Seals

csc_0011I’m often talking to the public about the on-goings of wildlife in the harbour and almost always it’s dominated by birds because, as i’m sure many of you are aware, we have a fair few birds around.

What surprises me though is the lack of knowledge that we have on, in my opinion, one of the most charismatic and graceful creatures living within our waters. The Common Seal. Also known as Harbour Seals, they are found around the coast of the UK. They are fairly infrequent along the south coast, especially in  a busy strip such as the Solent but they have, against all the odds, set up home in Langstone and Chichester. I don’t know if they have always been there in low numbers or have recolonized at some point in the recent past.

They are in low numbers, I believe 43 was the last count over the two harbours. That doesn’t sound low but then when compared to high density areas such as Scotland and Cornwall, this is pretty a small number. In fact the vast majority of the seals in the UK, which make up a large proportion of the global population, live in Scotland. This, you assume, is due to the lack of people in Scotland  and the endless uninhabited beaches and islands. The waters up there are also very rich in fish. Compare them to the Solent and you are justified in your surprise that they persist here.

Langstone and Chichester Harbour however are very different to Scotland with more activity such as boats, ships, canoes, water skiers and a very high population and development rate. It does, at low tide, offer numerous safe haul outs for the seals. Unlike Grey Seals which favour rocky secluded shoreline, Harbour Seals prefer sandy/muddy flat areas where they can beach themselves at low tide and float off when it rises. This the harbour has in abundance.

The Wildlife Trust initiated a joint project a few years ago to look at the population in the harbour.  Some very interesting stuff was discovered, especially with the radio tracked individuals. These showed just how mobile they are, ranging long distances to feed but returning to the same haul outs.

Farlington is a reliable spot to see them. On a nice day you can sit at the point with a scope and at low tide, if you scan the mudflats and sand bars you’re likely to come across one or two. I also regularly see them swimming around the islands off to the east.

All in all, we’re very lucky to have them. Common seals are decreasing, despite their name and it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for them.

 

A code of conduct can be seen here

http://www.langstoneharbour.org.uk/images/upload/files/about-publications-files_pdf_2098.pdf

 

Sightings for week ending 29/01/2017

dsc_0509Nearly the end of the month! January has flown by in a flurry of Brent geese and waders! This week has been a good one too. I have spent some time down at Farlington and you may see our hedge laying work down by the building. I’m quite pleased with it, the volunteers have done an excellent job, especially as for many of them it was their first time laying.I also remembered to take my camera out with me for once as did our student from Sparsholt (thanks Gwyneth) hence the overload of images on this post.

The star of the show, in my opinion, this week has been the Marsh Harrrier which has been cruising over the reed bed for a few days now. It is quite obliging and regularly pirouettes mid air whist quartering.  No less impressive have been the Bearded Tits which have been seen a lot up by the building and the feeder, even in the thick fog at the start of the week. I filled the feeder on Thursday so hopefully this may draw them in this weekend.

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Marsh Harrier

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Black Tailed Godwit and Teal – Gwyneth Mitchell

The usual high numbers of Black Tailed Godwits, Redshank, Avocet and Dunlin have been in the lake at high tide and Widgeon, Teal, Pintail and Lapwing have been in good numbers across the site. Three Short Eared Owls are still around, using the Point Field and the Main Marsh.

I am please to say that the Brent Goose numbers have rocketed in the last week and where we were only getting a few hundred, well over a thousand are now using the fields, especially the hay meadow. This is much more in line with what we would expect. I was surveying this morning, looking out to Farlington from Broadmarsh. Hundreds of geese were along the foreshore and between the islands and they steadily moved into the marsh at high tide.

The Robins are, to be completely honest, getting to ridiculous numbers in the bushes at the moment. Whilst cutting scrub on Thursday there must have been 20 over the four patches we were clearing. There were also a few Stonechats coming over to see what we were unearthing. One of our wardens thought that they saw a Black Redstart so worth keeping your eyes peeled, it’s a great little bird.

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Stonechat inspecting our handiwork

Southmoor was also very good today. 40 Red-Breasted Merganser were off the point, mingling with Gadwall and Widgeon. There was also a Greenshank sitting on the end of the stream.

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Greenshank

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Marsh Harrier

The Swanwick feeders have been as busy as usual with Nuthatch, Bullfinches and Marsh Tit.

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A beautiful pair of Bullfinches – Gwyneth Mitchell

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A handsome Marsh Tit – Gwyneth Mitchell

Big Trees

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A thousand year old Oak 

We wander around every day past history. I expect that if you were to walk through a quaint little village up on the downs or somewhere similar, you would be impressed by the buildings that are a couple of hundred years old, marvel at the history they have been part of. Even more so when looking at our cathedrals and castles, stately homes that have seem changes over the last two, three, four hundred years. This is however not an every day occurrence for most of us.

I bet more often you pass a tree, such as an oak, that predates all of these old buildings and yet we take no heed of them. They blend seamlessly into the background, filling in the space on the horizon that we expect to be there, maybe even comforting us subliminally, harking back to our ancestral days in the wildwood.

How amazing these trees are though. We are particularly blessed in the Solent area due to our long maritime history where the planting of Oak was encouraged to build the mighty warships that floated the empire and protected this little isle. They pop up everywhere and there will undoubtedly be a three hundred year old oak near you somewhere. Other trees gain such enormous stature that to stand under them is truly a humbling experience. For instance, there is a pine on the road not far from our offices that sits just off the road running from botley to wickham. Hundreds of people drive past it every day, thousands maybe. A smaller but no less significant number stroll within feet of it’s towering trunk and yet a minor percentage of them will look up and be awed, think about the size of it and how long it has taken to grow and what in it’s lifetime it has seen. This pine is ornamental and so was planted by somebody maybe with the intention of crowning the top of the hill it is on. This it has achieved magnificently.

Where I used to work in Gosport, there was an estate called Rowner. This was your typical estate, concrete punctuated by grass amenity pitches. However, despite all the odds, several trees had persisted, one of which was one of the biggest coppiced oaks that I have seen, its base an intricate woven mass of the coppiced limbs. An absolute cracker of a tree, sat in the middle of a sports pitch. Big trees are everywhere if you look. Field boundaries, old lanes, cemeteries are all good places.

I visited Mottisfont last weekend to see the London Plane tree. This is a giant and as impressive a tree as I have seen in the UK. I like London Planes, interestingly a hybrid between an Oriental and American Plane and has the ability to absorb and store pollution. The crazy thing was that just outside the ground, down the aptly named Oakley Lane, was an Oak of a thousand years old and a true veteran of a tree, as impressive, if not more, than the Plane, but going undetected by 99% of the people that go there.

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The mighty London Plane at Mottisfont

The term veteran is used when referring to old trees that exhibit the signs of decay, such as rot, broken limbs, holes, dead bits. These sound bad but in a tree that is seeing out the end of it’s days, this provides so many niches for so many species to thrive. No truer is this than in Oak trees who support the most species in our country. It doesn’t mean that they have to be a thousand years old. It is dependent on the tree species. For example, the Birch is a short lived species, so a hundred year old Birch could be considered a veteran, but in a Beech or an Oak, this would barely be in it’s teenage years.

Despite these special trees being around they are under severe pressure, especially older ones,  and there are several schemes working at the moment to record and save them. The tree charter is an excellent one (https://treecharter.uk/) as is the ancient tree hunt with the Woodland Trust (http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk/). These allow you to get involved and easily record the old trees around you and have your say on what you think about our woods and old trees. Looking at the map of the area that I live in, there are very few recorded.

So, next time you wander down a field boundary or through a wood, stop and think about those trees that you are passing and vision what they themselves have seen pass below their canopy, think about what we can do to allow them to persevere, maybe record them. Maybe even give them a hug, not that I have ever done that 🙂

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A huge pine just down the road from our offices

Sighting for week ending 22/01/2017

A very chilly week! Lots of ice around and most of the stream and lake at Farlington and all the lakes at Swanwick remained frozen, especially at the latter end of the week.

Farlington was busy as usual. There was the usual Avocet, Short Eared Owls and Pintail around and the Spotted Redshank has been posing nicely by the building. Raven and Peregrine have been cruising over very frequently and I had a report of a Marsh Harrier earlier today.

I saw three Common seals off the point today, lolling around on a sand bar and somebody reported two Eider off the east side on Thursday. The bearded tits seemed to have split with some down by the sluice and the others up by the building. They seem quite active at the moment and like it by the bush next to the feeder. The lower ones often bob over the top of the reed, flitting between the reed either side of the sluice.

There seemed to be more brents today on the marsh. I estimated around 800-1000 which is higher than I’ve seen recently, which is good. The numbers of Wigeon are still high, feeding mainly around the deeps and there seems to be an awful lot of Canada Geese this year.

I checked the cows at Biddenfield today, hoping to see some flocks of finches due to the cold weather. There wasn’t much around but a Red Kite did soar over with a Buzzard close on its heels. First one I’ve seen in that area. The Ravens bomb through there regularly.

 

Sightings for the week ending 15/01/2017

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Spotted Redshank (courtesy of Alan Dunk)

A wet end to the week, none of the snow that we were promised though. I suppose that is good, though I do really enjoy the snow. I spent the week at Swanwick mostly where the feeders were overflowing with feeding Blue Tits, Bull Finches, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Nuthatch, Great spotted Woodpeckers and Long Tailed Tits. So, if you want some nice photos of some nice woodland bird species, this is an excellent spot.

A quick walk through Hookheath on Friday didn’t turn up a lot, a few Marsh Tit and Bullfinch but not a lot else.

Nothing has changed much at Farlington this week. Maybe this cold weather will push some more birds down but so far Brent Geese numbers remain low but wader numbers are consistently high. The Spotted Redshank is being very obliging and feeding by the building. I was down there last weekend and the Bearded Tits were at the southern end of the reed bed, flitting around near the outlet. Usually they are up by the building this time of year.

 

A Grand Old Age for a Godwit

Regular readers of this blog and visitors to the coast will be very aware of the various colour-ringing schemes carried out on the wildfowl and waders of the Solent. These schemes have generally been undertaken by Farlington Ringing Group and over the years many hundreds of birds have been captured and ringed on Farlington Marshes in Langstone Harbour, as well as several other sites. Periodically we publish posts of interesting sightings, the last one being the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos that was found breeding in Norway after initially being ringed at Farlington Marshes.

The Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa is a familiar and perhaps iconic species of the Solent and along with the dark-bellied brent goose Branta bernicla bernicla, is one of the primary reasons for the Solent’s designation as a Special Protection Area. The black-tailed godwits frequenting the British Isles in the winter are of the Icelandic race L. l. islandica. The species only began regularly wintering in Hampshire in the 1940’s: numbers increased initially but levelled off in the 1970’s. Despite this population undergoing a sustained growth for many years, with the national wintering population showing a similar growth, the Hampshire population has not shown a corresponding increase.

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Black-tailed Godwits – Farlington Marshes

Colour-ringing studies on Black-tailed Godwits began in the late 1990’s, driven by Pete Potts of Farlington Ringing Group and his dedicated team of volunteers. The aim of the studies was to increase the number of sightings, in order to build up a picture of how birds move around during the winter months, and establish where birds wintering in Hampshire were breeding in Iceland. The sightings generated and subsequent data gathered has been tremendous and the movement of birds is now well understood.

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Black-tailed Godwits with colour rings

One of the earliest birds colour-ringed in Hampshire was ES74718 (or B+BL according to her colour rings). She was caught at Farlington Marshes on 16th November 1998 and was aged as an adult female. She has been recorded almost every year since her original ringing date and has been sighted 117 times. Unlike many other colour-ringed godwits, she has never been recorded outside of the UK, but has been recorded at some point most winters in Hampshire. On the rare occasions she has been recorded outside of the county, she has been recorded in West Sussex, Thorney Island July to August 2000, August 2001, August 2002 and September 2012, Pagham Harbour July 2001 and February 2014, Fishbourne Channel, October 2003 and September 2008, Chichester Harbour September 2011, Emsworth Harbour October 2015 and Pulborough Brooks, January 2016, Isle of Wight, Newtown Harbour December 2002, Motney Hill, Kent, July & August 2011.

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Black-tailed Godwit (ES74718) – Originally ringed in November 1998 and one to look out for over the coming winters

I first encountered her on 19th December 2007 from Port Solent in Southampton and re-sighted her only this week (10th January 2017) in Portsmouth Harbour at Porchester. This latest sighting must make her nearly 20 years old, and if she is recorded over the next four winters she will claim the national longevity record for Black-tailed Godwit, so one to look out for over the next few years.

Logs for sale

dsc_0008We have a lot of spare wood down at Swanwick Lakes nature reserve, so if you are in need of some firewood to get you through the upcoming cold winter months, please get in touch.

It is mostly a mix of birch and oak and has been produced from conservation tasks at Swanwick Lakes. It’s been seasoned for around a year in cord lengths and we cut and split it to order. It will be particularly good if you want to stock up ready for next year but burns just fine for this winter. The mix of fast and hot burning birch with the slow release oak is really good. There’s even some ash in there, which is the best of the best firewood.

Unfortunately we don’t have the facilities to deliver so it is pick up by appointment at the Swanwick Lakes education centre.

It’s for sale at a very reasonable price of £50 / m3 split – and we can do deals for unsplit.

If you would like some or know somebody who does, please email or phone me on:

christopher.lycett@hiwwt.org.uk or 07917616697

Chris