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

for November 1-30, 2015
(in reverse chronological order)

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Blog Archives . . . from 2012 to current


Garden Brambling - update
Ralph Hollins pointed out that the Brambling photo in last night's blog shows a grey head indicating it is a youngster. Its very unusual appearance in a garden before the weather turns cold suggested to Ralph that it has lost contact with its parents while migrating in the recent gales.

Ralph thinks there are larger than usual numbers of Brambling in southern Britain this early in the winter (157 were recorded passing up the Test valley north of Romsey on Nov 13 and another 75 were at West Dean in Sussex on Nov 24 and 80 were at Wakehurst, also in Sussex, on Nov 25), but maybe they have not yet decided where to settle, ie, Portland had counts of 25 and 36 heading south out to sea on Nov 8 and 12.

Grey Phalarope
The Havant Wildlife Group did their walk at Hayling Oysterbeds on Saturday morning (Nov 28) and were delighted to see a Grey Phalarope on the water. This is a very rare bird in our area. From the photo it looks like a first winter bird, born early this year on the coastal tundra in the high Arctic.

These birds spend most of their lives in large flocks far out at sea and winter mostly off the west coast of Africa. However, stormy weather often brings small groups or single birds (like this one) close inshore.

Tony Wootton came across this first winter Grey Phalarope on the shore at Prinsted
on Sep 16th 2011 and got a cracking photo of the bird.

Note: Grey Phalarope is called Red Phalarope in some books (e.g. Collins Guide) as in its breeding plumage it has red underparts, though, since we never see it like that, I think the name Grey Phalarope is much better.

Tony tells me that some birders that they bumped into during the walk on Hayling Oysterbeds also reported having seen a Velvet Scoter. This is another rare bird, probably taking shelter at Hayling Oysterbeds from the stormy weather. This bird was first reported on Nov 27th on the Hampshire 'Going Birding' web site.

Seal in Emsworth
Bill and Lesley South saw a Seal swimming past their house in Harbour Way about 10 days ago when the tide was very high. They thought at first it was a dog, but it dived very quickly and swam underwater down Dolphin Creek towards the harbour. This is an exceptional sighting of a creature which is usually seen way out in the harbour. Personally, I have never seen one this close in Emsworth.

Here is a photo of a Harbour Seal just surfacing off shore at Langstone
taken by Malcolm Phillips Sep 2012.

Hampshire Farm
Chris Oakley says the tree planting of the Community Orchard on Hampshire Farm, being part of the Greening of Westbourne, was started on Saturday. The first eight of the planned fifty mixed fruit trees, are now successfully, planted. These were mixed apples, two each of Bramleys Seedling, Red Devil, Egremont Russet and Spartan. About fifty people were involved. It was a foul day but spirits were high and a good time was had by all. See Chris's web site for more details at . . .

Chris also came across this interesting fungus this morning. Ralph Hollins identified it as a Verdigris Agaric, strapharia aeruginosa.

Isle of Wight bird news
Ralph Hollins has discovered a new source of bird news from the Isle of Wight. There is a link on the Hampshire Ornithological Society 'Going Birding' at the very top of the 'Bird News' page allowing one to get equivalent bird news for any of the other counties, including the Isle of Wight. See . . .


Garden Brambling
Tony Wootton sent me this photo of a Brambling (watched over by a Woodpigeon) that his friend Roger Pratt, who lives in Beacon Square, took in his garden. Roger says the bird has been visiting the garden for the last couple of days.

Brambling is a rare garden bird, but they are sometimes seen, particularly in cold weather. This makes the present sighting a bit unusual. In the BTO Garden BirdWatch list Brambling stands at number 42 having been seen in only 1.1% of gardens in the current quarter. I had a look through my own garden bird records where I found my last Brambling sightings in my Bridge Road garden were in the early part of 2013. I also had some in the cold winter of early 2011.

Jennifer's news
Jennifer Rye had a couple of interesting bird sightings in the past week. She says,
"On Friday I was lucky enough, while walking southwards on Brook Meadow on the raised causeway beside the River Ems, to be overtaken by the bright blue flash of a Kingfisher darting downriver. As always when I catch sight if one, I felt incredibly fortunate.
Another lucky sighting was of a Cormorant on the town millpond, which had caught a longish eel, but was wrestling with the difficulty of getting it the right way round to be able to swallow it. For a few minutes it seemed to be juggling the eel, held firmly in its beak, diving repeatedly for a few seconds trying to improve its grip but not quite daring to let go in case it lost its wriggling prize. At last it managed to toss the eel up, and catch it by the head, swallowing it head first with a slight struggle; evidently the eel made a good mouthful, for the cormorant kept its neck stretched upwards for about ten seconds to allow the eel safe passage down to its stomach. I could almost imagine the cormorant's burp of triumph!"

Emsworth to Warblington
Peter Milinets-Raby braved the wind to count the birds along shore from Emsworth to Warblington at low water this morning from 7:19am to 9:38am. It was really too windy, but amazingly Peter managed to get some stuff counted. Waders obviously feeding somewhere else well sheltered!
Emsworth Harbour (from 7:30am): 4 Gadwall, 27 Coot, 249 Brent Geese, 2 Canada Geese, 14 Black-tailed Godwit, 14 Turnstone, 8 Lapwing, 4 Teal, 3 Grey Plover, 22 Dunlin, 3 Shelduck, 1 Knot, 6 Greenshank together in the stream by the town quay.
Emsworth Mill Pond: 33 Coot, Male Tufted Duck, 3 Cormorants diving, 1 Kingfisher dashed across.
Emsworth Pond outflow (from 8:08am): 9 Dunlin, 3 Little Egret, 126 Brent Geese, 4 Red Breasted Merganser, 2 Grey Plover. 38 Canada Geese flew off Thorney and headed west along the channel to Langstone.
Beacon Square (from 8:12am): 26 Brent Geese, 16 Wigeon, 15 Ringed Plover, 2 Teal, 2 Greenshank, 11 Dunlin, 3 Grey Plover, 5 Shelduck.
Nore Barn (from 8:28am): 1 Little Egret, 58 Brent Geese, 16 Teal, 9 Wigeon, 1 Spotted Redshank, 27 Shelduck, 23 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Grey Plover.
Pook Lane (from 8:58am): 324 Brent Geese, 38 Shelduck, 3 Grey Plover, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 43 Dunlin, 22 Red Breasted Merganser, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Wigeon.
Conigar Point (from 9:10am): 9 Shelduck, 5 Red Breasted Merganser, 20+ Wigeon, 57 Brent Geese, 3 Grey Plover, 31 Dunlin.
Castle Farm: 4 Little Egrets in with cattle.
So much happening across the bridge at the Oysterbeds!!!! The waves were huge and wickedly windswept. Wind increased the Shelduck numbers, but not much else.


Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby popped down to Langstone Mill Pond yesterday afternoon (Nov 27) in case the Velvet Scoter reported from the Oyster beds ventured under the bridge. Alas it didn't but it did get to Southmoor.
Peter was at the pond from 1pm for an hour on a very high tide visit. The birds of note on the high tide waters off Pook Lane were super views of the female Goosander diving regularly on her own and occasionally with a female Red breasted Merganser giving good comparison views. Also saw her flight as she moved further along the channel.
4 male & 7 female Red breasted Mergansers. 19 Shelduck with 19 more in the distance off Conigar Point: 1 female Goldeneye, 110+ Brent Geese, 1 Kingfisher dashed across the channel.
On the pond: 4 Grey Heron and 1 Little Egret roosting, 30+ Goldfinch.
Horse paddock: 10 Little Egret, 3 Grey Heron, 18 Moorhen, 51 Teal.


Where do wintering Coot come from?
Ralph Hollins says my assumption in yesterday's blog that the Coots currently gathering on the local millponds come from further north in England is not necessarily the whole story. Ralph consults the BTO who confirm that Coot do in fact undertake long distance migration - possibly going from Finland to North Africa. Certainly many Scandinavian birds come to southern England.
For their official statement and map showing the migrations of Coot see . . .


Emsworth Millponds
I had a walk round the three Emsworth Millponds this morning to see what was happening.
The regular Mute Swan family of two adults and three of the original five cygnets was on the town millpond, the other two cygnets presumably having flown. Also present was the visiting Mute Swan pair, closely watched by the resident cob, and the lone swan that spends its life on the grass verge of Bridgefoot Path, not being allowed onto the pond.
I counted 27 Coot on the millpond, probably representing the first sign of the winter gathering of this species from the lakes further north. There is no real sign of the usual winter gathering of Coot in the harbour as yet; I could only see 5 on the high water this morning. I counted a further 18 Coot in the channel near the marina entrance. There were another 4 on Slipper Millpond and 2 on Peter Pond making a grand total of 56 Coot for the millponds and harbour. Here is one of the Coot taken from the bridge at the quay. It is a pity the red eye does not show on the photo, but what a bald pate!

We could be getting nesting swans back on Slipper Millpond next spring! I found a pair of Mute Swans preening on the west bank, the first I have seen there since the disappearance of the 'Polish' pen last year. My guess is that one of them is the cob from last year's pair, that spent many weeks waiting for its mate to return, which it never did. I think the missing Polish pen was the swan killed by the resident pair on the town millpond when it foolishly attempted to take over their nest by the bridge.
Neither of the two swans had the pink legs of a Polish variety. Later, I saw them swimming together near the reedbeds on the east side of the millpond, looking quite at home. The swans have nested in these reedbeds, or tried to, over the past two years.

Short-eared Owls
Tony Wootton has spent up to 20 hours over the last 2 to 3 weeks trying to get photos of Short-eared Owls at Farlington Marshes, but he has had very few sightings though there are reported to be up to 5 birds around the reserve. However, on Monday Nov 23 his luck changed. He bumped into Ros Norton and together they saw 3 and possibly 4 birds ( sometimes 2 together) over a wonderful hour or two. Here is a selection of the photos he sent me.


Nore Barn
I went over to Nore Barn at 12 noon to try out a new 20-40 zoom eyepiece that I bought on eBay to use with my old Kowa TSN 601 spotting scope. The old eyepiece was badly worn and the rubber cracked, though it has had very good use over the past 20 years or so. I did some digiscoping with the new eyepiece in place today and it worked quite nicely, as shown by today's pics.
The Spotted Redshank was feeding in the seaweed near the shore, quite unconcerned at people and dogs passing not many yards away.

I did not see the regular colour-ringed Greenshank and no other birds were in the stream area. There were plenty of Wigeon and Teal further out as usual, but only a few Brent Geese.

I counted 52 Black-tailed Godwits on the mudflats including two familiar colour-ringed birds:
R+LG - I first saw this godwit in Emsworth on 23-Oct-13 and there have been 8 sightings since then, including one this winter on Nov 17.
WO+LW flag - This male bird was ringed a chick ringed in north Iceland by Ruth Croger and Pete on 13th July 2010. It has been regular in Emsworth Harbour each winter and this was our 55th sighting.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby popped to Langstone Mill Pond this morning between 9am and 10am. The tide was high and there was little about except for a spectacular sky and some Chiffchaff. Highlights were as follows: 3 Chiffchaff seen (two together showing very well and posing for photos.

Others: 1 Teal, 5 roosting Grey Heron. Frozen horse paddock: 20 Moorhen, 1 Curlew. Off shore: 9 Wigeon. 12 Shelduck with a further 12 off Conigar Point. 2 Great Crested Grebe. 4 Red Breasted Merganser. 30+ Brent Geese.


Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby had a walk along Langstone Mill Pond this morning from 9:35am to 11am. Tide going out quickly and with a very bitter north wind, but thankfully the shore was sheltered. Highlights as follows:
Langstone Mill Pond: 24 Teal, 2 Grey Heron roosting,
Flooded horse paddock: 2 Little Egrets, 16 Moorhen, 1 Grey Heron.
Off Pook Lane: 293 Dunlin with 1 Knot amongst them. 26 Lapwing. 161 Brent Geese (60% of them checked and all adults). 3 Greenshank (G//R+BRtag//-). 9 female and 3 male Red Breasted Merganser. 5 Grey Plover. 2 Shelduck with 9 off Conigar Point. 1 Sandwich Tern trying to feed in the wickedly strong wind, gave up and roosted on the mud. 1 Black-tailed Godwit. 4 Wigeon. 7 Teal. Not much else, disappointing really. This time last year there were 571 Brent Geese present!


Tubeworm 'corals'
Peter Milinets-Raby has been fascinated by the 'coral' growths that are currently visible on both Peter Pond and Slipper Millpond as the water is drained from the ponds, presumably to allow work on the gates. Here is Peter's photo of these interesting organisms from Slipper Millpond.

Here is some information about them that Peter has discovered on the internet about these creatures.
Ficopomatus enigmaticus (Commonly known as the Australian Tubeworm) was first noticed in the UK from the London docks in 1922. The origin of this species is not clear. It was possibly introduced from Australia, but this is not conclusive. It is an abundant species of waters of variable salinity and warm temperatures from the southern hemisphere.
It has been found in all ports from north Pembrokeshire to the Thames estuary. Its distribution is, however, confined to coastal brackish waters with low saline levels and water temperatures of 18C which is needed for successful reproduction. In the northern part of its range in the UK it has colonized waters heated by power plant discharges.
Ficopomatus enigmaticus builds and lives in white, calcareous tubes that are about 2 mm in diameter and a couple of centimetres long. The tubes are somewhat flared at their open ends, and have conspicuous, collar-like rings or flanges spaced irregularly along their lengths. Older tubes are typically stained a gold-brown or dark brown along much of their length, with the areas around the flanges and the flared ends usually remaining white.

To feed, Ficopomatus enigmaticus extrudes a crown of 12-20 grey, green or brown branching gill plumes out of the open end of the tube. Cilia on the plumes move currents of water upward through them, oxygenating the blood within. Other cilia capture small food particles and pass them down to the mouth at the base of the plumes. When disturbed, the worm pulls the plumes quickly back into its tube and closes it with a funnel-shaped stopper, called the operculum, at the end of one modified gill plume. The top of the operculum bears numerous, small, black spines. The worm is usually about 2 cm long, including the operculum.
To spawn, eggs and sperm are released into the water where fertilization occurs. The larvae develop in the plankton, and after 20-25 days settle on and attach to an appropriate hard surface. Ficopomatus enigmaticus grows in the low intertidal zone on rocks, concrete, wood, shells and other hard surfaces, including pilings and the sides of floating docks, buoys and boat hulls. It can occur as single, separate tubes, or as tangled, agglomerate masses that form incrustations up to 10 cm or more thick.
Large populations of Ficopomatus enigmaticus remove suspended particulate matter from the water, reduce excess nutrient loads and improve oxygen levels in boat basins or enclosed waters with poor water quality, which has a very beneficial effect on other benthic species within enclosed or semi-enclosed waters."

These tubeworms were studied for many years by Dr Thorp of the University of Portsmouth. For more information about this work and other aspects of Slipper Millpond invertebrates see the bit piece about the History of Slipper Millpond by Tony Wilkinson at . . . Scroll down to the bottom of the page past the plant records.


Brook Meadow workday
The forecast of heavy rain this morning did not prevent a band of 8 volunteers turning up for the work session. I was there mainly to take photos. The jobs were allocated by Maurice Lillie which included coppicing the Hazels near the north bridge and clearing the arisings produced from the last session in the centre meadow, plus the usual litter picking. Although there was steady rain all morning, it was not too bad for working and the volunteers had largely completed the tasks in time for the coffee break.

Volunteers coppicing the Hazels near the north bridge

As arranged, Michelle Good from Havant Borough Council arrived with her two colleagues Rosie Ryan and Jayne Lake at 11am, just in time for coffee and biscuits and to meet the conservation group volunteers. Rosie and Jayne are both new to HBC and will be taking over the open space work of Rob Hill and hence will be working closely with our group. Gosh, it is so good to see HBC employing young keen people like this. Jayne actually lives locally in Emsworth.

Michelle, Rosie and Jayne

At the end of the work session, Jennifer Rye and I gave all three HBC employees a tour of the meadow in the rain and I think they were very impressed with what we had achieved over the past 15 years.

For a full report on the work session and more photos go to . . . Brook Meadow Conservation Work

Wildlife observations
During the tour of Brook Meadow we went through the experimental wild seed planting area in the north meadow where we found some evidence of new growth where seeds were sown. In particular, the leaves of Common Knapweed were evident - they are lanceolate and slightly bristly as shown well in the right side photo.

The rest of the mown area was dominated by a healthy growth of native plants, such as Hogweed, Cleavers and various grasses.

Walking along the north path we noted how low the river was running with very little water coming under the railway tunnel from Constant Springs.

This state of river was much to the liking of a Grey Wagtail which bounced ahead of us. I tried, but failed to get a picture of it, but I am sure this delightful bird will be with us during the winter period. It is a fairly common winter bird on Brook Meadow. Here is a photo of a Grey Wagtail (possibly the same one) taken last year on Brook Meadow by Malcolm Phillips.

Pam Phillips told me the Pike with the crooked tail is still present in the river south of the north bridge.

There are several plants still in flower on the meadow including some magnificent flower heads of Hogweed and some White Dead-nettle. We also noted more Winter Heliotrope flowers coming up along the main river path.


Millpond News
I had a quick walk round the pond this morning for my regular constitutional. A strong SW wind was blowing which made walking an effort. I confirmed the news from Mandy yesterday that only 3 swan cygnets remain left out of the original 5; they include the white 'Polish' one. But, I think they too will be not be here for much longer. Here is a shot of the pen swan with her three remaining cygnets dipping for food.

Meanwhile, the resident cob continues to protect the nesting territory from the visiting pair of swans which were preening on the slipway near the end of Nile Street when I passed by. They are not allowed any further north!

The best news of the morning was the appearance of 5 female Tufted Ducks on the pond - my first of the winter. They are a bit early, as we usually do not seen them much before December.

Glynis Irons saw a couple of early females on the millpond on Oct 5 but they did not stay. Peter Milinets-Raby reports Tufted Duck regularly on Langstone Mill Pond.

As I was passing the quay I could not help but take a quick snap of the Little Egret watching for fish at its favourite spot at the outfall near in the town channel.

Little Auk
Prompted by John Clarke of the Hampshire Ornithological Society, I contacted James Collings-Wells again for more information about his Little Auk sighting off Hayling Island on Nov 15. He says "It was a small bird definitely not big enough for a Razorbill or a Guillemot. It took me a little while to drag my attention away from the kite and waves and onto the bird, which was gone in a couple of secs. Definitely black head, back and upper side of wings, white breast, flying fast. Then about 20 mins later I saw several small birds on the water, maybe five or six, but only saw them very briefly. I assumed at the time they were the same species as the first bird, they looked black uppermost, but beyond that I'm afraid I can't be more certain." Information sent to John.

New HBC staff
The Brook Meadow Conservation Group were delighted to receive news from Michelle Good that Jayne Lake and Rosie Ryan have joined Havant Borough Council to continue Rob Hill's very valuable open spaces work. We look forward to a long and fruitful association. Jayne and Rosie will be coming along to the Brook Meadow work session tomorrow at about 11am.

Langstone Mill Pond
During a busy week of work, Peter Milinets-Raby was surprised this morning to get an hour spare to go and do some bird watching. He visited Langstone Mill Pond at 10:02am. The tide was out and the tail end of 'Barney' was still blowing strong. The highlights were as follows:
Langstone Mill Pond: Mobile flock of 85+ Goldfinch, which on one brief landing revealed a nice Redpoll amongst them. 1 Chiffchaff still lingering. 6 Grey Herons roosting with intent (must have breeding on their minds!!!).
Off Pook Lane: 23 Common Gulls - probably the only sign that the weather has been windy lately, 1 juvenile Peregrine dashed across the marsh chasing Starlings and failed, but succeeded in scaring off any waders that might have been present. After the dust settled . . . 10 Knot, 24 Lapwing, 9 Dunlin, 6 Grey Plover, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Wigeon, 1 Greenshank (G//R+BRtag//-), 5 Shelduck and 1 off Conigar Point, 157 Brent Geese (all adults) with 38 off Conigar Point - Where are the large numbers? 4 female and 2 male Red-breasted Merganser.
Flooded horse paddock: 4 Little Egret, 25 Teal, 6 Moorhen, 1 Green Sandpiper. 1 Grey Heron.


Emsworth Harbour
I walked along the shore line of Emsworth Harbour on a rising tide this morning starting from the millpond seawall at 10am and finishing at Nore Barn at 11.30 when the forecasted heavy rain started to fall. Otherwise, the weather was overcast and dull with a strong south westerly wind blowing into my face for most of the walk. But I saw some good birds which made up for it. I think birdwatching in the harbour with the scope is my favourite wildlife activity, certainly in winter.

Brent Geese
I tried to count the Brent Geese as I went, though those in the eastern harbour were quite distant and not too easy to see. I got 156 Brent Geese in the eastern harbour and another 52 on the western harbour making a grand total of 208. I went through them carefully but failed to find a single juvenile. Clearly, this breeding season has been a total disaster for the Brents. I do not recall another winter when I saw no youngsters at all at this stage. The only juvenile I have heard of this winter was seen (and photographed) by Peter Milinets-Raby at Langstone on Oct 31 - see photo below. You can easaily tell the youngsters from the white bars on their wings.

Juvenile Brent Goose numbers do go up and down from one season to the next, probably depending on the availability of Lemmings to distract the Arctic Foxes from the young chicks. The proportion of adults to juveniles is calculated each year by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. They had a really bad season in 2008/9 when the percentage of young surveyed was only 1.1%. However, the Brents had a good breeding season last year when the percentage of young was 23%, so I suppose they were due for a bad one. For more figures see . . .

Black-tailed Godwits
A flock of around 70 Black-tailed Godwits was present in the eastern harbour, but I did not spend too much time looking at them as I knew I would see them later at Nore Barn which was the case. At 11am the godwits came tumbling down to feed on the mudflats in the creek south of the Nore Barn Woods. This is an area they certainly like. I counted 82 in this flock including three colour-ringed birds:
ROL+RLR - This bird with three rings on each leg was ringed on 27-Oct-08 at Kingsnorth Power Station, Medway Est. Kent as an adult male. Since then, it has been a regular wintering visitor to Emsworth Harbour and today's sighting was the 86th in total! This was my 5th sighting this winter.
R+LG - This godwit was first recorded in Emsworth on 23-Oct-13. Since then it has been seen six times, including today. Peter Milinets-Raby has also seen it at Warblington.
B+GO - I think this godwit was ringed fairly recently since I saw it for the first time last winter in Emsworth on 10-Nov-14. This was my first sighting this winter.

The Spotted Redshank was also present in the stream, but all alone. Here it is digging deep for food.

Swan cygnets
While I was on the millpond seawall looking at the birds in the harbour, a lady stopped to ask 'Are you Brian Fellows? She said she was a regular reader of my Emsworth blog which was nice to hear. Mandy then informed me that another swan cygnet had flown from the millpond leaving just 3 from the original brood of 5. The white Polish cygnet is still present, though it will not be long before all the cygnets depart, or are chased off by their parents.

Rock Pipit
At the lookout to the west of the Emsworth Sailing Club building I met a couple of birdwatchers (Michael and friend) who said they had just seen a Rock Pipit on the shore. From their description I had no doubt it was a Rock Pipit for this is a popular spot for this small bird. We had another look for the bird, but did not see it. My last sighting of a Rock Pipit in Emsworth was at Nore Barn on Oct 16 this year.
The Hampshire Bird Report describes Rock Pipit as "A scarce but increasing resident, scarce passage migrant and winter visitor." My guess is that the Rock Pipits we get along the Emsworth shoreline are winter visitors, as we never seen any at other times of the year.
Here is a cracking photo of a Rock Pipit on the Emsworth shore that Romney Turner got on 28 Nov 2011.

Hedgehog watching group?
Caroline French responded positively to my suggestion of a local Hedgehog watching group. She says, "It would be good to monitor how our local hedgehogs are faring. Also, Hedgehogs could be a good way to engage more people with nature too. Most people like hedgehogs, although they don't do themselves any favours by being nocturnal! All sightings -dead or alive - would be good to collect. Hedgehog Street has lots of resources too. Let's give it some thought and see what we can do. Presumably we could use your website to see who is interested?"
I fully endorse what Caroline says and am prepared to offer a page of my web site devoted to a Hedgehog interest group. I am also happy to gather together contacts through this blog to get things started.
So if you are interested please get in touch at my e-mail . . . brianfellows @ (close the spaces around the @)
Link to Hedgehog Street web site for lots of information . . .

Little Auk
James Collings-Wells gave me a bit more information about his encounter with a Little Auk while kiting off Hayling Island on Nov 15. He said: "It was definitely not big enough for a razorbill/guillemot. It took me a little while to drag my attention away from the kite and waves and onto the bird, which was gone in a couple of secs. Definitely black head, back and upper side of wings, white breast, flying fast. I will go out on Wednesday and see if I can find another one!" I posted the sighting on Hoslist and there has been good interest.


Little Auks
Regarding James Collings-Wells' sighting of Little Auks off Hayling Island in last night's blog, Ralph Hollins comments:
"Although I have seen no reports of Little Auks from southern English sites Trektellen has reported one off Emshaven in the Netherlands each day from Nov 12 to 15th and the recent stormy weather is the sort that brings them south.
Birds of Hampshire shows that November has the highest total of reports during the period 1950 to 1992 and while I have no record of dates one of my vivid memories of the IBM Lake was seeing one on it. I also recall multiple reports of dead birds being found in urban gardens and myself once found one in Bells Copse (Havant Thicket) which had speared itself on a broken branch while flying (or being blown) through the trees, probably at night. They certainly look very different to other Auks and I would give the report credence."

Garden Hedgehogs
Following last night's item on Hedgehogs, Anne Moodie wrote to say she saw one in her garden last night. Anne lives in Oakmeadow Close which is in North Emsworth, but some way from Caroline French. This was only Anne's third sighting of a Hedgehog in 32 years she has lived in that house.
Graham Petrie is another enthusiast who looks after Hedgehogs in his Havant garden. In response to Caroline French's observations, Graham says, "We think one of our two hogs disappeared a couple of weeks ago, the other stopped visiting about 4 days ago (verified with my outdoor cam). Not seen him/her since. We are still putting out dried food just to see whether anything is about. Graham has got some good videos. See for example . . .

Maybe these, and other, Hedgehog enthusiasts can get together a local Hedgehog watching group? It would be good to be able co-ordinate all the sightings and swap information and tips on how best to look after them.

Dunlin in flight
Graham Petrie also got to see an impressive Dunlin 'murmuration' at the south end of Farlington Marshes last week. Several thousand I would say at a rough estimate. Graham says there were some Turnstone, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover somewhere in the flock. Can you spot them?


Hedgehog news
Hedgehogs should be getting themselves in condition for hibernation at this time of the year, so I asked Caroline French who is our local Hedgehog expert if she had seen anything of the ones she gets in her North Emsworth garden. Caroline said she has not seen a hedgehog for weeks - not since a couple of days after she took the five young ones to Brent Lodge (Oct 9th). None of her three hedgehog boxes is currently occupied. She was surprised at how suddenly the Hedgehogs disappeared since it seems too mild for them to hibernate, although a work colleague said her hedgehogs had also gone. Caroline and I would be interested to hear from anyone who has seen Hedgehogs over the past few weeks. Here is one of Caroline's photos of young Hedgehogs earlier this year.

Little Auks
James Collings-Wells thinks he saw some Little Auks in the Solent this morning, while kiting about a mile off Hayling. James says he has seen Guillemots and Razorbills after a gale, but the birds he saw today were much smaller.
Little Auks are small and dumpy black and white seabirds that would fit snugly into cupped hands. Up to a million breed in Svalbard and winter at sea mainly north of Britain. Some get down to the North Sea in stormy weather, but are rarely seen in the English Channel. Most sightings occur in November and December. Personally I have never seen one, but then I have never been kiting in stormy weather! Well done, James! I dont have any Little Auk photos in my collection, but here is one I got off the internet.


Caroline's news
Caroline French went for a short walk along to Westbourne today from Emsworth (presumably before the rain set in). She was very pleased to catch sight of a Kingfisher as it disappeared up the Ems under a small bridge.
Caroline was also pleased (and very lucky) to have a Grey Wagtail repeatedly visiting her garden in North Emsworth this week; the first she has seen for about six years. Interestingly, Caroline's house is nowhere near running water. The Grey Wagtail has been finding scraps of mealworms, but this morning, Caroline says, it looked as though it was taking small bits of sunflower seed which was suprising.

Slipper Millpond rafts
Regarding my report in yesterday's blog about the absence of wires, etc on the rafts on Slipper Millpond, Nick Medina, who is the chairman of the Slipper Millpond Preservation Association, confirmed that the wires and frames have been removed from the rafts on Millpond, thus allowing Greater Black Backed Gulls as well as many other birds to have unrestricted access. Nick thinks the Gulls will probably nest there again, but perhaps co-exist with normal bird life (fingers very much crossed). Come what may, they are fine birds and it is a privilege to have them nesting in our village.

Here is a photo of the parents feeding two chicks in May this year.
Sadly, both chicks died when they fell from the raft into the water and drowned.

Nick says the rafts were discussed in detail at the SMPPA AGM in October and provided the following note from the meeting:
"During 2014 the three rafts the light supporting structures to deter the gulls had been re-fitted but despite these measures the gulls had successfully nested. The original installation had been kept to the minimum and by the end of the summer the whole assembly needed replacement. To prevent nesting it would be necessary to encase the rafts with wire mesh cages or equivalent with consequent visual damage. The alternative of removal of the rafts would in addition to depriving birds of their use, entail a major operation as the substantial middle raft would have to be craned out and disposed of . Following a lively debate, it was decided on a vote of 15 to 8 that the unsightly collapsed wiring and framework should be removed and that the matter be reviewed in two or three years' time."


Nore Barn birds
I arrived at Nore Barn at about 9.30am which should have been fine for catching the Black-tailed Godwits before the rising tide drove them off. But, it was tipping down with rain, so I had to sit in the car for a good 15 minutes before I could get out with the scope. I was further delayed by my friend Chris Berners-Price who told me about a Raven that he saw and heard flying over Nore Barn Woods earlier in the week.
Only one Spotted Redshank was feeding in the rapidly filling stream along with the colour-ringed Greenshank (G+GL) and the usual assembly of Wigeon. Here is the Spotshank showing off as usual.

The Black-tailed Godwits had all moved into the inlet south of the woods and were feeding along the shoreline close to the path. They were far too occupied to be disturbed by people passing by and so I was able to get a good look at them and take some photos.

I counted 142 Godwits which is the best count so far this winter, though it is not a record for this site which stands at 168 in Nov 2013. I could only find one colour-ringed godwit - the regular Kent ringed bird - ROL+RLR, though I was not able to check all of them since many were up to their bellies in water.

Great Black-backed Gull returns
I had a walk round Slipper Millpond early this afternoon and noticed a single Great Black-backed Gull perched on the raft in the centre of the pond - maybe prospecting its nesting site for next year's breeding?

Interestingly, both the centre raft and the north raft appear to have had the wooden frames and wires removed. These were placed there a couple of years ago in an attempt to deter the Great Black-backed Gulls from nesting there. The measures did not work, and the gulls did breed successfully each year, though last year both their chicks were drowned when they fell off the raft. I know the association were due to discuss this issue at the AGM - so, maybe they relented and removed the structures?


Nore Barn
09:30 - 10:00 - Tide rising to high water in about 2 hours. The light was very poor for birdwatching and for photography, made worse by steady drizzle blowing off the sea. However, I was delighted to find two Spotted Redshanks in the rapidly filling stream along with the colour-ringed Greenshank (G+GL) and about 20 Wigeon. One of the Spotshanks spent most of the time snoozing alongside the Greenshank on the edge of the saltmarshes surrounded by Wigeon. The Spotted Redshank is on the left in the photo and the Greenshank on the right.

Meanwhile, the other Spotshank was busily feeding in the stream. Here it is having caught a marine worm.

I was a bit late for the Black-tailed Godwits though I could see about 150 of them feeding along on the edge of the distant saltmarshes. There was no chance of reading any colour-rings. Brian Lawrence turned up as I was leaving, so I left him to it.

Warblington shore
Peter Milinets-Raby was out early this morning hoping to have a peaceful bird survey along the Warblington shore from 6:47am to 8:56am, but his peace was disturbed by a lone shooter and his black dog on the mudflats.

This was the fourth shooting guy Peter has encountered in three weeks! It is certainly sad to see migrant birds being disturbed at their feeding grounds. However, I have checked the law on wild fowling and it seems this chap was not doing anything illegal. That's the sad part of it. For more information go to . . .
Despite this disturbance, Peter carried on and in fact did a typically brilliant survey.
The bird highlights of the morning were as follows:
Ibis Field: 7 male and 9 female Pheasant, 5 Moorhen.
Conigar Point: 4 Meadow Pipit over west, 58 distant Brent Geese, 11 Grey Plover flew off flushed by the shooter, 1 Shelduck flushed, 16 Canada Geese flew west along the channel towards Hayling Bridge.
Off Pook Lane: 84 Dunlin, 6 Grey Plover, 18 Teal (very low numbers compared to the other week, before the shooters arrived???), 3 Shelduck, 33 Lapwing, 2 Golden Plover, 20 Wigeon (all out in the channel, not feeding - wary - and numbers down from last week), 1 male and 6 female Red Breasted Merganser, 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Knot, 155 Brent Geese (all close and not a juv amongst them), 5 Greenshank (RG//-+YY///-), 11 Common Gull, 7 Skylark over south west, Siskin heard flying over, Wood Pigeon movement noted with three flocks heading south west 38, 70+ and 95+. 1 adult winter Mediterranean Gull with 2 Sandwich Tern (spot the terns in the photo).

Flooded horse paddock: 2 Teal, 12 Moorhen, 2 Pied Wagtail,
Langstone Mill Pond: 2 Grey Heron roosting, 1 Mistle Thrush (first I have seen since spring!), 34+ Goldfinch flock feeding on catkins with 2 juv Siskin.

Wayside fungi
Jill Stanley was just coming home from Stansted at lunchtime when she spotted these splendid specimens of Magpie Inkcap fungi growing on the wide verge by Horndean Road, near the junction with Southleigh Road in North Emsworth. Some new trees had been planted a while ago and they were growing in the mulch surrounding the trees. Jill says she has found very few at Stansted this year so to find these growing so close to her home was a bonus! Just goes to show you can often find wildlife in the most unexpected places!


Brook Meadow Willows
This is a good time of the year to check out trees, many of which have lost their leaves and so can easily be seen.
On Brook Meadow the Willows are of particular interest as we have six varieties. Most of the 100 or so Crack Willows have lost their leaves, but the White Willows in Palmer's Road Car Park still retain their leaves as shown in this photo.

The pale undersides of the White Willow leaves give the tree its whitish hue.

Photo shows darker upper sides on left and paler undersides on right.

Also from Palmer's Road Car Park one can now clearly see the five Western Balsam Poplars standing straight and tall, well above other trees.

Back on the main meadow, the Osiers on the east side of the north meadow are full of leaves, though these are long, dark and thin compared with the other Willow varieties.

The Goat and Grey Willows are also in full leaf. Here they are on the edge of Lumley copse.

Japanese Honeysuckle is in flower by the Lumley gate. I know it is Japanese from its black berries.

Wayside fruits
I found several types of berries along the sheltered path behind Lillywhite's Garage, which is one of the official Emsworth waysides. The first two photos show the black berries of Japanese Honeysuckle and Wild Privet. They take a bit of sorting out, but have different leaves and are on different plants.

More berries on the Lillywhite's path include red Haws on Hawthorn bushes, purple Sloes on Blackthorn bushes and red berries of Bittersweet and Holly.

Finally, the apples on the tree on the Bridge Road Wayside, which was cut down several years ago, but which has sprouted up again, are small but sweet. Taste one and see.

I am told the apples on the A259 embankment outside the Doctor's Surgery are also good.


Black Redstart in Havant
Martin Hampton saw a Black Redstart on the roof of the Spring Arts Centre in Havant this morning. He was on his way to work and so could not stop to admire it, but he says it was a beauty! He's never seen one in Havant before and I guess not many people have as it is a fairly rare bird and probably justifies a record to the Hampshire Ornithological Society.
It is not unusual to see Black Redstart in towns. The last one I heard about in Havant was in the garden of Peter Milinets-Raby in March 2013, though I recall one used to be seen regularly in a garden near Sandy Point on Hayling Island. Mary Colbourne also had one in her garden in Emsworth in November 2010. Here are the two photos with Peter's on the left and Mary's on the right.

As can be seen in the photos, Black Redstart is generally a small, all dark bird, about the same size and shape as a Robin, but with a rusty red rump and tail from which it gets its common name. The red tail is not too clear in these photos. The tail is constantly quivering as shown in Mary's photo on the right. I think Mary's bird is a male with a fairly black face.
Although Black Redstart does very occasionally breed in our area, it is mainly a scarce passage migrant and Martin's bird is probably one that stopped on its way to winter in Southern Europe. They tend to be late migrants and November is the peak passage month for the Black Redstart. A few Black Redstarts do stay the winter in our area, so Martin's bird could possibly be one of those.


Brook Meadow
This morning from 10-12 noon I enjoyed the company of 10 members of the Rowlands Castle U3A Natural History Group (including my old friend Jim Berry) for a walk around the meadow. Thanks to Valerie Mitchell for the group photo.

The group had been on a walk with me in early summer when we found Bee Orchids, but no chance of that today! However, we did find a few flowers obligingly with open petals for our pleasure. A little surprise was Lesser Stitchwort flowers on the northern cross path on the south meadow - the second flowering I have seen in the past week. We also checked the flower spikes of Winter Heliotrope on the south west corner of Peter Pond. There were also some coming out on Brook Meadow.

I explained the various aspects of conservation work that had taken place recently on the meadow, such as, the shelving in the river and the experimental wild flower area in the north meadow. Apart from a good view of a Grey Heron flying over Peter Pond, there was little in the way of bird activity.
Towards the end of the walk we found a couple of fungi near the gap in line of willows. Jim identified the nibbled yellow ones as Sulphur Tufts.

He thought the black and white ones could be Little Japanese Umbrellas which I had never heard of, but which are apparently not uncommon in short grassland. The new official name is Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis).
For more details see . . .

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby spent an hour at Langstone Mill Pond this afternoon from 2pm. There was no sign of the Mallard duckling. But Peter did find a female Goosander fast asleep, "like a dumpy Walrus on the pipe at the rear of the pond" (see photo).

This could be the same bird that spent much of last winter on Langstone Mill Pond. However, on March 3rd Ralph Hollins reported in his daily wildlife diary that a female Goosander had been seen on the harbour just off the pond with the front half of her lower mandible hanging vertically down after being somehow broken and thought this could have been the wintering bird. So, today's Goosander seems likely to be a different bird?
Also on the pond were 8 Teal and 4 Grey Heron. In the Flooded horse paddock: 30 Teal, 18 Moorhen.
Off shore off Pook Lane: 4 Teal, 11 Common Gull, 188 Brent Geese, 13 Grey Plover, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Lapwing, 2 Knot, 12 Dunlin. Also, 3 Greenshank including G//R+BRtag//- see photo. Peter asks if this bird ever re-caught to get the "tag" details? Anne de Potier should be able to provide the answer. Off Conigar Point: 16 Red Breasted Mergansers.


Warblington shore
Peter Milinets-Raby was out this morning for along the Warblington shore (from 6:51am to 8:55am - tide nearly in, so very few waders around).
*Conigar Point:* 176+ Dunlin, 9 Grey Plover, 95 Brent Geese, 51 Wigeon, 2 Teal, 3 Lapwing, A pair of Red Breasted Merganser, 75+ Black-tailed Godwit flock flew out of Emsworth Harbour direction and flew down the channel and over into Langstone Harbour.
*Off Pook Lane:* The damage to the sea wall along this stretch of the shore has got a little worse due to the high tides and windy weather lately. It looks like it needs a repair soon, otherwise the whole wall may be breached!! (see photo)

199 Brent Geese, 8 Wigeon, 42 Bar-tailed Godwit, 3 Knot, 1 male Kestrel, 1 winter male Stonechat on hedge, 1 Sandwich Tern resting on boat (see photo), 21 Lapwing, 8 Shelduck, Mute Swan family - 2 adults with 5 juvs, 3 female and 1 male Red Breasted Merganser.

*Langstone Mill Pond:* 7 Grey Heron roosting, Alas, again no sign of the duckling!
*Flooded Horse paddock:* 30 Teal, 4 Moorhen.
*Pook Lane footpath:* 32 Curlew feeding in the field adjacent the path, 1 Chiffchaff, 5 Goldcrest together, then another two seen 100 metres further on 19 Stock Doves in top field by farm with male Pheasant, 4 Little Egrets feeding in the field by the barn and 15 feeding in the field by the farm house. 1 Sparrowhawk hawking along the hedgerow, 1 Skylark over.


Brook Meadow
I had a walk through Brook Meadow and down to Peter Pond this morning in light rain. I stayed on the main raised paths as the grassland is very wet indeed. I am leading a walk on Monday for a Rowlands Castle Nature Group, so we too shall need to stay on the main paths.
A few things I noted in passing: Osier leaves are sprouting from twigs used by the conservation group to build the river bank fence near the S-bend in the river. They are darker, longer and thinner than Crack Willow leaves.

There is a nice random display of Crack Willow leaves that have fallen onto the Lumley gate signcase.

Redshank is relatively uncommon on the Brook Meadow site, but I noticed some actually in flower on the edge of Palmer's Road Car Park.
I found my first Winter Heliotrope flower spikes of the winter on the embankment at the south west corner of Peter Pond - three flower spikes with petals showing.

Garden birds
I had a good selection of birds in the garden today: 2 Blue Tits, 1 Great Tit, 1 Robin, 2 Blackbird, 1 House Sparrow, 1 Chaffinch, 6 Goldfinches, 1 Greenfinch, 2 Magpies, 1 Woodpigeon, 14 Collared Doves in the tree and about 20 Starlings flying around. I also had a Grey Squirrel constantly gnawing at the sunflower heart feeder and managing to get quite a lot out. I put some peanuts on the bird table hoping it might distract him from the expensive sunflower hearts.
I did my first 2 minute Goldfinch survey for BTO. I had 6 Goldfinches feeding exclusively on the sunflower hearts. The survey will run from November 2015 - February 2016. One can make regular observations throughout the survey period but not more than one a week. For more details see . . .


BTO Goldfinch Feeding Survey
The British Trust for Ornithology have launched a winter Goldfinch Feeding Survey running between November 2015 and February 2016. Basically, they want to know why Goldfinches have increased so dramatically in gardens over the past 20 years. The survey is by Research Ecologist Kate Plummer to investigate whether the increasing use of garden bird foods is the key factor. Kate has already demonstrated how supplementary feeding in gardens has affected the migratory behaviour of wintering Blackcaps in the UK. For the survey garden birdwatchers are asked to spend two minutes a week watching the Goldfinches and recording how many there are and what they are feeding on. All the details are at . . .
From my own experience it seems pretty clear that Goldfinches responded strongly to the introduction of niger seed feeders in gardens in the 1990s. I did not have any Goldfinches in my garden until I started using niger seed. However, over time they have switched their preference to sunflower hearts with the result that I gave up putting out niger seed several years ago. They are perfectly happy with the sunflower hearts and ignore everything else I put out (as do most other birds, incidentally!). Here are a couple of Goldfinches I took only last week on one of the sunflower heart feeders.

Mass nocturnal bird migration
This extraordinary footage, filmed on a research vessel in the Baltic Sea in October 2015, depicts the mass migration of thousands of small birds. The birds, mainly Chaffinches and Bramblings, migrate over the Baltic at night and are attracted by the vessel's lights. See . . .

Vulnerable birds
BirdLife International has just announced that another four of UK's bird species, Puffin, Turtle Dove, Slavonian Grebe and Pochard, have been added to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List of birds considered to be facing the risk of global extinction. See . . .
The presence of Turtle Dove and Puffin on the list is not surprising, but I was surprised to see Pochard. Apparent, this duck has declined significantly in recent years across the whole of Europe and that this decline is ongoing. In the past the odd one or two have turned up on Emsworth Millpond, but they are pretty rare. Here is a cracking male Pochard I snapped on the town millpond in Dec 2007.


Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby popped down to Langstone Mill Pond this afternoon (2pm to 3pm - tide nearly in):
Highlights were as follows:
Langstone Mill Pond: Well, I know we had good news of the duckling on the weekend, but today there was no sign of it. And, the numerous Mallard, Moorhen and Coot were fed several times by passer-bys, but the tiny duckling did not show itself. So the situation is alas looking very bleak indeed!!
Also on the pond: 2 Teal, 2 Grey Heron and 2 Little Egret roosting, 8 Moorhen on the flooded paddock.
Off shore: 197 Brent Geese (all close and not one of them a juvenile!!), 54 Teal, 15 Black-tailed Godwit, 13 Lapwing, 4 Grey Plover, 5 Greenshank (RG//-+YY//- & G//R+BRtag//-), 1 Sandwich Tern feeding, 60+ Golden Plover flying around before drifting off towards north Hayling, 5 Red Breasted Merganser (2 male & 3 females), Mute Swan family back together again with 5 juveniles.


Millpond swans
The resident family of two parents and 4 cygnets were present on the pond when I passed this morning. The visiting pair were also present, but further south. As for the swan that I saw for the first time on Saturday on the eastern side of the pond, today was in front garden of number 14 Bridgefoot Path, which where the lady lives who takes a special interest in the swans (Doreen).

Later, I noticed this swan was back on the side of the pond on Bridgefoot Path being closely watched by one of the resident pair. It will not be allowed onto the pond.
The most interesting event was to see all four of the cygnets flying strongly over the millpond. Clearly, they are able, if not completely ready as yet, to move away from their home territory.

Emsworth Harbour
11:00-11:30 - I counted a total of 226 Brent Geese in the eastern harbour, but could not find a single juvenile among them.
I also counted 62 Black-tailed Godwits, but could not read any colour-rings as they were all in water.
Also present were one Spotted Redshank (possibly the Nore Barn bird), 2 Lapwing and 2 Grey Plover.

Nore Barn
12:00-12:30 - The tide was rising to high water at about 15:30. I counted 92 Brent Geese, but again no juveniles.
The Spotted Redshank turned up just as Ros Norton arrived on the scene; she was delighted to see this iconic bird for the first time this winter. We watched it race up the stream where it was joined for a while by a Little Egret.

Neither Ros nor I could stay for any other arrivals, but no doubt the Greenshank turned up later.

The south facing Ivy hedge at the end of Warblington Road was full of flowers attracting masses of buzzing insects. The hedge was alive with them. They were mostly Honey Bees with bulging pollen sacs, plus a some Bumblebees, hoverflies and one Red Admiral. I think the Bumblebee in the photo is a Bombus terrestris worker with pollen sacs. I think the hoverfly is Episyrphus balteatus aka Marmalade Fly.

More late insects
Today Chris Oakley saw a Southern Hawker dragonfly on the Hampshire Farm site along with this rather fine Long-winged Conehead Bush-cricket with long antennae.

Short-eared Owls
Up to four Short-eared Owls have been seen quartering over Farlington Marshes. Colin Vanner got this shot of one over the weekend.


Brook Meadow
I went over to the meadow at 10am for the conservation work session led by Jennifer Rye. The main task was to cut and clear the Lumley area which is our prime area for sedges and rushes and other interesting plants.

The full report on the work session and more photos is at . . .

The cutting disturbed several Frogs, but they all seemed to come out unharmed.

There are still quite a few flowers in bloom including some excellent heads of Hogweed and Wild Angelica attracting late flying insects. Other wild flowers include Red Clover, Herb-Robert and both white- and purple-flowered Common Comfrey. During today's work session I spotted a late flowering Lesser Stitchwort and some Meadow Buttercups.

Disabled Godwit
During his regular walk along Western Parade this morning, Chris Oakley noticed a Black-tailed Godwit which had lost the lower part of its left leg. Chris said it seemed to be coping well enough but had to flutter rather than walk. This bird probably got its leg trapped and in the struggle to get free lost part of its leg.


For earlier observations go to . . October 1-31