IMG_2275Last week we launched out to sea and made a trip out to Pewit Island. This is a very small nature reserve in the middle of Portsmouth harbour and one we have seldom managed to get out to.

There are records that in the past, pewit was a large black headed gull colony, until egg collecting finally sore the end to them. Since then and certainly in recent years, it has scrubbed over to create more and more unsuitable conditions for waders and wildfowl to roost.

It is important to set the context of Pewit island within the harbour to convey how important it is and how important it can become. It is the only island within the harbour. If you look at the three harbours of Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester, there are only a handful of islands with no human influence and that are fully cut off at high tide, it makes up one of these few. These islands are vital for overwintering waders to roost safely, away from disturbance and predation. They are also in peril from more frequent storms and sea level rise.


Before, a massed centre of gorse


After, clear and open

Suitability of these islands for waders is something that needs careful attention. Pewit, when we alighted this year, had a core of gorse, broom and bramble, blocking the sight lines that waders need to feel comfortable. This therefore had to be removed. The issue has always been getting out to the island to manage the ever encroaching scrub.

Thankfully we had to help of Wez from the RSPB who has a trusty little boat with a shallow draft, ideal for reaching the island and getting people and equipment ashore. He picked us up from the slipway in Fareham and we motored over with a few volunteers and some equipment on a rather blustery and damp Thursday.

The gorse, which formed the bulk of the scrub was leggy and easy to cut down so we managed to blitz through it, creating a large bonfire in the centre of the island. We also cut down the bramble and gorse and then started cutting the longer grass so that a short sward was left. The key is that the waders can sit comfortably and look in multiple directions so as to watch predators approach. Whilst we were there a peregrine bombed over, sending the remaining birds into a frenzy.


a big bonfire

As we approached the island in the morning, 300+ oystercatcher were roosting on the edges as well as a number of curlew and brent geese. We took it as a good omen that a sandwich tern was fishing off the shore whilst we worked for the site has substantial potential to become a tern nesting colony, with very little work needed. there are a couple of shingle banks that already exist. Our hope is that with the gorse gone, the terns may feel more confident and take up residence.


nice shingle bunds with tern potential

Our biggest issue will be from people landing on the island. There is a history of groups sailing or kayaking over for picnics as well as anglers overnighting there. We hope to educate people on this and show them the importance of leaving this site undisturbed and left to prosper




Notes of April

Where does the time go? Three weeks have past and I haven’t found the time to put finger to key on these pages. Its been a busy time out on the reserves and to be honest the only interesting things I have seen have been while doing other things. These past three weeks have mostly been spent at Farlington, stuck firmly in fencing mode. But after another full on day with the Farlington Volunteers today, Im glad to say we have managed to get the whole place stockproof once again.

New fenceline in the aerial field

New fenceline in the aerial field

April is a fantastic month with lots of spring species either migrating back, popping up out of the ground or hatching. In between busying ourselves I did manage to note a few of these so I shall give a brief overview of April’s highlights;

For a week or so around the 5th a Juv Little gull frequented the south marsh, around the deeps and the willow pool.

Juv. Little gull - Deeps (5th April)

Juv. Little gull – Deeps (5th April)

Juv. Little gull - Deeps (5th April)

Juv. Little gull – Deeps (5th April)

Sandwich tern made a welcome return to the harbour also around the 5th with Common tern and Little tern arriving a week or so later.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Two Whimbrel were sighted off the point on the 5th as well as a male Wheatear on South marsh. A single Avocet on the 14th was unexpected as well as two adult Spoonbill. A Greenshank was noted on the lake and I even had a treat of seeing a Weasel!!- a first for me on the reserve.



Further into the month, on the 21st I saw my first Redstart of the year – a female on the fence lines at Southmoor. This area is a hotspot for passerines and I also noted Blackcap (male and female), Whitethroat, with Willow warbler and Chiffchaff in song.

As we approach the end of the month good numbers of swallows are now on the marsh, and can be seen collecting mud from the wet areas of north marsh, next to the track. Lapwing are now busy sitting on eggs with sightings of three chicks already! Another wheatear was noted today as well as a Lesser whitethroat in song right next to the hut.

A Fine Selection

Yesterday I arrived at Farlington fairly early, so with such a fine morning and a little time on my hands before carrying out a butterfly transect I thought I’d have a wander around the sea wall.

I headed from the hut through the bushes, accompanied by calls of Whitethroats and a couple of Sedge warblers, up onto the Sea wall. The tide was just dropping so birds were busy probing the fresh mud for a tasty meal. Looking west into the harbour, towards the Broom channel was a Little tern busy feeding, repetitively hovering and diving. It sat a while on the fresh mud which allowed great views with the scope. I carried on a little further and looked the other way into the marsh; three Reed warblers were fighting over territory in the closest section of reedbed to the view point, noisily calling from the highest reeds.

Common Tern

Common Tern

A lone female Wheatear was present at the Willow pool as was a Green woodpecker randomly hopping its way from fencepost to fencepost, giving its laughter call as it went. Two Common tern fished off the seawall and looking into the harbour I was able to find three Whimbrel. In the channel between the point and Bakers island, 6 Great crested grebe were floating in a small raft.



I returned to the hut to the charismatic pinging of five Bearded tits hopping their way around the reedbed busy hunting for insects for their young.

After a pleasant walk around I got on with my butterfly transects. On the first transect I found the lovely Holly blue and on the second I saw my first Small heath of the year.

A most pleasant way to spend a few hours at Farlington.

Fully Sprung

Well it seems as if spring is in full flow on the reserves. It feels like Chiffchaffs have launched an invasion over the last couple of weeks as I don’t seem to be able to go anywhere without hearing one or more. At Farlington, Lapwing are throwing themselves around the skies, putting on a fantastic aerial acrobatics show and Skylarks are in full song blasting out their notes from the heights above.

Pair of Lapwing. Bird on the right carries a ring - Could this be a site faithful bird ringed in previous years as a chick?

Pair of Lapwing. Bird on the right carries a ring – Could this be a site faithful bird ringed in previous years as a chick?

Today on a cattle check at Southmoor I saw my first Blackcap of the year and a good number of Mediterranean gulls circling over the Budds Farm sewage works. There were so many in fact, that there always seemed to be one or two in view sounding their call (fondly referred to as sounding like a posh cat).

Loved up Mute Swans in front of the hut. Female on the left, Male on the right

Loved up Mute swans in front of the hut. Female on the left, Male on the right

Later I headed to Farlington to carry out the first week of butterfly transects. Usually it take a few weeks to get anything on a survey but with the recent warm weather there were a few butterflies on the wing ; Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock being the most numerous. Yesterday while walking out to catch the RSPB boat to the islands we saw three Sandwich terns from The Point and along the way we caught sight of two Black-headed gulls on the deeps ‘Tern raft’. Could this be the first year we have something nesting out in The Deeps?!

Although there are still a number of our winter guests in residence (Brent geese and winter waders) its clear that winter has lost its grip and spring is in full flow. Within the next week or two, Lapwing will be on eggs and I might even get a glimpse of a Farlington Wheatear.

Over enthusiastic Med Gulls – Posh cat reference might need some imagination…

Sunshine & Showers

Bearded tit

Bearded tit – As seen from the track by the building

Well what a difference a few hours can make. Today has been no exception to this rule. To say the weather has been unpredictable and damn right  grumpy at times would be an understatement.

Today we were joined by the Farlington volunteers down on the marsh completing the last sections of fencing in yet another fencing project. The weather started off threatening followed by a morning of heavy rain but this did little to put off this hardy group. While we were straining the wire, someone noticed a fantastic, large caterpillar. We later found out it was a Drinker moth larvae. It probably has one or two more stages (instars) to go before pupating into a moth, emerging in July or August but it was still an impressive size.

Drinker moth Caterpillar

Drinker moth Caterpillar

As we busied ourselves with fencing duties near the sea wall a mix of Terns were busy thinking about lunch. Little, Sandwich and Common terns were all on fishing duties going backwards and forwards along the sea wall on the rising tide. 2 Wheatear were also in the area while Whimbrel and Medgull could frequently be heard.

On walking back to the building for lunch we past the Deeps and spotted the Spoonbill. It was there for a moment before flying off to the scrape behind the reedbed.

In the afternoon sun the reserve seem to come alive. Orange-tips fluttered by while Sedge and Reed warblers chattered from tops of the reeds. Bearded tits seemed to enjoy the calm conditions and were not afraid of allowing themselves close enough for a good photo, coming within a few meters of the main track near the building. 4 were seen at once, busy collecting insects, before flying off and diving within the reedbed.

Sedge warbler

Sedge warbler

Lets just hope the weather holds out long enough for me to carry out my Hookheath butterfly transect tomorrow. Here is a snap from last weeks transect – A female Orange-tip and two Orange-tip eggs on Cuckoo Flower.

Female Orange-tip & 2 Orange-tip eggs on Cuckoo flower

Female Orange-tip & 2 Orange-tip eggs on Cuckoo flower