The mudflats are still, but first impressions are deceptive. On a grey, raw day, we stop on the bridge across the Avon Water as it enters the Keyhaven Marshes. The tide is out, gulls mill in the air, but below us the glutinous foreground seems devoid of life. As our eyes settle to what we are seeing, we realise how misleading those first impressions are. The mudflats are teeming with waders. We’ve left the binoculars in the car and so don’t attempt identification until one long-legged, straight-billed bird wades out to feed, head-down into the stream. In this murky light, it’s impossible to see markings but surely this is a black-tailed godwit.
We press on along the Solent Way, a track lined with lichen-festooned bushes. Near the village, the lichens are mostly orange with shades of pastel green where different varieties fight for possession of the branches. Some of these pale species are so dense that from afar they look like sprigs of meadowsweet thrusting up through the hedgerow.
Leaving the track, we follow a muddy path, with reedbeds just beyond the bushes. Grunts and whistles, and vibrating stalks, tell us that much is going on in them. Our attempt to see who the musicians are is noticed, and the orchestra falls silent.
Heading back, we are waylaid by brent geese. In the morning, we had seen some geese away on the mudflats, and while we were walking a skein of brents flying towards Calshot had passed over us. Now, we stop the car beside a large restless flock feeding on the grassland between the road and the bottom of the Hirst Castle spit. They don’t seem at all fazed by people walking along the skyline above them, nor by the traffic passing on the road alongside them, and aren’t even troubled when we get out to photograph them. Their restlessness seems all to do with pecking order. We watch as bird after bird eats a few mouthfuls of grass only to be bullied off that patch. Most often the bully doesn’t eat. As we look on, another group circles and lands, making the flock some 200 strong.