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Please send wildlife observations and photos to Brian Fellows . . . brianfellows at


for DECEMBER 2012
in reverse chronological order


Bird song

Robins are now singing everywhere, mainly to establish territory for the coming nesting season. Unusually males and females both sing at this time of the year. There is one bird in particular that sings loudly close to the bridge over the River Ems from Palmer's Road Car Park. It sang sweetly to me late this afternoon allowing me to get this snap of him/her. What would Christmas be, after all, without a Robin?

Apart from Robin, the only other songs I have heard over the past two weeks were brief bursts from Dunnock, Great Tit, Woodpigeon and Collared Dove. Ralph Hollins has had a Song Thrush singing in his garden recently, but that has also stopped. My impression is that bird song is later starting this winter.

Winter flowers

Winter Heliotrope is flowering very well on the A259 embankment wayside near the surgery and on the path behind Lillywhite's Garage in the centre of Emsworth. There are also a few flowers almost open on the Sweet Violets on the Lillywhite's path. There are several plants of Scentless Mayweed in full blossom on the new wayside north of Emsworth Railway Station, easily seen from the new ramp. I tried to get a photo but all my photos were blurred due to the wind moving the flowers.

Ralph Hollins has been enjoying a fine selection of flowers that are not usually seen in winter, including Sweet Violets, Cow Parsley, Lesser Celandine and a white-flowered form of Hedgerow Cranesbill. See Ralph's daily diary for their location and photos . . .

Spotted Redshank

Trevor Carpenter took this photo of the Spotted Redshank in the Nore Barn stream today, as Trevor says "in appalling light but still managing to look very smart". I agree. What a great bird!


Water Voles on Brook Meadow

Jane, Andy and Gladys Brook had what could well be the last Water Vole sighting of the year on December 26. They stood watching the animal for about 15 minutes at around 1pm on the river bank north of the north bridge. It was clambering about around the base of a tree finding some juicy leaves and shoots and sitting eating them. It is good to hear that at least one of them survived the flooding over the past few weeks.

This takes the total number of sightings for 2012 (so far) to a magnificent 204, which is by far the highest number since I started formal recording in 2005. The previous best was 161 in 2008. However, the high number this year does not necessarily mean more Water Voles than ever, but more likely more people watching out for them and sending in their sightings. But, at least, it shows the voles are still with us! All Water Vole sightings and photos can be seen on the special web page at . . .

Great Black-backed Gulls

The adult pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were on Slipper Millpond again this morning. They appear to be regular visitors and are no doubt prospecting for the next nesting season. For the story of their nesting this season go to . . . Great Black-backed Gull nesting


Paired Robins

I have had a pair of Robins in the garden over the past few days, sometimes feeding together on the bird table. It is not unusual (though very nice) to see paired Robins in December. I saw my first pair this winter on Dec 2 on Brook Meadow.

Water Rail

I have been looking daily for the Water Rail that Malcolm Phillips had on the river Brook Meadow on Dec 18 but without any success. My guess is that it was a one-off visit and the bird has moved on elsewhere.

Whimbrel confirmed

SOS Sightings recorder, Paul James, confirmed that the bird photographed by Romney Turner flying over Emsworth Harbour on Dec 17 was indeed a Whimbrel. Romney's photos clearly show the dark crown, pale eye stripe (supercilium) and shorter bill compared with a Curlew. Paul added that this is a scarce bird in Sussex in winter. There are usually only two or three 2-3 wintering in Chichester Harbour and sometimes one at Pagham Harbour. Most pass through the county in late April/early May and July/August.



BTO has published charts showing trends for the main breeding birds from the Breeding Birds Survey over the period the scheme has been running from 1994 to 2011.

For trends in the SE go to . . .

Both these pages show trends in bird numbers most of which we are now fairly familiar with.

Breeding birds showing a steady increase over the period

Greylag Goose, Pheasant, Red Kite, Buzzard, Woodpigeon, Ring-necked Parakeet, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jackdaw, Great Tit, Sand Martin, Swallow, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Nuthatch, Blackbird, Dunnock, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch.

Breeding birds showing a steady decrease

Grey Partridge, Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Swift, Willow Tit, Skylark, Wood Warbler, Starling, Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Corn Bunting.

Birds with recent declines

Moorhen - OK to 2004, then a big decline. A surprise.
Collared Dove - steady increase to 2005 then a decline. Decline is marked in garden sightings.
Kingfisher - steady decline since 2005. A surprise.
Goldcrest - increase to 2003 then a sharp decline.
House Martin - decline since about 2005. That's no surprise.
Wren - decline since about 2007. A surprise.
Song Thrush - decline since 2008. I was under the impression it was on the up.
Robin - decline since 2008. A surprise.
Stonechat - decline since 2006
Grey Wagtail - decline since 2002
Pied Wagtail - decline since 2002
Greenfinch - dramatic decline since 2006 - due to trichomonosis
Reed Bunting - decline since 2008


Golden Plover and flowers

Ralph Hollins had a pleasant ride to Nutbourne Bay and back yesterday (Dec 21). He saw a flock of around 100 Golden Plover on the east side of the Emsworth Channel roughly level with the Great Deeps. They do often assemble on these saltmarshes often with Lapwing. Ralph also noted there were still flowers on the Black Mustard on the Emsworth Marina seawall.

Going, going, going, gone

Romney Turner took this dramatic sequence of photos of a Common Gull consuming an Eel at Arundel Wetlands Trust reserve. As she says, "I still can't see how that huge eel made it into the crop. Look at its neck on the last pic".



11:00 - Low water. From the millpond seawall I could see 3 Grey Plover, one Greenshank and one Common Redshank in the town channel. Here is the Greenshank feeding with the Grey Plover typically just standing and staring.

Black-tailed Godwits

I found just 6 Black-tailed Godwits in the whole of Emsworth Harbour, east and west. I guess they must have moved inland onto flooded river valleys as they often do at this time of the year following very wet weather. I believe 2,500 were reported in the Avon Valley recently and Peter Hughes reported 235 at Pulborough Brooks on Dec 19.

Brent Geese

Plenty of Brent Geese were scattered around the eastern and western harbours. I managed to locate what I think are our three 'resident' families in Emsworth. One family with two youngsters and another with one youngster were on the foreshore close to Nore Barn. The other family with one juvenile was in the main eastern channel.

Here is the family of two juveniles, the one on the left has started to acquire its white neck band. This is not a reliable way of identifying juvenile Brents, much better to use the white wing bars.


I could just make out 6 Pintail in the low water channels on the western harbour, but there could well have been more.


There were plenty of Bluebottle flies feeding on the flowering Ivy at the end of Warblington Road, but no other insects that I could find.

Apart from Robin which was singing everywhere, the only other bird I heard today was a Great Tit in fairly good voice on Brook Meadow. My impression is that bird song is later starting this winter.

I looked in vain along the the River Ems on Brook Meadow for the Water Rail seen by Malcolm Phillips on Dec 18. The river level had fallen considerably since yesterday, but there was no sign of the rail.

The Winter Heliotrope is flowering very well on the A259 embankment wayside near the surgery in the centre of Emsworth.



For the first time, Peter Milinets-Raby had a pair of Ravens fly south west over his Havant garden (Barncroft area) this morning at 11:35am. He thought they were probably heading to Farlington or to Portsdown Hill where he has seen them in the last couple of months. A good garden record for Peter, though personally I do not count fly overs on my garden list. The bird has to come down and make use of the garden; this if the rule of the BTO Garden BirdWatch Survey.

A little later in the day at 1pm, Tony and Hilary Wootton were walking around Walderton when they saw two Ravens hassling a Buzzard over Inholmes Wood, complete with kronking.

I am not sure how many Ravens there are in the area, but Havant and Walderton are not many miles apart, and these two separate sightings could have been of the same birds, though Peter does say his birds were heading south towards Farlington, whereas Walderton is to the north.

Peacock butterfly

Tony and Hilary also had the distinction of seeing the first Peacock butterfly for over two weeks; it was feeding on the remains of some ivy flowers, but was too far away for a photo. Just goes to show the value of Ivy flowers at this time of the year. The last reported Peacock was on Dec 4 in the Candover valley south of Basingstoke - see Ralph Hollins wildlife summary.

River Ems

Tony took the following photo of the pond at Walderton showing the level of water in the River Ems.




I had a walk around Brook Meadow and Slipper Millpond during a break in the rain this afternoon. The River Ems is running very high through the meadow and the Lumley Stream is a torrent. I wonder how our Water Voles are coping. There is quite a bit of flooding on the meadow, but nothing like Year 2000 when the south meadow was a lake! That was the year when the Brook Meadow Conservation Group took over management of the meadow and it was a tough start!

Here is the view from the south bridge

The Westbrook Stream was also a torrent rushing through Bridge Road car park but not flooding. Bridge Road was closed at its southern end presumably as a precaution. The Environment Agency appear to be on top of the job this time. I spoke to one EA chap who had been on duty in Bridge Road since 5am this morning.

No Water Rail

I had a good look for the Water Rail which Malcolm Phillips saw near the sluice gate on Brook Meadow on Tuesday. I checked the north bend where one was present for about a month earlier this year, but no sign of it there. I checked the main river down to the south bridge. The river had flooded its banks in several places and there seemed to be lots of good Water Rail habitat, but I did not see one. However, it seems worth keeping a close look out for the bird which may still be on the river somewhere.

Other observations

A succession of Jackdaws flew over Brook Meadow while I was there heading in a NE direction.

A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were on Slipper Millpond - maybe the nesting pair staking out their claim for the coming year?

Another Goldcrest

Malcolm Phillips took this photo of a Goldcrest from his Emsworth flat window today. Goldcrests seem to be rather common this winter? I have even had some in my small garden near the centre of Emsworth and there was the couple of dead Goldcrests that I was called to deal with.



Water Rail returns

Yesterday morning (Dec 18) when Malcolm Phillips was walking round Brook Meadow, he saw a Water Rail by the sluice gate, in the reeds just up from the fence. Malcolm apologises for the poor quality of the photo, but there is no doubt the bird is a Water Rail.

This was the first Water Rail sighting on Brook Meadow this winter. Let's hope it hangs around like the one we had near the north bridge for about a month earlier this year (Feb 15 to Mar 19).

Water Rail is a passage migrant to Brook Meadow and has been seen in most winters since 2003, very often on the Lumley Stream, but more recently on the River Ems. Malcolm's Water Rail may well be 'just visiting', ie dropping in for one day to hide up before continuing its flight back to its breeding area after nightfall.

Shag at Eastney

Peter Milinets-Raby was by the harbour entrance at Eastney yesterday morning (Dec 18) and was able to get some photos of a Shag perched on one of the buoys in the harbour. This appears to be the only local Shag. Also present were 3 Sandwich Terns and 2 Guillemots.

Was the Curlew a Whimbrel?

Having looked closely at Romney Turner's photo of the Curlew in yesterday's blog entry, Tom Bickerton thinks it looks very much like a much rarer bird, Whimbrel, unless it's a male Curlew with a very stubby bill. Tom says there has been a Whimbrel knocking about Northney and Texaco Bay for a while. Tom particularly liked Romney's Little Egret and sends his congratulations for her fine images of birds in flight. Tom points out that Whimbrels are on the UK's RED list.

In fact, Romney sent me another two pictures of what I assume was the same Curlew or Whimbrel in flight and one of the others, as shown here, has the distinctive head pattern and slightly hooked bill of a Whimbrel.


Ralph Hollins recent up date indicates 29 Waxwing reports in the past week from Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset and Devon but not Cornwall. Ralph's impression is that the birds are constantly on the move for lack of food and he suspects a sighting of three in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle could be an excuse to think of them as the new Tolpuddle Martyrs.

The sad prospect for them if they stay in England prompted Ralph to check on the Trektellen 'Migration Pattern' to see if any were heading south or west on the continent but that site indicates that England is their sole winter destination with no sightings south or west of the Channel Isles. See Ralph's weekly wildlife summary at

Green Woodpecker

Ron Salmon had this handsome male Green Woodpecker in his garden for at least an hour this morning. Only the male has red 'whiskers' below the black eye patch.

Green Woodpecker is a fairly common garden bird, but not taking food, rather exploring the lawn for ants using its 10cm long tongue. The tongue is armed with barbs at the end is used for extracting ants. Information on this bird at . . .



I had four Black-headed Gulls swooping down into the garden for bread that I had thrown onto the grass. They came and went so fast that I did not have time to get my camera up. They are very rare visitors to the garden though I often see them flying overhead. The last time was during a cold period in Nov-Dec 2010. I think my garden is too small for them to venture down into. They are nervous birds.


Mallard courtship

Male Mallards are now taking a close interest in the female ducks on the town millpond. Here is a shot of a female being escorted by two males. I have also seen an attempted copulation.

Coot in harbour

The winter gathering of Coot in Emsworth Harbour near the quay is now building up. I counted 74 in a very calm sea at high water this afternoon. Numbers should increase as the winter progresses. The record count for this area was 186 in January 2011.


I could not resist taking this shot from the millpond seawall of the sun setting over Hayling Island.


Bryan Pinchen replied to my request for identification of the Bumblebees that I saw feeding in the Ivy at Nore Barn yesterday. Here are the two photos I sent to him.

"Yes they most probably are B. terrestris, the second specimen looks more like a female judging by the dirty look to the tail tip. In this species the workers have a much cleaner white tail tip than the queens, which makes separating them from B. lucorum impossible. Queens of terrestris, depending on the autumn weather, will start nesting, and if it remains mild, will often continue throughout the winter producing workers and later, males and new queens which will start nesting in the spring. At this time, it is most likely that both the Bumblebees you saw were queens just starting nests which will probably produce workers in a few weeks time. A couple of years back I had a male in Cambridgeshire in March, suggesting it had come from a nest that would have been started in the previous autumn. I had a queen in the garden about a month ago.

Due to the amount of winter flowering plants available in our gardens these days, and the recent run of mild winters, this is a more frequent occurrence these days and many autumn nests are successful in producing new queens in the spring. Indeed, I have seen B. terrestris around my garden in each of the past twelve winters. Just a small pedantic note, workers are female.

The Bluebottles and Eristalis would have been stocking up on food reserves ahead of hibernating/over-wintering, perhaps even within the evergreen foliage of the ivy. They both, along with Episyrphus balteatus will emerge on warm sunny days throughout the winter months and stock up a little more. I did cover the wintering bumblebees on my blog back at the turn of the year."

Bryan's blog . . .


Birds in flight

Romney Turner captured the following excellent images of two common harbour birds in flight showing off their magnificent plumage.

Bob Chapman is back

A quick correction to yesterday's note about Bob Chapman's blog. Bob tells me he is now back at Farlington as the Solent Reserves Officer. Bob is also in charge of Southmoor, Swanwick Lakes, Pewit Island, Hookheath Meadows and Catherington Down. Welcome back Bob. A reminder of his blog address . . .



11:30 - 12:30 - Tide rising to high water at 14:00 (4.7).

It was a lovely sunny winter's morning and I was delighted to be able to get down to the harbour (albeit in the car) for the first time for a couple of weeks due to poor health. And how I have missed it and what a great show the birds and the bees laid on for me!

Spotted Redshanks

There were no birds in the stream when I arrived, but on the shore just around the point I found two Spotted Redshanks and a Common Redshank in very close proximity. Neither of the Spotshanks was ringing, so I assume the second bird was the one we have seen a number of times in company with the regular bird this winter.

I watched them and took photos for about 30 minutes as they variously snoozed, preened, fed and ambled around. They never once went into the main stream area. The Common Redshank was chased on a couple of occasions, but always returned and was clearly accepted by the two Spotshanks.

See the special page for all the Spotshank news . . . Spotted Redshanks

Other birds

There was no sign of the Greenshank in the stream area. Around 70 Black-tailed Godwits were feeding on the edge of the saltmarshes opposite the woods, but the low sun made it impossible to see any rings. About 300 Brent Geese were on the western mudflats. I did not go through them all for juveniles, but I did see the two regular families with two and one youngsters respectively in the Nore Barn area.


I was very pleased to see the large Ivy hedge at the end of Warblington Road still had masses of open flowers attracting good numbers of insects. They were mainly Bluebottle flies (c30) with a few Drone Flies (Eristalis tenax) and at least one Bumblebee which I think was a Buff-tail Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) which I gather is active in winter. I have asked Bryan Pinchen to confirm the ID. I managed to capture the bee in flight on one of my photos. Note its pollen sacs.

Buff-tail Bumblebee

I checked the web site of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society

"Over the last ten years or so, entomologists and naturalists have noted winter activity of Bombus terrestris (the Buff-tailed Bumblebee). Workers have been seen foraging at a wide range of winter-flowering plants, and males have been reported flying in February. What is quite clear is that a small proportion of mated queens will establish nests in the Autumn, and these can exploit the increasing amount of forage resources available throughout the winter in our gardens, parks and amenity areas. BWARS is working closely with Dr Tom Ings of Anglia Ruskin University to gather new data on this phenomenon, to add to the information provided in the past. This Autumn and Winter we hope to garner more data so that we can attempt to answer some further questions about winter activity."


Hilary's garden birds

Hilary Gilson writes to say . . . "I have a pair of Greenfinches regularly visiting my bird feeders at my Prinsted home. They were joined this morning by a third one. They are looking pretty healthy at present. I think it is the fledglings that are most vulnerable to trichomonosis, particularly the second brood of the year. I think Prinsted must have all the House Sparrows and Starlings in the area. A flock of sparrows lives in my Pittosporum and enjoy the suet pellets I put out every morning and they love my fat balls, as do the starlings. I also have a pair of Goldfinches, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, a pair of Chaffinchs, Dunnocks, and numerous Blackbirds, as well as my resident Robin, and of course the ubiquitous Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves (a pair of each - they keep all the others away!). I would love to see a Goldcrest, although we do also have Wrens which nest under the eaves of our thatch."

Garden BirdWatch

If anyone fancies recording garden birds systematically and at the same time making a scientific contribution to knowledge, I can highly recommend the Garden BirdWatch Scheme run by the British Trust for Ornithology. I have been doing this survey for the past 30 years and it has a nice easy online recording system. There is a great web site and the Bird Table magazine with lots of information about the national garden results. For more details see . . .

Farlington Marshes

Bob Chapman, now warden at Blashford Lakes, was formerly warden at Farlington Marshes. He has been posting his own wildlife Blog since September and on Dec 15 went back to have a look at his old haunt. He found lots of Brent Geese and the lone Red-breasted Goose which has been with them since October. Bob also noted 30 Avocets, Marsh Harrier and Peregrine. But he was disappointed to see much of the newly repaired seawall had already been washed away. See Bob's 108ft blog at . .



Two Little Grebes were fishing in Slipper Millpond when I walked past this morning. Little Grebes have been on the pond for a week or so, but there is still no sign of any Red-breasted Merganser.

A number of compact 'cushions' of moss with capsules are growing on the flint wall along Lumley Road. I am calling them Common Pincushion (Leucobryum glaucum) though I am far from sure that this is the correct identification. Maybe someone can confirm or correct, please?

The Lumley sluice gate which controls the flow of water between the River Ems and the Lumley Stream, was fully open this morning with the centre gate completely removed, allowing the water to rush into the Lumley Stream.



Green Woodpecker

Malcolm Phillips went to lunch with his brother today at Hambrook who always has a good selection of birds in his garden. Among Malcolm's photos were these this interesting one of a Green Woodpecker digging deep in the garden lawn, no doubt using its long sticky tongue to search for wintering insects and larvae.


Richard Somerscocks went out with his camera today in Findhorn in Northern Scotland and some cracking photos of Harbour Seals and Dolphins. Richard's report and photos is on the special Findhorn web page at . . Findhorn News




A lady phoned me this morning to say she had found what she thought was a dead Goldcrest in her garden in Slipper Road, Emsworth. I walked over to have a look and confirmed it as a Goldcrest, though the crest was a bit hidden.

When I got home my wife told me she had just seen a live Goldcrest in our garden and I had missed it. Drat!


I very rarely see Jackdaws in my garden, though I do often hear them flying overhead. I do not think they nest anywhere in Emsworth. However, Graham Petrie does have a couple coming onto his well-stocked bird table as in the following photo.


Richard Somerscocks sent me a report about the waders currently in the Findhorn area in Northern Scotland. Richard's report is on the special Findhorn web page at . . Findhorn News

As this will probably be his last update for a while, Richard wishes all his friends in Emsworth a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.



Little Egret

A nasty wet morning, so I sat in front of the window watching the birds in my back garden. The best surprise was the appearance of a Little Egret on the back fence which overlooks the Westbrook Stream. Here is my best shot through a misty window. It tends to walk along the fence looking down for fish.

Little Egret is a fairly regular visitor to my garden in winter, though this was the first time I had seen it this year since early February. Little Egret is not one of the 41 core species in the BTO Garden BirdWatch Scheme, so I do not have data on the overall reporting rate, but I suspect it is quite low.


A female Blackcap was a welcome visitor for the second time this week. Patrick Murphy has also had a female Blackcap in his garden last week, while lucky Caroline French had two males and a female in her garden at the same time.

These Blackcaps will be winter visitors from the Continent and they regularly come into gardens to supplement their food supply. About 11% of people taking part in the BTO Garden BirdWatch report Blackcap in the winter period. Sightings are scattered around the country, but most tend to be concentrated in the South of England.

The following chart shows the reporting rate for Blackcaps throughout the year. The rate increases in late October when the first of the wintering birds arrive and peaks in February. The rate then declines sharply through March and April as the wintering birds leave. The rate continues at a steady level through the summer period when the summer visitors are present.

If you get regular Blackcaps in your garden you might interested in taking part in the BTO Garden Blackcap Survey. See the following link for details, but note it does not start until January 2013 . .



Tufted Duck

The first decent flock of Tufted Duck of the winter were on the town millpond this afternoon. I counted 11 with 6 females and 5 males. I expect their numbers to build up as the winter progresses. We had a record 74 on the pond on Jan 8 last year.

Tufted Duck hardly ever go onto the two Hermitage Millponds even though they would appear to be far more wildlife friendly than the town millpond. It must be the food and the company of the Mute Swans and Mallard that attracts them.


Pied Wagtails are a common sight around the town millpond at dusk. Presumably they roost somewhere nearby. During the day they disperse around the town to feed. I often see them on pavements near busy roads. Today, I saw one on the pavement outside Waitrose shop in the centre of Havant. There was also one searching alongside the A259 south of Peter Pond in Emsworth.

Grey Wagtails are far less common than Pied Wagtails and prefer more natural habitats. They tend to stay close to water, though can often be seen on small streams in the centre of town. I sometimes see one on the Westbrook Stream in Bridge Road car park. Today, I saw one in the channel through the reedbeds on Peter Pond.


Red-breasted Goose

Peter Milinets-Raby was in Portsmouth counting Brent Geese yesterday (10th December 2012) and was lucky to find a rare Red Breasted Goose amongst one of the flocks. It presence among a large flock of Brent Geese strongly suggests it was a genuine wild bird having migrated with the Brents from the Arctic breeding grounds. This is probably the same bird that has been hanging around Farlington Marshes for the past two months.

Peter points out that white wing bars on the goose in the photo do not necessarily indicate a juvenile, as they would on a Brent Goose, as white wing bars are also also prominent on the adult Red Breasted Goose (black mantle as well). Peter is doing some survey work on a private site with limited access in southern Portsmouth.

Waxwings on Hayling

Ralph Hollins reports that a flock of Waxwings were seen on North Common (Northney Marina area) around 10am on Dec 10. Ralph himself was there a couple of hours later, but none were there when he arrived!


Waxwings in Bedhampton

St Theresa's Close, Bedhampton is fast becoming a 'hot spot' for Waxwings in the local area. Following the one R Valentine heard in the close on Dec 8, today his neighbour Michael Leadbetter saw 4 Waxwings in his garden in the close at about 9.45am. Michael was 'so excited' as he had never seen them before. Waxwings have been flooding into Britain from the Continent in increasing numbers, but the opportunities for feeding over here are very limited with very few red berries on the trees - apart, that is, from St Theresa's Close and Havendale at Hedge End. If you know of any other red berried trees then please keep a look out for these beautiful birds and let me know.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Malcolm Phillips saw a good seelection of our resident birds on Brook Meadow over the past couple of days, including this smashing female Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Caroline's garden birds

This morning, Caroline French counted an incredible 54 Goldfinches in the cherry plum tree in her garden, easily beating her previous best of of 37 in Jan 2011. Can anyone beat that?

Like Patrick Murphy and me, Caroline also has had Blackcaps in her garden: last week two males and a female were in the garden at the same time. She says, the most attractive food item is English red apple, which is not too hard for them to pull bits off with their beaks, but they have also been occasionally pecking at the fat balls and also coming onto the ground to feed on apple which has fallen down. However, the Blackcaps prefer the apple to the fat balls, despite the latter's higher calorific value. Caroline notes that one of the males has become quite protective of 'his apple', driving off the other male. I haven't seen much of the female so perhaps it is the one in Patrick Murphy's garden, which I believe is quite nearby!

Caroline has also had three Song Thrushes a few days ago and Blackbird numbers are well up. Sadly, Greenfinches are few and far between. Is there any hope for the poor Greenfinch?

Close-up Buzzards

Tom Bickerton reports a couple of fairly close encounters with Buzzards locally. Chris Cockburn was cycling home along the Farlington Cycle pass, when he disturbed a Buzzard on the ground, which nearly took him out as it passed his front wheel. On Sunday Dec 9, another (or maybe the same?) Buzzard was perched on the traffic lights at the Havant Hayling M27 intersection looking down on the motorists. Unfortunately, no camera shots of either bird.



Millponds News

There are still no Tufted Duck on Emsworth Millpond, though they do tend to arrive later in December and into January. Also, I have not seen or heard of any Red-breasted Merganser or Great Crested Grebe on any of the Emsworth ponds.

Blackcaps in gardens

Patrick Murphy has been getting a female Blackcap in his north Emsworth garden fairly regularly. Here is Patrick's shot of the bird visiting his fat ball holder.

I too have seen a female Blackcap in my garden in Bridge Road Emsworth. These are certainly wintering birds which migrate here from The Continent. They could be the same bird, but this seems unlikely considering a major road and a railway line separates our two houses.


Chris Cope reported on yesterday's walk by the Havant Wildlife Group at Walderton. Please note the new web site address for all the Havant Wildlife Group pages is now at . . . These pages are on my family web site where I have plenty of space, but they are quite separate from the family stuff. The switch was necessary as I was running out of space on my Emsworth web site.


Bearded Tits on Thorney

Malcolm Phillips walked down the west side of Thorney Island and got a good view of Bearded Tits in the reedbeds at Thorney Little Deeps. Here is Malcolm's image of a female.

Waxwing in Havant

R Valentine reported one Waxwing calling in tall tree south of St.Theresa's Close in Havant at SU703072 this morning at 11.20. I went over to have a look myself this afternoon. There is a private garden at the end of St.Theresa's close with a few bright red berries, but there was no sign of the Waxwing. However, they are here and roaming around looking for food. So, please keep a look out and let me know if you see any.

Up to 16 Waxwings were still present at 8.15 this morning at Havendale Hedge End.


Paired Robins

Yesterday (Dec 6), Ralph Hollins confirmed my recent observation of already paired Robins which I saw on Brook Meadow on Dec 2. A pair came together to breakfast on the breadcrumbs Ralph put out in his garden as he went round removing the thick ice from the various bowls of water, which they also need.

Avocets at Nutbourne

Bernie Forbes had "a delightful flock of 31 Avocets" counted off Chidham Point. This is the largest total of the winter locally as far as I am aware.

Short-eared Owls at Sinah

Yesterday at 15:35 (Dec 6), Tim Lawman saw two Short-eared Owls over Sinah Golf Course on SW Hayling Island. Both birds showing again well in the evening, close to the road by the Kench. One bird with quite pale upperparts, assumed recent Farlington birds?.

Waxwings news

15 Waxwings were still at Hedge End today at Grid Ref: SU SU4912. Also, a good few Waxwings have been reported around Sussex, including 12 at Pulborough Brooks Nature Reserve feeding on Guelder Rose berries in bushes right next to the classroom/play area. But none near Emsworth as yet.



Tom Bickerton raises two interesting issues that he would appreciate views on.

Why no Tawny Owls on the Island?

Following Richard Grogan's talk on the wildlife of the Isle of Wight to the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust last Wednesday, Tom wonders why there are no Tawny Owls on the Island. There certainly has to be a reason, as nature doesn't just stop dead in its tracks. Could the cause be human interference at some point in history? Theories welcome!

Derek Hales has the best web site for bird recording on the Isle of Wight and he only saw one Tawny Owl in the whole of 2012

Ralph Hollins replies

The BTO say that all Tawnies are very sedentary and are very reluctant to cross water, hence are absent from Ireland and many other islands as well as the IoW. "The sedentary nature of the Tawny Owl has already been touched upon. However, it is not just adult Tawny Owls that are sedentary in their habits. Young birds, dispersing away from where they were born, rarely move far, the average distance moved being just four kilometres (just over two miles). There also appears to be some reluctance to cross large waterbodies. The Tawny Owl is absent from many of the islands around our shores, with only occasional records of the species reported from Ireland and the Isle of Wight." See

Common Gull intelligence?

Tom watched a Common Gull dropping shells onto rocks and wondered if this behaviour was unusual in this species. We are used to seeing Carrion Crows and Herring Gulls dropping cockleshells on rocks and these birds clearly learn this behaviour by watching and copying others perform it. However, Tom points out that Common Gulls are winter visitors and have a limited time to learn, so one would not expect them to see them behaving in this manner. Are these gulls more intelligent than we usually give them credit for?



Brent Geese

I found a flock of 700 Brent Geese feeding on the grass lawn in front of the Old Eastney Barracks, now developed as housing and renamed as Teapot Row: Grid Ref: SZ 666987. The flock included 22 juveniles, though I was unable to sort out broods. These take my current proportion of juveniles to adults for the winter so far to1.97%.

I also had a look at the Tangier Road Brent Goose Refuge where I found a huge flock of around 1,000 Brents feeding on the lush grassland. I did not have my scope at the time, so was not able to check for juveniles.

Baffins Pond

I did not do a proper count but noted the folowing birds on the pond this morning: Cormorant 4, Mute Swan 2, Embden Goose 1, Tufted Duck 60, Mallard 100+, Shoveler 30, Feral Pigeon 100+, I was suprised to find no Canada Geese at all.

The Shoveler were feeding in their distinctive fashion, usually in male-female pairs, circling around sieving food particles from the water.

I happened to meet my friend Eric Eddles who lives near the pond and it is a regular birdwatching site for him. He told me the Mute Swan pair had a successful breeding season producing 7 cygnets all of which survived. He said Canada Geese were quite rare on the pond except during moult in July.

Call Ducks

Most interestingly, Eric showed me some newcomers to the pond, called Call Ducks, which I had not only never seen before, but never actually heard of. He said there were about 10 of them, both males and females, but just how they came to be on the pond he is not sure. The males were Mallard-like with dark heads and white on the flanks; the more attractive females had pale orange plumage and orange legs and feet, as shown in the following photos.

From the internet I learned that the Call Duck is a bantam breed of domesticated duck raised primarily for decoration or as pets. They look similar to Mallards, but are smaller in size. They were first used in the Netherlands as decoys, their high-pitched distinctive call luring other ducks into funnel traps. However, now they are mainly a domestic species kept as pets. There is actually a British Call Duck Club to promote interest and good management of these popular ducks. See . . . This web site indicates there is a variety of breeds of Call Duck.


12:30 - 13:30 - Tide rising to high water at 15:00. Spotted Redshank was already present in the stream and very persistent in chasing off a Common Redshank.

A flock of 90 Knot was on the western mudflats near to the Emsworth Sailing Club, the largest flock so far this winter.

Black-tailed Godwits

I counted 88 Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the mudflats quite close to the shore at the end of Warblington Road. They included two of our regular colour-ringed birds this winter: WO+LW flag and ROL+RLR.

Spurting behaviour

On looking through my photos of the Black-tailed Godwits I found two that showed birds spurting water from their bills. One of the godwits appeared to be spurting objects with the stream of water. I have many examples of Black-tailed Godwits and several other waders engaged in this so-called 'spurting' behaviour, but I have never seen one spurting objects before. Spurting behaviour continues to baffle the experts. See the special page on spurting behaviour . . . Spurting behaviour


Rat climbing tree

Malcolm Phillips got a first for me on Brook Meadow today with the following shot of a Brown Rat climbing a tree in Palmer's Road Copse. I am not surprised to hear that rats can climb trees, but have never seen one doing it before.

Waxwings news

More reports of Waxwings are coming in mainly from the north of Hampshire; the nearest to us is in Hedge End, probably in the large shopping complex where they turned up a few years ago. If you know of any Rowan trees with berries, this is where they are most likely to be seen, but this is a very poor year for berries and the Waxwings could starve. I do not know of any good crops of berried trees in Emsworth.



11:00 - 12:00 Tide rising to high water at about 14:00. The first good flock of Knot of the winter numbering 22 were feeding in characteristic fashion in a small tight group on the mudflats. My only previous sighting this winter was of two Knot on Nov 9. Birds in the main channel included 24 Shelduck and 4 Pintail.

Two Brent Goose families were on the mudflats, one with two juveniles and the other with one. I have seen these two families in Emsworth several times before. I captured the family with two juveniles on the photo with the Knot. These juveniles will not make any difference to the overall proportion of juveniles to adults in the harbour which remains very low at about 1.4%.

I watched the tide gradually fill up the small stream in which the regular Spotted Redshank was feeding along with a Greenshank, 2 Knot and 4 Black-tailed Godwit. 10 Mute Swans were also in the stream, including 3 cygnets.

The regular Little Egret was feeding well away from the rest of the birds right at the top of the stream almost beneath the bridge. I rarely see any birds quite this far up stream. It did not seem bothered by my close presence.


There were still plenty of flowers open on the large Ivy hedge on the coastal path near the end of Warblington Road. Insects feeding included Bluebottles, Drone Flies and Common Wasps.


Waxwings arrive

Posting from Ian Julian on Hoslist: "Birdguides reported 11 Waxwings were around Hedge End this morning and then at 13.45 at 85 Havendale." The first Waxwings photos are coming in. Go to . . .


Graham Petrie uncovered this Common Frog while moving some stones. He abandoned the job and covered him up again.


Richard Somerscocks sent a report from his new home in Findhorn in the north of Scotland. Richard focussed on the ducks in the local bay and the sea ducks just offshore. For Richard's report and some photos go to . . . Findhorn News



Yellow Dung-fly

Walking through Brook Meadow this morning I noticed a single Yellow Dung-fly (Scathophaga stercoraria) on one of the large flowering umbels of Hogweed along the main river path. I have been looking out for them over the past couple of weeks, but this was the first one I have seen this winter. I last saw two Yellow Dung-flies on what was probably the same Hogweed plant at about this time last year (Dec 15 2011).

Yellow Dung-flies are mostly predators on smaller insects. They will also feed on pollen, but most seen on flowers will be hunting prey. Both males and females are found on dung, hence their name, the males only feeding on other insects that visit dung, such as blow-flies. Females will be there both to feed and oviposit on the dung surface.

Magpies in garden

I have previously written (on Nov 30) about having a Magpie in the garden trying to grab the fat that I had rubbed into the bark of a cherry tree. Well, what I assume is the same bird has been coming daily since then and today I managed to get a photo of it in action. After a couple of minutes it was joined by a second Magpie and so I had the pleasure of seeing two in my garden for the first time ever.

Hungry Merganser

Derek Mills confirms that the Red-breasted Merganser he photographed struggling to swallow the Ruffe on Nov 29 did eventually get the fish down. He then went on to get a small crab and demolish that too, as shown in Derek's photo.

Tom's observations

Tom Bickerton sends his observations from the past weekend:

Kingfisher was back on the Hermitage Stream, just opposite Charlton Crescent, and 3 different Little Egrets along the Stream as well. A Black-Throated Diver was at the Oysterbeds on Sunday, unfortunately disturbed by a powerboat which acutely curtailed my views. A family of 5 juvenile Brents were again there this week, must be unique this year. A nice show of Dunlin, ideal for photography, as they flashed the silvery on-off flight pattern. No birds of Prey, except for a very distant Merlin on South Binness, which would be hard to call as a certainty. No waxwings yet. Very few ducks, a flock of Pintail and 3 Goldeneye, I saw 3 Black-necked Grebes, Chris Cockburn thinks we have 13-15 in the harbour. We seem to be low on Shelduck too.

Dartford Warbler

John Bogle sent the following photo of the Dartford Warbler that he saw near the Thorney Little Deeps on Dec 2. This was only the second Dartford Warbler that John has seen and in his words he was "quite chuffed". I would be too if I had seen it as it is certainly an uncommon bird for that area. At my suggestion, John has posted the sighting up to the SOS Sightings and also informed Barry Collins about it.

FINDHORN NEWS - from Richard Somerscocks coming tomorrow!



Conservation work session

I went over to the meadow to take photos of the regular conservation work session. It was a fine and frosty morning and a good group of about 10 volunteers turned up for work. They had to postpone their original plan to lay gravel on paths, as it was frozen. So they set to work to trim off some willow branches overhanging the river. The resulting branches were used to build barricades to restrict access to certain areas on the meadow which were being heavily used.

Pair of Robins

Walking through the south meadow of Brook Meadow this morning, I came across what I am fairly sure was a pair of Robins in close proximity to each other. Such pairing seemed very early. However, I consulted David Lack's classic book "The Life of the Robin" whose observations at Dartington showed (also to his surprise) that the first pairings often occurred by the middle of December, which is over 3 months before the birds actually nest. Lack added that most other song birds pair up in the spring, with the exception of Blackbirds and some Starlings which pair in late autumn.

Flowering plants

Inspired by Ralph Hollins, who already has 38 species on his December flower list, I made a start on my own list for Brook Meadow this morning. I found 19 plants in flower, best of all were the magnificent white umbels of Hogweed, which are still standing tall in several spots around the meadow and attracting late flying insects. Hemlock Water-dropwort is also going strong near the Lumley Stream. However, the Stone Parsley plant in the far corner of the Seagull Lane patch, which has been flowering superbly throughout November, was covered in frost this morning, but I could still make out a few flowers. Nearby, there are also some flowers remaining on the Scented Mayweed.


Corvids on Warblington Farm

Ralph Hollins found an unusually large number of corvids in the Warlblington Fam area. He has been used to find flocks of over 100 attracted to the shore and fields in winter but today his impression was of more than 300 with almost as many Jackdaws as Crows (and only half a dozen Starlings in the whole outing)

Mystery fish

John Bogle thinks the fish that the Red-breasted Merganser was struggling to swallow on Derek Mill's photo was unlikely to have been a Scorpion Fish as was suggsted yesterday. The body shape and colour are wrong and, as a saltwater species, it is not likely to tolerate the brackish water of Thorney Great Deeps for long, unlike Grey Mullett which are quite happy in pure fresh water a long way up rivers. It was far more likely to have been a Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua) which is a pretty fearsome looking prey for a Red-breasted Merganser to swallow as shown by the following diagram.

Dartford Warbler

John Bogle visited Thorney Island today, the highlight of which was seeing only his second ever Dartford Warbler on the western side near the Little Deeps. This more than made up for his missing out on the Bearded Tits!

Abberant Bullfinch

What appeared to be a rare abberant (albino) Bullfinch was captured on film by a birdwatcher at Brockenhurst last week. Some people thought it might be a Bullfinch x Snow Bunting hybrid. The film can be seen on You Tube at . . .



I have had two different responses to my request for an identification of the fish in Derek Mills's photo caught by the Red-breasted Merganser on Nov 30.


John Bogle thought it was a Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua) and was not surprised to see the merganser struggling with it as he said they are a small but spikey fish with a spiked dorsal fin, much like a Perch, and with a very bony head and gill covers covered in spikes. When threatened they can flare out their gills making their head quite broad and very spikey. Wikipedia says the Eurasian Ruffe is a freshwater fish found in temperate regions of Europe and northern Asia. It has been introduced into the Great Lakes of North America, reportedly with unfortunate results.

Scorpion Fish

Mark Tutton thought it was a Scorpion Fish (Taurulus bubalis) which he said has some serious spines in the dorsal and pectoral fins and would have taken very careful swallowing! Wikipedia says Taurulus bubalis has a number of common names including Scorpion Fish. It is a coastal fish of the sculpin family, inhabiting waters of Northern Europe.

I suppose we shall never know for certain what fish it was. However, from its spiked fins, it seems clear that the Merganser would have a struggle to get it down. I wonder if Derek saw what happened in the end.


Brown Rat

Malcolm Phillips went round the meadow from 11am to 12.15 today. He thought he saw a Water Vole swimming up the river from the north bridge, but when it came out of the water it was clear the animal was a Brown Rat. This just goes to show that you cannot be too careful about Water Vole sightings, particularly in the area above the north bridge where both Water Voles and Brown Rats live.

Song Thrush

Malcolm walked back to the bridge just in time to catch a Song Thrush having a good bathe in the river.


Heather Mills reported on this morning's walk by the Havant Wildlife Group to the RSPB reserve at Pulborough Brooks. For the report and photos of Hen Harrier and Bullfinch go to . . . Saturday walks - reports 2012

For earlier observations go to . . . . November 16-30