Sightings – January 2010

Severn Hams and Guscar (22 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart)

Walmore at first light: as expected, the 15 adult/yearling Bewick’s; they appeared to be made up of a group of four (probably Widemouth and family) and another of 11, including a very grey yearling. They were there at 7.15am, and the same number was still present at 12.00, when I passed again: no new arrivals, probably because of the drizzle and misty weather which inhibited movement from Slimbridge.

At Guscar Rocks in the gloom, 1 Shelduck, 200 Wigeon, 30 Teal, 300 Dunlin, 50 Lapwings, 15 Redshank, 60 Curlews and 5 Snipe.

Ashleworth and Coombe Hill are both inaccessible. The Severn, though dropping is still high and the access roads are flooded.

Walmore (21 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart)

Floodwater was a little higher today. During the afternoon there were 27 Bewick’s Swans present at 2.00pm, 25 adults and two yearlings; most were on the water and some way off, so it was difficult to read rings. Most were not ringed but there appeared to be one yellow ring and two white rings, keeping fairly close together; they might well have been the family group of Wylfa, Widemouth and Winny. After much head-bobbing and nervous calling, three flew off at 3.35pm and headed towards Slimbridge; then at 3.40 another nine flew off in the same direction. At 4.00 the remaining 15 also took off, but only went as far as the next field where they landed. Then, surprisingly five new birds (three adults and two cygnets) flew in at 4.20; could these have been the family that have been at Coombe Hill since the beginning of the year; they did not stay long however and left (presumably for Slimbridge) at 5.07 when it was nearly dark. The remaining 15 appeared to be staying to roost at Walmore. Otherwise there were 220 Wigeon, 2 Shelduck, 20 Mallard, 2 Gadwall, 5 Shoveler, at least 75 Teal. 15 Canada Geese already there with 33 more flying in from the south at 3.45.

Walmore (20 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart)

The water level is a good deal higher. At dusk there were no Bewick’s present, but at least 1310 Wigeon on the water

Coombe Hill and Walmore (19 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

The Severn has risen even more sharply and the Coombe hill car park is under water again.

At Walmore, where flooding was also more extensive, at first light several hundred Wigeon had roosted and flew back towards the estuary in the fog. Still at least 200 Wigeon, 400 Teal and 5 Shoveler left on the water. No Bewick’s roosting

Severn Hams (17 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart)

The Severn is continuing to rise and so local streams cannot discharge and are therefore backing up at Coombe Hill and Ashleworth. The Severn is indeed close to breaking its banks below Haw Bridge, which will cause further flooding at Coombe Hill. The Chelt is already breaking its banks and flooding the Leigh Meadows and Coombe Hill.

WeBS counts and once-in-five year Whooper and Bewick survey took place today.

At Coombe Hill which is still pretty iced up: only three Whoopers (no sign of the other five); 6 Bewick’s (a pair and another pair with two cygnets), 369 Canada Geese, 29 Greylags, 1360 Wigeon, 17 Gadwall, 840 Teal, 180 Mallard, 32 Pintail, 21 Shoveler, 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Red-crested Pochard.

Cobney/Leigh Meadows (open fresh water): 450 Wigeon, 20 Gadwall, 120 Teal, 70 Mallard, 40 Pintail and an impressive male Goldeneye that flew off towards the Severn.

Ashleworth, pretty icy: 1 Shelduck, 530 Mallard, 295 Teal, 95 Mallard, 55 Pintail, 12 Shoveler, 2 Pochard, 1 Great Crested Grebe.

Severn Hams (16 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

The Severn has risen sharply (by two metres at Haw Bridge) since Tuesday, no doubt as a result of the thaw. This has slowed run-off from the meadows and will probably cause light flooding in the next few days.

At Coombe Hill, the snow has gone from the fields, but any surface water is still largely frozen, so there are still extensive ice sheets, making access to the hides difficult. But the birds love it! At first light this morning there were 5 Bewick’s Swans (two adults and three cygnets, all unringed, presumably the family seen in the last few days of 2009) and EIGHT Whoopers, all adults (the highest count for several years), all unringed, presumably the three seen since mid –December plus the five found at Lydney Grounds last week by Andy Jayne. Five in fact flew off towards Tewkesbury and Worcs at about 10.15am. In addition at least 660 Teal and 1200 Wigeon on the ice, very noisy and active, plus 1 Shelduck, 8 Gadwall, only 10 Shoveler and 5 Pintail.

At Ashleworth, about 300 ducks including 45 Shoveler and a Merlin.

At Walmore, no flooding yet, 13 Bewick’s Swans, including the three ringed birds TUV, BCH and 607 that are regulars.

Cirencester (13 January 2010, contributed by David Scott-Langley)

I was cutting and splitting some logs today, in between the snow showers, when I spotted these (see David’s pictures below) tunnels in the rotten centres. These plum logs have been in my garden for three years and had begun to deteriorate and last summer they must have reached the right condition for a Leafcutter Bee to excavate tunnels. I had noticed the “cut-outs” in various plants in the garden such as Roses and Enchanter’s Nightshade but not seen where they were being transported to. As you can see in the picture, the leaf fragments have been rolled up and pulled into the tunnel where they were then filled with pollen. The Bee then laid an egg in each cell, sealing it up before constructing the next. These cells are now filled with hibernating bee larvae, ready to pupate in the spring and hatch later this year.

Top picture – leafcutter bee cells in plum logs. Bottom picture – leafcutter bee damage.

Lydney New Grounds to Guscar Rocks (12 January 2010, contributed by Andy Jayne)

Minimum counts included five adult Whooper Swans (see Andy’spicture below), 900 Wigeon, 130 Teal, a Little Egret, three Sparrowhawks, six Buzzards, two Kestrels, a Merlin, two Peregrines, eight Snipe, 50 Skylarks, 15 Ravens, ten Bramblings, ten Siskins, 250 Linnets and 15 Reed Buntings. In addition, a drake Goosander flew upriver at Guscar Rocks.

Severn Hams (12 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart)

Coombe Hill is still covered by ice and snow and there is open water only in one or two ditches. There has been a big decrease in birds since last Saturday: still 15 Mute Swans on one open ditch, no Whoopers (thought they might have flown out before I arrived); 10 Teal, 10 Gadwall, 40 Mallard, 5 Shoveler, 2 Snipe.

At Ashleworth: 40 Teal, 160 Mallard, 10 Shoveler; flock of 10 Reed Buntings and 200 Linnets, the biggest flock of this species for a very long time, on stubble grazed by sheep.

Sudmeadow (11 January 2010, contributed by Gordon Avery)

The only significant find today was a Woodcock in the area of of osier.

Woodmancote (10 January 2010, contributed by Peter Fitchett)

A Fieldfare (see Peter’s picture below) has been visiting our garden in Woodmancote for several days now during this cold period, eating the fruit on our crab apple tree. We have also had a flock of 14 goldfinches on a tall conifer.

Severn Hams (9 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart)

The Severn has now dropped to quite a low level, allowing water to drain off Coombe Hill meadows via the Parish Drain. This still leaves sheets of ice over the meadows, but it is impossible to tell what is underneath them, so the hides are still not accessible.

All the meadows were frozen over at 9.00 this morning and there were no areas of open water in the ice. Just the Parish Drain had flowing water in it. One side ditch held 15 Mute and 3 Whoopers which had obviously roosted there. The three adult Whoopers took off at 9.35am and flew northwards towards Tewkesbury; no idea where they went to graze. Is there any grass which is not snowbound in the Tewkesbury area? Or maybe they have returned to Worcestershire? On this same ditch there were perhaps 20 ducks, mainly Mallard but with a couple of Teal, Wigeon and Gadwall.

However, a flock of about 1000 ducks, almost exclusively Teal, with half a dozen Shoveler and a few Gadwall, rose from the Long Pool and flew round continuously. Between 10.00 and 11.00am several skeins of Wigeon, at least 500 individuals, came over from the south, flying very high and going straight over; could they have been Wigeon which were on the floodwater last week, had gone to the estuary and were now flying up to take a look round? Also two or three Snipe on the ditches. About 45 Greylags flew in from the south and landed on the ice, where there had been holes last year.

At Ashleworth, one small pool in the ice held the two resident broken-winged Canada Geese and 80 Mallard.

Walmore at 1.30pm looked entirely ice- and snow-bound from the road; no sign of any birds at all, certainly no Bewick’s.

Ashleworth (8 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart)

Ashleworth is completely frozen over with no ducks, swans or geese on the ice at 1.30pm today.

Along the Severn bank from Haw Bridge to Chaceley Stock: remarkably few passerines in the hedges and not much on the river either, just a couple of pairs of Mute Swans, 7 Canada Geese, maybe 150 Mallard, a lone female Wigeon looking poorly, a Grey Heron and a couple of Cormorants flying over. The highlights were a Coot and three Tufted Duck. I guess that all the surface feeding ducks have returned to the estuary.

Sudmeadow (8 January 2010, contributed by Gordon Avery)

Today there was a Water Rail in Sudmeadow Marsh and up to 70 Teal on the river bank just below the Parting, but little else.

Chesterton, near Cirencester (7 January 2010, contributed by David Scott-Langley)

Many small flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings flying through gardens in Chesterton and settling in bushes looking for food during this very cold spell. We still have up to 6 inches of snow on the ground and this has forced the Dunnocks in our garden to start feeding directly from the nut-feeders instead of hanging around underneath waiting for the crumbs. The daily female Great-spotted Woodpecker is such a messy feeder on the nuts that she has a regular following of Blackbirds picking up the bits.

Haresfield (7 January 2010, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

There is about 5 inches of powder snow lying in the fields here. Today I watched a flock of 30 Skylarks feeding on the leaves of oil-seed rape which occasionally poke through the blanket. The photo below shows the nibble marks.

Hempstead (5 January 2010, contributed by Gordon Avery)

An adult male Peregrine flew over, heading NE, at 10.14am.

Coombe Hill (5 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart)

The Severn level is now lower still and water is flowing fast out of the meadows into the river. Milder this morning before the snow, so ice was melting and cracking.

Still a good number of ducks round a hole in the ice, but fewer than over the weekend, perhaps 2000 in all; mostly Wigeon, with a big decrease in Teal, only 150 left; 50 Pintail, 30 Gadwall, 10 Shoveler. About 65 Greylags, 50 Canada Geese, 35 Mute Swans, 3 adult Whoopers, no Bewick’s. 2 Water Rails squealing. 1 Little Grebe on the canal.

Standish (4 January 2010, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

Many of the larger local fields have flocks of birds, particularly around the old airfield. The highest Lapwing count today was about 500 seen flying and there were 110 Golden Plover on one of the fields near Blooms garden centre.

Coombe Hill (4 January 2010, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

Coombe Hill has been brilliant in the last couple of days. Despite heavy icing, the mass of birds present has maintained areas of open water and there is a fantastic wildlife spectacle, all the more stunning as the light is brilliant, especially in the mornings when the sun catches all the colour in the winter willows. The hides are still inaccessible because the ice is extensive and dangerous, but excelent views can be had from the towpath.

The last few days of the 2009 saw a welcome return of Bewick’s Swans to the Severn Hams (there were no records of birds coming up from Slimbridge in winter 2008/09). A flock of 25 Bewick’s was seen flying from Ashleworth to Coombe Hill on 28 December, and there were seven at Ashleworth (a family of two adults with three cygnets, plus two adults) on 31 December.

On Saturday 2 January at Coombe Hill, there were two Bewick’s on the pool of open water in the ice at Coombe Hill (perhaps the two that had been at Ashleworth on 31 December?); they were rather unusual for Bewick’s and MS thought they were Whoopers at first because of the long sloping head shape; one was a big yellow-neb, the other had a lot of yellow on the bill and was a near penny-face with an inverted Y shaped black mark on the bill; I guess they were a pair. In the morning, there were no Whoopers present, but on Saturday afternoon Colin Butters saw the two Bewick’s accompanied by three Whoopers at Coombe Hill. Andy Jayne found them all on the afternoon of 3 January.

LB and MS had another look on the early morning of Sunday 3 January, when the three Whoopers and the two Bewick’s were present. Clearly the same two Bewick’s, which had roosted; the three Whoopers were all adults, with two behaving like a pair and a third loner. Two Whoopers had been reported briefly at Leigh Meadows in late November and the Worcs. birding website reported two at Grimley on 9 December. I imagine that the pair at Coombe Hill were the same birds. Similarly, a singleton was reported at Slimbridge on 2 November, then on the Herefordshire border in late November, at Coombe Hill from 15-19 December, then at Pirton Pool, just into Worcestershire, on 20 December. I strongly suspect that these are the same pair and singleton, wandering round the area in November (when water levels were low), which have now found their normal wintering ground (and will hopefully stay until mid-March, thus getting themselves included in the international once in five years Whooper Swan survey in January). The two Bewick’s came out of the water and were definitely not ringed.

In addition to the return of the swans there was a welcome return of White-fronted Geese which used to come up regularly from the estuary at Slimbridge to the Severn floodplain, but have only been seen very rarely in recent years as numbers have decreased on the estuary. There were two adults present on 2 January (definitely European Whitefronts from Russia, with pink bills, not the yellow-billed Greenlanders), fast asleep and looking very tired; perhaps they had come in from the east and hit Coombe Hill first instead of Slimbridge. Then, in addition, on 3 January, a flock of six (also European birds, five adults and an immature) flew in from the south (coming from the estuary?) and landed on the water.

In addition there were at least 500 Canada Geese, 135 Greylags, and a feral Bar-headed Goose on 2 January; all present again on 3 January with a Barnacle Goose. The Greylags are roosting somewhere to the south (Barrow Ponds?) and fly in a little after sunrise.

There was an absolute mass of ducks as well: for once the Teal were not hidden in the willows, and could be well seen and counted, though very closely packed, on the edge of the ice; LB and MS estimated 1490 on 2 January, Andy Jayne’s figure for 3 January was 1200. The other duck present in large numbers was, as might be expected, Wigeon; we estimated 2800 on 2 January, Andy thought 2000 on 3 January. It was striking how few Shoveler were present, they must find it hard to feed in icy conditions. Pintail numbers were not large: we thought about 50, Andy had 74. A few Mallard, Gadwall and Shelduck present too. Few waders: a flock of 150 Lapwings flew over, but could not find enough solid ground on which to land. One squealing Water Rail.

It will be interested to see whether these numbers of ducks (considerably higher than those recorded in the last few winters) will stay if the icy weather continues; it may well be that they will be forced back to the estuary in search of food.

Chalford (3 January 2010, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

A sweet violet in full bloom in a Chalford garden, not looking remotely pinched by the frost.

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