Sightings – April 2005

Tewkesbury (28 April, contributed by Gordon Avery)

A male Whinchat on Severn Ham this morning and a displaying Curlew.

Ashleworth Ham (27 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

Nothing very unusual was seen – some Redstarts, Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers singing. Note that, following a decision by the Management Committee, the water level is being lowered more rapidly this year, in order to benefit the hay meadow flora and to encourage breeding waders.

Coombe Hill (26 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

Pretty much as usual: a Lesser Whitethroat singing from the Wharf, plenty of Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats and the odd Cuckoo. From the hide the following were seen: 25 Mute Swans including one with an orange ring, marked ADP – (does anyone know of its origins?); the Lapwings were rather subdued, with little display; the Egyptian Goose was associating with eight Canadas and a Redstart was heard singing; one Greenshank. The most unusual bird was a drake Goosander flying stright over towards the Severn; wherever had it come from?

Coombe Hill (25 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

A very late evening visit to the hide (20h30 to 21h30) in the hope of hearing the Spotted Crake which had been reported from the end of last week, but with no luck, nor with any other nocturnal or crepuscular species such as Grasshooper Warbler or drumming Snipe. There were some Snipe calling still at dusk, but no sign of drumming.

Witcombe (25 April, contributed by Gordon Avery)

2 Swifts, a Hobby and a few ‘grounded’ hirundines, including 35 Swallows, 20 House Martins and 2 Sand Martins. One of the Swallows showed characteristics of the eastern race ‘transvita’ having a very nice reddish breast and underparts, with a much darker looking throat patch.

Gloucester (25 April, contributed by Gordon Avery)

As an indication of how low over-night temperatures have been recently, a Silver Cloud moth, something of a Severn Vale speciality, was seen on a moth trap on 24th and was still there 24 hours later, it being too cold to fly.

Leigh Meadows (21 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

Heard this morning were: Lesser Whitethroat singing; 1 Redstart singing; Whimbrel calling.

Coombe Hill (21 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

Cuckoo, Sedge Warbler, Redstart singing; rather few Lapwings, about 8 all of ehich were quite subdued, having probably lost their first clutches in the floods of ten days ago; a Yellow Wagtail flew over to NE; at 11h40 a male Marsh Harrier flew over going strongly to the north east, without stopping – perhaps the bird that has been at Frampton until recently?

Cheltenham (21 April, contributed by Robert Homan)

A Speckled Wood over the Honeybourne Cycle Path near the town centre this afternoon.

Minsterworth Ham (20 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

4 Shelducks (potential nesters?); 5 Curlew or Whimbrel flew over very high in a tight flock, not calling, seem more likely to be Whimbrel at this time of year; 10 Sand Martins, over the Severn, going to nest holes in the east bank, where they have been recorded in previous years; 5 House Martins; 1 Redstart, in willow/ash hedges, like those at Ashleworth where the species also occurs; 1 or 2 Whitethroats singing; 2 or 3 Ravens, some birds from the GLS, but probably also also birds from Elmore Back.

Recent ringing recoveries (19 April, contributed by Richard Hearn, per Mike Smart)

A female Wigeon ringed at Ashleworth Ham on 29 February 2004 was recovered, in fact shot, on 13 June 2004 at Denisovka, Isinskiy, Komi, Russia, i.e. 3604km away. The Komi district is on a similar latitude to the Arctic circle, and lies just west of the Urals in European Russia. Another female Wigeon ringed at pit 57 in the Cotswold Water Park on 6 March 2004 was recovered, also shot, in the Izhemskiy District, Komi, Russia on 21 May 2004, which is a movement of 3540km in 76 days.

And some fascinating news about a Greylag ringed at pit 72 on 22 Feb 2004. This bird was controlled at Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow on 20 Jun 2004 by the Clyde Ringing Group.

We have recently discovered a very interesting and surprising moult migration by birds from the Gloucestershire area to Hogganfield. It started when Jerry Lewis, in the Forest of Dean, caught a few Greylags at Speech House Ponds in 2002. Some of these were resighted at Hogganfield, where they become very tame when moulting and it is possible to read the metal rings. In summer 2003, Jerry put darvics on the dozen or so Greylags he ringed and almost all of these were seen at Slimbridge the following winter, then Hogganfield in June/July 2004, and back at Slimbridge by August. Bernie Zonfrillo, of the Clyde Ringing Group, also managed to catch another dozen or so moulting Greylags last summer at Hogganfield and almost all of these have also been seen at Slimbridge this winter.

This was totally unexpected and the first evidence of a substantial moult migration in UK breeding Greylags. The next question is to find out how widespread this behaviour is, as only a small number of birds from a limited number of sites have so far been colour-marked. This is why the CWP bird is very interesting because it shows that this behaviour is not confined to birds in the Severn Vale.

I hope to catch more breeding birds and goslings this summer at sites around Slimbridge/Frampton. Although as I understand it there are not that many Greylags around CWP, any additional ringing there would also be welcome, and I can let anyone have darvics if they think they might use them. Also, if anyone has any thoughts about other sites where it might be possible to catch, please do let me know. I don’t have a great deal of time and money for this in 2005 however, so can’t promise to take every possibility on, but would be good to be aware of them for the future.

Where have all the Little Owls gone? (19 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

Until a few years ago, Little Owls were pretty common in the old pollarded willows of the Severn Vale. It was actually quite hard to go out, especially in the evening, without hearing several of them calling. But for the last couple of winters, I have hardly heard or seen a single one; where have they all gone? I believe that other people have the same impression; any opinions and records would be of the greatest interest. (See also the entry for Sudmeadow on 16 April.)

Black-tailed Godwits (19 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

Observations at Coombe Hill in early April of good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits raise the question of the subspecies to which they belong. There have been more around the estuary later in the month.

There are two subspecies of this elegant wader, one nesting in Iceland, the other nesting all across continental Europe; most of those nesting in England belong to the European subspecies, though Scottish breeders are of the Icelandic variety. In the past there may have been an impression that Icelandic birds were few and far between; but as is graphically shown by ringing recoveries published in the excellent BTO Migration Atlas, Britain is the main wintering area for Icelandic birds. A number of these birds have been colour ringed and some of the recoveries come from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

The two subspecies are, fortunately, relativeIy easy to separate, at least in breeding plumage. Those birds at Coombe Hill that were in full summer plumage were undoubtedly of the Icelandic subspecies. It is worth checking any other birds that you see; in Britain, it is the European subspecies which is unusual!

“Killer Pond Weed” (19 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

Thus runs the headline in “The Leigh and Coombe Hill Newsletter”. It reports that the red water fern or fairy fern (Azolla filiculoides) has been reported from a garden at Coombe Hill. In fact, there have been several other records in the area, on the village ponds at Forthampton and The Leigh, as well as in many of the ditches in the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Coombe Hill. It spreads like a red carpet across the surface of the water and may choke other plants and animals, and is very easy to recognise (See the entry below for 5 April). The “New Flora of Gloucestershire”, part one of which is published as No. 13 in the GNS series “The Gloucestershire Naturalist” calls it ‘intrusive’ but gives relatively few records. Any more records of this or other plants would be welcomed by the GNS Botanical Recorders, Mark and Clare Kitchen.

Cheltenham (19 April, contributed by Robert Homan)

An Orange Tip was along the Honeybourne Cycle Path at lunchtime. (Another was at Coombe Hill in the afternoon.)

Cheltenham (17 April, contributed by Robert Homan)

A Holly Blue was in a garden in Swindon Lane in the morning sunshine.

Sudmeadow (16 April, contributed by Gordon Avery)

4 Swallows passed through and a female Wheatear was seen, also a male Blackcap (first for this year!) singing from the osier bed. In addition, a Kingfisher was along the river and a Little Owl was heard, an unusual bird for this area.

Sudmeadow (12 April, contributed by Gordon Avery)

There were 2 Common Sandpipers along the river at GLS today and a first winter Glaucous Gull flying downriver at The Rea at 1150h. Also on the southern slopes of GLS were a minimum of 30 Ravens feeding mainly on 2 sheep carcasses.

Hartpury (12 April, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

A Cuckoo seen and heard today.

Coombe Hill (8 April, contributed by Robert Homan)

The water level has fallen a lot in the last couple of days, but perhaps because of the strong northerly wind many of the birds are still present, while others have moved in to take advantage of the newly exposed pasture. Present this morning were: 19 Mute Swans, the Egyptian Goose, 21 Coot and small numbers of dabbling duck. Among the waders were 25 Black-tailed Godwits.

A cautionary tale (contributed by Mike Smart)

On 2 April, Les Brown and I saw an immature Grey Heron at Coombe Hill; on closer inspection, we found it had a yellow wing tag, which we read as an inverted black capital D on a yellow ground. Knowing that Rich Hearn of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is marking young herons at Gloucestershire heronries with wing tags, we forwarded the record to him, with a request for information on any previous sightings of the bird. Alas, the response came back that all wing tags have not one, but two letters; we had obviously not looked carefully enough. However, Rich sent the attached copy of a photo of a wingtagged heron as a guide, and a light went up: an inverted capital D looks remarkably like CI (with serifs), the right way up. So we are pretty confident that this was the bird we saw, even though it has not yet been obliging enough to show itself again at Coombe Hill among all the other star birds of the last week. CI was originally ringed at Frampton and has been recorded at a number of other Gloucestershire sites, including Dowdeswell.

Moral: look very carefully at herons for wing tags, take great care to read them correctly, then forward your observations to Rich Hearn at Slimbridge.

Cleeve Hill(7 April, contributed by Robert Homan)

This morning the Great Grey Shrike was still in the recently planted area known as Warden’s Wood. A male Redstart was singing from the Cotswold Way at the bottom of the Bill Smyllie Reserve.

Coombe Hill (6 and 7 April, contributed by Gordon Avery and Mike Smart)

1 Egyptian Goose, 3 male Garganey, 26 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Dunlin, 3 Ruff, 1 Ringed Plover and a full plumage Spotted Redshank were the highlights on the 6th. Clearly the early April purple patch continues but Gordon and Mike both note that the water level is now falling quickly and on Thursday only 1 Garganey could be found. On the 7th with the morning sun behind the hide, there were excellent views of the Godwits, and the birds in full plumage were clearly Icelandic birds, the rusty shade on the breast extending well down the breast to between the legs, and the barring on the flanks quite strong. It would of course be logical for these birds to be “Icelanders”, which have wintered in the UK, and are now returning to their breeding grounds in Iceland. There were at least 11 Shelducks, nine males and only two females, all displaying furiously and a Whitethroat was singing, rather timidly, along the canal bank.

Coombe Hill (5 April, contributed by Mike Smart and Robert Homan)

The flood waters are still extensive; so much so that this morning there was a flock of at least 30 Tufted Ducks and a single Great Crested Grebe. However, pride of place must go to 2 male Garganey, 4 Ruff (1m and 3f), 21 Black-tailed Godwits with eight birds in full breeding plumage, three Little Gulls (which only stayed ten minutes), and two Sand Martins. The new hide is just about accessible with determination and wellingtons; the water was draining towards the Severn today.

In addition there were about 15 Redshanks plus small numbers of Wigeon (21), Shoveler (1), Pintail (3), Teal (4) and Shelduck (7) and an Egyptian Goose. Not such a welcome sighting was small quantities of the invasive Water Fern (Azolla filiculoides) in the main drainage ditch. This plant has recently been in the news because of the problems it is causing at Forthampton.

Tewkesbury (4 April, contributed by Mike Smart)

A Swallow today over the Severn above the Mythe Bridge, flying northwards into Worcs..

Severn Vale (early April, contributed by Mike Smart)

A very early Redstart was seen by Les Brown at Ashleworth on 30 March.

Willow Warblers singing rather timidly at both Coombe Hill and Ashleworth on 2 April.

Male Blackcaps singing on 2 April at Haw Bridge and Meerend Thicket, Ashleworth. Also Brimstone butterflies

The Severn has been at its highest level since last October in the last few days (nearly ten metres on the stageboard at Haw Bridge on 2 April), mainly because of rainfall higher up in the catchment, because tides are not particularly high now. As a result, the small streams at Coombe Hill and Ashleworth have backed up and caused light local flooding. This is the first flood since since last October, and the new hide at Coombe Hill is not accesssible at present, though the waters will no doubt drop in the next few days. Most of the birds like it though: displaying Redshanks in full cry, and a Green Sandpiper and five Black-tailed Godwits at Coombe Hill on 2 April; interestingly the godwits were not adults in full plumage; at this time of year we might have expected birds of the Icelandic race to be going through, but these were first year birds. The ones that probably liked it less were the Lapwings which were preparing to breed and have probably lost their first clutches, though will no doubt lay again.

Cleeve Hill (1 April, contributed by Robert Homan)

3 Ring Ouzels seen this morning as follows: 2, including 1 definite male, flying east and gaining height over south side of Postlip Warren at 9.30. A male in one of the side valleys off Watery Bottom at 10.15. Also 2 Male Stonechats on east side of common and a Willow Warbler singing in same location as the male Ouzel.

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