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

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Sun 18th February

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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

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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

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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)

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Sat 10th February

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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

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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

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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)

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Sun 4th February

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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Sun 28th January

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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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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).

End of Previous Month entries