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


for February 16-28, 2014

in reverse chronological order


Hollybank Woods

10:00 - 11:00 - It was a fine sunny morning, just right for a short walk around our lovely local woodland. The Friends of Hollybank Woods have been very busy coppicing and there are several stacks of Sweet Chestnut poles.

In the Jubilee plantation area to the north of the Holly Lodge clearing the new hedgerow has been reinforced with woven dead hedging and there are some very informative notices explaining what the group are doing.

A fine Mistle Thrush was singing strongly near the southern entrance to the woods when I arrived. Most of the common woodland birds were heard including Buzzard, Green Woodpecker, Jays calling harshly and a couple of Nuthatches. Bluebell leaves are showing well in the usual places, but no sign of any flowers as yet. They won't be out until the end of March at least. Although it was a warm sunny morning I was disappointed not to see any butterflies during the walk.

Mergansers on the millpond

Jennifer Rye reported seeing the male-female pair of Red-breasted Mergansers on the town millpond this morning.

Bumblebees at Stansted

I went back to the Stansted Garden Centre to have another look at the Bumblebees feeding on the arrays of Pansies for sale in the outside area. There were not nearly as many as on Wednesday, but I managed to get a better photo of one which appeared to be asleep. I am fairly sure they are Buff-tail Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).

Wayside flowers

I had a walk along the footpath beside the Southleigh Road (west) wayside. The council really cut this verge closely this year and there is no sign of the bushes and trees which we used to have here. I found several very good patches of flowering Lesser Celandines.

Flowering plants on the traffic island in Horndean Road included Common Stork's-bill, Danish Scurvygrass (with egg-shaped pods) and Sticky Mouse-ear (with compact flower clusters - not open). I also noted the presence of Biting Stonecrop not in flower.

Mystery Bittercress

A couple of patches of Bittercress were flowering near the 40 mph sign at the eastern end of the Southleigh Road (west) wayside. From their tall size and wavy stems my first impression was of Wavy Bitter-cress. However, from the samples I brought home to look at under the microscope I found that most of the flowers had 5 stamens, some had 4 stamens, but none had 6. This is puzzling since the main way of distinguishing the two bittercresses is that Wavy Bitter-cress has 6 stamens and the very similar Hairy Bittercress 4 stamens. Blamey, Fitter and Fitter says Hairy Bittercress ''usually' has 4 stamens, implying it may at times have more or less. The habitat on a roadside suggests Hairy as does the early flowering.

Sandbags gone!

The wall of sandbags that was on the edge of the river in the north-east corner of Brook Meadow to prevent flooding has gone. The white bags are clearly visible in the river and the black ones are probably there too. Also, a small channel has been dug in the river bank at this end of the wall which would take the water onto the meadow, though the level is not high enough at present for this to happen. This latter work looks like the Environment Agency. One of the Brook Meadow Conservation Group volunteers saw the three lads who threw the sandbags into the river on Wednesday (Feb 26). She has a description and the matter has been reported to the police.

For news and photos about this year's floods on Brook Meadow
Go to . . .


Nore Barn

12:00 - About 2 ½ hours after high water. Two Spotted Redshanks were in the stream with a Greenshank, no rings.


There was not much else to see in the harbour apart from a few Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal. I think the big exodus has begun.I counted 48 Brent Geese feeding on the pond field at the top of Nore Barn Creek. There was much chasing with heads down suggesting courtship rituals prior to migration.

The first Blackthorn flowers are now showing on the shore south of Nore Barn Woods.


Peter Milinets-Raby had a walk down Wade Lane to Langstone Mill Pond, then along the Warblington shore to Conigar Point and back (10:05am to Noon - High tide throughout).
Along Wade lane: 2 Redwing, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Pied Wagtails, 19 Little Egrets in the muddy horse paddock (through by the end of the walk they had all moved to the paddock by the millpond).
Horse paddock north of millpond: 63 Teal, 20 Moorhen.
Langstone Mill Pond: 2 Mute Swans (pair, so still present - see note later), 7 roosting Little Egrets and 1 Grey Heron.
Along shoreline before Pook Lane; 7 Red breasted Mergansers, 1 dead male Mute Swan (half eaten, no rings).
Fields by Warblington Cemetery: 1 lone Brent Goose, 16 Oystercatchers, Buzzard.
In field adjacent to cemetery: 130+ Black-headed Gulls, 194 corvids and 6 Med Gulls (one full summer, the others with incomplete hoods - lots of calling).
Off Conigar Point; 43 Wigeon, 165 Brent Geese swimming just off shore with Black Brant.


East Stansted walk

Jean and I had a very pleasant walk through the east park of Stansted on a glorious sunny morning. We made a round trip from the Pavilion cafe up the tarmac road to the cottages near Oak Copse where Sonya used to live and back along the track to the Iron Gate Cottages and to the cafe for a welcome coffee and scone. I had my traditional photo taken between the magnificent twin Oaks at the top of the tarmac road just before Lumley Croft. I love the way these two huge tree have grown together over the years.

We met Michael Prior on the track near the 5 ways junction. He stopped for a chat and told us to look out for the Woodlarks in the large field south of Lumley Croft and Yellowhammers in the hedge towards the Iron Gate Cottages. Michael also said there had been flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing on the fields and Ravens overhead with the occasional Red Kite.


Of the birds mentioned by Michael the only one we saw were the Ravens and what beautiful birds they were. We heard their croaks as we turned into the path in front of Stansted House as two of them flew over towards the conservation field. One of the Ravens actually perched on the fence beside the footpath before going onto the field; I was surprised at how tame it was, tolerating the close approach of a walker with a dog.

The two Ravens then settled for a while on the field where they dwarfed a pair of Carrion Crows. After I had taken a few photos they took off and flew south out of sight. Just look at that bill.

Mistle Thrushes

Another highlight of the walk was to hear the magnificent song of two Mistle Thrushes, one near the Iron Gate Cottages and the other near the Oak Copse cottages. Michael said there were often several pairs on the estate and he has seen flocks of 30 or so feeding on the fields in winter. Most of the other common woodland birds were singing, with Chaffinches particularly numerous; they really have got going. However, I have yet to hear a good Blue Tit song.


After coffee in the cafe, we had a look around the garden centre where dozens of large bumbling Bumblebees were feeding on the flowers in the outside area. From the yellow bands on thorax and abdomen and the dirty white tails, I think they were Queen Buff-tail Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris). These will be insects fresh from hibernation and busy building up their energy reserves on the flowers before searching for nesting sites.

Also feeding on the flowers in the garden centre were various hoverflies including Marmelade Flies and Drone Flies.

Ralph Hollins comments

"Another sign of spring comes from Brian Fellows who saw the first two hoverflies that I have heard of this year - Episyrphus balteatus (the 'Marmelade Fly') of which he captured a good image and the Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax). I was already aware that Drone flies regularly hibernate and can be seen early in the spring but I was not aware that the Marmelade Flies did so and so I tried to find out more about their life cycle and I find that even the Natural History Museum website is cagey on the subject saying .. "The spring generation is thought to arise from overwintering adults, and may be absent following a cold winter." As this has been the opposite of a cold winter I assume this insect has overwintered in this country but if our population were to be killed off by a cold winter they would soon be back here as they regular long-distance migrants in massive numbers. This is nevertheless a very early sighting - an RSPB webpage indicates that they are rarely seen in Britain before May and the 'Encylopaedia of Life' says .. "There are sometimes two generations of fly per year in the UK - one in late spring, the other from mid-summer to early autumn. The spring generation is thought to arise from overwintering adults, and may be absent following a cold winter."

Flooding news

This afternoon I had a walk through Brook Meadow where the River Ems remains very high, but the level is gradually going down. The Environment Agency have replaced the third plank in the sluice gate thus preventing water going down onto the south meadow. The result of this is that the south meadow flood has almost disappeared, leaving just large puddles.

Peter Pond swans

I had another look at the swan pair on Peter Pond. I am now certain that this is not the pair that nested here last year and produced 8 cygnets of which only one survived. The male (cob) has a metal ring on its left leg which last year's did not have and the female (pen) has standard black legs, whereas last year's female was a 'Polish' swan with pink legs. The pair very conveniently upended to show me their legs as in the following photo. The one on the right is the male. You can just see the metal ring on its left leg.

I believe I have been seeing the original Peter Pond pair with their cygnet at Nore Barn during the winter period, though I cannot be 100% sure. It will be interesting to see what happens if and when this pair returns to Peter Pond to find their nesting territory taken over. There could be trouble!

Millpond swans

The town millpond remains empty of water, but for the channel created by the flow from the Westbrook Stream. As I walked along Bridgefoot Path this afternoon at about 3pm, the female swan of the north pair was on the site of last year's nest near the bridge. The swan indulged in a little preliminary nest building activity by picking up one or two twigs. There is, in fact, an abundance of twigs and other debris in this area of the pond from recent storms, so it should not be necessary to build a nest mostly from litter as happened last year. It seems fairly likely that both pairs of swans currently on the millpond will nest there this year.


Peter Pond Swans

The Mute Swan pair was back on their breeding territory on Peter Pond this afternoon. However, the male has a metal inscribed ring on its left leg, which I have not noticed before which suggested that this may be a new pair from last year. Also, the female last year was a 'Polish' form with pink legs but, from what I could see today, the legs of the pen were the normal black colour, though I shall need to check this out.

Bridge Road Speedwell

I found what I am fairly sure is Common Field Speedwell in flower on the Bridge Road Wayside this afternoon. I was tempted to go for Slender Speedwell which is, in fact, far more common on the wayside but the triangular shaped leaves seem conclusive. The leaves would be much more rounded in Slender Speedwell.

Mystery fish in Westbrook

I had a look over the wall at the end of my garden and saw lying in the shallow water of the Westbrook Stream a large dead fish. It was about 18 inches long and mainly silvery in colour with orange and black marks. I really know very little about fish, but this looked like a an ornamental type from someone's pond. I have heard stories about fish like Carp being washed out of garden ponds by the floods and I suppose this could be such a case.

Nore Barn

Peter Milinets-Raby had a look at Nore Barn from 1:30pm to 2:45pm - very low tide. Not much to be seen as it was low tide, though he was surprised to find 2 Oystercatchers, a Grey Plover, a Redshank and a Little Egret in the stream. In the pond field were 41 Brent Geese and another Little Egret. Off the "real" Conigar Point were 4 Turnstone and out in the distant channel were 5 Red Breasted Merganser. In the stubble fields behind the point were 101 Stock Doves (see photo) 9 Skylarks and 12 Curlew

Hogboy update

Graham Petrie sent me an up date about the Hedgehog that he has been looking after and which he has named Hogboy. Hogboy has not gone into hibernation as might be expected for a Hedgehog, probably due to the very mild weather, but all seems well. He weighs a steady 850grams and a tin of catfood lasts him about 3 days, supplemented with a small handful of cat biscuits each day and the occasional mealworm for a treat. His bedding area is not changed every time so as not to disturb him too much. Graham hopes to build a hedgehog house for him in the garden.


Spring news

As I was delivering the Brook Meadow e-mail notes to Ted and Penny Aylett in The Rookery, I met their neighbour Paddy who told me that a friend of hers has a mass of frogspawn in her small pond. Paddy does not have any in her own pond as yet.

The bright yellow flowers of Lesser Celandine are now starting to pop up around the Brook Meadow site, not in vast numbers, but dotted here and there and good to see.

Chris Oakley was out at Goodwood today where a flock of Southdown sheep have started lambing.

Ralph Hollins reported in his weekly summary that in the past three days there have been reports of 7 Brimstones, 4 Peacocks, 10 Small Tortoiseshells and 2 Red Admirals.

Other news

The level of the River Ems continues to fall on Brook Meadow. The flood in the south meadow is also falling quickly. There is a good patch of Petty Spurge growing alongside the new hedgerow on the Seagull Lane patch. The fern Common Polypody is still growing from beneath the north side of the north bridge. I first recorded this plant in Oct-12.

Brent Goose feeding habits

Ralph Hollins challenged my remark in the last wildlife news summary that Brent Geese have returned to the harbours 'having exhausted their inland feeding sites'. See . . . Wildlife News Summaries. Rather, Ralph suggested the geese have returned to the harbours to feast on a new growth of their favoured foods, namely Eel Grass and Sea Lettuce.

He said, "It is my impression that the recent storms and sea surges have been the trigger for a change in the behaviour of the geese - walking the shore between Langstone and Emsworth recently I have noticed much more Eel Grass and Sea Lettuce, etc than is usual for the time of year and I think this may be the result of the storms keeping the geese away from the shore and thus allowing the sea vegetation to grow (along with mild weather favouring growth). On a couple of recent occasions when I have been on the Hayling shores just before high tide (when the water floods the ground on which the Eel grass grows, lifting it and making it easier for the Geese to 'harvest') the Brent leave the fields where they have been grazing and fly to the harbour shores to enjoy their preferred food."

Langstone shore birds

Peter Milinets-Raby took a walk down Wade Lane this morning to Langstone Mill Pond, then along to Pook Lane (10:20am to Noon - Low tide). Highlights were . . .
Along Wade Lane: 9 Little Egrets feeding in the muddiest horse paddock, 3 Pied Wagtails, 2 Buzzard.
Flooded paddock just north of the millpond: 53 Teal, 1 Little Egret, 6 Mallard, 23 Moorhen, Adult Med Gull flying over calling.
Langstone Mill Pond: male Reed Bunting singing, 1 Roosting Grey Heron, with 3 Little Egrets, 2 displaying Grey Herons on what looks like a nest. Stock Dove.
Mill outflow stream: Greenshank (colour ringed with tag. no details due to sun), Knot, Grey Plover, 16 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Red Breasted Mergansers.
Off Pook Lane: 233 Golden Plover, 3 Knot, 35 Bar-tailed Godwit, 350+ Dunlin, 44 Lapwing, 3 Greenshank (too distant), 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 17 Grey Plover, Great Crested Grebe, 33 Shelduck, 4 Red Breasted Merganser, 2 Med Gulls (adult summer and a first winter - calling).
The best bird of the morning was a tatty female Peregrine that scared every wader off. Very spectacular with the wader flocks keeping together in species flocks as they swirled around. The Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit flocks being the best, with the Dunlin flock looking like a wisp of air swirling around.



My wife and I were really delighted to see a bright yellow male Brimstone flying across our garden at about 12 noon. This was my first Brimstone of the year. Patrick Murphy also had one flitting through his garden in the midday sun, which was the same time as ours. These will be adults emerging from hibernation; they will be looking for food and mates, though there is not a lot in the way of flowers for them to feed on at present. Brimstones are a bit like Lesser Celandines in that they come out with the sun. What a pity Wordsworth did not write a poem about the Brimstone. Maybe someone else can oblige?

Robins fighting

Not only do we have warring birds on the millpond, but also in our gardens! Patrick Murphy watched two Robins going at it hammer and tongs in his garden just recently. As he feared for their lives, he tried to distract them by clapping his hands out of the window but to no avail. He went to get his camera, but when he got back the Robins had gone.

Male Robins are notoriously territorial at this time of the year and will attack any other male which invades its territory. They fight viciously sometimes causing injury and even death! Apparently, the trigger for the aggression is the red breast. Here is a YouTube link to a fight between two Robins which did not lead to death!

Brook Meadow

I walked over to Brook Meadow, hoping for a Brimstone, but no such luck. However, the birds certainly seemed to be in a spring mood with a cacophony of song. Lesser Celandines are also responding to the sunny weather and at last are starting to show up on the river banks. The Cherry Plum 'Pissardii' tree on the causeway is full of blossom and contrasts well with the yellow flowers of the Gorse bush close by.

Flooding news

On Brook Meadow, the River Ems and the Lumley Stream are still running very high, but the situation seems to be improving. The flood in the south meadow is about 12 inches down on a week ago and I gather some intrepid souls have been venturing down the footpath again, though the water near the gate remains quite deep.

The same also applies further up the Ems valley. Chris Oakley checked the water level at the road bridge in Westbourne today and found it to be down about twelve inches from his earlier check. The weir at the back of the church shows a level of eight feet also a drop of twelve inches.

Lillywhite's path

There is also an excellent display of Sweet Violets on the path behind Lillywhite's Garage, by the tall brick wall. I counted 250 flowers fully open.

Bridge Road car park

The verge at the southern entrance to Bridge Road car park is looking very attractive with a mixture of wild and cultivated flowers. The flower bed has been planted by the Council workers with fresh Polyanthus. In front of the commemorative Rowan tree is a spray of small Daffodils in memory of Margaret Gibb-Gray. At the rear of the verge and beneath the Beech hedge there is a developing display of Lesser Celandines - I counted 70 flowers open in the bright sunshine this morning. Also flowering on the grass verge are Common Field Speedwell, Hairy Bittercress, Shepherd's Purse, Daisy and Groundsel. While I was in the car park, a Kestrel flew overhead heading south west.


Harbour birds

This morning, I got the bike out and cycled down to the harbour with the scope. But it was too windy and cold for easy birdwatching. The tide was rising to high water at 15:00. Common Redshank and an unringed Greenshank were feeding in the town channel beneath the quay. At least 400 Brent Geese were scattered around the main channel - no doubt, having exhausted their inland feeding sites and returned to the harbour. No sign of any Black-tailed Godwits or other waders apart from a few Turnstone foraging around in the seaweed. I doubt we shall see the godwits in Emsworth again this winter.

Wayside flowers

There is now a very fine display of flowering Winter Heliotrope on the A259 embankment wayside near the centre of Emsworth. I counted 130 flowering spikes when I passed this morning. I think these plants have been on this embankment for some years, probably since the road (usually referred to ironically as the 'inner by pass') was constructed in the early 1970s. They are the best display in Emsworth.

There is a very attractive patch of Crocuses in full flower on the Lumley Path north of Peter Pond.

Swan attack

Stephanie Bennett saw another swan attack on the town millpond this afternoon - one of the swans based in the southern section of the pond attacked either the lone swan, or its friend that has been keeping it company the last few months. The attacking swan pursued the other one for at least 30 minutes - mainly biting its neck and wings numerous times. Stephanie says the lone swan eventually got away but it took many attempts for it to escape as the south swan appeared quicker and stronger. The swan 'victim' eventually escaped onto the Bridgefoot Path verge, its usual home, and commenced preening and recovering from its ordeal.

Blackcap in garden

There seem to be fewer Blackcaps in gardens during this mild winter than normal. I have yet to see one in my garden, though I know other people have seen them. Romney Turner had her first male Blackcap in her garden this morning; last year she had 3 males and a female. Romney could not get to her camera ready for today's bird, so she sent me a pic of one last year on a fir tree through the window.



Work session

I just caught the end of the morning work session as the volunteers were packing up their tools. They are to be commended for working through a very wet morning.

One job they did was to repair the hazardous north path that runs from the north bridge to the north-east corner using the gravel from bags by the Seagull Lane gate. This path had become very muddy and damaged by the rain over the past few weeks.

Another job was to move the cut willow branches that had been stacked in the north-east corner by the railway tunnel to a less prominent place where they would be less likely to get thrown into the river. I went back after the volunteers had finished and found a friendly Robin foraging in the newly cleared area.

For the full report on the workday go to . . .

Flooding news

The river level was no higher than when I last looked at it on Feb 15. The situation in the north-east corner was unchanged with the water about 12 inches below the top of the bags on the new wall. The level in the south meadow was lower than before, so maybe we are on the way to recovery?

Bird song

The birds were in good voice when I walked through Brook Meadow early this afternoon. Following the first Chaffinch song in Nore Barn Woods yesterday, I heard a full Chaffinch song (with run up and delivery) for the first time on the meadow today. I was also pleased to hear my first Blue Tit song of the year from a bush on the main river path; it was not a full song, only the first phase. Clearly, they are now starting up in earnest. Other birds singing were Robin, Dunnock, Great Tit, Song Thrush, Wren, House Sparrow,


I came across two examples of fungi on the Brook Meadow site. A good growth of Many-zoned Polypore (Coriolus versicolor) was showing well on a tree stump just outside the Lumley gate. We frequently see this distinctive fungus on Brook Meadow.

The other fungus which I think is Straw Cup Fungus (Peziza vesiculosa) was growing in clusters on the pile of rotting grass arisings in the north-east corner of the meadow. The bowl-shaped fruit bodies are straw-coloured with wrinkled inrolled edges, thick and tough to the touch. The inner surface is brown and smooth with large wrinkles. Straw Cup Fungus was last recorded on Brook Meadow in Nov-Dec 2002 also on arisings.

Emsworth - Westbourne

I donned my wellies and trudged through the muddy fields behind Westbourne Avenue as far as Westbourne. There is nothing of special interest to report apart from a Cormorant in full breeding plumage with white head and roundels on the River Ems - too far away for a photo. The fence has gone from the Interbridges Site which means it is now easy to walk onto the site. I recall surveying this site a few years ago when the planning application came up. There is no sign of any building activity. I had a look at the waysides on the way back home noting some wild flowers. They included Lesser Celandines and Sweet Violets as well as many of the common all-year-round flowers.

Nore Barn

Peter Milinets-Raby spent at hour down Nore Barn this afternoon just before high tide (1pm to 2pm). He was mainly there to check the high water to see if any of the 18 Slavonian Grebes recently seen at Black Point by Andy Johnson would wander up here. The answer was alas no. Birds seen were 2 Spotted Redshanks together roosting on the salt marsh on the opposite bank of the stream (looked very happy if they do not get disturbed). 4 Pintail, 4 Red Breasted Merganser, Great crested Grebe, 2 Little Grebe, 120+ Teal, 100+ Wigeon. A flock of 147 Brent Geese came off the big field north of the wood and alighted on the sea, possibly including the Black Brant.

Peter's best bird was a female Merlin which he watched for ten minutes as it harassed the Dunlin as they departed for their roost. He got some good scoped views as the bird sped low over the marsh, then circled high before drifting away towards Thorney Island. Merlin is not an easy bird to get a good view of as it is small and moves quickly, so it is worth keeping a look out for it at Nore Barn as it may well return.


Blackbird song

I heard yet another Blackbird song this morning from a neighbouring garden, the was the third one in the past week or so and the fourth one this winter. Chris Oakley also has one singing in his north Emsworth garden. So, clearly, they are now singing widely. Ralph Hollins says this is bang on the date when he expects regular song to start (though he has not heard one himself as yet).

Nore Barn

12:00 - 12:30 - Tide well advanced and the stream was filling up. Spotted Redshank and Greenshank were feeding together in the stream. A Common Redshank was on the shore beyond the saltmarshes. About 60 Wigeon were in the channel along with a few Brent Geese and Teal.

By 12:30 the stream was fairly full and the Spotted Redshank was alone close to the bridge where two ladies were standing watching it. They asked me if I knew what the bird was. I replied, I certainly did! I explained that it was the famous Emsworth Spotted Redshank which has been feeding in this stream for the past 10 winters. The ladies were so pleased to hear all this and left saying that it had made their day! How good that a little bird can bring such pleasure.

There was a nice showing of the pink Sweet Violets at the western end of the woods. In addition to the regular patch I found a new patch a bit further to the east which I have not seen before. Ralph Hollins says these are an intermediate form between the normal violet colour and the pure pink form.

I have been waiting to hear a Chaffinch song, but this morning in Nore Barn Woods three were singing. Not the full song, but borrowing the bowler analogy, the run up was there but not always the delivery.

Hayling beach

Chris Oakley was on Hayling beach again today where he found yet another dead Guillemot (without rings or tags). He also spotted another one of the blue Squat Lobsters which have been a matter of much discussion recently in this blog. The tide being low exposed a lot of sand and Chris counted 17 Oystercatchers and 15 Sanderling feeding together with a group of gulls. Not all of them are on this photo.

Chris says the sea defence project has become a mammoth operation. They are now removing gravel from the Sinah foreshore, the full width of the island, around to Eastoke. This seems to make sense as the shore line at the west end of the island has been building up for years whereas the beach at Eastoke has suffered heavy erosion.


Millpond News

Both Jennifer Rye and Susan Kelly reported the presence of a male-female pair of Red-breasted Mergansers on the town millpond yesterday morning. The first pair of the winter, though a female has been here several times.

I had a walk round the millpond this afternoon. There was no sign of the Red-breasted Mergansers. I keep missing them! It was school half-term holiday and there were good numbers of children with parents feeding the birds. The Black-headed Gulls were certainly enjoying the feast. I kept a good watch on them but did not see any with leg rings.

Sadly for the children, the large flock of swans that used to enjoy the food are no more. All we have now are the two pairs of warring Mute Swans. This afternoon I watched the south pair (that now occupy the southern part of the pond) come surging northwards, menacingly with wings raised towards the north pair. It looked as if there would be violence, but the aggression dissipated once they were close. The two males departed a short distance away for a bout of sparing, but nothing more happened while I was there. Certainly, nothing of the fighting that Stephanie Bennett has witnessed.

Squat Lobster

Ralph Hollins responded to yesterday's item about the Squat Lobster that Chris Oakley found on Hayling beach.
He says, "Before your mention of Galathea strigosa I had only come across (from other people's reports) one species of Squat Lobster which is Galathea squamifera and I suggest that this is a likely candidate for Chris Oakley's recent find because it is the common species around our coasts and because strigosa is generally much bigger. My Country Life Guide to the Seashore gives the length of strigosa as 'up to 12 cm but often smaller' where it gives the length of squamifera as 'up to 4.5 cm' which agrees with the 'three fingers width' size in your photo. I don't think you can rely on colour in the dead specimen shown but strigosa is illustrated as being a bright orange-red with occasional streaks of dark blue"

Here is Chris's photo of the lobster.

Ralph referred to a web site which makes the point that the Common Squat Lobster is not a lobster at all and is far more closely related to hermit and true crabs. "It is a cross between a crab and lobster with a flattened body and a tail that is tucked underneath itself. The squat lobster has 5 pairs of pereiopods (legs) although only 4 pairs can be seen from the animal's upper surface. The front pair of pereiopods are very long with a set of large claws. The colour of this primarily filter feeding animal is brown with a green tint, although juveniles are often reddish in appearance. The total body length including the tail is up to 6cm." See . . .

I agree the small size certainly seems to point conclusively to Galathea squamifera (Common Squat Lobster) as the correct identification. However, I remain puzzled by the distinctly blue colouring of both the creatures photographed by Heather Mills and by Chris Oakley which is the colour of Spiny Squat Lobster Galathea strigosa.


Nore Barn

10:00 - 11:00 - I cycled over to Nore Barn where the tide was coming in fast. From the end of Warblington Road I could see a huge flock of Knot far out on the decreasing mudflats. I did not have chance to count them, but I would say there were considerably more than the 770 that I counted on Feb 11, probably more like 1,000. They were a most impressive sight when they all went up - just like being at Snettisham!

Closer in were good numbers of Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal with a pair of Pintail. A couple of hundred Dunlin were feeding along the edges of the saltmarshes. The two regular Spotted Redshanks were in the stream, feeding in close company. I saw just one unringed Greenshank at the top of Nore Barn Creek.

While I was there I met members of the Nore Barn Woods conservation group digging out an old pond with an island in the middle that they had discovered in the middle of the reedbeds to the north of the stream.

Here are Barry King-Smith and Roy Ewing at work on the pond

While cycling home from Nore Barn I heard another Blackbird singing from a garden along Warblington Road. That's the second over the past two days. Are they starting early?

Swan fights

Stephanie Bennett says she just about survived the town millpond bursting on Friday evening with water just 1ft outside her front and back doors in Bath Road. On the millpond she has been witnessing some nasty swan fights in the last 2-3 weeks. One of the pair swans now dominating the south of the pond nearly drowned the 'lone swan' recently - that's the one that usually resides on the grass verge outside number 14 Bridgefoot Path. More recently Stephanie witnessed both of the south swans gang up on one of the north pair of swans and almost drown it. Scary stuff, she says! I suspected this would happened as nesting time gets nearer and the hormones start to race.

Stephanie also has not seen the millpond cygnet for about a week, maybe longer. There was a cygnet at Nore Barn this morning with two parents, which I think was the one from last year's Peter Pond brood. I think it is likely that the cygnet will have moved off the pond, or have been driven off by the warring swans.

First Brimstone

Caroline French had a walk around Compton yesterday and saw her first Brimstone of the year. She says John Goodspeed also reported one in Waterlooville yesterday. Caroline also had a Common Wasp, three Brown Hares, one Redwing, and the call of a Raven. There was a cluster of violets in flower which Caroline was not sure about, but they would almost certainly be Sweet Violets which are the earliest of the violets to flower.

Hayling beach

Chris Oakley went for a very blowy walk along Hayling beach this morning. The shore was in turmoil with heavy lorries moving vast amounts of gravel. Chris found another two dead Guillemots on the beach - he also found one here on Jan 16. Neither had tags or rings.

Chris also came across a crab-like creature on the beach with a distinctly blue pattern on its back and legs. The Havant Wildlife Group found a very similar blue crab (with 'passengers') on Southsea beach on Feb 8. Chris thinks that neither of these creatures are crabs, but are Squat Lobsters (family galatheidae). I agree and think we can narrow them down to Spiny Squat Lobsters (Galathea strigosa) which have these blue markings and which are common on all coasts in rocky areas - the recent storms must have washed them up on our local beaches.


Lesser Celandines

It was good to see the first Brook Meadow Lesser Celandine yesterday struggling to show its yellow petals among the mud and water. There was a much brighter showing this morning in Bridge Road where a good 20 blossoms have opened to greet the sun. They are in the usual spot beneath the Beech hedge at the southern entrance to the car park. The first verse of Wordsworth's famous poem seems particularly apt on this sunny day following all the awful weather.

"There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, 'tis out again!"

Here is a photo of one flower with its 11 petals shining brightly in the morning sunshine. The number of petals on Celandines vary from 7 to 13.

I was also pleased to a Blackbird singing its relaxed flutey song from the bushes in Bridge Road car park - what a fine songster.

Fossil find

Chris Oakley agrees that none of the stones he collected from the Hampshire Farm site were fossils. However, he does have one true fossil from the site a Cretaceous Echinoid (possibly sternotaxis planus). He says, this came to light when they were digging the pond; initially, they cut through the clay into the shingle layer some fifteen feet down, but later they re-leveled the pond base to around eight feet.

Godwits return

Heather Mills was at Farlington Marshes today and came across about 300 Black-tailed Godwits - so they are returning from the flooded fields, but not yet to Emsworth.

For earlier observations go to . . . February 1-15