Sightings for week ending 12/03/2017

Its been a busy week down Farlington this week. Lots of Bearded Tits, a Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher, Barn Owl, tons of Curlew, Brent Geese and Shelduck and still a Short Eared Owl or two. There was a leucistic duck by the building Tuesday which I think was a Gadwal, despite being positioned next to a Pintail.

Today was particularly gloomy but there were 500+ Dunlin feeding on the mudflats west of the marsh with a few Black Tailed Godwits and Redshank mixed in. There was also one solitary Avocet roosting on the lake. I haven’t seen any Avocet around for a little while, despite the high numbers earlier in the year.

Spring really descended on Thursday. We were working in tshirts at Swanwick Lakes, basking in the warmth on the edge of the lakes. Whilst we were sat at lunch we had a Brimstone, Peacock, Comma and a Red Admiral pass by! These are the first butterflies that I have seen this year.

I think Saturday will be the better day this weekend and so will be a good opportunity to see the last of the waders and wildfowl. The numbers have certainly dropped significantly in the last couple of weeks and it will be sensible to keep an eye out for the first of the summer migrants. Reports of Wheatears and House/Sand Martins have been arriving across the country for a week or so now!

Helping out the beardies

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We have spent a couple of days working in the reed bed at Farlington. I love reed beds, they’re one of my favourite habitats. Once your in a few metres, you have a huge sense of isolation with all the reed towering above you. The best part of the Farlington reed beds is that as soon as you step in, you are surrounded by Bearded Tits making their classic ‘ping’ call.

Reed beds are an unusual habitat with lots of interesting traits. They are essentially effemeral, only existing naturally for a reasonable short length of time (in the grand scheme of landscapes). They doom themselves as they grow each year, die and steadily raise the level of the soil, eventually drying out the area within which they are growing and then getting out competed buy more vigorous plants. I suppose that you can say this about many habitats as succession eventually changes them into the climax community, normally a woodland.

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Cutting reed, great fun!

So, if you want reed beds to stay as reed bed in the long term you have to manage them and the key to reed bed longevity is to cut them and remove the cuttings so that they don’t build up. Some places even graze them, short stocky ponies that don’t sink are often the beast of choice. The simple rule is if you cut the reed in winter, you promote the reed. If you cut in summer, you suppress the reed and allow other species to grow. Like most things it isn’t all together that simple but that is the basic premise.

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Raking reed, great fun!

Water levels throughout the year play a vitally important role.You don’t want to flood freshly cut reed in the summer as it will drown. You also need to flood the reed bed, preferably in sections to allow invertebrate species to thrive and support the species higher up the trophic levels, species such as Bittern, Bearded Tits, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Cettis Warblers. These are all reed bed specialists, many of which are in decline due to the lack of large reed beds in the UK.

Bearded Tits are one of the most iconic species at Farlington. I meet a lot of people who have come to the site just to see them. They are however very tricky to see. A warm still day is best and you can see the floating over the top of the reed or between the patches of reed by the sluice. During winter they feed on reed seed and therefore need grit to help digest this. During the breeding season they switch to high energy invertebrates to feed their nestlings.

They nest quite close to the ground , preferring older dense stands of reed. There is evidence to suggest that newer reed stands, (reed that was cut that winter or the one before) have a higher seed density and support higher invertebrate numbers, suggesting that a mix of older and newer stands will yield the highest number of birds.

With this all in mind we have cut some small patches of reed bed this year. This also creates edge habitat which species such as reed warbler prefer, nesting very close to the edge of the reed. Cutting sections maximises this usable area. It also allowed us to collect the cut reed to turn in to nest boxes for bearded tits.

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Great work from the team, lots of bearded tit nests

Last year there was big issues with the water levels in the reed bed and we think that the bearded tits may have really suffered as their nests may have been flooded out. They are also restricted to the dryer sections of the reed bed in which they can nest. An RSPB reserve up north called Leighton Moss have used nest ‘wigwams’ to great success, opening up more reed bed to the bearded tits and maximising the area that they can use. We though that we’d give it a go. they may not get used and they are certainly doing quite well but I was keen to have somewhere safe that they can nest in as a back up in case of severe flooding again. It’s also quite cool.

Making the nests was surprisingly difficult. You bundle a load of reeds together. You then tie off both ends. The secret is to tie them off super tight. I mean SUPER tight. This stops the reed slipping but also makes the next stage really hard. You have to tease the reed out into a wigwam shape with a nice little cavity in the middle in which they can nest.

Sightings for week ending 05/03/2017

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It’s been a mixed week weather wise and I think that this will carry on into the weekend with Saturday looking good but Sunday turning grim. So if you are getting out, Saturday would be the best bet.

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I have managed to spend a lot of time down at Farlington this week which has been lovely. Thursday was a fantastic day where we worked in the reedbed and I am glad to say that we were absolutely surrounded by Bearded Tits. I waded into the reed to look for a ditch and four were sat in a tall stand. They were pinging around us all day. Unfortunately this does not help you if you wish to see them as my best views have been whilst standing deep within the reed. I have seen them regularly near the feeder by the building and I have tried to keep it stocked with grit. I have also put millet in and the Reed Buntings are often present.They have started singing as well, I had a lovely view of a pair today.

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With some reasonable spring tides the marsh has been alive with birds. Well over a thousand Brent Geese were in the deeps on Tuesday and today they moved onto the top of the north marsh. Wigeon, Lapwing, Teal, Shelduck and Pintail are still in high numbers and today there were a good number of Grey Plover and Dunlin on the deeps.

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I sat at the lake after checking the sluice today and I was graced with a fly past from the Short Eared Owl and then the Peregrine  put everything up. Later in the afternoon a Barn Owl floated up and down the eastern sea wall before heading in to the bushes. This combined with a Buzzard and a feeding Kestrel made for a good day for predatory birds.

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There was a Kingfisher reported by the deeps today and I saw one at Southmoor this morning, hovering above the inter-tidal area.

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All in all there are still plenty of waders and wildfowl in Farlington but they’ll soon be going so it’s worth getting down for a last look.

That’s a wrap

I haven’t posted a recent sightings for a few weeks so I apologies for that. A mixture of holiday, illness and a crazy rush before Spring has left little to no office time. But, Spring is in the air! Well kind of. In between storms, howling wind and some very heavy rain  we have had some quite pleasant days which make one feel that Spring may be very nearly about to be sprung.Certainly the crocuses and snowdrops have been quite spectacular. Just down the road from our offices the churchyard is a swathe of colour.

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dsc_0770We have been very busy. Bird nesting season officially starts on the 1st of March. At this point we no longer cut scrub, chop down trees or do anything that may disturb our little avian friends from settling down and making more little avian friends. We therefore have to rush to get all the jobs we started finished and all the things that we thought that we had loads of time to do, done.

Our main focus has been to improve conditions for the nesting Lapwing at Farlington. We have therefore concentrated on reducing perching points for keen eyed corvids such as crows and magpies which sit atop trees in hedge rows and watch carefully for an unguarded nest or wandering chick.

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We have also removed vegetation along the sea wall next to the hay field. This helps reduce erosion of the wall and opens it out for the benefit of ground nesting birds

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We removed some scrub that was moving steadily out into the marsh. The ground nesting birds such as Lapwing and Skylark don’t like this

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The hedge between the point field and the main marsh. It had become quite a substantial piece of vegetation. We have now trimmed it down to chest height all the way along.

We have reduced the height of the hedges between the point field and the main marsh and the main marsh and the hay field. This opens up sight lines, making it feel less enclosed and takes out the perching points. Hopefully this may squeeze in a few more lapwing territories and it is all about maximizing our space for our target species. My sincerest apologies to all the people on Tuesday wandering around the sea wall as we scared some of the birds away from the Deeps as we had to get in to finish the work that we had done on the hedge.

The last full survey done of breeding lapwing was in 2012 with 17 pairs identified across the site. Prior to this a survey was done in 2006 with 33 pairs. The aim this year is to do another full census. Hopefully the numbers will have remained stable since 2012.

On another note and excitingly, I found a Water Vole latrine in the deeps and a feeding station in the reed bed. I hope to do a more extensive survey in May, (the peek time for voles) but it looks hopeful that there may be a population hanging on in there. How they have survived I have no idea as the site must be completely isolated from any other water vole colony. It’s good to have some firm evidence that they are around.

 

 

An old goose

429a3052We have been undertaking a large survey project this winter, looking at movements of Brent Geese and waders around the Solent. This will hopefully help towards guiding development in the future as we hope to highlight which areas are most important for the birds. This may be a large reserve like Farlington or a playing field such the Polo Field in Gosport or the college playing fields in Portsmouth.

What is key is to work out what fields are important and how they move around these, not only throughout the day as part of their natural cycle but also when they are flushed by some sort of disturbance event, such as a dog walker, jogger etc. Do they just move a small distance and return or do they move site completely, potentially highlighting a suit of sites in one area that are important if they are moved on by human activity.

With that in mind, we have been looking at a lot of geese! Several thousand throughout the Solent area but one in particular has been noticed a couple of times. This is G4 a colour ringed brent goose that was spotted on the 13th of Feburary in Portsmouth. This was ringed in 1999 in Farlington as a Juvenile. It was then recorded around the harbour, mainly off Portsea Island all winter. It then disappeared until September 2000 when it showed up at Farlington again. It followed the same pattern as the year before and then on 30th March it was recorded at Leyhoern Nature Reserve on the North Coast of Germany.

It was then recorded almost every year in the Netherlands in late April or early May and then it was then picked up in Portsmouth again in 2011 and 2012 during early winter and then Germany in 2014 and 2015 in early April.

This shows the clear staging areas that this goose was using along the coast of the Netherlands and the north coast of Saxony. It spent many of its winters (probably all of them) in the Langstone harbour area and then around April it popped over the sea and spent a month or so in Netherlands and Germany before carrying on up north.

The early data is much more complete, with more recorders around then. This allowed a good idea of what was happening around the harbour for this goose and this is reflective of at least its family group if not a wider sub population as the geese are creatures of habit and tend to do the same thing each day, each year.

We have started to see patterns through the survey work that we have undertaken this year. For instance the Gosport geese follow a circuit around the amenity pitches throughout the day before flying out to Portsmouth harbour to roost. The geese off of the west side of Hayling move out to the RSPB islands at high tide before moving onto Farlington and then on to the playing field behind and then reverse to roost in the lakes on the reserve or on the islands.429a2881

It’s really important that we know what these birds are doing and the colour ringing scheme has provided some excellent data. Not only do we know that that goose is 18 years old (oldest record is 28) but we know roughly where it goes whilst its in our area and then where its staging grounds are on the way back north. There are a number of different colour ringing schemes across the area on a wide species of birds such as Black Tailed Godwits. The bird pictured above was recorded moving around the Solent area one year,showing a range of sites used. It was then recorded in late Spring in Iceland. The next winter it was back in the Solent area before heading to the west country. Really interesting stuff.

 

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