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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Langstone

Walking The Dog 9

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High summer.  A blanket of thick grey cloud and a force four or five south-easterly blasts a fine drizzle into my face.  We’re checking out the aftermath of yesterday’s invasion and the pleasant surprise is that there’s no evidence at all of the drama that was played out near the Langstone bridge.

The world, his wife and about a thousands grockles invaded our space yesterday all in search of a dying whale.  Actually there were probably about a hundred turning the sea wall in front of Langstone millpond into a grandstand.  It’s a well known fact though that one grockle causes a disturbance in the Force equivalent to 10 locals so the initial, instictive estimate is more accurate.

Sid, the harbourmaster, came into The Bluebell at lunchtime on Thursday and relayed the news.  I took a walk up there with the dogs out of interest and the fantasy of a five figure photography fee.  To be honest, I don’t understand the fuss.  I know that Captain Kirk and Mr Spock have helped to endow whales with mystic, spiritual qualities but I see more interesting, exciting and tragic things nearly every day in Chichester harbour.  When the grockles arrived the following day I don’t think one of them turned round and noticed the 30 odd little egrets roosting in the trees just a few yards behind them.  The television crews certainly didn’t.

The entire area was in gridlock.  Glorious Goodwood and the whale turned our local paradise into an extension of the M25.  Television crews and photographers with lenses as long as my arm clogged our roads and pathways.  In the harbour itself, massive RIBs, the inshore lifeboat, helicopters and even a police boat added to the mainly manmade drama and the huge cost of it all. All credit to them though because this morning when I walked past the millpond where yesterday there was even a tent erected for the press and the multiple veterinary, wildlife and eco professionals, there wasn’t a single scrap of litter to be seen.

The same morning that the sorry whale paddled up the channel between Thorney and Hayling, Capone, Carla and I were on the other side of Thorney, in our latest favourite spot, waist deep in the saltmarsh grasses.  Our friend the heron came into sight and as we sidled up towards him I was delighted to see that his mate was there.  My longest lens is a mere few inches so, as best as one can with two dogs squabbling over a stick, I tried to get closer.

The birds took off and escaped me but as we reached the limit of that direction where a vicious barbed wire fence hinders any further progress,  I saw them both on the side of the river bank.  Then I saw double, for perhaps 60 or 70 yards in front of me were four herons casually watching the water and thinking about breakfast.

This was a truly remarkable sight.  Much more interesting to me than a enormous, sad mammal lying in the mud and I managed to record it at the limit of my zoom lens.  This was my scoop, captured in glorious Kodak colour while the grandstand roared and cheered and applauded.

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Walking The Dog 8

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If I was to say that I bumped into Capone on the foreshore posing as a Japanese tourist you’d say I’d flipped.  Were I to propose that some 30 exotic herons were nesting at Langstone millpond you might think I was exaggerating. To say that the maize in the field next to my house grew a foot in the space of one humid Saturday…

Well it’s all true.  Unfortunately, my greedy anticipation of some innocent scrumping in the sweetcorn field has been thwarted.  A previous pilferer assures me that it’s cattle feed and the more you boil the cobs the harder they become.  It does amaze me though, the way this stuff reaches for the sky.  Planted in May as two or three inch shoots it now averages a foot above my head and, yes, on that very hot and humid Saturday it put on a full twelve inches.

Behind Langstone millpond I counted 28 little egrets nesting in the broadleaved trees. This feels more like something that you might see in the African bush but there they are, distracting me as Carla’s beady eyes focus on the coots and mallards taunting her from the pond.  Little egrets were unseen in the UK until 20 years ago but now they seem to be taking over Chichester harbour due, we are told, to the effects of global warming.  I wonder when the ostriches and flamingoes are going to arrive?

As for Capone’s antics well I wish I’d had a camera to record them.  It was in the leg pocket of my trousers, the strap dangling carelessly.

As Capone put in another withering Ieuan Evans style run down the nearside wing he managed to pass his head through the camera strap.  The pocket was ripped clean off my trousers and as he felt the weight he came to a shuddering halt and turned back to look at me, my camera hanging round his neck.  He thought he was in trouble but not for long!

We’ve discovered a truly magical new walk recently.  It’s as close to virgin territory as you can get on the south coast.  I’m pretty sure that there’s no other humans have passed there in many months or even years, perhaps not since some maintenance work was last carried on the Thorney Island airfield approach lights.  Judging from their sorry condition that’s been a very, very long time.  It’s on the right side of the MOD boundary so I don’t think I’m in danger of being shot on sight.  It’s saltmarsh with acres of waist high grasses and patches of damp but parched and cracked mud that sounds hollow as you walk across it.  The dogs thunder across it sounding like a herd of buffalo and there’s a pair of herons, huge cormorants and shelducks always in the same place, vastly offended by our invasion.  Walking here is an overwhelmingly soothing experience.  Cares and worries just evaporate and I find myself returning to the car with a wide, involuntary and peaceful smile.

Only three days after that sweltering Saturday the temperature has dropped 10 degrees and out on the foreshore under thunderous skies there must be another 10 degrees of wind chill.  My two favourite dogs are about 40 yards out squabbling over a stick in the heavy chop that’s thrashing in from Hayling.

Rain or shine, calm or wind, it’s just perfect out there.

Walking The Dog 1

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When I first saw it, my heart went into my mouth and then dropped in to my stomach as I realised I was looking at a pterodactyl. Loping away from a low branch, it’s massive wings somehow rolling up and then unrolling in an unbelievably slow movement, it rose gracefully, magnificently away from me.

Regaining my composure, with my trusty Kodak Digital at my side, I still managed to miss the chance of a great picture and Capone, my faithful, four-legged companion, just looked at me in disgust before doing his own loping away towards the sea.

Ever since then I’ve been hunting the heron and its mate, for there are two of them cruising the farmland, woods and foreshore between Emsworth, Warblington and Langstone. I’ve seen it perhaps half a dozen times in as many months, once just three feet above my head as I walked down one of Havant’s more exclusive residential avenues. Every time I fumble for my camera, it uncurls those great wings, folds its neck up in dinosaur style and leaves me in disarray.

Every day produces something remarkable in this little haven on the south coast. Across Chichester and Langstone harbours the Portsmouth Spinnaker tower glints bright white in the sun. Crowds of brent geese grow bigger and individually fatter by the day and the oyster catchers screech low along the water’s edge, swinging in formation to display the dazzling zigzags along their backs.

When the brent geese first came in from their summer home in the arctic, they would gather in one huge flock of perhaps five hundred in a field just above the sea. Capone would put them up in a force five south-westerly and they would head seaward in a cacophony of honking, flapping wings getting them nowhere, directly into the gale. I would walk on with them above and all around me, hanging motionless, creating a world of noise and feathers and wind and dog and insignificant me.

Warblington cemetery contains a piteous children’s section where the gravestones are decorated with teddies, windmills, rubber ducks, Rupert and Peter Rabbit. Every day that two minute walk touches me but never more so than on Christmas morning. Then, the really remarkable thing was the intense, beaming smiles that both the bereaved mothers gave me as they tended their child’s grave. Walking into the south-westerly that morning made my eyes water as never before.

The March storms brought both drama and damage, the fields along the coast displaying lines of seaweed 40 yards further back than usual. Other dog walkers who live right on the foreshore told me their roof tiles were tinkling like a xylophone. Parts of Emsworth were flooded. The sea overflowing the mill pond wall filled the empty eight and a half acre pond in half an hour and brought down great lengths of the inner retaining wall. I found myself up to my knees in overflowing sea as it swept in round the sailing clubhouse and caused chaos in the dinghy park.

This morning I left the warmth of Nore Barn Wood and struck out across the most heavily pigeoned stubble field I know. Then to my right a white object caught my eye in the middle of the boggy area that runs down to the stream where the pterodactyl had first frightened me. Capone and I diverted and plugged our way towards it but it was still, inert, probably one of those plastic bags that Emsworth has virtually done away with. We trudged on, me avoiding the cow pats, Capone stepping in every one and relaxed into the warm morning sunshine, another storm promised for the weekend.

It rose again, elegant and yet ponderous at the same time, lofted up and away and gone.

Peter Reynolds 20-03-08