Migrants despite the floodwaters

The River Severn continues to rise: at Haw Bridge this morning it was beginning to overtop its banks, causing increased flooding of the meadows along the River Chelt, which is also high and swollen.  As a result water levels at the Coombe Hill and Ashleworth Ham GWT reserves are rising sharply.  At Coombe Hill, the Grundon Hide was just about accessible this morning, water not quite overtopping wellingtons, but it was harder getting out again.  Robinson Crusoe syndrome?

High water levels at Coombe Hill are disastrous for breeding waders, but often brilliant for migrants.  The two Lapwings with chicks still have a full complement: female B (hatched 16 April) still has three chicks, female E (hatched last Friday) still has four tinies; but they are limited to a small and diminishing patch of grassland between the scrape and the willows, which will get smaller and smaller as waters rise.  Will they survive?

The main feature of the morning however was a massive passage of swifts, swallows and terns.  At least a thousand or more Swallows, a couple of hundred each of Sand and House Martin, maybe 30-40 Swifts, moving through to the north east in a constant stream, stopping to feed over the water en route.  Two Common Terns (which have in the past nested in the area) appeared early on, feeding over the water, perching on fence posts to preen and rest.  Then between 09h45 and 11h15, there was a movement of Arctic Terns, very similar to Common Terns and probably the longest bird migrant in the world (they winter in the Antarctic and breed as far north as Finland).  Four flocks, each of 30-40 (a total of 150 birds), not stopping for a second, powered past to the northeast, clearly birds which had come up the estuary and were taking the overland route to The Wash.  A phenomenon often suspected in the past, but rarely observed, and certainly not in such numbers so far inland.

A variety of other passing migrants too: four excited, calling Black-tailed Godwits, at least nine Whimbrel, one Common Sandpiper, one Snipe; one Wheatear, and five Yellow Wagtails.   Plus sundry songbirds along the canal towpath: a Cuckoo, Sedge Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, a Redstart.

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