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A community web site dedicated to the observation, recording and protection of the wildlife of the Emsworth area

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


for December 2013

in reverse chronological order

Blog Archives . . . from 2012 to current


Hampshire Farm

I have yet to visit the newly completed forty acres of 'public open space' at the housing development at Hampshire Farm to the north of Emsworth. Chris Oakley was there yesterday and had some pretty critical things to say about it. Clearly, it is early days in the development of the area, but Chris is disappointed in what he found there. I would like to hear from anyone else who has visited the site. Here is Chris's report with photos: "It is now absolutely flat with newly sown grass which gives it the appearance of a field of winter wheat. There is a token planting of unrecognisable twigs, each with their plastic tube, at the Long Copse Lane end.

"I found no sign of wildlife whatsoever except just outside the eastern fence along the meadow edge north of the Wren centre where I put up a Heron and a cock Pheasant. Along this hedge-line there is a twenty foot strip which could well produce a good selection of plants in the coming year. There being no animal cover at all, I cannot see that there will be much wildlife for some years. There was no sign of deer trod or fox prints. Here, last year, when it was still a wilderness, there were several Roe deer and a family of foxes.

"The attenuation pond at the southern end by Westbourne Road was deserted. Yet again, last year it was a favourite haunt of many birds including of a pair of Shelduck who stayed all summer and a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls. I did wonder if it was the same pair which nested on the Slipper Millpond. Luckily I did get some good shots of House Martins back in June as they gathered mud along the water edge. I was much saddened by the unsympathetic treatment of this area which had so much potential as a wild preserve."


Blackbird song

A Blackbird was singing its full rich song from a tree at the back of Bridge Road car park when I walked through at 11am this morning. Blackbird is an infrequent singer in winter. This was the second I have heard in Emsworth, the first being on Dec 6 from a tree in West Street. Ralph Hollins also heard one in full song on Dec 11 in Havant.

Brook Meadow

Walking through Brook Meadow a little later later I was hoping I might get to hear another Blackbird, but though I heard several birds giving their rattling calls there was no further song. However, several Robins were in good voice around the meadow, plus the occasional Wren, with Woodpigeon and Stock Dove singing from the railway embankment. Dunnock was calling but not singing, Great Tit scalding and Magpies chattering were the other main sounds on Brook Meadow.

What I assume was the same Grey Heron that Brian Lawrence and I saw on the meadow yesterday, was fishing in the tunnel beneath the railway. A group of up to 12 House Sparrows was busily feeding on the north path, moving between the dense bramble bushes and the path as is their custom.

I was amused to see a Dunnock come up from the river bank with a small worm in its bill only to be chased into the brambles by some House Sparrows.

Waysides News

Ralph Hollins made a more interesting discovery on the Warblington Underpass wayside (which is the east of the underpass). This was what he thought could be a plant of Blue Fleabane with lots of flower heads though none had as yet put out the ray florets which give the plant its distinctive blue colour. This plants would certainly be an addition to the flower list for this Emsworth Wayside site. Ralph also found Field Madder in flower and at the far end of the underpass tunnel two Gorse bushes both had fresh flowers. Ralph provided this link to the a photo of Blue Fleabane from the internet

Havant Town Millpond

Ralph Hollins also gave some information and a sketch map of the old Havant Town Millpond, now severely truncated to a small pond on the east side of Park Road South opposite the Solent Road junction leading to Tesco's. Interestingly, this is where Water Voles have been seen on several occasions this year. See Fri Dec 27.


Grey Heron on Brook Meadow

The only bird of interest on Brook Meadow today was a Grey Heron that I disturbed as it was fishing in the River Ems near the north bridge. It was still around later when Brian Lawrence got this rather nice photo of it. Grey Heron is not an unusual bird on Brook Meadow, but in fact this is the first ever photo we have had of one on the meadow. So, well done, Brian.


Kingfisher on Peter Pond

This morning I had a walk through Brook Meadow and down to Gooseberry Cottage where the flooding had subsided. Looking across Peter Pond from the A259 I spotted a Kingfisher perched on the bird table that David Gattrell has strategically placed in front of the northern reedbed. It was a long way away, but here is my best photo with my 12x zoom Lumix. By the time I had walked back down the path towards Gooseberry Cottage it had flown. Brian Lawrence told me he had seen one on this table a couple of weeks ago, so this should be a good spot to see one. Ros Norton also saw one Peter Pond on Dec 2. This was my first Kingfisher of the winter.

Water Rail on Baffins Pond

Eric Eddles had a good sighting of a Water Rail on Baffins Pond, Portsmouth this morning. Baffins Pond is a particularly good place to see and photograph this normally very elusive bird. Eric also saw a pair of Chiffchaffs in the reed bed on the south east corner of the pond.


Swans on millpond

John Vickers was interested to see at least ten swans, plus the cygnet, on the pond this morning. He wonders if the weather conditions have begun to tempt them back. In any case the cygnet seems to be pretty independent of its parents now.

I think it will be interesting to watch what happens as spring approaches. There does seem to be a fairly determined pair of intruders that are vying for dominance with the pair that nested here last spring. There could be trouble ahead!

More flooding

In addition to yesterday's news of flooding around Emsworth, Anne de Potier added that Selangor Avenue and the garage on the corner of Nore Farm Avenue also got it bad again, and some the houses at the north end of Barn Close are unable to flush their loos as the drains won't take any more fluid.

Hayling beach combing

We are very grateful to Chris and Ann Oakley for drawing to our attention the great variety of objects that the recent stormy weather has thrown up onto our beaches. They went for a Christmas morning walk along Hayling beach and found . . . "a beach comber's paradise". There were still lots of Whelk egg cases but today these were outnumbered by hundreds of Starfish, as well as Sea Urchins, Sea Anemones, Sea Slugs, sponges, Mermaids' purses (mostly Dogfish) and all sorts of detritus both natural and human. They also found a six legged Starfish and wondered if this was a variety or a kind of nautical lucky four-leaved clover? Does anyone know?

Sea Urchin tests or skeletons are what is left when the animal dies. The white tubicles are where the spines were attached and radiating lines of small holes where the tube feet projected.

Mermaids' purses are the horny egg capsules of skates, dogfish and rays. They are 2-10cm long, roughly rectangular with a bulge in the middle and, in the case of dogfish, with long tendrils that help the capsule attach to seaweed. The egg capsule is tough enough to survive the 5-11 months needed before the hatchlings emerge. The natural habitat for dogfish purses is attached to seaweed below the waterline. However, they are often washed inshore where the developing embryo has little likelihood of surviving.

Although Starfish live underwater they are not fish. They do not have gills, scales, or fins like fish do and they move quite differently from fish. While fish propel themselves with their tails, sea stars have tiny tube feet to help them move along. Apparently, thousands of dead Starfish have been washed up on the beaches of Kent and Sussex in the past week.
Here is a link to a Daily Mail report . . .

Not all sea stars have 5 arms. While the five-armed varieties of sea star are the most well known some have many more, eg the sun star has up to 40 arms! Also, the starfish is able to regenerate arms that are lost. This might account for Chris's strange six armed creature



Bridge Road

Last night's storm produced flooding in the Emsworth area. I live in Bridge Road which has been particularly vulnerable in the past to flooding from the Westbrook Stream which runs to the east of the road. Our back garden was flooded when we got up this morning, but it did not touch the house and gradually drained away. Bridge Road itself was not flooded when I walked down later, though a local householder told me that there was a bad flood early this morning which covered the south end of the road and the car park. However, unlike in previous years, the flood waters quickly cleared. The Environment Agency clearly have cracked this particular problem by making sure the culvert is large enough to take the flood water into the millpond, which itself is kept empty at critical times. I was amazed at the huge pile of debris that the workers had cleared from the grill at the end of St James Road.

Brook Meadow

I had a phone call this morning from Pam Phillips to say the meadow was flooded like she'd never seen it before. So, I put on my wellies and went over with the camera. The main river was raging and the south meadow totally flooded like I have not seen since the big flood in Year 2000. The lower part of the south meadow near the south gate was waist deep in water, reaching almost up to the signcase window. The river had also flooded Palmer's Road Copse and the path was completely inaccessible.

Gooseberry Cottage

The biggest shock was to see Gooseberry Cottage in the centre of a lake with the garden totally flooded. It has never been this bad since year 2000. This photo was taken from the path near the Lumley Gate on Brook Meadow looking across the garden of Gooseberry Cottage.

I spoke to Verity Ingrams who owns the cottage and she confirmed that the new section of the house, which had been built higher than the old house, had been inundated for the time ever. This photo shows the old part of Gooseberry Cottage.

There was a fire engine present when I passed that was pumping out the house.

Other areas

Lumley Road was also flooded, though this is not unusual. The bottom of Queen Street was fairly clear of water by the time I arrived at about 10am. Houses at the bottom of Brook Gardens had also been flooded by water pouring down the street from the stream which runs to the west of the houses. This is the stream that runs into the harbour at Nore Barn. See . . .

Finally, a nice image to end on was the flowering of Winter Heliotrope on the south west corner of Peter Pond.


Update on Hogboy the Hedgehog

Graham Petrie provided the following up date on the Hedgehog he is looking after, which he has named Hogboy. See previous posting on Dec 12. "Hogboy is now weighing in at 556 grams as shown in the following photo. The weight increase stalled for a couple of days before we realised to up his food intake, he seems good, not coughing at the moment. "

"Interesting to see BBC news this week agreeing with some of my earlier comments regarding the late broods due to the mild weather, hopefully will save a few more if people are more aware. The little guy does need some looking after, a full clean out every two days, and regular water changes, he has a tendency to wee and poo in his own food and drink, probably trying to tell us something!"


Personal note

I had an hour on the operating table yesterday afternoon with the surgeon sewing everything back together after the removal of a tumour from the eyelid of my right eye. Hopefully all is now clear and the healing process can get going. But the patch is back on and, as a result, my wildlife watching is much curtailed. The following observations were made yesterday morning, but I did not feel like doing the blog. But here it is slightly delayed.



10:30 -11:30 - I got to Nore Barn with the tide rising quickly to high water at 13:00. The mouth of the stream was crowded with birds as it usually is with Brent Geese, Wigeon and Black-tailed Godwits dominating along with the regular flock of 12 Mute Swans. The Spotted Redshank was feeding alone in the shallow waters of the upper stream throughout my visit. It flew off just as I was leaving at about 11:30. A Rock Pipit came onto the beach when I was watching the godwits, but it was too quick for me to get a photo. Peter Milinets-Raby has also had one in this area on Dec 14.

Brent Geese

I watched several skeins of Brent Geese fly overhead from the harbour to come down on the fields to the west of Maisemore Gardens. The photo shows one such skein coming down over the thicket north of Nore Barn.

John Norton was also in the area and saw the flock of 350 Brent Geese tucked into the NE corner of the large arable field next to Barn Close and mostly hidden from view from the footpath to the west (Grid Ref: SU 737057). John found a strongly marked Black Brant at the edge of the Brent flock on higher ground, presumably the one that Peter Milinets-Raby saw on 14th.

Black-tailed Godwits

I counted a total of 86 Black-tailed Godwits. As many of them were feeding in water I was only able to check about half of them for colour-rings and found 5 with rings. G+WR, R+GL, R+YN and WO+LW flag are all regulars in Emsworth this winter, but L+LN was one I have not seen here since last August. It has been to Kent in the meantime where Dudley Hird recorded it on 25-Sep-13. Lots of 'spurting' was going on while the godwits were feeding in water. Here is just one example.

Whelk egg-case

I spotted a Whelk egg-case on the shore near the end of Warblington Road. It is yellowish in colour suggesting the presence of young embryos. Chris and Ann Oakley found large numbers of these egg-cases washed up on Hayling beach yesterday - see yesterday's entry for photo.


Brian Lawrence got this image of a Cormorant struggling with what looks like a Flounder fish on Peter Pond. Brian said the bird did manage to swallow the fish in the end.

Romney Turner was on Farlington Marshes where she caught this small group of Oystercatchers flying overhead.



Conservation work session

I went over to Brook Meadow this morning mainly to take some photos of the work session. Ten volunteers were present on a fine morning. Here they are ready to go with their spades.

The meadow was very wet after last night's rain, so the work took place on high ground. The main jobs were clearing grass from the steps behind the seat and from the main river path and litter picking.

Wildlife observations

A Song Thrush was singing strongly from the Lumley area when I arrived. I noticed the first Winter Heliotrope flowers of the winter on Brook Meadow were open on the edge of the main path just north of the sluice gate.

Christmas party

After the work session we were invited to Ted and Penny's place for the traditional mulled wine and mince pies which were very good indeed. The group presented both Penny and me with Christmas gifts in gratitude of the our contribution to the conservation project over the past 14 years. Here am I (wounded eye and bag of gifts) with Ted enjoying a glass or two!

A full report of the work session plus more photos are on the Brook Meadow web site at . . .



Chris and Ann Oakley had a walk along Hayling beach this morning. It was a perfect winters day with great rollers pounding up the shore. It is certainly a great beach for waves. They watched Herring Gulls and Carrion Crows chasing the waves for food and a small flock of Sanderling with a few Turnstone skittering along the waters edge.

They were surprised at just how many of the Sanderling were carrying identification rings, red, blue, yellow and white, in various combinations. These were most likely from the big catch of Sanderling and Ringed Plover by Pete Potts and his ringing team at Black Point on 22 Sep 2011.

Whelk egg cases

Chris and Ann also noted an astonishing number of Whelk egg cases scattered over the beach, looking a bit like bath sponges. They were washed up on the beach by last night's storm.

These cases look yellow in the photo which probably means there are some baby Whelks still inside; they would be grey if the whelks had already hatched. This must account for the fact that gulls and crows were pecking at them, looking for the odd left over embryo. One interesting feature about baby Whelks is that they are cannibalistic; the first whelks to hatch feed on the other eggs until only about 10 fully formed young finally emerge from the original 1,000 eggs that were laid.


Coots in harbour

During a walk around Emsworth Millpond this morning I noted the first signs of a build up of wintering Coot in the harbour. There were just 13 Coot this morning near the quay and another 12 outside the marina entrance, but I expect numbers to build up as winter progresses and inland lakes freeze up.

Garden Greenfinch slump

The latest issue of Bird Table, the BTO magazine for Garden BirdWatchers reports a big decline in Greenfinches at garden feeding stations. Although the overall fall in Greenfinch reporting rate since the outbreak of trichomonosis disease in 2006 has levelled off in recent years (ie participants recording the birds as present) the mean flock size has reached its lowest level ever at about 1.5. Another thing also stands out in the figures which is the lack of any autumn increase in Greenfinch numbers that used to be an important feature of Garden BirdWatch counts. What this indicates is that overall the Greenfinch population has severely diminished though a few still survive.

The overall BTO results are mirrored by my own garden counts as shown in the following chart which shows how the mean weekly count of Greenfinches over the year has dropped from 9.6 in 2006 to 0.5 last year.

This year's sightings indicate no significant change with a total of 31 birds recorded over 48 weeks so far for a mean of 0.6. The maximum number seen at any one time was 4 which is in sharp comparison with the 20 to 40 in the years up to 2006 and a peak of 54 in year 2003. The sunflower heart feeders were always packed with Greenfinches in those days, but now they are dominated by Goldfinches.

The same basic trends are also shown in the BTO results for the CBC and BBS as shown in the following chart. However, it is interesting to note there was a similar trough in Greenfinch population in the mid 1980s from which it recovered, so maybe the same will happen again.



11:30 - 12:30 - High water at 11:10. I walked from home along Western Parade to Nore Barn. Men were working on the path to the west of the Emsworth Sailing Club building, though it was still possible to walk through. Sea was dead calm like a millpond with a low watery sun glistening on the water. A tranquil scene.

Brent Geese

As I was walking towards Nore Barn a large flock of Brent Geese came over the woods from the fields to the west of Maisemore Gardens. I had been told by local residents that Brent Geese had been feeding in these fields, which clearly has important implications for planning decisions regarding housing development on the fields. They all came to rest on the calm water in the creek south of the woods where I was able to do a rough count of 620. As I only had my binoculars and one eye to see with (the other eye still has a patch over it) aging the birds was not as easy as usual. However, I managed to age most of the flock and found 24 juveniles.

Sandwich Terns

While at Nore Barn, I could hear terns calling and spotted at least two Sandwich Terns flying over the sea, but not fishing. On Dec 7, Peter Milinets-Raby saw 12 winter plumaged Sandwich Terns fishing and resting on the buoys at Nore Barn. On the HOS sightings Andy Johnson reported 16 Sandwich Terns in the mouth of Chichester Harbour on Dec 14. Ralph Hollins wonders if these all these sightings represent a new Hampshire record for the number of Sandwich Terns wintering in the Solent Harbours, or are they examples of late passage? Ralph thinks they are passage birds.


Chris Oakley took a walk around Brook Meadow on a dismal, damp afternoon in the hope of catching sight of the Water Rail, but had no luck. It is a very elusive bird, it's there one moment and gone the next. Chris observed that someone had placed a small Christmas wreath alongside the memorial plaque on the north bridge in memory of the two airmen who died over Brook Meadow in the second World War. A very nice touch, he thought and I agree.

He also discovered a lovely clump of Oyster mushrooms on a log by the river and was very tempted to try one but left them alone. Thanks, Chris. Oyster mushroom is a new addition to the Brook Meadow fungi list, though I must admit this list is far from complete. My book says they are good flavour and firm fleshed and are often cultivated.


Slipper Millpond

Passing Slipper Millpond this morning I could see that the wooden framework on the centre raft had been completed and what looked like wires wewre stretched across the whole length of the raft. Two Cormorants were on the raft, one perched on a cross trestle, so clearly they have not been detered by the structure.

But what about the Great Black-backed Gulls? There was no sign of them this morning. However, I had an e-mail from Nick Medina this to say at 1,30pm he had seen two Great Black-backed Gulls circling the raft and making a lot of noise but not landing. So, it looks as if it might be working.

Here is the design of the structure from Nick Medina.


Water Rail

Pam Phillips saw the Water Rail at 4pm yesterday when it was wet and gloomy. It was walking along the river bed about 10yds south of the S bend. When it saw Pam's umbrella it ran to the bank. Pam saw it there again at 7.30am today and thinks it must like the twilight. This takes the total number of sightings this winter to 14. All the recent ones have been in the area between the gasholder and the sluice gate.

Nore Barn to Warblington

Peter Milinets-Raby did his usual walk this morning from Nore Barn to Pook Lane and returned via Warblington Church. High tide (at 9am) forced him to move inland, so it was a slightly different route than usual, but he visited all the usual fields etc. Peter started at pre dawn at 7:45am. The sun came up at 7:58am and what a glorious sunrise it was.

Nore Barn: Tide pushing in. The Spotted Redshank was initially in the stream, but left just before the sun came up. 10 Mute Swans. 132 Teal loafing about on the water. 168 Brent Geese. 172 Wigeon. Rock Pipit. At the top end of the Nore Barn channel a flock of 162 Black-tailed Godwits were roosting until pushed off by a dog. They returned briefly before moving away to a safer roost.

Conigar Point: In the fields behind the point were a winter male Reed Bunting, 38 Linnets and 19 Skylarks. With Cetti's Warbler seen along the hedgerow. 22 Shelduck, 8 Pintail, 88 Brent Geese with a nice surprise amongst them; a Black Brant (probably the Hayling bird, but I have not seen it or photos so can not be certain).


Off Pook Lane: male Goldeneye, Rock Pipit, 47 Wigeon, 112 Brent Geese.

Warblington cemetery: 2 Fieldfare, 6+ Song Thrush feeding the Yew trees, 3 Mistle Thrushes , 20+ Blackbirds. A Green Sandpiper and a Grey Wagtail had a brief flight over the cress beds at Castle Farm.

And there were 39 Curlew, 6 Stock Doves and 6 Meadow Pipits in the big field on the walk back to Nore Barn. Back at Nore Barn for 10:20am and only one Sandwich Tern seen plunge diving.

Editorial Note on the Black Brant.

There is a good deal of debate among experts about the identification of a Black Brant - Branta (bernicla) nigricans. See . . . Generally one looks for bright white flanks contrasting with a very dark belly (there is much less contrast in the Dark-bellied Brent Goose) and a broad white neck band sometimes merging at the front. However, these features are variable in Black Brant and to complicate matters there are hybrids with Dark-bellied Brent Geese which are less distinct. Peter's bird certainly has white flanks, though one can't see the belly. However, the very narrow neck band raises the possibility of a hybrid. Here is a much better example of a Black Brant that Peter took in January last winter in Southsea.

Farlington Marshes

Romney Turner got some interesting photos during a walk around Farlington Marshes recently. Here is a white goose that Romney has seen several times at Farlington associating with Canada Geese. This presumably was one of the two white geese seen by Ralph Hollins on Oct 6. Ralph thought they were not albino Canadas, though the images on the internet do closely match the bird taken by Romney. Ralph said they were present on the reserve last winter.

Romney also caught this Black-tailed Godwit in an unusual position. Or is it practising a synchronised swimming routine?

And four Red-breasted Mergansers in flight.

Whisp of Snipe

Tony Wootton got this interesting image of a whisp of six Snipe during the Havant Wildlife Group walk at Titchfield Haven today.

Wikipedia provide a useful list all the collective names for birds and other creatures at . . .


Brook Meadow

I am currently somewhat incapacitated following an operation on my right eye which has a big patch on it.

The eye is still patched up but I am feeling more confident about getting out, so I ventured onto Brook Meadow on this dull and slightly misty morning which had a watery sun glinting through the clouds. So peaceful.

It was so good to hear several Robins singing their wistful autumn songs in different parts of the meadow. Even better was the far bolder strains of a Song Thrush emanating from the railway embankment. Song Thrush is an intermittent winter songster and the last one I heard on the meadow was on Nov 28.

I kept my one eye on the river bank as I walked down the raised path and was pleased to get a brief but definite sighting of a Water Rail scuttling along the edge of the west bank just north of the old gasholder. It was out for not more than 15 seconds before it slunk away into the dense brambles on the bankside not to emerge. No chance of a photo.

It was good to see the Cow Parsley still flowering well on the causeway. Nearby the Gorse bush has several open flowers.

Slipper Millpond

Slipper Millpond was living up to its name this morning, flat calm and providing a fine array of reflections from the surrounding houses. This photo is looking south from the western path towards the mill house.

I was interested to see a couple of chaps from the Slipper Millpond Preservation Association constructing a low wooden framework on the centre raft which presumably will hold some sort of cover as a barrier to the future nesting of the Great Black-backed Gulls. It will be interesting to see what has been decided.

Tony's news

Yesterday (Dec 11) Tony Wootton went to Titchfield Haven and photo'd a warbler which a volunteer warden thought was a Willow Warbler. This is very unlikely, even at Titchfield Haven! Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff are notoriously difficult to separate even when seen very well (except by their songs); you need to compare the projections of their primary feathers. But, any warbler of this nature seen in winter is almost certainly a Chiffchaff as all Willow Warblers go back to Africa - sensible birds.

Tony also got this great shot of a flock of Dunlin coming into land on one of the lakes, giving a good impression of a rather unruly ballet de corps dancing on air.

In the afternoon Tony went down to Thorney Little Deeps hoping for Bearded Tits but did not see any. However, he did get this shot of a Black-headed Gull that thinks it's a Gannet.

Graham's Hedgehogs

As reported on Dec 6 the Hedgehog that Graham Petrie's found in his garden sadly died, but he discovered another one in much better health which he has named 'Hogboy'. Here is the latest news up date from Graham about the little fellow:

"I took Hogboy to the 'Little Prickles Hedgehog Sanctuary' in Portchester today to get him checked over and have a couple of big ticks removed from the side of his head. The nice lady that runs the place said he looked pretty healthy and was happy with his weight gain. We picked him up a fortnight ago at 350 grams and he now has a weight of 480 grams. She stated that 650 grams would be ideal for hibernation. She also confirmed that he is indeed a male.


He has coughed a couple of times today which may be just because he is a bit dry because of the straw we use for bedding (and the dust being moved about with the car journey); she did say that we need to ensure that the coughing does not become excessive as this would indicate Lungworm which is easily treated with antibiotic injections which she is happy to provide if needed. He is also back inside the house to keep him a bit warmer as the nights have turned colder and we need to ensure that he does not hibernate too early while he is underweight." 

Declining state of UK's birds

The latest State of the UK's Birds report published recently by the RSPB shows that many of the most familiar countryside birds are experiencing 'plummeting population declines', compared with the 1990s. Of the 107 most common breeding birds16 have declined by more than one third since 1995, including Willow Tit, Starling, Cuckoo, Lapwing, Whinchat and Wood Warbler. Many of these species are reliant on habitats in the so-called 'wider countryside', rather than being maintained on special sites such as nature reserves. Of particular concern is that the numbers of both Grey Partridge and Turtle Dove have halved since 1995.

However, the report is not all bad news. Following its reintroduction into England and Scotland and its ongoing recovery in Wales the Red Kite has increased by 676 % since 1995. Among songbirds, the Goldfinch and the Blackcap have also increased their populations since 1995 by 109% and 133% respectively.

Link . . .

Starlings at Blashford

Following the sighting of a nice display of Starlings going to roost in Chichester by Roy Hay (see Dec 6), Trevor Carpenter has posted a few pictures of a much bigger roost at Blashford Lakes into his Picasa Albums at the link below. These photos give some idea of the vast numbers involved. Counts estimate around 500,000 birds, though the roosts at Somerset Levels are probably twice that number. 


Emsworth Harbour (east)

11:00 - 12:00 - Low water. I started on the millpond seawall and walked to Nore Barn. The tide was pretty well right out. High water at 16:30.

From the millpond seawall: 46 Black-tailed Godwits mostly roosting on the edge of the channel, some feeding on the mudflats. 4 Greenshank busily feeding in the low water channel, none with rings. One adult Great Black-backed Gull - probably one of the Slipper Millpond nesting pair. 12 Lapwing on the seaweed islands. 12 Coot. Others included, Little Egret, Brent Geese (only a few), Turnstone, Redshank, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull.

Emsworth Harbour (west)

Western mudflats: 23 Black-tailed Godwits, 4 Pintail, Ringed Plover 2 (my first of the winter in Emsworth). Nore Barn: lots of Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal. One Common Redshank in the low water stream.

On the Ivy flowers at the end of Warblington Road and on the bush just past the interpretation board in the woods. Plenty of Drone Flies, Bluebottles and Common Wasps and one Buff-tail Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) with bulging pollen sacs.

Two Collared Doves were singing strongly in Nore Barn Woods.

I met Raynor with his young daughter Rose at Nore Barn. He told me he had just seen a Red Admiral near the gardens overlooking the harbour. He also told me he saw a flock of 12 Common Scoter while canoeing in the main channel last week.

Other news

Tony Wootton went to look for Bearded Tits at Thorney Little Deeps this afternoon, but saw none and heard none. He did hear Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler. Tony got this excellent photo of a small group of Greenshank in flight.

Tony also got this image of what looks like a juvenile Sparrowhawk.

Barry Collins and Margaret had the colour-ringed Spotted Redshank W+GY at Nutbourne Marshes this afternoon.

Peter Milinets-Raby sent me a record photo of a Sandwich Tern perched on buoy - one of 12 that he saw there on Dec 7.


Dead worms mystery

Maurice Lillie has been seeing a large number of dead worms during his walks around Emsworth. He first noticed them on Slipper Road, the morning after the high tide two days ago and thereafter he says they are almost everywhere; Lumley Road, Main Road and on Brook Meadow. He also noticed a number of very small fish along the Main Road side of the Slipper Mill Pond wall. He thought they must have been victims of the recent surge of sea water.

Also, on the day after the surge and the flooding (Dec 6), Pam Phillips reported dozens of dead worms at the back of Lillywhite's Garage on the footpath. She also thought they were drowned during the recent floods.

However, when I put the question 'Can worms drown?' into Google it came back with the emphatic answer NO! Here is one explanation: "Worms breathe through their skin, and have lots of capillaries circulating blood near the surface to do this. Being small, they don't usually have immense air requirements. So usually in the top parts of the soil where they live there's enough air for them to get by. Depending on the content of the water, there may also be plenty of oxygen for them to get by as well. The interface in a worm's skin can extract oxygen from fluid about as well as the air. So if there's enough oxygen in the water (as there usually is in rain water) it's no obstacle at all. In fact, worms have been observed to survive in water-saturated soil for months."

So, maybe, it was the salt water from the sea that killed them? More internet research concluded that this was the likely answer as salt upsets the balance of chemicals just underneath the earthworm's skin, and dries it out. Apparently, this is why earthworms are no good for sea fishing.


Nore Barn to Warblington

Peter Milinets-Raby walked from Nore Barn and along the shore to Pook Lane, then back via Castle Farm and the church at Warblington (11:35am to 2:30pm with high tide at 2pm).

Nore Barn: Usual stuff present but no numbers counted due to too much disturbance. However of note were 17 Pintail, 5 Little Grebes, 2 female Red Breasted Merganser, 30+ Black-tailed Godwits (one coloured ring: W - R/WN). Unusually a Grey Plover was in the pond field with 10 Teal, a Redshank and a Rock Pipit.

Off Conigar Point: 170 Teal, Sandwich Tern, 14 Pintail, 511 Brent Geese (most of these flew in from Hayling and after a wash flew back again), 91 Wigeon, 24 Lapwing, Knot, 3 Dunlin and 7 Grey Plover on last piece of exposed mud. 14 Shelduck, 7 female Red Breasted Merganser, Rock Pipit. In fields behind point, 9 Stock Doves, 1+ Skylarks, 11 Linnets.

Off Pook Lane: Male Goldeneye, 9 Shelduck, 4 Black-tailed Godwits, 17 Wigeon, 396 Brent Geese grazing in a field here. with a single Oystercatcher and 7 Curlew.

Warblington Church: 15 Song Thrush feeding on Yew Tree berries (probably more).

Castle Farm: 14 Stock Doves. Huge field east of Castle Farm had 14 Curlew and 32 Golden Plover.

When Peter returned to Nore Barn it was high tide (2pm) and 12 winter plumaged Sandwich Terns were fishing and resting on the buoys! Here is one of them.


Nore Barn

11:30 Tide well in. Spotted Redshank and Greenshank feeding close together in the flooded stream.

I counted 104 Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the saltmarshes at the top of Nore Barn Creek. I am not sure if this is a regular high water roost. Most were either resting on one leg or in water, but I picked out 3 regular colour-ringed birds: G+BG, G+WR and W+WN.

Wild flowers

I walked round the shore towards Warblington to have a look at the field inside the seawall at Conigar Point where Ralph Hollins found 14 species flowering on Nov 29. I did not see that many, but I did find a few to take my personal December wild flower list to 31 species - see full list at . . . Winter flowering plants. Ralph is still well ahead of me with 50 species up to Dec 3 from the Havant area.

Particularly prominent on the Conigar Point field was Field Woundwort.

Winter Heliotrope is now opening its flowers on the A259 embankment

Hedgehog update

This afternoon I met Graham Petrie who was on his way back from a guided Hampshire Wildlife Trust walk down the west side of Thorney Island, where he had good views of Bearded Tits at the Little Deeps. He told me that the Hedgehog he had in his garden (reported here on Nov 29) did not survive. However, he has another one in his garden which looked far more healthy and is being housed, fed and generally tended to by Graham. He believes they have been disturbed in hibernation by local building work.

Blackbird song

On the way home from the shops in Emsworth at about 1pm this afternoon, I heard a Blackbird singing from the large Yew tree in the garden at the bottom of West Street. This was my first Blackbird song of the winter period. Ralph Hollins heard his first full Blackbird song on Nov 30 from Southmoor Lane in Havant, so it looks as if they might be starting up generally. Blackbird intermittently sings in mid winter, often with a subdued 'subsong', but does not begin its full territorial song until mid February.

Pam's news

Pam Phillips saw a Water Rail this morning at the back of the Williams unit just north of the S-bend. She also saw a Fox on the west bank going along to the industrial units where all the rubbish is.

She said there was a lot of water in the south east corner of the meadow and in the Lumley wet area after last night's sea surge. At the back of Lillywhite's on the footpath there are dozens of dead worms, presumably drowned when the sea came over.

Starlings display

Roy Hay sent me a video he had taken of a pre roost flight display by a large flock of Starlings from Chichester railway station at about 16.15 yesterday. Quite spectacular. I had no idea we could see such a good display locally. Sorry, I cannot include the video in the blog as it is too big, but I have suggested to Roy that he puts it onto You Tube.

Here is the link to the Starlings on YouTube . . .


Nore Barn birds

10:00 - 11:00 - I got to Nore Barn as the tide was rising to high water in about 2 and a half hours. There was a very strong and chilly wind blowing from the north west and I needed to find a sheltered spot behind the bushes to view the birds in the harbour. Much as yesterday, hundreds of birds were massing in the mouth of the stream, a most impressive sight. They were mostly Wigeon, Teal, Brent Geese and Black-tailed Godwits along with some Black-headed Gulls, all of which are represented in this snapshot.

Towards the end of the session when the tide was really high most of the Brent Geese went up and flew off towards the saltmarshes.

I did not do a formal count of the godwits, but I would say there were about the same number as yesterday ie 100+. I also noted 7 colour-ringed birds, all regulars in Emsworth this winter. This is clearly a steady flock. Three of them I saw yesterday, W+WN, WO+LW flag and ROL+RLR, plus three other regulars, G+WR, R+GL, R+LG and R+YN.

Water Rail on Brook Meadow

Pam Phillips saw a Water Rail running along the river at 7.30am today. It headed towards the "S" bend and overtook a moorhen !

Tony Wootton spent a couple of hours later in the morning and also saw what was probably the same Water Rail with its two Moorhen friends near the gasholder. This is the best image we have had of this winter's bird.

Avocets at Nutbourne

Tony Wootton also went to Nutbourne for the Avocets at high water. The tide was already well in when he arrived and at first glance there was hardly a bird to be seen. A few Dunlin, Turnstones, Brent and some lovely Pintails.

Here are a few Dunlin in flight, showing the characteristic white wing bars and white edges to rump and tail.

The Avocets were all together out on the water bobbing up and down. Every now and again they would fly off to Thorney only to return. Beaten by the wind? Tony's photo shows 62 birds in flight! That is the best number so far by far. I suggested to Tony that he submits the sighting and photo to the SOS Sightings.


Nore Barn

09:30 - 10:30 - I arrived at Nore Barn this morning with the tide rising to high water at about 12 noon. It was to be a big one at 5.0 metres. There were masses of birds milling around the entrance to the stream with Wigeon, Teal and Black-tailed Godwits dominating. This photo shows a few of them in the rapidly filling stream.

I counted a total of 104 Black-tailed Godwits including four colour-ringed birds: W+WN and WO+LW flag have been regularly seen over the past month, but G+BG and ROL+RLR have not been seen since Nov 5. The latter is a Kent ringed bird which makes me wonder if they have been on a trip to Kent, as sometimes happens. I will check with Dudley Hird the regular Kent godwit watcher.

I counted 160 Brent Geese including the two regular families with two and one juveniles respectively. This takes my breeding productivity for this season so far to 6.68%.

As the incoming tide filled up the stream two Spotted Redshanks were feeding in company with a small group of Mute Swans. The redshanks appeared to be fairly friendly, though I did notice some half-hearted chasing from one of them (presumably the resident) - the one on the left in the photo. They both flew off together when the stream was full.

I was interested to see the Mute Swans drinking the fresh water in the stream; this must be one of the things that attracts them (and other birds) to the area.

By the time I left at about 10:30 the stream was almost full, leaving only the small herd of 11 Mute Swans swanning in, including the cygnet from the Peter Pond nest. Such a peaceful scene.

Brook Meadow

Malcolm Phillips could only spend half an hour on the meadow this morning, but managed to capture this fine image of a Little Egret perched in a tree. This egret has been a very regular visitor to the meadow this winter, and can often be seen (or usually disturbed) in the river.

Avocets at Nutbourne

Barry Collins reported at least 48 Avocets roosting during the high tide period in Nutbourne Bay on Dec 1st.



Two Water Rails

After 2 visits to the meadow today Malcolm Phillips finally got to see not just one Water Rail but two! They were to the north of the S bend and both took off flew about 20 yrds up to the gas holder. Malcolm stood there for about an hour to get a poor quality photo as the light was very low. What patience that man has. The two Water Rails appeared to be quite happy together with two Moorhens. Malcolm did not manage to get the two Water Rails together, but here is one swimming quickly.


Cow Parsley flowers

When I walked through the meadow this morning I noticed Cow Parsley was in flower on the side of the causeway leading to the Lumley gate. The odd plant often does flower at this time of the year, which could be described as late autumn or early spring. Ralph Hollins usually sees a few in flower in the Havant area.


Slipper Millpond

There was a Great Black-backed Gull sitting on the nest box on the south raft of Slipper Millpond, presumably one of the nesting pair.

There is no sign of any work having been done as yet to discourage the gulls from nesting on the centre raft this year. The original plan to erect netting over the raft has been dropped due to the danger of the birds becoming trapped by the netting. I have not heard any further ideas.

A Gorse bush is in full flower on the eastern bank of Slipper Millpond, its yellow flowers contrasting well with the bright orange berries of the Pyracantha immediately behind it.


Emsworth Millpond

The Mute Swan cygnet from the 'litter nest' is now looking very good, despite its rather traumatic early days.

Its parents continue to patrol the pond with wings raised to deter intruders. However, this afternoon I noticed a mini confrontation between the resident pair and a pretty determined looking invading pair. Clearly, the resident pair have a fight on their hands.

Here are two opposing males posturing towards each other.

December flowering wild plants

I noted the following wild flowers during my walk through Emsworth today:
Annual Meadow-grass - general
Common Field Speedwell - Palmer's Road Car Park
Common Mallow - Emsworth Millpond
Common Nettle - Palmer's Road Car Park
Cow Parsley - causeway on Brook Meadow
Daisy - general
Dandelion - general
False Oat-grass - Brook Meadow
Germander Speedwell - on south bridge
Gorse - Slipper Millpond
Greater Periwinkle - Lumley Road
Groundsel - general
Guernsey Fleabane - just finished flowering on Emsworth Millpond
Hogweed - flower heads on Brook Meadow
Ivy - Bath Road
Purple Toadflax - Bridge Road
Sea (Scentless) Mayweed - Emsworth Millpond
Shepherd's Purse - general
Smooth Sow-thistle - general
Wall Barley - Emsworth Millpond
White Dead-nettle - lots everywhere
Winter Heliotrope - just opening on A259 embankment wayside
Yarrow - prominent here and there.

Small Tortoiseshell decline - The role of the Sturmia bella fly

Ralph Hollins points out that although everyone is delighted with the great increase in numbers of this butterfly this year, we should not assume this increase will continue. Ralph provides a link to a paper summarising the controversy that is raging among British lepidopterists about the role played by the Sturmia bella fly in the decline of the Small Tortoiseshell. See . . .

It has long been assumed that this fly which is parasitic on the larvae of Small Tortoiseshell (and certain other butterflies) is the key factor in its recent decline. However, the author of the paper Chris Raper concludes "My feeling is that the Small Tortoiseshell was in decline due to other constraints (than simply the damage from the Sturmia bella fly) - possibly a combination of climate change, habitat destruction and other environmental problems. When Sturmia arrived it provided an additional pressure on an already very weakened population but it is clear that, in Europe (where Sturmia has long been a common native fly) and in some regions of England where the population of Small Tortoiseshell is healthy, Sturmia does not cause a decline in Small Tortoiseshell numbers. Nor does it make sense for any parasitoid to wipe out a host - no host, no parasitoid! I think it is vital that conservationists to make it clear to decision makers and the media that the primary reason that we find ourselves in this position is the same one that we have been preaching for the last 20 years - man's adverse effect on the environment. To label parasitism as a major cause of the decline in Small Tortoiseshell would muddy the waters and provide the enemies of conservation with a convenient scapegoat." 



Water Rail

I had a walk through Brook Meadow this afternoon and found the Water Rail in the exactly the same place that I saw it last time on Nov 30, immediately in front of the old gasholder. This was the 7th sighting of a Water Rail on the River Ems since Nov 15.

Blackbird with white wing

Malcolm Phillips spent two hours on Brook Meadow today looking in vain for the Water Rail. It certainly is an elusive bird if it can manage to hide away from Malcolm! However, Malcolm did get some nice images of other birds, including this male Blackbird with a white wing - partially leucistic? We have had many sightings on Brook Meadow over the years of a female Blackbird with white wing patches, but this one is a male. Such leucism is not uncommon in Blackbirds.


Ros Norton had two sightings of a Kingfisher today. The first was on Brook Meadow flying east to west along the northern section of the river. The second (almost certainly a different bird) was perched on reeds on west side of Peter pond. It flew north east over the pond.


About 100 Black-headed Gulls along with Mallard and Mute Swans, were milling around on the eastern side of the town millpond being fed with bread.

Ringed Black-headed Gull

I noticed that one of the gulls had an engraved white ring on its left leg. I could not read the ring as the birds were constantly on the move, but took lots of photos and got one showing the ring and the engraving. It was EAS6. The right leg had a standard metal ring.

Reporting the colour-ringed gull

I checked the European colour-ringed birding web site to see to whom I should report the sighting. This led me to a Dutch birdwatcher ringer named Frank Majoor to whom I e-mailed the sighting details.

Frank's web site gave lots of information about his ringing activities as well as information about recoveries of his ringed birds. Web site . . . Apparently, most of the Black-headed Gulls which breed in The Netherlands migrate south (Belgium, France and Spain) or southwest (England and Ireland). So this one was probably a Dutch breeder. Frank sent the following link indicating the wintering destinations of the gulls that breed in Holland.

Ringing information: Bird was ringed by Benny Middendorp in Holland at Zoetermeer, Noordhovense pl on 05-Mar-2012. Since then it has been seen 9 times in Holland, all in the ringing area and mostly by Benny. The last sighting before today's was on 17-Jun-2013. Benny sent me this photo of the bird in its breeding plumage with a beautiful brown head.

Benny tells me the bird is a breeding bird from Zoetermeer, Benthuizerplas which is east of Den Haag.
See picture with islands at . . .

Here is the site where the gull was ringed. Looks like home from home?

For earlier observations go to . . November 16-30