Back from the Brink

A message on behalf of the Gloucestershire Branch of Butterfly Conservation…

As many of you may know, the  ‘Limestone’s Living Legacies’ Back from the Brink (BftB) project is due for completion at the end of August, after four and a half years.  In order to celebrate many of the things undertaken during this time the BftB team are inviting you to join them for an Online Celebration Event on Monday 26th July 10am-1pm.

This event is being held via Zoom and will bring together the Back from the Brink partners for a morning celebrating the project’s achievements over the past four years. It will also be an opportunity for the team to say thank you to everyone who has supported them since the project started in 2017.

Please click here to see the events flyer for further details and please feel free to forward this on to anyone else who might be interested. To book your place please reply by email to Jen Gilbert, BftB Cotswolds Community Engagement Officer [email protected] or use mobile 07483 039321.

We hope to see you there.

County Bird Recorder – can you help?

We are looking for a volunteer to help our county bird recorder, Richard Baatsen. Currently Richard (who is a volunteer) receives, collates and verifies over 100,000 bird records each year, so it’s not surprising he is looking for a bit of help! Many of the records arrive via email.

We are looking for someone who can manage the incoming emails within a shared email box and turn them into proper records (a line on a spreadsheet) to be fed into the database. You do not need to be an expert on birds. The person we are looking for should be organised and be able to help mould how emails are responded to and dealt with.

A little spreadsheet knowledge is required but help with this will be available. Grid references are used so that sightings can be mapped; these are easily looked up using a website so nothing to fear there. But you will have to find the location on the map. That is the tricky bit – and of course you may need to correspond with the person who sent in the record.

The role could expand into other areas if that is what you would like, and could include writing up work instructions and following up on rare and scarce sightings to get them fully documented and help writing a monthly round-up/summary.

Requirements:

You would need to commit to 3-4 hours a week, (or more if that’s what you would like)

Manage Email inbox on a shared email account (polite and encouraging responses)

Enter bird records on an Excel spreadsheet template (help given)

A little bird knowledge would be helpful

Be able to look up map grid references on a website (very simple).

If you think you might be interested, please contact Richard for a chat about the “job”… his email is [email protected]

Our Wild Bees

Our wild bees and other pollinators are so important, but they are still the unsung heroes of the environment, gardens and countryside  and continue to decline in number and range.

On 7th July, GNS will be hosting Roselle Chapman – ‘Our Wild Bees – An illustrated talk on the wild bees of the UK’. As usual this event is free to members and £2 to non-members. Head over to the events page for further information and tickets.

‘Woodland Wild Flowers’ book offer

GNS member, Alan Waterman, has a new book titled ‘Woodland Wild Flowers’ being published on May 6th, and is making copies available at a discounted price for GNS members. If interested, please contact Alan directly as per the above.

April Curlew news

An update on the ongoing Curlew Meadows project, from Mike Smart.

A good deal has happened in the Curlew population of the Severn and Avon Vales in the last couple of weeks, so I thought it was time for an update.

Firstly, a disappointment: we have not succeeded in re-sighting the ringed bird, possibly one of those raised from eggs at Slimbridge in 2019, so cannot say whether this really is a bird returning to the Vales to breed; it may still be found, so we are keeping a careful watch.

The Coombe Hill public enquiry continues (its final session will be on World Curlew Day, 21 April), and the Inspector’s report and decision is not expected for some weeks afterwards.

The weather has remained very dry, though those watching Curlew at first light have noted the very sharp early morning frosts; this may have delayed nesting a little. The communal night roosts noted in March have declined in importance, most of them now holding birds only in single figures, as the birds begin to spend the night close to their nest sites. Pairs of birds have been seen walking together (the grass has not yet grown too high, though it will do so very soon). They often indulge in courtship chasing, where the male chases the female at some speed, its wings raised and quivering; this is sometimes, but not by any means always, followed by mating. Some have already begun laying: a first nest was found on 13 April, a nest with a single egg, giving a good indication of the date of first laying.

We expect the nest formation and egg-laying to speed up considerably in the next few days. We shall be aiming to find as many nests as possible, both by traditional fieldcraft (watching them back to their nests from a distance with a telescope) and by using heat-seeking drones to identify nest sites.

The biggest development has been in catching Curlews, for colour ringing. To understand their behaviour and actions, we need to be able to distinguish one individual from another, which means marking them with colour rings that can be read in the field. Our previous attempts to catch them with mist nets at roosts were unsuccessful, so we have been trying a different technique, with the help of Tony Cross from the Mid-Wales Ringing Group and the Curlew Country project. Tony uses a “whoosh net”, which is a placed flat net on the ground, propelled by strong elastic; the birds are attracted in by a stuffed decoy Curlew and by recordings of the bird’s song. It is extraordinary to see how rapidly the birds react to an apparent intruder in their territory – the males especially, but we have also caught several females. You set up the net, retreat to the car, pull the string, and almost every time, catch a bird.

The net set, ready to catch, with the decoy in the catching area.

So far, we have caught five adults in Gloucestershire, while Tony has caught another three in Herefordshire. The Gloucestershire birds are marked with a yellow inscribed ‘flag’, each one different from the other, and easier to read than the rather small rings used on the 2019 Slimbridge birds. We hope to catch more in the coming days, marking some with flags, but also marking some with satellite tags, so that we get even more information on their movements.

Finding Curlews and their nests remains very difficult. At some traditional sites we have not yet had many signs of the presence of Curlews; have they failed to appear this year, or are we just failing to pick them up? They can be very secretive, and we could be overlooking them.

A male Curlew, caught with a whoosh net.

The male is distinguished by his smaller size and shorter bill, more sharply curved than the bill of the female.

As always, our observations depend on the efforts of a large number of observers, and on the kindness of farmers and land-owners who allow us to  visit their land. Many thanks to both.

Best wishes

Mike Smart

Field Meetings

The society is proposing to organise some more walks this spring, though any plans put in place may of course change at a moment’s notice. Outdoor meetings with groups of up to six are permissible, given the following guidelines:

  1. Members will need to pre-book through Des Marshall and receive a confirmation that they have a place.
  2. Equipment and books should not be shared or passed round.
  3. Members are asked to maintain a two-metre distance between each other.
  4. Members are advised to bring hand sanitiser and face mask.
  5. Members should be aware of their own risk level and the suitability of this activity.
  6. Please do not come if you are showing any symptoms of Covid 19 or have recently been in contact with anyone who has contracted Covid.

We have arranged six walks for spring/early summer 2021. They are spread around the county, and each will last about two hours, though members can come and go in the usual way. Most are general walks to see what natural history is around. They are not primarily intended as recording exercises, though we shall record what we see.

For more information please see the upcoming events page.

Annual General Meeting

The GNS Annual General Meeting is due to take place on the evening of Friday 26th March 2021; as we are unable to hold conventional meetings at present, the AGM will be carried out as a virtual Zoom meeting via computers, tablets and smart phones. Please don’t be discouraged by Zoom, it’s not that difficult.

Members can participate in this meeting free of charge – please e-mail our secretary, Barrie Mills at [email protected] and he will send you an invitation link to the meeting. If you have any comments, questions or other observations relating to GNS and its business, please e-mail either Barrie or Andrew Bluett at [email protected] as soon as possible before the meeting so that they can be properly considered.

Some of the documents that will be referred to during the meeting can be downloaded from here.

You are all welcome, please do join us if you would like to.

Winter twig identification

The sheet illustrates twigs of common trees in the British countryside. It was used during the GNS Zoom members’ meeting on 20 January 2021. The twigs are arranged so that twigs with similar features are close to each other.

Thus, both elm and field maple often have very ridged bark on quite small twigs, but the buds on an elm twig zigzag along it, whereas field maple buds are opposite each other.

Sycamore is another member of the maple family, and it shares the feature of buds opposite each other, but its buds, especially the end one, are much larger and usually bright green.

Another twig with opposite buds is ash, but in this case the buds are sooty black (ash – sooty – get it?).

Willows are very confusing, with twigs in a range of colours often with buds in a matching colour. If you look closely you will see there is just one scale covering the bud, which comes off as a single unit when the bud bursts in spring. Lime twigs can look quite like willow, with the twigs often coloured red on the sunny side, but the buds are placed zig-zag fashion. The buds of lime are often a rich red, and each bud has a covering of two or three bud scales which are different in size to each other making the bud look a bit like a mitten.

Both oak and cherry can have clusters of buds together on the end of twigs with side buds spiralling up the stems. You may see long extension twigs on cherry with more evenly spaced buds and just two or three at the top. If in doubt, look at the ground because oak leaves are very tough and will survive the winter intact. Cherry leaves are less durable but you may be lucky.

From a distance a walnut tree can look quite like ash. Walnut has dark buds, but they are not opposite each other. In walnut the leaf scar, where the previous year’s leaf stalk dropped off, is a bit like a monkey’s face, broad, with the marks of the vascular bundles looking like two round eyes with a smiling up-turned mouth below. In ash you just get the smile. Another fun clue to walnut is that the twigs have laddered pith, which is a rare feature not found in other common trees in the British countryside. There will always be twigs on the ground that can be split to check.

The twigs of sweet chestnut are rough, unlike the silky smoothness of lime, for example. The sweet chestnut leaf scar is offset at the side of bud, not directly below it which is the more normal placement.

In poplars the buds spiral up the stems, but the side-buds sit directly over last year’s leaf scar. The illustration is of a twig with leaf buds, but beware that in poplar, and indeed in many trees, flower buds can look very different, much larger and rounder. In poplar, at least, they are often on little side-shoots. The balsam poplars are easy because the buds are sticky and smell strongly of sun-tan lotion. Poplars sucker, so you will often see young stems coming up in the field 50 yards or more away from the parent tree, and they can
grow fast – more than 6ft in a year.

Beech separates out easily because the buds are very long and pointed, zigzagging up the twig and sticking out at an angle of more than 45 degrees. Hornbeam buds are pressed tight up against the twig, sometimes with the tip curving inwards. Both beech and hornbeam can retain dead leaves on lowest branches over the winter, especially as hedges, but the angle at which the buds are held will easily differentiate them.

This is an introduction to get you looking at some of the important features. There will be plenty of exceptions and of course many more species to examine. For rigour, consult John Poland’s The Field Key to Winter Twigs (2018).

Juliet Bailey

Winter Bird Survey cancelled

Just a note to remove any doubt – the Gloucestershire Winter Bird Survey for February is cancelled.

As you know, the situation has become worse since November and we now have a do-not-travel-if-avoidable rule.

The intention is to start the survey up again this November, and if you took part in the last one you’ll be contacted in October unless you decline in the meantime.  If you have not taken part and would like further information please email [email protected]

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