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A community web site dedicated to the observation, recording
and protection of the wildlife of the Emsworth area

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

for February 1-14, 2016
(in reverse chronological order)

Send wildlife observations and photos to Brian Fellows at . . . brianfellows at


Wayside flowers
As I was walking down Warblington Road towards Nore Barn this morning I was pleased to find a very good display of Sweet Violets in full flower on the grass verge just before the junction with Valetta Park. I would estimate a good 100 florets.

Further along Warblington Road just before the Beach Road junction there was also a good flowering of Three-cornered Garlic against a garden fence. The flowers of Three-cornered Garlic are similar to those of Summer Snowflake except they have a narrow green stripe down the centre of each petal, whereas the petals of the latter plant have green tips.

Bullfinches nesting
Caroline and Ray French Ray had a walk around Stansted today and came across a pair of Bullfinches in Hare Warren. Caroline thought she heard a snatch of Bullfinch song, but certainly saw the female with nesting material in her beak. The BTO 'Field Guide to Monitoring Nests' states the main breeding period for this species is May to mid-August (2-3 broods), with some eggs laid in mid-April, so this is very early to be nest building!

Here is a shot of a female Bullfinch taken by Patrick Murphy in his garden

Caroline's other observations included about 70 Fieldfares and about 30 Redwings, but no Yellowhammers, Skylarks or Woodlarks unfortunately. Caroline also had her first Blackcap of the winter in her garden.

Dolphin/Porpoise sighting?
Barry Kingsmith was on the Hayling Bridge when saw what he thought was either a Dolphin or a Porpoise about 400 yards towards Emsworth cruising around the mooring buoys. Asked for more details, Barry said, "I first spotted a small dorsal fin circulating among the moorings. Then I watched and could see that it came up for air every 30 odd seconds. It was about 3 to 3.5 feet long." I don't recall having had a report of a Dolphin/Porpoise in our local harbours before. How unusual are they?

Emsworth to Warblington
Peter Milinets-Raby was out this morning for his regular bird survey/count along the shore from Emsworth to Warblington (7:28am to 10am - low tide throughout):
Emsworth Harbour: 1 Raven (patch tick for me) heading east towards Thorney Island and calling several times, 492 Knot, 8 Gadwall, 14 Canada Geese, 140+ Dunlin, 8 Red Breasted Merganser, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 3 Little Egret, 2 Greenshank (RG//-+BYtag//), 1 Mediterranean Gull in almost full summer, 3 Coot, 180 Brent Geese, 1 Grey Heron over, 21 Shelduck, 2 Great Black-backed Gulls, 3 Grey Plover, 16 Lapwing, 6 Teal, 6 Turnstone and a pair of displaying Goldeneye.
Pond Outflow (from 8:12am): 2 Teal and 1 Dunlin
Beacon Square (from 8:19am): 4 Shelduck, 84 Dunlin, 2 Grey Plover, 1 Knot, 3 Teal and 2 unringed Greenshank.
Nore Barn (from 8:32am): 11 Pintail in the muddy gullies, 31 Teal, 47 Dunlin, 11 Shelduck and 3 Grey Plover.
Warblington Cemetery: 1 Goldcrest, Ibis Field: 2 Moorhen. Fields behind Conigar Point: 6 Skylarks - one singing away.
Conigar Point (from 9:05am): 5 Shelduck, 58 Dunlin, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 4 Teal, 3 Grey Plover, 1 Red Breasted Merganser, 3 Mediterranean Gull (all in summer plumage), 2 Pintail and winter male Reed Bunting singing half heartedly from the mini reed bed.
Pook Lane (from 9:25am): 36 Shelduck, 7 Red Breasted Merganser, 48 Lapwing, 27 Golden Plover, 8 Knot, 6 Grey Plover, 80+ Brent Geese and 71 Dunlin,
In fields by Castle Farm: 7 Brent Geese (With the ONLY two Juveniles in the area - wow!!! See photo). 7 Little Egrets, 9 Oystercatchers and 20 Curlew.


Request for 'Swift Groups'
Swifts are in serious trouble. The latest Hampshire Bird Atlas shows that Common Swifts have declined by 64% over the past two decades. A major factor in this decline is loss of nest sites. To reverse this trend 'swift groups' have been set-up in many parts of the UK and Europe to assist householders to add nest sites to their houses, to create new swift colonies by installing artificial nest sites on churches, industrial buildings and bespoke swift towers and to stimulate local interest in these fabulous birds. Keith Betton of the Hampshire Ornithological Society thinks we need Swift groups in Hampshire! Although there are some individuals working on Swifts, there are no 'Swift groups' as such. Typically a 'Swift group' consists of a group of local people who spend a little spare time assessing the local swift population, identifying potential risks (e.g. imminent renovation of a house), find sites where new colonies could be encouraged and generally spread the word about swifts. There is a lot of information available as this is a tried and tested formula (Google "Swift conservation" for example). If you are interested in being involved in a local Swift group email on

Living in Bridge Road Emsworth for the past 20 years, we have been lucky to have had a good population of Swifts flying over the area in summer. We always look forward to the first arrivals in early May, but best of all is to watch and hear the family groups screaming around the houses later in the summer before their all too early departure in late July. However, I have never discovered where they nested, though I suspect it must be somewhere fairly local. I used to see what I assume were youngsters prospecting potential nest sites in holes in a neighbour's roof, but I am sure they never nested there. If anyone has any information about Swift nesting in the local area, please let me know.

Here is a snap of a Swift passing over our house in July 2014

I include Swifts in my Garden BirdWatch reports as they hunt for insects over the garden. The maximum number I have recorded was 60 in 2003, though 15-20 was the usual range up about 5 years ago. But since then numbers have crashed and the most I saw last summer was 4. It was always so good to see them screaming around the houses. We shall miss them if they go.

Picture gallery

Rock Pipit at Southsea Castle by Leighton Barrable - 13 Feb 2016

Garden bird changes over the years
I have just completed the data analysis of my garden bird sightings for the year 2015 and here are charts summarising a few of the main findings from 1997 when we first moved into the Bridge Road house to 2015. All my sightings are entered into the BTO Garden BirdWatch scheme. Note: all these charts (except the last one) show the mean weekly counts of each bird in the garden.

Some birds have increased dramatically over this period, particularly Goldfinch. I am fairly sure they first came in with the introduction of niger seeds, though, in my garden at least they have switched totally to sunflower hearts. They are ever present every day and are very messy eaters.

The other main beneficiary of garden bird feeding over this period has been the Woodpigeon which has increased steadily from 1998 to 2008, but have levelled off since then. I still see them in the garden everyday without fail. This is a national trend and Woodpigeon is often the number one ranked garden bird in theGarden BirdWatch list.

Greenfinch was my number one bird from 1998 to 2006, but then numbers fell dramatically due mainly to the disease trichomonosis. There are definite signs of their recovery, but there is a long way to go. I am now getting up to 6 birds on the feeders.

Chaffinch was another bird that was affected by the trichomonosis outbreak, though less seriously than Greenfinch.

I am not sure if Collared Dove was affected by trichomonosis, but its numbers declined at about the same time - 2008. Before that Collared Doves showed a steady increase over the years.

As expected from national figures House Sparrows have gone down dramatically over this period in my garden, though there does seem to be some recovery over the past few years. I am now seeing up to 4 House Sparrows, though not regularly.

The decline in Starling numbers coming into the garden has been even more marked than that of House Sparrows. I used to get huge flocks sweeping down to gobble up food and the shoot off in a swishing cloud, but no longer. However, I have noticed some improvement over the past year, so there is hope.

Song Thrush numbers in the garden have also crashed after a peak in 2005 when they were seen in every week of the year. Now having one in the garden is a big event. I only saw them twice last year. Note: this chart shows percentage of weeks a Song Thrush was recorded. in the garden.



Swan news
The Mute Swan situtation on the town millpond seems to have settled down. The lone swan with the loose feather on its right side was actually on the pond near the end of Nile Street when I arrived this morning (see photo), but it retreated to a safer spot near the culvert entrance when I returned later, although the dominant pair were not in sight. It looked in reasonable condition with no obvious sign of injury following its encounter with the dominant pair a few days ago. There was no sign of any other swan under the grill or on the pond, so it looks like there is only one swan taking refuge in the culvert.

Meanwhile, the dominant pair of swans were again patrolling the small wall between the millpond and the harbour even though the tide was right out and there was no sign of any other swans in the harbour and no chance of any getting onto the pond with the water so low in the harbour. Daft really, but that's swans for you.

Short-eared Owls on Thorney
Claire Power has been seeing Short-eared Owls on Thorney Island again. Yesterday she saw 3 individuals. "They were very active between 1.30 and 3 pm and a joy to watch. Two of them kept having a bit of a spat. They like the grass around the runways and the perimeter road - they are often visible from the footpath that runs around the island especially a short distance south, and a short distance north of the sailing club. They seem unperturbed by being on a busy army base and were flying quite near people. Soldiers were doing speed tests with cars on the runways today and the owls did not seem bothered at all."
Claire managed to get some excellent photos of the birds both perched and in flight. One of her photos (lower left below) shows a bird with its ear tufts erect which happens which the bird is alert and attentive. When the bird is relaxed the ear tufts are folded and become barely visible. The raised tufts are illustrated in the Collins Bird Guide (p.213).

Two more Short-eared Owl sightings were reported to me today. Ros Norton saw one flying low and apparently hunting in a field between Great and Little Deeps at 1.55pm. It then flew west across the harbour. Christopher Evans also saw one quartering over Southmoor but too far away for a photo. He thinks it may be the same one that he saw in December and early January, but haven't seen for over a month.

Gulls return to Hayling Oysterbeds
Chris Cockburn reports on the return of a noisy crowd of Black-headed and Mediterranean gulls at the Hayling Oysterbeds 3 days earlier than usual. He says, "they were mostly swimming on the lagoon's waters; but occasionally visiting both of the islands. Much calling, particularly by the Mediterranean gulls, a bit of displaying and even a bit of dive-bombing a herring gull. Mind you, it was an exceptionally nice day - warm sunshine, especially in places sheltered from the cool but light breeze, Everybody I met was smiling and ready to chat; such days make all the difference during (what passes for) winter"

Mixture of Black-headed Gulls and Mediterranean Gulls at Hayling Oysterbeds

Meanwhile, Mike Wells got an excellent shot of one of the finest wildlife spectacles you can see in the local area - a flock of Dunlin going up in a massed flight over Hayling Oysterbeds.


Brook Meadow
It was a lovely morning with frost on the ground, a warm sun and no wind. What a change to the ghastly weather we have been having. I decided to have a walk through Brook Meadow, the first I have had since the big clearance by the conservation group in the north-east corner. They certainly have opened up the area which should encourage new growth and wild flowers, as well as deterring vandals, which was the main objective of the work.

Photo showing the group at work on the site last Sunday

There was certainly a touch of spring in the air with birds singing everywhere. Wrens outnumbered Robins for the first time this year. I also heard two Great Tits, Dunnock and a Woodpigeon singing. But best of all were the two Song Thrushes singing lustily, one in the north-east corner and one by the Lumley gate. I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the thrush's vigorous song and to take photos.

What a fine bird, but I rarely see one in my garden these days. The following chart shows how Song Thrush sightings in my garden have declined over the past 10 years or so from a peak in 2005 when at least one was seen every week of the year.

I walked by Peter Pond along the path alongside Gooseberry Cottage and spotted a Kingfisher flying across the pond. It settled briefly on a post on the east side allowing me a distant photo before it shot off again. It was probably the same female bird that Malcolm Phillips got in flight yesterday.

Photo gallery
Here are a few of the excellent photos I received today, in no particular order!

Black-headed Gull in skimming the water by Malcolm Phillips

Purple Sandpipers buffeted by waves at Southsea Castle by Barrie Jay

Little Egret in late sun near Milton Locks by Leighton Barrable

Male Goldeneye riding the waves at Rye Harbour by Tony Wootton


Millpond Swans
The mystery of what is happening to the Mute Swans on the millpond appears to be resolving, at least in my mind, having studied and pondered them for the past couple of weeks. I am now fairly confident that the pair of swans currently dominant on the pond is the pair that was previously 'visiting' and which used to be prevented from encroaching any further north than the end of Nile Street by the nesting pair. This morning this pair was patrolling the wall between the millpond and the harbour, as they were yesterday, against any encroachment from another pair of swans in the harbour. One member of this pair is easily identified by three feathers sticking up from its wing on the right in the photo.

This newly dominant pair appear to have ousted the resident pair that have nested successfully on the millpond for the past three years, at least one of which, and maybe both, is currently trapped in the culvert that goes under the main road. I went past the grill at the corner of St James Road twice today and I am pretty sure there was a different swan under the grill on each occasion; ie only one the swans had the distinctive single loose feather sticking up. However, I have not seen both adults at any one time, though I have seen a cygnet, so maybe there are three swans in the culvert?
This afternoon, I happened to be present when one of the ousted swans emerged briefly from the culvert opening onto to the millpond (see photo on the left), but it did not stay long once it caught sight of the dominant pair steaming down the pond towards it (see photo on the right). How on earth are these swan going to escape from the culvert with the very aggressive dominant pair ever watchful?

Malcolm's news
Malcolm Phillips got a cracking photo of the female Kingfisher taking off from the table on Peter Pond.

He then went over to Langstone Mill Pond where he got some more excellent images of a Water Rail on the path and a Grey Heron in the trees at the back of the pond - probably nesting.


Warblington shore
Peter Milinets-Raby was out this morning for a walk from Pook Lane track down to the shore then along the coast to Conigar Point and back via Castle Farm (10:15am to Noon - high tide). In the field by Castle Farm barn were 20 Little Egrets. In the field by the Pook Lane track were 46 Curlew and 26 Oystercatcher.
Along Pook Lane track: Sparrowhawk, Buzzard. Off Pook Lane: (see photo of continuing sea erosion), 15 Lapwing, 168 Brent Geese, 2 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Red Breasted Merganser, 3 Shelduck. Field south of Warblington cemetery: 122 Brent Geese, 1 Curlew.
Off Conigar Point: (nice gathering of 22 Oystercatchers - see photo), 7 Teal, 7 Red Breasted Merganser, Red Necked Grebe - distant - swimming into the Northney Marina and resting between the yachts, 4 Little Grebe in the marina, 2 Shelduck, Great Northern Diver eating crab and diving a lot, 2 Great Crested Grebes.
In field behind Conigar Point: 3 Skylarks, Ibis Field: 4 Moorhen. Warblington Church: 2 Goldcrest (one singing),
Popped briefly in the Nore Barn at 12:15pm to 12:29pm - high tide, Goldcrest singing, 92 Teal, 16 Red breasted Merganser, 2 Great Northern Diver (one being the bird seen off Conigar Point - fishing by the same yachts "Two Halfs", the other over towards Beacon Square), 1 Great Crested Grebe, Best birds of the day were 6 Snipe holding onto the last piece of tidal marsh.
Then, later in the day I popped to Langstone Mill Pond (2:02pm to 3pm - still high tide)
Off Pook Lane: 2 Great Crested Grebes, 3 Red Breasted Merganser, 19 Teal, Kingfisher dashing across the bay and landed on the roof of the Mill.
Langstone Mill Pond: 2 adult Mute Swans in full display - no juveniles around! A pair of Tufted Ducks

Link to a video of the Tufted Duck . . .

Second best bird of the day - 3 beautifully looking almost summer plumaged Med Gulls flying over calling! Great sound, the first of the year - spring has finally arrived!! Grey Heron colony - Almost constant call of young from the Holm Oak.
Flooded Hose Paddock: 22 Wigeon, 65 Teal - loads of the males displaying, 4 Oystercatcher, 25 Moorhen.

 Garden Siskins
Paul Cooper who lives in Funtington has had two Siskins visiting his garden occasionally, the first for some years. He also had a charm of 32 Goldfinches eating niger seeds from two feeders and those fallen on the lawn.
John Walton who lives in Waterlooville has also had Siskins on his feeders - a maximum of 3 to date. He got a photo of all 3 on the same sunflower hearts feeder this morning. I am envious!


Millpond Swans
On the way down Bridge Road towards the town millpond this morning I stopped at the corner of St James Road where I could see the lone swan still trapped beneath the grill. It looked in reasonable condition, though its head was scraping the grill as the level of the stream was much higher than yesterday.
I then walked up Bath Road and round the millpond promenade. It was very pleasant in sharp contrast to yesterday when I was almost knocked over by the wind. Today, the wind had dropped and the sea was dead calm. Quite amazing.

When I got to the Slipper Mill Sailing Club I found two pairs of Mute Swans squaring up to each other, one pair inside the pond retaining wall and the other in the harbour outside. One of the millpond swans (cob) had clambered onto the retaining wall from which vantage point he could easily threaten the other swan (cob) in the harbour. The other millpond swan seemed unable to get onto the wall, but had three loose feathers sticking up from its wing, identifying it as one of the millpond pair that have recently been dominating the millpond. I am not sure about the identity of the harbour pair. They could be the old nesting pair, or the old visiting pair, or even a completely new pair. The photo is taken from the narrow metal bridge looking towards the harbour. Only one of the harbour pair can be seen in the photo.

All this leaves the swan in the culvert grill unaccounted for. I used to think this was one of the original nesting pair ousted by the invaders, but now I am not so sure. It could be a swan coming in to try its luck, but failing to get past the resident pair. I am confused!

Short-eared Owls on Thorney
Claire Power e-mailed to say she had seen two Short-eared Owls on Thorney Island yesterday evening. I will leave Claire to describe her exciting experience:

"I went to the sailing club on the southern tip of Thorney Island at 9 pm to check on my boat after the strong winds. There is often a Short-eared Owl to be seen quartering the field near the sailing club (not visible from the footpath around the edge) so I kept my eyes peeled. Sure enough, on the way back a Short-eared Owl was evident flying along the road then landing. I watched it from a short distance. It was sitting on the road using the grass around the edge of the road as a windbreak and preening/looking around etc. Once it flew off, but just a very short distance up the road where it did the same thing on the side of the road. It seemed completely unbothered by my car and lights (just side lights) and I watched it for a good 30 minutes. I have attached a photo - unfortunately I only had my phone - but it shows it sheltering from the wind, which is coming from right to left in the photo. It doesn't really show its amazing bright yellow eyes.

Then as I drove off the island there was another Short-eared Owl on the road out from the gate post towards Thorney Road. It was doing the same thing - sitting on the side of the road using the grass as a windbreak. Interestingly, it was sitting under a street lamp. It was more car shy and flew up into a tree as I slowly approached. It was definitely a different bird as I drove straight from one and then saw the other maybe a mile later.
I am not sure if short eared owls are more common this year but they seem a lot easier to spot. I went to Farlington Marshes in January a few times and the first couple of weeks there routinely seemed to be 3 or 4 of them there, though more recently I have only seen one, and that was a couple of weeks ago. There don't seem to be any reported there on Going Birding recently. I wonder if the Thorney ones could have come from there?
The other place I have seen a Short-eared Owl this year is at Walderton, quartering the field on the corner where you turn right into Walderton from the Lordington-West Marden Road. But I have only seen one there once, even though I bike there a lot and keep checking. I hope they are more common as they are such stunning birds."

Claire is quite right. It has been a good winter for sightings of Short-eared Owls. In addition to those on Farlington Marshes, I have received sightings from Nutbourne (Jan 20 and Feb 5) and Thorney Island where Anne de Potier reported at least two Short-eared Owls working the pasture and rough grassland in the southwest of Thorney Island for several hours on the morning of Feb 4. These could have been the same ones that Claire saw, though I would guess there were more than two on the island. I was interested to read in the spring 2016 issue of 'Kingfisher' (Newsletter of the Hampshire Ornithological Society) that the editor received so many recent Short-eared Owl pictures that he put them onto a two page spread. These birds are certainly very photogenic. Here is a particularly nice photo of a Short-eared Owl in flight over the fields of Thorney Island taken by Romney Turner a few years ago.

Short-eared Owl migration
October is the peak month for Short-eared Owls arriving from their northerly breeding grounds. Around 1,400 pairs of Short-eared Owl breed in Britain, mainly in the Pennines and the Scottish uplands and islands, but we only see them here in the south on spring or autumn passage or wintering. The BTO Birdtrack reporting rate shows a clear peak in mid October, perhaps as a result of arriving and departing birds being found in well-watched coastal areas. See . . .

More Shags
It also looks like it has been a good winter for Shag sightings. Leighton Barrable had another couple of sightings today in Southsea. One was on the sea off the Blue Reef aquarium and Leighton says it was taking a slight jump out of the water before going under. Leighton also got a nice shot of the regular Shag on Canoe Lake. He also counted 7 Purple Sandpipers below Southsea castle.


Millpond Swans
The fractious swan situation on Emsworth Millpond continues unabated. Walking along Bridge Road this morning I met Tim Irons feeding seed to the vanquished Mute Swan in the stream under the grill at the corner of St James Road. Tim agrees with me that this is very likely to be one of the swans from the pair that has nested on the millpond for the past 3 years, but which has been ousted by the visiting pair. The presence of a feather sticking out (shown in the photo below) suggests to me that this is the cob since, before this present kerfuffle on the pond, I used to identify the cob of the nesting pair by this prominent feather. Of course, I could be completely wrong and it could be another swan with a loose feather, but I doubt it.
Tim and I discussed what has happened to the other member of the pair and to the cygnet which I saw beneath the grill a few days ago. Tim mentioned that a swan had been killed recently at Nore Barn, but one of these swan is unlikely to have gone over there. Maybe they are both still trapped in the culvert? Who knows?

Down on the millpond itself, I found the new dominant pair of swans swimming close to the culvert opening by the bridge, looking as if they had just driven the single swan into the tunnel beneath the road and were now standing guard. The cob of this pair is easy to identify by the cluster of three feathers sticking up from its wing (not shown in this photo).

Brook Meadow
Malcolm Phillips was out on Brook Meadow as usual today and got another great photo of his favourite bird - Goldcrest in song. Goldcrests are prominent on the meadow this winter despite being the smallest British bird. Maybe the mild winter weather suits them?

Malcolm also got a snap of the first Snowdrops just emerging on the meadow. They are usually a bit later on Brook Meadow than other places.

Garden Siskins
Caroline French has had a male and a female (pair?) of Siskins at her feeders from time to time over the past couple of days in North Emsworth. She hasn't been able to get any decent photos, but here is one she got in March 2013.

Surely someone else must be seeing Siskins apart from Caroline?

Shag at Southsea
Shags are in the news just recently. John Walton was prompted by yesterday's discussion of Shags in this blog to send in a photo he got of one at Southsea Castle on Jan 10 this year. John says, "I was watching it come closer and closer to the shore until it was in the surf and then hopped out of the water onto the concrete. It proceeded to come out of the water have a good shakedown and then stand around, ignoring the promenaders walking only a few feet away from it. Most of those walking by also failed to see it!"

John's photo is particularly interesting as it clearly shows the prominent yellow gape which is a feature of Shags in breeding plumage which we don't see that often in our area. In Britain, the Shag is restricted as a breeding species mainly to the rocky coasts of north and west. The nearest breeding colony is on the western cliffs of the Isle of Wight.


Millpond Swans
The drama on the town millpond continues unabated. My wife and I and two grand daughters were enjoying a very bracing walk against a fierce wind around the pond this morning when we all witnessed a most distressing scene. The dominant pair of swans (which I have written about over the past few days) were relentlessly attacking a lone swan (probably the same bird that was attacked previously). This poor swan was chased and pinned down by both swans and pecked repeatedly. It flew off, but was chased down again and attacked on several occasions. Nature in the raw indeed! This all happened on the Bath Road side of the pond as we walked down Bridgefoot Path. Some people, walking along Bath Road, attempted to stop the attack using a long twig, but this was largely ineffective. I did not have my camera with me and the following very poor quality photo was taken from the other side of the pond with my phone. The attacked swan can be seen on the left of the photo with the cob of the pair bending over it.

When we got over to Bath Road about 30 mins later (having stopped for a welcome drink in Flintstone's) the pair of swans was swimming serenely on the pond as if nothing had happened and there was no sign of the attacked bird. I assume it had taken refuge in the culvert beneath the bridge as happened before, though it was not under the grill on the corner of St James Road when we passed. Frankly, I don't hold out much hope for this swan unless it leaves the pond. But its determination to remain suggests to me that it could be the pen of the original pair that nested on the pond in previous years which has been usurped by the second 'visiting' pair. However, this is surmise and I might be wrong.

Shag at Eastney
Leighton Barrable who got the photo of the Purple Sandpiper in yesterday's blog has come up with what looks like a juvenile Shag taken in the sea by Fort Cumberland opposite Hayling Island. The photo shows the steep forehead and rounded crown with a hint of peak and pale throat all of which one would expect in a juvenile Shag. Leighton did not mention this, but a good tip to distinguish a Shag from a Cormorant in the water is that a Shag typically jumps before it dives, whereas the Cormorant just slides beneath the waves.


Millpond Swans
I checked the swan situation on the town millpond at about 11.30 this morning. I found a single swan in the water near the bridge; it looked like a pen, though I could not be certain. The main pair, which I saw yesterday, including the one with the loose feathers, was further down the pond, but came steaming up while I was there with wings raised, clearly intent on driving off the single swan. As soon as the lone swan saw the pair approaching it fled into the tunnel/culvert not to emerge while I was there. So, the mystery continues. It the pair now present on the pond the original nesting pair or the intruding newcomers? And what is the lone swan? Could it be the pen of the nesting pair now ousted?

Red Kite over Emsworth
Mrs Salter was 'absolutely thrilled' to see a Red Kite flying north across southern part of Birch Tree Drive in North Emsworth today at 12.30. She was definite about the identification from the forked tail. It was being mobbed by Carrion Crows and disappeared from view heading towards Hollybank Woods. Red Kites are occasionally seen over Emsworth, particularly towards Hollybank Woods. They do appear to be spreading into our area which is very good news.

Here is an excellent photo of a Red Kite flying over Emsworth
by Richard Somerscocks in April 2012.

Purple Sandpiper
Leighton Barrable got this cracking shot of a Purple Sandpiper on the seaweed covered rocks in front of Southsea Castle on Thursday 4th Feb. There are often up to 15 on the rocks - the best count so far this winter reported to HOS was 12 on Jan 31.


Millpond Swans
The swan situation appears to have changed on the town millpond. There are no longer two pairs of swans vying for territory as there has been for the past couple of months. Now, there seems to be just one pair of swans which have the pond to themselves. What I am not sure about is which pair this is. Is it the original pair that has nested on the pond for the past three years and which has driven off most other swans from the pond. Or is it the second (visiting) pair that has been constantly competing with the resident pair for territory.
Yesterday I reported what I thought was the resident swan pair chasing a lone swan into the culvert beneath the bridge, which I later discovered beneath the grill at the far end of the culvert at the corner of St James Road along with a single cygnet. When I looked today at about 12 noon, I found what I assume was the same pair of swans on the pond, but significantly one of them (probably the cob) had three feathers standing up on its back - see the photo below. This suggested to me that it had been in a fight as the feathers were not like this yesterday.

There were no other swans on the pond this morning, but the same adult swan and cygnet was in the Westbrook Stream beneath the grill at the far end of the culvert. I suppose this could be just a wandering swan and cygnet, but I was interested to see that the adult swan had a single loose feather (see photo). Significantly, the cob of the resident pair also had a single loose feather which suggested to me the swans beneath the grill could be the cob and cygnet from the resident pair which had been ousted by the visiting pair. I agree this is largely conjecture, but it should be interesting to see how the situation resolves. I am a little concerned as to how the adult swan and cygnet are going to get out of the culvert with the pair of swans guarding the exit into the millpond.

Havant Water Vole
Christopher Evans reports, "On the last leg of our Havant U3A Birdwatching walk yesterday the group were cheered by two sightings. One was our only raptor of the day, a Buzzard which alighted on one of the streetlights alongside the A27 in front of Langstone Technology Park. The second was a Water Vole that appeared, on cue, just north of the water wheel at the rear of Tesco. Earlier on we had seen the Spotted Redshank that you feature, in its usual location at Nore Barn." It is good to hear that the Water Voles are still about and looking good in the stream at Havant. I just wish we had some here on Brook Meadow.

Water Vole taken by Doug Yelland.

Nutbourne birds
Tony Wootton went on a walk yesterday morning from Prinsted to Nutbourne there were 45 Curlews in one of the fields to the left, a dozen Avocets in the and around the spit at Nutbourne, but no sign of any greenshank. Then a lovely surprise of a Short-eared Owl on a post near to the reed beds. This was probably the same bird that Juliet Walker saw here on Jan 20. Clearly, a regular and worth looking out for.

Shag at Southsea
Peter Milinets-Raby had a driving lesson cancellation this morning and as his next lesson was in Southsea he decided to have a look for the Shag at Canoe Lake. He says, "It was a grim morning with light fine drizzle, but the visit paid off with some exceptional views of the Shag. Yes, it was that close! Also on view on the lake were Great Crested Grebe and Med Gull."

Here is a link to a video of the Shag when it was perched on the 'swan boats'

Frogs pairing
Mike Wells says the frogs in his Cowplain garden have been very vocal for many weeks, but it was only this morning that he found the definitive evidence that spring is in the air! This is the earliest he has ever seen paired frogs in his garden.

Portsmouth RSPB talk
Heather Mills reports that there will be a talk at Farlington Church Hall on February 27th at 7.30pm by Marcus Ward on "A year in the life of Normandy Marsh". All welcome. For more details . . .


Millpond News
10:00am - A female Red-breasted Merganser was fishing right up near the bridge. I have not seen one that far up the millpond before.
Much more dramatic was to see the Mute Swan pair relentlessly chasing a lone swan which had wandered onto their nesting territory. The lone swan was constantly attacked and finally driven into the culvert under the bridge.

About 30 mins later I saw the lone swan at the far end of the culvert under the grill at the corner of St James Road.

11:30am - I checked about an hour later and the lone swan was still beneath the grill at the end of the culvert, but accompanied by a cygnet with brownish feathers. I suspect this was one of the two missing cygnets from the millpond.
Back on the millpond the resident pair were hovering around the entrance to the culvert by the bridge, waiting for the other swans to emerge. It is not going to be easy for them. I did not see what happened, but would be very interested to hear from anyone who did.

Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby had the pleasure of bumping into Malcolm Phillips and Nik Knight down Langstone Mill Pond this afternoon. He says it was a lovely warm day, however still very chilly wind. 1:30pm to 3:07pm - very low tide. Highlights were . . .
Off Pook Lane: Just 8 Common Gulls left after the stormy winds of the last few days, along with one adult winter Mediterranean Gull (slightly more smudge on nape than yesterday - see photo).

Also 2 Sandwich Terns (adult winter and one nearing full summer plumage). 31 Lapwing with a flock of 55+ passing over west towards Langstone Harbour, 4 Teal, 12 Wigeon, 422 Brent Geese (more than yesterday, but no sign of yesterdays lone Barnacle Goose amongst them), 1 Greenshank, 119 Dunlin (half the number from yesterday), 6 Shelduck with an impressive 72 loitering off Conigar Point, 6 Grey Plover. Way in the distance off Conigar Point: 5 Red Breasted Merganser, 2 male and a female Goldeneye, 112 Brent Geese.
Langstone Mill Pond: Water Rail calling more frequently than on the last couple of days and showing well occasionally. Showed itself several times to the admiring 'crowd'. Malcolm Phillips was among the 'admiring crowd' and got this excellent image of the bird.

Also present on the pond was a male Gadwall which is a scarce sighting. Malcolm also got a nice shot of this bird.

2 Long-tailed Tits (no sign of the Goldfinch/Siskin flock today). Grey Heron colony: Yesterday calls could be heard from the lower Holm Oak nest and today calls were heard from the top Holm Oak nest when the adults swapped over. Lots of bickering and chasing of three adult Grey Herons around the other nests.
Horse paddock: 15 Wigeon, 92 Teal, 20 Moorhen, 1 Curlew, Mistle Thrush heard singing, 1 Grey Heron collecting sticks.

Short-eared Owls on Thorney
Anne de Potier reported at least two Short-eared Owls working the pasture and rough grassland in the southwest of Thorney Island for several hours this morning, with a Whimbrel offshore. (SOS Sightings)

Godwits down at Pulborough
Paul & Bridget James reported (SOS Sightings) that Black-tailed Godwit numbers were well down on Steve Gale's estimate of 800 at Pulborough Brooks with perhaps only a quarter of that figure present - that was yesterday (Feb 3). So, may we expect some back in the harbours?


Millpond News
My morning constitutional around the town millpond this morning was uneventful apart from the fact that the two swan cygnets were absent. I have been expecting them to go for some while, but now it looks as if it has finally happened. The other three cygnets from the original brood of five went some time ago. Today, the resident swan pair was swimming happily together with not a care in the world, no doubt muttering in swan language - 'on our own at last!'

Interestingly, their two adversaries were also absent. I could not see the visiting (intruding) pair of swans which has been on the southern part of the pond for most of the winter. The cob of the resident pair has a prominent loose feather sticking up (shown on the left in the photo above). This makes me wonder if he has been in a scrap with the visiting cob? Not impossible.

The colour-ringed Greenshank RG+BY tag was feeding on the edge of the channel. This bird is a regular in Emsworth Harbour, this being the 5th sighting here this winter and the 16th overall since the bird was ringed by Pete Potts at Thorney Island on 13-Mar-13.

Malcolm's news
Malcolm Phillips had a quick walk round the meadow this morning and caught two birds in the act of singing, Wren and Goldcrest. Although these are both small birds the same cannot be said about their voices. Wren has a well known very loud and rapid song, whereas the song of a Goldcrest is soft and high pitched which makes it very difficult for elderly souls like myself to hear at all.

Malcolm then went over to Langstone to look for the Water Rail, but with no luck. However, he did got a nice shot of a pony with 5 Little Egrets for company.

Garden Bullfinch
Leslie Winter has been doing his accounts for the past year and reckons the birds coming to his garden consumed a total of 90kg of sunflower hearts in 2015. He says the Grey Squirrel had some, but daily visits of Goldfinches and Greenfinches were the main beneficiaries. However, all is worthwhile when today Leslie discovered a splendid male Bullfinch sampling the seeds.

Titchfield delights
Tony Wootton was back at Titchfield Haven today where he got more photos of Penduline Tits plus a nice shot of a small group of Grey Plovers in flight.
CORRECTION Ralph Hollins comments that in flight Grey Plovers show a white rump which separates them from the Golden Plovers in Tony Wootton's photo.


Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby went down to Langstone Mill Pond this afternoon 1:47pm to 3:05pm - tide out, but slowly pushing in. After Henry! The only signs of any strong winds having passed through were 41 Common Gulls resting on the mud with 150+ Black-headed Gulls, plus 3 adult winter Med Gulls - all with slightly extra black streaks on the nape hinting at the first signs of moult. Spring is here as far as the Mediterranean Gull goes. It is only a matter of days when their call will be everywhere!
Also off Pook Lane were: 1 Greenshank (G//R+BRtag//-), Female Kingfisher perched on her usual seaweed post by the mill outflow, 7 Teal, 9 Shelduck with 16 off Conigar Point, 36 Lapwing, 1 very lone Black-tailed Godwit (the rest are probably up at Pulborough Brooks), 341 Dunlin, 5 Grey Plover, 377 Brent Geese (again disturbed off the fields off north Hayling by gun shots - Estimate of 1000 birds went up and the majority flew towards Thorney Island. 2 Red Breasted Merganser with 5 off Conigar Point, 1 Golden Plover, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Turnstone.
Langstone Mill Pond: The call of young Grey Heron chicks heard coming from the Holm Oak - nothing visible, but proof enough. Spring has arrived!!
Flooded Horse paddock: Perfect habitat at the moment - Still impresses, though the 19 Wigeon from yesterday were not there today. 10 roosting Little Egrets (16 yesterday), 4 Grey Heron, 91 Teal, 8 Moorhen, 3 Oystercatcher.

Water Rail
John Chapman was also at Langstone Mill Pond this lunch time and saw what he called 'the exhibitionist Water Rail'. John said "... it was walking up and down in front of the reeds a couple of yards away. Not content with that, it then swam across the channel to the footpath and walked about amongst the Mallards and Coot being fed there. Not to be outdone, the local Kingfisher then put on a display of plunge-diving (like a miniature Tern) from its perch on the mill."

Here is a photo of a Water Rail taken on Langstone Mill Pond last April by Peter Milinets-Raby
- probably the same bird that John saw today.

Pipit ID
Regarding the request for an ID of the Pipit Dave Powell saw on Thorney Island yesterday, Peter Milinets-Raby thought it looked like a Rock Pipit in sunshine, so not so grim, tatty and dark looking than normal. And so say all of us.

John Arnott agrees that the bird is a Rock Pipit, but probably the Scandinavian race Anthus petrosus littoralis. He notes the distinct pale supercilium, the tip of the outer tail feather has a small white patch and the mantle is streaked. The British Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus petrosus tends to have a much fainter supercilium (if any at all) and the outer tail feather is usually greyish/buff along the whole length.

Unloved plants campaign is running an international campaign to draw attention to unloved plant species in the run-up to Valentine's Day. They have asked various conservation organisations around the world to nominate a species they believe to be overlooked, under appreciated and unloved. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) has nominated Corn Cleavers (Galium tricornutum).

They say this may be Corn Cleavers' last chance to find love. "Unlike coffee and gardenia (in the same family) nobody longs for Corn Cleavers in the morning or swoons at his scent. Formerly a widespread "weed" among cereal crops but - unlike Cornflower and Corncockle - nobody wants the unshowy flowers of Corn Cleavers in their 21st Century wildflower seed mix. Easily confused with Common Cleavers (Galium aparine) Corn Cleavers is much less common and not so clingy."

Vote for your best unloved plant
As this campaign is only open to organisations I thought it might be fun to see what people reading this blog might vote for as their favourite unloved plant. There must be lots of humble plants just waiting out there for a bit of fame and limelight. They don't necessarily have to be rare like Corn Cleavers. I must admit I tend to stick up for any sort of wildlife that is generally not liked by people, such as, Magpies. On the plant front, I often find myself defending Common Ragwort which is so often unreasonably attacked for being poisonous. There are several others which could get my vote including Ivy, Common Nettle, Large Bindweed and Hogweed.
But if I was really pushed my vote would have to go to one of the grasses, sedges or rushes. It is hard to choose one, but I always look forward to finding my first Creeping Bent-grass of the year with its delicate purple-tinged panicles. It is not an easy one to identify and I am sure I sometimes get the actual species wrong. But that does not really matter, as it is the plant that count not what we call it. Here is some Creeping Bent (I think) growing with other grasses on the Emsworth Recreation Ground off Horndean Road.

What would your vote go for?


Malcolm's gallery
Malcolm Phillips got several nice photos around Brook Meadow today of which I have chosen the following. A female Kingfisher caught in flight as it took off from a tree in the garden of Gooseberry Cottage. And one of the regular Goldcrests near the south bridge. Just look at that crest!

Pipit ID request
Having read the discussion about the identification of Rock and Meadow Pipit on the blog for Jan 29, Dave Powell wondered if he could add another one into the discussion. On Saturday Jan 30, Dave walked from Emsworth well out onto Thorney Island down the western path and saw a Pipit - initially on the rocks on the water's edge and then on the other side of the path towards the meadow. Here it is.

From studying of his bird book, Dave was tempted to go for Rock Pipit and I must admit with those dark legs I would agree with him, though my record for distinguishing Rock and Meadow Pipit is not all that good. So, we welcome other people's views. The habitat described by Dave would seem good for Rock Pipit, though there are certainly plenty of Meadow Pipits down the west side of Thorney Island too.

Ralph Hollins provides some useful tips on how to separate the two pipits. He says, "Should you see another Pipit on the shore there are two features which I rely on to distinguish between Rock and Meadow Pipits should they take flight. The first is the 'angle of take off' - Meadow Pipits fly up at quite a steep angle and fly off well above head height and head inland while Rock Pipits fly low below head height along the shore. The second is the call they make - Rock Pipit usually gives a single high pitched 'pseep' or 'feest' while Meadow Pipit usually gives multiple 'sip sip sip' calls. These tips come from the Macmillan Field Guide to Bird Identification by Keith Vinicombe which was published in 1990 and is probably out of print now. It concentrates on the distinctions between 'confusion species'."

Birds of Havant
The recent report from Peter Milinets-Raby of the 'Birds of Warblington and Emsworth' prompted Ralph Hollins to reflect on some of the changes that he has noticed over the 50 years he has been living in Havant. In particular, he notes the colonisation by Little Egrets and the disappearance of the mid-summer Mute Swan flocks. For more details about these and other fascinating reflections go to Ralph's wildlife diary page for Fri 29th January at . . .

Peter's report 'Birds of Warblington and Emsworth' can be seen at the following link . . .

For earlier observations go to . . January 17-31