Coombe Hill Open Days, October 2004 – Mike Smart

With heavy rains higher up the Severn catchment, and high tides in the estuary, flooding has come early to the Severn Valley this autumn. Over the last week, the level of the River Severn has risen between Tewkesbury and Gloucester, which means that smaller streams like the River Chelt have not been able to discharge their waters into the Severn, and as a result have back-flooded fields in the Coombe Hll, Ashleworth and The Leigh areas.

The rising flood provided a fine ornithological spectacle for those attending the opening days of the new Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve at Coombe Hill on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 October – though it did also mean that the new hide and broadwalk in Broad Mere was inaccessible! Nevertheless, fine views of the floods and the birds were possible from the Coombe Hll Canal bank: the first sizeable numbers of ducks of the winter were on show, with up to 600 Wigeon, 50 Teal, 35 Pintail and 20 Shoveler among surface-feeding ducks; the water was deep enough to attract some diving ducks, not merely the usual Tufted Ducks and Pochard, but also a Goosander and a Goldeneye, both species unusual at Coombe Hill, particularly so early in the season; there were also a couple of Little Grebes on the floodwater. The Canada Goose flock was back, with at least a couple of hundred birds, and a few Greylag and Barnacle Geese (probably feral) accompanying them. There was even a Little Egret, a bird which has become increasingly regular in recent years in the county, not to mention a Water Rail squealing from thick vegetation in the canal itself. Among the passerines were plenty of winter thrushes – Fieldfares and Redwings – feeding on the berries in the hedges, Bullfinches and Goldcrests, still a few Reed Buntings in the aquatic vegetation, and even Redpolls flying over.

If the floods continue for a few days, we may expect the first wild swans – will they be Bewick’s Swans of Russian origin, or Whoopers from Iceland? Last winter conditions were very different with a very dry autumn and little surface water until January, so that the Whoopers didn’t stay as they have done for the last fifteen years; will our Gloucestershire wintering Whooper flock be restored this year?

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