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for February 2017
(in reverse chronological order)

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Emsworth Millpond
It was a very pleasant morning for a stroll around the town millpond despite the chilly breeze. The first thing I noticed was a large pile of twigs and other debris in the north-east corner close to the road bridge. A new swan nest? Mute Swans have nested at this spot in previous years, so it could represent the first efforts at nest building by the new pair of swans which have dominated the pond over the past 2 years, driving off all other swans that dare trespass on their territory. It is a very crude effort with several items of litter mixed in. There was no sign of any swans in the vicinity. In fact, I could only find one swan on the millpond this morning. Where has the other one has got to? Of course, the nest of twigs may have been placed there by human hand to provide building materials for the swans. I would appreciate any information on this. In the meantime, watch this space, so they say.

Emsworth Harbour
A flock of about a dozen Swans were gathered in the harbour by the quay, including the six Black Swans which have been here for the past 4 weeks. The Black Swans can be a bit feisty towards their white colleagues.

A few Brent Geese were on the water close to the millpond seawall. I suspect many of their colleagues will have already left and be on their way towards their breeding grounds in the Russian Arctic. Fare forward travellers.

Hayling Oysterbeds
My friend John Gowen was at the Hayling Oysterbeds this morning and was surprised by the number of Brent Geese he saw there, mostly in groups of 40. He asks if they should have moved out. The answer to this is yes. The Brents are certainly on the move, but the birds John is now seeing are most likely to be those passing through, having wintered further to the south, on their way to Holland and up to the Arctic
John asked if I knew about the Brent breeding success this year. I don't think the official figures are available yet, but my own counts indicate a relatively poor year with about 4% of juveniles to adults.
John also noticed hundreds of Black-headed Gulls on the shingle bars in the main/southern most pool of the Oysterbeds. These birds will be gathering together in preparation for the coming breeding season, bagging themselves the best nesting spots no doubt. I hope they leave some space for the Common Terns and Little Terns. Mediterranean Gulls also nest at Hayling Oysterbeds, though I think most now go over to the RSPB islands in Langstone Harbour.

Brook Meadow
From the harbour I made my way home via Brook Meadow where I heard a Blackbird in full song in the middle of the day for the first time this year. All the other Blackbird songs have been heard at dusk.

I was interested to see a raised Mole run across the path through Palmer's Road Copse. These are caused by the mole tunnelling close to the surface, producing a raised line of soil.

The Weeping Willow at the north end of the south meadow is looking quite splendid. This handsome tree was planted around 2001 as a young sapling by Brian Boak. Brian was an active member of the Brook Meadow Conservation Group in the early years, though I think he has now passed away.

The yellowish glow of the tree is caused by the colour of its twigs which are already sprouting fresh leaves.

The Butterbur flower spikes on the meadow above the seat are now clearly visible from the main path. Some are quite well grown.

A large Crack Willow on the west side of the river north of the Bulrushes has collapsed across the river. The branches have been cut back where it came across the footpath. It does not seem to be blocking the river.

A pair of Mallard were swimming around on the river south of the north bridge. They may nest somewhere on the west bank.


Emsworth walk
I had my usual walk this morning through Brook Meadow and down to Slipper Millpond. The weather was cloudy, but otherwise fine. The paths on the meadow are drying out nicely and boots are not needed. Here are a few observations with photos.

Brook Meadow
I looked closely at the various leaves that are now coming up, including Broad-leaved Dock, Bristly Ox-tongue (left in photo) and Spear Thistle (right).

I gather the red spots and blotches on the dock leaves are caused by a fungus.

There is a fine blossom on the Cherry Plum on the causeway almost forming an archway with the yellow Gorse.

The long brown catkins on the Alders are now ripe and looking very good, hanging like decorations.

The small bright red female Alder catkins which will develop into cones are also prominent.

On the east side of the north meadow, the Osier male catkins are already showing some yellow pollen.

Several quite well grown Butterbur spikes are now up in the area below the seat.

Lesser Celandines are now popping up around the meadow, a real sign of spring.

Snowdrops are flowering along the Lumley Path, probably garden escapes.

Hermitage Millponds
David Gattrell was at work in the reedbeds on Peter Pond so I did not disturb him, though I did admire the new channel which showed up well at high tide. The haze in the photo is smoke from a fire.

Two Mediterranean Gulls were on Slipper Millpond along with a multitude of other gulls. They will be off to the breeding colonies in Langstone Harbour. I managed to get a shot of one of them.

The Great Black-backed Gull pair was on the south raft along with a grey headed Cormorant with white breeding thigh patch. The gulls will not be nesting on this raft, but on the large centre one.


Black Swans
The six Black Swans were still present and attracting attention in Emsworth Harbour near the quay at the bottom of South Street this morning. While I was there they were stalked by two photographers, after the 'perfect shot', but they said they were disappointed due to poor light and windy conditions.

The Black Swans here in Emsworth are all immature birds, with grey to white edges to their wing feathers; two birds with clear white wing edges stand out as the youngest, the other four with greyer wing edges are older. Three of the older birds and the two younger ones have been in Emsworth since Jan 27th; the 6th bird also an older one, arrived in Emsworth on Feb 19th. It seems these birds are the offspring of a pair of Black Swans that has nested successfully for the past 3 years at Riverside Park (Cobden Meadows) on the River Itchen estuary in Southampton.

Thorney Island
John and Philippa Arnott walked down the west shore of Thorney Island yesterday afternoon to count the seals. They found thirteen Common Seals in a group of 11 plus another 2 further up the Rithe. Any pregnant females should be about halfway through gestation about now. John says that on 12 Feb a headless dead juvenile Common Seal was reported - very unusual. John did not get a photo of the seals, so here is one from my files taken by Richard Somers Cocks a few years ago on Thorney.

John also had a lovely Short-eared Owl patrolling the ground. Here it perched on a post. The bench in the photo is the one at Marker Point.

Here is the Short-eared Owl close-up. What eyes! Just after John took the Grey Heron photo it coughed up a pellet, but the camera missed it.


Railway Wayside
I had a walk around the wayside to the north of Emsworth Railway Station this morning, looking for Coltsfoot which usually flowers there, but there was no sign of any. In fact, I did not see any flowers apart from a Gorse bush which was full of blossom. What I did see were the fresh fleshy green leaves of what looked like Broad-leaved Dock. Some leaves had red spots on them which may be caused by an insect of some sort, but I don't know what.

Mediterranean Gull
I happened to meet Barry Collins on my way back from the Railway Wayside. Barry was just returning from a birdwatching trip on his bike to Thorney Island which he said was fairly quiet. However, on his way back he did spot a Mediterranean Gull on Slipper Millpond, the first of the year. I have heard that Mediterranean Gulls are back on the islands in Langstone Harbour and Hayling Oysterbeds so it will not be long before we hear their distinctive cries when flying overhead. Their numbers will probably build up on Slipper Millpond prior to going to the their breeding grounds.

Here are a few Med Gulls on the main raft on Slipper Millpond a couple of years ago

Red Admirals
Tony Wootton had two Red Admirals on his kitchen windowsill this morning. He got a quick snap of one of them before they both flew off.

The Red Admiral is a migratory butterfly usually unable to survive the British winter. But here in the south, with warmer winters, it is increasingly becoming an all-the-year-round butterfly. It only needs a bit of sunshine to arouse it from its slumber. Brian Lawrence had one at Chichester Marina on Feb 13th.

Early nesting
The BTO has already had reports of nesting birds, including a sighting of a newly fledged Woodpigeon. Woodpigeons produce crop-milk, a product high in fats, on which they feed their young. This means that they are less restricted than other birds in their breeding times and young birds have been noted throughout the year. However, most eggs are recorded between late February and August. Interestingly, the typical lifespan of a Woodpigeon is 3 years, though the maximum recorded is 17 years, 8 months. For more information on the Woodpigeon see . . .


Canoe Lake
I had to go into Southsea this morning, so took the opportunity to have a walk round Canoe Lake. It was not easy going against the winds from storm Doris raging in from the sea. I counted 42 Mute Swans sheltering from the winds along with lots of gulls. Clearly, the wintering flock of swans are back on Canoe Lake, though not in the numbers of the late 1990s and early 2000s when there were regularly over 80 in mid winter.

Baffins Pond
I also had a quick walk round Baffins Pond. A Barnacle Goose was pottering around on the pond, all alone and not in pursuit of a Canada Goose, which the Irons family witnessed yesterday.

A pair of Shoveler came close enough for me to get a shot of them feeding in their unique manner.

The regular flock of Feral Pigeons were feeding on the south side of the pond displaying a wonderful variety of hues in their plumages.

There were masses of catkins hanging from the Alder trees on the south side of the pond.


Mallard in a tree
Yesterday, Glynis Irons and her son, Thomas, enjoyed a walk around Staunton Lake during which Thomas spotted a Mallard up a tree. This was the first time either of them had witnessed this and wondered if it was unusual.

Yes, it is unusual. I don't recall ever having seen one, though I gather from a Google search that Mallards do go into trees and occasionally nest in them. They also nest in many other strange places, such as, window boxes and hanging baskets. Note that Glynis's Mallard is a male so he won't actually be nesting there! Some duck species regularly nest in tree holes, such as, Goldeneye, Mandarin and Goosander.

Goose behaviour
The Irons family were down at Baffins Pond in Portsmouth today and were intrigued to watch a single Barnacle Goose continually following a Canada Goose around, not aggressively, but with seemingly amorous intent.

In fact, Barnacle Geese and Canada Geese frequently hybridise where both species occur ferally, as at Baffins Pond, and the hybrids are fertile. Here is a photo of one such Canada x Barnacle hybrid that I took on Baffins Pond on May 6 2015. Here it is with two normal Barnacle Geese. One can see the Barnacle influence in the hybrid in the extra area of dark on the chest.

Thanks to Eric Eddles for the identification of the hybrid.


Water Rail on Brook Meadow
Pam Phillips said the Water Rail was back in its old spot behind the gas holder site this morning. This bird certainly moves around a fair bit, assuming it is the same bird, that is. Pam has also recently seen it on the north river and last week Brian Lawrence had it in Palmer's Road Copse, two extreme ends of the Brook Meadow site. The Water Rail has now been on the Brook Meadow site for at least 3 months, since November.

Here is a nice photo of a Water Rail on Brook Meadow
by Malcolm Phillips a couple of years ago


Black Swans
I headed down to the harbour this morning to have a look at the six Black Swans which Chris Oakley saw yesterday. All six birds were still present, all together in the same place as yesterday, by the wooden jetty. They were being watched and fed by a fascinated audience, including my friends Glynis and Tim Irons and their son Thomas.

We looked carefully at the Black Swans on the water and concluded that they were all immature birds, with grey to white edges to their wing feathers. Two birds with clear white wing edges stood out as the youngest, the other four with greyer wing edges were clearly older. Three of the older birds and the two younger ones have been in Emsworth since Jan 27th; the 6th bird arrived in Emsworth over the weekend is another older one.

As suggested by Mark Painter in yesterday's blog, it seems likely that these birds came from Cobden Meadows on the River Itchen estuary where a pair of Black Swans has bred three times. Mark says, five swans from the second and third broods went missing a few weeks ago; they were seen briefly in Fareham Creek before presumably coming over to Emsworth Harbour. Mark thinks our 6th swan might also be from the Itchen broods.

Squashed Toad
Here is one Toad that sadly did not make it across Lumley Road to Peter Pond. Squashed Toads are not an unusual sight on roads at this time of the year as they make their annual migration to their preferred breeding grounds.

Frogs mating
Graham Petrie sent this shot of this unusual frog mating activity in his garden pond today, which he had not seen before. It shows what Graham calls a "3-frog sandwich" and wonders what the female is thinking about it all. Graham said they looked a bit vulnerable to the Jackdaws/Crows on the surface of the pond so he gently pushed them back underneath the pond cover, hoping they didn't mind too much!


Six Black Swans
Five Black Swans have been resident in Emsworth Harbour for several weeks, usually lurking around the quay at the bottom of South Street. They were first seen there by Chris Berners-Price on Jan 27 and have been regular ever since, attracting much attention. However, today, Chris Oakley found that their numbers had increased to six! Chris said they are very tame and inquisitive so make easy birds to photograph. They were just off the jetty. There were only 5 when I checked yesterday. Where are they coming from?

I posted this sighting on the HOS message board and got the following reply from Mark Painter.
"Probably from the River Itchen estuary. A pair have bred 3 times opposite Cobden Meadows. The first five offspring departed and were last seen in Cornwall. The second brood of 5 all survived. The third brood they lost 3 of 5 in bad weather. Until recently these plus 5 sub adults plus 2 adults remained. Total = 9. Five of these disappeared at the time 5 turned up at Fareham Creek. These look like they may have moved to Emsworth. There were still 4 at Cobden Meadows on 17th Feb. Two adults at the nest site and one youngster with angel wing. The other youngster has been more mobile so may have now left. I might check along the river tomorrow."

Mark's analysis seems a likely scenario. The 5 Black Swans that have been in Emsworth since Jan 27 comprise 2 adults, 1 sub adult and 2 juveniles. The juveniles could be the two survivors from the third Itchen brood, plus one of the sub adults and the 2 adults. I shall need to check the age of the newly arrived bird.

Chris also got this nice shot of a mixed flock of Brent Geese (including juveniles) and Wigeon feeding together in the harbour.


Spotted Redshank
Last Thursday, John Dickenson came down from Nottingham to see and photograph the famous Emsworth Spotted Redshank. John had previously e-mailed me to ask when would be the best time and I advised him to come 2-3 hours either side of high water. Well, he came he saw and he conquered!
In John's words,
"What a superb day! The Spotted Redshank performed superbly in beautiful light despite the continual procession of dog walkers etc. Just amazing how tolerant it is and what a pleasure to photograph. I initially located him about 100 yards past the bridge at about 1.15 and he then gradually made his way along the shore edge towards the outlet. I spoke to several walkers etc who wondered what a grown man was doing laying in the mud! Overall, a fantastic experience to have a stunning bird so close."
John sent a couple of images.

Spotted Redshank eating what looks like a small crab.

A classic Spotted Redshank stance upright and alert.

For all the news and history of the famous Emsworth Spotted Redshank go to . . . . Spotted Redshanks at Nore Barn

Chichester Gravel Pits
Heather Mills reported on this morning's walk by the Havant Wildlife Group during which a Long-tailed Duck was seen.

For the full report and other photos go to . . .


Warblington shore
Peter Milinets-Raby had a couple of hours spare this morning so he decided to walk along the Warblington shore (9:06am to 11:07am - low tide). His observations as follows:
Ibis Field: 7 Moorhen, 2 Redwing, 1 Skylark singing over Ibis field and then went down into the big field to the east. 48 Curlew disturbed from the fields north of here and flew around before flying off to the shore, 2 Stock Doves.
Hedgerow behind Conigar Point: A pair of Goldcrest displaying with both birds with raised crests - wonderful sight, bright orange crest on the male and a stunning lemon yellow on the female. Skylark singing from the fields behind Conigar Point
Conigar Point: 14 Pintail (six males), 111 Wigeon, 8 Shelduck, 142 Brent Geese, 4 Grey Plover, 39 Dunlin.
Pook Lane: 57 Wigeon, 286 Brent Geese, 26 Shelduck, 53 Dunlin, 5 Grey Plover. Winter plumaged Curlew Sandpiper associating with 12 Dunlin - easily picked out for a change!, though it did feed often in the muddy gullies. The Curlew Sandpiper with the slightly curved bill is on the left in Peter's photo. The other bird is a Dunlin.

139 Teal, 4 Red Breasted Merganser, 32 Lapwing, 4 Knot, 38 Black-tailed Godwit, 18 Common Gulls, 1 Greenshank (GR//- +BRtag//-), Female Pond Pintail, 1 Avocet (asleep on the water's edge along the north Hayling shore).
Horse Paddock: 9 Teal, 4 Wigeon, 3 Little Egret, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Song Thrush, 16 Redwing, 13 Moorhen.
Langstone Mill Pond: Pair of Mute Swan beginning to chase other ducks away, 1 Teal.

Bats in flight
As the weather is quite mild Nik Knight took a walk around Wade Court and Langstone with his bat detector this evening. He recorded both Soprano and Common Pipistrelles in flight around 18.10 in Wade Lane. The temperature was falling below 7C so Nik wonders if they may have stayed out too long.

Wintering Blackcaps
Up until 50 years ago, wintering by Blackcaps in Britain & Ireland was quite unusual, but numbers have since increased considerably, with many thousands now counted each winter by BTO Garden BirdWatch. Gardens are favoured sites where a combination of 'natural' berries and fruit along with specially provided fat, seeds, cake and pastry is the main attraction, often fiercely defended by some individuals.

Female Blackcap in my garden
on the sunflower hearts feeder this month

Typically, the majority of Blackcaps breeding in northern Europe migrate to the Mediterranean region for the winter. However, this is changing - some of these birds may now be migrating in a north-westerly direction to the British Isles instead! These changes appear to be facilitated by milder winters and the abundance of food provided by people, according to research carried out using BTO Garden BirdWatch data. To improve our knowledge of migration and breeding origin, a number of wintering Blackcaps have been fitted with Geolocators (accurate to around 70km) by the BTO which they hope will reveal where they spend the summer.
For more details see . . .,4R94I,3RN36S,HX73V,1

Marlpit Lane
Marlpit Lane at Woodmancote has been locally famous over many years for singing Nightingales. I can't begin to count the hours I have marched up and down this dreary lane over the past 30 years or so, listening out for the sound of these magical birds. They usually stick to the trees alongside the lane, though I have often heard one singing on the old gravel pit site behind the amenity tip to the east of the lane.
Roy Ewing tells me that work has started on this area to implement an approved Planning Application to return the area to agricultural use, following landfill. He says major earthworks are taking place, but currently the perimeter trees are untouched. That site has had a chequered history over the years, lurching from one extreme to another. It will be interesting to see how this new venture goes. Does anyone have any more information?
As for the Nightingales, they have tended to move northwards up Marlpit Lane in recent years towards the new plantation, which is where I now listen out for them. However, they have become increasingly scarce over the years and I did not get any reports last year.
Although their song is loud and easy hear, Nightingales are notoriously difficult to see, at least in this country. Tony Wootton got this nice photo of one a couple of years ago at Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve where they tend to show more readily.


Brook Meadow work session
Nine volunteers turned up for this morning's conservation work session on Brook Meadow. The weather was fine, though the ground was very wet underfoot. Maurice Lillie led the session and the main tasks for the day were: to grub out some bramble shoots on the north meadow; to cut down a willow branch near the north bridge - achieved with a ladder and rope; and to cut down old tree stumps in the north-east corner which would hinder the power scythe. Some of the smaller branches and brambles were burned on a bonfire. Here are volunteers setting out for the work session. PS I am the photographer.

I was delighted to learn that one of the next tasks scheduled in future workdays is to continue to expose west river bank north of the north bridge up to the bend, to enhance water vole habitat. I think the Seagull Lane patch is looking better than it ever has, but it would be even better with an open view of the river.

For more photos and a full workday report please go to the new Brook Meadow web site at . . .

Hollybank Woods walk
It was a lovely afternoon for a walk through this beautiful local woodland to the north of Emsworth. The paths were muddy, but not too bad, so walking was easy. Highly recommended. Here is a shot of the eastern track from the main junction.

Holly leaves abound throughout the woods, shining brightly in the warm sunshine. What a wonderful world!

I was very pleased to see so much evidence of ongoing woodland conservation activity to the east of the main path and in the Jubilee plantation area where the hedgerow had been reinforced.

I walked along the northern Bluebell path at the end of which I came across Andrew (a protégé of team leader Andy Brook) who was clearing and coppicing an area of woodland of Sweet Chestnut and Silver Birch to create more wildlife habitats. Andrew explained how he was creating 'drifts' of tree cuttings for wildlife. Here is a shot of Andrew's very neat wood piles.

Andrew also showed me the small haycock they had constructed out hay cut from the Jubilee site which is already providing home for mice and Slow-worms.

I did not get around to taking a photo of Andrew, but here is one from the Hollybank Woods Twitter feed taken in Nov 2016.
See . . .

Finally, as I was walking back to Hollybank Lane, I took this photo of the low sun glinting through the trees

Water Rail
Brian Lawrence had a walk around the meadow this afternoon during which he saw a Water Rail on the river bank by the deep water sign in Palmer's Road Copse. This could be the same Water Rail that has been seen several times by Pam Phillips further north on the river. But maybe, it is a second one? Brian also noticed the nest box on the tall tree near the observation fence in Palmer's Road Copse was being prepared for nesting by a Blue Tit.

Langstone walk
Christopher Evans enjoyed a short walk along the Langstone shore in the sunshine this morning, during which he saw lots of birds including Stonechat, Kingfisher and got this excellent image of a Little Egret in flight. Maybe it will be nesting with others in the trees behind the millpond?


Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby visited Langstone Mill Pond yesterday lunchtime from 12:02pm to 12:57pm - high tide.
Off shore flying off the last bit of salt marsh were: 120 Lapwing, 1 Greenshank, 13 Black-tailed Godwit,
Loitering on the high tide water were: 24 Wigeon, 96 Teal (I would say 50% of these birds flew off towards Thorney), Pond Pintail female, 162 Brent Geese, 9 Red Breasted Merganser, 20 Shelduck with 43 off Conigar Point.
Langstone Mill Pond: Male Tufted Duck with two females, 2 Teal. Looks like seven Grey Heron nests are occupied - some with sitting birds!
Horse Paddock: 153 Teal, 3 Grey Herons collecting sticks, 13 Moorhen, Sparrowhawk dashing low over the paddock, 2 Little Egrets.

Langbrook Stream
Peter then had a wander across the main road to view the mouth of the Langbrook Stream for an hour from 1pm (Very unlike him to wander this far!). In the bay were: 112 Wigeon, 4 Great Crested Grebes (none on my side of the bridge), 102 Gadwall, 65 Red-Breasted Merganser, 2 pairs of Goldeneye, 1 Grey Wagtail, 3 Turnstone, 6 Lapwing, 2 Long-tailed Ducks and 3 Rock Pipit.


Emsworth - Westbourne
After lunch I decided to do a nostalgic walk through the fields behind Westbourne Avenue to Westbourne and back via Lumley which I have not done for a while. This was the regular stomping ground of myself and the children when we lived in Westbourne Avenue and I know it all so well and intimately. However, things change, as they always do, and the fields are no exception, but there is nothing dramatic.
Starting from Seagull Lane I walked along the path towards the A27 underpass. I was pleased to see a Hazel decorated with open catkins next to the electricity sub station

The underpass itself was a revelation. I always recall it as a rather scruffy intimidating tunnel with crude drawings on the walls. But now it is like walking into a modern art gallery with its walls decorated with a variety of splendid mural paintings.

In addition to the strongly coloured stuff there is also a rural scene with trees and cattle.

Maybe this artwork was commissioned as the skill of the artist(s) is remarkable? I stood there for several minutes in admiration. Highly recommended if you are passing this way. Sadly, my photos do not do them justice.

North of the main A27 road, I could just make out an Egret with a bunch of large brown cattle at the far end of the field to the west of the boundary ditch. I just wondered about Cattle Egret, but I could not tell from that distance. Best to stick with Little Egret.

I used to get Green Sandpiper in the ditch, but there was nothing there today. I am pleased to see the fields being better managed than they were in the past (by Mill Meadows Farm) with proper fences to keep stock in and people out. The present barriers would certainly have hindered the explorations of myself and my children, but they do keep out casual dog walkers and lessen disturbance to birds on the river, such as Green Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail and even Snipe which I used to see in the old days.

The artistic theme is continued in the main large field before Westbourne with two mighty Oak trees that are now on the ground producing fine sculptures worthy of Henry Moore.

Walking along the road into Westbourne, I was interested to see numerous rosettes of Milk Thistle (Onopordum acanthium) in the small area near the bridge next to the Wellness Clinic. Last summer these plants grew to well over 10 feet tall, so it will be interesting to monitor them again.

What I think is an Artichoke plant is already substantial by the West Sussex road sign on the other side of the main road.

I looked for Water Voles in the canalised mill stream in Westbourne. They have been seen here in the past year, but there was no sign of anything today.

Walking back towards Lumley along a typically very muddy Mill Lane, the fields were occupied by a small flock of Alpacas and among them were a group of 14 Redwing feeding on the grass, the first I have seen this year. This is the best shot I could manage with my simple point and shoot 12x zoom.

The large multi-tiered bracket fungus is still prominent on one of the pollarded Crack Willow trees just over the wooden fence in the garden of Constant Springs. I don't know the species.

Song birds heard during the walk included Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Woodpigeon, Stock Dove and the first churring of a Greenfinch. Chaffinch should not be long in coming.

Other news
Andy Johnson reported a Black-throated Diver in the Emsworth channel at 08:39 this morning.


Emsworth walk
My morning walk took me past Peter Pond where I spotted the Water Rail on the east bank where David Gattrell feeds the ducks. I was not quick enough to get a photo. My friend Dan Mortimer from the Brook Meadow Conservation Group, who lives in Lumley Road opposite the pond, was working in his garden at the time. He told me that the Water Rail regularly feeds at this spot as do at least 4 Brown Rats, of which I saw two yesterday.
From there I went down to the quay to check on the Black Swans. All five of them were present and correct, feeding near the car park wall at high water.

This afternoon I did a litter pick in Bridge Road car park during which I was pleased to discover my first Lesser Celandine flowers of the year on the grass wayside. These are much later than usual. Another first was a 'Nursery-web spider' (Pisaura mirabilis), basking in the sunshine on one of the posts surrounding the wayside.

Red Admiral
Brian Lawrence had a walk around Chichester marina and harbour today and saw a Red Admiral sunning itself on a post. The Red Admiral is a migratory butterfly usually unable to survive the British winter. But here in the south, with warmer winters, it is increasingly becoming an all-the-year-round butterfly. It only needs a bit of warm winter sunshine like we had today to arouse it from its slumber.


Emsworth walk
It was not nearly as cold as it was yesterday. I strolled through Brook Meadow and down to Peter Pond. I looked in vain for the Water Rail that Pam Phillips has seen on the north river recently. There are still more fresh Molehills alongside the casual paths. Why are they concentrated in these areas?
I took photos of the first blossom on the Cherry Plum tree on the causeway and the first Snowdrops on the south meadow - both reported earlier.

Down to Peter Pond where two Brown Rats were feeding on the duck feeding area on the east side of the pond, but no sign of Water Rail that I have often seen here.

Across the main road to Slipper Millpond where the pair Great Black-backed Gulls was on the centre raft of Slipper Millpond, no doubt sounding out their nesting site for the coming year. The first time this year I have seen both birds on the pond. No wires to contend with, so all looks plain sailing for them.

Coming back along the path behind Lillywhite's Garage I noted a fresh growth of Hairy Garlic at the east end of the path.

Hairy Garlic plant on the left and a close-up of some leaves on the right showing hairy edges.

Sweet Violets are still in flower towards the western end of the Lillywhite's path, but still no sign of any Lesser Celandines. They are so late this year.

Garden Blackcap
The female Blackcap is now a regular visitor to the garden, usually feeding on the sunflower hearts, but this morning it was on the grass sampling the small pieces of fruit I had thrown there especially for her! No sign of any male as yet.


Brook Meadow Water Rail
Pam Phillips saw the Water Rail at 7.30 this morning but in a different location to all previous sightings. It was along the northern section of the river to the right of the culvert. Pam thought she had seen it there previously but it moved too fast to be sure.


Stock Doves in garden
I had some more excitement in the garden today with the appearance of two Stock Doves. I had one Stock Dove in the garden on Jan 23rd, but I have never before seen two. They were feeding on seeds scattered on the grass for about 20 minutes.

The female Blackcap was back on the sunflower hearts for the second day running, again completely ignoring the hanging apples and other fruit I had laid out on the bird table. It showed aggression towards other birds which I have not noticed before, driving off Goldfinches and House Sparrows which were also on the sunflower hearts.


Blackcap in garden
This morning there was a female Blackcap feeding on the sunflower hearts in our back garden. It stayed for a while, so I was able to get the camera out to get a shot through the window.

This was my first garden Blackcap sighting this winter and the first since 20-Jan-2016, also a female. Sometimes I also see a male. Today's bird may well be the same bird that Peter Milinets-Raby saw in the bushes in Bridge Road car park a few days ago on Feb 5. Our house is about 50 metres along the road from the car park.

The Blackcaps we see in our gardens in the winter are migrants from the Continent and are not the same population that migrate here from the south in summer to breed. In addition, research using data from the BTO Garden BirdWatch scheme has revealed that bird food provided in British gardens has prompted Blackcaps evolve this new migration strategy, ie to come here in winter from the Continent for the food! This is the first time that garden bird feeding has been shown to affect large-scale bird distributions.

I shall now be listening in the car park for the unmistakable rich fluty song of the male Blackcap. This is likely to be one of the winter migrants limbering up in preparation for its journey back to the breeding grounds in Germany, or elsewhere. The summer Blackcaps later in the spring and are heard mainly in breeding habitats, such as Brook Meadow or Hollybank Woods.


Langstone Mill Pond
Peter Milinets-Raby visited the Langstone Mill Pond late this afternoon 1:42pm to 2:55pm - very low tide.
Langstone Mill Pond: Female Tufted Duck (see photo). 1 Teal, 5 Grey Heron (four loitering around nests), 2 Mute Swans.

Horse Paddock: 21 Teal, 9 Wigeon, 1 Grey wagtail, 12 Moorhen, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Grey Heron collecting sticks.
Off shore on the mud: 62 Teal, 28 Wigeon, Pond Pintail female, 366 Golden Plover (not as many as two days ago, but worth the effort counting, because when I reached 171, there was the . . . . Winter plumaged Curlew Sandpiper walking amongst the plover (see record photo - I just love a poor record photo!)

Ahhh, Spring is on its way - official, with 2 Med Gulls seen out in the low tide trickle (both moulting into breeding plumage!!). 6 Little Egrets, 2 Red Breasted Merganser, 233 Brent Geese, 24 Lapwing, 66 Shelduck, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, 20 Dunlin, 10 Grey Plover.
And in the distance (obviously through the scope) on the field by the Petrol garage on Hayling north shore were 6 Roe Deer!!

Brian's note: My apologies to Peter for mislaying his Langstone Mill Pond report for Feb 6 when he had a very impressive count of 541 Golden Plover. Other observations: Langstone Mill Pond: Female Tufted Duck, Pair of Mute Swan, Green Woodpecker Heard. 3 Grey Heron on nests - Holm Oaks birds hidden and out of sight.
Paddock: No duck, just 11 Moorhen and a Oystercatcher.
Off shore (Pook Lane): 19 Common Gull, 186 Lapwing, 1 Greenshank (G//R + BRtag//-), 40 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, 35 Dunlin, 12 Grey Plover, 152 Teal, 22 Wigeon, 366 Brent Geese, 80 Shelduck, 6 Red Breasted Merganser, Female Goldeneye.


Nore Barn
10:00-12:00 - My target for this morning's walk/cycle ride was Nore Barn on a falling tide. On the way I went along Bridgefoot Path from where I spotted a Grey Wagtail flitting along the edge on the far side of the millpond. This was the best snap I could get of this lovely non-stop bird. Pied Wagtails are, in fact, more common around the millpond, particularly around dusk.

The 5 Black Swans were in the channel near the quay as usual. My walk along Western Parade towards Nore Barn was accompanied by the gentle grunting of several hundred Brent Geese punctuated by the sharp cries of Oystercatchers.
I got to Nore Barn at about 10:45. The tide was falling and the stream emptying fast. The Spotted Redshank was not there at first but it did show up later.

I walked along the path south of the woods to check the Black-tailed Godwits in the channel, but by the time I got there most of them had moved over to the lower reaches of the stream. So I walked back and set my scope up near the picnic table to have a closer look at the Godwits. It was a beautiful scene, weather warm and calm and hundreds of birds feeding in the stream area. I counted 116 Black-tailed Godwits which included 3 colour-ringed birds, all regulars in Emsworth Harbour. G+WR, W+WN and ROL+RLR.

Ralph Hollins arrived on the scene just as I finished the count. We both looked around the saltmarshes for English Scurvygrass flowers, but did not find any. However, Ralph did point out their spoon-shaped leaves.

We also noticed clusters of fresh green leaves of a cress-like plant growing on the saltmarshes.

They were easy to pull up and clearly were young plants. Neither of us knew what they were, but I brought some samples home for further investigation. The spoon-shaped leaves seem to point towards young English Scurvygrass plants. I note that English Scurvygrass can be annual (as well as perennial and biennial) which would account for this young cress-like growth.

After Ralph had left I went a little way along the south path to check for flowers on the Butcher's-broom plants that grow on the side of the path near the woods. I managed to get a photo of one flower with a red berry nearby. There are more Butcher's-broom with flowers on the path towards the main Havant Road from the western end of Nore Barn Woods.

Black Swans
Ralph Hollins suggests the following link for more information about Black Swans in Britain . . . Note: I was unable to find the information referred to in the article on the BTO web site.

Jackie-Michelle Daines responded to my request for information about the colony of Black Swans that have become established in Dawlish, Devon. Jackie and her friend Rose spent a day in Dawlish Warren where they walked along the Brook through the town where she said the Black Swans were looking well and had a family. Jackie says Dawlish is well worth a visit as there are lots of other water fowl to enjoy.

Muntjac Deer
Late morning at QE Park, Mike Wells managed to creep up on a sun-bathing Muntjac Deer within about 30 yards of the busy A3! This was a first for Mike and a first for this blog too!

The Muntjac is the smallest British Deer and has a rounded back and slightly blunt ears. It was introduced into this country to the Duke of Bedford's Woburn estate from China in about 1900. The escaped descendants have since become established mostly in the south.


Brook Meadow
I went over to the meadow this morning to have a look at the clearance work done by the volunteers during yesterday's work session which I missed as we were looking after grandchildren. The main task was to clear some of the damaged branches from the Crack Willows overhanging the river north of the north bridge. They also cleared a lot of scrub and brambles and so tidied up the west bank which now looks very good. They have more to finish off at the next work session. The brambles were used to build up the reptile hibernaculums on the north meadow.

Walking along the north path near the river I was pleased to see the first of the Primrose flowers open. Several Primroses were planted on the north river bank in 2009 and they have come up every year since and spread a little I think.

Birds heard singing on the meadow this morning: Robin, Wren, Dunnock and Woodpigeon. Dunnocks are now singing generally in other locations. I heard a Blackbird in full song at dusk yesterday evening. That is the best time to hear them at present.

Black Swans
The five Black Swans were on the beach at the bottom of South Street at 11am this morning, feeding on the seaweed that has been deposited there by the tide. As usual, they were attracting a lot of attention from people passing by and from photographers. They certainly are very handsome birds. The two juveniles with white edges to their wing feathers, identified by Peter Milinets-Raby yesterday, can clearly be seen on the left in my photo. The three adults have relatively plain wings. I think the middle one of the 3 adults is the one identified by Peter as a 'worn adult'. They are very tame, allowing people to approach closely, which suggests a captive origin, though none of them is ringed, which one might expect from escaped birds.

They were first seen in Emsworth Harbour on Jan 27 by Chris Berners-Price and have been here since then. I have seen them in the main channel and Pam Phillips said she saw them on Slipper Millpond early one morning last week, so they have wandered, but not far. They look like a family group, but I have no idea where they come from.

There has been a colony of Black Swans on the West Ashling millpond for many years, but they are now reduced to just one bird. Here is a photo of a Black Swan family with young cygnets on West Ashling pond that I took in May 2006.

A search of the HOS GoingBirding reports revealed two sightings of 5 Black Swans (reported as 2 adults and 3 juveniles) on the 21st and 22nd of January this year in Fareham Creek by K J Ilsley. There are no reports of 5 Black Swans after those dates, so the Fareham birds could have flown over to Emsworth. The 'worn adult' is certainly juvenile-like, hence Mr Ilsey's description of it as a juvenile.
Another possibility, suggested by Ralph Hollins, is that the 5 Black Swans in Emsworth came from the group of 9 which centre on a nest site at Riverside Park on the Itchen in Southampton.

The Black Swan is native to Australia. It was originally introduced into England in 1791 and the earliest record of successful breeding in the wild was not until 1902. The Black Swan is now widespread throughout the UK, but it is difficult to get any figures as the major bird organisations do not record it. However, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust did record a total of 9 breeding pairs in the UK in 2001 with an estimate of 43 feral birds in 2003-04, though that is likely to be much higher now.

There is a famous colony of Black Swans in Dawlish, Devon which has become so well established that the bird was made the town's emblem. See . . . The local press reported that the Black Swans hatched 3 cygnets on 11 March 2016 with more to come. See . . . Has anyone seen these Black Swans at Dawlish?

Garden Woodpigeons
Woodpigeons have become increasingly common in my garden over the past 20 years as shown in the following chart showing the mean weekly counts for each year since 1998.

This morning there 7 Woodpigeons were feeding on the grass in my back garden which is quite a high number, though I did count 9 last week. There was still a frost on the grass.

My own records mirror those of the BTO Garden BirdWatch scheme which shows in 1995-97 Woodpigeons were reported in 40-60% of gardens. Ten years later the reporting rate had gone up to 60-80% and currently Woodpigeons are reported in 80-90% of gardens in the UK throughout the year. See . . .

Sad news
Tom Bickerton reports finding one of the Farlington Marshes Short-eared Owls dead on Sunday. Tom says, "Probable cause starvation and the recent wet weather, which meant this bird was unable to hunt successfully. Great shame for a beautiful bird, but it shows just how much on a knife-edge of winter survival they are on, and of course we don't help by constantly disturbing them".

Tom says it is not just owls, but the winter roosting waders too we disrupt, by our inconsideration. At some point we have to fence off where roosting waders are in winter here in our harbours from humans and dogs, as it really is becoming an increased problem. Tom also noted a Canada Goose taken by a Fox, quite a struggle too apparently, with bits of bird in many locations.

Tom has informed Pete Potts about the Short-eared Owl.


Black Swans in Emsworth
Peter Milinets-Raby visited Emsworth this lunchtime and saw a Little Grebe on the Emsworth Mill Pond. He was more interested in the 5 Black Swans in the out-flow from the pond by the quay. Peter thinks they look like two pristine plumaged adults, two juveniles and the fifth looks like a worn adult, rather than a juvenile.

Here is one of the two adults

On the left is one of the juveniles with clear white edges to its wing feathers
On the right is the worn adult

Colour-ringed Greenshank
Peter also noted the presence of a colour-ringed Greenshank in the outflow from the millpond with rings RG//- + BY//-
Chris Oakley also saw the same Greenshank the low water channel with the Black Swans and got a photo of the bird showing its rings. Left leg: red over green and Right leg blue over yellow - or RG+BY for short.

Greenshank RG+BY is a fairly familiar bird in Emsworth Harbour - this being the 17th sighting since 2013, though the first this winter. It was originally ringed on 19-Mar-13 by Pete Potts and his team at Thorney Island. It had a geolocator fitted to the blue ring, but this cannot be seen on the photo. However, the geolocator is unlikely to be still operating. Anne de Potier may be able to provide a lift history of this bird.

Blackcap in Bridge Road
While he was in Emsworth this morning, Peter Milinets-Raby also saw a female Blackcap in the bushes of the Bridge Road car park. This is only a stone's throw from our house in Bridge Road and Peter said it was heading our way! Wintering Blackcaps are, in fact, regular in the Bridge Road car park bushes and I sometimes hear one singing. They do occasionally visit my feeders, though I have not seen one as yet this winter, so I shall keep a keen look out.

Here is a female Blackcap having a bathe in my garden taken a couple of years ago.


Black Swans
Pam Phillips saw the 5 Black Swans that have been in the Emsworth area for the past week gliding around Slipper Mill pond at 7.15 this morning. She says the two resident Mute Swans were asleep in Dolphin Creek at the time, probably driven in by the "storm" last night. When I walked round the town millpond this afternoon the Black Swans were back in their usual spot near the quay in Emsworth Harbour. From the plumage, I think they may be a family of two adults and three juveniles.

Warblington shore
Peter Milinets-Raby walked along the Warblington shore this morning 7:30am to 9:30am - tide dropping. He says after the winds of yesterday, there were 100+ cuttlebones of different sizes washed up along the shoreline, especially at the end of the Pook Lane track.

 Birding highlights as follows: 11 Little Egrets in the Castle Farm fields.
Ibis Field: 16 Pheasant (just one male), 2 Moorhen, 18 Curlew heading north inland, 1 Jay and 3 singing Song Thrush along the hedgerow behind Conigar Point.
Conigar Point looked very impressive as the tide dropped (see photo): In the photo are: 1 Greenshank, 131 Wigeon, pair of Goldeneye, 369 Brent Geese, 4 Red Breasted Merganser, 41 Shelduck, 13 Teal, 5 Grey Plover, 4 Pintail (2 pairs), 197 Dunlin.

Field south of the cemetery: 3 Wigeon, 2 Teal and 2 Stock Doves, 15 Oystercatchers and a Little Egret.
Off Pook Lane: 182 Brent Geese, 102 Shelduck (one short from the record the other day), 7 Grey Plover, 18 Wigeon, 86 Dunlin, 14 Teal, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 adult Mute Swans chasing off one juvenile swan along the channel, 12 Red Breasted Merganser, 1 Greenshank, 67 Lapwing, 2 Golden Plover. Buzzard flew over the shore and flushed everything, before it drifted towards Hayling.
Flooded Horse paddock: 7 Wigeon, 8 Mallard, 2 Grey Wagtail, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 120 Teal, 1 Jay, 11 Moorhen, 1 Grey Heron collecting sticks, Pond Pintail female.
Langstone Mill Pond: Five Grey Heron nests occupied, with plenty of stick collecting observed. Female Tufted Duck, 2 Teal.

Storm damage
David Savage went on the Havant Wildlife Group this morning at Southsea where they discovered thousands of Starfish stranded on the beach plus other items after last night's storm. Dave took some pictures of starfish and an anemone.

Apparently, marine scientists are trying to the name Starfish with Sea Star as the Starfish is not actually a fish. It is an echinoderm closely related to Sea Urchins and Sand Dollars. They have a bony calcified skin which protects them from predators.

For the Havant Wildlife Group walk report go to . . .


Water Voles
I went over to Brook Meadow this afternoon, dodging the showers, mainly to update the Water Vole signcase in Palmer's Road Copse with a new display and chart showing the dramatic decline in Water Vole sightings over the past 4 years. I reproduce it here for your interest. As you can see, we only had 5 sightings in the whole of 2016 and all those were on the Lumley Stream on the east side of the meadow.

We have always realised that the Brook Meadow population of Water Voles was small and vulnerable and that any small change could wipe it out. The life expectancy of a Water Vole is not much more than a year which means a poor breeding season or two could mean the end and this appears to have happened.
Just what is responsible is not clear, though no doubt it is multi factorial: factors such as, flooding of the river, the poor state on the bankside habitat and the presence of predators, such as Pike and Brown Rat. There is also some concern about the possible presence of American Mink in the upper reaches of the Ems, though they certainly have not been seen in the Brook Meadow stretch.
While I was walking through Palmer's Road Copse I was interested to see some promising looking holes in the bank on the far side of the river which could, just could, be a sign of Water Voles, but more likely they are old holes opened up by the river flow, or even holes made by Rats.

Several Mallards have been blown inland onto the river by the high winds.

Is this a dead fish lying in the river near the railway tunnel in the north-east corner?

Other Brook Meadow observations
The Winter Heliotrope is in full flower by the south bridge and if you get close enough you can smell the sweet aroma given off by the flowers.

Nearby on the river bank is a Holm Oak sapling with its slightly prickly Holly-like leaves. I think this is the only Holm Oak actually growing on the meadow, though there are several along the path just outside the sluice gate.

There are lots of Lesser Celandine leaves on the Butterbur patch below the main seat but no sign of any flowers. Ralph Hollins has seen open flowers in Havant, but I have yet to see any in the Emsworth area. They are late this year.

First Cherry blossom
Today, Roger Mills spotted the first blossom flower on the purple leafed tree by the Lumley gate which we usually call a Cherry Plum Pissardii. Roger looks for these flowers every year and this year is later than last. Last year they were open in limited numbers in December but the flowering season was so long the tree never looked at its best. In 2014 it was a day earlier than this - 01/02/14. In 2013 a blossom was well open on 18th January to be covered in snow.

Here is a shot of the Brook Meadow Cherry Plum in full blossom

Winter Slow-worm
Caroline French found a 6 inch long Slow-worm on the pavement along Horndean Road before 7 am this morning. She was on her way to catch a train so only had time to put it at the bottom of the nearest hedge. It was alive and looked uninjured.
Caroline wonders whether a Blackbird or another bird had tackled it then given up. That is certainly possible. However, a more interesting question is what it was it doing out and about when it should have been hibernating? Like all the other UK reptiles, Slow-worms hibernate over the winter, usually from mid to late October to late February or early March depending on weather. This one must have woken up early in the mild weather.
Slow-worms are, of course, fairly common in gardens where they often seek out the warmth of a compost heap. They are also very common on Brook Meadow where there has been several reallocations from local building development sites over the past few years. It is possible to distinguish the sexes, as the male has an unmarked coppery colour with no dark stripe which presumably means it is a male.

The Slow-worm scientific name is Anguis fragilis which means 'fragile snake' and refers to the ability of this Lizard to shed its tail when seized; the tail may continue to wriggle after being shed, and can distract predators while the slow worm escapes. A new tail begins to regenerate after a couple of weeks. Another interesting bit of information I came across while researching this species was that Slow-worms are relatively long-lived, with one specimen known to have lived for 54 years! Wow.


Nore Barn
I visited Nore Barn from 11.30-12.30 with the tide rising to high water at 14.00. Plenty of birds on the mudflats and in the channels mostly Wigeon, Teal, Brent Geese and Black-tailed Godwits.
I counted 166 Black-tailed Godwits which is the best count of the winter so far and close to my record of 180 in Nov 2011. As most of the godwits were in water for much of the time, I was not able to check them all for colour-rings on their legs. I did find one colour-ringed bird - ROL+RLR - a Kent-ringed bird with three colour rings on each leg. This bird is very regular in Emsworth Harbour and this was my 8th sighting this winter and the 94th since Oct 2009.

The regular Spotted Redshank was present in the stream throughout my visit, but alone.

One of my photos shows the bird calling - 'Where is everyone?'

For earlier observations go to . . January 1-31