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Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve

Swans, Keyhaven

Another site not properly visited this decade but this one recognisable thanks to a backdrop of the Isle of Wight and its Needles. I was less than sure about how I used to get there. Past Lymington on the A337 – yup. But as far as Pennington? Probably, that is the alternative name for the whole complex.

I seemed to be following the brown signs for Riverside and Marinas, which took me off the main road at a roundabout. An immediate right fork here put me in familiar territory: Lower Pennington Lane. All the way to the end and a small parking area, bang in the middle of the reserve, at the heart of the action.

Tons of whitethroats and finches sang and flitted around the scrub. To the west, a lagoon attracted ducks, geese and hundreds of hirundines and swifts. These last were flying so low I could hear air rifling through their plumage. It was the perfect opportunity for pallid swift spotting.

There were none but heading even further west brought me my first little terns since 1996. That’s pretty much a lifer. A few lingering dark-bellied Brent geese took the year list up to 169. My Hampshire total hit 149 with one whimbrel and a hobby spooking splendid, summer-plumaged dunlins and bar-tailed godwits. Earlier in the day at Shatterford in the New Forest, a flock of crossbills had preceded those two on to the county list.

The lagoons at Keyhaven are remnants of medieval salt workings. Salt seems to connect many of my favourite sites around the world from Upton Warren in Worcestershire to the bottom of San Francisco Bay. Perhaps the salinity had persuaded a female long-tailed duck to be so uncharacteristically out of the sea on a bank of the westernmost lagoon I visited.

My stay at the reserve extended longer than I had budgeted – always the mark of a top-notch site. Thank you to Hampshire County Council, surprisingly, for keeping this one going.

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