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A community web site dedicated to the observation, recording
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Whatever your problems or mood let wildlife brighten your day (Ralph Hollins)

for January 16-31, 2015
in reverse chronological order

Blog Archives . . . from 2012 to current


Nore Barn
Yesterday (Jan 30) Charlie Annalls went to Nore Barn where she saw most of the regular birds in the stream, including the Spotted Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits. Here is Charlie's photo of the two species together.

Of more interest was the Sparrowhawk that Charlie found sitting quietly in a tree looking out to sea. She said it was very calm and unconcerned at her presence, so she was able to get a nice photo. From the brown barring on the chest I think it is likely to be a male. Let's hope this bird is one of a pair that will be nesting again the woods this year as they have done in the past.

Harbour birds
After working all week away near Bath, Francis Kinsella was pleased to get out with his camera for the first time in a while. He saw lots of interesting birds on his walk round Brook Meadow, Emsworth foreshore and Dolphin Quay, including, two colour-ringed Greenshank, Redshank, Black Tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Shelduck, Great Crested Grebe, Curlew, Kestrel, Goldcrest and Kingfisher. Francis got some cracking photos, particularly of our local female Kingfisher and the Greenshanks. Francis's photo can be seen on his Facebook album 'Before the sun sets' at . . .

The colour-ringed Greenshanks were G+YB and RG+BY tag. Both birds have been previously seen in Emsworth this winter.

Red Admiral
Chris Oakley had his first Red Admiral butterfly in the garden yesterday. Red Admirals can truly be regarded as all-the-year-round insects.

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips went round the meadow this morning and saw the Water Rail again in Palmers Road Copse. Following his cracking photo of a Blue Tit yesterday, Malcolm got an equally good photo of a Great Tit this morning.

The sexes of Great Tits are a bit easier to distinguish than those of Blue Tits. Males have a wider black belly stripe, especially between the legs. The stripe is narrower on the female, breaking up or fading between the legs. The black stripe on the bird in Malcolm's photo is quite broad between the legs which suggests it is a male.
Malcolm also noted that the bird box in the tree just up from the south bridge has come away from the tree and looks in danger of falling on someone. The conservation group have been informed.


Emsworth news
The pair of Mute Swans from the Slipper Millpond nest were back in the harbour by the quay with their two cygnets, which I thought they had abandoned. The cob was continually making fairly half-hearted attempts to chase the cygnets off, but they kept coming back. Maybe the parents were missing them on Slipper Millpond?

Coming back via Peter Pond I spied the regular female Kingfisher perched on the table in the reeds at the northern end of the pond. This perch is easily viewed from the track that goes to Gooseberry Cottage.

Malcolm Phillips went around the meadow this morning and down to Peter Pond where he also saw the Kingfisher on the table. While on Brook Meadow he got this lovely shot of a Blue Tit.

The sexes of the Blue Tit are not easy to distinguish. Generally, the books and the internet sites say the male is brighter overall than the female. One of my books adds that the male has a broader, deeper blue necklace and darker wing coverts than the female. Looking at Malcolm's photo my inclination is to go for female, but I might be totally wrong! The only sure way is in behaviour; the female builds the nest and sits on the eggs; the male brings her food and then they both feed the chicks.


I had a walk round the millpond this morning where the two pairs of Mute Swans were just moving around each other with no clear aggression.
I found a colour-ringed Greenshank G+BN tag in the channel east of the Emsworth Sailing Club building feeding with a Little Egret and a Common Redshank. G+BN was one of the 13 caught and ringed by Pete Potts and his team at Thorney Deeps on Jan 13, 2014. This was our 4th sighting of this winter. The geo tag which is attached to the black ring cannot be seen on this photo, but it is a device that records the movements of the bird as it travels to and from its breeding grounds.

I counted 21 Mute Swans in the harbour near the quay, an unusually large number. They included 5 juveniles which are most likely to be cygnets rejected by their parents. However, the lone cygnet on the town millpond remains close to its parents.

The cob Mute Swan of the pair that nested on Slipper Millpond last year was standing proudly on the east bank of Peter Pond when I passed by. Its mate, the the 'Polish' variety with pink legs, was on Slipper Millpond. I assume the swans will nest in the reeds on Slipper Millpond as they did last year, producing two cygnets.

Brook Meadow
I happened to bump into Malcolm Phillips while walking through Brook Meadow this morning, it was a chilly day and we were both shivering. Malcolm was not having a great deal of luck with his birds, but he was pleased to get a photo of a Goldcrest on the river bank near the old gasholder - the smallest bird in Britain and never an easy one to photograph.

After I left him Malcolm walked over to Peter Pond where he saw a Kingfisher in the area where the reeds have been cleared opposite Gooseberry Cottage. Then on the way back Malcolm managed to get a Water Rail on the river bank in Palmers Road Copse, though he had watch it for about half an hour before getting a reasonable photo. Palmer's Road Copse is the best place to see the bird at present.


Emsworth in Flora News
I was delighted to see that Martin Rand has included three of the rare plants that I discovered in Emsworth in the list of records in the Flora News No 48 Spring 2015. Two of them were on waysides and the other on Brook Meadow.

Allium roseum (Rosy Garlic): Cotton Drive, Emsworth, SU7437 0735; First recorded in May 2014. First for square SU70.

Sanguisorba officinalis (Great Burnet): Brook Meadow, Emsworth, SU7507 0613. Confirmed by Martin Rand. He thinks perhaps introduced. New tetrad record. First seen in June 2013. It returned in 2014 with a maximum of 28 flowering heads.

Torilis nodosa (Knotted Hedge-parsley): Found on three waysides: Christopher Way - first seen in 2010. Westbourne Open Space first noted in 2011. New Brighton Road Junction first seen in 2014. New tetrad record and a Hampshire notable.

Other notable local records in previous Flora News:

Rhinanthus minor (Yellow-rattle): Brook Meadow Established here from introduced seed. First for SU70 since 1970. THis is now abundant in the orchid area on Brook Meadow.

Eleocharis uniglumis (Slender Spike-rush): Brook Meadow SU751 060; 4 Jun 2012; Small patch reasonably dense over c.2 x 1m, in slightly brackish influenced part of meadow, with Carex divisa and Carex distans nearby. SU 7513 0604. New tetrad record. A Hampshire notable.

This plant was actually found by John Norton and Eric Clement. I just happened to be there at the time. However, I have successfully found the plants in subsequent years. Here is a photo of John examining the plant with Ralph Hollins while Eric looks at grasses, taken on Brook Meadow when the Slender Spike-rush was first discovered.


Polypogon viridis (Water Bent): Found by the wall of house and driveway to garages in St James Road Emsworth, SU747 059; 4 Jun 2012. Also, one plant on pavement. 1st for SU70.

Salvia verbenaca (Wild Clary): First discovered on the Christopher Way wayside in 2010 SU749069. There were 40 plants in 2011 and 2012. They were all gone in 2013, but a few returned in 2014. 1st for SU70.

Mystery Barnacle Geese
Ralph Hollins has done some research on the destination of the 75 Barnacle Geese that Peter Milinets-Raby saw flying over Langstone on Jan 26. He thinks the most likely answer is that they were on a strange route to the Solway Firth. See Ralph's diary for Jan 27 for more details . . .


First Lesser Celandine
It was quite a nice morning for a stroll. Robin, Blue Tit, Dunnock and Collared Dove were singing in Bridge Road car park. I was pleased to find my first Lesser Celandine flower of the year beneath the Beech hedge at the southern end of the car park. This was by no means the earliest Lesser Celandine locally as Ralph Hollins counted 20 flowers fully open in Juniper Square in Havant on Jan 24, but it's a good start.

Reed clearance on Peter Pond
I noticed that David Gattrell has been busy on Peter Pond, doing the biennial clearance of reeds on the western side of the pond, opposite Gooseberry Cottage. David does a very good job in managing the pond environment and making it friendly to a variety of wildlife. Over the past couple of years, David has also created two new channels through the reedbeds where the Lumley Stream enters Peter Pond. This creates new habitats as well as improving the flow of stream water.

Italian Lords-and-Ladies
The mottled leaves of two plants of the unusual Italian Lords-and-Ladies (Arum italicum ssp italicum) are now showing well on the west bank of the river in Palmer's Road Copse, just north of the south bridge. They have been here for several years. This subspecies was cultivated in Britain by 1683 and was known from the wild by at least 1905. It is popular in gardens, and its distribution is probably increasing. It has a Mediterranean-Atlantic distribution.

Mystery honking
While walking through Brook Meadow I heard some loud goose-like honking calls which appeared to be coming from the garden of Gooseberry Cottage. I rushed over there, but I could see nothing to cause this sound. Then I heard the same honking coming from the river area in Palmer's Road Copse. Again, I went over to have a look, but with no success. Drat, I must have missed it again. So the honking remains a mystery. It is difficult to imagine a Canada Goose getting into that habitat, though one never knows.

Ivy berries
Malcolm Phillips went round Brook Meadow this morning and was most impressed by the display of berries on the Ivy bushes. Malcolm's photo shows the berries in various stages of development. Ivy berries are a very important food source for birds at this time of the year when most other berries have disappeared. So, please avoid cutting your Ivy until a bit later.

Coal Tit in garden
I was pleased to see a Coal Tit in my garden this morning. Coal Tit is a fairly rare bird in our garden with only about 3 or 4 sightings each year, usually early in the year like this one. I managed to get a shot of this active bird through the window. The open bill shown in the photo suggests the bird might have been singing, though it could equally have been consuming some food item. The Coal Tit has a very characteristic feeding behaviour; it goes to the feeder, takes a seed and then flies to a nearby tree to consume it.

On average the Coal Tit is ranked 14th in the BTO garden bird list for the winter period in SE England being recorded in 41% of gardens. From these figures I guess my garden is a bit below the average in Coal Tit recording. Coal Tit is seen more often in gardens in the north of England where there is a 61% recording rate.
See . . .

Buzzards fighting
Thanks to Dave Oliver for forwarding this dramatic report from Mike Sweeney of a sighting he had while he and his wife were walking through the woods at Kingley Vale.
Mike writes: "Suddenly a Buzzard made a really loud call, much louder than normal and clearly something was up. Then about 3 seconds later there was a loud crash and two Buzzards, locked claw to claw, fell through the canopy and hit the ground about 20 metres away from us. They stayed locked together for about 10 seconds, viciously pecking at one another. Then one broke free and they few off in separate directions. I suppose it was a territory dispute or perhaps and argument over a female. It was spectacular whichever way you look at it. Sadly no photos, it was all too quick."

Here is a link to a video of two Buzzards fighting over food . . .

Apparently, fighting between Buzzards is not uncommon, usually over food or to trespassing over territories according to BWP. Tony and Hilary Wootton reported a similar encounter while walking near Winchester in February 2005. Tony wrote: "On the ground in a ploughed field were 3 buzzards and 2 crows. 2 of the buzzards were fighting or mating and the third was a looking on from 20yds away. The buzzard on the ground was certainly on its back so I think they were fighting not mating. They were stationary for 30 secs or so then burst into furious activity followed by another period of quiet. After 7 or 8 minutes of this they packed up and both flew away with no signs of obvious injury. All the time they were doing this, on of the crows kept sneaking in and pecking them. I couldn't tell if it was both buzzards or only one. After they all flew off we had a good look for any signs of prey but saw nothing."


Bridge Road Wayside
Walking out this morning I came across a group of Havant Borough Council workers clearing the brambles and other undergrowth from the north shrubbery in Bridge Road car park - just a few yards from my house. This is, of course, one of the Emsworth waysides. The leader, Lee, told me they would be leaving the mature trees and bushes, but clearing the rest. This is a good move as it will tidy up that area of the car park which is ecologically of little significance and collects a lot of littler which is hard to get at. This is in contrast to the central shrubbery which should not be touched as it houses a flock of House Sparrows as well as many other bird species. Lee assured me they were going no further. The Beech hedge would be tackled on another day.

Mute Swan news
There was nothing of special interest on the millpond this morning, but I was surprised to find three cygnets in the channel beneath the quay. They presumably include the two now abandoned by their parents who have returned to their nesting site on Slipper Millpond plus one other rejected from somewhere else. It was not the lone cygnet on the town millpond which is still enjoying the company of its parents - for the time being, at least.

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips went round the meadow this afternoon and saw a Water Rail in the flooded area of Palmers Road Copse, but could not manage a photo. Malcolm waited about half an hour to see if it would reappear but no luck. Here is one he took last month, just in case you could not remember what it looked like.

That was out first sighting of a Water Rail on Brook Meadow for nearly a month. It could well be another bird than the one we saw regularly by the S-bend in the river from 22-Sep-14 to 21-Dec-14.

Although Malcolm did not get the Water Rail this time, he did snap this rather nice Chiffchaff on the meadow. I think it is a regular common Chiffchaff and not the Siberian version which we have not seen since 14-Jan-15. It could possibly have moved on.

Song Thrushes
Patrick Murphy has had a pair of Song Thrushes in his north Emsworth garden. He managed to get a photo of them feeding on the droppings from the bird feeders, sun flower hearts, fat balls and bird cake. This could be a pair of local birds preparing for the breeding season, or possibly winter migrants from the Continent. Patrick will keep us informed of any further sightings.

Langstone shore
On Saturday (Jan 24), Charlie Annalls took a walk from the car park near the sewage works in Bedhampton along past Southmmoor to The Royal Oak and then on to the paddock. She got two more firsts for her, following the Kingfisher on Peter Pond and the Blackcaps in her garden. She says, "January 2015 is turning into an amazing month for me."
Charlie's first first on Saturday's walk was a Goldcrest in the brambles at the car park at the end of Southmoor Lane. She didn't realise what it was until she got home to check the photos and was thrilled to see the distinctive yellow crown patch.

Charlie's second first was the long-staying female Goosander on Langstone Mill Pond, shown here having a good splash and clean up.

Petersfield Heath
Mike Wells spent about three hours at Petersfield Heath over the week-end and saw lots of birds most of which were too fast for a photo. However, he did get some very cute photos of Long-tailed Tits. Here is one I like in particular.

Mike also got this cracking Great Crested Grebe on Petersfield Pond.

Mute Swan 'busking'
Ralph Hollins reminded me that the familiar Mute Swan threat display, with neck curved back and wings half raised, which we are seeing a lot of from the swans on the town millpond currently, is known as 'busking'. Both feet are paddled in unison during this display, resulting in more jerky movement.

Here is a pair of swans busking on Slipper Millpond that I took several years ago

Long-tailed Tit song
On Sunday Jan 25, Ralph Hollins heard what sounded a little like Blue Tit song though something about it was not quite right - it was too rhythmic and sounded almost mechanical. He soon spotted the birds from which the sound was coming and they were all Long-Tailed Tits. He then found a Youtube video which confirmed that that this was in fact a Long-tailed Tit song, something Ralph had never knowingly heard before! He says, we are all familiar with the normal rattling contact call of these birds but the song is much quieter and higher pitched with a rhythmic "tsee tsee tsee tsee" sound. He says you can hear it among the normal contact calls in a YouTube video at . . .

Personally, I could not hear the song on the video. However, the song is clearly discernable on Disk 4 (Song 36) of the Jean C Roche Bird Songs of Britain and Europe if you have the CDs. But I am not sure how to put the song onto this blog.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby loitered down the Langstone Mill Pond today from 11:35am to 2:17pm - tide pushing in eventually. Here is his report along with some interesting photos:
Langstone Mill Pond: Male & female Wigeon, Cormorant swimming around, 7 roosting Little Egret, No visible sign of anything in the Holm Oak nests, however the south nest contained two birds, one standing, the other sitting. Flooded horse paddock: 48 Teal, 27 Moorhen,
Off Pook Lane: A very impressive flock of Brent Geese flew off the Castle Farm fields and landed in the channel. A through count revealed 1,181 birds! By the end of the visit they had all returned back to the fields.

A very muddy Redshank - almost unrecognisable

5 Greenshank (G//R+BRtag//-), 85 Bar-tailed Godwits, 19 Knot, 61 Dunlin, 32 Golden Plover, 62 Shelduck, 82 Lapwing, 17 Red breasted Merganser, 1 female Goldeneye, 7 Grey Plover, 14 Black-tailed Godwits (B//R+GO//- and G//R+LG//-) - photos attached showing rings and how dirty the water spurting can be when the birds want to spit out their gullets full of sea water and mud! B+GO was at Nore Barn on 06-Jan-15.

And, then at 2pm a noisy (different sounding honk) flock of 75 Barnacle Geese flew in from the west, circled once over the channel and then headed north west high over the Hayling Bridge. I wonder where they had come from and where they were going!" I think we would all like to know that. Wild or feral?

Tufted Ducks at Baffins
Reading about the lack of Tufted Ducks at Emsworth, Eric Eddles thought I might like to see this shot taken at Baffins Pond last Friday. Can we have some please?

Nesting season starts early
In view of the photo Malcolm Phillips got of a Long-tailed Tit collecting nesting material on Brook Meadow on it is not all that surpising that the BTO has received several reports of early nesting including an extremely early clutch of Robin eggs, Moorhens on eggs and a nest of Mistle Thrushes in a Glasgow Park that has successfully fledged in recent weeks.
See . . .


It was a very pleasant morning for a walk around the local area, chilly, but the sun was poking through the clouds and there was no wind. On Emsworth Millpond I found the two pairs of Mute Swans on their respective northern and southern territories, well away from each other.
Walking round the millpond seawall I witnessed a fine spectacle of several hundred Brent Geese sailing down into the harbour in skeins, honking noisily as they came. They had probably been feeding in the fields somewhere.

Here is a photo of a few of them.

I met Malcolm Phillips who was bemoaning the fact that he got no photos at all on Brook Meadow. He did much better at Nore Barn - see below for his photos.

The two cygnets from the Slipper Millpond brood were alone near the quay, clearly abandoned by their parents whom I saw chasing one of them off earlier in the week.

I went over to Slipper Millpond where I found both the parent swans back on their nesting territory; the female 'Polish' swan was conveniently showing one of her pink feet to confirm their identity as the pair that nested here last year.

Walked back through Brook Meadow where a few Butterbur flowers were just emerging on the western side of the meadow just below the seat.

Nore Barn
Malcolm Phillips went onto Nore Barn after I met him on the millpond seawall and got a few pics, including our old friend the Spotted Redshank which is now in its 11th winter running in Emsworth and a Black-tailed Godwit in flight showing off its white wing bar (which distinguishes it from a Bar-tailed Godwit which has plain wings).

Emsworth to Warblington
Peter Milinets-Raby walked from Emsworth to Warblington on a chilly grey morning:
Emsworth Mill Pond sea wall (southern half of the pond frozen over - 7:52am as the sun rose - Extremely low tide throughout so not ideal conditions to count stuff!!)
5 Pied Wagtails on the sea wall, Rock Pipit calling from somewhere, 346 Brent Geese, 92 noisy Canada Geese in the channel by the town (one with extra white on the face?), 48 Coot that I could see. 23 Lapwing, but could not find any Turnstone?? 8 Grey Plover, 4 Dunlin, 3 Greenshank, Male & female Red Breasted Merganser, 6 Gadwall (3 pairs), 1 Kingfisher perched on boat, 1 Little Egret in stream, 7 Shelduck.
Mill Pond outflow (from 8:20am): 7 Wigeon, 37 Brent Geese, 1 Grey Plover, 16 Dunlin, 3 Teal, 1 Little Egret.
Off Beacon Square (from 8:35am): 41 Brent Geese, 3 male & 3 female Pintail, 11 Wigeon, 41 Dunlin, 4 Shelduck, 2 Black-tailed Godwit.
Nore Barn (From 8:44am - Ridiculously low tide and everything disturbed by two guys walking out along the stream to the main channel to collect a boat!!!). 86 Teal, 59 Wigeon, 14 Black-tailed Godwit, 4 male & 2 female Pintail, 57 Dunlin, 2 Grey Plover, 9 Shelduck, 31 Brent Geese.
Warblington cemetery (from 9:03am): Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrest.
Conigar Point (from 9:20am): 36 Shelduck, 43 Dunlin, 6 Lapwing, 23 Teal, 4 male & 4 female Pintail, 15 Wigeon, 2 Grey Plover, 9 Brent Geese.
Pook Lane (from 9:40am): 48 Shelduck, 29 Wigeon, 117 Bar-tailed Godwit (feeding together with the Knot - impressive sight), 113 Knot, 55 Lapwing, 123 Brent Geese on the mud and 461 Brent on the field beside the church with 2 Lapwing. 14 Red breasted Merganser in the trickle of water left in the channel, 1 female Goosander feeding in the channel away from the Mergansers, 9 Little Egrets in the channel, 2 female Goldeneye in the channel, 7 Grey Plover, 29 Golden Plover, 1 Greenshank, 12 Black-tailed Godwit, 47 Dunlin. Very few Dunlin in view today !!!


Blackcap in garden
Joyce Sawyer's husband managed to get this rather fine action shot of the male Blackcap that has been visiting their garden in Denvilles. Clearly, it has taken a liking to the fat balls.

Malcolm's pics
Malcolm Phillips had a quick walk round Brook Meadow this morning and got photos of some of our common birds that are often not featured in this blog. Thanks Malcolm. From right to left: Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird (female), Song Thrush.


Millpond News
I walked over to the millpond this afternoon (3.30 - 4.00) to see how the warring Mute Swans were doing. Both pairs were close together on the east side of the pond at the end of Nile Street, but only sparring, not fighting in the half an hour I was watching them. This takes the form of the two males circling around each other with wings raised. The two females were nearby, but generally did not get involved.

Here is a link to a YouTube video clip of the Swans' activity . . .

Most of the 100 or so gulls were standing on the ice which covered mainly the southern section of the pond. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls with 5 Common Gulls and a couple of Herring Gulls. I went through the Black-headed Gulls looking for rings, but did not find any.

As usual a good number of Mallard had migrated onto Bridgefoot Path and where they were blocking the passage of cars along the road.

Harbour news
The tide was high in the eastern harbour, so no sign of any waders. I counted 92 Coot in the harbour near the eastern shore, which looks like our quota of wintering birds this year.

The Mute Swan family near the quay only had one cygnet with the two adults. This probably means the second cygnet which I saw being chased by one of the adults yesterday has now been driven off for good. The adults appeared to be fairly relaxed with the remaining cygnet, though I suspect that will be chased off too in the near future.

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips went round a very frosty Brook Meadow today.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby says it was -4.7C in his back garden this morning, so he was not at all surprised to see the Langstone Mill Pond 3/4 frozen over! He visited between 11:27am to 1:40pm (High tide) Here are the highlights:
Tiny piece of salt marsh left, which held 8 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Dunlin, 2 Lapwing, 1 Greenshank, 2 Grey Plover.
On the high tide water in the channel: 79 Shelduck, 51 Teal, 76 Wigeon, 350+ Brent Geese, 4 Red Breasted Merganser, 2 male & 2 female Pintail.
Frozen horse paddock: No Teal, 3 Foxes, 25 Moorhen, 2 female Pheasant.
Langstone Mill Pond: Great to photograph the duck etc. on the ice!! Male & female Wigeon, Female Goosander on the tree at the back, mostly asleep the entire visit.
Breeding Grey Herons:- Top nest on the Holm Oak visited twice by male with huge sticks. The female was sitting out of sight and her head could be seen re-arranging the sticks before settling down again and out of sight. Lower Holm Oak nest. Bird briefly stood up and fiddled with the sticks at her feet, then settled down and disappeared behind the foliage. South Nest: Two birds still present. Lots of noise from these two!
The bird of the morning was the very obliging Water Rail that was wandering around on the ice and occasionally on the path!!!

Rock Pipits
Eric Eddles has been following the discussion on this blog (Jan 22) about an unusual Rock Pipit at Nore Barn. He says there is a regular pair of Rock Pipits that can be see on the old shingle jetty opposite Tangier Road on the Eastern Road - known as Salterns Quay. Eric sent me a cracking photo (below) of one of the birds on 26-09-14. This bird has the black legs which Ralph Hollins associated with Rock Pipits, though now admits they are not always black, but sometimes dark red. However, they are never pink like those of a Meadow Pipit. As to whether Eric's bird is a Scandinavian Rock Pipit (Anthus littoralis) I have no idea and will leave that to others to judge.

Bumper cone crop
Kevin Sayer posted the following message on Hoslist which will be of interest to local garden bird watchers. "You may be wondering why there are so few Siskins & Redpolls at your feeders this winter. The posting below from a Scottish Ringer may offer a reasonable explanation."
"The cone crop of spruce in plantations across the northern half of the UK is massive this year. This is well shown on a recent episode of BBC TV Winterwatch programme. The pictures show the abundance of cones well, and this is the same right across Scotland. So there was no need for Siskins, Redpolls or Crossbills to head south in the autumn - which may explain your low numbers this winter. Spring 2015 should be a bumper breeding season, then if the cone crop fails next summer, there should be lots of birds heading south."

Little Egret catches rodent
Christopher Evans has been enjoying this blog since Ralph Hollins recommended it a few months ago. Now he makes his first contribution. Christopher's photo of the Egret is interesting as it shows it catching an unusual prey.
"Walking down the Hayling Billy trail this morning I was watching a Little Egret in the stream alongside Wade Court. I suddenly realised it had caught something and was surprised to see that it was a mouse or a another small rodent that it had obviously plucked off the bank. A few seconds later, down it went. Also in the stream was a Grey Wagtail."


Nore Barn Spotted Redshanks
Jean and I walked to Nore Barn this morning. The tide was fairly high by the time we got to Nore Barn at 10.30, but we were pleased to see two Spotted Redshanks still feeding happily in the stream, that is until an unruly dog ran in to disturb them. But, they came back, as they always do, and I managed to get a shot of them fairly close together. Neither had rings.

I have seen two Spotted Redshanks at Nore Barn on several occasions this winter. However, the once familiar colour-ringed Greenshank G+GL has not been seen since early December; it appears to have gone off somewhere else. One of the two Spotted Redshanks will be the regular bird that has been at Nore Barn for the past 11 winters running.

Interestingly, Ralph Hollins was at Nore Barn on Tuesday (Jan 20) when he had the impression that the Spotted Redshank came back to the shore not from over the open sea, as is usual, but from an upstream roost site beyond the trees adjacent to Maisemore Gardens. That is something I have never seen. There is a small pond in the woodland area that the Nore Barn Woods volunteers have been clearing out. Maybe it has discovered that.

Unusual Rock Pipit
When Ralph Hollins was at Nore Barn on Jan 20 he found a lone Pipit on the grass (the shingle was covered with a high tide at that time) near the Picnic table. The bird behaved like a Rock Pipit but did not have the dark underparts and black legs of the Rock Pipits that Ralph has seen on the South Moors shore. See Ralph's diary for Jan 20 at . . .
Since then he has come across a PDF with several photos of Rock Pipit, most of which do not have the black legs that he thought were an essential feature of Rock Pipit. Ralph's conclusion is the bird was a Scandinavian Rock Pipit (Anthus littoralis). See . . .

It will be worth keeping an eye out for this bird or other Rock Pipits that might be in the local area. Photos would be a great help. However, the article referred to by Ralph stresses the difficulty in separating the two races of Rock Pipit which can be very variable in their plumage features with a good degree of overlap. It concludes that only extreme examples of A. littoralis should be identified with any degree of confidence.

Photo of a Rock Pipit taken on the shore of Emsworth Harbour in November 2011 by Romney Turner
It shows well the dark plumage of the bird.

Here is a photo I got of a Rock Pipit at Nore Barn in February 2012.

Swans chasing off youngsters
When Jean and I got back to the harbour at the end of South Street, we found the Mute Swan family with two cygnets from the nest on Slipper Millpond in their regular spot near the quay. The cygnets are now acquiring their white feathers though it will be a couple of years before they become completely white.
Interestingly, while we were watching, one of the adult swans made several attempts to chase off the cygnets, but without much success as they kept coming back. The adults in a pair usually do chase off the offspring from the last brood at this time of the year before they get back down to nesting again. The cygnets certainly should be gone when the adults move back to their nesting site on Slipper Millpond or Peter Pond.

Millpond - Red-breasted Merganser
Looking across the millpond, we could see the distinctive shape and black and white colouring of a male Red-breasted Merganser on the pond. The photo shows well the red eye and the typical shaggy hair style of the bird.

Red-breasted Mergansers of both sexes have been fairly regular visitors to the millpond this winter and have been reported by several people. In contrast, Tufted Duck have been very scarce with 6 the most recorded so far at the end of December, though this could change with a spell of cold weather. There has been no Great Crested Grebe sighting this winter at all, though Little Grebes have been seen occasionally on the pond. As for Goldeneye, well, they are a dim and distant memory!

Cormorant drying wings
Malcolm Phillips walked down to Thorney today and got this excellent image of a Cormorant hanging its wings out to dry. This is very common behaviour of these birds after they have been fishing when their wings become waterlogged. However, I gather a secondary reason for the behaviour is to help in the digestion of food by exposing the stomach to warmth of the sun.

Garden Blackcaps
My note yesterday about male Blackcaps being scarce in gardens this winter prompted a couple of people to reply that they have had males visiting their gardens.
Charlie Annalls had the first ever Blackcaps - both male and female - in the communal shrubbery at the front of her house on January 4th this year. She has often seen them reported on the blog but not seen any in Portsmouth until this year. Charlie is happy to know they come to her area too. 'Charming birds with cute little hats on!'

Here are a couple of Charlie's photos of male and female Blackcaps.

Joyce Sawyer also wrote to say she has had a male Blackcap visiting her Denvilles garden for at least two weeks. It's been going on to a fat ball feeder that's hanging in a bush. Joyce has not yet managed to get a photo of the bird for as soon as she gets the camera poised he moves to the other side of the bush or flies off. Keep trying, Joyce!

Signs of spring
On our way to Nore Barn this morning, Jean and I passed a Hazel bush with large open catkins hanging over the pavement from a garden in Warblington Road. These are not the first, but certainly the best catkins I have seen this winter.

Frances Jannaway was at Emsworth Primary School on 20 January and noted 3 or 4 Daffodils in flower in fenced off area round the pond. Has anyone else seen Daffodils in flower in the local area?


Battle of the swans
Walking around the town millpond this morning I witnessed an almighty scrap between the two Mute Swan pairs vying for territory on the pond. At first all was fairly peaceful with the two pairs circling around each other with the cygnet from the resident pair keeping its distance.

However, the two males suddenly launched themselves at each other in a great flurry of wings and splashings.

The female of the resident pair also joined in

occasionally hurling herself onto the two warring males

Eventually, one of the males managed to get on top of the other male and tried to push its head under the water, but did not succeed. This went on for about 10 minutes during which I took many photos and a video clip.
Link to YouTube video . . .

Questions from Peter Milinets-Raby
Q1. What happened to the female of the losing bird? I note that the female of the winning bird hung around and supported the male.
A: The female of the non-resident pair was a little distance away and did not take part in the fighting.

Q2. Were the pair that won the owner of the juv that was swimming around and not being chased off?
A: Yes, the young bird lurking around in the background was the sole survivor of last year's brood of the resident pair. Unlike the Langstone Mill Pond swans the juvenile has not yet been chased off by the parents, though this is bound to happen soon.

Q3. So, does this mean that the pair that nested last year have won the right to nest again? Or is there still more fighting to be done?
A: What I am calling the resident pair have nested on the millpond for the last two years. They built the famous 'litter nest' near the north bridge. They have driven off all the other swans from the millpond and the only swans brave enough to venture on the pond are this visiting pair. I think it is the same pair that tried to encroach last year also, but without success. There used to be a flock of 50+ at this time of the year. I am sure the fighting is not over. The visiting pair did not give up easily last year.

Local residents are organising a scheme to provide nesting material to the swans this year so they don't have to rely on litter. They hope to encourage the visiting pair to nest in the southern section of the pond well away from the resident pair, but personally I reckon that is too much to hope for.

Garden birds
I kept a close eye on the birds visiting my garden today, just in case anything unusual turned up, like a Brambling or a Siskin. But no, there was nothing special. However, the regulars were all pretty active including the male Great Spotted Woodpecker which has discovered the delights of sunflower hearts.

I also had the regular female Blackcap pecking away at an old apple I had stuck onto the Buddleja bush, but I have yet to see a male. Patrick Murphy also reports a regular female Blackcap in his garden, but no male. Tony Wootton has also had a female in his garden and got this excellent image of the bird. Males appear to be a bit scarce this winter?

Yesterday Patrick Murphy had a treat in the form of a male Bullfinch in his garden. I haven't seen one of those for ages.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby had another look at the Langstone Mill Pond this morning (same time 10am to 11am - high tide again - very grey day with light damp drizzle). Grim grey weather!
The island in the middle of the channel was just submerging as I arrived so I managed to see a few waders leave and head towards Hayling Bridge. These were: 55+ Lapwing, 30+ Grey Plover, 25+ Dunlin, Otherwise very little around.
On the pond: Male and female Wigeon, Female Goosander asleep on the tree at the furthest corner of the pond (see poor record photo).

No sign of any Grey Heron on the Holm Oak nests, but almost certainly present, tucked down tight against the damp grey weather. The south nest held two birds again, one standing the other sitting very low, almost impossible to see, so not surprised that the Holm Oak birds were not visible. These birds are obviously on eggs. What is the incubation time? Answer: 25-28 days.
Mute Swan pair on their own on the pond - kids kicked out and no where to be seen. Very aggressive birds attacking my shoes as I watched the Goosander.
Off shore on the high tide water: 87 Shelduck, 46 Wigeon, 250+ Brent Geese, 14 Red Breasted Merganser, 5 male and 4 female Pintail (see the poor record photos), 3 female Goldeneye. Flooded horse paddock: 59 Teal, 21 Moorhen,


Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips went round the meadow early this afternoon. He said there was not too much movement. However, he did get a Long-Tailed Tit collecting nesting material and Malcolm's photo is enough to gladden the heart on this cold winter's day.

The Long-tailed Tit nest is an elaborate domed structure densely packed with feathers, bound with spider's webs and covered in lichen. The nest may be low in dense cover (e.g. brambles) or high in a tree against a trunk and may take up to a month to build. Even so, this is quite an early start to nest building. Here is a photo of one on Brook Meadow taken by Maurice Lillie in March 2012 - showing well the lichen covering over the nest.

Malcolm also saw a Song Thrush in Palmers Road Copse taking a worm. Song Thrushes are usually associated with snails, but they will also take worms as well as a variety of insects. In addition, they eat fruit in autumn and winter.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby walked to the Langstone Mill Pond this morning at 10am for an hour (high tide and an overnight frost down to -3C). He entered along Wade Lane - very icy with frozen ground everywhere. Three plus Song Thrushes seen, along with a handsome male Bullfinch. Little Egret feeding in one horse paddock. The flooded horse paddock was frozen solid and only occupied by 17 Moorhen. No Teal.
On the high tide channel were: 19 Teal, 57 Wigeon, 300+ Brent Geese, 73 Shelduck, 1 male and 2 female Goldeneye. The resident pair of Mute Swans were chasing away several times (with vigour and with lots of flying and chasing) their 3 offspring - time to move on kids!!
The pond was surprisingly not frozen! 7 Little Egrets roosting on the trees at the back. Male & female Wigeon, 2 Grey Heron roosting, 11 Teal. All three Grey Heron nests occupied. A Grey Heron was watched flying in with a stick onto the top nest in the Holm Oak, where a sitting bird emerged from the vegetation to arrange the stick into place before nestling down again!


Swan nesting news
You will recall, that for the past two years, the resident Mute Swan pair on the town millpond have constructed their nest near to the road bridge from litter and other miscellaneous debris found around the pond.

Clearly, that was not very satisfactory, though the swan pair did manage to rear one cygnet in each of the two years. This year local resident, Jackie-Michelle Daines is determined to improve their nesting facilities. Jackie's first idea was to install a raft, but on the advice of the Queen's Swan Master, whom she consulted, that was ruled out as swans do not like to nest on anything that moves. Interestingly, the swans on Slipper Millpond have never taken any interest in nesting on the rafts on that pond probably for that reason. The Swan Master's advice was to provide them with good nesting material (e.g. water reeds) and let the swans do the rest.
Following this advice, Jackie contacted a local thatcher who kindly offered to donate as much reed as was needed to enable the swans to build the nest properly. He will deliver the reed to Jackie's house in Havant in February and she will then slowly feed the reed to the swans so they can build their nest. Jackie says it is no use just dumping the reed on to the nest site, it needs to be fed to the swans in short bits so they can build the nest. She thinks they are likely to build the nest in the same place as before near the bridge.
As for the other pair of swans that are currently vying with the residents for territory on the millpond, Jackie thinks they could nest by the new wall around Swan House (used to be Tenerife Cottage) in Bath Road. There is a section of exposed gravel there that the swans could use.
HBC have already been approached and are quite happy so long as the nest material does not block any pipes, etc. Jackie added that HBC no longer control the town pond they just maintain the vegetation around the edges and clear the rubbish when requested by the Environment Agency. The EA now have responsibility for the pond on a day to day basis, eg maintaining the water levels.
Well, all seems to be in place, so, let the show commence!


Jay in Nore Barn Woods
I met Chris Berners-Price in Emsworth this morning. He had been for a walk around Nore Barn Woods where he heard a Jay calling. This was the first one he had ever heard in the woods and hoped it indicated a pair taking up residence.

Baffins Pond
Master Thomas Irons and his parents had a wonderful afternoon at Baffins Pond. Thomas really enjoyed spotting all the different species of birds. Yes, Baffins Pond is such a good place to get really good views of birds. Here are a few of Thomas's sightings that his mother, Glynis, sent to me. The left side photo is a male Tufted Duck. But the duck on the right defies identification. Thomas named it "the duck amongst the pigeons" which is as good as any, I suppose!

The Irons family also witnessed a kind man removing a fishing line which had got tangled around the leg of this Feral Pigeon.

For more details on Baffins Pond go to . . . Baffins Pond

Mystery caterpillar
Ralph Hollins thinks the caterpillar that Chris Oakley had on the Hampshire Farm site is most likely to be Ruby Tiger.

This is one of the many moth caterpillars that hibernate over winter. Ralph gives the following link to a photo which is the cosest match to the hairiness, hair colour and the underlying black body colour of Chris's photo.

Farlington Marshes
Ros Norton reported on this morning's walk by the Havant Wildlife Group. Highlights included a juvenile Spoonbill and a partially albino (leucistic) Canada Goose. For the full report see . . . Havant Wildlife Group (2015 reports)


Emsworth Harbour
I had a quick look at the harbour from the marina seawall at about 12 noon. There were plenty of Brent Geese in the harbour and hundreds of Dunlin mainly feeding along the edges of the channels.
The most interesting birds in the harbour were 24 Gadwall in the low water channel near the town, mostly in male-female pairs. Gadwall are regular visitors to the harbour at this time of the year; they seem to arrive with the wintering Coot, of which there were around 100 in the channel.

I also noted 14 Lapwing on the seaweed covered rocks, plus a few Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Greenshank; none were colour-ringed.

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips got a couple of nice photos on Brook Meadow today. A Song Thrush - what a cracking bird that is. That is probably the one you can hear singing from the east side of the meadow.

And this House Sparrow which looks very sorry for itself, having been caught in a shower of rain.

Hampshire Farm
Chris Oakley walked round the Hampshire Farm open space area this afternoon. Here is his report: "It was a beautiful winter's day with a light west wind and extremely mild. The pond is at its expected level for this time of the year despite the recent rain, and the outfall into the river at Bourne bridge is quite low. There is a small amount of standing water especially along the eastern hedge line and the stream, although flowing quite fast, is far from bank-full. Where the water outlets into the pond the grass is noticeably green and lush unlike the rest which has taken a pounding over the last few weeks.
The horses in the top east meadow have new neighbours; four big white pigs. The log piles still have a few Bonnet fungi but the yellow Stag's horn has gone at last. I was surprised to find a small furry Caterpillar under a piece of bark, it was about 30mm long. I would hazard a guess that it's one of the Tiger Moths. I know they were around there in the summer.

The open grass area is covered in millions of thread cob-webs. There are so many that they make the field look quite silver against the sun. I saw only one spider, a small shiny brown one of about 3mm long.

Sparrowhawk encounter
Yesterday, Charlie Annalls had the pleasure of a visit from this magnificent male Sparrowhawk in her neighbour's garden for about 20 minutes. Charlie lives near Hilsea in Portsmouth. This male has the brightest brown underparts that I have ever seen. Quite magnificent. Actually, Charlie was about to leave for a quick trip to Brook Meadow, but on seeing the hawk she couldn't pass up such an opportunity! He was first seen on the gate.

He then swooped down to where the mice play but didn't get anything. He then sat amongst the birdfeeders and looked contemptuously at the fat slab, looking up and around for any potential prey.

Later Charlie heard the thwack of bird meeting bird and found a pile of pale feathers belonging to a Collared Dove, which survived the attack and flew off. I doubt if the dove would have survived an attack from the much larger and more powerful female Sparrowhawk. This was Charlie's first Sparrowhawk and was thrilled to see him.
Charlie did eventually get to Brook Meadow but it was pouring and nothing of much interest to see today except a very tame and tuneful Robin.

For earlier observations go to . . January 1-15