour channel, the fresh water of the Rivers Stour and Avon meet the salt water of the incoming tide.

New Forest ponies sunbathing by the shore. Behind them, exposed mudflats in the harbour were teeming with feeding waders.
The ponies belong to New Forest commoners. This year`s foals will have been rounded up and weaned now, while their dams stay on the marsh to graze.

At low tide, the salt pools in the marsh provide a sheltered nursery for the young of sea fish who spawn and breed here.

The Old Tug - the rusty old boat that has been left high and dry on the Marsh for many years. When my boys were small they called it Noah`s Ark!

The little Mude River, which gives the village of Mudeford its name, flows into Christchurch Harbour through dense shrub and a small area of woodland. I have seen a kingfisher here on previous visits.

Tansy flowers ( Batchelors` Buttons) among wild flowers seeding in the hedgerow.

A feed store for the birds in the wild shrubbery of ivy, rosehip , bramble and wild clematis seed (old man`s beard).

Monday, 26 October 2009

On the Wild Hill - a poem by Mary Webb

I love this poem. Although written of a Shropshire hill, it could be a picture of the New Forest hills and moors in early summer.

On the Wild Hill

Would God I were there, on the wild hill
Where the ponies with wet fetlocks wade in morasses
Starred with yellow mimulus, drinking the chill
Brown water! Where the bright foals, black and bay,
Run to their dams through the dark blue day,
As the shadow of a hawk passes.

If I might be there in the grave dawn,
Stumbling on a curlew`s nest beneath its spread
Of flowering heather, and seeing across the lawn,
Sheep-mown, the creamy, pencilled curlew chickens run,
Quick and bright as water in the sun,
Hiding in a fresh green bracken-bed!

If only I might watch the old curlews drifting
Down the silver summer air like tawny leaves!
Hear their icy, elfin voices uplifting
The warm rich veils of silence and content,
Discovering some chill presentiment,
Like a fugitive soul that grieves.

Mary Webb

Hill track by silver birches

New Forest ponies camouflaged amongst bracken on the hill.

"Old Snowy"

I found "On the Wild Hill" recently, in my aunt`s old book "Fifty One Poems" (Pub:Jonathan Cape,1946), an anthology of poetry by Mary Webb which was unpublished during her lifetime.

Mary Webb (1881-1927), was a native of Shropshire and her poetry and prose are deeply influenced by the natural beauty of her native county. I first discovered Mary Webb by reading her novels "Precious Bane" and "Gone to Earth" which were republished by Virago in the 1970s. Before my elderly aunt died this spring, I discovered that the work of Mary Webb had been the subject of her college dissertation in the 1930s. We both shared a love of Mary Webb`s sensitive observations of nature, her sense of place and her fine use of language.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Evening along the old railway line

A busy Sunday outside with animals and the garden, in sunshine and a blustery south west wind. In the late afternoon, the wind dropped, so we drove along to Burbush Hill car park to walk the dogs in the last of the soft light. The old railway line stretched away to the south. There were so many walkers and cyclists out, so we dropped down the embankment to find a peaceful way along a stream that drains the moor. Aged trees bent across the running water while the stream banks grew rich with fungi and bright moss.

Up the sandy track, across the old railway line and then down through goat willow and silver birch beside a stream.

We walked beside the stream and followed tracks across the edge of the rust brown heather moor.

A pony grazes amongst heather and marsh.

Along the stream.

An ancient holly shows the browsing line where ponies, deer and cattle reach upwards to feed.

Over the moor and up the hill.

Birch bracket fungi and lichen on a streamside silver birch.

Trees and track as we walked back along the disused railway line towards Burbush Hill car park.

The sun dipping down behind clumps of trees. A roe deer leapt out across the bracken but the camera was too slow to catch her image as she sped into cover again. Flocks of finches swirled over goat willow and drying reeds in the marshy valley. Three riders turned their ponies homewards up a heather track towards the village. Our two black and white collies rode home in the back of the car. Tired but happy and covered in heather twigs and bracken.

This railway track was part of the Brockenhurst to Poole line that was opened in 1847. Because of the many twists and turns along much of this line, it was named the Castleman`s Corkscrew. Castleman was a solicitor who practised in Ringwood and Wimborne and who had promoted the building of this stretch of line. The line was closed in 1964 as one of Dr Beeching`s infamous branch line closures, but much of it still serves as a route across the countryside for walkers, cyclists and riders.