This is very much a then and now post. Then, in the 1970s, my parents had moved to a village in Dorset, and were exploring the countryside. I spent a lot of time with them before my career got going, but came back for holidays until the 90s. And then I came back to south Hampshire in 2020. When I looked at Where to Watch Birds in Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle Of Wight (Betton 2023) I was surprised to find familiar places. But mostly, much changed.
Martin Down – then and now
Martin Down was one of my Mum’s favourite places. It’s not that picturesque in itself. It’s part of Cranbourne Chase, which is a beautiful area but it has little extra special in the way of views.
But my Mum and I went most summers to listen to (and hopefully spot) the nightingales. There would usually be six or more in the bushes at the end of the track (an old shooting butt, so easily navigated). Then the Down spread out, bushes, scrub, gorse, meadows, butterflies….
It was probably the most reliable spot we knew for nightingales. I should have realised, once engaging brain and comparing it with the situation in Norfolk. I had seen nightingales on my local patch in Norfolk, and had recorded one near my house. But nightingales have been suffering a catastrophic decline, possibly due to lack of food in their wintering ground in Africa. The BTO nightingale survey showed hardly any reliable sightings. I did see a badger, and a family of foxes who surrounded my car, making me thinking of that scene in Jurassic Park…
And when I turned to Betton 2023, and found the entry for Martin Down, it was all as I remembered except …
The days when this was a key site for seeing Stone-Curlew and Nightingale are now a distant memory.Betton 23, p166
There are other attractions of Martin Down. I was hoping to visit yesterday on a Butterfly Conservation society local group walk. The butterflies may be stupendous, but I wasn’t feeling up to it, after last week’s heat and a strenuous weekend. Martin Down will be there another day.
Avon Valley: then and now
This is the Hampshire Avon, and nothing to do with Stratford or Bristol, or any other Avon you fancy. As it happened, my brother’s house was on the other side of the valley from my parents, so travels up the road from Ringwood in the Salisbury direction were a constant feature of my visits. And because of orienteering, I also noted the changes in land use from the forests of West Moors and further south, where the Moors Country Park and the Avon Valley Country Park were developed to conserve wildlife, get people closer to it, and for kids to enjoy themselves in the countryside.
The Country Parks
I can be a bit sniffy about ‘Country Parks’. There are a huge number of them, it seems to me, in this area. They are all worth visiting, and get people out into woodland, a bit of heath or grassy space, but with facilities like car parks toilets and cafes and children’s playgrounds, that the wilder spaces of the New Forest may not offer. And it does enable a control of pressure on the environment from too many visitors. These can take it.
Moors Valley has several trails for young people, plus one of those zip wire trails, ands that is kept carefully away from the area that birds like Crossbill prefer. I havent seen those for ages (in the forest by my parents house). I must go birding there. It was a really boring place when my parents moved in, unlike their local forest. Last time I orienteered there I thought it was a really nice place.
Driving up the Avon Valley road, (not close to Avon Valley CP, which is further southwest), I used to pass the sign for ‘Blashford Lakes – Fishing Day tickets’. Obviously I was not interested in fishing lakes. It was a slight surprise when someone recommended I visit Blashford Lakes for my birdwatching – around the time I discovered Titchfield Haven, I think. And having discovered Titchfield, I wasn’t bothering to go to an old gravel pit with lots of fishing around it.
Back to WTWB …
The Blashford Lakes host an impressive variety and abundance of winter wildfowl… waders feature well at times of passage…. support a rich diversity of breeding birdsBetton 2023 p147-8
It has obviously been upgraded in every facility, and is also a study centre for the environment. Where some of the coastal areas have lost their overwintering migrants, the birds have spoken: Blashford offers better security, and food. I really must go there.
And finally, one of my favourite stopping-off places on the back way home from my brother’s: turn off the main road (opposite Blashford Lakes), over the humpbacked bridge, and along the road between two watermeadows (if it isn’t flooded). Stopping the car halfway along made it a perfect hide, and you could see dozens of waders, and hundreds of wild swans, including the migrants swans, Bewick and Whooper (occasionally) among the Mute swans wintering there.
Ibsley Drove has not changed much, it seems. Maybe the migrant swans are more or a rarity, but they still come, and so does everything else. This farmer has done a wonderful job for over 50 years. Thank you.
Other Wild Things since the last post
- My robin is getting very demanding. I don’t know where all these mealworms are going, but they haven’t produced any young yet, and I reckon they’ve tried two nests
- Added Linnet to my garden birdwatch list. Never seen one before in the garden, but it sang for ages from the tree last week, and has been back since
- Long tailed tits have fledged, at least I had a visit from five on Friday. Didn’t notice any curled tails, which are a sign of recently fledged (they haven’t got room to straighten them out in the nest)
- Making hay now ‘no mow May’ is over – first batch moved to dry in the summerhouse. Hopefully another batch after this week’s storms