Sightings – December 2006

Wildlife Bingo (30 December, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

I have been the guinea pig naturalist this week on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Breakfast show. At the start of the week a dozen wildlife features were picked (not by me) and it was the the task of myself and the rest of Mark Cummings’ listenership to try to find them to achieve the Bingo of all twelve ticked off.

The list was: owl, butterfly, starlings swooping à la Bill Oddy, otter, hedgehog, badger, wild boar, mistletoe, wild duck, bumble bee, spiders in the house and bird of prey.

I managed to tick owl (Little Owls are calling in the fields at home, though I failed to see one), butterfly (Red Admirals are still about), Starling (flock of 500 odd at Ashleworth Ham, and even 20 flying in formation to roost in the conifers in my Standish garden), Mistletoe (no problem in the Severn Vale where it occurs on a range of host trees including poplar, lime, willow, hawthorn and apple), wild duck (Wigeon at Ashleworth and Coombe Hill), bumble bee (Bombus terrestris in my garden), spiders in the house (I took David Haigh a couple of specimens which he identifed as the Daddy Long-legs spider Pholcus, plus a juvenile Tegeneria), and birds of prey (Peregrine and Buzzard at Ashleworth, and Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk at Standish).

Gloucestershire as a whole bombed on Otter and Wild Boar.

The most magical thing I saw was at dusk on Tuesday. It was a clear night, with the low crescent moon shining brightly enough to whiten the cut stems of the maize stubble. I was standing with my back to an oak, straining to hear Little Owl, when two Roe Deer picked their way past about 50 yards away upwind, totally oblivious of my presence. I know they are considered a growing pest, but it was a moment to treasure.

Coombe Hill (30 December, contributed by Les Brown)

Birds present included: 1500 Wigeon (numbers seem to have stayed the same between Ashleworth and Coombe hill during the floods period from late December, but to have spread widely; the two Whoopers grazing on the Leigh Meadows (as they should); up to 30 Bewick’s in the general area – maybe birds which were visiting floodwater at Walmore in December, but don’t like sodden grass; six Redpolls and a Little Egret.

Since Les reached the hide on 30th, the first person to get there since Andy Jayne used his waders on 6 December, water levels at Coombe Hill have risen considerably following the rain over the last 2 days – caution is advised!

Walmore (28 December, contributed by Mike Smart)

The floods have dropped over Christmas at Walmore Common, and there is only just a little plashy surface water on the fields.

No Bewick’s Swans at all this afternoon between 12.30 to 14.00), so perhaps they are avoiding fields which have been under water? Just ten Mute Swans.

On the other hand there was one of the best concentrations of ducks I have ever seen there, all crammed together in one part of the Common side, where the pool is: over 2,000 ducks, difficult to count without disturbing them, and some went off towards the estuary. At a minimum 1,600 Wigeon, 300 Teal, 120 Pintail, 120 Mallard, 60 Shoveler, 6 Gadwall, 3 Shelduck. 280+ Lapwings; I couldn’t see any other waders with them – where have all the Snipe gone?

Walmore (25 December, contributed by Andy Jayne)

Today at Walmore Common – 11 Bewick’s Swans (+ 12 more flew off north at 10.00), 37 Canada Goose, 9 Shelduck, 600 Wigeon, 11 Gadwall, 450 Teal, 135 Pintail, 30 Shoveler, 4 Water Rail (heard), 20 Golden Plover, 1000 Lapwing, three Dunlin, two Stonechats and a (presumed escape!) Speckled Teal.

Gloucester (25 December, contributed by Andy Jayne)

In the evening there was a Barn Owl at Over at 20.58.

Sudmeadow (24 December, contributed by Gordon Avery)

At Sudmeadow this morning there was a pair of Stonechats feeding around the marsh.

In addition, an unusual occurence I thought, was a Blackbird in full song in Hemmingsdale Road this morning at 07.15. It sang for a good 20 mintues.

Severn Hams (23 December, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

The Severn has dropped considerably in the last couple of days, though we may have overlooked it in the fog. Level at Haw Bridge this morning was only 8.10; as a result, water is now able to flow out of the meadows into the Severn, but is only dropping slowly. Both the Ham Road at Ashleworth and the road past the Red Lion at Wainlodes are now open. However, water levels are still high at Ashleworth and Walmore Common.

Ashleworth Ham: one Bewick’s visible on the floodwater in the distance from the hide; Whoopers may have been there, but could not be seen; 11 Coot.

Walmore: only seven Bewick’s; five on field G, two on field E, all in deepish water, no rings visible, loafing not feeding; still lots of ducks probably 1,000 on floodwater, mostly Wigeon, fair numbers of Pintail, 11 Shelduck; 26 Canada Geese, 2 Stonechats, 95 Lapwings.

Rodley: 2 Little Egrets, 45 Shelduck grazing happily in wet fields (they are obviously moving inland from the estuary onto floodwater, something the have only done to a small extent in recent winters because of the lack of flooding), 40 Lapwings.

Severn Hams (20 December, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

With anticyclonic conditions, there has been no more rain locally and the Severn level continues to drop slowly, though flooding in the meadows is higher than ever as the water still cannot discharge into the Severn. The hides at Coombe Hill are still completely inaccessible (the water has reached the level of the floorboards in the Grundon Hide), and both the road past the Red Lion at Wainlodes and the Ham Road at Ashleworth are closed because of flooding. In these conditions, birds are widely spread, and it is hard to get a good idea of what is present.

Ashleworth Ham: a Barn owl flying over the Ham Road at first light.

Coombe Hill (from the Apperley side); 2 Bewick’s Swans, one on the floodwater, one flew over and disappeared to the north.

Walmore Common: 12 Bewick’s Swans; looked like 10 adults and two yearlings. Very inactive, sitting in shallow water so that it was difficult to read rings; but finally two rings definitely read (white TXU and 15T, plus a third yellow ring which was almost certainly 670); all of them flew off in the Slimbridge direction at about 11.00. 3 Shelducks, plenty of other ducks mainly Wigeon, with good numbers of Teal and some Pintail.

Rodley (near Walmore): 6 Little Egrets, 28 Shelducks, 25 Lapwings, 1 Green Sandpiper, all sitting in a partly flooded field.

Sudmeadow (18 December, contributed by Gordon Avery)

This afternoon 2 adult Bewick’s Swans were over Sudmeadow 13.40 then flew towards Maisemore. There is also a Stonechat on Port Ham, by the Power Station.

Severn Hams (16 December, contributed by Mike Smart, Les Brown and David Anderson)

The Severn is beginning to drop slightly in the Severn Hams, and is no longer overtopping its banks below Haw Bridge. But it has not dropped sufficiently to allow local streams such as the Chelt to discharge into the Severn, so that flood levels on the meadows are still rising. Paradoxically, the Severn is flowing through its floodplain at a higher level than the level of the floods on the meadows; while the Severn level drops, the meadow level continues to rise.

WeBS (Waterbird Survey) counts at Ashleworth Ham, Coombe hill and Leigh Meadows.

The whole area is under a sheet of water, and the birds are very widespread and difficult to count. The hides at Coombe Hill are more inaccessible than ever, and the birds are best seen from the Apperley side; the Ashleworth hides are still accessible, though there is water on the Ham Road between Tirley and Ashleworth, passable with care.

Ashleworth Ham: Two Whoopers and 12 Bewick’s early morning, all had clearly roosted. The Bewick’s left for Coombe hill floods early morning but returned to Ashleworth in mid–morning; minimum of 800 ducks (400 Wigeon, 200 Teal, 50 Pintail), 6 Snipe, 60 Lapwing, hundreds of Fieldfares, rather less Redwings.

Coombe Hill: Minimum of 1,000 ducks (700 Wigeon, 125 Teal, 130 Pintail, 5 Tufted Ducks).

Leigh Meadows: totally inundated: 25 Mute Swans, small numbers of ducks.

Clearly some Bewick’s are roosting on the floodwater at Ashleworth and Walmore, and not bothering to return to Slimbridge.

Walmore (14 December, contributed by Andy Jayne)

At Walmore Common this afternoon sightings included 33 Bewick’s Swan (3 cygnets), two Shelduck, 650 Wigeon, four Gadwall, 255 Pintail, two Water Rails, a Stonechat and 44 Ravens flying in to roost. The Bewick’s remained to roost on the floodwater.

Severn Hams (11 December, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

Floods are still rising and even more extensive than before, probably the biggest since November 2000. The Severn is higher than ever, and just beginning to overtop the river bank near Haw Bridge. Coombe Hill is already deep under water because of the River Chelt backing up, and in many places, the canal bank is under water; not only are the hides still inaccessible, but you can’t get very far along the canal bank, just to the gate into the meadows; you can see rather more by going from the Apperley side, but the sun is in your eyes from there. The road past the Red Lion at Wainlodes is closed; the Ham Road at Ashleworth is still open, but the water stretches uninterrupted from the Ham road to the river bank. Walmore Common is also deep under water.

Coombe Hill: Still at least a thousand ducks, probably more but they are very widespread; mainly Wigeon but good numbers of Pintail, at least 300 between Ashleworth and Coombe hill, the highest total for several winters on the first big flood for some time. 6 Bewick’s Swans, 10 Cormorants flew over; many hundred Fieldfares.

Ashleworth: of the order of 500 ducks, again mainly Wigeon with good numbers of Teal and Pintail.

Winter Heliotrope (11 December, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

The Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) is in bloom already. Quoting from the GNS website for January 2006:

“The first wild flower of the year, Winter Heliotrope, is now coming into bloom on wasteland and road verges round the county … The flowers often emerge before the leaves, usually in time for Christmas, but this year it is at least a week late.”

I have not kept good records of first flowering of this plant, just knowing I can usually find some before Christmas, but there is already plenty of it, so it must be particularly early.

Botanical News (9 December, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

Unseasonally, there is a meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris) in full flower at Arle Court roundabout, Cheltenham. It is only one plant, but standing proud above the grass of the central reservation, it looks as it should in May, not December.

It seems to me a fantastic year for late autumn berries, with the hedges still loaded with sloes and bryony, and yew and holly in the woodlands. There is a heavy crop of ivy berries too, which are starting to ripen blue-black.

Black Bryony (Tamus communis), Howler’s Heath, 3 December 2006. (R. Homan)

Severn Hams (9 December, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

The Severn is higher than ever, but not breaking its banks anywhere, probably because the tide cycle is now on the wane. However this means that smaller local streams cannot discharge into the Severn, so are backing up on local marshes. Water levels very high at Coombe Hill (hides still completely inaccessible), Ashleworth Ham and Walmore Common.

There appear to be just under 2,000 ducks in the Ashleworth /Coombe Hill area, but birds are very dispersed with the extensive floodwater and difficult to count; certainly numbers of Pintail are higher than they have been for several years (but they usually appear in good numbers when the meadows are flooded).

Coombe Hill: 6 Bewick’s Swans (all adults or yearlings; three appeared to have roosted on the floodwater, the other three may have flown in early to judge by the very active greeting ceremonies, with wing flapping, neck extensions, trumpeting); 800 Wigeon, 220 Pintail, 200 Teal, 30 Shoveler, 19 Tufted, 3 Pochard. The Wigeon and Pintail very active with lots of courtship flights. No sign of Whoopers (or Leach’s Petrel!).

Ashleworth: about 400 Ducks, mainly Wigeon, only a few Pintail, no sign of Whoopers, 5 Snipe, 30+ Meadow Pipits.

Coombe Hill (6 December, contributed by Andy Jayne)

Seen from the hide at Coombe Hill Meadows this afternoon – 480 Canada Geese, two Barnacle Geese, 1100 Wigeon, four Gadwall, 410 Teal, 230 Pintail, 30 Shoveler, five Tufted Duck, two Little Grebes and also four Blackcaps along the canal.
Please note that the hide in only accessible with waders at the moment.

Severn Hams (4 December, contributed by Mike Smart and Andy Jayne)

Following heavy rain over the weekend, the Severn has risen again, so that water cannot flow off the meadows, and flooding is slightly higher than on Saturday. Ducks in particular are very widely spread, and less concentrated than last week.

Ashleworth Ham: Duck numbers lower – only about 150 Wigeon; 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, 50+ Lapwing going downriver; at 10.45am, two Whoopers flew over, calling and went on southwards in the direction of Slimbridge.

Wainlodes, 11.00-11.45 am: No sign of the Whoopers in their usual place.

Walmore Common, 12.15-13.30 pm: No sign of Whoopers on extensive flooding. Still 230 Wigeon, 6 Gadwall, 500 Teal, 180 Mallard, 120 Pintail & 20 Shoveler. Also 2 Water Rail and a Yellow-legged Gull. In addition, there were 27 Bewick’s, all adults except for about 3 yearlings, no cygnets. All on far side, grazing, checked for rings and seven were read.

Severn Hams (2 December November, contributed by Mike Smart, Les Brown and Mervyn Greening)

The level of the Severn has begun to drop now; flooding is still extensive on the meadows at Coombe Hill (hides still inaccessible), Ashleworth and Hasfield, and along the Chelt, but is just beginning to flow back to the river. With the extensive floodwater, swans, ducks and geese are rather more scattered and the spectacle provides less of an impact than a week ago, but are still there in numbers.

Coombe Hill: 4 Little Grebe; 360 Canada Geese; 2 Barnacle Geese; 63 Greylags; nearly 400 surface feeding ducks, mainly Wigeon, but still at least 50 Pintail; 50+ Lapwings; a Tawny Owl calling at first light; big flocks of Fieldfares (over 200) in the tops of the willows.

Leigh Meadows: the 2 Whooper Swans still in the same place.

Wainlodes: a Kingfisher where the Chelt meets the Severn.

Ashleworth/Hasfield: 1 adult Bewick’s Swan on the floodwater; at least 300 surface-feeding ducks, again mainly Wigeon, but at least 30 Shoveler and a few Pintail; 160+ Lapwings, some moving downstream; two Stonechats; many hundred Fieldfares.

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