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


for May 1-15, 2014

in reverse chronological order

THURSDAY MAY 15 - 2014

I went over to the meadow for the regular conservation work session led this morning by Lesley Harris. Rachel Moroney from TCV was present to monitor the risk assessment procedures for the insurance renewal. The main task was to cut back the overhanging vegetation on the main paths, using the power scythe, strimmer and hand shears.

Here is Maurice clearing a path through the Cow Parsley on the main river path with the power scythe

Lesley gave details of the reptile relocation on Brook Meadow; 4 male Slow-worms, 39 females and 26 juvenile and 27 Common Lizards. Most were located in the Seagull Lane patch. The bitumen mats have been left on the ground for the reptiles to use.

Andy Skeet the Council arborist was present during the morning, along with two young chaps from the Lotus Tree Surgeons, lopping the unsafe branches from the Crack Willow trees in the south meadow.

One of the young fellows clambered up a rope suspended from a tall tree in Tarzan style.

Wild flowers
I noted the following new flowers on the meadow: Beaked Hawk's-beard and Cut-leaved Crane's-bill by the Seagull Lane gate. Stream Water-crowfoot in the River Ems. Guelder-rose on the path leading down to the south bridge.
A second flower spike of Southern Marsh Orchid has come up right next to the one I noticed a couple of days ago.
I had another look at the mystery plant with round leaves that I first noticed on May 8 on the riverside in Palmer's Road Copse. On smell alone, I don't think it is either either Hedge Woundwort or Water Mint. The smell is sweeter than Hedge Woundwort and much milder than Water Mint.

Malcolm's news
Malcolm Phillips spent some time on the meadow today. He saw the now regular Water Vole beneath the south bridge peeping out from vegetation. We have had almost daily sightings of this vole over the past week, but no sightings from elsewhere.

Malcolm also got a photo of a female Banded Demoiselle - our first of the year on Brook Meadow.

Waysides News
On the Lillywhite's path wayside, Wood Avens is abundant on the southern verge near the wall and the leaves of the Sweet Violets have grown to an enormous size, as they always tend to in summer. Also, four spikes of Hairy Garlic were in full flower at the eastern end of the path behind the Garage.

Broad-leaved Willowherb flowering for the first time on the pavement in Victoria Road.

Hayling Oysterbeds news
Chris Cockburn provided a quick update about the sea bird breeding:
"Not a great deal has changed since the last update except that the first black-headed gull chicks have been seen. These chicks were at the north-eastern end of the East (curved) island.

A count of black-headed gull nests (telescoped observations from the footpaths surrounding the lagoon) gave 677 nests (335 on the West (straight) island and 342 nests on the East (curved) island. The total is considerably less than last year (1149 nests). It is likely that the E island count is less accurate due to the loss of most of the lettered pegs and to the habitat now being predominantly rubble, both factors being a result of the winter storms.
A keen-sighted volunteer is needed to count the Mediterranean gull nests (today's counter, "Blind Pugh", had difficulty in differentiating some of the gulls and ended up with a dodgy total of 14 nests). At high tide, today there were at least 40 common terns on the Stoke bay Spit.
Common terns are still looking interested in the site, but have not yet taken the plunge and selected nesting sites; however, they certainly have been taking plunges to get prey (sorry about that!!)
The three pairs of oystercatchers in the lagoon have all been seen looking for suitable nesting sites, but, so far, with no determined effort."

Reed Warbler at Baffins Pond
Eric Eddles has been hearing a Reed Warbler singing for the past two weeks, but this morning he managed to get a sighting and a photo of the bird.


Four Swifts were flying over the gardens behind our house in Bridge Road Emsworth this morning, the most I have seen so far this year. Good to see them back. I saw about 10 of them flying over Arundel town during a visit there last Saturday.

Fort Cumberland
I had a walk around the Fort Cumberland Open Space (SINC) at Eastney, Portsmouth. This is the area of land slightly to the west of the fort itself Grid Ref: SZ 679992. It is the largest area of natural coastal heathland in Portsmouth, which has developed on a large stable shingle bank. This site was a regular haunt of mine some years ago, but I don't get there too often these days.

Several Whitethroats were singing around the area, but not much else bird wise. I usually hear Skylark but did not hear any today. The only butterflies I saw were whites fluttering around. Another month or so should really bring them out. Fort Cumberland is particularly good for Marbled Whites.

The best time to visit Fort Cumberland is in the height of summer when the whole place is a blaze of colour, but it still looked quite good today with the grasses rampant.

The casual paths were lined with the pink flowers of Dove's-foot Cranesbill, plus good numbers of the tiny white flowers of Subterranean Clover. Subterranean Clover gets its name from the unique habit of its fruit burrowing into the ground, though the flowers themselves are clearly visible.

Other flowering plants noted on my walk included Sheep's Fescue, Hairy Tare, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Buckshorn Plantain.
I walked a little way onto Eastney Beach where Red Valerian and Sea Kale were out in force.

I also noticed that some of the plants were covered in tiny black shiny beetles. I wonder what they are?

Smith's Pepperwort
My best find of the morning was a small colony of what I think were Smith's Pepperwort (Lepidium heterophyllum). I have only seen this plant on one previous occasion which was on a special walk on Hayling Island by Hampshire Wildlife Trust Flora Group led by Martin Rand, and the plant was dead from what I recall! I am fairly sure of the identification as it is distinguished from the very similar Field Pepperwort by its violet anthers and petals longer than sepals and by its more oval longer-beaked pods - this feature can easily be seen on the photo. The habitat of undisturbed dry grassland is also right for the plant. Apparently, Smith's Pepperwort is not recorded in Hants Plants for Eastney so I submitted it to Living Records.

Baffins Pond
I had a quick look at Baffins Pond on my way back from Eastney this morning and must admit the wetland areas are looking very impressive indeed, simply brimming with wild plants. Gosh, how this place has changed since I used to do my bird counts in the 1990s. I reckon Portsmouth Council deserve an award (if they have not already got one) for creating such a beautiful and ecological surrounding to the pond.

Eric Eddles reported that some weeks ago the dominant and very aggressive male Mute Swan met his demise at the hand of another. He was replaced by another pair leaving his female at the pond. Since then more have moved in and now there are six. This reminded Eric of years ago when there were at least two pairs on the pond. Another change some weeks ago now was the loss of the Embden goose which has been here for at least 15 years. However, there are two families of Canada geese each with two goslings.

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips had a quick walk round the meadow this morning. There was no sign of the oil in the river which was good. No Water Vole, but he saw a Pike again up by the Water Vole sign. Malcolm also got a photo of the first Common Blue to be seen on Brook Meadow this year, but not the first for the local area. I saw my first Common Blue of the year on May 9 on Fishbourne Meadows.

John Arnott was on the meadow this evening and saw a Water Vole feeding on Fool's Water-cress just beneath the south bridge, east bank at 18:53h. Clearly enjoying its meal!

TUESDAY MAY 13 - 2014

Brook Meadow
I had a walk through the meadow this morning. A Whitethroat was on the isolated tree on the west side of the north meadow from where it darted into the brambles. This bird could well be nesting in the brambles, a very good habitat for it, being completely safe from disturbance.
Common Sorrel, Common Mouse-ear and Cuckooflower are in flower on the Lumley area. The rare Slender Spike-rush is showing very well on the western side of the Lumley area, close to a patch of Silverweed leaves.
Tall Fescue is the dominant grass on the north meadow; the inflorescence of this grass typically hangs to one side.

Southern Marsh Orchid
Following the first Southern Marsh Orchid on Fishbourne Meadows last week, I was on the look out for one on Brook Meadow. After much searching, I finally found one spike opening up quite nicely in the usual area on the eastern side of the orchid area on the north meadow. I have marked its location with a twig. Two plants of Southern Marsh Orchid, donated by Nigel Johnson, were planted in June 2007 and have expanded to 10 spikes in 2013. Let's hope we get a few more this year.

Ragged Robin
Down on the Lumley area I found a few more Ragged Robin flowers; I counted a total of 16 plants in flower, including a couple on the rough area above the causeway. This already beats last year's pathetic total of 12. Numbers of Ragged Robin have been falling dramatically for several years on Brook Meadow, so let's hope this indicates a revival in the fortunes of this very attractive wetland plant.

Yellow Rattle is generally in flower in the orchid area

Water Vole
Malcolm Phillips was down on the south bridge again today and once again got a good view of the resident Water Vole. The Pike were also active. While he was there Malcolm noticed a film of what looked like oil on the surface and wondered if someone has dumped some in the river further upstream. I hope not.

Rosy Garlic
Yesterday, before the waysides survey, I parked the car in Cotton Drive, just off Southleigh Road in Nortrh Emsworth. That was where I saw what I thought were flowering plants of Crow Garlic. However, on seeing my photo of the flowers, Ralph Hollins thought they looked like Rosy Garlic (Allium roseum). This would make more sense as Crow Garlic very rarely flowers and not in such profusion! There were at least six flowering plants on the verge. Ralph suggested I should check the leaves as Rosy Garlic has the flat bladed leaves of most Garlics, whereas Crow Garlic has round leaves. I did not look at the leaves at the time and the photo does not show them.

So, this afternoon, I took the car up to Cotton Drive again to have another look at the plants. They had flat leaves, which means they are Rosy Garlic and not as I first thought Crow Garlic. Another difference between the two plants which does show up on the photo is that the stamens protrude in Crow Garlic but do not protrude in Rosy Garlic.
Rosy Garlic is an introduced plant, but is now established in scattered places. Ralph says it seems to be spreading fast in our area with clumps on Portsdown and in the small west car park at Broadmarsh. I also saw it last year at Bosham Harbour (15-Jun-13). I have not previously recorded it in Emsworth.

Wood Mouse on feeder
Patrick Murphy had been wondering why the sunflower hearts had been going down quite quickly in his squirrel-proof feeder. He had the answer in the form of a Wood Mouse, with its distinctively large ears. I like it! I have never seen a Wood Mouse in my present garden, but I recall they were frequent visitors to a peanut holder in my previous garden in Westbourne Avenue.

Hampshire Farm
Chris Oakley is continuing to monitor the plants growing around the attenuation pond on Hampshire Farm. One in particular which intrigued him was a fine specimen of Celery-leaved Buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus).

Interestingly, Chris mentions that Celery-leaved Buttercup plant is highly poisonous, which I was not aware of, though I certainly have never had any inclination to eat it! Checking on the internet I gather all Ranunculus species are poisonous when eaten fresh by cattle, horses, and other livestock, but their acrid taste and the blistering of the mouth caused by the poison means they are usually left uneaten. Apparently, extensive handling of the plants can cause contact dermatitis in humans, though this is unusual. The toxins in the plants are degraded by drying, so hay containing dried buttercups is safe.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby had a walk along Wade Lane to Langstone Mill Pond this morning (10:10am to 11:55am). The highlights were as follows:
Wade Lane: 2 singing Blackcap, Song Thrush, 2 Mistle Thrush still collecting worms, 2 House Martins heading north, 2 Stock Dove, Buzzard in usual tree, 7 Swallow.
Partially flooded paddock; 4 Moorhen, Pair of Gadwall, Pair of Mallard,
Mill Pond: 4 singing Reed Warblers, Reed Bunting singing, 4 adult Grey Herons seen (two on the two original nests and two roosting). Three juvs very active with wing flapping and fighting each other. Little Egrets (noises could be heard of chicks being fed), 2 Swift over,

A second Gadwall pair on pond (Drake turning into eclipse plumage), Tufted Duck pair on pond.
At the bottom of Mill Lane - tip off from Ralph Hollins): The Langstone Mill Pond Mute Swan family with six cygnets (one missing) happily feeding in the Langbrook Stream on weed pulled up by the adults),

Blackcap singing, Lesser Whitethroat singing, Cetti's Warbler singing, Green Woodpecker, Buzzard and Hobby soaring, 5 Swallow, Water Rail heard.

MONDAY MAY 12 - 2014

Wayside plants
This morning Jane Brook and I did a survey of four of the waysides in North Emsworth. We started as usual on the traffic island in the centre of Horndean Road which always has a good variety of wild flowers. Today, we were interested to distinguish the pink flowers of Dove's-foot Cranesbill and Common Stork's-bill, the former with notched petals and the latter with unnotched petals, as shown in the photo below The leaves of the two plants were also quite different.

The tiny bright blue flowers of Wall Speedwell also caught our attention - a new plant for the site.

We also found Buckshorn Plantain and some grasses in flower. Our plant lists for 2014 for the four waysides stand at . . . Southleigh Road = 61, Spencer's Field verge = 34, Barwell Grove path = 23 and Greville Green (west) = 19. There was no sign of the Common Spotted Orchid on the Greville Green site.

Southern Wood-rush (Luzula forsteri)
The most interesting sighting of the morning (for me, at least) was a small crop of Southern Wood-rush (Luzula forsteri) that was growing on the grass verge a few metres west of the Greville Green wayside. It is distinguished from the more common Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris), which was also present on the Greville Green (west) site, by its V-shaped inflorescence with slender curved branches, slightly drooping to one side.

This was my second sighting of this Wood-rush, the first being on the main track in Hollybank Woods on April 23 this year. The identification of the Hollybank Woods plant was confirmed from a photo by Martin Rand the BSBI South Hants recorder who said there was no previous recent record for that tetrad. I duly sent in my record to the Hants Plants site and will do so for this one too.

Angle Shades Moth
Jane spotted this attractive moth resting in the vegetation on the Spencer's Field wayside. This moth flies mainly at night and is attracted to light and sugar. However, it is often seen during the day at rest on fences and garden foliage as it was today. The common name is derived from the characteristic markings on the forewings. Adults are on the wing from May to October.

Cream-spot ladybird (Calvia 14-guttata)
We saw this tiny Ladybird covered with cream spots on the Greville Green (west) wayside, the first either of us recall having seen. It is very variable in colouration and the size and shape of the spots vary. However, the arrangement of the six spots in a straight line across the wings is regular. It is present throughout Britain and Ireland though more common in England than further west and north. It is usually found on deciduous trees and bushes where they and their larvae feed on soft-bodied insects such as psyllids and aphids. They overwinter in leaf litter, crevices in the bark of trees and other similar protective locations.

Wild Clary
On the way home I checked on the rare Wild Clary (Salvia verbenaca) on the Christopher Way verge. The two spikes on the official wayside are looking good and are in flower.

Millpond News
I checked on the swan nest near the bridge on the town millpond this afternoon. The situation was exactly as Dave Bull described it yesterday with the pen swan 'guarding' the nest with the one replaced egg. Replacing the egg in the nest was not a good idea, as the presence of the egg in the nest will have triggered a strong brooding instinct in the female swan, which means she will be hanging around this totally inadequate nest for some while.

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips spent all morning on the south bridge of Brook Meadow, but said it was worth it. He saw three large Pike and about a dozen Brown Trout.

Best of all he got the south bridge Water Vole again. I hope there is more than one.

As Malcolm rightly says, "it's amazing what you can see if you stand long enough".

SUNDAY MAY 11 - 2014

Water Vole
Brian Lawrence saw a Water Vole swimming in the river below the south bridge and got this photo of it. This is our second sighting here on successive days, clearly indicating the presence of at least one vole in the area (Section D).

Millpond News
Dave Bull e-mailed with news about the rather Mute Swan 'litter nest' near the bridge on the town millpond. The two ducklings that were present earlier in the week have disappeared and the carcass of the female duck that was floating in the water near the nest has been incorporated into the nest structure! Dave thinks some well meaning member of the public has fished out one of the swan's eggs from the water and placed it back in the nest. The nest originally had 5 eggs in its 'heyday' a couple of weeks ago. Dave says it is really quite pitiful to see the pen swan now remaking the nest with litter with this defunct egg in pride of place. He agrees with me that the nest is in the most awful place.

Mystery woundwort - a hybrid?
Ralph Hollins suggests the mystery plant found on the river bank in Palmer's Road Copse might be a hybrid between Hedge Woundwort and Marsh Woundwort called Stachys x ambigua This hybrid has all leaves petiolate (stalked) as in the case of the mystery plant and can occur where one, both or neither parent is present ie in the latter case brought to the site by fragments of rhizomes washed downstream. The Hants Flora lists this hybrid as 'occasional'. Ralph gives the following link for more detail . . . This is an academic article, but Table 7 at the end specifically says its preferred habitat is beside rivers which would fit the mystery plant.

Here are the mystery plants growing on the riverside in Palmer's Road Copse

SATURDAY MAY 10 - 2014

Water Vole
Malcolm Phillips waited for an hour on the south bridge and was finally rewarded with a glimpse of a Water Vole before it went under water. This was out first sighting of the year in this area (Section D). This was totally flooded in the spring, so it is good to know the voles are returning to this popular place.

Hampshire Farm
Chris Oakley had another look at the Hampshire Farm pond and found two Shelduck were back. They spent last summer on the pond but disappeared in the autumn. Let's hope there are some suitable rabbit or tree holes for them to nest in.

Chris also saw five Swallows and four House Martins. Are the House Martins nesting in Emsworth?

Chris asked what causes some plant leaves to turn red, such as this dock leaf in his photo. My guess it is chemical, like what happens to tree leaves in autumn. It is certainly not uncommon, particularly near the coast. Does anyone know?

Slipper Millpond
Nick Medina has seen a Coot with a single chick near the south raft. But will it avoid the attentions of the Great Black-backed Gulls?

Gunner Point Hayling
Ros Norton reported on this morning's walk by the Havant Wildlife Group during which they noted many intere4sting flowers, including masses of Green-winged Orchids. Worth going just for them. Ros's full report is on the special web page at . . .

FRIDAY MAY 9 - 2014

12:00 - I spent about an hour going around these interesting meadows at the top of Fishbourne Channel. I donned my wellies as I knew it would be wet underfoot and it certainly was! Parking in the car park by Fishbourne Parish Church, I walked westwards through the three main meadows to the millpond and the reedbeds. There is a new fence alongside the stream, probably to prevent the grazing cattle damaging the banks. Good idea. I scanned the banks of the stream for Water Voles, which I have seen in the past, but I did not see one today.

Here is a view of the west meadow which is dominated by Marsh Horsetail

I know this area well, having done a BTO Breeding Birds Survey here for 17 years until 2011. However, today, there was not much interest on the bird front, apart from Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing. No Cetti's Warbler. A Mute Swan was on the millpond, presumably its mate was on a nest nearby. A Coot was on a nest in the centre of the pond with at least one chick. I heard only Reed Warbler in the reedbeds.

Wild flowers
My main interest was in the flora. It was a bit too early for the Southern Marsh Orchids for which this site is famous, though I did find one plant just starting to open on the far western meadow. They should soon be starting to show on Brook Meadow, though we only have around 10 spikes compared with the 500+ on Fishbourne Meadows.

The dominant wild flowers on the meadows were Creeping and Meadow Buttercups, Cuckooflowers, Common Mouse-ear, Field Forget-me-not, Common Sorrel. I also noted a few Cut-leaved Crane's-bill and Thyme-leaved Speedwell. Yellow Flag was out on the edge of the stream, where I also found a Hemlock Water-dropwort in full flower - my first of the year. A few Ragged Robin flowers were open, with lots more to come, no doubt.

Water Figwort
I was interested to find some real Water Figwort growing beside the millpond, which was totally different from the plants I found on the riverside in Palmer's Road Copse yesterday which I thought might be Water Figwort. The leaves were longer and the square stems were sharply winged and hairless, unlike those on Brook Meadow.

Water Figwort

So, the question remains what are the plants I found yesterday? The leaves do have a faint minty smell which suggests a type of mint. But which one?
Ralph Hollins suggested they might be Hedge Woundwort, though a flooded river bank seems an unlikely habitat for this plant that normally grows on dry areas of the meadow. Ralph commented that recent flooding and fast flowing water could have either transported lots of seeds downstream from a place that is normally not wetland or the flow could have eroded the river bank and exposed 'prehistoric' seed deposited when the land there was not so riverine.

The mystery plant from the river bank in Palmer's Road Copse

Grasses and sedges
The dominant grass of the meadows was Meadow Foxtail, though I also noted Sweet Vernal Grass and an unexpected crop of Plicate Sweet-grass at the far end of the meadows near the kissing gate leading to the millpond.

Plicate Sweet-grass

Leaves of Sharp-flowered Rush were all over the meadow along with a few Hard Rushes, some with small spikelets. Both Divided and Distant Sedge were widespread, along with Pond Sedges (probably Greater). I also noted a few spikes of Brown Sedge with distinctively brown spikelets, which I have previously recorded on Fishbourne Meadows, but not elsewhere locally.

Brown Sedge

Marsh Horsetail
I was surprised by the vast quantity of Marsh Horsetail across all three meadows, which I do not recall having seen there before. Is this due to the flooding of the meadow? I have also seen lots of Marsh Horsetail on the South Moor at Langstone. I wonder why we never see any on Brook Meadow?

Cone of Marsh Horsetail

Several Orange Tips were flying around. One stunning male perched briefly for me to get a photo. What a beauty it was!

I also saw my first Common Blue of the year, a male, which also conveniently rested a while for a photo.


Brook Meadow in rain
I got into my waterproof gear and donned my wellies for a mooch around the meadow in the rain. No one else about, needless to say. Walking down the main river path I noticed the pretty white flowers of Stream Water-crowfoot on the surface of the river.
When I got to the Lumley area a fine Grey Heron took off from the Lumley Stream.
I noted a group of Yellow Rattle plants, which I do not recall having seen here before. The seeds must have spread down from the orchid area where they were sown several years ago.
Also showing well on the Lumley area were Divided Sedge and Distant Sedge.

Slender Spike-rush
My best find of the morning was a patch of Slender Spike-rush (Eleocharis uniglumis) that John Norton first discovered here in 4 June 2012. I took a specimen home to examine under the microscope and confirmed that the lowest glume almost encircled the spikelet base, which is distinctive of this species, as stated by Francis Rose in "Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns" (p. 160). I compared this with a specimen of Common Spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris) that grows near the "Lumley puddle" in which the lowest glumes only go about half way around the base.

First Ragged Robin
I found the first flowering Ragged Robin of the year in the centre of the Lumley area.

Although this was a good 3 weeks earlier than last year's first flowers, it was not especially early; the earliest I have on record was 26-Apr-11. Let's hope we have more plants than last year when I counted just 12 on the meadow. Numbers have, in fact, slumped dramatically since the record count of 625 in 2010.

South meadow
I had my first good mooch around in the south eastern corner of the south meadow since the floods. There is a lot of sediment brought in by the flood, but the grasses and sedges are flourishing. In particular, Sea Club-rush seems to have taken hold more than in the past when there were just a few isolated spikes. Plenty of Divided Sedge also. The channel where the flood water flowed into Peter Pond has been opened up; I shall keep an eye on this area, though there is nothing special there at the present.
A handsome fern is growing beneath the eastern ramp onto the south bridge, which I have identified as Male Fern in the past, though I am not all that hot on ferns.

Palmer's Road Copse
I found my first Smooth Meadow-grass of the year on the path leading down to the south bridge.
I had a good look around the river bank where I found a nice patch of Gipsywort with its very distinctive leaves.

I also found a good growth of what I thought was Water Figwort near the new Alder saplings. However, the square stems were definitely downy; the books specifically say the plant is hairless! I can't think what else it could be.

Here are two views, one of the patch of plants on the river bank and the other a close up.

Hampshire Farm
Chris Oakley took a quick walk around the settlement pond on the new Hampshire Farm housing development site and was pleasantly surprised. The margins were lush with wild flowers, predominately clover and buttercup, but he counted at least 15 different plants. The 'twigs' that were planted last year have also been a total success. Chris thinks this level of plant life around the pond rim clearly indicates that the water level remains static.

He also saw about a dozen House Martins in flight, plus 4 Mallard, 5 Black-headed Gulls, a Carrion Crow and a Jackdaw. So, all in all it looks quite promising.

Spider vs butterfly
Tony Wootton has been on holiday in Crete which is where he took this interesting photo of a Skipper seemingly attacked by a Crab Spider. Tony did not know the outcome as the butterfly flew off with the spider attached. The contest looks to be a bit of a mismatch on size, but my guess is that the butterfly would succumb in the end to the spider's venom.


First Swift
My wife and I were delighted to see our first Swift of the year from our bedroom window at about 7am this morning. It was flying over the gardens to the east of Bridge Road and came fairly close to the house on one occasion. I did not see it again today Swifts have been reported widely along the south coast over the past couple of days. Swifts are very common summer visitors in the Bridge Road area where I live and I always look forward to hearing family parties of them screaming around the houses later in the summer.

Millpond News
11:00 - I popped down to the town millpond this morning to have a look at the swan's new nest. It was still there by the bridge, but occupied not by a swan, but by a female Mallard and two small ducklings that I saw here yesterday. The pair of swans were further down the pond, posturing in front of the other pair of swans that I have not seen for a while. They appear to be far more concerned with defending their territory than in establishing a new nest.

Should we encourage nesting?
I have had several inquiries from local people concerned about the fate of the swan's nest. Some have asked about constructing a raft or a raised platform for them to nest on. I suppose this would be possible but would they use it? Also, it is really such a good idea. Frankly, I think the swans should not be encouraged to nest in such an unfavourable situation, with no natural vegetation and little food for the cygnets. Remember what a torrid time the lone cygnet had last year. If the pond were a more natural habitat with reeds and banks like Peter Pond and Slipper Millpond the situation would be different. As it is we would just be creating more stress for the birds.
Another thing is that nesting swans are very territorial and there has been several battle royals on the town millpond over the past year. These confrontations are still going on between the nesting pair and the other pair of swans that have stood their ground.
The nesting pair have also driven off the resident flock (50+) which have peacefully used the millpond for as long as I can remember. Personally, I prefer to see a flock of swans using the pond and being enjoyed by children and others.

Waysides News
Newly flowering on the Bridge Road Wayside were Common Sorrel, Wintercress, Hemlock Water-dropwort and Common Nettle. Along Lumley Road I found Bush Vetch in flower outside Constant Springs along with Prickly Sow-thistle - a first for this year. Grey Sedge was also out in several places along this road, along with some Wood Sedge and Wood Melick.

Brimstone on Brook Meadow
Francis Kinsella captured this fine image of a Brimstone butterfly on Brook Meadow recently. From its pale colour this insect looks like a female Brimstone which should now be laying eggs in preparation for the summer brood. Let's hope she managed to find our Alder Buckthorn plantation near the causeway.

Grey Heron at Westbourne
Malcolm Phillips has been unwell for 4 days stuck indoors and has not been able to send us his usual batch of wildlife photos from Brook Meadow and elsewhere. However, he send me this excellent image of a Grey Heron with a background of buttercups - taken in the field behind the church hall at Westbourne last Friday.

'The old NRA track'
John Arnott asks what does NRA mean in my reference to 'the old NRA track' at North Thorney. I suppose other readers of this blog might have the same question, so here is my answer. This is the rough track, gated at either end, that runs across North Thorney from Thorney Road to the seawall at Emsworth Harbour. As far as I am aware, the letters NRA stand for National Rivers Authority, which was one of the forerunners of the Environment Agency, which I assume now own the track.
It is not a public footpath, but lots of people tend to use it in preference to the hazardous official path that goes through the stables to the north. One has to squeeze through small gaps at the side of the gates at either end. It is a well known path for hearing and seeing migrants, particularly Swallows, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Cuckoo and, until recently, Turtle Dove. It is a regular haunt of mine at this time of the year.

Langstone Millpond
Brian Lawrence was one of many people admiring the Mute Swan family with seven cygnets on Langstone Mill Pond. Just one egg remained unhatched in the nest. A fine haul indeed. Let's hope our own swan on Slipper Millpond is also successful when her time comes.

Ralph Hollins reports that both adult and juvenile Herons were present at their tree-top nests at the back of the pond. He thinks there are two adult and three fully grown young, but moving between two, maybe three, nests. Little Egrets are also nesting in the area.

Hayling Oysterbeds

Chris Cockburn provided the following news update from the Oysterbeds:
On the Oysterbeds' lagoon islands this year, the number of Mediterranean gull nesting pairs will probably reach double figures while a preliminary count of black-headed gull nests suggests that, presently, there are significantly less pairs than the 1149 counted in 2013. Most of the gulls are apparently brooding eggs and it is likely that the first chicks will be seen by next weekend and the main hatch will probably be in just over two weeks' time.
On Sunday 05 May, a peregrine caught a gull and started to eat it on the western (straight) island . After being dive-bombed by hundreds of angry gulls, the peregrine flew off with its kill to have a quieter meal on Stoke Bay Spit. A peregrine will rarely succeed in taking an adult gull from a large colony using a typical stooping attack; but this bird probably came in fast and low over lagoon and did an "up and under" to capture its prey (presumably, it had been taking lessons from a Merlin during the winter!!). It will be interesting to see if this falcon becomes a regular visitor.
On Sunday, a dead adult black-headed gull was found close to the lagoon in Stoke Bay and it is suspected that its demise was caused by a pellet from an air rifle/pistol. It would be appreciated that if anyone sees signs of such activity that they might please contact me..
Recently, there have been fewer visits and overflights by Sandwich terns, which suggests that they are now probably nesting on South Binness Island; but it is still possible that a few might choose to nest at the Oysterbeds.
Common terns are regularly roosting in good numbers on Stoke Bay Spit and some have been fishing and displaying in the lagoon (see photo):

Some of the harbour's common and little terns have frequently been seen feeding in Texaco Bay and they should soon be reaching good breeding condition for nesting. Both of these species have paid brief visits to the new shingle recharge on the NW Bund (that forms the northern boundary of the lagoon) and it is possible that some may nest there.
Flowering plants (on the mound that overlooks the lagoon) presently include good quantities of Bugle, Scarlet pimpernel, Herb Robert, Forget-me-nots, White dead nettle etc. Milk Thistle and Medick are growing in profusion, unlike 2013 when there were very few of these plants. Green-veined White, Orange tip, Peacock, Holly Blue and Red Admiral butterflies have been seen locally.

TUESDAY MAY 6 - 2014

Brook Meadow
10:00 - I decided to cycle down to Thorney Island through Brook Meadow. I arrived at Seagull Lane gate in time to see a lorry from Covers delivering two huge railway sleepers for the foundation of the new tool shed. Maurice Lillie was there to supervise the operation. The driver moved both the sleepers onto the site for the shed virtually unaided, but for a bit of help from Maurice. An amazing feat of strength!

Water Vole nest building?
Carrying on down the main river path through the avenue of Cow Parsley, I checked the usual spot by the old gasholder for Water Voles and was in luck. A vole swam across the river from west below the large Bay tree across to the east bank where it disappeared under the vegetation. I waited and after a couple of minutes it emerged carrying a mouthful of small twigs, which looked like nest building material. It swam across the river to the west bank where it disappeared into a burrow beneath the water level. Another couple of minutes went by and it emerged again to repeat the whole process.
I watched it for the next 15 minutes while it made four more journeys to and fro across the river, each time carrying bits of vegetation in its mouth from the east to the west bank. On one crossing towards me it actually swam the whole width of the river underwater, which made me wonder if it had caught sight of me standing on the bank. My guess is that it was collecting nesting material, or possibly food for its store.

This is the best shot I could get with my old point-and-shoot camera

A lady passed by as I was watching the vole and also had a good view of it swimming across the river. This was exactly the same place where I had my previous sighting of a Water Vole on Apr 10, when Malcolm Phillips and I watched it burrowing into the west bank creating a cloud of mud in the water.

Whitethroat singing
As I walked along the causeway towards the Lumley gate I heard and watched a Whitethroat singing strongly from top of the tall Ash sapling. But that was the only one I heard on the meadow this morning.

I cycled into The Rookery to deliver a printed version of the e-mail newsletter to Penny and Ted Aylett as I have done for several years. There I met Paddy a neighbour who told me she had had a May bug or Cockchafer in her house. As she was removing it from the house, she told me how difficult it was to get the insect from her hands as its feet stuck to the skin. Here is one that Jane Brook and I found while doing a waysides survey last year. It was on Jane's hand, though I don't recall her reporting any stickiness.

Ralph Hollins pointed out that all insects have feet which enable them to stick to any surface (e.g. flies on a window or ceiling). See . . .

Susan Kelly has them invading her house. Her new downstairs neighbours keep leaving the door open and the light on in the communal hallway, so the poor things are flying in and dying on the stairs.

Peter Pond
From the small footbridge to the north of the pond I noticed that David Gattrell has created another channel through the northern reedbeds to the west of the main channel. So, there are now channels on either side of the main one, thus creating more wildlife habitat.
I listened at the reedbeds, but there was no sound of Reed Warbler which I heard on May 3. However, I just make out the soft tones of the Reed Bunting song which I also heard on May 3.

Coot families
The two Coot families were on the water. The family in the northern part of the pond have four fairly mature chicks. The other family near the island in the southern part of the pond have five younger chicks. I previously only counted four.

Here is the younger family with four of the five chicks

Slipper Millpond
There is no change on this pond with the swan snug on her nest in the reedbeds and her mate on the water and the Great Black-backed Gull on the centre raft with its mate on the water. The Coot is still in its nest box on the south raft, but I could not see the Coot nest that was in the reedbeds near the Mute Swan.

North Thorney
Two Rabbits were a very unusual sight on the marina seawall. Hoary Cress and Black Mustard were both in flower along with a great display of Hedgerow Crane's-bill. At the bottom of the slope near the gate to the NRA track, I had an astonishing experience as follows:

Three damselflies mating
I watched a pair of Large Red Damselflies in tandem, which is not an unusual sight. Then a third (male) damselfly latched onto the pair, making it a threesome. They stayed like this for a couple of minutes at least while I took some photos. I have never seen three in tandem before. Has anyone else seen this?

White Dove's-foot Cranesbill
I walked along the old NRA track which was fairly quiet but for the inevitable Cetti's Warblers and the occasional Whitethroat. Swallows were flying around the old stables. No Cuckoo or Turtle Dove. I found my first spike of Perennial Ryegrass of the year. I was surprised by a patch of almost white flowers, which I think must be Dove's-foot Cranesbill.

There is a good patch of red-flowered Sheep's Fescue on the east side of the track just before Little Deeps. Both Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler were singing from the reedbeds on the way to Little Deeps.

Millpond swans rebuild
I was passing the town millpond on my way home at about 12 noon, when I saw someone looking down from the bridge. I had a look and found that the swans had built yet another nest in the same position as the one that got washed away. They were not present and there were no eggs. However, settled on the edge of the nest were two very tiny ducklings with a dead female Mallard floating in the water nearby, probably their mother. But what happened?
I went back later at about 8pm and both swans were at the nest trying to build it up. The top was above the level of the water, though there is not much hope for it with the next spring tides due in about a week's time. The two ducklings were on the water near the bridge, but there was no sign of any female Mallard that could be their mother apart from the one floating dead in the water.

MONDAY MAY 5 - 2014

Peter Pond
Two families of Coot, one with 4 mature chicks and the other with 4 new young chicks. Ros Norton and I watched the adult Coot scrapping vigorously, presumably over territorial rights. Two Swallows were feeding over the pond.

Brian Lawrence had a pleasant surprise on the Hayling Billy Line today when he saw this Adder on the main path near the Oysterbeds.


Millpond News
I checked out the millponds, but there has been no obvious change over the past week while I have been away. The town millpond Mute Swan nest has completely disappeared, but for a few twigs and grass cuttings. The pair are still on the pond.
Over on Slipper Millpond, the swan is sitting on the nest in the reedbeds. The Great Black-backed Gull was on her nest on the centre raft and all seemed peaceful, though there no doubt have been skirmishes.
A Reed Warbler was singing from the northern reedbeds of Peter Pond, the first of the year. Also, I could hear the distinct song of a Reed Bunting coming from the reeds on the eastern side of the pond, but I could not pick up the bird visually.
Hoary Cress and Hedge Mustard were in flower on the west side of the pond.

Brook Meadow
I walked through Brook Meadow where I heard one Whitethroat singing near the eastern end of the causeway near the Lumley gate; no sound of any others. Yellow Flag is out on the Lumley pool. The display of Cow Parsley along the main river path is superb. Wintercress is also out on the north meadow.
Charlie Annalls also went round Brook Meadow today and managed to get a photo of the Whitethroat, probably the same one that I heard.

Charlie also got this interesting shot of a female Orange Tip from the top. Without showing its mottled underwings, it looks like a white.

Malcolm Phillips has been round Brook Meadow each day of the week during which I was away. He had no Water Vole sightings, but did get pictures of birds, including this Chiffchaff in flight.

Waysides News
When I checked the Christopher Way verge, I was disappointed to find that the Council strimmers had cut down the Wild Clary flowering plants, despite the waysides notice that I placed there before the cut. I suppose they will grow again, but I did find a couple of Wild Clary spikes coming up on the main wayside which is not cut, so some have survived.

Dragonfly emerges
Graham Petrie had an exciting observation on his garden pond when he saw this female Broad-bodied Chaser that had recently emerged from its exuvia - ie the remains of an exoskeleton and related structures that are left after the insect has moulted. When he checked again 5 minutes later it had flown.

Bumblebees mating
Chris Oakley sent me a photo of two Bumblebees that he found when he opened a new bag of compost. The bees were clearly mating, a natural event that I have only come across once before (on July 6, 2012). The bees were probably of the species Bombus pascuorum, which is the most widespread ginger-coloured bumblebee in this country, occurring in most habitats including gardens. The smaller male is on the top of the much larger queen.

How they got into the bag of compost and survived is quite astonishing, but there they are. For more information see . . .

Bullfinches on feeder
Patrick Murphy continues to make me very envious of his Bullfinches. Today he had two males on his bird feeder in the garden. How does he do it?

Swan cygnets
Peter Milinets-Raby was tipped off by Ralph Hollins yesterday about the Mute Swan cygnets hatching on Langstone Mill Pond. He went down this evening to check out the situation (4:30pm to 6:30pm). Well after waiting nearly 45 minutes, the pen stepped off the nest to reveal six cygnets and at least two eggs remaining. These are the first cygnets I have heard about locally.

Southbourne Copse development
John Tagg had a flyer put through his letter box, from Seaward Homes with reference to the development of the land at the end of Penny Lane, Southbourne. The proposal is for 100 new homes on the open fields to the north of Penny Lane as far north as the railway line. However, the purpose of the clearance of woodland at the top of Woodfield Park Road remains a mystery as this woodland is not part of the development site. Maybe this is an access site for the development? There is an area marked "Protected Wood" at the western end of the site near the allotments. For more information go to . .

For earlier observations go to . April 16-30