© Dennis Bill 2016
On this page: The Harbour What to see Where to watch Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) Brent Goose Black-tailed Godwit - colour ringing Photo Gallery The Harbour Portsmouth Harbour is among the largest areas of tidal creeks and mudflats on the south coast of Britain. It is protected under the Ramsar Convention (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl habitat) and is designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EC Birds Directive. It is largely industrialised, mostly by the Navy and supporting Ministry of Defence and privatised establishments. Whilst this makes for limited access to the shoreline it also provides quiet stretches of shore which, whilst inaccessible, provide relatively undisturbed areas for water birds. One top security area contains a large heronry that now also has breeding Little Egrets (an Egretry?!). Historically the main wader roost site was in the NE corner of the Harbour that was reclaimed in the 1980s to provide Port Solent and the vast tip area, now landscaped and grassed over and soon to become public open space. Remaining roost sites are on Pewit Island and Fleetlands shore. Both are subject to some disturbance by humans and higher tides. Increasingly since the reclamation waders have been using unnatural roost sites such as piers, pontoons and large pipes-all subject to considerable disturbance. Back to top What to see Portsmouth Harbour does not have the glamour of nearby sites such as Langstone Harbour, Chichester Harbour and Titchfield Haven (all within 10Km as the Dunlin flies) but in winter it has a good population of all the normal south coast waders and wildfowl. In particular it holds nationally important populations of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Black-tailed Godwit (see notes below). Back to top Where to watch The casual visitor will do best at the following locations: The northern shoreline from Portchester Castle westwards (SU 625044 to SU 607047, park at the Castle or any of the roads leading south off White Hart Lane) - at high tide this shoreline will provide good views of Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Great-crested Grebes, Shelduck and distant views of Curlew and Oystercatcher on Pewit Island. Castle Shore Park behind Portchester Castle (SU 623050, park at the Castle) will provide close views of Brent Goose, Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Curlew on the rising tide (about 2½ hours before high tide). Cams Bay (SU 594054, park at Wicor Playing Fields, SU 600042) - this is another good place to see all the local wader species together with Brent Goose and Wigeon on the rising tide (again about 2½ hours before high tide). Back to top Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) I have been involved with the WeBS counts for Portsmouth Harbour for over 37 years. I coordinate a team of six counters making monthly counts of waders and wildfowl during the winter months (Oct-Mar). WeBS is jointly run by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Wildlife and Wetlands Trust (WWT), RSPB and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. WeBS also organises five-yearly Low Tide Counts. Back to top Brent Goose The peak winters for Brent Geese in Portsmouth Harbour were between 1989 and 1993 when the average monthly count was about 2500, with a Harbour maximum of 3583 in December 1993. Since then numbers have been declining and have been slipping dangerously towards the threshold for 'national importance'. However, since it has been established that the geese using HMS Sultan playing fields in Gosport are from the Harbour (thanks to the presence among them of an easily identifiable Black Brant in one winter) the totals have improved due to the inclusion of these previously uncounted birds. Despite some occassional high counts the overal picture, however, has remained gloomy with only the winter flocks of 2005-6 and 2011-12 containing more than the 10% of young birds that are considered necessary to maintain the population (25% and 14% respectively). The 2006 season was particularly bad with only three or four young birds (about 0.2%) overwintering in the harbour. These Dark-bellied Brent Geese as they are correctly known breed in Siberia and, in addition to bad weather, Arctic Foxes and especially Lemings are known to predate on their eggs and young and the success of these two species will have a knock-on effect on Brent Goose populations. In addition increasing human activity in an area that was arctic wilderness must have its effect, notably the search for oil and gas. It's difficult to be upbeat about the future of these birds but then so many other species are in a similar position. Back to top Black-tailed Godwit Hundreds of these fickle birds feed in Portsmouth Harbour but they have never consistently roosted there; the majority have nearly always flown to Langstone Harbour to roost. For some years the Farlington Ringing Group have been catching and ringing waders at Farlington Marshes in Langstone Harbour. They have specifically targetted Black-tailed Godwit and many birds have been ringed. As a lot of these are Portsmouth Harbour 'feeders', ringed birds are a common sight in the Harbour. The birds wintering in the Solent area are of the Icelandic race (Limosa islandica) and birds ringed in Langstone Harbour have been found breeding in Iceland and vice versa. The photo shows an example. This bird has a large red ring on the left tibia ('ankle') denoting it is part of the Solent Ringing Scheme. Its individual identity is provided by a combination of colour rings on the left and right tarsus ('knees') - in this case yellow on the left and orange over red on the right (Y+OR). This photo was taken in September 2005 but this bird was first ringed in 1998 as a four-year old. It has since been recorded over 70 times mostly in Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours but also at Titchfield Haven, Emsworth, Thorney Island, Poole Harbour and the Medway Estuary. It has also been recorded on its spring migration north in Loch en Eilein, Isle of Tiree, Scotland, but so far no sightings for this one on the Icelandic breeding grounds. I last saw it in November 2011 when it would have been about 17 years old. In addition to these coloured plastic rings the birds also carry a standard BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) aluminium ring on the right tibia ("ankle"), this can be seen in the photo of Y+LY (yellow plus lime over yellow) in my Photo Gallery below. Sadly it looks as though 2014 will be a disastrous breeding season for this species as much of their breeding ground in Iceland was either swamped or under water in early summer following the very wet winter/spring period. Back to top Photo gallery These pictures were mostly taken in 2005-7 when I was experimenting with digiscoping in a very amateur way. I used a Canon Ixus 50 camera and Swarovski HD80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece. To connect these two excellent pieces of equipment I used a cut-down plastic tapered cotton reel - with the addition of some masking tape to ensure a snug fit. I suppose you could say that it was from the Blue Peter school of digiscoping! It really needed three hands but the results weren't been too bad, especially as these are just opportune record shots, not using hides or any sophisticated techniques other than 'skulking' near the shoreline. All the photos were taken within the limits of, or adjacent to, Portsmouth Harbour. Click on an image to see the web-resolution photo (you may have to enable pop-ups; for example, in Internet Explorer go to: Tools-Internet Options-Privacy): Black-tailed Godwit Dark-bellied Brent Goose Pale-bellied Brent Goose Common Sandpiper Cormorant Dunlin Goldeneye Great Crested Grebe Greenshank Green Woodpecker Grey Plovers Herring Gull House Martins Kingfisher Little Grebes Little Egret Mediterranean Gull Oystercatcher Red-breastedMerganser Redshanks and Turnstones Ring-billed Gull Ringed Plovers Sandwich & Common Terns Turnstone Wheatear Whimbrel Common Blue Damselfly Marbled White Butterfly Bee Orchid Common Spotted Orchid Pyramidal Orchid Back to top
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Portsmouth Harbour winter regulars Little Grebe Gt Crested Grebe Cormorant Grey Heron Little Egret Mute Swan Canada Goose (curses!) Dark-bellied Brent Goose Shelduck Wigeon Teal Mallard Goldeneye Red-breasted Merganser Oystercatcher Ringed Plover Grey Plover Lapwing Golden Plover Knot Dunlin Snipe Black-tailed Godwit Whimbrel Curlew Redshank Greenshank Turnstone Kestrel Peregrine Black-headed Gull Common Gull Mediterranean Gull Herring Gull Great Black-backed Gull Lesser Black-backed Gull Kingfisher Rock Pipit Irregulars Black Brant Goosander Shag Slavonian Grebe Great Northern Diver Black-necked Grebe Glaucous Gull Ring-billed Gull Extremely irregulars! Common Crane Stone Curlew Buff-breasted Sandpiper ….and many more in between
Black-tailed Godwit (Y+OR) Black-tailed Godwit (Y+LY) Black-tailed Godwit (B+BL) Black-tailed Godwit (B+LL) Black-tailed Godwit (B+LO) Black-tailed Godwit (B+OY) Black-tailed Godwit (B+WW) Black-tailed Godwits (inc. G+GG) Black-tailed Godwit (O+YG) Black-tailed Godwit (R+RY) Black-tailed Godwit (R+RY) Black-tailed Godwit (R+WB) Black-tailed Godwit (R+WW) Black-tailed Godwit (WL+OW) Black-tailed Godwit (Y+LY) Black-tailed Godwit (Y+OY) Black-tailed Godwit (Y+OY) Cormorant Dunlins Goldeneye (male) Great Crested Grebe Greenshank Greenshank Greenshanks Green Woodpecker Green Woodpecker Grey Plovers Herring Gull House Martins Little Grebes Ringed Plovers Little Egret Little Egret Little Egret Mediterranean Gull Red-breasted Merganser Red-breasted Merganser (male) Red-breasted Mergansers Redshanks and Turnstones Sandwich Tern & Common Tern Turnstone Turnstones Wheatear Wheatear Wheatear Wheatear Whimbrel Whimbrel Whimbrel Common Blue Damselfly Marbled White Butterfly Pale-bellied Brent Goose (1st winter) Pale-bellied Brent Goose (1st winter) Pale-bellied Brent Goose (1st winter) Oystercatcher Pyramidal Orchid Ring-billed Gull Ring-billed Gull Ring-billed Gull Bee Orchid Common Spotted Orchid Common Sandpiper KIngfisher Dark-bellied Brent Goose (1st winter)