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Whatever your problems or mood let wildlife brighten your day (Ralph Hollins)

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


for 17-31 JANUARY 2013
in reverse chronological order


The first Bumblebee in 2013

Brian Lawrence was walking at Prinsted today when he spotted a Bumblebee with full pollen baskets on Gorse flowers. From the single yellow bands on thorax and abdomen and white tail, plus the pollen baskets, I think this must be a worker Buff-tail (Bombus terrestris). See . . .

Bryan Pinchen alerted us to expect to see these Bumblebees in mild winters. Queens of B. terrestris start nesting in the autumn and, if the weather is mild, continue throughout the winter producing workers and later, males and new queens. This was the first Bumblebee I have seen reported locally this winter.

Yet more Water Voles

This morning, Maurice Lillie saw two Water Voles feeding between 25 and 30 metres south of the S-bend on the Ems. A little later Maurice saw one vole climb onto a branch and walk up to the other vole whereupon, in his words, 'they gave a good impression of kissing briefly or perhaps it was a sniff by two very short sighted animals. As they did not fight, I think it reasonable to assume that they are a pair'. This takes the total number of sightings for 2013 to 19. While Maurice was watching for Water Voles he also saw a Firecrest on the river bank close to the S-bend.

Firecrest is till on Brook Meadow

I met up with Malcolm Phillips at the observation fence in Palmer's Road Copse this morning. We both had a very good view of the Firecrest moving around in the tangle of bushes to the south of the fence. Malcolm thinks this is where the bird probably roosts at night as it is dense and well covered in Ivy leaves.

Sweet Violets flowering

There are now a good number of Sweet Violets open on the Lillywhite's path wayside. This flower caught my attention as it appears to have both violet and white petals. White forms of Sweet Violets are common on this wayside, but I don't recall having seen a plant with both.

Hairy Garlic

Four plants of Hairy Garlic are showing well at the eastern end of the Lillywhite's path wayside, all with fresh leaves. They are much better specimens than the Hairy Garlic I saw in Nore Barn Woods yesterday.

Hairy Garlic (Allium subhirsutum) is a rare garden escape, probably overlooked in recording. It is a Mediterranean species with a scattering of broad, more or less prostrate, shiny green leaves, with slightly hairy edges, from which the plant gets its common name. Its leaves give off a faintly garlic aroma when crushed.

More Lesser Celandines

Following the discovery of the first Lesser Celandine on Brook Meadow yesterday, Tony Wootton found some more out on the roadside verge in Lumley Road and in the flower tubs of the Kings Arms pub on the Havant Road. This takes the January flowering plant list to 36 species. See complete list at . . . Winter flowering plants

A wall Lichen

There is a rather fine growth of yellow lichen on the brick wall of one of the gardens in Lumley Road. I don't know what species this is, but I see it around quite a lot.

Lumley Mill sluice

All three gates have been removed from the Lumley Mill sluice and the water is rushing down into the Lumley Stream like a torrent. I last looked at the gate on Dec 16 when only the centre gate was out.



10:00 - 12:00 Tide rising to high water at 13:13.

Two Spotted Redshanks

I had a real struggle to get along Western Parade this morning against the gale force westerly wind with frequent squally showers. I almost gave up, but pleased I did not as when I eventually reached Nore Barn at about 10:15 the sun was shining and two Spotted Redshanks were in the lower stream to greet me!

I watched these two birds for about 15 minutes feeding fairly close together with no signs of any antagonism. They eventually separated with, what I assume was the 'resident' bird moving into the rapidly filling stream, and the 'visitor' settling on the point at the edge of the saltmarshes.

Later on in the morning Ralph Hollins, Brian Lawrence and I had some excellent close-up views of the 'resident' Spotted Redshank as it was gradually pushed further up the stream and closer to the small bridge by the incoming tide. The bird gradually came closer to where I was standing, exploring the small channels made by the flood waters from the fields.

I stayed on for until 12 noon during which time there was a constant stream of people passing within yards of where the Spotted Redshank was feeding, many with dogs off the leads. Never once did the bird show any signs of concern and certainly did not fly away. Fortunately, none of the dogs went into the stream, which would have disturbed the bird.

Brent Geese

I made my way to the creek south of the woods where I knew I would be sheltered from the westerly wind. I settled down on the seat to have coffee and look through a group of 38 Brent Geese that were feeding on the mudflats fairly close to the shore. The group included two of our regular Brent families with two juveniles each. The youngsters have now acquired their white neck bands, but the white bars on their wings still distinguishes them as juveniles.

Other birds

The Nore Barn Creek was full of Wigeon and Teal creating a constant soft whistling sound with their calls, mixed in with the gentle kerunking of the Brents. There were a couple of Common Redshanks on the edge of the saltmarshes, but no sign of any Greenshanks like we used to have a few years ago. Come to think of it, I see very few Greenshanks in the harbour these days.

On my way along Western Parade a man I often speak to about birds stopped to inform me that yesterday he had seen a pair of Goldeneye in the main eastern channel near the wooden jetty. This is the first Goldeneye sighting we have had in Emsworth Harbour this winter and probably the first for several years. Maybe they were blown in by the wind?


At the head of the creek I met Ralph Hollins who had walked along the shore from Warblington. Together we inspected and admired the lichen that was growing in some abundance on the bushes along the shore south of Nore Barn Woods.

We are fairly sure the yellow-lime lichen on the Blackthorn twigs is Xanthoria parietina which I also found on twigs near Peter Pond yesterday. We also found some bright orange lichen which under the microscope look like the fruiting bodies, probably also of Xanthoria parietina. There was also a lot of grey lichen which looked rather like a dead version of Xanthoria parietina. I think the yellow lichen was on live twigs and the grey lichen on dead twigs. See Wikipedia on this lichen . . .

"Xanthoria parietina is a foliose, or leafy, lichen. It has wide distribution, and many common names such as common orange lichen, yellow scale, maritime sunburst lichen and shore lichen. It can be found near the shore on rocks or walls (hence the epithet parietina meaning "on walls"), and also on inland rocks, walls, or tree bark. The lichen pigment parietin gives this species a deep yellow or orange-red colour."

Hairy Garlic

I found some fresh leaves of the Hairy Garlic that grows on the path north of Nore Barn Woods. However, the plant seems to have taken quite a battering, partly from the weather and partly from the clearing activity along this path, with the result there are far fewer leaves than usual.

Ralph found fresh leaves of English Scurvygrass on the saltmarshes.

Red Admiral

I was hoping to see a Red Admiral in the warm sunshine on the shore at Nore Barn this morning, but no such luck. However, when I got home my wife told me she was sure she had seen a butterfly - probably Red Admiral - flying in the garden. Then, I had an e-mail from Wally Osborne to say that around midday today he did see a Red Admiral in his garden, fighting against the gusty wind but clearly enjoying the warm sunshine. These were the first butterflies of 2013.


Water Voles

Malcolm Phillips went round the meadow this afternoon and at about 12.30pm saw a Water Vole by the gas holder. He was not quick enough to get a photo as the vole dived under the brambles. Malcolm saw another Water Vole by the 'deep water' sign in Palmer's Road Copse at 1.45pm. He watched it swim towards the observation fence and managed to get a photo.


While Malcolm was standing at the observation fence the Firecrest flew in and got his photo taken. Malcolm also heard the Water Rail but did not see it.

Lesser Celandine

Malcolm had the honour of finding the first Lesser Celandine flower on Brook Meadow for this year. This is the first in Emsworth as far as I know, though Ralph Hollins has been seeing plenty open in the Havant area.


Mute Swan intruder

I passed by Peter Pond on the way to the shops this morning and noticed three Mute Swans walking up Lumley Road dodging the traffic Two of the swans were the residents that will be nesting here, but the other one was an unwelcome intruder. The hapless intruder was pursued onto the pond, presumably by the cob of the resident pair, and relentlessly chased. As it was tipping down with rain I did not stay to see the conclusion of the dispute, but clearly, the resident pair are now strongly territorial and will not tolerate the presence of other swans on their patch. Things can get rather nasty if the intruder resists too much.

Lichen on twig

I broke off a small twig from a Blackthorn bush on Peter Pond which had a healthy growth of lime green lichen on it. The lichen has flat broad lobes and many cup-shaped spore-producing bodies which show up clearly under the microscope. It reminded me of a moonscape. My calculated guess is that it is Xanthoria parietina which is said to be very common on rocks, walls, trees, etc. A lichen is usually described as a thallus, not as a plant. It is a composite organism consisting of a fungus and an alga living in a symbiotic relationship.

I now have a special page devoted to news and observations of lichen . . . Lichen

Cuban memories

The weather was not good for photography, so Malcolm declined the joys of Brook Meadow for once and recalled the sunnier and warmer times he had while on holiday in Cuba. Here is Malcolm's picture of a Cuban Emerald Hummingbird homing in on some nectar.

Red-breasted Goose

Yesterday (Jan 28) Owen Mitchell found a flock of 500-600 Brent Geese on the flooded field at Eames Farm, including a Red-breasted Goose and a Pale-bellied Brent. This is probably the same Red-breasted Goose that was at Farlington Marshes for some months at the end of last year and has now moved across the border into Sussex. It was seen on Thorney Island by Barry Collins on Jan 27. This photo of probably the same Red-breasted Goose was taken by Peter Milinets-Raby Portsmouth on 10 December 2012.

Giant Butterbur

Ralph Hollins found the Giant Butterbur (Petasites japonicus) now in flower on the 'No Man's Land' alongside the Langbrook Stream before reaching the track into the old Langstone Dairy Farm. Ralph says there was a good show of fresh leaves (only) of the female Butterbur also. This flowers later, like the (all male) Butterbur we have on Brook Meadow. Giant Butterburs were introduced from Japan and are well-established, mainly in the south of England. They have fragrant creamy-white flowers framed by broad green bracts, making them look rather like mini cauliflowers. The very large leaves develop later.

Here is a photo I took of a couple of flowers a few years ago.

Hedgehog survey

Caroline French writes say the People's Trust for Endangered Species are seeking participants for their 2013 Hedgehog survey - to record and submit their sightings between 1st Feb and 31st August. Participants will need to register online by 1st Feb (it only takes a minute to register). Go to,192YS,6IOCDB,48MXI,1

Here is a photo of a Hedgehog in my garden in June 2010. I remember this one well as it was a female and had three youngsters in our garden. That was an exciting first!

Bullfinch at Llanelli

Tony Wootton sent me some great photos that he took during a visit to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Reserve at Llanelli in South Wales. They included this splendid male Bullfinch. Tony said the low tide meant wetland birds were too far away to photograph.



During this morning's walk through Brook Meadow I met Malcolm Phillips and Mike Wells near the observation fence, both looking for Firecrest. Malcolm had a fleeting sighting of it earlier, but none of us saw it again. No Water Rail either. Robin Pottinger turned up a little later, but had no luck either.

Water Voles

Malcolm and I had more luck with Water Voles. We both a Water Vole frisking around at the base of one of the Crack Willow trees on the flooded west bank of the river in Palmer's Road Copse south of the Deep Water sign. Later Malcolm saw a Water Vole on the east bank, not the same animal that was on the west bank.


Malcolm spent some time watching a male Kestrel hunting on the meadow, probably the same one that he had photographed on Jan 25. He managed to get a few shots of the Kestrel with its kill including this fine image.

Guelder-rose berries?

On Sat 26 Jan, when he was in Palmers Road copse, Ralph Hollins noticed some bright orange-red berries which he could not identify. They were near the observation fence, but looking back towards the car park.

I had a close look at the berries this morning and discovered they were all attached by thin stalks to a small single-stemmed tree growing out of the flooded area west of the main river path through the copse. The berries were bright red and soft, containing red fluid and a single flattened oval seed. My guess is Guelder-rose with most of the berries off. Ralph agrees.


The pink buds of Butterbur are now pushing through the main path near opposite the observation fence. I wonder how many flower spikes we shall have this year. The last four years have been very good.

Jew's Ear fungus

There is a fresh growth Jew's Ear fungus (now called Jelly Ear) on an old Elder tree in Palmer's Road Copse, on the other side of the path from the observation fence, first seen by Malcolm.


Martin Hampton replied to my query (in the Brook Meadow Conservation Group e-mail newsletter) regarding the possibility of future breeding Firecrests on Brook Meadow to say that a pair held territory last year in back gardens in his road in south Havant (adjacent to the HB trail). Maybe they are not so rare as I first thought!

Martin says, "It was a grand thing to see and hear what I guess must be the male so often in the spring, and I carried on seeing birds occasionally in the summer and autumn (though autumn and wintering birds may have augmented - I'm never sure of course!). Both here at home and in other Hants and Sussex sites where I saw so many more Firecrests last year than ever before - Petersfield and Sheet, Harting Hill, the Stoughton / Walderton / Chilgrove area - I have noticed that Ivy-covered trunks and mature Hollies are often present. Here in Havant both are in the area where the Firecrests probably nested last year, but the probable nest site was in mature specimens of the dreaded Leylandii. I have started to think of Firecrests as the 'Holly and Ivy' birds."


Song Thrush diet

Brendan Gibb-Gray asks, how do we attract Song Thrushes into gardens at this time of year? I don't think there is much we can do as they do not take the usual seeds, peanuts, fat balls, etc that are put out for other birds. However, they do like snails if you have a supply handy. Their diet is mainly invertebrates (insects, earthworms and snails) though they do take fruit in autumn and winter.

Fieldfare at Prinsted

Romney Turner re-visited Prinsted yesterday and found Fieldfares were enjoying the flooded fields.

Redshank at Prinsted

There were also Starlings in good numbers and plenty of Brent Geese flying around and Curlews with them taking advantage of the 'safety in numbers'. Romney also got this excellent image of a Common Redshank - a bird that is too often overlooked by avid photographers.

That Spotted Redshank!

This morning at 10:30am on a very high incoming tide, Peter Milinets-Raby did his now regular walk from Nore Barn along the foreshore passing Conigar Point, inland along Pook Lane and then back along the Solent Way passing Warblington Church.

"The Spotted Redshank was performing down to TWO metres - utterly incredible (mind you there was not a dog walker in sight for the 10 minutes I had the bird until it went off to roost).

Other highlights were:

95 Wigeon at Nore Barn; 132 at Conigar Point and 45 at Pook Lane,
390 Brent Geese at Nore Barn; 146 at Conigar Point and 112 at Pook Lane
230+ Teal at Nore Barn and 130+ at Conigar Point.
Greenshank roosting in field with the pond - 3 Rock Pipits in here, plus a Snipe and single Teal.
Reed Bunting in the next field along with 2 Skylark.
24 Oystercatcher in the field by the cemetery.
7 Little Egrets together in the field next to the barn along Pook lane.
450+ Fieldfare in the fields by Pook Lane with 60+ Redwing (Looked about the same number as my last visit).
45 Curlew in the big muddy stubble field after the church - 2 Whimbrel in amongst them.


Malcolm Phillips waits

Jean and I walked through Brook Meadow where we found Malcolm Phillips in his regular spot behind the observation fence watching for Firecrest. Surprisingly, he did not see one at all today.

Great Black-backed Gulls

We walked down to Emsworth Marina via Slipper Millpond where the pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were on their nesting raft in the centre of the pond with three Cormorants. They have been regular visitors this winter and are clearly intending nesting there again this year.

Water Vole

I returned to Palmer's Road Copse at about 12 o'clock where I found Malcolm Phillips still poised with his long lensed camera, but with very little to shoot. However, at about 12.15 we did see a Water Vole for about a minute on the east bank of the river in Palmer's Road Copse behind the 'Deep Water' notice before it disappeared into a hole in the river bank. Here is Malcolm's photo of the animal.

Sanderling with worm

Tony Wootton got this unique photo of a Sanderling with a worm at high tide on the southern tip of Thorney Island. We think it is a Lugworm. Any other offers?


Firecrest on lichen

Malcolm got his now regular astounding photo of the Brook Meadow Firecrest from the observation fence, which I include here not so much for the bird, as we have lots of Malcolm's Firecrest photos on this blog, but for the lush growth of lichen on the branch it is standing on. I don't know what species it is but it looks a bit like Physcia aipolia in the books. Can anyone help?

Wood Mouse

While Malcolm Phillips was watching the Firecrest, a slight movement caught his eye. It was a small mouse only about 3ins and, from its large eyes and ears in Malcolm's photo, looks like a Wood Mouse. Interestingly, the mouse in the photo is gnawing the bark of a small Ash twig, with signs of more gnawing on the same twig. I looked up the diet of Wood Mice which is mainly seeds, but also buds, fruits, nuts, snails, insects, fungi, moss and, significantly, tree bark. I gather it is not the bark as such that provides nourishment, but the sugary flesh beneath. Ref:

Water Vole

Malcolm also had yet another Water Vole sighting from the observation fence. This takes the total for 2013 to 12. We are of to a bumper start!


I was very pleased to accompany Lisa, my 9 year old granddaughter to Nore Barn this afternoon to take some photos of the birds on the shore. Lisa is hoping to enter the Maurice Broomfield Photographic Competition for local schoolchildren, organised by the Slipper Millpond Association. This year's theme for the competition is 'Water and Wildlife' and there is certainly plenty of both on show at Nore Barn.

We arrived at about 13.30 with the tide falling. Plenty of Brent Geese and Black-headed Gulls were on the water and as the tide fell a couple of Black-tailed Godwits appeared along with the ever faithful Spotted Redshank. It was an exciting first ever harbour birdwatching experience for Lisa. She loved seeing the geese on the water and the elegant godwits. We had to chase around a bit after the Spotted Redshank which was unusually mobile, but managed to get reasonably close for Lisa to get some shots.

I had previously given Lisa instruction on how to use my 12x zoom Panasonic Lumix camera and she picked it up very quickly. I suggested she should take plenty of photos and then choose the best ones afterwards. Lisa took all the photos herself and improved as she went on. Hopefully, she will be inspired to return for more. Here are a couple of Lisa's favourites.

Black-headed Gull preening

Spotted Redshank striding purposively


Peter Milinets-Raby was also at Nore Barn yesterday and got a very close view of the Spotted Redshank on the last bit of mud before the tide came in at 9am.

Peter did a circular walk around the Warblington area from Nore Barn, walking along the coast (tide pushing in) and cutting inland along Pook Lane, returning across the fields past Warblington Church. The other highlights were:

57 Wigeon at Nore Barn; 99 at Conigar Point; 56 at Pook Lane, 180+ Teal, 4 Gadwall, 8 Pintail, 169 Brent Geese at Nore Barn; 77 at Conigar Point; 110 at Pook Lane, 17 Black-tailed Godwits, 41 Shelduck, 12 Skylark in the field with the pond; 26 in the muddy stubble field near church, 3 Woodlark in the same muddy stubble field. 1 Rock Pipit, 18 Oystercatchers, feeding in the field near the cemetery and 14 in the field next door. 22 Stock Doves in this field as well (at least 12 others elsewhere). 22 Curlew in a field next to Pook Lane, 2 Buzzard, 2 Bullfinch and 2 seen in Nore Barn Wood. Fieldfare in and around Pook Lane 350 in one field, 210 in another and 47 in another! Redwing in the same three fields, 36, 37 and 6. 7 Little Egrets in these three fields, 42 Lapwing in one of these fields, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Peter called in briefly at the observation area in Palmer's Road Copse on Brook Meadow at 11:30am and saw the Firecrest three times in an hour (and the ever-present Malcolm).

Wigeon at Nore Barn

Here is Peter's image of a small number of male and female Wigeon at Nore Barn.


Water Rail

Malcolm Phillips was on Brook Meadow by 10.30am today and was very pleased to find the Water Rail feeding by the observation fence. At first it was part hidden by the brambles but slowly moved into the open. Malcolm watched the rail for about 30mins before it moved up river.

Brown Rat

Malcolm then saw what at first he thought was a Water Vole in the reeds opposite the observation fence, but unfortunately it was another Brown Rat. This one had found a quarter apple which it was eating.

Presumably someone had tossed the apple into the river for the Water Voles as they do love apples. But Rats are also partial to them! Malcolm saw another two Brown Rats near the north bridge. This is clearly an active time for rats searching for food, but fortunately there will be no young Water Voles for them to prey on at this time.


On a brighter note, Malcolm found the Firecrest in its favourite spot below the observation fence and got a nice shot of it preparing to fly.


Finally, Malcolm got a good image of what is probably our local male Kestrel (grey head) perched in a tree.


Firecrest in garden

Firecrest is certainly the bird of the winter on Brook Meadow and now they are turning up in gardens. No reason why not I suppose. David Hughes returned from a walk in Brook Meadow where he saw the photos of the Firecrest in the signcases and realised that he had one in his back garden two days ago. David said it was flitting in amongst the plants/bushes in the garden and came within 1 metre of his window showing its white 'eyebrows' very clearly. Mill End is east of the Hermitage Millponds, just off the main A259 road towards Southbourne.

Tufted Ducks

Walking round the town millpond this morning, I counted nine Tufted Ducks, 6 males and 3 females. Maybe, numbers will now start to build up, but they are late coming in this winter.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Tom Bickerton thinks the Brent Goose I targeted on yesterday's blog as a possible Pale-bellied Brent (ssp hrota) is unlikely as the colour hues are the same as the rest of the flock. I agree with him, but it was a try. Pale-bellied Brent Geese - Branta bernicla ssp hrota - breed in Greenland and NW Canada and migrate mainly to Ireland via Iceland. They are fairly scarce in the South of England. They have much lighter bellies than the Dark-bellied with a clear contrast with the black breast. See Peter Milinets-Raby photo of one in Southsea on Jan 7. Peter says it was still there yesterday (Jan 24) feeding with 681 Brent Geese on St Helen's Cricket Pitch until 3:30pm at least.


Fieldfares are still around the Portsmouth area in large numbers, but surprisingly few Redwing. Yesterday (Jan 24), Peter Milinets-Raby went from Clarence Pier to Eastney and found a total of 1,067 Fieldfares: 93 on Premier Inn Pitches; 383 on the common behind Clarence Pier Car Park; 122 on rest of Southsea Common; 59 on the grass behind Southsea Castle; 62 on Southsea Tennis Club; 28 on St Helen's Cricket Pitch; 63 on the Pitch & Putt course; 68 on the Royal Marines Museum; 189 on Eastney Playing Fields. Only 4 Redwing amongst this lot, along with 3 Skylark, 11 Mistle Thrush and 7 Lapwing. Kevin Crisp also found another 177 Fieldfare on Milton Common yesterday.


Barry Collins reported yesterday (Jan 24) that the Red-breasted Goose was feeding in a field adjacent to the footpath leading to Longmere Point, Thorney Island with ca. 1000 Dark-bellied Brent Geese at 10.30. At 11.40 it was disturbed by dog walkers and the whole flock flew over to Pilsey Sands, where they remained until midday before returning to their former location, only to be disturbed once again by walkers etc at 12.25. Other birds of note included ca. 600 Fieldfares on Thorney Island (but only one Redwing) and a Long-tailed Duck off Pilsey Island.



Romney Turner finally got moving again when the snow thawed a bit and went for a walk down to Prinsted where she had the pleasure of seeing lots of Curlew in a snowy field with some Lapwing and got superb images of both species.


Romney caught the Curlews in flight

Meadow Pipit in the snow

Romney also came across a group of Meadow Pipits foraging in the snow. Suddenly they all scattered and the culprit came into view, a beautiful Kestrel, but all the pipits escaped with their lives!

Fallow Deer in Petworth park

Romney got this beautiful image of a buck Fallow Deer with magnificent antlers in Petworth Park The dark-coated deer are distinctive at Petworth. I could not resist this one.


As a follow-up to my piece on the TV programme 'Wild Things' on Jan 22, I have been reading the book that goes with the Channel 4 series from Amazon. It is very good despite its glossy appearance and sexy presentation. It has a particularly clear account of lichens; not a species, not an organism, not a plant and not an animal, but rather a way of life! Lichens are made up of at least two species living in a 'symbiotic' relationship whereby both partners benefit. One is always a type of fungus called ascomycete, while the other is usually a single-celled green algae. The fungus receives sugars from the algae which in turn gets nutrients and water from the fungus. So, both benefit from being able to live in a habitat they would not normally be able to survive in alone. A subtle adaptation through eons of evolution.



I had a late afternoon walk around Emsworth Millpond where I found 4 male Tufted Duck. Numbers remain low compared with previous years. Still no sign of any Red-breasted Merganser. Yarrow is still flowering on the edge of the millpond along Bath Road. This takes my January flowering plant list to 32 species.

Brent Geese

A small flock of 38 Brent Geese were feeding on the mudflats to the west of the Emsworth Sailing Club building. A couple of the birds had quite pale underparts and I was wondering how pale they need to be for a Pale-bellied Brent.

Song Thrush

Malcolm Phillips went round the meadow again this morning and stayed for about 1 1/2 hours. That man has stamina! He was rewarded with the Firecrest at the usual place opposite the observation fence. Malcolm then walked to the north bridge where he saw a Goldcrest and a Song Thrush having a bath. Nice photo.

Back to the observation fence, Malcolm saw the rats again and wondered if we can get anything done about them. That is a long running saga, to which there is no easy solution. Malcolm did not see any Water Voles or Water Rail today.

Regarding the Water Rail seen yesterday, Tom Bickerton thinks it could well be the same bird that we had previously, but has remained hidden. Certainly he's not going to let another rail on the food patch. The image shows a male and last year's bird was a male too. We know that waders occupy winter territories so why not this bird?

Back home to his flat Malcolm had yet another Firecrest in the garden, plus Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tits. Malcolm is certainly the person to follow if you want to see a Firecrest!

I was interested to read in Mike Wearing's article in the current issue of the HOS Newsletter 'Kingfisher' that Firecrest is now established on Butser Hill as a breeding bird. Maybe that will also happen on Brook Meadow? One can always live in hope.

Blackcap in garden

Patrick Murphy also had some interesting visitors to his garden. They included a male Blackcap making a couple of fleeting visits, though Patrick thinks it maybe a different bird to the regular one as that one used to stay a long time on the fat balls. This poor fellow is certainly looking longingly at those fat balls.

Fieldfare in Southsea

Graham Petrie went down to Southsea to have a look at the winter thrushes that have been gathering all along the seafront. They were nearly all Fieldfare, a count of 200+ today (confirmed with scope), the majority of which now appear to be at the Clarence pier end of the common. He also saw 2 Mistle Thrush on the pitch and putt field mixed in with 50-60 Fieldfare, but no Redwings at all. Fantastic views of them pulling worms out of the ground.



11:30 - 12:30 - I spent an hour at Nore Barn about 3 hours after high water. The weather was dull and chilly.

Gadwall at Nore Barn

There were masses of ducks and Brent Geese milling around when I arrived, more than I recall seeing all winter. A quick count gave me 400 Brent Geese (including those on the main western mudflats), 250 Wigeon and 250 Teal. I also saw 4 Pintail and 4 Gadwall with equal numbers of males and females. These were the first Gadwall I recall having seen in the Nore Barn area.

Here is my shot of male and female Gadwall with female at the front.

Spotted Redshank

The Spotted Redshank was feeding along the seaweed shore at the end of Warblington Road all the time I was there. For part of the time it was feeding with 3 Turnstone. There was no sign of the second Spotted Redshank or the Greenshank anywhere.

Black-tailed Godwits

Godwit numbers remain low in the harbour with only 22 counted today at Nore Barn. They included one colour-ringed bird, WO+LO flag which has been fairly regular here this winter. Other waders in the area included about 20 Oystercatchers, plus small numbers of Dunlin, Curlew and Grey Plover.


Malcolm Phillips spent 2 and a half hours on the meadow today from 11.45am to 2.15pm looking for birds to photograph. His patience certainly paid off as he saw not only the Firecrest, but also the elusive Water Rail.

Malcolm saw and got an excellent photo of a male Firecrest in a favourite spot in the reeds by the observation fence. Only the male Firecrest has orange on its crown, the female has a yellow crest.

This was the 16th sighting we have had of a Firecrest on the river in Brook Meadow since Jan 3. Most of the sightings have been near the observation fence, but it has also been seen by the north bridge and by the south bridge and at various locations on the river between the two bridges. We are still undecided as to how many Firecrests there are on the meadow. There may have been two at one stage, but probably now there is only one.

Water Rail

Malcolm was delighted to find the Water Rail, which he last had a fleeting glimpse of (and no photo) on Jan 18. This time he saw it in the bushes just south of the observation fence and he managed a decent photo.

This could have been the same bird that Malcolm photographed on 18 Dec 2012, as it was in the same area. However, since we have had no further sightings of it since that date, despite a lot of looking, I suspect the bird seen today (and on Jan 18) was another individual.

Brown Rats

We have had several sightings of Brown Rats over the past week, particularly in the area between the sluice gate and the S-bend. Malcolm saw two individuals today, one was grey/ brown the other about 2/3rds the size and all grey. Here is one of the creatures. Note its large ears, quite unlike those of a Water Vole.


I am grateful to Juliet Walker for providing the following link to Andy Johnson's very comprehensive report on the birds of the Sandy Point area on Hayling Island for 2012.


Goldfinches in garden

What with really nasty weather and having a tooth extracted, I did not feel up to going out today. The birds also were not in the garden in the numbers they were yesterday, but the Brambling was here again and the usual collection of Goldfinches were on the sunflower heart feeders.

Green Woodpecker

Patrick Murphy had a visit this morning from a Green Woodpecker that was searching among some rotting tree trunks for insects. Patrick has not seen the male Blackcap for a few days, which was a regular visitor to the fat balls and spent a lot of time on them.

Fieldfares galore

Thousands of Fieldfares have been reported over Hampshire and Sussex today. These birds will very likely be heading across the channel where hopefully they might find some food.

See Hampshire Bird News site . .
and the SOS Sightings . .

Local sightings. Bob Chapman had approximately 500 Fieldfare on the fields of Farlington Marshes; not a common sight here, says Bob. Peter Milinets-Raby saw a total of 235 Fieldfare in and around the Southsea area today - 37 on St Helen's Cricket Pitch, 70 on Pitch & Putt Course, 12 on Royal Marines Museum and 116 on Eastney Playing Fields. Peter also had 9 Mistle Thrushes on Eastney Playing Fields. Meanwhile an estimated 1,000 were seen on on the Brownwich Cliffs west of Hill Head D Wallace who commented that they swarmed in large numbers like Starlings.

One of Peter's Fieldfares at Eastney

More locally, Martin Hampton had one Fieldfare feeding on apples in his Havant garden and Malcolm Phillips saw this rather forlorn looking Fieldfare in the snow on a walk from Emsworth to Westbourne this morning.

WILD THINGS - Channel 4 TV Series

Last night (8.30pm on Monday 21st Jan), I watched the first of what looks like an interesting new 6 part series on Channel 4 called 'Wild Things' produced by Plantlife people. If you can put up with the adverts and the rather crass presentation the programme is well worth watching again. The show is presented by Chris Myers, a landscape designer from Yorkshire, Plantlife's Dr Trevor Dines as expert botanist, and Sally Eaton (Edinburgh Botanic Garden and formerly Plantlife) as expert lichenologist.

Danish Scurvygrass

There was a good piece about the spread of Danish Scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica) along the motorways encouraged by salt spreading and seeds dispersed by traffic. We have a good growth of Danish Scurvygrass along the northern edge of the Havant Road east of the Warblington roundabout. This is the tiny white flowers you can see by the kerb.

There was also an interesting piece on last night's programme on Bluebells and how the hybrid between the aromatic native Bluebell and the non-aromatic Spanish Bluebell is spreading.

'Pollution lichen'

Most interesting was the story of the lichen Lecanora conizaeoides which started off by being one of the rarist species in Britain, then became one of the most common and now has become one of the rarist again. This lichen has a layer of crystals that keep the water out and thus make it resistant to air pollution. Thus, it thrived during the bad old days when acid rain was a problem. However, with the clean up of our air, other lichens which were damaged by acid rain are now taking over and Lecanora conizaeoides is in decline. It is sometimes called 'Pollution lichen'.

I have always assumed from my early reading of John Wyndham's novel 'Trouble with lichen' that all lichens were vulnerable to air pollution, but apparently not.

I hightly recommend looking at the recording of the programme which can be stopped at critical points . . .

A book, 'The Wild Things Guide to the Changing Plants of the British Isles' complete with maps, illustrations and more background information, has been written to accompany the series.


Firecrest is still here

I had a walk around Brook Meadow this morning and met up with Malcolm Phillips, who seems to live on the meadow! He had not seen much before we met, but after half an hour or so we had seen Firecrest and Grey Wagtail in the reeds below the observation fence. Here is my best photo of the Firecrest that Malcolm and I saw. Malcolm had a better picture, but I thought I would slip one of mine in for a change. At least, you can see what it is.

Snow on Brook Meadow

I went for a walk on the main meadow where I stopped to admire many of the plants that were still standing despite carrying a good weight of snow on their flowerheads. Here is what I think is a Wild Angelica umbel full of snow.

Pied Wagtail on pavement

After I had left, Malcolm went into town for a cup of coffee and found this Pied Wagtail walking along the pavement.

Blue Tit on fat ball on Brook Meadow

Back in Palmer's Road Copse, Malcolm hung a fat ball in the tree by the observation fence, which immediately attracted both Blue Tit and Great Tit.

Reed Bunting on Peter Pond

Malcolm also got this nice photo of a female Reed Bunting in the reedbeds to the north of Peter Pond.


My small garden in the centre of Emsworth was simply teeming with birds today, quite an astonishing sight at times. I logged of 14 species and a total of 58 birds. As the weather continues to be very cold and snow is still lying on the ground and bushes, food must be hard to find. It surprises me that so may birds manage to survive the night temperatures.

Chaffinches galore

Chaffinches were always present whenever I happened to be looking out of the window, either on the ground, under the shrubs or on the bird table. Otherwise they would fly up into a neighbour's Silver Birch tree. They were not easy to count, but my best estimate would be 30, which is a record for my garden, beating the 28 in years 2008 and 2003.


In with the Chaffinch flock was a single Brambling, unmistakable with its white belly contrasting with its bright orange chest and shoulders. I had my first garden Brambling in Dec 2010, then in Jan 2011, I had up to two birds 4 weeks running. This was the first of this winter.



After writing in yesterday's blog that I had only seen a female Blackcap in the garden this winter, well, as so often happens, I also had a male in the garden today. I saw the female several times, always feeding on the apples I had pinned to the tree. The male Blackcap, in contrast, seemed very nervous. It made a couple of visits to the bird table which had mixed seed and chopped peanuts on it, but flew off each time when it spotted movement behind the window. On one occasion, I noticed the female Blackcap chasing off the male Blackcap, though as I have said before I have never seen any aggression towards other species.

Other garden birds

Other birds of special interest for me were 2 Greenfinches, a Coal Tit and a Starling, all fairly scarce birds in my garden. The Starling stayed for some while in the tree looking down at the bird table stocked with food, but never bucked up enough courage to come down. They really need safety in numbers.

I saw no sign of the Redwing or Fieldfare that I had briefly last week, even though there seems to be a wave of them passing through our area at present on the hunt for food.


Wrens on Brook Meadow

I had a walk around Brook Meadow this morning without seeing a great deal; certainly no sign of Firecrest or Water Vole. I met up with Malcolm Phillips in Palmer's Road Copse and he too had seen little apart from the usual suspects, like Wren, Robin, Dunnock, etc. Here is Malcolm's photo of one of the many Wrens that can be seen foraging for insects along the edges of the river.

However, I have received reports from two ladies who visited the meadow this afternoon and who both had really exciting experiences, seeing Firecrest, Grey Wagtail and Water Vole among others. Their reports are worth reproducing in full to give the full flavour of their experiences. The first is from Caroline French a well-known local birdwatcher and a regular contributor to this blog. The second report is from Claire Power, whom Caroline met in Palmer's Road Copse. I used to know Claire's family when they lived in Westbourne Avenue, though I have not seen Claire since she was a child.

Caroline's news

"I went down to Brook Meadow this afternoon for some fresh air but also hoping to see a Firecrest, as reported on your website! When I arrived at Palmers Copse there was a lady from Westbourne watching a Treecreeper, which she kindly pointed out to me. She also told me she had seen a Firecrest and two Goldcrests, a Grey Wagtail, and a Water Vole around the observation area. Like me, she had read about the Firecrest(s?) on your website and may send you her sightings.

I carried on to the south bridge from where I picked up a single Firecrest feeding amongst the partially submerged vegetation on the east bank. I had good views of it for a few minutes. They are superb little birds!

As I continued on up the eastern bank I noticed a Water Vole sitting on one of the smaller pieces of fallen willow, about halfway between the observation area and the S-bend, busily feeding on roots of some kind. This was about 4pm. As I was pointing the vole out to a passing family, the man of the family noticed a second vole just two feet from the first. The first vole, in particular, seemed unperturbed by people and dogs using the path.

Walking along the northern section of the Ems I saw and heard a Grey Wagtail flying northwards, out and away from the meadow. The signcases look good!"

Claire's news

"I just wanted to email to thank you for your blog which inspired me to go to Brook Meadow today and have a brilliant hour birdwatching. A lady I met there suggested I e-mail you my sightings. I parked up at the recycling area in the car park behind Tesco and walked straight down the path to the stream. I had been secretly hoping to see a Firecrest, but was amazed that it was the first bird I saw! It was moving alongside the stream in the long grass/reed area - I watched it for about 5 minutes - a beautiful sight.

As it hopped up the stream out of view a Water Vole came swimming along upstream. It went into the area of branches opposite the bit I was watching from, climbed over a few and then disappeared from sight.

I went down to the south bridge and looking up I had lovely views of a Grey Wagtail in the stream, bathing and generally ferreting around for food. I crossed over and walked up along the stream to the railway track. I saw a Goldcrest there, alongside the river again (the only areas of vegetation uncovered were alongside the stream). I walked round to Peter Pond and then back along the stream again.

I was fortunate to see a Treecreeper on a tree just by the bottom bridge on the way back, and another Goldcrest again by the place I saw the Firecrest on the way in. It was interesting to note that the Goldcrests have a much more 'darting' movement than the Firecrest, making them harder to follow with the bins.

I also noticed there were several Wrens around by the water (I estimate I saw at least 10 along the stream). As well as the 'normal' blue tits/great tits/chaffinches etc I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Also a very large Brown Rat!

So thank you very much for your blog - I have never seen a Firecrest or Grey Wagtail before today and without your blog I would not have had that great pleasure."

Blue Tit in nest box

Tony Wootton also went on a fruitless search for the Firecrest today. But he did notice this Blue Tit investigating the concrete nest box in Palmer's Road Copse, just above the Water Vole signcase. Blue Tits do regularly use this box, but this is much too early to start nesting.

Fieldfare in garden

Derek and Heather Mills were delighted to have a visit from a Fieldfare to their garden in Portsmouth this lunchtime. Derek managed to get a nice photo despite the sleet. Interestingly, I too had one Fieldfare, albeit in a neighbour's garden, yesterday. They must move around in singles. I get the impression that flocks are moving through, probably on their way to France.


Caroline French still has a single regular male Blackcap in her North Emsworth garden. She completed her BTO Blackcap survey on Monday. Caroline's Blackcap ate fatballs, kibbled sunflower hearts and apple. During her half-hour survey period Caroline saw aggressive behaviour towards Goldfinches and Blue Tits, which were sometimes chased away from feeders. The Great Tits on the other hand saw the Blackcap off (temporarily!), and the House Sparrows stood their ground.

I have only had a female Blackcap in my garden this winter and she likes apples and sunflower hearts, but is never aggressive towards other birds. A real lady!

Song Thrushes

Caroline also had three Song Thrushes in her garden this morning. She said they expended as much energy in defending 'their' food source as they gained from the extra provision!

I also had a Song Thrush in my garden this afternoon (quite an unusual visitor). It was eating a snail when it was chased off by a Blackbird, who also finished off the snail. I find Blackbirds are very aggressive towards Song Thrushes and will not tolerate their presence in the garden.


Two Firecrests?

Malcolm Phillips had a good day round Brook Meadow today. He had two sightings of a Firecrest, the first at the observation fence and the second at the north west corner. Malcolm is fairly sure they were different birds, as the two sites were about 200 metres apart and Malcolm only took about 30 minutes moving from one to the other. The plumage of the two also look slightly different from the photos.

Here is Malcolm's first Firecrest


Here is Malcolm's first Firecrest

The evidence is now strong that there are in fact at least two Firecrests 'resident' on Brook Meadow. One Firecrest has been regularly seen in the Palmer's Road Copse area from the south bridge to the observation fence (Jan 14, 15, 17, 18, 19). A second Firecrest has been seen further north along the River Ems as far as the north west corner where the river bends to go alongside the railway embankment (Jan 3, 15, 17, 19). A possible third Firecrest has been seen once on the east side of Brook Meadow Lumley Stream (Jan 11).  

Grey Wagtail

Malcolm also saw a Grey Wagtail near the observation fence, which was probably the same bird that Ros Norton reported seeing here on Jan 17.

Blue Tit on Brook Meadow

Malcolm also got this lovely photo of a Blue Tit which I could not resist.



Winter Thrushes

The graph shows the total numbers of winter thrushes and Starlings reported to the British Trust for Ornithology survey each month since mid September. The figures for January 2013 are just for the first half of the month, but are already high because of the extra visits made during the core midwinter period. The graph shows surprisingly few Song Thrushes have been recorded in the survey. This is interesting in view of the flock of 15 Song Thrushes seen by Peter Milinets-Raby and John Norton at Warblington on Jan 15. Has anyone else seen a gathering of Song Thrushes? The graph doesn't include Mistle thrushes.

For more information go to . . .

Garden Blackcaps

Blackcaps are an increasingly common sight at garden feeding stations during winter and are seen most often early in the New Year. The foods that we provide seem to be having a profound effect on the ecology of these birds, changing their migratory patterns and subsequent nesting habits. The BTO is conducting a survey of wintering Blackcaps in gardens to discover more about 1) Which foods are Blackcaps eating, 2) numbers of male and female Blackcaps and 3) any signs of aggression with other, similar sized birds. This survey runs during January 2013 only.

In my garden 1) Blackcap eats sunflower hearts and apple. 2) I have only had a female Blackcap this winter, though I have had both sexes in previous winters. 3) I have never witnessed any aggression towards other species.

For more information about the survey go to . . .


Nightingale migration

Until recently, the only British-ringed Nightingale to be reported in Africa had only made it as far as Morocco. Support by volunteer ringers for a project in The Gambia has changed all that, with the capture of two birds wearing rings that had been put on in East Anglia. On average, between 150 and 250 Nightingales are ringed in Britain each year, with a total of just over 12,000 ringed since 1909. Before the two Gambian recoveries, only 10 BTO ringed Nightingales had been reported overseas. The only one reported from outside Europe was a bird found dead in Morocco in April 1975, on its way back to England.

Interestingly, these Gambian birds may still have been on their way south when caught in The Gambia, especially if the only bird that we have been able to track is typical. A bird caught in Norfolk in 2009 and re-caught in 2010 was able to divulge is movements thanks to the geolocator it carried on its back for the journey. This individual spent a month somewhere in Senegambia, quite possibly in the Gambia itself, from mid-November to mid-December, before moving south-east to Guinea.

For more information go to . . .



EMSWORTH - Snowfall

In common with other areas of the south coast, we experienced a fairly heavy snowfall today. It began in Emsworth in the early morning and got heavier. It eased of for a while, then started again and carried on until late afternoon. I measured a final depth of 4 1/4 inches (11cm) on our flat patio table, far less than the 7 inches I recorded after the last heavy snowfall we had in early Dec 2010. Here is a photo of my garden during the snowfall.

Greenfinch in garden

I spent much of the morning watching the birds in the garden. There was much coming and going of most of the regular garden visitors, including an unusually large number of 18 Chaffinches. I also had 2 Greenfinches and a female Blackcap. I kept replenishing the feeding areas that remained fairly free of snow beneath the bushes with mixed seed and chopped peanuts.

It is good to see Greenfinches back on the feeders


Female Blackcap

A female Blackcap has been a regular garden visitor this winter

Fieldfare in gardens

I was pleased to see my first winter thrushes of the winter. At about 11am a flock of about 30 Redwing fly in to perch at the top of the Silver Birch tree in next door's garden. I recall seeing a similar number in this tree during the snowfall in Feb 2012. They only stayed for about 30 seconds and there was no chance of a photos. However, I did manage to get a digiscoped photo through the window and the snow of a single Fieldfare that arrived in another neighbour's tall tree with a flock of Starlings.

Brook Meadow snowfall

During a slight lull in the snowfall this morning, I had a walk around Brook Meadow which looked very pretty with a layer of snow covering the bushes and trees.

Here the Seagull Lane gate entrance to the meadow.

and the view across the meadow from the observation fence

Two Firecrests

I met up with Malcolm Phillips who told me he had just seen a pair of Firecrests on the river bank in Palmer's Road Copse. The two birds flew in together, but by the time Malcolm got the camera up and ready they had gone into the bushes. This is the first time two Firecrests have been seen together, though we have suspected there might be more than one as the earlier sightings have been in quite different areas of the river.

Water Rail?

Malcolm also thought he saw a Water Rail by the observation fence. Malcolm previously saw a Water Rail in this area on 18 Dec 2012, but there was no further sighting of it despie a good deal of searching. I had a look for it but there was no sign of the bird. It will be worth keeping a look out as this could be another bird passing through.


Richard Somerscocks sent an up date on a few of his Findhorn sightings since the last report on Jan 13. Richard's report and fantastic photos can be seen on the special page of Findhorn News. They include Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Scottish Crossbill, Grey Seals and a male Long-tailed Duck. To see them go to . . . Findhorn News



Conservation work session

I went over to Brook Meadow this morning mainly to take photos of the regular Thursday work session. We had a group of 11 keen volunteers despite the sub zero temperatures. It was not possible to continue repairing the raised paths as the gravel was frozen. So, the main tasks were clearing dead vegetation from the areas around the Alder Buckthorn and the Sweet Chestnut saplings on the south meadow.

Most of the dead Hogweed plants were spared for their architectural beauty, some of the larger ones dwarfing the 6 foot Maurice Lillie.

Animals in a bottle

The volunteer litter pickers found a beer bottle with two dead animals trapped inside. They looked like small mice, which had probably crawled in but were not able to get out again as the bottle filled up with water.

Bird news

A Song Thrush was singing strongly in Lumley Road. Wrens were highly active along the river banks with occasional bursts of song. Late this afternoon, I heard a short burst of Blackbird song from a bird perched in a tree in Bridge Road car park.

At 1pm today Ros Norton saw a Grey Wagtail fly south to the south bridge where it stopped briefly before flying further south.

The first Snowdrops

The first Snowdrops of the year on Brook Meadow were showing on the side of Lumley Road.

For earlier observations go to . . . January 1-16