Wildlife diary and news for Mar 19 - 25 (Week 12 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Wed 21st March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

I find my first Coltsfoot and Greater Periwinkle var oxyloba flowers on a trip up the Billy Line but see no Brent in Langstone Harbour but find a pair of Mute Swans thinking of nesting at the Oysterbeds
Devon reports the first Wood Warbler and the second House Martin of the year
A Stoat is seen at Rye Harbour and a Hare at Dungeness
10 Black Swans gather at the Riverside Park in Southampton to celebrate their breeding season and the first Mute Swan egg has been laid at Emsworth.

This morning there was no trace of snow anywhere on Hayling, the wind was light, the sun felt warm and Langstone Harbour appeared to be devoid of winter birds (though not yet replaced by summer birds!) as I cycled to Langstone Bridge and back. My route included Daw Lane where, thanks to an unwitting tip-off from Brian Fellows in his Emsworth blog for yesterday, I found the usual display of Greater Periwinkle var oxyloba which has so far evaded my monthly flower lists despite my having found the standard Greater Periwinkle in many places since New Year's Day. For those who do not know the difference between var oxyloba and the standard Greater Periwinkle it lies in the shape of the petals - the standard form has broad petals with little separation between them - see this photo of standard Greater Periwinkls and compare it with the narrow, well separated, petals of var oxyloba which remind me of aircraft propellor blades.

Daw Lane also had a great display of wild Primroses and when I reached the Oyster Beds I found another personal first for my flower list in around half a dozen Coltsfoot flowers around the now closed entrance to the old carpark behind the Esso Garage - these had started to flower in north Kent (at Reculver) on Mar 16. While at the Oysterbeds I rode up onto the mound overlooking the mass of nesting gulls among which I found a pair of Mute Swans looking very settled (as if thinking of nesting there) at the northern tip of the southern island. If they do try to nest there on the water line I hope they are aware that the monthly spring tides may well swamp their nest.

Before turning for home I rode to the southern end of Langstone bridge and noted the presence of no more than 20 Brent Geese in what I call Texaco Bay (between the road bridge and the remains of the rail bridge) plus a couple of small flocks of Dunlin and a couple of Shoveler. While cycling up and back down the Billy Line I had seen no Brent in Langstone Harbour nor any in the fields leaving me with the impression that the great majority of the Brent have now left, though I am sure that quite a few stragglers will still be seen passing through.

Back at home my daily scan of the internet told me that both a House Martin and a Wood Warbler had been see in Devon today though my records show that neither was a first for the year - two House Martins had beeen seen in Sussex on Mar 8 and I have a more dubious report of a single Wood Warbler in the Isle of Wight on Jan 28. Other reports of some interest were of a Stoat at Rye Harbour and a Hare at Dungeness (both seen yesterday) while today a total of 10 Black Swans were assembled at Southampton's Riverside Park. I am not aware of the details of their breeding there beside the River Itchen but I am under the impression that at least one nest has been active for at least five years, and I suspect that all ten of the assembled birds were of the same family. Still on the subject of Swan nests Brian Fellows today saw the first egg in the Mute Swan nest in Peter Pond at Emsworth - both parents and the egg can be seen in Brian's photo which you can see here.

Tue 20th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

The natural world thrown into confusion by the weather
Magnolia tree flowering on Hayling Island and an oversize 'Ruddy Duck' in western Australia is reported on BBC News
At 4:15 pm today the sun crossed the equator heading north and will hopefully be bringing us warmer weather.

Since writing my last blog entry on Mar 18 I have continued to scan the south coast websites for news of spring birds but everywhere I have found reports similar to the pictures of our road traffic trying to get around in the strong winds on icy and snow covered roads - one image that stuck in my mind was a sighting of a newly arrived Wheatear perched on a snowman and everywhere birders have been reporting large numbers of Fieldfares, Redwing and Golden Plover desperately searching for somewhere where they can be out of the wind and find food. On Mar 17 RBA reported a moribund Alpine Swift in the Sheffield area and on Mar 18 they told us that three Bluethroats were present, two at Dungeness and one in Suffolk (presumably wind-blown from the continent) while two Hoopoes had been seen in Cornwall.

Yesterday (Mar 19) I took a short walk 'round the block' and was very surprised to find a small Magnolia tree in one garden had decided to open its first flowers which should have looked like the following photo but the sky was grey with snow and the flowers were bent over and damaged by the wind so this photo from the internet (see here) only illustrates the shape and colour that I am still waiting to see!.

It seems that the weather, and its effect on birds, is not restricted to England - the BBC News website had this report from Western Australia of strong winds driving what might be described as a giant Ruddy Duck out to sea when it was launched to act as an accompaniment to a 'jetty to jetty' swim off Perth. You can read the story and see the 'duck' here.

Hopefully our weather is set to improve following the sun's crossing of the equator which occured at 4:15 pm today. I knew that today was the Spring Equinox but was not aware that astronomers knew the exact moment when the earth's trajectory brought the sun directly above our equator to start warming the northern hemisphere.

Wildlife diary and news for Mar 12 - 18 (Week 11 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sun 18th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

First Willow Warbler in north Hampshire and an escaped Eagle Owl at Sandy Point
Two Hummingbird Hawkmoths come out to see the snow
Hoopoe and Ruddy Duck in Cornwall and Rosefinch in Devon

The first Willow Warbler was singing at Fleet in north Hampshire on Mar 16 and at Sandy Point on Mar 17 a huge escaped Eagle Owl appeared in the morning and was thought to have flown off to escape the barrage of abuse hurled at it by Crows, Magpies and Herring Gulls but re-appeared there at dusk before flying off - no further reports of it.

Two Hummingbird Hawkmoths emerged from hibenation in Sussex this week, one at Newhaven on Mar 14 and the other at Brighton on Mar 16.

Today (Mar 18) a Hoopoe was reported at St Buryan in Cornwall between Penzance and Lands End. The report said it had been there for three days. Another bird which has not been reported before was a single Common Rosefinch seen on a bird feeder in a Plymouth garden on Mar 17 - for a photo of it with a Greenfinch see here. A more interesting sighting at Newlyn in Cornwall on Mar 17 was of a Ruddy Duck which I thought had been eradicated from Europe several years ago - if you are not familiar with this saga you can read a summary of it which appeared in The Guardian in 2014 - see here.

Fri 16th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

An early Common Tern and the first migrant Lesser Whitethroat
First Coltsfoot flowers in Kent
My first singing Blackbirds
First Toadspawn in a Portsdown pond

The first Common Tern to be reported anywhere in the UK was seen off Splash Point at Seaford in Sussex yesterday (Mar 15). The average date for this species to reach Sussex over the last 10 years is Mar 26 and the earliest arrival for the county since 1960 is Mar 14. Another first arrival in the UK, at Portland on Mar 15, was a Lesser Whitethroat though at least four of these birds were seen, presumably wintering, in Sussex during January.

An early plant flowering reported today (Mar 16) was Coltsfoot at Reculver in north Kent - that report was published with a photo which can be seenhere. Another photo of a spring flower was of Butterbur at Brook Meadow (but that had started to flower a month ago on Feb 15) - you can see the current photo, published yesterday by Brian Fellows on the Emsworth Wildlife site, here. Brian's photo also has some Lesser Celandine flowers and he reminds us that these flowers have a variable number of petals and that is confirmed by the following web page which gives 8 as the minimum and 13 as the maximum (but also comments that "Petal counting is a sad hobby!" ). To see this page click here.

First thing this morning I heard my first Blackbird song from my open window and later a hint of sunshine and a moderate wind persuaded me to get on my bike for a ride to Sandy Point during which I heard both Greenfinch and more Blackbird song but saw no new flowers. Back at my computer I saw from John Goodspeed's website that the first Toad spawn had been reported yesterday from a Portsdown garden pond.

Thu 15th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

First two Willow Warblers and several Swallows now in Britain
Seven more Ospreys and the first migrant Whimbrel also reported
Blackbird seen on nest and an interesting photo of Hawfinches displaying
Large Tortoiseshell is a surprise arrival in Sussex.

The Rare Bird Alert team give their subscribers up to the minute news on rare and newsworthy bird sightings anywhere in the British Isles but they also put a free summary of the highlights on the internet at http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk/RealData/dailysummary.asp albeit a day later than they received the news and their summary for yesterday (Mar 14) had this to say about our summer migrant arrivals .. "In addition to many reports of Sand Martins, records of summer migrants included Whimbrel (Bedfordshire), Manx Shearwater (Devon), two Garganey, two Willow Warblers, three White Wagtails, six Swallows, seven Ospreys, eight Little Ringed Plovers and 21 Wheatears". The Willow Warblers were the first I had heard of this year while the Whimbrel was the first to be reported as a migrant rather than a wintering bird. RBA had reported the first Swallow (seen in Warwickshire) on Mar 12, with another four on Mar 13, so I cannot claim to be up to date with the news of their arrival.

Other bird news which caught my attention today was of a Blackbird sitting on its nest in Brighton and a Song Thrush collecting wet material from House gutters with which to construct a solid base for its nest see photo here.. Another newsworthy photo of two Hawfinch caught my eye on the Dorset Bird News for Mar 14. The strange pose shown may be part of their sping pairing but it seems to me to be more likely an aggressive confrontation - the photo can be seen here.

By far the most exciting butterfly sighting was made today at the Woods Mill HQ of the Sussex Wildlife Trust where Graeme Lyons decided to take a walk around the grounds at midday and had an accidental encounter with a very unexpected insect - a Large Tortoiseshell butterfly. For his description of the encounter see Graeme's Blog. For information and photos about the now rare in Britain Large Tortoiseshell see (to read the text of any section of this website click the section header) here.

Wed 14th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

First Small White butterflies in Dorset and Sussex and an early Painted Lady is blown to Britain
Lots of Glanville Fritillary caterpillars on the Isle of Wight
Redwing and Fieldfare moving north as more Brent fly east
Photos of male Smew in Sussex, Little Bunting on the Isle of Wight and Snowy Owl in Norfolk.

The first butterfly of 2018 (i.e. one which had not existed in adult form last year but which had only become adult as it over-wintered as a pupa) was a Small White of which one was seen in Dorset on Mar 12 and a second was in Sussex on Mar 13. This claim to be the first non-hibernating species seems to be challenged by a report of a Painted Lady in Sussex on Mar 6 and I suppose it could have been blown to Britain from North Africa on strong southerly winds but this 'oddity' was not mentioned on the Sussex Butterfly website and I was only aware of it from Butterfly Conservation national website page which you can access here. That page also made me aware of a very early sighting of a Speckled Wood in London on Jan 25.

Other insect news includes a sighting of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth in Dorset on Mar 13 - I think this is the third report of this moth for the year, presumably as a result of hibernating in a place where the sun was able to rouse it. More significant were the results of a detailed search of likely locations on the Isle of Wight for Glanville Fritillary caterpillars which overwinter in silk 'webs' as shown in this photo. The search located 50 of these webs with a potential population of around 5000 caterpillars. Also on Mar 13 a Small Tortoiseshell was seen in North Baddesley and a Brimstone in Southampton.

Turning to Bird News two reports from Dungeness on Mar 12 and 13 indicate a speeding up of the departure of Brent Geese - on Mar 12 648 Brent flew east and on Mar 13 a 2 hour count gave another 486. Also on Mar 13 three Merlins were seen to fly in off the channel. The Sandwich Observatory also reported a strong movement, this time northward, of 2250 Redwing and 111 Fieldfare on Mar 13.

Finally for today here are three good photos of birds that have been attracting the twitchers. My favourite is the male Smew which was briefly on Arlington reservoir in Sussex on Mar 14 - see this photo. The second bird was the Snowy Owl that has been on Norfolk which you can see here.. The last of these is the Little Bunting which has been in a private garden at Brading on the Isle of Wight from Mar 4 to 12 and can be seen here.

Mon 12th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

First Cuckoo in UK plus 2 Ospreys and more Sand Martins and Wheatears
Migrant Robin caught by Gulls at Selsey
Wintering Bitterns now heading home as Mute Swans start nest building
Warmer weather brings out a Slowworm and three Butterfly species.

Yesterday (Mar 11) the RBA website reported the arrival of the first Cuckoo of the year in Kent plus two Ospreys somewhere in the UK following the tentative sighting of one at Bewl Water in Sussex on Mar 9. Also in yesterday's news RBA reported a total of 23 Sand Martins and 15 Wheatears in the UK while today Trektellen reported 3 more Swallows on the near Continent though none yet in the UK. Among the migrants which are currently crossing the channel are Robins and the Selsey Blog yesterday for Mar 11 reported how one Robin failed to complete its journey as a result of an unexpected last minute hazard .. the blog described what happened in these words .. "a newly arrived Robin was plucked from the air as it came in at the Bill this morning with a flock of passerines. Initially caught by a Black-headed Gull and fought over with another Black-headed, a Herring Gull then managed to snatch it away." The blog has a photo showing the end of this sad saga which you can see here.

Another sad story comes from Portland on the same day and concerns what may be the last Puffin to be seen in the Portland area. In May 2011 an article on 'Where to wach birds in Dorset' said that the cliffs around Portland .. " support a variety of breeding seabirds, including common guillemots, razorbills and a few puffins. Since then sightings of Puffins in the Portland area have diminished to the extent that when Martin Cade (Portland Bird Observatory Warden) heard that a single Puffin had been found today being washed ashore on a Weymouth beach he feared it might be the last to be seen in the area and rushed to see the poor bird and managed to get a photo of the moribund bird which you can see here.

A couple of recent reports from the Isle of Wight have been of Bitterns seen flying in the Bembridge area, perhaps indicating that they are becoming restive and thinking of returning to the areas where they hope to breed and confirmation that at least one bird had decided to set out on that journey came from Radipole in Dorset on Mar 10 when a single Bittern was seen flying off at dusk. Local news for today was of the first signs of nest building by a Mute Swan at Emsworth and of 35 Rook Nests under construction near Racton Park Farm (5 miles up the River Ems from where it reaches the sea at Emsworth). That rookery will hopefully survive for a few more years but the number of Rooks to be seen in the Havant area has declined over recent years to the point that there is only one small rookery left (in trees behind a block of council flats on the south side of Victoria Road in Emsworth - I wonder when that will cease to exist?).

Finally for today there has been a good show of butterflies in Sussex responding to the slight increase in temperature. On Mar 11 a total of eleven Brimstones were seen plus singles of Peacock and Red Admiral. Also reported for the first time was a Slow Worm seen with many of the butterflies at the Park Corner Heath woodland butterfly reserve near Uckfield in East Sussex.

Wildlife diary and news for Mar 05 - 11 (Week 10 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sun 11th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Adders now emerging at Durlston
Bluethroat in the Lancing area
First Arctic Skua at Portland as Brent Geese continue to leave us I add Spring Starflower and Cherry Laurel to my March list

I do not normally include Durlston in my regular scan of the internet but a casual visit today told me that three Adders were seen on the cliffs there today, presumably having only recently emerged from hibernation. In Sussex a Bluethroat was seen today in the Sompting area of Worthing but with no clue as to whether this is the bird that was at Eastbourne from Feb 4 until Feb 17 but has not been reported since. Two more items of bird news today were the sighting of the first Arctic Skua for the year at Portland and a report of another 367 Brent heading east past Dungeness after Folkestone reported 210 going east yesterday.

En route to the shops today I noticed a garden flowerbed with a good show of Spring Starflower (Tristagme uniflorum) and on my way home I found the first flowers just starting to open on a Cherry Laurel bush, bringing my March flower count to 61 species. If you are unfamiliar with the Spring Starflower see this webpage.

Sat 10th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Four newly flowering plants bring my March list to 59 Species
First Swallow in Belgium and a Snowy Owl in Norfolk
Several Blackcaps and the first Bullfinch now singing
Peacock flying in Eastbourne and Dippers nesting in Devon
Migrant White Wagtails at Portland with hundreds of Meadow Pipits.

A short walk to the Hayling Beachlands this morning found the White Comfreyin the garden of my flats had recovered from the cold snap sufficiently to open two flowers but a more unexpected new flowering in a nearby garden was Creeping Comfrey - for a photo of this see here. Much less surprising were my first finds of Common Mouse Ear and Common Storksbill.

Back at home the internet (Trektellen) reported the first Swallow had reached Belgium today and RBA reported a Snowy Owl in Norfolk yesterday (not the first for southern England as one was in the Scillies around Jan 7). Other bird news for today was of a pair of Dippers nest building in the River Teign near Newton Abbot in Devon. Other bird news was of three White Wagtails and hundreds more Meadow Pipits seen at Portland yesterday, and of a male Bullfinch singing in north Hampshire along with several male Blackcaps in various places.

Following the Red Admiral which re-appeared in Sussex on Mar 8 a Peacock butterfly was seen in Eastbourne on Mar 9.

Fri 9th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

House Martin and Osprey join the list of summer migrant arivals
Is it possible to distinguish British from Continental Cormorants?

On Mar 8 the first two House Martins were seen in Sussex at Partridge Green (near the A24 south of Horsham) and today (Mar 9) what was thought to be the first Osprey flew up from the edge of Bewl Water (by the A21 south east of Tunbridge Wells). These are the latest summer migrants to arrive following a Sand Martin over Havant on Mar 5, a Little Ringed Plover in Worcestershire on Mar 4, two Garganey at Farlington Marshes on Feb 28, the first Wheatear in Ayrshire on Feb 27 and what were thought to be the first migrants joining wintering Chiffchaff at Portland on Feb 13 and 42 Med Gulls were back at the Hayling Oysterbeds on Feb 16. Another species that has been arriving without any fanfares is Meadow Pipit.

On Mar 8 Brian Fellows Emsworth Wildlife Diary reported a sighting of 'Grey Headed Cormorants' on the Emsworth Slipper Mill Pond and included a photo of three of them showing very grey heads (but surprisingly no sign of the large white 'thigh patches' which are part of their breeding plumage). This sighting caught my attention and I have been searching the internet for information to update what I know about these birds.

A BTO website at https://www.bto.org/about-birds/species-focus/cormorant tells me that .. "In the UK the Cormorant was almost exclusively a coastal breeder until 1981, when an inland tree-nesting colony became established at Abberton reservoir in Essex. This colony was later found to comprise of Cormorants of the continential sub-species, P. c. sinensis." It goes on to say .. "Whilst the Cormorant population as a whole in Britain & Ireland has increased in recent years, at a local level there are some very different trends.
Our native (P. carbo carbo) coastal breeding species has declined by about 11% since 1986, with some larger declines of up to 60% in northern Scotland.
In contrast, our recently established inland breeding population which is largely (but not exclusively) associated with the continental sub-species P. c. sinensis, increased rapidly following colonisation, but is now showing signs of stabilisation."

The question of which race do the Emsworth birds belong to is echoed on the Sussex sightings website by a birder who saw a similar grey headed bird and published a photo of it asking if anyone could give him a positive answer - one answer was .. "with both races of Cormorant breeding and interbreeding in this country separation is becoming increasing difficult and I wonder if there are any pure carbo left in Sussex." I agree with that. Another Sussex birder said .. "The most reliable ID feature is the 'gular angle' - I've marked up your pic to show how to measure this. If it's over 72 degrees it's sinensis and yours looks like 90 degrees (or even slightly over)" .. and accompanied his reply with the following version of the original photo which you can see here.

Thu 8th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Another Wheatear arrives in Dorset where Cirl Buntings are now singing
The first Red Admiral to venture out after the frost gives me the name of a shrub for which I have been searching
Four more plant species go on my March list
The moth season gets under way with six species recorded this week
Plant hunters who are not yet members of the Hampshire Flora Group may be attracted to join by reading of recent finds and future plans ...

On Mar 1 I passed on the news that the first Wheatear had arrived in Scotland and yesterday (Mar 7) I read of a second arrival in Devon where Cirl Buntings had started to sing on Mar 6. Also in Devon several Golden Plover corpses were found on Mar 7 when a Little Egret corpse was seen at Farlington Marshes here in Hampshire.

Hopefully there will be no more additions to the list of deaths attributable to the Beast from the East, and as a sign that spring has now been resumed the first Red Admiral was seen in Sussex on Mar 7 where it was thought to have been attracted to the perfume of a shrub called Winter Daphne (Daphne odora) and when I looked this shrub up on the internet I realised it was one that I have seen recently but been unable to name - for a photo and description of this plant see here. This spurred me to make further efforts to name another plant that I have seen recently in gardens and Google came up with a good answer in Viburnum tinus which is a close relative of both the Wayfaring Tree and Guelder Rose - for a photo of the garden plant see here.

In addition to these two new plants I found two more during a walk in this morning's glorious sunshine (tempered by a strong west wind). The first was the very common (and very hairy) Ivy Leaved Speedwell and the second was a single buttercup with one fully open flower growing on the Beachlands grass close to the minature railway track. I have recorded this as a Hairy Buttercup although the sepals were not yet down-turned. These finds bring my March list to 55 species.

Reports of Early Moth, March Moth and Oak Beauty flying at Folkestone on the night of Mar 6, plus a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Dotted Border and Pale Brindled Beauty reported at Dungeness on the same date, were a good sign that we have emerged from the cold snap, though we must wait for the wind to abate before we can really enjoy the spring. For those keen to see what Hampshire has to offer in the way of botany, and who are not already members of the county Flora Group, I would strongly recommend having a look at the latest county Flora News which is available as a PDF on the internet here.. This is a lengthy document covering the group's outings last year and those planned for 2018.

Tue 6th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

My first bike ride of the month plus a short walk round the local church brings my plant list to 51 and I hear my first Song Thrush.

Today the wind was light enough to allow me to cycle to the Hayling Ferry in the morning and the temperature had risen sufficiently to let me take a short walk after lunch without any gloves. The mornings ride rewarded me with a rich display of white blossom covering half a dozen small trees lining the road frontage of the Sinah Warren Hotel from the grounds of which came my first Song Thrush song of the year. Although I stopped for a close look at the blossom, which I am pretty certain was Blackthorn although the wood was brown, not black, and I could not see any thorns but neither could I see any green shoots indicating Cherry Plum which normally flowers before Blackthorn. The absence of any leaf shoots also helped to rule out Cherry Plum. The only other new flowers for the month were one roadside plant of Cow Parsley and Pot Marigolds in gardens. The only other possible tick for the morning's ride was what sounded convincingly like the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker which I heard while getting my bike out but I did not record it as the sound apppeared to come from the site where builders are still working on a large block of retirement flats and it could have been the noise of some drilling machine (though I felt pretty sure that it was a genuine Woodpecker in trees around the flats).

After lunch I extended my walk to the shops to have a look round the churchyard of St Mary's Church where the ancient Yew trees responded to a quick tug by showering me with clouds of pollen. On the way to the church I also added a mass of Chickweed in flower.

Mon 5th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

First Sand Martin in Havant and Little Ringed Plover in Worcestershire plus first migrant Sandwich Terns in Kent
More dead birds include a Spoonbill and a Shelduck, both in Dorset
First reports of Rooks nest building plus Yellowhammers, Firecrest, Crossbill and Cetti's Warbler singing

The internet today had news of the first Sand Martin of the year, just one flying north today over Leigh Park in Havant. Further afield RBA reported the first Little Ringed Plover in Worcestershire on Mar 4, and two reports of Sandwich Terns from places where there have been no wintering birds (one at Rye Harbour and three at Dungeness, both on Mar 4) strongly suggested that the first migrants are now arriving.

Hopefully the last reports of dead birds killed by the recent weather came from Dorset on Mar 4 and included a Spoonbill and a Shelduck plus 14 more Lapwing. Against these losses the rising temperature has brought news of Rooks re-building their nests near Pulbrough Brooks and of song on Mar 4 from Yellowhammers on Old Winchester Hill and from Siskin and Crossbill (the latter also making display flights) at Acres Down (near Lyndhurst in the New Forest) and from a Firecrest on Sprats Down near Calshot. In Kent a Cetti's Warbler was singing at Reculver and since Mar 3 (when I heard my first Dunnock) their song has been widely reported.

Wildlife diary and news for Feb 16 - Mar 4 (Week 09 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sun 4th March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Todays local walk in milder, less windy conditions brings my March flower count to 44 and hears song from Chaffinch, Blue Tit, and Dunnock.

Today I walked south to the sea front and was surprised to find Flowering Currant, Grey Alder, and a Weeping Willow cultivar in flower (as well as several expected regulars which I have seen in previous months) and I came home with two further plants which I have as yet been unable to name. I also enjoyed song from Chaffinch and Blue Tit (the latter being my first for the year) as well as Dunnock which I had heard yesterday.

I came on Flowering Currant in South Road - for a photo see here and found a lone Grey Alder planted by the roadside of Mengham Avenue - see id plate. The minature Weeping Willow cultivar that I found in a St Leonards Avenue garden seems to go under the commercial name of 'Large Standard Weeping Pussy Willow (Salix caprea pendula Kilmarnock)' the one I saw had a central stem around 1 metre high and a similar tree can be seen in this photo. The one I saw had just two golden Pussy-paw catkins open.

Sat 3rd March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

My first wildflower walk for March finds 24 species in flower and my first Dunnock song
Recent hard weather brings reports of many birds in unexpected places ...
... and of freshly dead birds (Dartford Warbler, Woodcock and a young Common Gull) plus a live Quail in Cornwall

With much of the lying snow having melted (and before the rain forecast for the afternoon) I set out for a walk around by local area in the late morning and saw 24 plant species in flower. The first unexpected survivor of the recent frost was the Common Ramping Fumitory growing up the fencing around the allotments at the east end of Palmerston Road - to see a photo of this species see here. The next place where I was expecting flowers was the footpath joining Mengham Lane to St.Margarets Road and at the Mengham Lane end I found Sweet Violets, Butcher's Broom and several new plants of Alexanders just opening their flowers -if you are unfamiliar with this species see here.

From Mengham Lane I walked north towards Tournerbury Lane and in the garden of one of the new houses in the estate east of the Mengham Junior School I found a plant which had been mentioned in yesterday's HOS bird reports as providing berries as an unusual food for a Song Thrush in Romsey. This is Sweet Box which is currently flowering but which bears berries that last until the following winter. For a photo of this species in flower see here. My next find was another garden shrub in fresh flower in a Beech Grove garden - this was Montpellier Broom (Genista monspessulana) shown here. My last find was in a Tournerbury Lane garden and was of fresh flowers opening on the New Zealand Kowhai tree (Sophora microphylla) which looks like this.

During this morning's walk I heard five bird species singing including my first Dunnock and my second Collared Dove as well as a Great Tit. Also singing for the first time today was a Reed Bunting in the Winchester area

Recent hard weather has driven several bird species into places where they are not expected with many Redwing and Fieldfare coming into gardens in their search for food, Woodlark appearing on beaches (5 were on Exmouth beach in Devon on Mar 2), 17 Little Gulls were driven east along the north Kent shore on Mar 1 (2 more were seen at Sandy Point on Hayling on Mar 2) and 13 Woodcock were found on the Sandwich shore in East Kent. Following yesterdays news of 2 Garganey at Farlington Marshes on Feb 28 Mar 1 brought reports of 3 more in Dorset while Lapwing were being widely reported ( a sighting of 1864 all heading north west over the mouth of Chichester Harbour in a 3 hour period on Mar 1 suggested that they had come across the Channel from France).

By Mar 3 the weather was proving to be too much for some birds. A freshly dead Dartford Warbler was found at Sandwich Bay where 1 of 8 Woodcock was also dead and at Dungeness a young Common Gull was also found dead. Also on Mar 3 a Quail was found (alive) at Sennon near Lands End but I am not counting this as an early migrant on its way to the Western Isles of Scotland - I guess that it was a bird being kept for the restaurant trade in Quail's eggs which had taken advantage of the strong winds breaking down the barriers to its freedom.

Thu 1st March

(Link to previous day’s entry)

First Garganey at Farlington Marshes and first Wheatear in Scotland
A website giving you both future and past weather information

With snow falling all afternoon here on Hayling Island I sat down at my computer to pick up any late wildlife reports for February and was very surprised to see that the first Garganey (a pair) had been seen yesterday at Farlington Marshes and that a Wheatear had been reported in Ayrshire by the Rare Bird Alert (RBA) website.

I have until now relied on the BBC for my local weather information (using https://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/po11 for details of what to expect in the Hayling Island, PO11, postcode area) but that only gives information for the future and does not allow you to look back at the temperature, rainfall, and wind speed on earlier days. Today I asked Google to point me to a website which would allow comparison with the past and it came up with the following website (which I have again tailored to the PO11 area) at https://www.worldweatheronline.com/v2/weather.aspx?q=po11 which does allow you to see not only the forecast for the coming 15 days but also to look at the same information for any one past date.

To try this for yourself copy the above web address and paste it into the address bar on your computer, then press ENTER. To get results for your Post Code enter your Post Code in the box at the top right of the screen and click the symbol at the right hand end of the box. Now click one of the options from 'OUTLOOK' to '1 TO 15 DAYS' to see the forecast. To see past data click 'HISTORY' and then enter the date for which you want the past data (make sure the date is in the past). Hopefully this will work for you - if it does and you like the format of the forecasts add the address to your bookmarks.

Wed 28th February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Frost, Snow and freezing easterly winds send wildlife and its human observers running for cover but before the 'Beast from the East' reached us ...
A falconer's Red-tailed Hawk was seen near Hastings and an Alexandrine Parakeeet (Psittacula eupatria) at Winchelsea
A rare Ross's Gull from arctic north America was seen at Ferrybridge (Weymouth) and birders from Kent used Euro-tunnel to see a second Ross's Gull in the Netherlands
Also seen near Hastings on Feb 25 were two colourful fungi.
A newly-emerged Bluebottle provokes an interesting comment from Rye Harbour's Insect expert

Normally the last day of each month sees me scurrying round to complete my spreadsheet of wildlife observations for the month that is ending while planning an optimal route for tomorrow's outing to maximize my count of flowering plant species. Today, however, the temperature has not risen above zero and the easterly wind has not dropped below 25 mph and although we have not seen the snow flurries which persisted through yesterday the forecast for tomorrow (Mar 1) shows a midday temperture of -2 with gale force north east winds throughout the afternoon. Hopefully the old weather proverb saying the "March comes in like a Lion but goes out like a Lamb" will still be true ....

Since my last blog entry I have been made aware of an impressive 'Red-tailed Hawk' being flown by a Falconer in the Crowhurst area east of Hastings where it was seen by Clff Dean on Feb 25. I think this bird is relatively common in North America but this report of one in southern England is the first I am aware of and if you want to be prepared for seeing one have a look at this American website Here. Another bird species to be aware of is the Alexandrine Parakeet which was seen in the Winchelsea area of Rye Bay on Feb 23 and initially reported as a Ring-necked Parakeet but the id was subsequently corrected to the larger and far less common Alexandrine species - for photos and info on the latter see Link.

On Feb 21 the Portland website reported the presence at Ferrybridge (Weymouth) of a very rare visitor from arctic north america (a Ross's Gull) and I later discovered that birders from Reculver in north Kent had been to see a second bird of the same species at Vlissingen in Belgium (at the mouth of the River Scheldt which flows through Antwerp) on Feb 20. The best website for information on this species seems to be here.

Going back to Cliff Dean's walk in the Crowhurst area on Feb 25 he also saw two colourful fungi - for the Scarlet Elfcup see this photo and for the less common Green Elfcup see this webpage.

Finally for today some information about Bluebottles from Chris Bentley, the Rye Harbour entomologist - see here.

Wildlife diary and news for Feb 19 - 25 (Week 08 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Wed 21st February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Havant has its first Water Vole sighting of the year
Frogspawn and Honey Bees seen in Portsmouth area gardens
The Eastbourne Bluethroat may have left but Hares are in spring mood on Sussex Downs
Grey Field Speedwell flowering on Hayling where one of the Eastoke Black Redstarts has started singing
Look out for three races of Jackdaw and read about a possible cause of the decline in Cuckoos in Britain.

John Goodspeed's Nature Notes tell us that the first Water Vole sighting for the Havant area this year has been reported this week in the stream which flows into the Langbrook Stream at the south east corner of the Havant TESCO store. I guess it was seen from the footpath, following the Langbrook stream south from Solent Road, from which you can get a view of the 'feeder' stream which comes from the Homewell spring (close to St Faith's Church) and flows under the busy road into Havant from the By-pass, and then through the relatively undisturbed gounds of the big office block east of TESCO, to reach the Langbrook. John's Nature Notes also tell us that Frogspawn can now be seen in several garden ponds in the Havant/Cosham area where Honey Bees have started collecting pollen.

The Bluethroat which arrived in the West Marsh Rise area of Eastbourne on Feb 4 and was seen regularly there until Feb 17 has not been seen since and has presumably now left. For me the highspot of the latest news from Sussex is the first report of three Hares starting to chase each other around Cissbury Ring on the Downs above Worthing. Here on Hayling Island I added Grey Field Speedwell to my February flower list (total now 72) and the HOS bird news tells me that one of the three Black Redstarts currently to be found along the Eastoke seafront has been heard singing. I have never heard one singing so I listened to several of the recordings available on Xeno-Canto and will in future be listening for what sounds similar to the first part of a Chaffinch song without the final flourish. To hear the recordings use this link.

To end today I was interested to learn from a HOS report of an 'unusual' Jackdaw seen at Middle Wallop on Feb 21 that Jackdaws come in three races (Common Jackdaw, Nordic Jackdaw and Russian Jackdaw) and this report was thought to be of a bird of the Nordic race. In case you see a strange looking Jackdaw have a look at the following paper about them at this link and for more light reading on a possible reason for the decline in Cuckoos in Britain try this BTO paper.

Wildlife diary and news for Feb 12 - 18 (Week 07 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sun 18th February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Med Gulls back at nest sites and giving their 'mewing' calls on Feb 16
Feb 17 saw the arrival of a Pine Bunting in north Kent
Chiff-chaffs start to arrive, Blackbirds start to sing and House Sparrows start nest building
Jellyfish bodies and Squid eggs wash up on the Devon shore
This winter's invasion of Parrot Crossbills at last reaches Verwood in Dorset
Beware of Water Buffalo if you go to Eastbourne to see the Bluethroat...

Although the small number of Cuckoos which will hopefully still come to Britain this summer are expected to arrive here in mid-April the number of people who will hear them gets fewer each year. I think I am not alone in having ceased to rely on the Cuckoo to tell me that Spring has sprung but I still get the same excitement that I used to get from hearing the first Cuckoo when I hear the first 'mewing' calls of a Med Gull. If you are unfamiliar with this call you can hear it by going to the Xeno-Canto website and clicking the 'play button' against the sixth recording in the list you will see when you use the following link (this recording also has prominent Willow Warbler and Chiff-chaff song to add to the feeling that spring is here). To hear this use this link.

I was made aware of their return to the Hayling Oysterbeds on Feb 16 when Keith Turner posted his sighting of 42 there and on Feb 17 I cycled there to see and hear them. I see that Peter Raby heard them calling over Langstone village on Feb 17 and on the 18th 79 of these gulls were seen at Pagham. Also seen on Feb 17 at Reculver on the north Kent coast was a much rarer bird - he first to visit Reculver and a species of which the average number to be seen in Britain is only 1 per year. This was a Pine Bunting (Emberiza leucocphalos) and the best website on which to find information about it is here.

More reports of Chiffchaff arrivals at Portland are based on the birds being seen in places where there had been no previous reports of wintering birds while at Barcombe in Sussex one was singing on Feb 16. Another migrant which has already been reported as overwintering, with sightings on Jan 21 and Feb 2 in the Worthing area, a Ring Ouzel, now has a more credible report of a migrant arrival with a drive-by sighting on the roadside going north from Petersfield through the village of Steep by Ted Raynor on Feb 18. Another indisputable sign of spring was the first Blackbird song heard by Brian Fellows in Emsworth on the afternoon of Feb 16. Looking out of my own windows here in South Hayling I have recently seen a cluster of House Sparrows investigating the roof of a nearby builing as a potential nest site.

A more unexpected report came from the Devon Birding website which, on Feb 15, had pictures of a Barrel Jellyfish, a clump of Squid Eggs and a ball of Whelk Eggs all washed up on the shore of the River Exe estuary. These caught my attention because it seemed very early in the year for Jellyfish to be in the English Channel and because, unlike the Whelk Eggs, I have never seen Sqid eggs before and if you share my ignorance you can see a photo of a similar cluster here. - this photo was sent to the British Marine Life Study Society in May 2004 with the following request for identification .. "I've recently seen two examples of a creature washed up on Shoreham Beach that I have never seen before, and can't find in my book of seaside flora and fauna. - It's like the head of an old-fashioned string floor mop. The diameter of the 'mop' head is about 25 cm. The densely packed 'strings' are the thickness of an earthworm and about 10 cm long each from the centre of the 'mop'. The colour is a very pretty pale coral pink and white."

To find out more about species of Sqid, Cuttlefish and Octopus that occur in British waters have look (after scrolling down to the species descriptions) at this PDF and to find out about the British Marine Life Study Society, which is based in Shoreham, use this link.

This winter a significant invasion of Parrot Crossbills has reached Britain with the birds gradually moving south from Shetland to East Anglia and on Feb 17 a few reached southern England with a 'probable' report from the Verwood area of Dorset just west of Ringwood in Hampshire. In case more of them reach our south coast area here is a detailed account of them written when they first appeared in Norfolk last November - see this link.

The presence of a Bluethroat in the West Rise Marsh area of Eastbourne has become an attraction for birders but they may get a surprise when they visit the area and discover that the local primary school owns some Water Buffalo as part of a scheme to bring pre-history to life for the children. You can find out more about this unconventional school from this website and if you want to see Water Buffalo here in Hampshire visit the website of a farming busines near Stockbridge - see Broughton Water Buffalo website.

Thu 15th February

(Lin k to previous day’s entry)

First migrant Chiff-chaff arrives at Portland as the first Bittern leaves and Swans start nest building
Three sightings of Waxwings in north Hampshire
Two more garden plants start to flower
BBC Radio 4 has an interesting programme on Fungi.

A Chiff-chaff seen at Portland on Feb 13 may have been the first migrant to arrive though there was no way of being certain - the BTO Bird Track records show the average arrival date at Portland as March 12 so this would be a very early date but I suspect that the bird's behaviour will have influenced the decision to report it as 'giving every indication of being a freshly arrived migrant' (one factor being its feeding behaviour - if it had just finished a Channel crossing it will have been very hungry!). Chiff-chaff is normally the second species to reach us, one day after the first Wheatear though that has not yet been reported.

Another sighting which could mark the departure of a bird that has been wintering here on tne south coast was of a Bittern seen at Keyhaven near Lymington on Feb 10 and reported as 'flying north'. Not coming or going were the Mute Swans on Langstone Mill Pond which had started nest building on Feb 13. Also in the latest news are three reports of Waxwings, the first I know of in Hampshire this winter. Two were seen at Bramshill, and one at Hartley Witney, on Feb 11 in an area north of the M3 between Basingstoke and Farnborough where another single bird was seen on Feb 14.

On Feb 12 I took a local walk in the sunshire and added two more flowers to my February list bringing the species count to 70. The first to go on the list was Garden Lobelia (Lobelia erinus) which you can see here. The second was Honeywort (Cerinthe major) which can be seen here.

The last wildlife related topic to attract my attention today was Melvyn Bragg's weekly 'In our time programme' on Radio 4 which is broadcast at 9 am each Thursday morning. This week the subject was Fungi and I learnt a lot from the experts discussing the subject. You will have to listen to this 45 minute programme to get all the points that were raised but to encourage you to do so here are a few of those points which were new to me....

The first fact that surprised me was that we (meaning all land based life forms) owe our lives to fungi. When our ancestors were in the ocean the ocean currents brought our essential nutrients to us but on dry land we have to gather them from plants (either at first hand from plants and their fruits, or at second hand by eating animals which have fed on plants), and fungi play a vital role in extending the plant roots to gather and often 'pre-process' the materials that are essential to plant growth. After we have collected our grain from plant crops we again rely on fungi to enable us to process it into bread and beer.

Several other facets of the unseen role played by fungi in sustaining 'life on earth' are due to the ability of fungi to extend their function as 'extenders of plant roots' by providing an unseen underground 'internet' system which puts different species in touch with each other through the root systems of different plants/species going through a common 'central processing system' provided by the unseen fungus. An example of this occurs when a tree comes under attack by aphids or caterpillars (or some disease) and the fungus is able to forewarn other trees, allowing them time to prepare their defences before the problem reaches them.

Another aspect of this ability of fungi to put plant species in contact with other species is that it enables those Orchid species which have no ability to photo-synthesize to obtain the carbon which they cannot generate for themselves from species which can photosynthesize.

Another subject raised towards the end of the programme was the effect of fungi on humans. We are all aware that some fungi are poisonous to humans that eat them but the programme suggested that each year at least a million people die from hidden effects of fungi. I could not understand the point being made here - I understood that fungi can kill large numbers of people by depriving them of their food (as in the Irish Potato Famine of the 1850s) but the programme seemed to be saying that millions of deaths which appear to be caused by e.g. tuberculosis are in fact due to fungi within the human body which are the actual cause of our death when our defence mechanisms have been weakened by the cause which appears on our death certificates ...

If you want to hear the programme for yourself go to the I-Player at Link to Radio 4..

Tue 13th February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Herons and Egyptian Geese have already hatched young
Butterflies and Bumblebees are already active

At least one young Heron had hatched in the nests at Langstone Mill Pond by Jan 27 and on Feb 12 a pair of Egyptian Geese which have been nesting at Crawley in Sussex were seen away from their nest with a brood of 11 Goslings. Although I have not seen definite reports of other bird species already nesting (Crossbills are normally January nesters) I did pick up a report of a female Blackbird collecting nest material in the Hastings area on Feb 5 and Feb 14 is traditionally the date on which Rooks return to their Rookeries and start their nest building - a very noisy video of this can be seen here.

Another sign of Spring comes from the insect world. Butterfly Conservation has already received reports of Peacock on the wing on Jan 1 in Norfolk, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma were all seen on Jan 10 in Sussex, and a Speckled Wood was seen in London on Jan 25, not to mention the Red Admiral which does nor hibernate like the others but takes wing whenever the sun shines!

In addition to Butterflies several moths have visited moth traps and although I no longer record moths a quick scan of reports from the Folkestone area tells me that Oak Beauty, Spring Usher, Pale Brindled Beauty, The Chestnut, Dark Chestnut, and Light Brown Apple Moth were all seen there in January. If you want to see photos and read about any of these species I suggest that you open "https://www.ukmoths.org.uk/" in a different tab and use your mouse to switch to that tab where you need to scroll down to the bottom of the first page in that website and use the Quick Search facility to enter the name of one of the species, then click the Search button to see a list of all the available photos of that species (repeating the process for further names) before again using your mouse to return to this tab.

Another aspect of current insect activity to investigate was prompted by an email I received from someone who is not a naturalist but who had come across a reference in a paper saying "As bulbs and Primroses appear so do the first intrepid bumblebees" asking me if I had seen one. My answer was 'not yet' but while out in yesterday's sunshine I spotted a Queen Bombus terrestris busily searching the flowers on a Rosemary bush for nectar.

For lots more fascinating information about the life cycle in a Bumble Bee colony it is well worth reading the whole story presented in four different pages on the Bumblebee.org website but before going to that website note that the links at the end of each page to the next stage are not presented with any consistency. When you come to the end of the first page click the link to 'the Bumblebee colony develops'. At the start of the second page the photo of the inside of a bird nest box at a Ferndown School has tiny red numbers within it which relate to the numbered text below the photo (I did not spot the numbers and so was confused by what the numbered text referred to). At the end of this second page click the 'Life cycle stage 3' box, and at the end of that page click the link to 'Males and new queens mate ....' for the fourth and last stage in the story. Just one more thing to note - because of the multiple links within the Bumblebee website you will have to use the Back Button multiple times to return to this website!! .... Now, for the link to the start of the story, you should go to the Bumblebee.org webpage.

P.S. If you found it hard to navigate through the Bumblebee story without reference to my notes on how to get to each new stage try the technique I suggested for looking at moth photos - i.e. open "http://www.bumblebee.org/lifecycle.htm" in a new tab then use your mouse to switch back to this website to check my notes when you come to the end of each Bumblebee page.

Wildlife diary and news for Feb 5 - 11 (Week 06 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sat 10th February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Identifying Thayers and Caspian Gulls currently to be seen at the Blashford Lakes
Distinguishing Hairy from Sweet Violets

On Jan 28 a juvenile Thayer's Gull was seen at the Blashford Lakes and has roosted there nightly up to now. By Feb 4 it was attracting so much attention from Birders that Bob Chapman reported its presence with the comment that he saw it 'from the comfort of the Goosander Hide to avoid the scrum in the Tern Hide' (which was nearer to the bird). Feb 5 saw the great Lee Evans visiting Blashford to see the bird and on Feb 6 it had drawn Martin Cade from the Portland Observatory to tick it in the Pig fields on Tidpit Down which is just south of Martin Down and which is currently a feeding area for large number of gulls.

The name Thayer's Gull was new to me and when I turned to my 1999 Collins Bird Guide I found no mention of the name so I turned to Google where Wikipedia told me that it was a subspecies of Iceland Gull, along with Kumlein's Gull, but so far there is no agreement among the taxonomists though we have come a long way from the bird books available when I was an active birder in the 1970s and 80s which treated all large gulls as variants of the Herring Gull.

If you want to become familiar with gulls nowadays a good place to start is with the RSPB Guide to Gulls and Terns which you can see here. This is a good start but the account of the Iceland Gull does not mention Thayers or Kumleins Gull. For these you have to become a 'Twitcher' and learn from the bird information services and other twitchers, pursuing a learning curve typified by this Birdguides article entitled "What is a Caspian Gull?" - see it here.

Turning from birds to plants I see that, along with the butterflies which were seen on Portsdown this week there were also some Sweet Violets on the down south of Fort Widley and this reminded me that that area also has a small population of Hairy Violets which are worth looking for at this time of year. For photos and descriptive text see here.

Thu 8th February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Peacock and Brimstone Butterflies seen yesterday on Portsdown
Blackbirds nesting in Hastings on Feb 5
Worthing has a wintering Ring Ouzel
A Bluethroat arrives at Eastbourne's West Rise Marsh
The Horned Lark at Staines Reservoir is closely related to Shorelarks and Walthamstow Wetlands has a Little Bunting.

John Goodspeed was out on Portsdown yesterday and saw not only one Peacock butterfly on he wing but also both male and female Brimstones. Another sign of spring this week was a female Blackbird gathering nest material in the St Leonards area of Hastings on Monday (Feb 5) while a few days earlier on Feb 2 Christchurch Harbour reported song from Reed Bunting, Dunnock and Greenfinch. In Emsworth Brian Fellows found the first of many Butterbur flowers was out in Brook Meadow on Feb 4.

In Eastbourne a Bluethroat arrived in the West Rise Marsh area on Feb 4 and was still there on Feb 7 and on Feb 6 a wintering Ring Ouzel was seen near the A27 on the Downs above Worthing, confirming a less confident report of one there on Jan 21. For a concise description of the Bluethroat genus see the RSPB page here.

For some time (since its arrival at Staines Reservoir in London on Nov 26 last year) the RBA (Rare Bird Alert) webpage has been reporting what seemed to me to be a Shore Lark as a Horned Lark and I have at long last got round to sorting out why this is so. I found the answer in a blog entry written by one of the first birders to see the bird at Staines - he made me aware that the Horned Lark (an American species known scientically as Eremophila alpestris) has some 42 sub-species of which the Shorelark (E. a. flava) is the one commonly seen in the UK as a winter migrant. I learnt these basic facts from a blog entry which you can see here. For another account of this bird with lots of photos see here.

Another bird which has been mentioned regularly on the RBA daily summaries since Jan 19 with its location given as 'London' has been a Little Bunting. I have now discovered that it is to be seen in the Walthamstow Wetlands in the Lee Valley in north London. A photo of the bird and instructions on 'How to get there' can be found at link.

Wed 7th February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

A walk to Mill Rythe gives me 2 more flowers and 3 new Birds for my month list
My scan of the internet south coast birding sites gives me a February total of 165 bird species so far this month ..
.. including an Australian 'Red-tailed Black Cockatoo'.

With a forecast of a sunny afternoon with a light but chill north wind I walked to Mill Rythe via the path alongside the Tournerbury Golf Course and back along Church Road with little expectation of new flowers for the month but a single Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) in a Church Road garden was an unexpected pleasure (see an internet photo here and a single specimen of White Dead Nettle was a surprise as I would have thought that was already on my list along with the Red Dead Nettle which is flowering everywhere.

More of a surprise was to see three good birds starting with a brightly plumaged cock Pheasant on the Golf Course, then a Kestrel which flew low over my head from behind me as I walked down the field edge immediately north of the Mill Rythe school, perching on a small tree until I was very nearly below it before flying off again. The third bird was a Grey Heron flying towards the harbour. A fouth bird for my list was the first Great Tit I have heard singing.

Among the 165 Bird species which my spread sheet tells me I have seen recorded on the internet this month the most un-expected was a Red-tailed Black Cockatoo seen at Arundel on Feb 5 causing panic among the other birds there (they probably thought it was some unknown 'raptor from hell' - see this photo to see how it might have given that impression link. I have never heard of this Australian species before but luckily the Sussex observer (Martin Daniel) was able to name it. If you want to see more photos of the species have a look at Richard Waring's blog here.

Wildlife diary and news for Jan 29 - Feb 04 (Week 05 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sun 4th February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Seven new flowers include Goat Willow, Cherry Plum, and a very early Passion Flower.

A lovely sunny morning with a chill north east wind made for a good walk starting at St Mary's Church, across the Church Fields to Higworth Lane, then south down Manor Road to the Newtown House Hotel and home via Fathoms Reach and St Mary's Road. Before seeing any new flowers I heard my second Chaffinch prectising its song in the Churchyard and my first Skylark singing above the Church fields and at the far side of the fields I found my first Goat Willow flowers in the overgrown hedge around the Caravan Park and several Hazel catkins in the hedge lining the path through the Caravans.

Nothing to report from Manor Road but in the path up the southern side of Newtown House (where a monthly car rally had attracted some interesting old vehicles) several more Hazels were waving their catkins and I was pleased to spot a single tiny red female flower before cutting into the Fathoms Reach housing which took me south to St Mary's Road where a couple of mature Common Alders were brandishing lots of catkins but none were yet open (for future reference I see that this tree has similar male and female catkins with the females being distinctly shorter than the males). While still in the Fathoms Reach housing the wooden fencing around one garden had a real surprise in the form of the first Passion Flower creeper already opening its unmistakeable first flower (normally not seen until summer). For a photo of this flower see here. Also growing beside this road (outside the gardens) and looking as if had been there before the houses were built was a single mature flowering Cherry Plum tree.

Heading home along St Mary's Road I found both Thale Cress (new for the month list) and more Common Whitlowgrass. After turning into the final stretch of St Mary's Road I added two more flowers that were first seen last month. One was the Giant Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) which grows nearly a foot tall and which you can see here. The other was the Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum), with its triangular rather than round flower stem, which you can see here.

Sat 3rd February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Wintering Lesser Whitethroats at five south coast sites
Wintering Black Guillemots in Sussex, Hants and IOW
Signs of Med Gull returning to breed
Increasing bird song
Red Admirals still flying in Sussex and Hants

I have already noted the presence of a wintering Lesser Whitethroat at Ventor on the IOW throughout January with a single report of one at Plymouth on Jan 1 but today the Sussex bird news reports the presence in January of three more at Worthing, Hove and Ringmer (near Lewes).

One Black Guillemot has been at Eastbourne throughout January and another has been seen on at least four days off the north east coast of the IOW. There was also an isolated report of one in the mouth of the Beaulieu River on Jan 8, before the first report from the IOW on Jan 19, and I guess these two reports were of the same bird.

Med Gulls have been in short supply for most of January and in my blog for Dec 21 I commented on an isolated report of 410 seen off the South West coast of the IOW that, while small groups of less than 10 of these birds did remain on the south coast the large flocks which breed on the south coast disappear before winter sets in. The RSPB say that many of them stay in Britain but move inland (perhaps to avoid the cold and stormy coastal condtions which drive the Little Egrets inland?). With the approach of spring I see that a flock of 100 was off the east coast of the IOW on Jan 25 and a bigger flock of 400 was in Portland Harbour on Jan 31 but no one has yet reported hearing their 'mewing' calls which seem to have replaced the call of the Cuckoo to announce the official start of spring.

Other signs of spring can be found in increasing bird song. On Feb 1 I heard my first Chaffinch song and am expecting to hear Blackbird song at dusk within the next week or so. I see that Peter Raby heard Cetti's Warbler song at Langstone Mill Pond on Jan 29 and Brian Fellows heard a Great Tit at Nore Barn on Jan 30 while the HOS reports included Marsh Tit song at Bramshott in East Hampshire on Jan 31.

Not be outdone by the birdsong Red Admirals continue to appear whenever the sun shines, and on Jan 30 a total of five were reported from three Sussex sites with another two seen at Gosport in Hampshire.

Fri 2nd February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Another 11 species for my February plant list lnclude the first Alexanders plant and Lungwort in flower ..
.. and "Small Leaved Kowhai" is the answer to a year long search for the name of this garden plant of New Zealand origin.

In a short walk today around the Mengham area where I now live I not only added 11 species to my February flower list, bringing the total to 57, but also found the answer to a puzzle over the name of a plant I found a year ago in a Tournerbury Lane garden. Before reaching Tournerbury Lane I visited Palmerston Road where I had recently found Common Ramping Fumitory flowering in allotments outside the grounds of Mengham Junior School and added that to my list along with Common Ragwort. I then walked south down St Leonards Avenue where Red Valerian and Hoary Ragwort were found before turning east along Mengham Lane to the footpath going north to St Margarets Road. At the start of the path one plant of Alexanders was starting to open its flowers and will soon look like this photo. Further up the path the white flowered Clematis with red sepals and flower stems (Clemtias texensis) was still peeping over the wooden fence and can be seen here. In a St Margarets Road garden I was surprised to find a Lungwort plant in flower - see it here. and when I eventually reached Tournerbury Lane I found a single plant of Nipplewort still flowering - see it here. When searching for a suitable photo I found that this weed (Lapsana communis) is advertised as good food for your pet Tortoise!

In a garden on the north side of Tournerbury Lane I found the plant which has been puzzling me since I arrived on Hayling in March last year was once again flowering and in my blog for Jan 26 you will see that I recognised some similarities to the Bladder Senna Bush and had given this puzzle plant the temporary name Garden Bladder Senna while continuing my search for its real name. Seeing it in flower again today I continued searching the internet and, to my delight, came up with a name that not only relates to the look of this puzzle plant but also fits with its flowering period in the first three months of the year rather than the summer and explains the absence of the 'bladder like' seed pods. The name which I now associate with this plant is Small-leaved Kowhai (Sophora microphylla) which is another member of the great family of pea plants (the Fabacaea) but has the name Kowhai given to it in its New Zealand homeland. I will end today with an internet photo of this plant - see here.

Thu 1st February

(Link to previous day’s entry)

46 plant species to start the month
My first Chaffinch song.

This morning the sun was shining from a clear sky but there was a fresh, cold wind from the north west so I was surprised to find Sweet Violets flowering in the roadside grass within a few minutes of starting a walk to Sinah Common - later I found several such clusters indicating a general start of flowering. Two more surprises came in the Elm Close estate - one was a tiny plant of Common Whitlowgrass growing where the pavement surface had broken up, allowing tiny 'flower beds' of soil to develop. The other was a large evergreen shrub called Garrya eliptica (Silk Tassel Bush) which had suddenly put out long silky white catkins which you can see here.

Emerging from the Elm Close estate onto South Road I soon reached Hollow Lane where my first Summer Snowflake had started flowering and after crossing Beach Road I found Cypress Spurge and Fatsia Japonica in Bacon Lane - photos of both can be seen here Cypress Spurge and here Fatsia japonica (Castor Oil or Paper Plant).

Sinah Common was ablaze with flowering Gorse but it also had several fresh plants of Cow Parsley in the damp roadside ditch alongside Ferry Road after passing the road leading to the Inn on the Beach. I turned south into the Gorse before reaching St Catherines Road and started to head homewards, finding a single flowering plant of Sea Radish but nothing else before reaching the Beachlands Fun Fair from where I headed east along Seafront Road looking for the Whitlowgrass and Danish Scurvygrass I had seen on Jan 28. I failed to see the Whitlowgrass (luckily it was already on my list) but as I reached the Chichester Road junction I found lots of the Scurvygrass, much of it extending up Chichester Road which I followed homewards. One of the gardens on its west side had a final surprise - the bright yellow flowers of Montpellier Broom (Genista monspessulana) which grew at just one site in Havant (at the north end of Bellair Road) and which I had not seen on Hayling until now. For an internet photo see here.

Back at home I found I had recorded 46 species in flower for the new month but I also had heard my first Chaffinch song of the year from a large Oak tree in Bacon Lane. Hopefully another, shorter outing tomorrow will see me reach the 50 mark in my plant list!

Wildlife diary and news for Jan 22 - 28 (Week 04 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sun 28th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Breeding Firecrest Survey in Sussex
First Heron chicks hatch at Langstone
At least 49 Cattle Egrets now in Britain
First Chaffinch song heard in Sussex
Both Common Whitlowgrass and Danish Scurvygrass flowering on Hayling.

Two of the subjects raised in my last post are still in the news. First is that of breeding Firecrests and I see that the Sussex Ornithological Society is currently calling for volunteers to carry out a survey of breeding Firecrests in Sussex during the April to June breeding season and to help select the areas to be monitored by searching for areas of suitable habitat during the coming month. Anyone interested to asked to contact Helen Crabtree (hcrabtree@gmail.com). Details of what is required are given in a webpage at Firecrest Survey.

The second subject concerned the Grey Heron breeding season and the latest news on that comes from Peter Raby who visited Langstone Mill Pond yesterday (Jan 27) and found five active nests: one appeared to already have chicks, two more had sitting parents, and two more had almost certainly started laying eggs. Details of that and Peter's regaular visits to the Langstone-Emsworth shore apppear on the Emsworth Wildlife Diary here.

On Jan 25th the Cornwall Birding website reported the presence of 42 Cattle Egrets in the estuary of the River Camel around Padstow on the north coast of the county with another 7 of these birds near Truro (inland from Falmouth on the south coast) and on Jan 15 the RBA (Rare Bird Alert) website reported a total of at least 49 birds currently in the UK. For an overview of the progress of this species ongoing colonisation of Britain see Cattle Egret sightings from Sep 2016 to May 2017. This map was taken from an RBA article reporting Cattle Egret breeding at the Burton Mere RSPB Reserve in Cheshire in the spring of 2017 (first reported breeding was in Somerset in 2008).

What I take to be the first report of Chaffinch song for this year was reported on the SOS website yesterday (Jan 27) but the report from the Arundel Wldfowl Trust reseve only said .. "Dawn chorus beginning to ramp up in volume; a male Chaffinch added by to the orchestra." .. which may or may not mean that a Chaffinch was heard singing! The gradual increase in local sunset time will pass 5pm on Feb 4 and that is my personal signal to listen out for the first Blackbird song and is based on hearing it as I cycled home from work a good few years ago!

Today I walked down to the Hayling Seafront where (on the north side between the Funfair and Webb Lane I have in the past seen both Common Whitlowgrass and Danish Scurvygrass and today I found both species starting to flower. The distinctive cluster of tiny white flowers which confirms the presence of the Whitlow grass is shown in this photo and the webpage about Danish Scurvygrass has photos showing the ground-hugging white flowers, the triangular leaves, and the way in which the plants line roadside verges where salt has been spread to clear a road of ice - all these can be seen here.

At the start of my search of the north side of the Seafront Road (opposite the Funfair) I again found several plants of Field Forget-me-not in flower and on my way home I checked on the allotments which abut on the Palmerstone Road entrance to Mengham Junior Schol and found the Common Ramping Fumitory still flowering on the wire mesh fence separating the allotments from the approach road to the school - see here for an internet photo of a similar plant. and at the pavement edge outside my block of flats I found one plant of Common Storksbill with a fresh flower waiting to start my February list.

Fri 26th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Four Firecrests in Nore Barn Woods and the possible return of breeding Sparrowhawks to those woods.
Grey Herons nest prospecting at Pagham Harbour
Brimstone moth on the wing three months early and 16-Spot Ladybirds already active in Sussex
Sweet Violet and 'Garden Bladder Senna' flowering on Hayling Island.

On Jan 24 four Firecrests were seen in the Nore Barn Woods at Emsworth and when this news reached Brian Fellows he hurried to the woods on Jan 25 and was so delighted that he emailed his many local contacts to tell them of the birds and to tell them that if they did not find them there they could see photos of them on his popular Emsworth Wildlife Blog. I had already seen the news on the HOS Sightings but it seems that Brian sent out his email before putting the photos on his Blog so, having failed to find them on the evening that I received his email, I was pleased to see them there this morning. This news made me wonder if there was any chance of the birds staying to breed but my investigation into this left me with the impression that, although it seems they prefer to breed in deciduous woodland like Nore Barn rather than the coniferous woods where they are more frequently seen, the Birds of Hampshire suggests that wintering birds do not stay to breed but some do hold winter territories while others join wandering tit flocks. Those that breed seem to arrive in late April or early May and are not the same birds seen in winter.

Last Saturday (Jan 20) the Havant Wildlife Group visited Nore Barn and had more than one sighting of a Firecrest, so maybe they have chosen these woods as their winter territory. More excitingly for me was a brief sighting by them of a Sparrowhawk diving in to the trees where I am pretty certain (from my years carrying out the Bird Census on the Warblington Farm fields) that a pair of Sparrowhawks regularly bred at the east end of the woods. Since I ceased regular visits to the area I have seen no evidence in Peter Raby's annual reports that they are still breeding there and the Jan 20 sighting may well have been of a hunting bird but it did make me wonder if it was checking on the availability of a nest site....

At least one pair of Grey Herons has been incubating eggs on a nest at Langstone Mill Pond since Jan 2 when the pair were seen mating but so far there has been no evidence of other pairs occupying the other nine or ten nests in that Heronry. This is normal for Herons and the staggering of nesting times is thought to make it easier for the parents to find food for their young by allowing the parents with most need of food to obtain it from the nearest fishing sites to the nest while the other Herons in the colony fly to more distant fishing sites. That would help to explain why Herons at the Owl Copse Herony in Pagham Harbour were not seen to be taking an interest in the nests there until today (Jan 26), a full month later than those at Langstone (I am not suggesting that the Herons at these two Heronries compete for the same fishing sites but the difference in nesting dates reflects the variability in nesting dates which is instinctive to the whole species).

A Brimstone Moth was seen at Portland on Jan 25, much earlier than usual. For a photo and details of the species life cycle see UKMOTHS.. Also seen on the same day, but at Crawley in Sussex, were several 16-spot Ladybirds. For details of this small orange beetle see the UKSAFARI website. Note that this species also normally makes its first appearance in April - do these early dates mean another upset to the wildlife calendar with breeding birds needing insect food for their chicks finding that the caterpillars that they are searching for have all become chrysalises by the time that the birds start to hatch?

Sunshine and light winds today suggested that I took a round-about route to the shops today and I am very glad that I did for it was not only feeling springlike but gave me two unexpected new flowers, bringing my January flower count up to 68 with a single Sweet Violet flower in the alleyway joining Mengham Lane to St Margarets Road and the first bunch of yellow flowers on a shrub in the garden of 33 Tournerbury Lane. The long thin pinnate evergreen leaves and yellow flowers of this shrub remind me of the Bladder Senna (Colutea arborescens) bush that has grown for years on the east bank of The Kench close to the mouth of Langstone Harbour but it is clearly not the same species. Despite searching all the Colutea species which grow in Britain I cannot find an exact match so I am using the made-up name of Garden Bladder Senna (Colutea cultivar) to record this species.

Wed 24th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

52 Brook Lampreys and many fish in a tiny stream near Hastings
Newts and Frogs back in ponds on Portsdown
First Hummingbird Hawkmoth emerges from hibernation at Hove
First report of Western Conifer Seed Bug for this year
Increasing Bird Song as first fledgling Wood Pigeon leaves its nest in East Sussex

The Coombe Haven area between Hastings and Bexhill has been in the news in recent years on account of a notorious bottleneck in the A259 south coast road and the 15 year battle between wildlife conservation interests and the needs of road traffic which ended in December 2015 with the opening of a new road running through the Filsham Reed Bed in the Coombe Haven area. I was reminded of this by Cliff Dean's blog for Jan 22 when he led his birdwatchers through the Coombe Haven area and commented that the new 'attenuation pond', which had been created to compensate for the loss of wildlife habitat, was becoming increasingly attractive to ducks and that a small stream running though the area (see his photo of it here) had recently been the subject of an Environment Agency fish survey which found, in a short 30 metre stretch, 13 Brown/Sea Trout, 1 Gudgeon, 14 European Eels, 3 3-Spined Stickleback, 72 Stone Loach & 52 Brook Lamprey! He was very surprised and impressed by this result and I am using it to reflect on the Brook Lampreys which I guess many naturalists are not aware may be present in their local streams.

There are three species of Lamprey - Brook Lamprey, River Lamprey and Sea Lamprey. Details of the Sea Lamprey in the UK can be found here but I have not come across any reports of them being of concern to our fish stocks, unlike their effect on fish in the American Great Lakes (see the final section of the above document). For information on River Lampreys see an article in the Guardian newspaper published in 2015 (to see it use this link.) and for the Brook Lamprey see the ARKIVE webpage (when this comes up run your cursor over the picture to activate the arrows which allow you to scroll through the set of pictures and note that you have to return to the first picture before the 'back button' will return you to this blog). While viewing the ARKIVE page scroll through the set of pictures to see the species in its habitat, not forgetting the final photo showing the small stream described as its breeding habitat.

Still on the subject of under water wildlife John Goodspeed tells us that Jan 22 saw the return of Frogs and Common Newts to at least one pond on Portsdown. Also in the news is the first report for this year of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth seen in sunshine on Jan 23 at the Sussex County Cricket Ground in Hove - it was described as "alive, though not too active". Another insect now emerging from hibernation was a Western Conifer Seed Bug seen at Portland on Jan 20. This species arrived in Europe in 1999 in a seaborne cargo of timber sent from the USA to Italy, subsequently arriving in Britain in 2008. It is now established in southern England - for photos and further details see the British Bugs website.

I will end today with news of increasing birdsong and the fledging of the first young Wood Pigeon from an East Sussex nest. At least a dozen bird species have been heard singing this month, the latest being Firecrest and Tree Creeper in Southampton, Woodlark near Alton, and Blackcap in Sussex.

Tue 23rd January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Results of the 2018 Nationwide New Year flower hunt

Everyone with an interest in wildlife is probably aware of the 'Big Garden Birdwatch' which takes place over the coming weekend (Jan 27 - 29) with more than half-a-million people expected to spend an hour counting every bird that they see in their garden but are you aware that the BSBI (Botanic Society of Britain and Ireland) has carried out a similar New Year Plant Hunt over four days of the New Year holiday for the past seven years?

You may have heard of this annual plant hunt from the brief coverage it was given on last Sunday's Countryfile TV programme but I think you will still be very surprised by the 532 plant species that were found by the 800+ people who each spent up to 3 hours searching their local area and listing their finds. The lists are now in and a web page is available showing the detail of each of the 20 longest lists, the 20 commonest of the 532 species found and the location of the 618 places where searches were made - by clicking on the map marker for each of these places you will be given the detail of the list submitted for that location. I was interested to see that the 77 species on the list for Hayling Island made it the fifth longest list but slightly puzzled to see that Guernsey Fleabane appeared twice on the list while Daisy (of which more than one specimen must have been seen) appeared only once. To see the page containing these lists click here.

To get a better feel for the excitement that this hunt can give I suggest that you read Wendy Tagg's blog decribing her search of the Uckfield town area around her home. She only found 29 species but these included one that she had never seen before (Common Ramping Fumitory which I also found unexpectedly within two hundred yards of my front door on Jan 1). Another bonus for me was that her list included a garden escape (Elephant's Ears, Bergenia cordifolia) which I have seen many times but been unable to name until I checked the photos of this species on Google and was thus able to include the species in my subsequent lists. To see Wendy's blog go to Wendy Tagg's Uckfield Plant Hunt. I hope that her enthusiasm will encourage lots more of you to follow my example of creating plant lists for your home area for each month of the year, not just New Year.

To end today here is a photo of the female flowers waiting to receive pollen from the thousands of of male Hazel catkins now opening everywhere. To see it click here.

Wildlife diary and news for Jan 15 - 21 (Week 03 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Thu 18th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Distinguishing Lesser from Greater Spotted Woodpecker drumming
Local decline in Rook numbers
Crocuses starting to flower.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers started to drum on Jan 10 and today (Jan 18) comes the first report of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming at Bramshaw near the Cadnam end of the road which runs across the north of the New Forest to Fordingbridge. It is easy enough to distinguish the two species if you can see them, or if you hear the sharp "Chik" call which is only given by the Greater species, but you may feel uncertain which of the two is drumming as the sound can vary with the 'drum' being used (some trees give very different sound from others, and some woodpeckers do not drum on normal trees but use louder sounding 'drums' made of metal). One factor that normally differentiates the two species is the length of each burst of drumming, with the Greater giving shorter and louder bursts than the Lesser which generally gives more prolonged but quieter bursts, but I recommend a visit to the Xeno-Canto website where you can listen to many recordings of both species. If you are unfamiliar with this website you will need to enter the name of the species you wish to hear and must enter that name on the first line of the website where it says "Search recordings..." and then click the adjacent Search button. This will take you to a header page for the selected species with a map of its world wide distribution and it is not until you have scrolled down below this map that you will find the start of what is usually a long list of individual recordings with information about the length of the recording and other information helping you to decide if you want to listen to it - to hear the selected recording just click the 'play button/triangle' at the extreme left of that line.... After hearing as many recordings as you want remember to click the Back Button twice to get back to this blog - to give it a try use this link.

A report on Jan 16 from the Cuckmere area of East Sussex of 500 Rooks and 700 Jackdaws reminded me of 'the old days' when the way of distinguishing Rooks from Crows was said to be by the size of the flocks in which you saw them using the rule that "if there's just one then it's a Crow but if there are several then you're looking at Rooks". In the years I have been birding in South East Hampshire I have seen a steady decline in the number of Rooks with none now nesting on the Warblington Farm and with a noticeable decrease in the number of nests in the remaining local Rookeries at Emsworth and Northney on Hayling Island while at the same time flocks of several hundred Crows can be seen throughout the year feeding on the shore between Langstone and Emsworth (and this is backed up by regular reports of similar large flocks being regularly reported from Weston Shore on Southampton Water).

In the light of this local decline the report of 500 Rooks in East Sussex led me to check on the national status of Rooks in Britain and I was surprised to find no concern being expressed about the future of Rooks in this country. I then looked at the 1993 edition of "Birds of Hampshire" which told me that the Rook population of Hampshire (particularly in the South East and the New Forest areas) was already significantly low compared to the rest of Britain. The cause of this difference was not clear but I would think that the scarcity of arable farmland in the New Forest plus the loss of that farmland to the spread of urban development and roads in the south, coupled with changes in farming practice, are major contributors to the loss of food available to the Rooks while the scavenging lifestyle of Crows has probably benefited them from these changes (which have also encouraged the spread of Ravens and Buzzards into our area).

Just one new plant species started to flower this week with the appearance of the first Crocuses in at least two local gardens on Jan 17, bringing my month total to 65 species.

Tue 16th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Three recent south coast rarities - Stilt Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher and Hampback Whale
First Collared Dove song and a report of a Cat stealing Sparrowhawk kill
Miscellaneous news of Brent and Brant Geese
BBC Countryfile features Cranes in Somerset.

A Long Billed Dowitcher has been in north Kent, at the Oare Marshes by the River Swale north west of Faversham, since Jan 1 and a Stilt Sandpiper has been on the Hampshire Avon at Cowards Marsh, just north of Christchurch, since Jan 12 while a third south coast rarity has been a Humpback Whale seen heading south from Portland Bill on Jan 14. The sighting was described on the Portland website as follows .. "The Humpback Whale was always distant and, sadly, appeared to be trailing some fishing equipment that included an orange float; it was last watched heading away south off West Cliffs but couldn't be picked up from either Blacknor or the Bill. As far as we know this is only the second Humpback Whale to be recorded in Portland waters - the first being a famous animal that spent most of a summer evening way back in 1991 close inshore at Chesil Cove." A distant photo of the current whale can be seen here. A video (before watching it beware that, when it ends, you must click the Cancel option to avoid seeing other Youtube videos before pressing the Back Arrow to return to this Blog) of a Stilt Sandpiper feeding can be seen here and for a photo of the Dowitcher use this link.

A couple of lesser items which I noted in the last few days were the first Collared Dove song of the year on Jan 14 and a report in the Sussex bird news for Jan 13 of a Sparrowhawk making a kill in a Horsham garden and of a cat stealing the prey before the hawk could start its meal - something I have not heard of before. Sparrowhawks would, I think, normally carry off their prey to a more secluded spot if disturbed but in this case it would seem that the cat had no fear of the hawk and did not give it a chance to do so.

I have already noted on Jan 10 the first positive report from Dungeness of 150 Brent heading east to start their journey back to their breeding grounds and on Jan 13 I see that another 87 Brent followed them. Another reaction to the changing season was noted at Warblington on Jan 15 when a big flock of 349 Brent which have been in the area for some time changed from feeding on the eel grass in the harbour to feeding on other land based plants. In searching for more information about the 'meadows under the sea' on which they have been feeding up to now I came across an article in the BBC Wildlife Magazine which is worth reading and it can be seen here. The word 'propagule' was new to me and I find it is an overall term for "any plant material used for the purpose of plant propagation. In asexual reproduction, a propagule is often a stem cutting. In some plants, a leaf section or a portion of root can be used. In sexual reproduction, a propagule is a seed or spore." Returning to the general subject of Brent Geese I see that the past week brought the first local sighting of a Black Brant with one at Farlington Marshes on Jan 9 which is reported to have moved to Warblington on Jan 15. Sadly it is now several years since we have had any local reports of the more colourful Red Breasted Goose that was a regular winter visitor to our area and seemed to be a genuine migrant accompanying the Brent - if you are not familiar with it seethis photo.

Finally for now if you missed the BBC Countryfile programme last Sunday it is worth looking at it on I Player for the coverage of the introduced Common Cranes which are now breeding on the Somerset Levels - use this link.

Wildlife diary and news for Jan 8 - 14 (Week 02 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sat 13th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

First Comma and Brimstone for the year
Recent Bird news including the re-appearance of those re-introduced Great Bustards
My latest flower finds include Bur Chervil and bring my month count to 60
Peter Raby's fourth year of his "Birds of Warblington and Emsworth."

Since my previous blog entry last Thursday in which I wrote about butterflies brought out by the sunshine on Jan 10 I have seen a lot more reports of them including 'first for the year' sightings of both Brimstone and Comma in Sussex where at least seven Red Admirals were also seen - another Red Admiral was also reported at Lovedean in Hampshire. The ever enthusiastic Sussex Branch of Butterfly Conservation were proud to claim that their county was first to report both Brimstone and Comma, though they do admit that Brimstones were also seen in Hertfordshire and Somerset on Jan 10.

Recent local bird news includes a sighting of a pair of Herons changing brooding duties at one of the Langstone Pond nests but further afield three Great Bustards from the Wiltshire 're-introduction' scheme flew over Ferrybridge at Weymouth on Jan 11 - it seems they have been wintering somewhere on The Fleet where Bird Flu has just started to kill off the Swans. Also on Jan 11 the first report of a Great Grey Shrike came from Mordern Bog in Dorset and a Lesser Yellowlegs was back at Lodmoor. An Emperor Goose was seen at Christchurch Harbour on Jan 12 when the first song from a Corn Bunting was heard near Beachy Head and a flock of 900 Linnets was seen just outside Exeter. Also in the birding news is the achievement of the Sussex Bird-Racing team - the 'Splash Pointers' a team of 3 led by Bob Self - who set off at 3am and ended at 8pm with a total of 123 species. They won this Sussex race last year and look set to do so again this year.

Yesterday a short local walk added three newly flowering garden plant species to my month list. First was a species that I had not seen before, the Giant Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) standing about 1 foot tall, which I identified by its height and early flowering date and confirmed from the photo on this webpage. Subsequently I saw on John Goodspeed's website that Jill von Westarp had found the first normal Snowdrops in Northney churchyard on Jan 11, a day earlier than my find. My second find on Jan 12 was Salvia microphylla ('Hot Lips') which I had discovered last year, and my third was the type of Daffodil which has multiple small flowers on each stem and which I found is normally named as a Jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla).

Today I cycled to the Eastoke seafront to look for the Black Redstart which had recently been reported near the Shearwater Court block of flats. No sign of the bird but in exploring an alleyway connecting Southwood Road to the Eastoke Esplanade (now cleared of shingle) I stumbled on two more plants for my list which brought my month total to 60. First of these was no surprise - White Deadnettle - but the second was something that I normally see in June but had failed to do so last year. This was Bur Chervil whose leaves and tiny white flowers are unmistakeable and which I confirmed, from the specimen that I took home, had hollow, hairless stems.

Yesterday (Jan 12) I saw from the HOS Bird News that Peter Raby had not only seen the Cattle Egret still at Warblington but had also completed his fourth annual edition of a personal report on the 'Birds of Warblington and Emsworth' to which he provided a link which I will repeat here. As I have been birding in that area since the early 1980s, providing input to the BTO Common Bird Census of Warblington Farm which Tony Gutteridge started in 1976 and publishing some of my observations on my own website, I am delighted that Peter is continuing to record the birds of this area and especially pleased to see that he now includes maps which delineate the places which he names in the text of his reports.

As my interest in Warblington Farm centred on walking the fields to carry out the census I included in my website a map of the farm giving each field an identifying letter and this map is still available here. Note that this map was created long before Field K became the Cemetery Extension. Other maps of local areas that were of interest to me are also available by using the AREA INDEX and PLACE INDEX starting here.

This year Peter's report adds three species (Wryneck, Great White Egret and Hen Harrier) to those seen in the area and this reminds me that when I started my census work Little Egrets were new to England and chose Thorney Island as their 'invasion beachhead'. Also in those days Buzzards and Ravens were unkown in the area but we expected to see Turtle Doves each year, Grey Partridge regularly visited the farm, Kestrels bred in the Castle Tower and Sparrowhawks in the west end of Nore Barn Woods and Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers nested on the farm while Rooks nested on trees at the north end of the rural section of Pook Lane before the A25 cut off that southern part of the Lane from the northern section. One other species that deserves a mention is Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which was regularly heard in trees along the Lymbourne Stream and once closely seen by me as I walked north up Wade Lane in a snowstorm and the bird flew close to me heading for the only Oak tree close to the road in the fields north of Wade Court and south of the Bypass. It will be interesting to see what other changes are recorded in the forthcoming years by Peter's future reports.

Thu 11th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Sunshine on Jan 10 brings out Butterflies and Birdsong
A wintering Ring Ouzel on Dartmoor and the Lesser Whitetroat still at Ventnor
Hairy Bittercress now flowering on Hayling and Lesser Stitchwort at Emsworth
More signs of upchannel passage of Brent at Dungeness

The sunshine and light wind on Jan 10 brought several reports of birdsong starting with Robin, Wren and Woodpigeon in Emsworth, a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker at Colden Common (between the M3 and Marwell Zoo) and in Sussex a Goldfinch at Crawley, a Blackcap at Seaford, and best of all a Woodlark on one of the West Sussex Commons. Down in Dorset six Song Thrushes were all singing at Christchurch Harbour and the CHOG website emphasised the feeling that Spring had sprung with a lovely photo of a male Bullfinch which you can see here.

After a dearth of butterfly news so far this year the sunshine brought out a Small Tortoiseshell, a Peacock, and of course a Red Admiral, all at Portland. It also brought the first entry for the year on the Hampshire Butterfly Conservation website telling us of plans to to re-introduce the Marsh Fritillary to Hampshire, in preparation for which thousands of Marsh Fritillary caterpillars are being raised in captivity at four sites. On Jan 4 some of the larvae at a site near Romsey were found to have emerged from their over-wintering webs about a month earlier than expected and were sun-bathing prior to feeding on the leaves of Devils Bit Scabious (you can see the original of this news, and a photo of one caterpillar, under the heading "10 Jan 2018", here.

A reminder that we are still in winter came with the news of a Ring Ouzel seen on Dartmoor today (Jan 11). One had already been reported near Falmouth in Cornwall on Jan 4. Another uncommon winter bird which has been seen regularly at Ventnor since New Year's Day is a Lesser Whitethroat and it was still there today.

Today I added another species to my January flower list with a substantial patch of Hairy Bittercress here in South Hayling while Brian Fellows news from Emsworth for yesterday is of at least one plant of Lesser Stitchwort in flower. Both species were found in carparks, making me wonder what part the warmth from vehicle engines and the gases from their exhausts plays in encouraging the growth and flowering of plants, something that I have noticed by busy roundabouts where vehicles queue with their engines running.

To end today I read on the Dungeness Bird Observatory website .. "Signs of upchannel passage of Brent Goose continued with 150 moving through" .. so they are now confirming that they believe that a small number of Brent are already on their way back to their breeding grounds (hopefully to make up for the extremely low number of young they managed to raise last year.)

Wed 10th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Four more flowers for my January list
Black Redstart seen on south Hayling
A second Red Admiral on the wing.

Today brought dawn to dusk sunshine and a light wind, tempting me to cycle the full length of the Billy Line up the west coast of Hayling Island and adding four species to my plant list to bring the total to 54 species. First to go on the list was Hazel with a small tree in the West Town Station car park having all its catkins fully extended. Despite looking for Coltsfoot at the entrance to the old carpark for the Oyster Beds and for Sweet Violet beside the Billy track just north of the vehicle entrance to the gull nesting lagoon there was no sign of either and I had to wait for the track connecting the old rail line to the southern end of Langstone Bridge for my next flower, a single plant of Common Catsear with two flowers. The other two species wers seen after returning to south Hayling - the best of these was a single plant of Thale Cress with its distinctive seed pods and the fourth was Shepherds Purse which I had seen before but failed to record.

Yesterday I was deterred from riding back from Sandy Point along the Eastoke Promenade by the shingle which was covering the normal hard surface and in using the Southwood Road alternative route I missed a chance of seeing a Black Redstart on the seaward side of the Shearwater Court flats where it was reported that afternoon for the first time this year. In recent years one has been a regular winter visitor to this area - last year one was seen there almost daily from Feb 4 to Mar 18 and I hope it stays for a similar period after the Promenade has been cleared of shingle! For those unfamiliar with the location of Shearwater Court it is not far west of the public carpark opposite the junction of Creek Road with Southbrook Road and the Promenade can be accessed from the carpark (but note that in previous years Black Redstarts have been seen further east along the Promenade nearly to Sandy Point reserve).

Today's sunshine brought the second report (after Brian Fellows Jan 3 sighting in Emsworth) for the year of a Red Admiral on the wing, this time at East Dean between Chichester and Midhurst in Sussex. I suspect that I also saw one today in south Hayling but I cannot claim a sighting as all I saw was a butterfly-like object fly out of a garden and disappear behind my head in a matter of two or three seconds.

Tue 9th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Green Hellebore flowering in Combe Haven (west of Hastings) and Hazel catkins starting to flower on Portsdown.
Identifying our two regular Seal Species
Looking for signs of departing Brent
A Black-tailed Godwit with "Rhynchokinesis" (a flexible bill tip).

Today was the first this year with a very light wind so I cycled to Sandy Point but when I got there it was clear that the recent strong winds had significantly caused the sea to erode the shingle on the beach, washing it out from between the boulders and leaving a much narrowed bank of shingle keeping the sea from flooding into the nature reserve and making it impossible to ride along the Eastoke esplanade cycleway which was covered with shingle washed off the sea defence bank. My ride added just two plant species to my month list, Stinking Hellebore in a garden and one or two Sea Spurge plants which were still in flower at Sandy Point, bringing the count so far to 50 Species.

Two more first flowerings (not seen by me) were Hazel catkins opening on Portsdown around Jan 6 (photographed by John Goodspeed for his weekly Nature Notes poster) and the much less common Green Hellebore flowering in the Coombe Haven area just west of the St Leonards area of Hastings (photgraphed by Cliff Dean for his Jan 7 entry in his rxbirdwalks blog).

Also coming to my attention from the Rye Harbour website was an entry informing people that the forthcoming meeting of the Iden and Distict Natural History Society had a change of subject for their Jan 12th meeting from Whales to 'Seal Appeal', illustrating this with a very appealing photo of a Common Seal which you can see here. This aroused my interest in the subject of Seals and I found an excellent web page on the identification of our Common and Grey Seals which you can read here.

Also in the past few days I have been wondering if, despite recent weather conditions, some of our wintering Brent Geese will be starting to leave as they have in previous years. Last year the Dungeness Bird Observatory reported the first flock of 100 Brent heading east on Jan 9 (though the first major departure did not occur until Mar 3 when they reported a count of 2166 heading east). Currently my interest in this subject was aroused by reports from Folkestone of 20 Brent flying east on Jan 7 and 3 more heading east on Jan 8 but this was confused by another report from Folkestone of 37 flying west on Jan 8. On Jan 9 22 Brent were seen flying east past Beachy Head and 7 were flying east past Selsey Bill and also on Jan 9 Folkestone reported 9 Brent flying past but did not give any direction. I am unable to form an opinion as whether any of these reports show any of these geese were intending to leave Britain and so will wait until we see a major movement, maybe in early March?

Finally for today I learnt something new about Black tailed Godwits in a report on the Sussex Birding website of one seen at Arlington Reservoir (north of Eastbourne) showing an apparently deformed bill though the report described the condition as an example of 'Rhynchokinesis' which is defined as "A form of upper jaw mobility, found in some birds, in which the terminal part of the upper jaw may be raised or lowered independently of the rest of it by the bending of the nasal or premaxillary bones." The accompanying photo showing this can be seen here.

Wildlife diary and news for Jan 1 - 7 (Week 01 of 2018)

(Skip to previous week)

Sun 7th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Some highlights from the internet for the first week of 2018.

With sunshine all day I got on my bike for the first time this year but only saw one plant (Cow Parlsley still in flower) to add to my list but back at home I have now caught up with the internet after recording details of 183 bird species seen by birders across the south of England and I will use this blog entry to record some of the more interesting ones here.

Starting with the less common species I see that two Lesser Whitethroats are wintering, one being seen several times at Ventnor on the IOW and the other reported just once from Plymouth. Further west in Cornwall a Ring Ouzel was seen on Jan 4, and in the Scillies a Snowy Owl has been reported at least twice. Another bird which interested me on account of having seen the species in Kent in the late 1940s is Hooded Crow of which there has been a report of one at Studland in Dorset this week. Another species which brings back memories of regular winter sightings on the IBM Lake in Portsmouth when I was working there in the late 1980s is Smew and that species was recorded for the first time this winter today (Jan 7) in the Netherlands, hopefully heading our way.

Reports which give the first signs of spring are of a Song Thrush in full song at Amberley, just south of Pulborough Brooks, on Jan 5 and of Dartford Warbler song at Beachy Head on Jan 2. At Langstone Mill Pond two Herons were seen mating on Jan 2, and the appearance of a Black Swan off the nearby Royal Oak pub today is probably an indication that that species is now searching for mates and nesting sites.

The low temperatures and strong winds this week have limited butterfly reports to just one sighting of an adult Red Admiral flying in Emsworth on Jan 3 but a butterfly enthusiast at Crawley in Sussex who is monitoring the progress of Red Admiral eggs laid on Nettles has photographed the first tiny caterpillar which has just emerged from its egg - you can see the four photos of it under the heading Sunday 07 January on the Sussex Butterfly Conservation website where the caterpillars presence is to be found by looking for the tiny black dots which are the head of the larva at the front of its pale greenish body - see link to the website.

Finally, if you are interested in mammals you might like to know of the presence of some 50 Common Dolphins at Brixham in Devon. To read about them and see photos I will provide a link to the Devon Birding website but will leave you to find the relevant entries by using the FIND command (when the website is on your screen type CTRL+F and then enter Dolphin as the word to find in the search box which appears and use the down and up arrows in the box to navigate between all occurrences of the word you have asked to FIND). To bring up the Devon website use this link. You can use the same method to see a couple of photos of Otters but beware that this will also find references to the River Otter.

Fri 5th January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Local walks add 15 flower species to my January list to give 48 species so far
Also seen but not yet in flower were Hazel catkins and fresh leaves of 'Lords and Ladies'.

A short walk on Jan 3 found Winter Jasmine and a Camellia in flower plus Mahonia (Oregon Grape), Garden Heather, Common Nettle and Charlock as well as the first leaves of Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum). An even shorter walk on Jan 4 not only found the Potato Vine (Solanum jasminoides) that I was expecting but also the first flowers on Three cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) and the last flowers on Cut-leaved Cranesbill. Today, with sunnier and less windy weather, I walked to the beach and back, seeing my first Creeping Buttercup, Lesser Hawkbit, Scentless Mayweed and Pineappleweed plus a Japanese Flowering Quince with fresh red flowers among its old Quince-like fruits and my first Wallflowers to bring my total so far to 48. Also seen, but not yet in flower, was a good show of Hazel Catkins and on the Beachlands grass a couple of the Black-headed Gulls had well developed face masks.

Mon 1st January

(Link to previous day’s entry)

Common Ramping Fumitory, Field Forget-me-not and Fool's Parsley are unexpected among 35 flowers on Jan 1
Wood Blewits a good fungal find
Cattle Egret seen again at Warblington with another 4 on the IOW
Lesser Whitethroat at Ventnor

I did not go out until the rain eased around 1pm and did not expect much in the way of wild flowers but was cheered when a walk down Palmerston Road (within a hundred yards of my new home but not previously investigated in the nine months I have been on Hayling as it is a short cul-de-sac leading only to the Mengham Junior School) came up trumps with a thriving plant of Common Ramping Fumitory growing up the wire mesh fence at the end of some allotments in the gap between the last house and the school.

Next finds of interest came in the alleyway connecting the south of St Margaret's Road to Mengham Lane where the creeper that I think is called Clematis texensis (that has white petalled flowers contrasting with a reddish underside to the flowers and flower stems) grows on the wooden fence, and further down Ivy still had some fresh flowers showing their anthers and Butcher's Broom had at least one flower among many leaves of Sweet Violet and Alexanders plants that are yet to flower.

Next interest was in Bound Lane where the Lesser Celandines now had at least 30 flowers. Crossing onto the Beachlands grass I had a close look at the hundreds of Brown-tail moth winter tents in which the caterpillars survive the winter - see a photo here taken in the early spring when the caterpillars have emerged - at present the hundreds of winter tents show no sign of life and could be mistaken for litter which has been blown onto the branches of the small tree/bush and have stuck to its twigs. The tree concerned is close to the pavement on the south side of the Seafront Road a little west of the Bound Lane junction.

Still on the Beachlands grass I found one plant of Hairy Buttercup in flower but reaching the west end of the grass I crossed over the Seafront road and had a much more unexpected find at the foot of the wooden fencing near the Zebra crossing - a good number of Field Forget-me-not plants in flower. At the roundabout I turned up Beach Road and soon came to footpath leading back into the housing. Without entering the footpath I found another very unexpected wild flower more or less prostrate on the ground and a close look showed it was a flowering example of Fool's Parsley!

Walking on past Westfield Ave I turned into Hollow Lane where the first thing I noticed was a small cluster of medium sized fungi and picking one of them up the bright 'blue' colour of its underside revealed it to be a Wood Blewit - see photo here.

Back at home I checked out my list of finds and found I had 33 flower species to start my January count plus only five bird species including Robin and Wood-Pigeon singing

A quick look at the internet showed me the one Cattle Egret was back near Warblington Church with four more at Brading Marsh on the Isle of Wight where a Lesser Whitethroat is wintering at Ventnor (seen on Dec 30 and again in Jan 1).

News for previous year

No more Diary entries available online.