Wildlife and Habitats
Health Risk Notice: Brown-tail Moth PrevalenceJune 28th, 2018 by Nikki
Be aware that caterpillars of the Brown-tail moth are active in the area. These caterpillars may pose a risk to human health.
The caterpillars are dark brown in colour with a white stripe down both sides of the body. They have two raised orange/red tufts to the rear of their body and are covered in hairs. In July the adult female moth, which is white with a brown hairy abdomen, lays her eggs and protects them with hairs combed from her abdomen. In the spring these visible web-like tents can be seen on the host plants. The caterpillars feed on a wide range of plants which include Bramble, Dog rose and Blackthorn.
The caterpillars are considered a risk to human health when the hairs, which are spiked and barbed, are shed and come into contact with exposed parts of the body. This may result in an irritating rash or if the hairs are inhaled can cause respiratory problems. Anyone suffering an allergic reaction as a result of coming into contact with these caterpillars should seek medical advice.
For advice on the control of the caterpillars and nests contact your local Environmental Health Officer.
Post by Dave Haldane
Blitzed! Over 100 Species Recorded at Manor Green ParkJune 22nd, 2018 by Nikki
Last Wednesday MWHG staff and volunteers gathered at Manor Green Park, adjacent to the Selsey Centre, to discover and record the wildlife on this popular community site. A grand total of 109 species were recorded! A lot of work went in beforehand to plan the species recording, including setting moth traps in local gardens and positioning reptile tins and live mammal traps. Despite it being a weekday, we hoped that there would be interest from the public and visiting volunteers to come along a see what was happening, and we set up information displays outside the centre and a discovery trail around the site. A key draw for the day was the involvement of the Sussex Biological Records Centre (SBRC), who sent a representative down to help train volunteers and visitors on iRecord. Using iRecord is an important way to submit your records to a central database where they can be verified by experts. It’s a great way to track changes species distribution, record rarities and ensure that there is a bank of biological information available for sites to highlight their value.
RSPB volunteers browse the displays about MWHG’s work on the peninsula. ©R. O’Dowd
The day dawned still and sunny, perfect for species monitoring, and we kicked off the event by checking the moth traps with the help of RSPB Warden and moth expert Ivan Lang. In total, 22 moth species were recorded. Shortly afterwards, we had an influx of RSPB volunteers who took time out of their Wednesday work party to attend the event, and most of this group walked around the site with MWHG Field Office Chris Drake to check the reptile tins. Although only 1 reptile species was recorded- the slow worm- there were a good number of individuals found under the tins. Shortly after Chris checked the reptile tins, FLOW Project Manager Jane Reeve walked around the site with a small group to check to Longworth mammals traps, and those with her were lucky enough to see a wood mouse and short tailed field vole. Back at the centre, several of the RSPB volunteers also attended iRecord training and thanks are also due to RSPB warden Barry O’Dowd for bringing them along.
Jane releases a short tailed field vole from a Longworth trap. ©R. O’Dowd
FLOW Leader Jane identifies a short tailed field vole ©N.Timney
Lois from SBRC trains RSPB staff and volunteers on how to use iRecord. ©R.O’Dowd
As the day started to heat up, it was time to head into the patches of meadow and scour the hedgerows for invertebrates and we were lucky to have the expertise and enthusiasm of entomologist Dr Alison Barker. Thanks to Alison’s efforts, with help from Sarah Hughes, Chris Drake and Felicity McStea, 8 butterfly species were recorded, 9 species of hymenoptera (bees) and a further 13 species of invertebrate, including various true-bugs, crustaceans, molluscs, orthopterans (crickets and grasshoppers), a beetle and a dragonfly. The invertebrate highlight was an Essex Skipper (Butterfly) which has no previous Selsey record! In the meadows, Felicity and Sarah in particular, did a brilliant job in identifying 74 species of plant.
Small Magpie Moth from a live trap ©N.Timney
Although the midweek footfall was quiet in the park, we met some very enthusiastic locals and several parents stopped to take part in activities with their children, including barn owl pellet dissecting. Towards the end of the day, the adjacent nursery brought over three groups of children to look at the moths collected in our live traps. Overall it was a successful bioblitz, blessed by beautiful weather, during which we collected many valuable records to highlight the wildlife using the site, much of which is often hidden, but is all around us! Many thanks to MWHG staff and volunteers for all their efforts on the day.
We’ll be holding mini bioblitzes on 2nd and 3rd of July at two sites in Sidlesham and would welcome your help and enthusiasm. It’s a great opportunity to help us discover and appreciate our local wildlife and also brush up on your ID skills. If you’d like more information on joining either of these events please contact FLOW Project Leader Jane for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Post by Rebecca O’Dowd
A Team Effort to Tidy East BeachMay 16th, 2018 by Nikki
Wednesday 9th May was a stunning blue day at Selsey and perfect weather for a joint beach clean between the Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group (MWHG) and Nature’s Way foods. The MWHG are based in Selsey and have an active volunteer group based at East Beach Pond. The MWHG were approached by Nature’s Way to see if we could team up their staff with our volunteers to do a litter pick at East Beach. The timing of the clean was important, because it was just after the busy bank holiday weekend, when there may have been more rubbish left than usual, and also before the main tourist season, by which time it would be good to have the beach and its surroundings looking tip top. The clean also coincides with Chichester District Council’s (CDC) recently launched ‘Against Litter’ campaign, and CDC kindly lent us some litter-picking kits, including litter pickers, hoops and bags.
On the afternoon of the clean, 15 people turned up to help, including staff from Nature’s Way and staff and volunteers from the MWHG. The staff from Nature’s Way certainly seemed to appreciate the chance to get out of the office on such a glorious afternoon, with the added bonus of giving back something to the local community. It was also great to have the support of some of the regular volunteers from the MWHG East Beach group. After ensuring everyone was briefed on safety and supplied with the right kit, volunteers were allocated different areas to work on and set off in pairs. The focus for the clean was approximately the 200m of beach in front of and either side of the East Beach car park and the surroundings of the car park itself, including the greens. Overall it was good to see that there was not a huge amount of litter left on the beach or the greens, the worst area was below the seawall on the landward side, where litter is dropped from above and collects from the wind. Most of the litter found was waste plastic, including food wrappers, bottle and bottle caps. After a good two hours of work, 8 bags of litter had been collected and were left by the bins for CDC to take away.
Over refreshments of juice, biscuits and strawberries, the team could feel well pleased that they had a made a difference and there was even talk of making a joint litter pick between Nature’s Way and MWHG a regular thing! Many thanks to all the volunteers and staff who turned up, and in particular thanks to Hannah Lambourne from Nature’s Way, for helping to organise the clean and providing the refreshments. Thanks also to Community Wildlife Officer, Sarah Hughes, for helping to arrange the litter picking kits from CDC.
Post by Rebecca
Volunteers take on the Coir Roll Challenge!March 16th, 2018 by Nikki
Last weekend a team of dedicated volunteers, with FLOW Project Leader Jane at the helm, took on the challenge of distributing 40 coir rolls to 8 sites across the Manhood Peninsula. They were ably assisted by Campbell Thorp, who drove the rolls around in his pick-up truck, and all went home happy in the knowledge of a task well done…and lots of loose coir fibres in their ears, mouths and clothing! A huge thanks is extended to all the volunteers that helped shift these rolls about, and a special thanks to Campbell Thorp for his work with his pick-up and trailer. The use of coir rolls is an important part of the habitat creation and improvement work that MWHG do, and we asked Jane to tell us more about the rolls and how they work.
In a nutshell, what is a coir roll?
A coir roll is a long sausage shaped bundle made of coconut fibres, which are bound together with bio-degradable cord. It’s an environmentally sound use of coconut fibres which are otherwise a waste product of coconut production. The coir rolls in this case have been delivered to us dry and they have 18-20 holes cut into them where plug plants can be placed. The benefit of dry coir rolls is that they are only 20-30 kg to heft about, compared to the 80 – 100 kg when wet. It also means that we can populate them up with the plants of our choosing as they are not pre-planted, so we can introduce very specific species relevant to the local area.
These coir rolls will be staked into place and then planted up with a range of riparian species to improve biodiversity and to stabilise the ditch banks. Once staked, the coir rolls absorb water and are a great medium for the plants to grow in. The plants soon put on growth and create large roots that go through the coir and into the banks of the ponds, ditches or banks where they have been placed. They do not need any topping up and will thrive, as demonstrated in the photos of Birdham Pond below. They then just require light cutting back once a year like any other vegetation. The coir will eventually disappear completely leaving the plants growing in the underlying soil.
After coir rolls are installed, the growth in one year can be incredible.
Why is the use of coir rolls important to MWHG’s work?
By helping to stabilise ditch and stream banks and introducing more plant biodiversity into the wetlands, we are trying to create better water vole habitat. Water Voles are England’s fastest declining mammal, so this work with help ensure that that they continue to have a stronghold on the Manhood Peninsula.
How do you decide where to put the coir rolls?
We target wetland sites that have very little floristic diversity, and which have been heavily shaded and under managed over a long period in the past. We have worked on these sites over the last couple of years removing willow and bramble that didn’t allow light to hit the water, opening them up and digging them out. The final stage is introducing native wetland species with the help of coir rolls that we can plant with plugs. This year, we have decided to target Hilton Business Park pond, the Cakeham Manor wetland area, Hale Farm, Regency house and Sparrow cottage – all sites we have worked on and prepared this winter. We may dig out these sites further, so will ensure that the coir rolls are not damaged.
The weather is a challenge this time of year, why put them out now?
We install the coir rolls this time of year because the vegetation/tree cutting season has finished with the start of the bird breeding season and it is also the beginning of the growing season. Small plug plants put into the rolls have a whole growing season ahead and can quickly green-up what had previously been a dark and bare site. The rolls have all gone onto site now and we will spend the next couple of weeks installing them. This Friday we will start work on Hilton Business Park – staking the rolls into place and planting them with a range of plug plant species.
After installation, the coir rolls green-up quickly, adding an early flush of life to bare winter wetlands and helping to stabilise the banks.
Is that it, or will you be installing more rolls in the future?
I will probably try and get more of these rolls next year so that we can do this all again on the new sites we will be working on. This work is so satisfying because we can see the results quickly and it makes a big difference to the quality and diversity of our local wetlands. We are always looking for new volunteers to come and help us, so if this blog has inspired you, why not get in touch and find out how you can get involved. There is no requirement for a regular commitment, and coming along for a taster session is great way to meet the volunteers and see if it is something you might enjoy.
Please contact Rebecca on email@example.com for more information about volunteering with MWHG, or ring Jane on 07743824049 if you wish to join a work event. Details of our upcoming tasks can be found on our website calendar.
Post by Rebecca
Have Your Say: New Activities for Dog Walkers Outside Protected Chichester HarbourMarch 3rd, 2018 by Nikki
Chichester Harbour is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is in part protected for the wading birds, present over the winter months. Chichester District Council is looking to provide activities for dogs on alternative routes outside of the harbour, between Southbourne and Chichester, to minimize external affects on these birds.
Please take the short survey on the Chichester District Website and share your ideas for activities you would like to see!
Freshwater Habitats Trust: Frog Spawn Survey 2018March 3rd, 2018 by Nikki
Take part in this year’s Freshwater Habitats Trust’s (FHT) Frog Spawn survey. This annual survey collects data on the numbers of breeding frogs and toads in your garden or local park, pond. This important data is distributed across the UK to government bodies and non-profit organisations, to be considered during planning and guide conservation efforts.
Download the FHT’s recording form, which includes identification examples, to help you track your sightings of spawn, tadpoles and adult frogs or toads.
|Freshwater Habitats Trust Spawn Survey 2018 Form||View PDF|
Enter your results on the Freshwater Habitats Trust website and follow #SpawnSurvey on social media for updates.
Update on East Beach PondOctober 2nd, 2015 by Dave Haldane
The volunteers of the East Beach Pond Group were awarded a gold in the conservation category of the South and South East in Bloom 2015. The small group of volunteers who meet here three times a month, and devote a further day to Selsey Common, were over the moon with this recognition of their achievement. This ecologically important site has been regularly maintained by volunteers for almost a decade. The judges scored the site 174 points out of 200 and we are already planning next years work schedule so as to maintain this high standard.
Illustrated talk – Adventures of the Outdoor WorldFebruary 12th, 2014 by Tom
Hedgerow Update January 2014January 28th, 2014 by Felicity McStea
Our mid January maintenance working party was greeted by the sight of this young hedgerow’s first hazel catkins (Corylus avellana) waving in the breeze. Volunteers dodged a couple of heavy showers to do a morning’s tidying and transplant suckers of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) to fill some of the gaps where hedging plants had failed, as reported previously.
A Robin (Erithacus rubecula) was our constant companion, foraging in the ground that we had disturbed. Sightings also included two Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba); Magpie (Pica pica); Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) flying low over the field’s winter mustard crop. We heard Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) and Dunnock (Prunella modularis) in more established hedges nearby and two Redwing (Turdus iliacus) as they overflew the site.
Volunteers from round England join in to help MWHGSeptember 7th, 2013 by Jill Sutcliffe
A dozen people who are involved with the Trust for Conservation Volunteers are visiting the Manhood Peninsula at the beginning of October as part of their working holiday. The extra hands will be a great asset and will help with work to improve the habitats on the peninsula.
Hedgerow Update September 2013September 7th, 2013 by Felicity McStea
Two and a half years have passed since we planted the new hedgerow at Mile Pond Farm. A dry start led to a quarter of the young hedging plants failing in their first year. Of those surviving, some have fared better than others. Those at the lower (wetter) end of the site have put on the most growth.
Once the hedgerow is fully established, we hope to hone our hedge laying skills. In the meantime, maintenance working parties keep down the worst of the pernicious weeds growing in the hedge line. However, we do leave a few flowering plants to add interest and to benefit the insect world. Side trimming and topping will ensure growth does not encroach on The Salterns Way Cycle Path, nor obstruct views across the fields to the South Downs.
Sidlesham Recreation Ground and Community OrchardSeptember 4th, 2013 by Gina
We work with Sidlesham Parish Council to manage the woodland strip adjacent to the childrens’ playground, and we assist with management of the Community Orchard, planted in 2012 with heritage fruit trees. Each tree has been ‘adopted’ by a member of the community.
Beachwatch Big Weekend 2013July 29th, 2013 by Tom
Haydon’s PondMarch 22nd, 2013 by Gina
We have been working at this roadside farm pond in Almodington for two years now. We had a lot of work to do clearing out an accumulation of rubbish and dead tree branches. A long spell without rain the first summer meant the pond dried out and we could get right in there! We used the dead branches to create a dead hedge on the east side of the pond which forms a new habitat. We took down some overhanging branches to open up the pond to daylight. We also cleared the ditch feeding the pond. Tracks of deer and badgers were found in the mud when this dried out. Two pond dips,one when we commenced work, when there seemed to be very little life, and at the end of the first year, showing a greatly increased number of invertebrates, prove our efforts are successful. Water voles have also returned to the site. This very wet period has meant the pond is almost permanently flooded, and we have been unable to do much, but an owl box has been erected as a Barn Owl uses the area.
Florence Pond, SidleshamMarch 22nd, 2013 by Gina
Florence Pond is adopted by Sidlesham Parish Council and MWHG has entered a formal Agreement with the PC to improve biodiversity and manage the pond on their behalf. Work will start at the end of the summer but surveys of flora and fauna will take place during the summer months.
ASHE GroupMarch 22nd, 2013 by Gina
ASHE stands for Almodington, Sidlesham, Highleigh and Earnley. Most of our work is involved with restoring rural ponds but we are also involved with Sidlesham Recreation Ground, where we are creating a ‘woodland walk’ adjacent to the childrens’ playground and helping to plant a community orchard nearby.
Marine MattersSeptember 17th, 2012 by Bruce
Manhood Marine Matters has been funded by the Chichester District Council coastal pathfinder grant which aims to raise awareness about marine issues on the peninsula. To that end the MWHG has been able to purchase some field guides and some equipment, lead monthly guided walks based at Pagham Harbour and arrange a series of talks on marine topics in Sidlesham.
Mile Pond FarmSeptember 17th, 2012 by Bruce
During March/early April 2011, MWHG planted over 170m of hedge at Mile Pond Farm (SU 850 032). A mix of Hawthorn, Hazel and Willow were planted along the margin of the field behind the Apuldram Centre.
Hedges are an important aspect for wildlife – providing a haven for mammals, birds, bats, etc. and also providing a wildlife corridor
Leader: Felicity McStea
Manor Green Park SiteSeptember 17th, 2012 by Bruce
Manor Green Park (SZ 859 939) is in a newer development area of Selsey behind the Selsey Centre. There is a small group of enthusiatic volunteers who look after the Sensory Garden as well as helping with maintenance of the park and the new orchard of old English apple trees. We are currently looking for more volunteers so as to be able to increase the scope of our work.
See the Diary of events for planned activities.
Selsey Medical CentreSeptember 16th, 2012 by Bruce
Selsey Medical Centre: (SZ 854 935)
Leaders: Barbara Bond and Gerry Williams
Selsey Common SiteSeptember 16th, 2012 by Bruce
Selsey Common (SZ 865 931) is on the seafront in Selsey adjacent to the fishermans huts by Kingsway. Activities include bramble clearing, land management to encourage biodiversity and wildlife surveying
See the Diary of events for planned activities.
Leader: Dave Haldane.
Bracklesham SiteSeptember 16th, 2012 by Bruce
MWHG has cleared and brought back to life, the stream running around Bracklesham Bay Park:(SZ 809 966). It was previously overgrown with trees and brambles and full of rubbish.
Activities continuously required include bramble clearing, rubbish removal, letting light in for wildflower diversity, habitat maintenance and water vole Surveying.
See the Diary of events for planned activities
Crablands Meadow SiteSeptember 16th, 2012 by Bruce
Crablands Meadow (SZ 847 935) is a designated SSI with a significant orchid population. MWHG help with it’s managment and activities include orchid Counts, willow coppicing and bramble Clearing. The orchid counts take place in June while other activities are when required.
See the Diary of events for planned activities
Leaders: John and Jane Reeve, John Hiscock.
East Beach Pond SiteSeptember 16th, 2012 by Bruce
East Beach Pond (SZ 865 934) is in Selsey and is managed by MWHG for people and wildlife.
There are regular meetings on most Tuesday afternoons.
See the Diary of events for planned activities
The leader is Rex Clements.
Water Voles SignsApril 16th, 2012 by Bruce
Surveying carried out in the Manhood area by our group have found very encouraging signs of water vole activity. The results are sent to the Biodiversity Record Centre and have provided the most complete and detailed records for all of Sussex. We are very fortunate in having such a strong population of this endangered mammal. However, as so many of us know, seeing signs of the creatures is not the same as seeing them in the flesh! They are very elusive and even if you are lucky enough to have a quick glimpse, photographs have so far escaped us.
The following pictures were taken during a survey at Medmerry in 2009.
This is an example of good water vole habitat – open water with good cover at the side and plenty of varied and fresh feeding material.
We are not entirely happy to confirm water vole presence without a good bit of poo!
A typical burrow will have feeding remains at the entrance. Feeding stations are the most common sign of water vole presence. The voles cut lengths of reed at a 45degree angle until they come to a succulent enough piece to eat. The discarded pieces build up into piles which can act as boundary markers to vole family territories. When they move territory, the female will often mark the pile further by using it as a latrine.
And sometimes you will find a good footprint!
Dave’s News 2November 29th, 2011 by Bruce
News from Dave Haldane
November was a wonderful month, not only for the splendid weather but also for the abundance of fungi to be seen around the local area. Very noticeable were the Mycena and Marasmius species found in large numbers along the grass verges in the residential sector. Eye catching in their abundance, these small fungi are however difficult to identify and usually require a sample being taken for closer inspection. Also found here, although in smaller numbers, were clusters of Coprinus atramentarius with their gills rapidly liquefying as an aid to spore dispersal, hence the name ink cap and the smaller Fairies bonnets Coprinellus disseminatus which is very fragile and crumbles rather than deliquescing.
A Yellow-stainer mushroom
Another species often found growing on grass verges, is the edible mushroom look-a-like Agaricus xanthoderma . It is not dissimilar to the edible variety but caution is required if a gastric upset is to be avoided. This species is flatter on top and a simple identification test is to bruise the cap and lower stem with your finger. Should the pressure produce a strong crome-yellow discolouration which persists, then it is very likely you have a Yellow-stainer mushroom which should be discarded.
Along the hedgerow skirting the Kingsway I found several Blewits Lepista nuda growing in small groups. The cap, which is buff to violet in colour with the gills veering towards lilac is fairly distinctive and the pleasant smell is a give-away to the more knowledgeable fungi forager.
Also close to the Kingsway I found a species usually found in a woodland setting. Sulphurtuft Hypholoma fascicularis seen here growing out of the gravel. This is a saprophytic fungus which feeds from decaying wood such as old tree stumps. The example shown is most likely to have emerged from mycelium growing from a buried wooden perimeter post.
Fairy rings are produced by several species of fungi but one of the commonly associated species is the mushroom Marasimius oreades. This is a small mushroom with a cap which rarely exceeds 5 cm across and ranges in colour from tawny to pale brown. The photograph shows one of several distinctive fairy rings found on the grass verge at East Beach Pond. A much larger mushroom, again growing in a ring or horseshoe shape, is the Clouded agaric Clitocybe nebularis. This spectacular species is normally found under heavy scrub and has a pale grey colour cap and can reach 15 cm across.
The Earth Star
The earth star is one of the oddities sometimes encountered when rummaging among the hedgerow leaf litter. I have seen only two species Geastrum pectinatum growing under privet on Selsey Common and a recent find, believed to be a Collared earthstar G. triplex growing under heavy scrub over chalk in the Brandy Hole woods. The cylinder shaped fruiting body acts in the same way as a puff ball by discharging its spores from a small central opening when pressure is applied.
To find attractive little Puff balls you need go no further than Manor Green where Bovista plumbea and Lycoperdon perlatum were frequently observed during October and November.
To sum up: You need not be an expert to try your hand at identifying and recording fungi but you do need to be very knowledgeable if you intend to eat what you find.
Dave’s News 1September 29th, 2011 by Bruce
News from Dave Haldane
This is the first of what l hope will be a regular blog on the MWHG website. The content will consist of items of interest relating to the natural history and heritage across the Manhood Peninsular. Its prime aims are to bring to the members attention up to date news on topical issues and hopefully provide a valuable supplement to the quarterly edition of the MWHG Newsletter. To achieve this we will require regular contributions from other members. Contributions can be e-mailed to Dave Haldane.
East Beach Pond Selsey.
The recent Gold Award at the South and South East in Bloom was a fitting reward for the dedicated work carried out by the regular members of the East Beach Pond sub group. We were however disappointed to have lost valuable marks because of a problem relating to public access. The netlon path which helps stabilise the ground has a tendency to buckle as a result of root disturbance. Despite our best efforts at root pruning and relaying the netlon surfacing, we failed to impress the judge on this issue. This will now be a priority task.
At long last, after many attempts by Mallards to successfully rear a brood beyond the first three weeks, one mother duck has achieved some small success by raising two of her clutch of five ducklings. The mother is very vigilant and the youngsters, who are not quite fully developed, have become masters of concealment.
Earlier broods were lost to predation by the Heron, Carrion crows, Herring gulls, Brown rats and Foxes. One unfortunate duckling was even killed when it was drowned by a Mallard drake, according to information passed to the group.
There are two young English oaks Quercus robur growing on the East Beach Pond site. Both have played host this year to several gall inducing Oak cynipids (Gall-wasps). The Marble gall Andricus kollari, Cherry gall Cynips quercus-folii, Ramshorn gall Andricus aries, Spangle gall Neuroterus quercus baccarium and the interesting Knopper gall Andricus quercus calicis. The latter is caused by a gall wasp which lays its egg in the emerging acorn often distorting its development and destroying its seed. Galls arise as a result of a growth reaction by the host to an invasion by a parasite. The resulting gall with its nutritious tissue is associated with the reproduction cycle of the parasite. Small infestations rarely harm the host plant.
The Brown tail tussock moth caterpillars, which at this time of the year are tucked up within their web tents, have recently been controlled by chemical treatment. Operators working on behalf of Chichester District Council were forced to take action to reduce the 500+ individual webs covering much of the bramble. The caterpillars are covered in barbed hairs which they shed freely and should they come into contact with skin will cause varying degrees of irritation and occasionally lead to breathing difficulties, if inhaled. The use of chemicals was sanctioned solely in the interest of public health and safety. Warning signs have been placed around the site.
Special congratulations to Selsey Town and Manor Green who shared in the environmental awards at this year’s South and South East in Bloom ceremony at Fontwell Park.
Sightings 2 by Peter DriscollSeptember 19th, 2011 by Bruce
Summer is a difficult season for sightings. It is not that there are not plenty of individual specimens to observe and record – far from it. It is more that populations of many species tend to disperse – often to secret or inaccessible spots. With the countryside full of such individuals or pairs my reader is not going to be greatly excited by a report: Blackbird 5. The job of the Sightings columnist is much easier in those seasons when large flocks can be counted with precision and confidence and comparisons drawn with earlier years.
Exceptions to this rule are birds, such as terns, that nest in colonies and which can be observed, counted and even ringed as whole populations. Here, another issue arises as ‘bad guys’ may read an article about a particular nesting site and join the foxes, uncontrolled dogs and other marauders in disturbing would-be nesters. Of course, not all disturbance is wilful but especially for ground-nesting species an off-the-lead dog always represents a potential threat whether or not it is in hunt, play or potter mode. This summer at Pagham Harbour the failure of the 8-10 pairs of common terns to rear any young at all is put down to disturbance – which might include a fox. It is good to be able to report that some little tern chicks survived to the end of July and that lapwings and redshanks also raised young. It is sad to have to be cautious in reporting this success in case disclosure of a breeding site leads directly or indirectly to disturbance of one kind or another.
One summer visitor who had something to shout about was the Sidlesham cuckoo. I suppose the average predator is unlikely to connect the urgently repeated call of the male cuckoo with the furtively deposited egg or the monstrous chick bullying its unsuspecting foster parents. So the breeding cuckoo can afford to make as much noise as he wants attracting mates and cheering our hearts. For there can surely be no other two-note phrase that is so instantly recognisable or so welcome to our northern ears. I am pleased to report that the Sidlesham cuckoo not only ‘sang’ for several weeks from 10 April but once deigned to show himself high in the robinia tree in my garden that is alternately a roost for a pair of wood pigeons, a watch tower for the magpies who have their nest in the neighbour’s garden, and a vertical feeding table for the locally resident green and greater spotted woodpeckers. I am sorry to say that this was my first live sighting of a cuckoo although I did once find one dead on the lawn.
Noteworthy visitors to Pagham Harbour over the past few months have included: hen harrier, marsh harrier, black redstart, short-eared owl, red kite and 2 ospreys.
My pond project continues but this is a pond without water as the water table appears to have fallen far below the deepest part of the pond, or rather hole in the ground. Tempted though I am to buy a liner I have decided to persevere for 3 more seasons in an effort to create a natural pond. I am strengthened in this resolve by my experience of last winter, when the surface of the water in my garden was level with the top of the grass – at least a metre higher than it is now. So, I am watching keenly as summer turns to autumn, accompanied by strong winds and some rain, but not enough to leave a puddle in my pond, sorry, ‘hole’. As the pond fills, I shall try to seal the bottom and sides with liquid clay but apart from occasional watering of the ‘marginal’ plants that mark what should be the margins of the pond I shall not be using tap water to ‘top up’ any shortfall in natural water supplies. The test will come in the spring of next year – but that is a long way off.
The tree where the buzzards perch is again a centre of activity, with various corvines joining forces to mob generally local kestrels and, as today, a pair of buzzards. The birds of prey see the slender branches as potential vantage points but by landing expose themselves to divebombing attacks by the combined squadron of carrion crows, rooks and jackdaws and the auxiliary wing of magpies and the occasional jay. I don’t know where the buzzards have been nesting – and would not tell if I did.
As autumn approaches, our summer visitors are in the course of, or preparing for, migration to warmer winter quarters. I would welcome reports of latest sightings of swallows this autumn on the Manhood peninsula, plus sightings of other species that seem to you to be late. Likewise, keep an eye out for redwings and fieldfares, which spend their winters here. No prizes, but a friendly competition and a small amateur contribution to science.
We would like to include here records of wildlife you have seen on the peninsula – in your garden, on the shore, or just out and about. Please send your sightings (if in doubt indicate with a ‘?’) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sightings 1 by Peter DriscollJune 28th, 2011 by Bruce
Late Spring 2011
The title of this article is not a comment on the weather but is meant to indicate that these notes are additional both to the Spring 2011 Sightings already published and the Summer 2011 Sightings that will appear later. We are taking advantage of the technological change that affects the whole Newsletter to bring the Sightings articles into sync with the actual seasons and at the same time revising the format to give fewer lists and more analysis. Those who want a more scientific approach are referred to the excellent websites of the British Trust for Ornithology (www.bto.org.uk) and Sussex Wildlife Trust (www.sussexwt.org.uk).
The new Sightings will refer occasionally to ‘phenology’ (the study of the times of naturally recurring phenomena, especially in relation to climatic conditions). We British, with our seemingly built-in urge to talk about the weather, would surely be champions in any phenology Olympics. The first cuckoo in spring is eagerly awaited – mine was heard at 11:44 on 10 April this year and continues to sing daily. Likewise, the swallow – with the knowing proviso ‘one swallow does not make a summer ‘ – is for many the ‘harbinger of summer’. I saw one on 11 April but since then none. Meanwhile they have been observed at Pagham Harbour since 22 March. Can you beat that?
Those of us who live ‘on the doorstep’ of Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve need sometimes to be reminded of how privileged we are. The Reserve qualifies for protection under a whole range of national and international measures and, using data kindly supplied by Ivan Lang, Conservation Warden, I would like Sightings to give a snapshot of how our key species are doing as well as reporting the numerous rarities that pass through.
In the past few months numbers in some of our key winter species have been as follows:
|Dark-bellied Brent Goose||2453|
In future articles I hope to see how these winter populations are faring over time and whether any trends emerge.
Pagham Harbour is also important as a breeding site for a number of coastal and wetland species and as a stopover point for numerous passage species. The latter have now arrived or have passed through on their Spring migration but it is worth singling out the lapwings that are nesting probably as a direct result of a Pagham Harbour project.
A key subject for study in phenology is the geographical spread of life forms perhaps in connection with climatic conditions. Climatic conditions have certainly affected my plans for digging a pond in my garden. I began last autumn when the water table was level with the top of the grass ie there was a centimetre of standing water. This made each spadeful of clay incredibly heavy. As I dug down – in the absence of rainfall – the water table fell ahead of me so that I now have a huge, deep dry hole.
The following is taken from the Met Office UK climate website:
With high pressure influencing the weather for most of [April], it was much warmer, drier and sunnier than normal. The mean temperature was 4.0 °C above the 1971–2000 average and it was the warmest April in the series from 1910, being 0.6 °C warmer than April 2007 (now ranked second). In central England, it was the warmest April for over 350 years. The daily maximum temperatures in particular were well above normal, by as much as 6 °C in the south-east. Rainfall was below normal in all areas — exceptionally so over much of southern, central and eastern England where less than 10% of normal rainfall was recorded. It was the second successive very dry month in these areas. Many places in the eastern half of England recorded less than 1 mm of rain. Provisionally, it was the 6th driest April in the series from 1910 and in East Anglia only April 2007 was drier. Sunshine amounts were generally around 150 per cent of normal, making it the sunniest April in the series since 1929.
The pond is supposed to attract wildlife to the garden and when I saw two mallards swimming, one moorhen wading and a pheasant in the pear-tree I was delighted with the success of my plan. However, my delight, like the pond-water, has gradually drained away and the waterfowl have abandoned us. Of course, many birds have deserted the garden to nest elsewhere. Some, like the pheasant, have come back again, in her case without young, with long-term residents like the blackbirds and robins feeding fledglings in the borders.
Maybe among the birds nesting locally is the blackcap who overwintered this year in Sidlesham instead of chasing back to Africa or wherever? He joined in merrily at the new bird feeding station (2 containers). If he does breed after not migrating then perhaps we are seeing evolution at work?
On the subject of feeding stations, mine is currently subject to non-stop raids by rooks and starlings. However, in February and March it really earned its keep with daily visits from troupes of long-tailed tits and, star of the show with his brilliant red underparts, the greater spotted woodpecker clung with claws and tail to the hanging containers. After a hesitant start, the robins also learned to perch on the wire containers rather than trying to eat while hovering.
We would like to include here records of wildlife you have seen on the peninsula – in your garden, on the shore, or just out and about. Please send your sightings (if in doubt indicate with a ‘?’) to: