The Garden Diary 2007
May (Part 3)
A trip to the seaside
21-24 May - An escape to the seaside!
This year, we will not be taking our caravan on its usual trip to Cornwall. We still hope to get down there later in the year, although it will probably be at least September before we get the chance., so last week we decided to head for somewhere a bit closer for a few days break. We headed for a small place with the rather unglamorous name of Mudeford, on the south coast, at the side of Christchurch Harbour.
Christchurch is a natural harbour through which the River Avon passes on its way to the sea through a narrow channel past Mudeford Quay. The harbour is very shallow and when the tide goes out there are large expanses of sand and mud banks, which many birds visit each day.
We stayed in a hotel the gardens of which run down to the water's edge - we hardly left the grounds for the three days we spent there. After rain on the first day, the rest of the time there were blue skies.
These three images give an idea of the panorama that we looked out on.
The group of buildings in the first section of the panorama mark the spot where the harbour is linked to the sea by a narrow channel which has to be navigated with great care by boaters because of the constantly changing nature of the sandbanks and the very strong currents at certain parts of the tide.
Christchurch is off to the right, and the tall, dark hill in the background is Hengistbury Head, a place rather out of my reach these days.
Through the gap in the trees at the left hand end of the panorama you can make out the Western tip of the Isle of Wight.
Mudeford Quay itself is a busy place in good weather, with a small ferry crossing over to the beach chalets you can see in the right of this picture (these are privately owned, and although they have no electricity, or running water, sell for more than £90,000!).
The exit to the sea is between the two black buildings.
The quay is also a base for inshore fishing boats,
and has a lifeboat station. The lifeboat has to launched from a trailer, towed out into the water by a semi-submersible tractor.
Just to the left of the hotel grounds a stream empties into the harbour, and when the tide is low this fresh water becomes a focus for some of what appear to be hundreds of Mute Swans that live in the harbour. Along with other birds, they arrive to bathe and preen.
It was fascinating to watch them put their extremely flexible necks to work as they got to all the awkward spots.
As far as I could tell, the swans that I watched were all ringed, something that became obvious when they lifted one leg out of the water as preening continued.
Frequently during the preening they would take some water - I wasn't sure if they were actually drinking it or using it to clean their feathers as they worked on them.
When preening was nearly complete a swan would suddenly lift itself up and flap its wings a couple of times.
As the previous picture shows, there were plenty of Black-headed gulls sharing the fresh water with the swans, but in this picture you can see a Common Gull which rocked from side to side in the water as it took a fresh water bathe.
Also, notice the white feather that has just been discarded by the swan. The strandline was littered with moulted feathers from the swans.
Just occasionally the swans and gulls were joined by other birds, including this crow, which must have been standing on a stone in the water.
There were several Mallard Ducks which spent much of their time by the mouth of the stream, and we were caught by surprise when at low tide a female suddenly emerged, dashing across the sand/mud with a clutch of chicks desperately trying to keep up!
She didn't slow down once she reached the water, but the chicks managed to organise themselves into a line behind her.
Once afloat, the pace hardly diminished as they became harder to see, even with binoculars, eventually disappearing amongst a very distant group of swans, not to be seen again by us.
When we are in Cornwall, when out on my kayak I'm always on the lookout for Little Egrets, and got quite excited last year when I spotted three in one place. On a couple of occasions during this holiday I counted at least 24! They were a long way off from us, but individual birds often came much closer, although you had to be careful not to disturb them.
I was even able to watch this one preening without the need for binoculars.
When they are on their own it is difficult to judge their size, so it was useful to photograph them with other birds.
However, I would have loved to have been able to photograph one next to this pair of Grey Herons that made a brief appearance in front of us. The back-lighting was a problem, but the one on the left appears to be a juvenile.
They only stayed for a minute or so before they took off again and headed back in the direction they had appeared from.
Another bird that made a brief appearance was this Tern that flew around for a short time around high tide , making occasional dives into the shallow water.
High tide also allowed this swan to approach very close as it grazed upon the weed.
Notice the brown staining of the Swan's head. I assume that this is caused by the harbour's muddy waters.
On the other hand, this Common Gull preferred low tide when it could uncover food items like this unfortunate crab which was cracked open and then devoured on the spot.
We are far from expert bird watchers, but we also managed to see Shelduck, Oystercatches, what I think was a Curlew, and a small flock of Dunlin, together with a single Ringed Plover. And I nearly forgot - a lot of Starlings with their young!
When we watched the Tern diving I wondered how it was able to judge the depth of the water as visibility was very poor.
On one high tide I saw quite a few fish like this one feeding very close to me. The water is no more than 2ft deep and the fish almost disappeared as it went down to the bottom to feed. I think it is a Thick-lipped Grey Mullet.
We saw fishermen engaged in seine-net fishing during two high tides. As I watched the nets being pulled in, the large fish caught in the nets looked very much like the mullet, although I read that the seine-net fishery is after Salmon and Sea Trout.
After a very pleasant stay, we returned home on Thursday (24th), just in time, before the weather headed dramatically downhill for the Bank Holiday weekend.
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