Thursday 23 January 2014

Things can only get better 18th January 2014


Early Saturday morning. It has finally stopped raining. High rise run down flats loom above the road. Paint peeling. Low watt bare bulbs glimmer in the windows. Shops mouldering into bankruptcy. Dark, dingy possibly dangerous pubs that have given up any pretence of civilised drinking and certainly do not serve food. A hint of menace permeates the urban sprawl. The mud flats of Haslar Creek glistening, squat and opaque like a fat toad in the grey light at low tide. Discarded cans glint like cheap junk jewellery on the shore occasionally illuminated by a ray of brief sunlight in between rain clouds scudding in front of a cold southwest wind. 

The grassy surrounds of the concrete sided lagoon are sodden and muddy with too much rain. The water oozing in a brown slime from the waterlogged ground. An army of Black headed Gulls, like scattered litter is marching far and wide over the grass looking for worms and with their innocent white purity imparting an incongruous refinement that Gosport really does not deserve. 

Why are we here? 

To see a Ring billed Gull that has returned for yet another year to spend the winter in this most depressing of areas. We find it feeding with the other smaller gulls, steadfastly marching along with them across the grass before the dogs arrive and drive the gulls onto the lagoon or into the creek. 

Five minutes later all the gulls fly off to the creek as the first dog arrives. 

The wind blows, the clouds lower and Badger risks a visit to Morrisons across the road to buy some bread for the gulls. Two loafs of white bread for a pound. Organic or wholemeal are not words commonly used or recognised around here. The gulls eat the bread and we see the Ring billed Gull once again but only briefly. 

We leave vowing never to return until next year and never, ever, if the Ring billed Gull fails to show up for its umpteenth year next winter.This is not a pleasant place.

I never thought I would consider a Motorway civilised but it feels that way after Gosport. We drive further west in the rain to Lepe where a Lesser Yellowlegs is wintering on a marshy lagoon. We park in a large car park right by the sea in a pleasantly rural area. This is better. Gosport is consigned to oblivion. Forgotten. The wind blows hard and strong across the narrow channel of sea between us and the Isle of Wight. A ten minute walk along the beach by the tideline and we come to the marshy lagoon. The wind is very strong here. The Lesser Yellowlegs is briefly visible, blurry through wind vibrated, juddering scopes and watering eyes, before it flies to the back of the lagoon and becomes invisible. We wait. It gets colder and yet windier but eventually 'the legs' re-appears, albeit distantly. Turnstones run along the shoreline tempting Mark to photography. We wait and after what seems a long time 'the legs' comes much closer. Well close enough to at least see some detail in between scope blurring gusts of wind. Its legs are bright sulphur yellow. No mistaking, they glow in the intermittent sun. 

Dave Lowe rings to tell Andy he has a Mealy Redpoll on the feeders in his garden at Hinksey in Oxford. A Peregrine flies high over the back of the marsh towards the sea. All the birds on the marsh, which are not many, half a dozen Dunlin and a Bar tailed Godwit at most, fly off in a panic. A couple of Snipe hide in the reeds but 'the legs', exposed out in the open, crouches flat until the Peregrine passes. Danger averted. It slowly raises its body on yellow legs like some hydraulic lift until it is all spindly elegance again. The Peregrine returns. and 'the legs' sinks to its knees once more before rising again once it is all clear. We leave it there and return to the car park. A Cafe, very nice and clean, modern even, entices us to a beverage and something to eat. Badger, lagging behind to chat to someone, returns to unlock the car as we desert the warmth of the cafe..

Decision time. A Glaucous Gull and two Ruddy Shelduck in West Sussex? It's a longish drive. We are undecided. Tom rings to say he is watching the Mealy Redpoll in a tree in the park behind Dave's house. Minds are made up. We are unanimous. We head home, as a Mealy Redpoll is a good bird for Oxfordshire. Later we arrive in the park. Myself and Andy see the bird almost immediately but very briefly high in a silver birch before it flies off with some other redpolls. We wait but it does not return although several other Lesser Redpolls do. Passers by, curious, ask us what we are doing. The first few times is a novelty then it gets tedious. We are however invariably polite. This is Oxford after all. Andy rings Dave who tells us it is on his feeders again. We ask if we can come and see it in his garden. He says "Yes of course". We are diffident. "What all four of us?" "Yes not a problem". We go to Dave's house, sit in the warmth of his large open kitchen and watch the Mealy Redpoll on his feeders along with a Lesser Redpoll and a female Blackcap. 

Mealy Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll
Dave makes tea for all of us. It is warm and cosy.We sit and chat and look out of his picture window at the redpolls.

It's a long way from Gosport.


  1. A spokesman for Gosport Tourist Associaton says: 'Gosport has much to offer. There is the world famous Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, the Mary Rose and the Spinnaker Tower. OK none of these are actually in Gosport but you can see them from here. On a clear day anyway.'

  2. As someone who visits the place for work I have to say I feel your portrayal of Gosport is a little unfair. Not the greatest place in the country but far from being the worst. I have been to some areas of Oxford that are at least as bad.

  3. With people feeling the need to defend Gosport it rather proves Ewan's point.
    The Oxon Feather.

    1. Oh dear. I can only relate how I felt and how Gosport appeared on that Saturday morning. Inevitably it is just an image I gained at a particular moment reflecting my mood and my impressions. I agree that virtually every city in the UK has it's less desirable areas viz Blackbird Leys in Oxford but I was visiting Gosport. Two friends of mine visited Gosport a couple of weeks ago in an unsuccessful search for the RBG. They encountered a very recent murder crime scene complete with police tape and forensic staff in white overalls and were accused of being paedophiles in Walpole Park while looking for the gull.I am sure Gosport has it's good points and good days but as I said my piece is just a personal reflection of one point in time.Many thanks however for your comments and reading my blog