Squacco Heron – Posbrook Floods, Titchfield, Hampshire

On Friday 24th May, towards the end of a photography 121 at Calshot, news came through of a Squacco Heron found by Mark Francis at Posbrook Floods near Titchfield Haven. This would be only the 4th record for Hampshire. The first was in 1982 at Needs Ore and the other two (now three) were at Titchfield Haven in 1994 and 1996. 

As the crow flies I was only 3 miles from Titchfield but unfortunately the Solent was in the way and so by road it was a circular trip of 32 miles and close to an hour in bank holiday traffic. 

I got to the Bridge Street car park at the north end of the canal path and was pleased to see that there was one place remaining. It’s then a 10 minute walk south to the floods at Posbrook and I joined a line of around 30 birders who were stood one person deep along the edge of the tree line looking east towards the reed beds. It’s not possible to see all or even much of the flooded area from any particular position and so I wasn’t surprised to hear that the bird hadn’t been seen for a while.

I’d normally head to the middle of the crowd as this is usually the best way to hear anyone calling out directions once the bird gets seen. On this occasion, however, there was someone I knew at the start of the line and so I didn’t venture any further and chatted to him. After 20 minutes of nothing much happening and the limited views available of the flooded pool we agreed that any views were likely to be flight only. Almost immediately, I heard someone yelling “Flying Right!!!” I rushed forward and scanned frantically but unfortunately saw nothing. The bird had apparently gained height very quickly and was flying higher than I had anticipated and so I may have missed it because of this. Also, it may have been out of view already as I only heard the final yelled instructions and not the slightly earlier more calmly given “it’s flying right’ statement. No doubt I would have heard this, and perhaps seen the bird, had I been in the middle of the line.

The Squacco Heron had flown off strongly and 25 birders were celebrating. This is always difficult to take and pretty soon the number of remaining birders was down from 30 to five and four of us headed off south, down the Canal Path. It seemed like a hopeless task although the birders who had seen it believed that it had come down rather than continuing to gain height.

We continued heading south until we were roughly half way between the Bridge Street car park and the beach on the main Titchfield Haven Reserve. One of the other birders (who had fallen into a ditch up to his chest in his failed attempt to see the heron flying off) had parked at the southern end and offered to give me a lift back to my car if I ended up walking all the way to the beach. In the end, however, I decided to head back north as I had given up any hope of seeing it. 

As I got back to the Posbrook Floods the one birder who hadn’t left, Lee Fuller, a photographer, was standing with his back to the floods looking south, he was obviously hoping to see it fly back up the river to the flooded area again. This suddenly seemed like a good idea although after five minutes of waiting, and with the thought of the bank holiday traffic, I gave up and headed back north to the car. This proved to be another bad decision. 

At 4:45pm I was back on the M27 and a message came though that the heron had indeed flown back north. It turned out that five minutes after I’d left Lee he had picked it up again flying back north before it flew over his head and back down into the reed beds around the flooded area. My stomach lurched and I felt like banging my head against the steering wheel. I knew these details as Lee posted his photographs and a description of what had happened on Facebook later in the evening. 

I decided not to turn around given the awful traffic. The bird was proving very elusive and it seemed unlikely to leave the reeds again before dark. 

I decided to try again the next day and set the alarm for 6:15am. This is after sunrise in late May but I had a really busy day delivering framed pictures to Durdle Door and so didn’t want too early a start. I also felt very pessimistic about my chances and didn’t feel like investing 100% effort. 

I was on the road by 6:40am and hoped that the first news messages, normally received at 7am, wouldn’t be reporting that the bird had flown at first light. There was also the possibility that the bird had left in the first part of the night. 

I joined the birders, a smaller group of 10, who had assembled along the muddy track which runs along the south side of the floods. The bird had been seen around 45 minutes before, but only briefly. Amy Robjohns joined the group and said that she would head back to the tarmac track to scan from the line of trees where I had been the evening before. She said she would send a WhatsApp group message if she found it and sure enough she did, and she did. 

I decided to run, not the run of someone who needs Squacco Heron for his British List, as I don’t, but the run of someone who was desperate to exercise the bad memory of the evening before. I joined Amy, completely out of breath, and quickly got onto the Squacco Heron, what a relief! I managed a few brief head and neck sketches before it disappeared into the reeds. Shortly afterwards Martin Terry arrived, he had seen one of the Squacco Herons here in the mid 90s. After 20 minutes or so I relocated the heron and we all had good head and neck views and I added to my sketches. The bird had barely moved but had remained out of view the whole time. Remarkably after not being seen for almost two weeks I saw the Squacco Heron again with Aly and Dad on the 8th June and sketched a brief whole body view.

The lores were greenish and the chunky bill was dark tipped with a bluish base. The crown and nape were neatly streaked with long nape feathers extending down its back and the body was a lovely buffy pink colour. 

Seeing the Squacco Heron this morning means that I can look back on last night with amusement and not bitterness! This was my second British Squacco Heron after one in Cotswold Water Park, Gloucestershire in June 1997.

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