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

for February 1-15, 2015
in reverse chronological order

Blog Archives . . . from 2012 to current


Malcolm's news
It was a very pleasant almost spring-like morning for a stroll through Brook Meadow and round Slipper Millpond. While on Brook Meadow we met Malcolm Phillips who had just seen and photographed a Treecreeper near the south bridge, his first one of the year.

Malcolm also got a shot of a Blue Tit with nest materials in its bill emerging from what must be a nesting hole in one of the large Crack Willows on the north path.

Malcolm said he had not seen the Siberian Chiffchaff for some weeks (since Jan 14 in fact) and thought it must have gone. He had not seen any common Chiffchaffs either. The long staying Water Rail has also not been seen since Jan 31 and may have moved on as well.

Plant news
While on Brook Meadow I checked the flower spikes of Butterbur which are now starting to emerge from the buds in the area below the main seat.

Along the path behind Lillywhite's Garage I found a variety of plants in flower including Sweet Violet, Common Field Speedwell, Common Chickweed and a bright yellow flower of Lesser Celandine.

Also along this path there a fresh growth of Lords and Ladies, including some with dark spotted leaves.

The now severely truncated Gorse bush on the east side of Slipper Millpond is flowering well and looks good on this photo with the pool in the background.

Looking more closely at its rich golden yellow flowers one can appreciate why the plant botanically belongs to the pea group. The flowers have the characteristic five petals of the pea family with a standard petal at the top, two wing petals at the sides and two lower petals forming a boat-shaped keel.

Tagged Greenshank
Glynis and Tim Irons had a lovely walk this morning with their 9-year old son Thomas through Brook Meadow, Peter Pond, the Harbour and then to the town millpond. Thomas, who is a keen birdwatcher, spotted wading birds in the harbour and took some photos. One of them was a colour-ringed and tagged Greenshank - RG+BY tag (ie left leg: red over green and right leg blue over yellow with the geo tag on the blue ring). Although Thomas's photo only shows the left leg rings he also saw the colours on the other leg which enabled me to identify it.

RG+BY tag was one of 3 Greenshanks that Pete Potts and his team caught at Thorney on 19-Mar-13 and fitted geolocators to the blue rings. The bird has been seen 10 times in Emsworth Harbour since its ringing and today's sighting was the 5th in this winter season.

First Blackbird song
As I was writing this blog at 6pm this evening my wife called me into the kitchen to hear a bird singing in the back garden. It was our first Blackbird song of the year and the song was full and rich, certainly not a sub-song in any way. Last year I heard my first Blackbird song on Feb 16th so it looks as if it is about on time.

Hybrid goose on Baffins Pond
Eric Eddles helped to answer my puzzlement over why the hybrid goose on Baffins Pond that he photographed on Feb 13 should be so different in appearance from one of its assumed parents ie a Canada Goose. Eric said that expert Dave Appleton wrote as follows: 'It is likely to be a hybrid between a domestic goose such as (Embden) and a Canada Goose. Such very white birds as this are difficult to separate from domestic geese as the white plumage masks the usual signs of Canada Goose involvement, so I would shy from being 100% positive, but it is as least consistent with how I would expect a domestic goose x Canada Goose hybrid to appear.'
Thanks, Eric. I think that resolves my problem with the ID, though I still think it is a bit strange that things happen this way.

Finally, Peter Milinets-Raby sends a link to breeding event between a domestic goose and a lame female Canada Goose which he says sheds some light on things and resolves the situation. As Peter says, the offspring in the photos that are white look just like the Baffins Pond bird. See . . .

Havant Wildlife Group at Southsea
Fay Durant reported on yesterday's walk by the Havant Wildlife Group:
See . . .


Hybrid Goose on Baffins Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby said he had a 20 minute break at Baffins Pond yesterday and found himself looking at the 'hybrid goose' photographed by Eric Eddles - see blog for Feb 13. Here is Eric's original photo.

Peter admits knowing nothing about domestic geese, but after looking up photos of a pure Embden Goose on the internet (China blue eyes, tubby two lobbed bottom end, funny shaped bill), he is sure that the bird at Baffins Pond is not a pure Embden Goose. He thought it looked similar to one with darker blue/black eyes, but lacked the jiz and weird tubby shape that characterises a pure Embden.
Peter agreed with me that the goose looked nothing like a Canada Goose, it has none of its features. However, he thought it could be a white Greylag Goose. He says, "considering that 50% of all domestic geese are descended from Greylag Geese, it is no wonder the bird in the photo looks like a white Greylag with probably a hint of Embden. Pure Embden Geese are a very specialist bred goose".
Eric Eddles e-mailed today to say the expert who identified the Baffins goose as a Embden x Canada hybrid was Dave Appleton at He added "for about 14 years we had a female Embden on Baffins Pond which I was told had young in recent years. But there has never been a male at the pond and she never flew, so, make your own mind up".
Well, Eric, I am sure Dave Appleton knows a lot more about domestic geese than I will ever know - and that probably goes for Peter too. So, we must bow to his greater knowledge and experience, though it would be nice to have an explanation of why it is that this hybrid looks so little like one of its parents.
Just for interest, here is a photo dating back to May 2004 that I found in my files of a Canada Goose family on the path at Baffins Pond with what I called at the time an Embden Goose, but I am not sure any more.



I had my usual walk round the millpond. I noticed that the resident Mute Swan pair did not have their cygnet present for the first time. It has probably been 'encouraged' to join the flock of swans in the channel by the quay which actually contains six immature swans. Quite a crèche! I walked back home through Brook Meadow where I took a few photos just for the fun of it.

A view across the meadow looking east showing the central line of willows

The north bridge over the river with craggy willows

Little Egrets fighting
Malcolm Phillips did not find much of interest on Brook Meadow today so he had a walk around the millpond to Beach Road. On the way he watched a couple of Little Egrets seemingly having a fight on the concrete foreshore immediately beneath the quay. I also saw the two egrets when I walked round the pond this morning, but they were peaceful then. What were they up to?

Birds of the Western Palearctic does not have much to say on the matter of antagonistic behaviour in Little Egrets away from the nesting colony except that it does mention chasing and threat calling has been observed during disputes between feeding birds. So, the fight that Malcolm saw could have been a squabble over food.
Putting 'Little Egret aggression' into Google produces several photos similar to Malcolm's. So, this behaviour is not uncommon. One web site provided an excellent sequence of photos of aggression between two egrets in which one almost drowned the other, though both birds emerged uninjured at the end of the fight. This is not unlike the scraps between the swans on the town millpond. See . . .

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby popped down to Langstone Mill Pond this afternoon ahead of the incoming tide (3:04pm to 4:24pm).
Pond: Female Wigeon. Female Goosander on pond from 4pm and straight to sleep on the tree on the back. 1 Water Rail swam across the pond from one reed bed to another.
Grey Herons:- On at least three occasions heard young begging, but no activity observed in all three nests.
Off Pook Lane: 220+ Dunlin (just could not find the sandpiper!). 3 Knot. 40+ Teal. 1 Greenshank (G//R+BRtag//-) First one I have seen in three visits. Are they leaving us already? 25+ Lapwing. 1 Turnstone. 7 Grey Plover. 20+ Shelduck. 15 Black-tailed Godwits. 210+ Brent Geese. 651 Golden Plover - counted in flight from a photo. They landed several times on the shore, but spent most of the time I was there swirling around in spectacular flights!

One of Peter's photos of the Golden Plover in flight.

Is that a Peregrine I spy catching one of the plovers?
But, Peter says the bird in the photo was a juv Herring Gull.

Finally, a Little Egret eating crab.

Hybrid Goose on Baffins Pond
After reading about the possible hybrid Brent Goose at Langstone in this blog on Feb 11th, Eric Eddles thought we would be interested to see a photo of a hybrid Canada Goose x Embden Goose, which has been coming and going on Baffins Pond for a number of years.

I must admit that the bird looks to me like a regular Embden Goose, with very little of a Canada Goose in it. However, Eric said it was identified for him by an expert on hybrids. I would appreciate any other views.


Hungry Starling
Glynis Irons e-mailed to say after much patience and perseverance they now have regular visitors to their bird feeders. Glynis and her family in fact live just round the corner from me. Her 9 year old son Thomas is a keen birdwatcher and has been using his camera to good effect in taking photos of the birds in the garden and very good they are too. Here is an excellent action photo that Thomas got of a hungry Starling on one of the bird feeders. See below for more about Starlings.

Identifying Redshanks
Charlie Annalls walked around the Farlington Marshes reserve on Saturday 7th February to see the Avocets. She found them just near the entrance from the Eastern Rd roundabout. What cracking birds they are.

Charlie also saw a Redshank, but as she is never sure of the differences between a Common and Spotted Redshank she will leave me to decide!

Well, the bird in Charlie's photo is almost certainly a Common Redshank. The Spotted Redshank, as well as having a longer bill and legs, looks brighter and cleaner, being grey above and white below unlike the brown upper plumage and streaked underparts of the Common Redshank. The clear white eyebrows of the Spotshank also produces a distinctive face pattern, particularly when viewed from the front.

Mike's images from QE Country Park
Mike Wells spent an hour at QE Park today to try and get a better photo of a Grey Wagtail, which he managed! And what a cracker it is. PS Don't be tempted to call it a Yellow Wagtail, which is a quite different bird.

Mike also got this image of a Robin with a metal ring on its leg. This will be a standard BTO ring with a unique number on it, but unfortunately it cannot be read on Mike's photo. It might well have been ringed by a local ringer. A good number of Robins do migrate here from the continent in winter, so it could be one of those, though I gather the continental birds are much shyer than our bold residents and Mike's bird looks a very bold chappie.

Cuckoos on the move
BTO reported on Feb 10th that two of their tagged Cuckoos are already heading towards the west coast of Africa at the start of their spring migration. Hennah is now just inside the border of Sierra Leone in an area where the Lofa-Mano National Park and Gola North Forest Reserve meet, where presumably he will rest for a while after such a long journey in a short time. Meanwhile, Ash was in Nigeria on the 8 February but by Feb 9 he was in Ghana, north of Lake Ghana and the Digya National Park. These two Cuckoos have moved west a lot earlier than the BTO was expecting.
See . . .

Photo by Richard Somerscocks on North Thorney - April 2012

Focus on Starlings
Starlings are the BTO bird of the month. Roosting communally, vast flocks of Starlings may congregate at favoured sites, typically performing aerobatic displays, known as 'murmurations'. Here is a photo of one such display from the BTO site by Jeremy Moore.

Starlings show adaptability when it comes to food and feeding, which has helped them to adapt to our urbanising landscapes. However, the loss of suitable nesting cavities, under roof tiles or within barge boards and soffits, is thought to have contributed to the decline in populations over the last few decades. They will, however, take readily to nest boxes of suitable size.
Read more at . . .


Tagged Greenshank in harbour
My morning walk round the millpond produced only one observation of interest. This was a colour-ringed Greenshank G+BN tag feeding in the outlet channel from the town millpond next to Emsworth Sailing Club. This bird is fitted with a geotag attached to the blue ring, which will provide information about the movements of the bird on migrations to and from its breeding grounds. This was one of 13 Greenshank caught and ringed by Pete Potts and his team at Thorney Deeps on Jan 13, 2014. It has been a regular in Emsworth Harbour, this being my 5th sighting of it this winter.

Molehills on Brook Meadow
Coming back home through Brook Meadow I came across a line of molehills along the path crossing the centre meadow from the Lumley gate. I counted a total of 172, though many of them had been walked on and scattered. I could see a good number of molehills elsewhere on the meadow, though the total would be nowhere near the 1,110 hills I counted in February 2005. For more details about that bumper year for molehills go to . . .

Photo shows the molehills I counted on the path looking towards the Lumley gate

February is a generally a good month for molehills, being the time of year when the tunnel systems are being enlarged in preparation for the breeding season. The tunnel system, which is the permanent habitation of the mole, acts as a food trap, constantly collecting invertebrate prey such as earthworms and insect larvae. As they move through the soil, invertebrates fall into the mole run and often do not escape before being detected by the patrolling resident.

First Celandine on Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips found the first Lesser Celandine on Brook Meadow today on the river bank just south of the north bridge. This was, of course, not the first Celandine of the year anywhere as I have seen one in Bridge Road car park on Jan 27th and Ralph Hollins has seen many flowering in Havant. However, the first one on a site is always good to see as a 'sign of spring'.

Bird song
Another good sign of spring is bird song. Many birds can now be heard singing on and around Brook Meadow including Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Great Tit, Goldfinch, Starling, House Sparrow, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon and Song Thrush. Ralph Hollins also heard the first snippet of Chaffinch song in his garden as he set out for his walk this morning. Bird song which is usually only from males (except female Robins also sing in winter) has two main purposes: 1 to establish breeding territories and deter rivals and 2 to attract mates. Malcolm Phillips was on the meadow today and captured this Wren launching into its loud and elaborate song which I gather contains over 100 separate notes!

Spotted Redshanks
Ralph Hollins notes on the HOS sightings that there was a Spotted Redshank at Farlington Marshes today (east side near eastern entrance). A search for Spotshanks at Farlington since Jan 1 gives just three sightings (two in January on or near the main lake plus this one today). Ralph wonders if any of the Spotted Redshanks seen at Emsworth might have flown to Farlington.
My impression is that the Emsworth Spotted Redshanks tend to go in the other direction towards Thorney Island where there is a regular roost of up to three birds. Most recently, Barry Collins found 3 Spotted Redshanks at Thorney Deeps during his Webs count on 06-Dec-14.

Wintering Blackcaps
Tony Wootton got an excellent photo of a female Blackcap that turned up in his Emsworth garden this morning, the first for a few weeks. Tony says the male Blackcap is a more frequent visitor. I tend get a regular female Blackcap in my garden, rarely a male. The male has a black cap and the female a brown one.

Tony asks if he is right in assuming that, as winter visitors from the continent, Blackcaps will soon be leaving rather than staying and breeding. The answer is yes. The ones we get in our gardens in winter will be returning to their breeding grounds in Central Europe. This has been proven by ringing studies. Our summer visitors that breed here are a different population, though they are the same species. As far as I am aware the two populations do not overlap.

BTO research shows an increasing number of Blackcaps that breed in central Europe are coming to the UK to spend the winter here instead of travelling to the Mediterranean, where they would normally go. In Britain, food provided in gardens, coupled with our warming winter climate, is helping Blackcaps to survive. The reward for enduring harsher winter conditions here rather than in the Mediterranean is that our wintering Blackcaps have a shorter journey back to central Europe in the spring, meaning that they can stake early claim for the best territories. Central European-breeding Blackcaps that winter with here have been found to lay more eggs and fledge more chicks than those that winter further south.
For a useful fact sheet about wintering Blackcaps see . . .

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby had a quick hour down the Langstone Mill Pond this afternoon from 3:07pm (almost high tide). The highlights were as follows:
Pond: Female Goosander at the rear of the pond on the water by the tree asleep. No Wigeon present? 4 Grey Herons roosting. 2 Stock Doves.
The top Grey Heron nest in the Holm Oak was visited by the male bird today and the female bird stood up and between them they tended to 'things' that were out of sight at their feet in the nest and obscured by foliage. Their actions suggested young. And the noise I could barely hear was that of young begging. See link below: (the same begging noise I heard the other day, but could not place. (Marked XC118495). So I believe, both nests in the Holm Oak are with very tiny young.
Paddock: 20 Moorhen, 23 Teal.

Hybrid Brent Goose?
Peter sent me a photo of what he thinks might be a hybrid Brent (on the left), which he says looks as if it has some Black Brant in it. He also sent a normal Brent for comparison (on the right). All I can say is that Brent Geese in my experience do vary a good deal in the lightness of their flanks. Whether this is a hybrid I have not the faintest idea, though I do recall Jason Crook telling me some years ago about the difficulty of this identification.


Spotted Redshank at Nore Barn
In response to my request for Spotted Redshank sightings, Martin Hampton e-mailed to say he saw one in the usual stream at Nore Barn on Feb 1st. This is good news as I had received no other sightings of the bird since Jan 22.
I decided to cycle over to Nore Barn to have a look for myself this morning. I got there at about 12 noon when the tide was still very low, not the best conditions to see the Spotted Redshank. However, to my delight there it was feeding alone in the stream. It stayed for about 15 minutes during which I took some photos of it - not that I am short of photos of this very popular bird! Then, all of a sudden, it shot off somewhere giving its characteristic 'chewitt' call as it went.

Here is a selection of photos I took of its feeding today

There were no other birds of special interest in or around the stream. In fact, the harbour as a whole was remarkably empty of birds, with just a few Brent Geese, Wigeon, Teal, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwits dotted around. Are the wintering birds starting to move off already, I wonder?

Millpond News
The Mute Swan family with one cygnet are still together on the town millpond near the bridge where they nested last year. I think most other Mute Swan pairs are now back on nesting territory having chased off their youngsters from last year.

I noticed that the council workers had been clearing the 'weeds' from the edges of the millpond seawall when I passed by this morning. I think there have been complaints about the appearance of the millpond wall. Personally, I admire the wild plants that manage to eke out a living in the harsh habitat of the seawall. But thankfully, the workers were chopping the plants off at their bases and not spraying them with anything nasty, so hopefully they will grow again with renewed vigour next time.

Hampshire Farm has problems
Chris Oakley made a trip over to Hampshire Farm, the first for many weeks. Here is his depressing report, which could well be his last. I hope not:
"Two Skylarks, one Buzzard, one Carrion Crow as well as twelve Black-headed Gulls were on the pond. I had reports from friends that the place had deteriorated but I never expected to see it like it was this morning. It has become no more than an exercise area for dogs. Bearing in mind that this was a dull Tuesday morning, I counted twelve dogs running loose. One friend said he had seen more than twenty on another occasion. There is dog mess everywhere and those people who have picked it up just leave the bags behind. There was only one bag in the bin provided. Even the children's play area is fouled, their sand pit seems to be the first place dogs head for. Naturally the deer have gone, I gather there haven't been any around since December. Three of the five log piles have been vandalised with wood strewn all around. A car tyre has been dumped in the stream together with plastic containers and cans. The northern fence line has been broken through in a couple of places. The pond is littered with rubbish, even the lifebuoys are missing. I suppose all this was to be expected with the influx of hundreds of people alongside, although to be fair dog owners from all over the area descend on the small car park each day. You will gather that I have become disillusioned by all this, in fact so much so, that I will be giving up reporting from the farm and will be closing the web site. There are still a few weeks left before it is due for renewal and if you know of anyone willing to take it on please let me know. It is with great sadness that I have come to this decision after five eventful years, but I am fully aware that I would be constantly depressed by having to see this site degenerating. After my operation I hope to be back in circulation and, if I may, I will still send in anything of interest from around the district".

This is a very sad situation, but predictable with the presence of a free car park and lots of open space. Nore Barn has a similar problem, though there is a good conservation group there which copes very well with a difficult situation. Brook Meadow is lucky in not have easy and free parking nearby, so mainly attracts locals. It also has a strong conservation group which stand for no nonsense. Chris has done a good job in keeping wildlife records for the Hampshire Farm site, but the job of protecting the site is too much for one person. What the site needs is a really strong conservation group to sort things out, but that is not easily achieved in the short term. If you have any ideas on how this situation can be resolved please write in.

Garden birds
Patrick Murphy sent me two photos of birds that visit his garden in North Emsworth regularly. The Coal Tit is one of a pair that is feeding on niger seed but also feeds on sunflower hearts and bird cake. The Song Thrush is one of the pair that normally feed on the ground, but this chap has found the way onto the bird cake. Good for him (or her)!

Red Kite over Emsworth
Neill and Jill Foster saw a Red Kite at 12:00 noon today, drifting NE over the bottom of North Street and then onto Brook Meadow. Neil says when they were in Bucks, the Red Kites would usually be mobbed by Carrion Crows; this one was being seen off by a couple of gulls! This was an interesting sighting as Red Kites are quite rare in our area, though they are occasionally seen, mostly over the woodlands of Hollybank Woods and Stansted Forest. Any other sightings of this magnificent bird please let me know and keep looking up!

Blue Tits fighting
Brian Lawrence had a walk round the meadow today and witnessed some strange behaviour by two Blue Tits in a tree by the north bridge. Brian says at first they seemed to be flirting in the tree, but then, joined together by their feet, they fell to the ground and flapped about together before flying off still attached. Brian wonders if this is this mating behaviour. It seems more like a territorial dispute to me.

Put 'Blue Tits fighting' into Google will produce a host of links for this behaviour plus a couple of YouTube videos. So it is clearly not uncommon. One of the videos is quite astonishing. It shows two Blue Tits so engaged that they allowed the observer to pick them up and try to separate them, but they still continued to scrap.
See . . .

Giant Butterbur at Langstone
Ralph Hollins reports in his diary for Feb 9 that a dozen plants of Giant Butterbur (Petasites japonicus) were flowering near the Langbrook Stream - on the bit of waste ground adjacent to the bridge connecting the one-time Langstone Dairy Farm to the Moors where the cattle would feed. Ralph tells us the plants were planted around 1970 when IBM acquired the land stretching down to the harbour and built their manufacturing plant (now the Langstone Technology Centre).
Unfortunately, the plants were not at their best when Ralph saw them yesterday, their leaves were damaged and their flowers blackened by frost. However, at their best they look rather like small flowering cauliflowers. Here is a photo I took of a Giant Butterbur in flower a few years ago along with a couple of spikes of the female Butterbur (Petasites hybridus).

Female Butterbur was also planted in this area at the same time as the Giant Butterbur and are usually far more prolific, though it is a bit early for them at the moment. They should be good in a month or so. Female Butterbur is common in the north of England, but rare in the south; the plants on Brook Meadow are all male. Butterbur reproduces vegetatively so the male and females do not need each other!

Swans on Canoe Lake
Following the comments about the return of Mute Swans to Canoe Lake (see blog entries for Feb 5 and Feb 6) , HOS Recorder, Keith Betton, checked the HOS database and found there were no more than 3 reported to HOS in 2005/2006 - and no more until 2013 when there were 16 on 14/11 and 21 on 26/12. He has yet to look at the 2014 data. So, it appears that the swans started coming back to Canoe Lake in the winter of 2013-14. I wonder what brought them back? Maybe, some are from the displaced Emsworth Millpond flock?

Albino Squirrel in Southsea
Graham Petrie took this picture this morning in Southsea on the corner of Villiers Road. He asks if he is right in thinking this is a "proper" albino squirrel because of the eye colour?

John Goodspeed has made a special study of albino squirrels which apparently are frequently seen and reported around the Portsmouth area and further afield. John's web site has a special page for the albino squirrel with records of sightings and pictures. He says, "Only a few white squirrels are albinos, recognizable by pink or blue eyes and the absence of pigmentation anywhere on the body". Thus, Graham's squirrel would seem to qualify as albino according to this definition. John adds, "Albino squirrels have vision problems and are at a disadvantage in the wild".
For more information go to John's web page at . . .


Emsworth Harbour
I cycled over to Nore Barn along Western Parade this morning at about 11:30 with the tide rising to high water at 14:30. The weather was cloudy, dull and chilly, but the cold northerly wind that we have been enduring for the past week or so had dropped. The main western mudflats were fairly empty of birds but for small numbers of Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal along with a few Shelduck. Dunlin were feeding in small groups here and there on the mudflats. I counted a total of 39 Black-tailed Godwits, none of them had rings.
The only bird in the stream was the colour-ringed Greenshank G+GL, looking very lonely feeding on its own. There has been no report of Spotted Redshanks at Nore Barn since the two I saw there on Jan 22. That is a little worrying.
I kept an eye out for the Spoonbill that Peter Milinets-Raby saw flying in this direction yesterday, but there was no sign of it.
The best birds of the morning were undoubtedly the Pintail of which I counted 40, though I could well have missed some. This is not a record as I had 54 in the harbour on 14-Feb 2012. They all flew off together at about 12.30. They are such beautiful elegant ducks. Here is a digiscoped photo of two males and a female.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby had a late morning visit to Langstone Mill Pond on an incoming tide (11:37am to 1:25pm armed with an old Mighty Midget toy scope that he found in a dusty cupboard over the weekend). The highlights were as follows:
Pond: Female Wigeon. Male out on the salt marsh by the mill and returned to the pond at 1:15pm when the tide pushed in fully. Water Rail heard only. Male Bullfinch. 2 Stock Doves. 6 Teal.
Adult Grey Heron visited the top nest in the Holm Oak twice and lots of clucking noises from the other nests - heard this sound before, not quite sure what the birds are doing. I think there are just having a general conversation about how there days have gone!
Horse paddock: 28 Moorhen. 7 Teal. Grey Heron collecting small twigs.
Off Pook Lane: Ahh the Dunlin were back in numbers. 520+ Dunlin. 1 winter plumaged Curlew Sandpiper - surprisingly easy to pick out, though half the flock flew off early to roost and took the sandpiper with them. 30 Knot. 44 Lapwing. 199 Golden Plover. 63 Shelduck. 8 Grey Plover. 35 Wigeon. 480+ Brent Geese. 11 Bar-tailed Godwit with a flock of 120+ flying in to roost on the island. 12 Black-tailed Godwit. 1 male Red Breasted Merganser. 13 Canada Geese. Amazingly 10 Turnstone!!! 40+ Teal.

Avocets at Farlington
Brian Lawrence had a walk around Farlington Marshes today and saw the flock of Avocets that has been on the reserve for some time. Caroline French saw a flock of 60 on Feb 6. These birds are likely to be from the breeding grounds in Eastern England. Brian sent me this photo of some of them.

Egyptian Geese at Petersfield
Graham Petrie went to the Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) walk in Buriton and Petersfield where he saw 46 species in total, including this pair of Egyptian Geese on Petersfield Lake (Heath Pond).

The Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) is native to Africa south of the Sahara and the Nile Valley. Egyptian geese were considered sacred by the Ancient Egyptians, and appeared in their artwork. They have been raised for food and extensively bred in parts of Africa since they were domesticated by the ancient Egyptians. Because of their popularity as ornamental bird, escapes are common and small feral populations have become established in Western Europe, particularly in Eastern England and the Netherlands.
In Hampshire the stronghold of the Egyptian Goose is in the NE of the county and in the Avon Valley, but it is increasingly recorded in other areas. The Hampshire Bird Report for 2012 reports a brood at Petersfield Lake but no young survived.


Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips had a good morning on Brook Meadow with his first Primrose and butterfly for this year. The Primrose was seen along the path through Palmer's Road Copse and was probably one of those planted several years ago by the council which come up reliably each spring. Primroses also usually come up along the north bank opposite the railway embankment. These were also planted, privately!

The Red Admiral was basking in the warm winter sunshine along the north path. This insect will have been woken by the rise in temperature today. Another butterfly I am expecting at this time is Brimstone - particularly the bright yellow males which often flutter through gardens.

Malcolm also caught a Blue Tit exploring one the concrete nest boxes which were erected in Palmer's Road Copse several years ago, most of which have now disappeared with the constant loss of trees and branches in that area.

Warblington shore
Peter Milinets-Raby went out for a walk along the Warblington shore this morning five minutes after sunrise (7:35am to 9:18am - low tide - still no scope). Here is Peter's report:
"Ibis Field: 7 female & 1 male Pheasant, Song Thrush, Meadow Pipit over calling, 1 Moorhen, 2 Stock Doves.
Conigar Point: 9 Teal, 43 Wigeon, 21 Shelduck, 1 Little Egret, 23 Dunlin, 40+ Brent Geese, 2 male & 1 female Pintail, 1 Greenshank, 3 Grey Plover, 5 Red Breasted Merganser, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits.
Off Pook Lane: 7 Red Breasted Merganser, 237 Dunlin, 1 Greenshank (R//G+YY//-), 69 Shelduck, 42 Bar-tailed Godwit, 38 Wigeon, 1 solitary Knot, 268 Golden Plover, 8 Grey Plover, 17 Lapwing, 12+ Teal, 9 Black-tailed Godwit, 120+ Brent Geese, Skylark heard flying over.

At 8:04am Peter saw a juvenile/first winter Spoonbill fly over Conigar Point keeping close to the shore. It headed east and cut across the fields and it looked like it was about to land somewhere in the Emsworth area. (Later at 9:22am to 9:46am he visited the pond at the top end of Nore Barn just in case it had landed there. Nothing. Out on the low tide mud of Nore Barn were 22 Pintail, 8 Black-tailed Godwits and the usual colour ringed Greenshank in the Nore Barn stream G//R+GL//- plus all the usual Wigeon, Teal etc.)
So, Spoonbill is another new bird for Peter to add to the 'patch'. 2015 has been a productive so far for him with with Avocet, Barnacle Goose and now Spoonbill. Spoonbill has been recorded before in the area. Certainly in Emsworth in Dec 2002. Here is a photo I took of the only Spoonbill I have ever seen in Emsworth Harbour in December 2002. A memorable occasion! I recall it even came onto the town millpond!

Farlington Marshes
Mike Wells spent about 3 hours on Farlington Marshes late morning and said it turned out to be a very warm, windless session, most enjoyable. He saw a variety of common birds, and got a photo of what thought might be a fluffed up Meadow Pipit. However, the raised crest suggests a Skylark. Mike said other birdwatchers saw a Dartford Warbler and Bearded Tits, but he didn't!


Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips did his daily walk around the meadow with his trusty camera at hand. There was nothing special today, but Malcolm did get nice shots of three of our regular resident birds, Song Thrush, Blackbird and Blue Tit.

Cams Hall
Heather Mills reports on this morning's walk by the Havant Wildlife Group. They saw lots of birds in Fareham Creek including male and female Goldeneyes. Here is a female

Full report is at . . .


Nore Barn
I walked to Nore Barn along Western Parade which was largely shielded from the strong NE wind, unlike the town millpond which is totally exposed. I got there at about 12 noon, about 1 hour to high water, so the tide was well advanced. However, some birds were still feeding in the stream. These included the colour-ringed Greenshank G+GL which has been a regular feeding companion of the Spotted Redshank. I had not seen this Greenshank for some while,

Also in the steam were a Common Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit but no Spotted Redshank. Here is a shot of the Greenshank and the Redshank feeding together with feathers ruffled by the wind.

Lots of Brent Geese were gathered along the shore, but there was no way I could determine their sexes. I think sexing might be easier earlier in the season when the families arrive with two parents.

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips went round the meadow today, but did not see much of interest. He found a Robin with what looks like a missing or deformed right foot. Let's hope it manages to cope with life.

Swans at Canoe Lake
Following my report about the return of Mute Swans to Canoe Lake in yesterday's blog, Ralph Hollins used the HOS reports Search facility and discovered, as I suspected, that a flock of swans has been present on the lake for much of the winter. Mike Wearing has counted the Canoe Lake Swans on three occasions this winter giving counts of 27 on Nov 2, 30 on Jan 27, and 49 on Feb 2 so my 51 on Feb 5 shows a growing number, perhaps coming to the lake in the hope of being fed and/or finding somewhere warmer than where they had been.

How to sex Brent Geese
Peter Milinets-Raby replied to my query in yesterday's blog (Feb 5) about how to distinguish between male and female Brent Geese.
Peter writes: "I thought this was general knowledge, or is it just me, watching too many Brent Geese and seeing differences between the sexes. I attach a couple of photos (one deliberately over exposed) to illustrate the difference in head shape, bill length and feathering to the bill that I always thought was a sure way to identify male and female Brent Geese when they are very close, as well as the obvious features of heavy build, thicker neck with slightly larger neck patch of the male (which you have already pointed out).

Head shape: Female head shape is rounder, more circular with a high crown that makes the eye position seem more in the middle of the head than a male. The head shape of a male always seems flatter and thus oval in general shape and to me always looks as if he has a lump of food in its cheek, giving the chin area a bulbous look. The eye always looks to have a "mean" expression.

Bill: Females have cute small bills with a swollen tip and it often looks as if the feathering extends along the lower mandible (though this is only a trick of the light). The bill on some males can look very ugly in shape with lots of bulges, but generally is longer, more triangular in shape with the illusion of a broader base caused by the positioning of the feathering.
Obviously combining all these features at close range can make the sexing of Brent Geese relatively easy, though if it is full proof I do not know. I hope this is all ok and can be discussed further, but this is how I sex Brent Geese."

Avocets at Farlington
Caroline French saw 60 Avocets on the Lake on Farlington Marshes today - the most she have ever seen there (or anywhere! )


Swans return to Canoe Lake
Jean and I went into Southsea this afternoon for some shopping. On the way, we passed Canoe Lake, on which I was surprised to see, a large flock of 51 Mute Swans. This was similar to the number I used to find there when I did regular weekly counts in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, swans have been very scarce on Canoe Lake since then. I think today's flock could have been on the lake through the winter period as this was my first visit since last summer. Maybe, someone else has seen them?

My maximum swan counts on Canoe Lake for the years 1996 to 2005 are shown in the following chart plus figures from the Hampshire Bird Reports for the years 1980 to 1990.

As can be seen, in the years 1996 to 2002 the maximum winter counts were usually above 60 and reached a peak of 94 in the year 2000. However, from 2002 numbers plummeted to just 5 birds in 2005, when I finished regular counting. I am not sure what happened, but I do know that coincided with the Council asking people not to feed the swans as the food was contaminating the lake. Since 2005 I have looked at Canoe Lake when passing, but never found many there until last year when I counted 23 on 5 March 2014. So maybe they are coming back? I did not see anyone feeding them.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby visited Langstone Mill Pond at 1pm to 2pm at high water. Highlights:
On the pond: Male and female Wigeon asleep to start with, then the male called frantically and flew out to the marsh by the mill to start to feed. It obviously knew the tide had dropped enough for the grass to be exposed.
Female Goosander on the pipe asleep, then flew out to the channel where it began to dive for food by the mill pond outflow before drifting out into the channel, then flying off towards the Oysterbeds.
Grey Heron nests: top nest in the Holm Oak was visited by an adult who greeted the sitting bird, then flew off to roost in the nearby tree. No activity from the other nests.
Med Gull circling high over the pond. 7 Teal.
Horse Paddock: 22 Moorhen.
Off shore: 400+ Brent Geese (Some ridiculously close - good for comparing male and female!), 50+ Shelduck, 32 Teal.

Sexing Brent Geese
I was surprised to see Peter (with tongue in cheek?) saying the conditions were good for comparing male and female Brent Geese. This is the first time I have ever heard anyone talk about sexing Brent Geese. All my bird books, including the prestigious Birds of the Western Palearctic, simply state that the sexes are similar and leave it at that. Now, Peter is providing us with a photo of male and female birds together. Here it is.

Looking on the internet the only site I came across that offered a distinction of tmale and female Brent Geese was which said: "The male and female Brent Goose are similar in appearance, although the male is usually slightly larger and tends to have a broader neck patch." . . .
From this my guess is that the nearer goose in Peter's photo is the male.

For all news and photos of the Siberian Chiffchaff on Brook Meadow go to . . . Siberian Chiffchaff

Siberian Chiffchaff
Ralph Hollins reports that Alan Kitson went to Coldwaltham Sewage Farm near Pulborough Brooks today and got a photo of a Siberian Chiffchaff showing very white underparts. See photo at . . .
Ralph assumed this was a bird acquiring spring plumage but when he went to find confirmation of that he found something more interesting.
"What I found was a webpage about 'colour morphing' suggesting that this species in particular can look very different depending on its environment. See . . .
This piece ends with two photos of the same bird in a Dorset garden - in one the body plumage has the 'normal' slightly brownish tinged underparts, in the other the underside looks pure white as in Alan Kitson's photo. Interestingly the Dorset photos were taken on Feb 5th in 2013 so maybe plumage change to spring colour has some part in the effect."

For more photos of a Siberian Chiffchaff go to . . .


Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips got to the meadow about midday. He saw a Water Vole by the sluice gate but was in the wrong place for a photo. Malcolm was on the meadow side with the hedge in the way so he could not get a clear shot. He went round to the observation fence and waited for about half an hour in the hope it would reappear, but no luck. This was only our second sighting of 2015 and it was good to know some are still alive! For more details of the Water Voles of Brook Meadow go to . . . Water Voles

Malcolm's best photo of the day was this lovely Wren surrounded by Ivy leaves.

Leigh Park Gardens
Brian Lawrence had a walk around Leigh Park Gardens this afternoon. In the lake he spotted a Water Vole and managed to get a photo of it swimming. I did not realise they had Water Voles there.

Old Liss Railway
Mike Wells returned to Old Liss Railway to attempt a better shot of a Redwing than he managed on his last visit on Feb 2. Patience paid off with this cracking close-up photo showing well all the main features of this striking thrush, including the characteristic red flanks, bold creamy eyebrow and angled moustache. The spots on the breast are arranged as long dark streaks, quite unlike those on the Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush or Fieldfare.

Redwing and Fieldfare are both winter visitors to this country in huge numbers, at least one million of each, though most of them tend to remain up north unless the weather gets very cold. They breed in the north of Scotland and in Scandinavia; Fieldfare also breed in Eastern Europe.

Mike also thought he had got a Mistle Thrush until he inspected his photo closely which showed arrow-shaped breast spots characteristic of Song Thrush. The spots on the breast of the Mistle Thrush are heavier and rounder. Here is Mike's photo of the Song Thrush at Liss in comparison with a Mistle Thrush taken by Malcolm Phillips last year on Hayling Island. When I first looked at Mike's photo I thought it was a Mistle Thrush due to its rather severe expression; Song Thrush usually has a much softer looking face. But the spots were the give-away.

Mike's Song Thrush on the left. Malcolm's Mistle Thrush on the right

 Blashford Lakes
Tony Wootton had a freezing morning at Blashford but took lots of photos, mostly of ducks. Here is one I liked of a pair of Gadwall. These ducks are almost always in pairs. A bit like Pintail.


Gulls on the ice
I had my usual constitutional around the town millpond this morning, well wrapped up as it was very cold, though the early snow had almost disappeared. The town millpond was partly frozen with a multitude of gulls standing on the ice, mostly Black-headed Gulls with a few Common Gulls and Herring Gulls. The conditions were good for photography.
This first photo has a Black-headed Gull and Common Gull close together, showing well the main differences between the two birds. The Common Gull is the larger of the two birds with a larger domed head which is slightly flecked with grey. The bill and legs are yellow, whereas those of the Black-headed Gull are bright red.

There were also several juvenile Black-headed Gulls which still retain some of their brown feathers. Their bills and legs are also duller red than the adults. I believe Chris Cockburn said Black-headed Gulls had a good breeding season in Langstone Harbour, so these birds could well have come from that colony.

One of the Common Gulls had distinctly dark head markings. My guess is that it is a second winter bird just coming into full maturity. Its white 'wing mirrors' on the end of the wings are also smaller than one would expect in a full adult. I would appreciate help with this one.

Finally, here is one of the juvenile Herring Gulls. These birds take longer to come to maturity than the Black-headed and Common Gulls.

Millpond Kingfisher
Susan Kelly has had a couple of splendid Kingfisher experiences on the town millpond. She writes: "Yesterday, around 9.15, southern end of town millpond (which was mostly frozen), highish tide, hardly anyone else about. At first the Kingfisher was sitting on the edge of the footpath and diving into the sea, then it flew to the jetty of the sailing club and from there to the nearest tree overhanging the pond, before spending 5 mins or so fishing inside the structure of the overflow. Once it had caught a fish it flew back to the tree, then curved round and began sitting on the the edge of the path again. I was watching for about 10 mins, sometimes from only a few feet away, before it was scared off.
And it was there again today, at least I saw it flying across the pond to the tree which I was on the far side of the harbour path, around 9.45. Apparently other people have seen it and taken pictures, so you may get some sent in. It seems to be worth telling people to keep an eye out. The important factors seem to be high tide and no wind, plus reasonable light (and probably the early morning, with few passers-by)."
Thanks Susan. I too have seen the millpond Kingfisher on a couple of occasions over the past week, once catching a small fish from the pond. Really tame, I agree.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby popped down to the Langstone Mill Pond in the snow this morning (10am to 11:20am - still no scope).
Pond (no ice): 17 Teal, Female Wigeon to start with. The male was feeding on the last bit of salt marsh behind the mill, until about 10:35am when it flew onto the pond to join its mate. Cormorant. 2 roosting Little Egrets. 2 roosting Grey Heron. Nesting Grey Herons - no movement from the Holm Oak and a standing bird on the south nest. Water Rail running about along the edge of the reeds for about 20 minutes.

Female Goosander appeared on the pond from 10:45am - bathed, then sat on the pipe at the back, before the Cormorant chased it off, then it slept under the tree overhang behind the island.

Horse Paddock - frozen and still covered in snow: 22 Moorhen, 2 female Pheasant,
Off shore: 25 Teal, 254+ Brent Geese, Female Goldeneye, 40+ Shelduck.

More Redwings and Fieldfare
Following Mike Wells' news of Redwings yesterday, Geoff Gilbert from Rowlands Castle writes to say this afternoon he saw a flock of 100+ Fieldfares, mixed with 50 Starlings and at least 40 Redwings, feeding in the grass beyond the big oak tree half way along the long meadow, on the east side of the road, which runs from the railway bridge, to the north of Finchdean, to the old manor house now called Old Idsworth Garden - which is just south of St Hubert's Chapel. Nearer to Old Idsworth Garden were another 50+ Fieldfare with Starlings and at least 30 Redwing. Geoff says this is a reliable spot to find these winter thrushes.

Other news
Malcolm Phillips walked up to Westbourne today and got this fine image of a female Kestrel by Hampshire Farm.

Francis Kinsella was on Emsworth shore this evening when he captured this unusual shot of a Lapwing and what looks like a juvenile Black-tailed Godwit feeding together.


The Mute Swan family from the Slipper Millpond nest of two adults and two cygnets is back together again in the harbour beneath the quay. I really thought the adults had got rid of the youngsters, but clearly not. They are together again, but probably not for long.

Two Common Redshanks, two Grey Plovers and a juvenile Black-tailed Godwit were busy feeding in the low water channel near the quay. I have seen several juvenile Black-tailed Godwits feeding in this channel this winter.

Several Pied Wagtails were flitting around the edge of the town millpond as usual late this afternoon. They must roost somewhere nearby. I had a brief glimpse of a Kingfisher on the edge of the pond with a small fish in its bill. Several people have mentioned seeing a Kingfisher on the millpond recently, so this is probably a regular. One or two of the Black-headed Gulls on the town millpond are now getting their brown hoods. They stand out well from the others which have just a dark smudge on the sides of their heads.

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips did not have much to show for his efforts on Brook Meadow today except for this excellent photo of a female Chaffinch.

Chaffinches are one of most common birds on the meadow and in the garden. Some of the males are now aquiring their breeding plumage with red face and underparts and are looking very striking. They could almost be mistaken for a Bullfinch. In fact, Malcolm did see a Bullfinch by the south entrance to the meadow, but was too slow to get a photo. Now, that's just not good enough, Malcolm!

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby visited Langstone Mill Pond this morning between 10:04am and 10:48am at high tide. He was feeling a bit lost without his scope (being repaired).
On the pond (half frozen over): Wigeon, male & female, Female Goosander asleep on the tree in the far corner, 44 Teal, 3 Little Egrets roosting, 4 Grey Herons roosting , A single Grey Heron standing on the south nest, no other movement noticed in the Holm Oak, 4 Stock Doves (both paired up).
Frozen horse paddock: 26 Moorhen
Off shore on the high water: 67 Shelduck, 4 Teal, 145+ Brent Geese, 35+ Wigeon, Female Goldeneye, 4 Red Breasted Merganser.

Mike Wells saw the first local Redwings that I have heard of during what he described as 'a freezing, muddy stroll along the Old Liss Railway this morning'. With this cold weather up north we should be getting more of them down south and Fieldfares.

Goldcrest in flight
Goldcrest is our smallest bird and hard enough to capture by camera when still, which it rarely is. But Tony Wootton managed to get one in flight at Chichester Gravel Pits this morning. Interesting to see the dark patches on the bird's wings which I have not noticed before in the Goldcrest.


Brook Meadow
I went over to the meadow this morning to take photos of the conservation work session. The main tasks were clearing the remains of the wood chippings pile and the construction of a new dead wood fence at the top of the river bank near the S-bend, the previous one having been damaged. Here are members of the group raking and clearing the wood chippings pile.

I could only stay for 30 mins, but Malcolm Phillips was present later in the morning and got a shot of the completed fence after the end of the work session.

For the full report on the work session plus more photos go to . . .

While he was on Brook Meadow, Malcolm also got an excellent photo of a regular Chiffchaff (not a Siberian) by the gasholder.

Garden Chiffchaff
Talking about Chiffchaffs, we had one in our garden this afternoon, but only very briefly, hardly giving me time to get the camera out for a snap though the window. Here it is, though not a patch on Malcolm's.

Chiffchaff is a fairly rare bird in our garden, the last one I saw was in March 2012. We usually get one or two visits in each year, mostly in the winter. A few Chiffchaffs do over winter in this country; most of the population make their way south to the Mediterranean area.

For earlier observations go to . . January 16-31