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


for January 1-16, 2014

in reverse chronological order



Conservation work session

I went to the meadow this morning mainly to take photos of the regular conservation work session. Twelve volunteers assembled at the Lumley gate where they were briefed on the morning's jobs by Maurice Lillie. The main job was to clear the area to the south of the Seagull Lane patch where the new tool store will be sited.

For a full report on the work session and photos go to . . .


There was plenty of bird song around the meadow, particularly from Robins, with bursts also from Dunnock, Great Tit, Wren and Woodpigeon. Ralph Hollins has heard his first Chaffinch song of the year in Havant, but I have yet to hear one in Emsworth. I also saw Blackbird, Blue Tit and Song Thrush, but no sign of any Firecrest or Water Rail. Hazel catkins are now hanging attractively from the small saplings near the north bridge.

Brian Lawrence was on the meadow looking for wildlife and it was good to see Malcolm Phillips back again after an absence of several weeks due to illness. They did not see anything special, but Malcolm sent me this Greenfinch he got on the south meadow. That's a good start.

River level

The River Ems still running high and the path through Palmer's Road Copse remains flooded. The path through to Lumley Mill from Seagull Lane is also totally flooded.


Chris Oakley was on Hayling beach on a really blustery morning with a rising tide making some dramatic breakers. The beach huts along by the Beachlands amusement park have really suffered through the storms, some entirely destroyed. Chris noted that the Black-headed Gulls are beginning to show signs of summer plumage and saw two with complete black heads.

Dead Guillemot

Chris found the body of a Guillemot washed up with all the debris on the beach.

Guillemot is a highly gregarious seabird in the British Isles nesting mainly on the coasts of Scotland and the north of England. In winter can be seen widely off all coasts, but it is a scarce winter visitor on the south coast. In the past couple of weeks there have been several sightings on the HOS 'GoingBirding' web site of single (live) Guillemots at Hayling Oysterbeds and at the Langstone Harbour entrance. So, the dead bird could be any one of those. See . . .

Whelk egg cases

Chris says the Whelk egg cases are back with a vengeance, hundreds were lying along the upper tide line with the gulls and crows gorging on them. One young Herring Gull seemed to be trying to swallow his whole, not a very appetising bundle it seems.

Ringed Herring Gull

Chris spotted that one of the young Herring Gulls on the bank above the shingle had a clear yellow ring on the left leg with the letters/numbers 5X0B engraved in black and a small alloy ring on the other leg.

I looked up the ringed Herring Gull on at the European Colour-ring Birding web site at . . . After searching through hundreds of Herring Gull ringing schemes I discovered that it had been ringed in this country by Jez Blackburn of the BTO Demography Team. Chris has already reported it to Euring Web Recovery.


Emsworth Harbour

14:30 - I started at Nore Barn and walked to Emsworth Harbour (east) this afternoon with the scope. About 3-4 hours after high water, so the tide was fairly low. A strong westerly wind blowing but the rain held off. There was the usual mixture of Wigeon and Teal on the mudflats and in the channels at Nore Barn along with a few Mute Swans and Brent Geese. There was no sign of any Black-tailed Godwits anywhere.

First Knot of the winter

Walking eastwards along Western Parade I could see a large flock of Knot feeding on the mudflats. They were clustered together, a long way out and the light was poor, so counting was not easy, but I would estimate there was at least 400. They went up and flew around several times while I was watching which was quite spectacular.

Knot are rather dumpy birds and slow in feeding, quite unlike the frantric sewing machine feeding of Dunlin. They are fairly easy to pick out at a distance since they tend to cluster together more so than other small waders ie in knots. Here is a photo of a cluster of Knot that came quite to the shore in Emsworth in January 2010.

Knot tend to turn up in Emsworth Harbour at this stage in the winter. The winter of 2011-2012 was a bumper one when numbers built up from 47 on Jan 2 to a record 1,200 on Feb 13; from that they declined to 50 on Feb 23 and were all gone by the beginning of March. Last winter the peak was 150 on Jan 2.

Brent Goose breeding productivity

I counted 164 Brent Geese in the eastern harbour, including 16 juveniles. This took my overall Brent Goose breeding success for this season to 7.08% - ie proportion of juveniles (84) to adults aged (1186). This proportion is on the low side as shown in the following chart, but certainly much better than last winter when the proportion was only 1.94%. The chart shows the proportion of juveniles to adults in each winter from 1988 to 2013.

The Coot flock in the main channel near the quay was up to 42, which was the highest so far this year, but still well behind previous years. Just 10 Lapwing were roosting on the seaweed islands in the main channel.

Aldsworth Pond

Chris Oakley took a cycle ride over to Aldsworth pond this afternoon. He was very pleased to see 12 Tufted Ducks, six each, male and female, one Shelduck, several Coots and Mallard. Best of all was a Peregrine Falcon, which circled the pond and flew off to the south. The only other bird was one hen Pheasant.

Chris said "the water coming off the pond and under the road was really roaring through almost to the top of the culvert. All the streams, gulleys and ponds are full to the top and what with the water table being at its highest for many months there is nowhere for it to go except into the Ems. No wonder the flooding has been so bad". The water from the Brickkiln and Aldsworth Ponds runs into the main River Ems complex at the mill in Westbourne. The River Ems through Brook Meadow is still running very strongly and Palmer's Road Copse remains flooded. Clearly, there is lots of water still to come.

Hole Punch Clouds

Leslie Winter took this photo of a very interesting cloud formation over Emsworth yesterday afternoon. It was actually featured on the BBC South Today Programme last night just before the weather forecast, but they used someone else's photo!

I gather they are called hole punch clouds and there are lots of very dramatic photos of them on the internet. Wikipedia says they are large circular or elliptical gaps that can appear in cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds when the water temperature in the clouds is below freezing but the water has not frozen. When ice crystals do form this sets off a domino effect causing the water droplets around the crystals to evaporate, thus leaving a large, often circular, hole in the cloud. Because of their rarity and unusual appearance, as well as very little exposure in media, these holes are often mistaken for or attributed to unidentified flying objects.

Ladybird flight ability

The remarkable ability of ladybirds to fly at great height and speed has been demonstrated by new research, based on the examination of radar data. The discovery showed that ladybirds travel at heights of up to around 1,100m and at speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph). This may help to explain why invasive insects to the British Isles, such as the Harlequin Ladybird, have spread so rapidly across the country. The study also suggests that ladybirds are able to travel further in warmer temperatures, suggesting that climatic warming could exacerbate the problems posed by invasive species even further. For more details see . . .


Prinsted to Nutbourne

Anne de Potier had a good afternoon walking from Prinsted to Nutbourne along the seawall and back from 1 to 3pm. She found a colour-ringed Oystercatcher from the Netherlands in the same field as she saw it last February, along with 10 others, 123 Brent and 33 Curlew. On the shore at the end of the Nutbourne shingle spit were 34 Avocets roosting, including one with double green on the tibia of the leg it was standing on. They flew before Anne could read the other leg.

The colour-ringed Greenshank GY+GY which has been coming to Nutbourne here for years was in the usual place in the stream, but although Anne waited for the colour-ringed Spotshank W+GY, which sometimes feeds there, it didn't come. Anne also enjoyed a pair of Stonechats and the many waders out on the mud once the tide had fallen. But she thinks the Black-tailed Godwits have moved again, presumably back to Pagham, though apparently not on the fields.

Hayling Godwits

Caroline French found 86 Black-tailed Godwits in the Texaco Bay North Hayling at 14.15 today, including the following colour-ringed birds. Y//R+BB, R//R+YN, B//R+GO, B//R+LG, B//R+RN, R//R+BN, ROG+RLG. Of these R+YN was fairly regular in Emsworth Harbour up to Xmas, but now the godwits have gone, though they often do move inland at this time of the year, particularly when the weather is wet, presumably to take advantage of the worms, etc. thrown up by the floods. I note that SOS reported 600 Godwits at Pagham Harbour on Jan 5 and 13, so the Emsworth birds could have gone there. There has been no news from Pulborough Brooks where Godwits often go to in wet weather.


Chris Oakley took his usual walk today from Westbourne through the meadows behind Westbourne Avenue to Brook Meadow and on to Peter Pond. The Kingfisher was on the table at the northern end of Peter Pond, but shot off upstream before Chris could get a picture. This has happened a couple of times to me too! But this is a good spot to get a shot of this colourful bird.

Chris noticed some the tulips 'growing' on the swan island on Peter Pond? He says, if you look closely at the photo you can just see the stalks. Clearly, someone threw them away and laying there in the sun the blooms had opened and turned upward toward the light.


Chris took a couple more pictures of the midges in Brook Meadow, in the same place as last time and the result was the same - all facing the one way. See Chris's previous photo on Jan 12. Does anyone know why this is? Maybe, they all fly round and round in a circle? Finally, Chris got this sweet image of a couple of Woodpigeons 'billing and cooing'.



Nore Barn

11:15 - 12:15 - The tide was still well in when I got to Nore Barn (high water was at 09:30). The stream was full of water, but the ever faithful Spotted Redshank was present, feeding on the foreshore. This was my first visit to Nore Barn since Christmas, so I was pleased to see it, though most of its 'friends' had gone.

It had moved into the upper reaches of the stream when I returned about 30 mins later allowing me some nice photo opportunities. The bird was feeding in the centre of the stream which involved it dipping its head well below the surface.

I got one shot of it apparently 'spurting' water from its bill.

See the special 'spurting' page for more details . . . Spurting behaviour

A single unringed Greenshank was feeding in the stream along with the Spotted Redshank, but that was all. There was another Greenshank at the head of the Nore Barn Creek.

I walked along the shore to the south of the woods from where I could see about 50 Brent Geese swimming in the creek. I went through them all with the scope but the Black Brant was not among them. Apart from a few Wigeon and the usual flock of 11 Mute Swans there were no other birds on the water (except for the gulls).

Hogboy News

Graham Petrie writes to say the Hedgehog (Hogboy) that he is looking after is doing well and now weighs over 700 grams. The lady at Little Prickles sanctuary recommended that the little chap should go back into the garage where it is colder and see if he decides to hibernate which would be best for him. The photo was taken a week ago.


Midges query

Chris Oakley has another query, this time about midges. He says, "Like a lot of people, when out and about, I carry a camera and I will snap at anything that's mildly interesting. Yesterday, when I was in Brook Meadow I was being pestered by flights of midges. As well as the usual flapping and flailing at them I thought I'd take a picture. Not my best effort, I must admit, but when I saw it on the screen I realised that, curiously, the insects were all facing the same way - which got me to wondering, why? They were facing north. The wind was very slight and from the south. The sun, which was low in the sky was behind them. Any ideas? Perhaps others could try the same and see if it was just a coincidence. For anyone who wants to try, it's not easy to focus on them, I fixed on the branch they were hovering around."

This is just a small section of the photo that Chris took




Kingfisher on Peter Pond

This morning I was very pleased to meet up with Chris Oakley for the first time on the Gooseberry Cottage path to the east of Peter Pond. Chris said he was delighted to have the community blog as a way of sharing his wildlife sightings with others. While we were chatting a Kingfisher flashed low over Peter Pond and flew up the eastern channel between the reeds, the first Chris had seen at this location. Alas, it did not perch on the table at the head of the pond which would have made a good photo opportunity. The two millponds are excellent places to catch sight of Kingfisher in the winter.

Green Sandpiper

Chris lives in Redlands Lane which is directly opposite the new housing development at Hampshire Farm. During one of his recent visits to the public open space area, Chris saw a small wader on the attenuation pond with a very pronounced white rump when in flight and having a call like 'peep, peep, peep'. This was almost certainly a Green Sandpiper which was a regular in the lower Ems valley between Emsworth and Westbourne when I used to do my surveys there in the early 1990s. It is good to hear that they are still in the area and making use of the new site.

Here is a Green Sandpiper taken by Richard Somerscocks on the deckhouses pond a couple of years ago

Fungi on the A259 embankment - Velvet Shank

I had a closer look at the fungi growing on an old tree stump on the roadside embankment at the rear of Emsworth Surgery which I discovered on a photo I took of the Winter Heliotrope on Jan 8. Based on its bright orange colour and general structure, Ralph Hollins thought the fungus could be Spectacular Rustgill - Gymnopilus junonius which had also recently been discovered growing in Warblington Cemetery. Here is my photo of the Emsworth fungi. The caps are bright orange in colour, glistening and very soft and greasy to touch, unlike the Warblington fungi which appear to be firm.

Ralph Hollins replied - "Now that you have close up photos of both cap and underside there is no doubt that the fungus on the A259 embankment is Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) which usually appears in frosty weather".

Here is a photo of the stem and gills on the underside


Pink Octopus solved

John Bogle answered the query about the 'pink octopus' object that Chris Oakley found on Hayling beach yesterday. He says, "it is actually a fishing lure called a Muppet. Often fished in sets of 3 in a line to try and catch fish such as cod in the UK around wrecks or reefs and I have used them in Norway to catch coalfish and haddock quite successfully. They are also sometimes put on the hook of a single large metal 'park' to add a flash of colour and an extra attraction for the fish. Cod are said to be attracted to red or pink. You also see them in other colours such as black (which Pollack are said to be attracted by), silver and even ones that glow in the dark!"

John also said the Weever fish swallowing another Weever that Romney Turner photographed on Hayling beach on Jan 5 was, in fact, a Sea Scorpion, presumably swallowing another species of fish.



Robin song

Brook Meadow was distinctly spring-like when I walked through this morning with Robins now singing their more vigorous spring song, including this chirpy fellow that I snapped on the brambles by the river.

Most of the singing comes from males, though some females also sing, the two songs being indistinguishable. The songs will probably still be largely territorial, though pairing should be taking place soon and friendly pairs will be appearing in gardens.

Busy Blackbird

I spotted a Blackbird sifting through the dead vegetation on the river bank just north of the observation fence looking for morsels of food no doubt. I always look for the Water Rail, but have not seen anything of it. I'm pretty sure it's gone.

Oaks retaining leaves

I have always been puzzled by the fact that some apparently deciduous trees retain their leaves over the winter period. For example, the now quite tall Oak that you first see when you go through the Seagull Lane gate onto Brook Meadow, which was planted in memory of the husband of Jenny a good friend of Brook Meadow, has never, to my knowledge, lost its leaves in winter. Now I have noticed the Oak sapling that I planted for the Jubilee Year celebration - as shown in the photo - has also retained its leaves, though the others that were planted at the same time have lost theirs.

From the internet I learned that this persistent leaf trait is termed marcescence. There are quite a few members of Quercus family that behave this way - as well as other species, such as, Beech and Hornbeam. The Beech hedge in Bridge Road also retains most of its leaves. Wikipedia indicates some possible benefits of this behaviour in that marcescent leaves may deter grazing animals, help water balance and protect the plant from cold injury.

River levels

Maurice Lillie commented that the River Ems and Lumley stream are both very full at the moment. The Ems is leaching a small flow over the sluice gate into the South Meadow, while the Lumley Stream is forming a surprisingly strong current through the mud of both Peter and Slipper Millponds. The main cause will be an increase in water coming from the aquifers on the chalk downs, but Maurice also wonders if the housing development at Hampshire Farm is contributing.

Maurice noted the appearance of the 'sand bags' arranged to extend the rebuilt brick wall in the northeast corner, presumably put there by the Environment Agency to prevent the river going over the top and flooding the gardens in Lumley Road. However, I fear they will be destined for the river once the lads get sight of them. Too tempting by half.


Millpond Swans

The two pairs of Mute Swans that now dominate the town millpond to the exclusion of all others were confronting each other when I passed this morning. What I assume were the two cobs were circling around each other with wings raised while the pens remained at a safe distance. There was no physical aggression while I was there, but I can see the situation getting more heated as spring approaches and the hormones start to flow. But the pond should be big enough to accommodate two nesting pairs, though there is a severe shortage of natural nesting materials as the resident pair found last year when they constructed their nest largely from bits of litter.

First Sweet Violet

I spotted my first flower of Sweet Violet peeping out from a mass of leaves on the Lillywhite's path wayside by the large brick wall at the back of the Old Flour Mill. Although this was my first Sweet Violet in Emsworth, Ralph Hollins has actually been recording them for a few weeks in St Faith's churchyard in Havant. The Emsworth flower was living up to its reputation as a shrinking violet as lay partly hidden among the large glossy leaves, which I needed to move for a photo.


Chris Oakley took a walk around Sinah Common on Hayling this morning, from the golf course round to the Eastney ferry. He says, "It was a stunning blue sky morning with those incredible clouds that seem to come only with a sea-scape. With a falling tide the gulls were taking full advantage of feeding along the rim. Mostly immature Herring gulls. There were two, or maybe more, Common gulls in with the Black-headed and a smattering of Oystercatchers. I don't count the number of birds. I simply enjoy being among them, whether there are two or twenty-two the pleasure is just the same for me.

Most of the Starfish are gone as are the sea slugs and anemones. Those remaining are beginning to rot leaving waves of pungent aroma. The Whelk egg cases, which I thought had disappeared, seem to have been washed around the corner into the Langstone channel, there are still hundreds of them there. As you turn the corner there is a huge bank of empty Slipper limpet shells. There must be countless millions of them. They form a grey path several hundred yards long"

On the lighter side, Chris came across this unusual specimen which (tongue-in-cheek) he suggested might be a silver-spotted pink octopus. What is it?


Nore Barn to Warblington

Peter Milinets-Raby had a good look around Nore Barn and the Warblington shore this afternoon. He started at 12:25pm and spent an hour walking around Nore Barn Wood and checking the big field. The highlights were as follows;

After a lot of searching of the low tide mud flats and gullies he eventually found the Spotted Redshank out in the Nore Barn channel with 2 Greenshank. In the 'stream' were Common Redshank and Little Egret. 23 Brent Geese with one solitary bird on the big field looking well and truly lost! 52 Wigeon, 7 Grey Plover, 24 Curlew seen heading inland, 2 male and 2 female Gadwall, 10 Shelduck, 37 Teal, 60+ Dunlin, female Red breasted Merganser, Little Grebe. Goose and duck numbers are well down on previous counts at this site indicating a movement of birds inland to flooded fields.

Peter then drove around to the Warblington shore (1:35pm to 3:20pm) and found 4 Little Egrets in one of the fields next to the farm. In the field south of the cemetery were 616 Brent Geese plus the Black Brant, which was probably the same bird that Peter saw on the field north of Nore Barn Woods on Jan 1.

On the mud off the Warblington shore were: 254+ Dunlin, 16 Grey Plover, 27 Common Gulls with 150+ Black-headed Gulls (left over from the storms), 1 Knot, 104 Lapwing, Greenshank (one of the regulars with coloured rings RW/BtagY). In the trickle of water in the channel were: 26 Red Breasted Mergansers fishing in one huge flock with 2 Great Crested Grebes and 1 female Goldeneye.

Rare fungus in Hollybank Woods

A rare (bracket) fungus called Laxitextum bicolor has been discovered in Hollybank Woods. Andy B tells me it was found during a Friends of Hollybank Woods Fungus Foray in November 2013. The walk was led by the Hampshire Fungus group in memory of Tim, their late fungus guru, who died last year. Although this was a first for Hampshire, Andy says Laxitextum bicolor has been recorded in various locations in Hollybank Woods.
More details and a photo are on the web site . . .

Wayside Fungus

Not nearly as rare was the fungi I discovered growing close to the Winter Heliotrope on the A259 embankment in Emsworth yesterday. Based on its bright orange colour and general structure, Ralph Hollins thinks it is probably Gymnopilus junonius. He says Peter Milinets-Raby found some of this fungus in Warblington cemetery on or Nov 4 and Ralph has a photo of it on his web site at . . .

Skylarks over Thorney

Maurice Lillie went for a walk down the Wickor Bank on West Thorney yesterday and heard Skylarks singing and displaying, rising and falling together in perfectly coordinated aerial acrobatics. Here is the best shot Maurice could get of these fast moving birds, but the white sides to the tails are quite distinctive.


Emsworth Harbour

10:30 - 11:30 - The weather was so much better this morning that I was tempted to venture down to the harbour with my scope on my bike. A few waders were feeding in the low water channel near the quay including 2 Grey Plovers and a ringed Greenshank with a tag, though it flew before I could read it. Generally, there was very little to see with the tide right out and with the harbour virtually empty of birds. Most of the Brents, ducks and Godwits will be feeding on inland fields during this very wet weather. Keith Betton reported on Hoslist today an amazing variety and quantity of ducks and waders on the flooded fields behind Pennington Marshes - SZ321929. I suspect our birds will have found a similar good spot.

Brook Meadow

Coming back through Brook Meadow I noticed a Great Spotted Woodpecker prominent and noisy on the west bank of the river. Song Thrush was singing, but nothing else apart from Robins everywhere. Lots of small birds were darting around on the river bank, but no Firecrests as far as I could see. I met Brian Lawrence who had been similarly out of luck on the meadow.

Other observations

The water was low in Slipper Millpond as the sluice gates were open to allow the flood water to escape into the harbour. The new wooden framework and wire construction on the centre raft to discourage the nesting of the Great Black-backed Gulls was clearly visible.

I counted 110 flower spikes of Winter Heliotrope on the A259 embankment in the centre of Emsworth behind the surgery. These plants have been there for many years, well before the verge became an official Emsworth wayside. There is a cluster of orange coloured fungi growing on an old tree stump on the right of the photo. Ralph Hollins thinks it is probably Gymnopilus junonius. He says Peter Milinets-Raby found some of this fungus in Warblington cemetery on or Nov 4.
See Ralph's photo at . . .



Windy walks

I had an afternoon walk through Brook Meadow, down to Slipper Millpond and round the town millpond. It was very windy on the millpond promenade and I had a stop a few times to get my breath. The only bird observation of interest was a Kingfisher on the table at the northern end of Peter Pond near the reedbeds - a regular perching post for this bird.

I noted 16 wild plants in flower during the walk, including the single Greater Periwinkle still looking good on Lumley Road and Winter Heliotrope now fairly abundant on Brook Meadow, Peter Pond and elsewhere.

Chris Oakley also took a short and very blowy walk this afternoon along the harbour wall and on to Nore Barn. The tide being nearly full there wasn't a lot to be seen except a rather nice group of Oystercatchers near the end of Kings Road.

With the water level in the millpond low Chris noted the line of the original embankment near the sailing club signal tower. He asks if anyone knows when the existing wall was built?



Conservation work session

I went over to the meadow this morning for the first conservation work session of the new year. The meadow was extremely wet with large pools in parts. However, it was not raining and conditions were quite good. The main jobs were clearing up some of the damaged Crack Willow branches that had been down, one of which was blocking the river.

Meanwhile, over on Peter Pond, David Gattrell was busy clearing debris out the new channels he had created on the east side of the pond.

Wildlife observations

There was no much of interest on the wildlife front. I combed the river banks for Firecrest which we had at this time last year, but there was no sign of it. No sign of Water Rail either. But Great Tit and Dunnock were singing for the first time this winter.

Better news on Peter Pond where I spotted two Goldcrests busily feeding in the reedbeds to the north of the pond. Here is one of them. Sorry about the photo but they were constantly on the move and my camera is a slow one! At least, one can see what it is.

Hayling beach combing

Following Chris Oakley's discoveries on west Hayling beach (see Dec 25) Romney Turner also found several strange items washed up on the beach, including this dead Weever fish which appeared to have another Weever fish stuck in its mouth! The spines would have made it difficult to get down.

Romney also found what she thought might be a Sea Slug though Peter Gray subseqwuently identified it as a scale worm known as the Sea Mouse Aphrodite aculeata. This is a very appropriate name for this little creature as its back is covered by a dense felt of fine grey hairs. Coarser hairs and bristles run along the sides of the body. Romney threw back it into the incoming tide as it appeared well alive having been in damp seaweed.

Lots of Starfish were dead or dying, what the storm had not battered the Seagulls had been pecking at. Romney also spotted this Sea Anemone with its tentacles drawn back in which she also put it back in the sea.


Emsworth floods

Torrential rain combined with strong winds and exceptional spring tides produced flooding at the usual sites in Emsworth. The sea was coming over the millpond seawall filling up the millpond which meant the water was backing up the Westbrook Stream. The Environment Agency, Havant Borough Council and local householders were monitoring the situation, but as far as I am aware there was no serious flooding in Bridge Road. As for Brook Meadow, the south meadow was flooded as, but not so deeply as it was on Christmas Eve. The bottom of Queen Street was flooded as before with water lapping around the Lord Raglan pub (and inside I gather).

Wildlife news

I have been away visiting family over the New Year and have only just got around to checking my e-mails for local wildlife news. So here goes with a few items.

Westbourne to Brook Meadow - Dec 30

Chris Oakley reports on a walk he did from Westbourne to Brook Meadow on Dec 30.

"It was a fine afternoon after the mornings downpour giving that lovely clear light you find after rain. I spotted a fox on the far side, although it's not unusual to see one, this was the biggest fox I have ever seen, at first I mistook it for a German Shepherd dog. I had just lined up my camera for a shot when two Herons came up from the field and it beat a hasty retreat. The Herons flew off over the motorway toward Brook Meadow. A little later one returned and flopped into a nearby tree. They are such ungainly creatures, I always think there is an element of pterodactyl about them. The store cattle which had been on the meadows for some weeks are now gone leaving the grass very churned and slippery, so I was glad to reach the first underpass and so on to Brook Meadow.

The river water has cleared nicely after the flooding. The fast running water has scoured some of the bank exposing quite a few burrows, I assume they are from the Water Voles. There was also an Egret in the river just south of the bend. The Alders are starting to show their tough little catkins which gives the feeling that spring cannot be too far away. I found another fungus, this apparently is a Many-Zoned Polypore which is quite common but I didn't know if it was on the Brook Meadow list (it is - Brian). The Oyster Mushrooms (previously seen on Dec 17) are now gone."

Nore Barn - Jan 1

Peter Milinets-Raby managed to get some birdwatching in at Nore Barn before the weather turned nasty on New Year's Day. He logged a total of 31 species: 23 Shelduck, 5 Gadwall (that's unusual), 3 Pintail (male with 2 females), 130+ Wigeon, 80+ Teal, 3 Red Breasted Merganser, 200+ Dunlin, 5 Knot, 4 Grey Plover and the ever faithful Spotted Redshank in the mouth of the stream. 760+ Brent Geese, a Black Brant and 21 Curlew were on the huge winter wheat field west of Barn Close (viewed from the footpath that heads north from Nore Barn Wood).

Stoughton - Jan 2

Caroline French did her Winter Thrushes Survey at Stoughton on Jan 2 and was surprised to come across so few thrushes: 8 Blackbirds, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Fieldfare and 1 Redwing. They were nearly all around human habitat, which Caroline rightly notes has a far greater diversity of food sources than the surrounding countryside - an argument I reckon in favour of more housing on so-called 'green' fields?

Caroline said "The highlight of the day was a pair of Stonechats, catching flies from a wire fence running alongside a grass/wildflower margin. I had really nice views as they moved down the fence line ahead of me.

I also came across ten Fallow Deer in Inholmes Wood, which eyed me with suspicion before deciding to take the risk and cross the path in front of me anyway! Most of the farmland on my circuit is planted with winter cereal this year, whereas last year it was mainly oilseed rape". Both these pictures were digiscoped by Caroline - what excellent images they are.

For earlier observations go to . . December 1-31