Sightings – February 2008

Severn Hams (28 February, contributed by Mike Smart)

At Ashleworth on a morning with light frost and mist: the three Whoopers were still there with about 20 Mutes, all feeding near the Ham Road, on the best grass that escaped submersion in the recent floods and despite the bird scarers put out to deter them. The Wigeon were again behaving in text book fashion, coming out of the water to feed on the grass at the edge and coming almost up to the hedge, totally impervious to passing cars, though they didn’t like the vans and lorries. About 30 Snipe, one Curlew, about 28 Lapwings doing a bit of initial display flight; a pair of Stonechats, the first for some time.

Near Wainlodes, four Curlews all doing their bubbling display song, two Redshanks and two Green Sandpipers; also two Mute Swans prospecting for nesting sites.

Coombe Hill (27 February, contributed by Mike Smart)

The flooding has all gone, although there is still plenty of water in the scrapes and the Long Pool and a little surface water on some fields. There was a distinct feel of spring in the air.

250 Teal, 15 Shoveler, 6 Pintail, 3 Gadwall, but, most unusually, no Wigeon – they must all have be at Ashleworth. 40 Lapwings, flocking like passing migrants, but one male just coming into breeding plumage and giving a short display flight; 2 Dunlin on a wet spot with the Lapwings; 6 Snipe; 1 Curlew starting up on its bubbling song-flight; at least four male Reed Buntings just beginning their rudimentary song.

Severn Hams (24 February, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

The series of cold, frosty fine days with easterly winds ended in the middle of the week. During this period numbers of Shoveler at Ashleworth were unusually high (220 on the ice on 19 February) and Pintail were also present in good, if not exceptional numbers (350, also on the ice, on 19 February).

From about 21 February, the usual westerly depressions returned and duck numbers seem to decrease. On 23 February, there were very few ducks at Coombe Hill and only about 800 at Ashleworth. The Whooper Swans had roosted on the water on the Ashleworth reserve and flew out at about 7.30am with nearly 30 Mute Swans to graze; they have now moved to a third grass field in the area, immediately west of the reserve, but only visible if you climb the hill and look over the crest. About 20 Snipe at Ashleworth on damp fields, and 19 Curlew (no doubt migrants as they moved off to the north) at Coombe Hill.

At Walmore, no sign of Bewick’s Swans mid morning, just ten Mutes and two Shelducks. At Rodley, 38 Shelducks on an agriculturally improved grass field, plus the usual hybrid Paradise/ Common Shelduck.

Cheltenham (23 February, contributed by Robert Homan)

A Peregrine Falcon hunting over Cheltenham town centre at 8.30 this morning.

Severn Hams (16 February, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

The Severn has dropped considerably since last week, and most of the flood water has gone from the meadows, though there is a little surface water left.

At Ashleworth, the three Whoopers were again roosting and left at 7.25am to feed on a grass field near Tirley with 18 Mutes Swans, having been scared by the farmer from the field where they were previously feeding. Numbers of ducks have decreased to only about 700, but include an unusually high number of Shoveler (over 200), probably because the waters were partly iced over; at least 30 Snipe and a few Reed Buntings, some singing.

At Coombe Hill, the hides are now accessible: a total of only about 100 ducks at Coombe Hill, including 16 Shelducks. About 300 Lapwings, one Golden Plover and 20 Curlews, no doubt early migrants.

At Walmore, 16 Bewick’s Swans at 11.00am, all adults but none ringed. Also nine Shelducks and 34 Lapwings and good numbers of Teal (about 250) remaining on the ditches.

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

Waters on the meadows are up a little bit again today, enough to make the Grundon Hide at Coombe Hill inaccessible again and to make the Ashleworth footpath at Dirty Lane impassable in wellingtons. As a result, water birds were very scattered round the edges of the water and difficult to count and observe. A gorgeous day nevertheless, with a light frost and early morning mist with the sun rising in a bright blue sky. Visibility was perfect with long vistas of the willows in winter.

The Bewick’s Swans and Egyptian Geese seem to have abandoned the maize field near Tirley, but the three Whoopers are still roosting at Ashleworth; they were there on the edge at first light, then spent 45 minutes steaming up and down the water, line ahead at some speed, whooping gently to one another before finally taking off and flying east towards Coombe Hill and the Leigh Meadows. However, they didn’t join the 18 Mute Swans which have taken up residence on a very bright greenfield of grass overlooking the reserve.

Duck numbers were slightly lower than last week; in particular the Pintail seem to have decreased, with only 110 at Ashleworth and 30 at Coombe Hill; they haven’t gone to Longdon Marsh where the floods have disappeared. Still about 2,000 ducks between the sites however. The first Redshank has joined the first Curlew at Coombe Hill. And spring must be coming because the Reed Buntings are much more in evidence, some actually singing (if you can call their minimalist performance of three notes a song).

Thrupp (8 February, per Roger Gaunt)

In a moth trapping session organised by Peter Hugo five species were recorded including a Dotted Chestnut. There is an illustration of this localised, but possibly increasing species on the UK Moths web site here.

Severn Hams (6 February, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

The Severn was dropping and water was running off the meadows yesterday, but it has risen again quite sharply today following heavy rain yesterday (and possibly influenced by high tides and the new moon), so water levels on the Hams have gone back up a little. Current conditions have provided the highest duck totals so far this winter and there must be some 3,500 ducks between Ashleworth and Coombe Hill, with good numbers of Pintail on the falling flood, as sometimes happens in February/March.

Ashleworth yesterday: 3 Whoopers at first light had clearly roosted; 17 Bewick’s came in early on, appearing to have roosted at Coombe Hill; also one apparently injured bird which had probably hit a power line, but had not broken its wing. Two Egyptian Geese on the usual maize field near Tirley. Over 1500 duck , including about 750 Wigeon, 400 Teal, 300 Pintail, mostly on the Hasfield side; 6 Snipe, 1 Jack Snipe, 130 Lapwings.

Wainlode yesterday: several hundred Rooks and Carrion Crows on newly open fields, presumably searching for invertebrates: at least 500 Fieldfares on one field, doing he same thing.

Coombe Hill this morning: The Grundon Hide is now just accessible with caution and wellingtons. 3 Black Swans and some Bewick’s Swans definitely roosting, flew off towards Ashleworth at first light. Over 1500 ducks including 1,250 Wigeon and 400 Teal, but not many Pintail; 730 Lapwings and the first Curlew of the spring. All the Lapwings must be early migrants on their way further north to breed, there have been very few all winter.

Ashleworth Ham this morning: on the maize field at 11.00: three Whoopers, 24 Bewick’s (an increase, apparently including yesterday’s injured bird) including two ringed birds. Both have been seen here in the last few days; the other 22 not ringed and no cygnets among them. The ducks were as yesterday, over 1,500 including at least 250 Pintail. At least one Egyptian Goose on the reserve.

Severn Hams (3 February (World Wetlands Day), contributed by Mike Smart)

The Severn level has dropped considerably. The Ham Road at Ashleworth/Hasfield and the Red Lion Road are now both open to traffic. However, the water is dropping more slowly on the meadows. At Coombe Hill, the towpath is now accessible with wellingtons, but the Grundon Hide is not going to be accessible for a couple of days yet. The water is still high on the reserve at Ashleworth and Dirty Lane is not passable.

The number of ducks at Ashleworth and Coombe Hill combined is probably the highest so far this winter: at Coombe Hill 750+ Wigeon, 200+ Teal, 110 Pintail, 60 Mallard, 25 Gadwall, 35 Shoveler, 12 Tufted and 7 Shelduck; there were two Egyptian Geese at first light, presumably the same ones seen later in the day at Great House Farm. At Ashleworth, several hundred more Wigeon and Teal and fair numbers of Pintail and Shoveler. It will be worth looking out for concentrations of Pintail as the floods drop in the next few days.

As already reported on the Gloster Birder website, a group of swans is feeding very close to the Ham Road. Interestingly, they are feeding on a very different type of field from those chosen earlier in the winter: not on high quality grass, but on a very wet nasty looking field; maize was grown there a couple of years ago, but it is not maize stubble as some grass is showing through. They are feeding by digging quite deeply into the muddy mess: I suspect it is maize which has been left as a game lure, but will find out more. As already reported, there were two Egyptian Geese, three Whoopers, two Mutes and twelve Bewick’s early on, but more Bewick’s arrived until there were at least sixteen, but no juveniles were seen.

Sudmeadow (1 February, contributed by Gordon Avery)

A Green Sandpiper and a pair of Stonechats by the plantation pond early this afternoon.

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