Field Meeting Ashleworth 9-1-2022

A small group of about eight GNS members gathered for the first field meeting of the new year at Ashleworth Ham on Sunday 9 January 2022, in bright fine conditions, after a light early frost. The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve of Ashleworth Ham comprises the lowest area of flood meadows on the west bank of the Severn and surrounding fields and hedges, and has always flooded when the Severn is high, attracting good numbers of wintering waterbirds. for which Ashleworth and Hasfield Hams are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. (Its old name “The Duckeries” reflects its former status as the hunting ground of the Hasfield Estate). The Severn at Haw Bridge reached a peak of over 10 metres on 27 December, not high enough for the river to overtop its flood-bank, but high enough to prevent local tributaries from discharging into the Severn, so that they back up and flood Ashleworth Ham. (‘Ham’ is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, meaning a riverside hay meadow that may flood in winter). On the day of the GNS field meeting, water levels on the reserve were fairly high, perhaps a little too high for surface-feeding ducks to feed comfortably, but not enough to spill over onto the road, which happens when the Severn breaks its banks.

The main aim of the meeting was to look for waterbirds, but these were eclipsed, right at the beginning of the session, by the sight of three otters in the floodwater. Otter spraints and footprints are often found in the Severn Vale nowadays, but it is rare to have such good views of these extremely sleek and elegant creatures; they swam and played for several minutes in full view, so that their graceful shape, almost recalling a porpoise could be well seen. These were probably the same three individuals seen and photographed here in December by John Fletcher.

The usual ducks were present, but numbers were difficult to gauge, as many were hidden in the thicker vegetation under the ancient willows: roughly 200 Wigeon, 300 Teal, 4 Gadwall, 100 Mallard, at least 5 Pintail, 10 Shoveler; the Teal and Wigeon calling loudly. In the old days Bewick’s Swans and White-fronted Geese regularly came up from Slimbridge to Ashleworth and other flood meadows (the “Severn Hams”) at time of flood, but with the decrease of both species on the estuary, sightings have been rare in the Hams in recent years. Instead, the wintering goose population is now made up mainly of feral Greylag and Canada Geese, occurring in some numbers (at times over a thousand) and making an impressive spectacle with the sound of their calls and wingbeats, as they move between the water and grazing areas. At Ashleworth the greatest numbers of geese are found at dawn and dusk when they come in to roost, but one sizeable group of just over 100 Greylags was grazing on a grass ley (not very popular with the farmer!). Closer examination showed that one Greylag had a fair extent of white feathering on its crown and forehead, which might have made a casual observer mistake it for a Whitefront, but it wasn’t, just a Greylag a heavy orange bill and white on the head. However there was also a genuine Whitefront in the flock, much smaller than the Greylags and with a clearly demarcated white patch on its forehead, rather than a white smear all over the front of the crown; it had little or no barring on the breast and may have been the one that has been seen of late at the GWT reserve at Coombe Hill, only a few miles away as the goose flies. The Greylag flock also held an unusual hybrid, a cross between a Grey and a Swan Goose, a huge beast with a massive bill and a dark streak along its crown and nape betraying its Swan Goose ancestry. These hybrids stand out and are useful markers, making it possible to follow the movements of goose flocks: this one had been seen in previous winters, and was noted at Ripple Lake, just up the Severn between Tewkesbury and Upton, in October last; at that time there was little or no floodwater, so the birds stayed mainly at Ripple; now, with more water at Ashleworth, they have moved downstream.

Other waterbirds present included a small flock of perhaps 50 Lapwings (at the height of the flood in late December there had been 1,500 at nearby Longdon Marsh), and about 15 Snipe, most of them resting by day in the long damp vegetation, and waiting for dark when they fly out from their daytime roosts to feed with their extremely long bills in soft ground around the reserve. Some passerines also appeared in the hedges and willow pollards: Robins and Dunnocks, singing and defending territories already; a male Stonechat in the long dead Reed Canary Grass (probably with his mate nearby, since they remain in pairs in winter, though we could not find her), and a flock of a hundred wintering Redwings and Fieldfares, looking for invertebrates in the long grass, then flying up into the hedges as we approached. And surveying all from a discreet distance were two raptors, a Peregrine on the electric pylon and a Buzzard on a fence post.

The final observation was of two hares, now happily a relatively frequent sighting in this characteristic Gloucestershire Severn landscape of flooded hay meadows bordered by hedges of hawthorn with the occasional oak and many ancient, twisted crack willows (the Latin name is curiously Salix fragilis – they look anything but fragile with their boles appearing for all the world like Mediterranean olive trees).

Mike Smart

Coombe Hill, by Mike Smart

A report from Mike Smart:


Although the Severn level at Haw Bridge has peaked, the level has not dropped enough for water to flow out from riverside meadows. So the levels on the meadows, and especially Coombe Hill, continue to rise; this morning the southern meadows were still quite deeply flooded and the north scrape was on about 1.05 (up at least 10cms since Monday), and there is now a lake in front of the Grundon Hide, and the circular walk is not passable. Continuing rise in duck numbers.

At least 3 Mute Swans, 160+ Greylag Geese (probably others grazing nearby), 5 Canada Geese, 445 Wigeon (considerable increase), only about 10 Teal (maybe more on the Long Pool or they may have moved out to shallower sites nearby), 4 Gadwall, 15 Mallard, 3 Pintail (first of the winter for me, though five were seen on Tuesday), 52 Shoveler (good number for this early in the season), 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Grey Herons, 2 Lapwings, 2 Dunlin, 1 or 2 Skylarks going over, flock of 20 Pied Wagtails (feeding round edge of floodwater), 1 Stonechat, about 80 Redwings in the hedges, 1 Cetti’s Warbler (song), 1 Blackcap (subsong), 1 Chiffchaff (calling), at least 1 Reed Bunting.


Now that the Severn level is dropping. I thought I ought to have another look for the missing Teal.

At Coombe Hill, water levels have dropped quite a bit: there is still extensive water in front of the Grundon Hide (level 0.95) but the circular walk round the back of the Long and Short Pools is now just about passable, with wellingtons. Water levels are high on the Long Pool and Short Pool – Long Pool didn’t seem to have any Teal on it, some hiding in the willows on the Short Pool.

5 Mute Swans (one very aggressive resident pair), 31+ Greylags, 20 Canadas (geese very mobile, flying in and out), NIL Shelducks, 392 Wigeon, 140 Teal, 20 Mallard, only 23 Shoveler, NIL Pintail, 1 Lapwing, 4 Snipe, big numbers of Redwings (150+), smaller numbers of Fieldfares (40+) along the canal bank, 1 Cetti’s Warbler singing well.

The Teal numbers were a bit higher than on Saturday when the circular walk was not accessible, but not very high, so I had a quick look at Hill Court in Worcs (from the northern Hill Court Farm end) thinking that the Teal might have taken refuge there. But water levels were not very high (only the scrape proper held water), and there were no very large numbers of Teal: 55 Teal, 1 Mallard, 20 Greylags, 45 Canadas.

So it looks as though there hasn’t yet been a very large influx of Teal.


Coombe Hill: Water levels continuing to drop on reserve, though area of floodwater in front of Grundon Hide still quite extensive: north scrape on 0.89. Water levels on Long and Short Pools still high.

5 Mute Swans, one male as usual very aggressive.  Most geese had probably already left: only 40 Greylags, 20 Canadas left. Duck numbers a bit lower than in recent visits: only 133 Wigeon, not more than 15 Teal, 12 Shoveler, 2 Gadwall, but nice group of 11 Pintail, in fresh plumage (7 males, 4 females). Two Grey Herons, 2 Cormorants drying their wings on the island, 1 Buzzard and a lone Lapwing, 1 Snipe. At least two Water Rails squealing. Two or three Skylarks going over (no song) one or two Meadow Pipits. Good numbers of winter thrushes in the hedges along the canal bank – at least 50 Fieldfares and probably 150 Redwings. One Cetti’s Warbler singing.

Went on to Mitton, along the Avon just north of Tewkesbury (still just in Glos), to see if there were any ducks there: on the field with open water by the sailing club, a nice gathering of 125 Wigeon, 40 Mallard, 5 Shoveler and 10 Teal, with 125 Greylags. Also large numbers of Fieldfares (50) and Redwings (100).

On Bredon’s Hardwick Pits and Meadows (adjacent to Mitton, just in Worcestershire); on the pits 35 Tufted Ducks, 1 Little Grebe; on the meadows: 5 unringed Mute Swans, 220 Canada Geese, 60 Greylags.


Coombe Hill: I went at first light yesterday, in an attempt to see the ducks and geese before they dispersed, and to get a better count. Of course it was foggy, so I could hear the geese leaving, but couldn’t see or count them.

Water levels continuing to drop: north scrape on 0.84, but water still extensive in front of Grundon Hide. 13 Mute Swans roosting, most flew out early on, leaving the aggressive resident pair. Many hundreds of Greylags flew out to the northeast while it was still foggy. 35+ Canada Geese. Counts of ducks: 111 Wigeon, 76 Teal (don’t think there are many on the Short Pool); 200 Mallard (surprisingly large number); only 8 Shoveler and two Pintail; 1 Sparrowhawk; at least one Water Rail squealing from Broadmere; 4 Lapwings; 3 Snipe asleep, huddled together on the island; no Redwings in the hedges at first light, about 20 later; 1 female Stonechat; 1 Cetti’s Warbler singing.

Field Meeting Nottingham Hill, 21-9-2021

Notes from the field meeting that took place on 21st September. Keep an eye on forthcoming events on the events page.

The walk on Nottingham Hill took place during a period of late summer sunshine and warmth, though the wildlife was in autumnal mode, with few plants flowering and few birds in evidence. There was therefore the opportunity to look in a little more detail at some confusing species of plants and practise identification using fruits, seeds and vegetative characters.

Using the shape of partially withered seed heads, we looked at several common grasses to try to establish their unique character. We also identified some yellow Asteracaea, bindweeds and thistles to genus level. At an old wall covered with bryophytes, we looked at the remarkable rehydration abilities of Rambling Tail Moss, Anomodon viticulosus, and in Gotherington Wood at some epiphytic mosses and liverworts.

The walk ended at the permanent short grassland of the old quarries on Longwood Common, where we found the remains of the summer flowers of thiss limestone community.

The Nottingham Hill circuit, with its extensive views across the Severn Vale, makes a varied walk. There are stretches of ‘high Cotswold’ arable fields, two former coppice woods and some short permanent grassland overlying old quarry works.

It is hoped to use the site for a dawn chorus meeting next year.

Click here for a list of selective species in the order encountered.

Lockdown blues. And whites, and yellows, and…

By Alan Waterman

Like many others I had never heard of Wuhan and was only vaguely aware that there were a group of viruses known as Corona viruses. When first reports of a virus came from China in December 2019 I did not think much of it.  We had after all got used to such outbreaks. There had been Swine Flu, Avian Flu, Ebola, MERS and SARS and they were somewhere far away and never really had much impact on my life. It did register and I was vaguely worried when it was reported that the Chinese were rapidly building complete new hospitals to deal with the outbreak and had also shut down an entire province, but still it was over there.

Bit by bit it worked its way over here, and slowly the name Covid 19 came into use. Officially the name of this corona virus is 2019 nCov. The 19 is because it first made its appearance in the year 2019. I had not  realised that. The first definite case in Britain was identified  on 20th January 2020. Soon after this we left Britain for a two week holiday in Gran Canaria and it was during this fortnight that it really took off in Italy followed by serious outbreaks in France and Spain.

On our return the writing was very much on the wall and we decided to stop visiting the gym.  I stopped going to my regular Monday night camera club meetings, no more restaurant visits and only essential shopping trips. At this point, which was still about two weeks before the stay home message and lockdown was eventually introduced on the 26th March, we started our home fitness regime. Walks of about one hour on four days of the week, home gym exercises on two days of the week and on Saturday we chilled out.

Living very close to two beautiful areas, the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, we already enjoyed a decent repertoire of walks. Most of them involved a short drive but some were direct from the house. During the pre lockdown period we extended our number of routes and in particular we discovered some new paths through the Forest of Dean, some with excellent views. I normally take with me a small Olympus camera  which will easily fit into my pocket so that views and any interesting wild flowers can be photographed. I am hoping to publish a book on woodland wildflowers and the publishers had instructed me to top up on and improve some of my photographs. With that  in mind I did a round trip just before the lockdown first to the area of Gloucestershire known as the Daffodil Triangle, then across to Inkpen in Berkshire to find the Wild Crocuses and finally stopped off at a spot just outside Gloucester to photograph the very rare Yellow Star of Bethlehem.

So pre lockdown it was not so much blues as yellows and even when the stay  home restriction was first introduced it still remained largely yellow the dominant wild flower at that time being the Primrose.

As I am sure  will be the case for many people fortunate enough to live in a rural situation we soon discovered many more walks that could be undertaken direct from the house. We basically had three directions to head off in. We live in a valley, so there are lots of ups and downs involved in any walk. The right hand direction provided several routes, some involving a region known as Clearwell Meend. There are quite a few Meends in this area. Meend is a local name which might have its origin in the Welsh Myndd which means mountain but now it denotes a sort of common land. Clearwell Meend had quite a few Primroses on it and a later some Cowslips and even a couple of False Oxlips. In these early days of the pandemic there were lots of Sallow bushes with the beautiful Pussy Willow flowers. On this right hand route we could walk through some ancient woodland with wierd rock formations caused by excavations carried out way back in prehistoric times. These are known as scowles, and some of these local regions have been used for filming such epics as Star wars and Harry Potter films. Here too were Primroses and also Lesser Celandine.

Lesser Celandine
Cow slip
False Oxlip

To the left of the house and through the village are various footpaths and some charming little lanes with quaint names like Pingry Lane, Rookery Lane and Margery Lane. We gave the different routes our own names. Some are based on the actual names  but others are based on our own observations. For example there is rat junction so called because at one time a rat was regularly to be found on the stile there, not a live version but a cuddly stuffed rat. It was there for a few weeks but eventually disappeared. Possibly the child who left it there passed by again and picked it up. Another walk is the Julie Andrews “the hills are alive” walk which passes through a meadow reminiscent of an alp. A third set of walks starts over the road from the house and involves climbing what we were told was called the burial path and passes a chicken farm. It all means something to us and each walk is different and provides a variety of views, habitats and wild flowers. We can often see across to the Welsh Brecon Beacons with the Sugar Loaf  and Hay Bluff frequently visible.

Gradually the yellows gave way to more blues. Green Alkanet, which despite its name has bright blue flowers grew in a big patch by the side of the village church and along the lanes and through the woods the Bluebells made their presence felt. You always seem to get a few precocious ones that start flowering  in early April but the main flush is towards the end of the month. There were also several places where Periwinkle was established, sometimes in gardens, sometimes as escapes but their blue to purple colour also added to the general blueness. Even the Violets did their bit although occasionally one could see a white variety.

Dog Violet
Dog Violet
Green Alkanet
Lesser Periwinkle
Ground Ivy

Hard on the heels of the Bluebells were the Ramsons and white now seemed to be in the ascendancy. The Wood Anemones had provided a little taste of the whiteness to come and combined well with the Bluebells  but  in  Mid Spring there was  Cow Parsley in the lanes and Ramsons in the woods There was also a lot of White Dead Nettle  and Hedge Bedstraw to be seen to contribute to the whiteness.

Some plants, such as the Ramsons have a very short flowering period. Others such as Herb Robert, one of the Pinks, seem to go on for ever and is still flowering now as I write this in August . Another pink that puts in an appearance at the same time as the Cow Parsley is the Red Campion combining well with the Cow Parsley. I suspect many casual observers do not see the sequence of  changes especially with the white umbellifers in the Hedgerows. Cow Parsley appears first followed by Ground Elder and then Hogweed which has a longer season and overlaps several of the others. Hogweed can err on the side of pink and is  more robust than the other umbellifers. Later  some Common Vallerian may be seen and by mid summer there can be quite a show from the more delicate Hedge Parsley.  In the woods there may be Pignuts, quite delicate but another white umbellifer and in the fields there is Wild Carrot.

Cow Parsley
Ground Elder
Common Valerian
Hedge Parsley

Once lockdown was lifted  we were allowed to travel and so we have done, but not that much. We still walk four times a week and three of those walks are from the house with only one involving driving to somewhere local. We did have a trip over to Stroud to photograph a rare orchid, a Narrow leaved Helleborine, but we are mostly maintaining the local nature of our walks. After all in years to come I expect Covid will be a memory but climate change will still be with us. I have managed to carry out my publisher’s instructions and I think I have improved my photographs. I have certainly discovered quite a few species that I never knew grew so close to home. I expect there are still more out there waiting to be discovered… maybe during the next lockdown!

A Purple Surprise

A Purple Emperor was seen on Wednesday 22nd July in the copse south of the car-park at Guiting Woods.  It was seen again on the track across the road through the main woodland on Thursday 23rd.

Photos: Rita Gerry

Cirencester Fungi

Juliet Bailey “was out near Cirencester yesterday (in the sunshine) and came across some lovely fungi. I’ve sent photos to John Holden of the Dean Fungus Group who has agreed with the Scarlet Elfcap, probably Sarcoscypa austriaca, but you need to check the spores to be sure. And the other is Turkeytail Trametes versicolor with very nice fresh brackets.”

Peregrines on the cathedral

Andrew Bluett had the following sighting of the Peregrines at Gloucester Cathedral on Friday. The male came in from the north over the roof (2025a) then headed for a perch on the highest south-east pinnacle (2031x); he then collected Prey from somewhere out of sight behind the tower (2039x – small and unidentifiable) and passed it to the female on the west face of the tower with some brief calling. The male has a metal BTO ring on the right leg, Orange Darvic ring “PAC” on the left leg. This bird fledged from Cheltenham in 2017. Also present was the Black Redstart which has been there for a while now.

Squatters in Little Owl box

Photo – David Priddis

As part David Priddis’s annual bird box check, he found some honey bee ‘squatters’ in the Little Owl box.

There is some nice natural wax comb, it looks as if they have had all the stores of honey from the right combs and are clustered around those on the left, which hopefully still have some honey left for them.

He managed to replace and screw the front back on without being stung!

Sightings from GNS meeting at Ripple Lakes

Ripple Lakes are two former sand and gravel pits in the floodplain of the Severn in south Worcestershire, very close to the Gloucestershire boundary, one on each side of the M50, on the left (east) bank. These new lakes, where extraction has only just been completed, hold fairly deep water throughout the year, in particular in late summer and early autumn when other natural wetlands in north Gloucestershire and south Worcestershire (such as Coombe Hill, Ashleworth/Hasfield Ham or Longdon Marsh) often dry out (though not in autumn 2019!). As such they represent a new wetland for the area, and are attracting water birds, both diving ducks which seek deeper water, and surface-feeding ducks and geese which can graze around the grassy edges. Clearly a topic worthy of further investigation by a recording society like Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society: a field meeting had been scheduled in early December, but had to be postponed because the whole of the floodplain was deeply flooded. Nothing daunted, a doughty band of GNS members (with some guests from the Cheltenham Bird Club) gathered on 19 January, in bright frosty conditions with brilliant light, to investigate the birds present.

As expected, numbers and variety of diving water birds were greater than in shallower Gloucestershire sites: 35 Pochard, 65 Tufted Ducks and a Goldeneye, plus ten Great Crested Grebes. Numbers of geese and surface feeding ducks proved disappointing – just 100 Greylags and 60 Canadas (some of which may already have returned to nesting sites further north) and only 4 Wigeon and 2 Shoveler (perhaps the bigger numbers of these surface-feeding ducks were still back in shallow floodwater at Coombe Hill and Ashleworth). Another bird of interest was a Great White Egret, a still rare Mediterranean heron which has only recently begun to occur, like its smaller cousin the Little Egret, in southern England. Finally an interesting series of waders was noted: a Green Sandpiper and three Snipe would have been winter visitors. as was a most unexpected Common Sandpiper (which normally winters south of the Sahara). On the other hand two Oystercatchers on the island in the south lake were no doubt early returning birds, just arrived to assert their territorial rights on this island which holds a variety of nesting waders; spring must be just around the corner!

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