Sightings – August 2007

Severn Hams (30 August, contributed by Mike Smart and Juliet Bailey)

We walked from the Wharfe end of the Coombe Hill canal to the Wainlodes end, taking in the surrounding fields then went over to look at parts of Ashleworth and Hasfield Hams. The fields are beginning to green up again after the floods, particularly those where hay had been taken before the floods came. In most places the grass is still lying where it fell, forming a muddy dead crust about 3 inches off the ground though farmers are starting work on some of the fields, cutting or topping the fallen hay and breaking up the crust. The crust itself is dry, but underneath is still very damp. Certain plants seem to be doing absolutely fine. Creeping cinquefoil is sending its spidery rooting stems across the crust. Great burnet is vigorously pushing new leaf through (see photo). A few docks are already sending up leaf from the old stock, and there are masses of dock seedlings (will this be a problem next year?). New grass is now hazing across the brown; sometimes it is the old grass reshooting, elsewhere it is seedlings. The Carex beds are greening up nicely, though the known clumps of Carex vulpina that could be found are showing no signs of life as yet. Some hedgerow shrubs still look very brown and may have died, but others are pushing out fresh growth. On the whole, trees seem to have come through the floods unscathed, though there are fallen dead trees from windthrow earlier in the year. It is too early to say what the botanical outcome of the flooding will be. There will probably be changes, but it may not be an out-and-out disaster. We will have to wait till next year to see.

Great Burnet re-growth, August 2007, Juliet Bailey

Sudmeadow (30 August, contributed by Gordon Avery)

3 Green Sandpipers in the marsh this morning. 1 Yellow Wagtail over and 140 Mallard disturbed off the river by the tide. That is the first Yellow Wagtail that I have had on my patch since May 2002!

Ashleworth and Coombe Hill (28 August, contributed by Mike Smart, David Anderson, Les Brown and John Wiltshire)

At Ashleworth this morning, two Hobbies sitting on one of the pylons or in nearby trees; very vocal with constant calling and appeared to be recently fledged young birds waiting to be fed. One Peregrine, 15 Snipe, 90 Teal. Very few passerines, although we finally found two Reed Buntings after much searching, one burst of Willow Warbler song, a few Chiffchaffs calling, very little else other than Robins.

At Coombe Hill, a Spotted Crake showed itself in thick vegetation right in front of the Grundon Hide; shows it’s worth just sitting and waiting to see what turns up!

Walmore Common (27 August, contributed by Mike Smart)

The area has dried out a bit now, but it is still very soft and spongy underfoot with lots of midges. It has dried out enough for some hay (of poor quality and only usable for bedding) to be cut on western half.

Snipe have decreased but still about 70; 3 Lapwings; 60 Teal, 5 flava Wagtails; a Whinchat on a fence post; lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking for low flying insects.

Coombe Hill (25 August, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

It is still pretty brown and desolate with no hay cut, but some grass beginning to grow through the mat of dead hay. Some waders on scrapes, all no doubt passing migrants: 25 Snipe, 2 Ruff, one Greenshank, two Green Sandpipers, one Common Sandpiper. About 40 Teal, 7 Shoveler, a Pochard, 12 Tufted Duck. There were bursts of song from Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. There is a total absence at Coombe Hill and Ashleworth, of Reed Buntings; it looks as though the flooding has caused them to leave early.

Walmore Common (24 August, contributed by Mike Smart)

Walmore too has been affected by the floods, and Andy Jayne has been recording unusual numbers of several species, that have been taking advantage of the conditions.

The Common side is unusually wet for the time of year: the flashes are all full of water, very soggy and uncrossable, and there are no grazing animals. The numbers of midges are of tundra proportions! There is a muddy mat of vegetation, as at Coombe Hill, but it is not as severe, and the clumps of rushes and sedges seem to have come quite well through the flooding and are standing proud. From the bird point of view, there are some ducks (150 Mallard and 25 Teal), but the absolutely extraordinary thing is the number of Snipe: on 19 August, Andy recorded 165, already unprecedented, with 80+ on 22 August, but this evening there were at least 270, flying up on all sides, then circling in little flocks like Dunlin at high tide. I don’t ever remember seeing such concentrations, anywhere. They must be migrants returning from central and northern European breeding grounds (to Ireland?), which would normally have gone straight over the top of us, but have come to earth this year because of the wet conditions after the Severn flooding.

Coombe Hill (23 August, contributed by Robert Homan)

A quieter day than the 21st (see below) with 14 Teal and 2 Tufted Ducks visible from the Grundon Hide and 2 Willow Warblers and a Chiffchaff singing by the canal. The pictures below give an indication of the damage done by the floods. The first shows the hedges along the path from the car park at the Wharf End; the second shows Mute Swans on the canal, but notice the colour of the water; even worse pollution is shown in the third picture taken of the southern end of the ditch at the entrance to the Meadows section of the reserve; fourthly, sections of the hedges and large areas of the fields are covered with this material which has hardened to a crusty brittle layer. Finally, the view across the reserve towards Lower Apperley.

Sudmeadow (23 August, contributed by Gordon Avery)

3 Lesser Whitethroats and 2 Whitethroats were ringed plus 13 Long-tailed Tits. The highlights of the ringing session were 3 new young male Linnets. 3 Willow Warblers were also trapped. A Green Sandpiper was seen over Sudmeadow and a Painted Lady butterfly was about too. 13 Shelduck were seen in a loose flock heading north during the morning.

Walmore Common (22 August, contributed by Andy Jayne)

Seen today were 30 Teal, 150 Mallard, an adult male Goshawk, a Little Ringed Plover, 26 Lapwing, still 80+ Snipe, two Curlew and eight Yellow Wagtails. Also two Brown Hawker dragonflies.

Sudmeadow (22 August, contributed by Gordon Avery)

A Kingfisher flew upriver over Llantony Weir and a Green Sandpiper was seen at Lower Parting.

Coombe Hill (21 August, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

My (MS) first visit to the area since the second and larger July flood subsided. The Grundon Hide at Coombe Hill is now accessible (with wellingtons), but the whole area is a pretty horrible sight: most of the hedges are dead to a height of five or six feet, the meadows are covered by a brown muddy carpet of dead grass, with the odd dead dock remaining vertical. There is still a fair amount of standing water on the fields, but much of the water in the ditches and water courses is anaerobic and black, and there is a strong smell of decay everywhere.

Birdwise, about 60 Teal, dibbling for seeds round the edge of the scrapes, and three Shoveler. One Ruff, a Greenshank and two Green Sandpipers, all no doubt passing migrants. Lots of Swallows and House Martins flying low in the cold north wind, and being chased by a Hobby. A flock of 15 Pied Wagtails and two Yellow Wagtails, with one Redstart giving alarm calls from the hedges, Lots of Willow/Chiffs in the tops of the hedges, and bursts of song from both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Not a single Reed Bunting all morning; where have they all gone?

Walmore Common (19 August, contributed by Andy Jayne)

I thought my count of 60+ Snipe at Walmore Common on 11th was pretty good, but today I returned to find an incredible total of 165. Also six Swifts, five Sand Martins and about 100 each of Swallows and House Martins, plus eight Yellow Wagtails finding the damp conditions to their liking.

Sudmeadow (16 August, contributed by Gordon Avery)

7 Green Sandpipers feeding in the marsh this morning.

Walmore Common (11 August, contributed by Andy Jayne)

In the morning there was one Little Grebe, a Hobby, 60+ Snipe, a Kingfisher and a moulting adult Whinchat. Obviously the Snipe count is exceptional for the time of year. There could well have been quite a few more, maybe up to 80, but the boggy areas were not completely searched.

Ashleworth Hams (8 August, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

I went out to Ashleworth today, where an extraoridinary scene presents itself where the floods have lain The bottom 8 or 9ft of the hedges is coated in brown with a tuft of green at the top. I crunched through fields where a crop of hay should have been taken, like walking on thin ice. There is a layer of grass set solid at about 3 inches above the soil, with nothing underneath.” The pictures, taken by Juliet, give an indication of the extent of the damage: The pictures, taken by Juliet, give an indication of the extent of the damage:

Grass encrusted with silt deposited by the flood water.

Footprints through the grass crust.

The view from the hide with the “tide mark” along the hedge in the background.

Away from the floods (8 August, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

In contrast to the gloomy news about the flooded areas of the county near the River Severn, the return of higher tremperatures has brought a summery look to many areas. The Crown Vetch on the Fosse Way south of Stow is extraordinary, lining the road with confectioners’ pink and my newly re-excavated pond in Standish is producing all sorts of dragonflies – including this ovipositing Broad-bodied Chaser female.

Broad-bodied Chaser, Standish, August 2007, Juliet Bailey

Coombe Hill (6 August, contributed by Andy Jayne)

I visited Coombe Hill Meadows late this afternoon, walking from the Wainlode end. It was not a particularly pleasant experience. As Mike Smart has already observed, the state of the water is quite disgusting, hopefully just a result of the rotting vegetation rather than anything else. The water is black,oily and foul-smelling. The whole area looks as if it has been immersed in acid rather than water!

A lot of the vegetation looks quite dead up to height of 6 or 8 feet in places and there is little sign of it starting to recover yet. Along the towpath I found three fish (Rudd?), an eel and a Mallard all dead. The Grundon hide is easily accessible with waders and it may be possible to get there with wellies in a few more days. The hide was obviously completely submerged at the height of the floods and the log-book is lying ruined on the floor. There were also around 20 leeches crawling around the floor. Yuck! There is no obvious damage to the hide or the boardwalk however.

Despite all this I was quite surprised to find quite a number of birds tolerating the conditions. A few Mute Swans present and about 120 Canada Geese towards the west end were all noticeably brown stained. From the hide I noted two Gadwall, three Teal, 20+ Shoveler, a pair of Garganey (presumably the pair present during the spring), five Pochard, 10+ Tufted Duck and three Great Crested Grebes. Two Little Grebes and two Water Rails were heard calling and there was also a Little Egret and at least eight Grey Herons. An adult Peregrine flew over and a male Sparrowhawk was bringing prey to two juveniles that were hanging about near the hide. Apart from 34 Lapwing there was no sign of any waders. There were very few small birds about and not a single Swallow or martin over the floodwater.

So, still quite a bit of interest here, but certainly not a nice place to visit just now. It will be interesting to see how long it is before the area recovers. I suspect it will be several months at least.

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