Sightings – June 2005

River Severn: Haw Bridge – Forthampton (24 and 26 June, contributed by Mike Smart)

The Sand Martin colony near Forthampton is doing really well with at least thirty birds present and juveniles already on the wing. There was a Hobby present, perhaps aiming to hunt Sand Martins and a surprisingly large number of large fish jumping, possibly salmon. The other Sand Martin colony north of Haw Bridge was occupied on 24 June, but is much smaller with only half a dozen pairs.

Wigpool Common (25 June, contributed by Mike Smart)

The GNS field meeting at Wigpool Common in the Forest of Dean on 25th June, in addition to fascinating insights into heathland restoration being carried on jointly by GWT, RSPB, the Forestry Commission and GNS, produced a number of interesting bird records: two singing Turtle Doves (probably some of the most westerly singing Turtle Doves in the British Isles, given that the species is reported to have practically disappeared from Wales); a flock of about 15 Crossbillls, which flew over calling, but in the drizzle we couldn’t see much of their plumage; a singing Tree Pipit; and a singing Garden Warbler. At Walmore Common on the same day, both Redshank and Lapwing had flying young.

Cheltenham (24 June, contributed by Robert Homan)

Moth trapping at a site close to the town centre produced a record of the stunning micro-moth (wing span approx. 11mm) shown here – Chrysoclista linneella The moth is regarded as nationally rare and has only been previously recorded in Gloucestershire on 3 occasions. The larvae feeding under the bark of lime trees of which there are many in the immediate neighbourhood. It can apparently be found on the trunks in sunshine, waving its antennae, hence the blur here!

In and around the Severn Hams (23 June, contributed by Mike Smart)

The fine weather of the last ten days has provided a spur to hay-making in the Severn and Avon Vales, and this of course has an impact on waders nesting in the Severn Hams. In general these ground nesting birds have a hard time of it with foxes, mink, crows and jackdaws, not to mention human dog-walkers; and now their eggs and chicks are likely to be squashed or sliced by large farming machinery, unless they nest in reserves or areas where agri-environmental agreements with farmers provide for late cutting.

Lapwings nest fairly early and most had their chicks fledged and flying before hay-making began. However, some, especially those with replacement clutches still have young. The Lapwings nesting at Coombe Hill were badly hit by the flooding in early April; since the floods, there have been some doubts as to whether birds that had lost first clutches were actually renesting, as they had not seemed very active or enthusiastic; but at least one pair renested as a tiny chick was seen from the hide on 21 June; it was accompanied by Mum and didn’t seem to have any other brothers or sisters. There are already signs of movements of Lapwings that have finished nesting: thus there were 35 adults in the Avon Meadows on 20 June at a site where they had not bred, and in addition to the breeding birds, there were 25 at Coombe Hill on 21 June, obviously migrants sitting apart in a cut field.

Redshanks nest a bit later, and the first fortnight of June is the crucial time for their young chicks. In many Severn Hams sites, the parent birds have been giving anxious alarm calls which betray the presence of chicks, which are very difficult to find as they immediately hide in the grass. They have disappeared very rapidly in several sites; it must be hoped that this means they have successfully raised their families and taken them off to the estuary.

The species most affected by hay-making is Curlew, which – being a larger bird – takes longer to complete the nesting cycle, and furthermore has a preference in our area for large undisturbed hay meadows. It is the essential bird of the hay meadows, its lovely bubbling display call being the symbol of spring and early summer in the meadows. By now, most should have hatched their eggs and have small young, so the call changes to a more nervous “cour-lee”, and to a very anxious, barking “wulp, wulp” if you get very close to the young, which are absolutely impossible to find in the long grass. Several sites where they were undoubtedly nesting have been cut for hay, and I fear that young have been lost. A confirmation of this is a flock of adult birds sitting in a cut hayfield in the Avon Meadows – 21 on 16 June and 36 on 20 June, showing no sign whatsoever of breeding behaviour. These are massive numbers inland (though they would not be exceptional on the estuary); unless they are migrants from further north passing through on their way to the estuary, I strongly suspect they are birds which have lost eggs or young because of hay-making. Fortunately there are a few places where the hay is not likely to be brought in until July. Although these are long-lived birds, if there is no production, there is a risk of a sudden crash in population some time in the future when the adults finally die.

Not only the waders have been producing young: ringing at Ashleworth Ham (for details see Mervyn Greening’s full report) in mid-June showed that many young passerines are now on the wing, among them the first Sedge Warblers and Redstarts, and good numbers of Reed Buntings; the Reed Buntings of course nest in long grass and are also a prey to hay-making (not to mention foxes, some of which have been seen predating Reed Buntings’ nests). Redstarts are in fact quite active now, and the sound of their “wee-tick-tick” alarm call is an indication that young are about in the lines of willows in the hedgerows. A Lesser Whtiethroat, to judge by its frantic alarm calls, had young at the Leigh Meadows on 15 June.

Some other highlights: Corn Buntings (another hay meadow species) singing strongly on the Great Hay Meadow on 16 and 20 June and on the Severn Ham at Tewkesbury on 16 June; a pair of Yellow Wagtails, a species that has become few and far between in the Hams, apparently nesting in the hay meadow on 16 June. A Teal, not flying very well on 16 June at Coombe Hill. A gorgeous Hobby, first chasing dragonflies over the scrapes, then displaying itself on a dead tree, at Coombe Hill on 21 June. And yet another Little Owl, after I had been complaining of how infrequent they had become, this one calling loudly from an oak on 22 June at the Leigh Meadows. Not forgetting a Reed Warbler, singing strongly from the most unlikely miserable little ditch on the Leigh Meadows on 22 June. Little Egrets still at Coombe Hill, they seem to be roosting in a clump of trees a little way from the scrapes.

Sandhurst and Cheltenham (19 and 20 June, contributed by Robert Homan)

2 pictures of less well-known, but distinctive insects: on the left Reduvius personatus, the Flybug – a predatory bug approximatley 18mm in length, found in a moth trap in Cheltenham and on the right Strangalia maculata, a longhorn beetle seen feeding on Hogweed flowers by the River Severn at Sandhurst, the larvae feed on rotting deciduous tree stumps.

Coombe Hill (18 June, contributed by Robert Homan)

Still 17 Lapwings near the scrapes, probably non-breeders but 2 or 3 birds were clearly anxious about something that could not be seen from the hide. 2+ Redshanks, 2 Curlews and 2 Little Egrets. Plenty of butterfly interest with 1 or 2 Large Skippers, many Meadow Browns and 1 Painted Lady. Emperor Dragonflies patrolling the canal and the ditches running through the reserve, also 2 Four-spotted Chasers. Thalictrum flavum in flower by the new board walk.

Forest of Dean (12 June, contributed by Andy Jayne)

An influx of Crossbills seems to be underway. Having been scarce all winter in the Dean with only isolated sightings of very small numbers, yesterday there were 12 at New Fancy Viewpoint and this morning there were 23 between Lightmoor and Staple Edge. The flock of 23 was comprised almost entirely of juveniles with just one adult male which was seen to feed one of the juveniles. Also a Turtle Dove and two Willow Tits in this area.

Bughunt and Cannop Ponds (11 and 12 June, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

Both meetings were enlivened by swarms of Nemophora degeerella, a long-horn moth, the males having a spectacular display flight and occasionally coming to rest on bushes.

Chaceley (12 June, contributed by Robert Homan)

A touch of autumn in the weather and in the form of a non-breeding flock of 18 Lapwings feeding in a sheep pasture north of the village today.

Severn Hams (early June, contributed by Mike Smart)

The first ten to fifteen days of June are crucial for waders breeding in the meadows along the Severn and Avon River valleys: at this time, many Lapwings and Redshanks have young which cannot yet fly, and the adults show by their behaviour that there are young in the vicinity; Lapwings do an anxious version of their display calls, while Redshank parents keep up an agitated piping and chipping noise, warning the young to remain doggo in the grass, where they are practically invisible. By mid June, most of the young should be able to fly. This year has been no exception: Lapwings, as usual, are a little more advanced, and there are a number of fledgelings taking their first flight at several sites; Redshanks still have quite small young, very difficult to find; the best way is to observe the place where the parents are piping from a distance with a telescope, in the hope of glimpsing the young.

Redshank seem to have done rather well this year: one Gloucestershire site has three pairs with young, another has one pair, a third four; at another site, four birds are still present but seem rather apathetic and may have lost their first clutch; in neighbouring areas of Worcestershire too, Redshank have done well this year. It seems that they are able to raise young in sites with little or no open water, the young birds seem able to feed themselves in long damp grass in the hay meadows. As for Lapwings, there has been a welcome return to nesting in grassland sites, where in recent years they seem only to have nested on arable or setaside.

But both Redshank and Lapwing, like the larger Curlew, which takes longer to raise its young since it is a good deal bigger, are subject to a number of threats. Carrion Crows are ever-present and may often be seen stalking the hay fields, on the look out for something in the grass even before it is cut; they certainly wouldn’t refuse a tasty young chick if they found one. The same goes for foxes and mink, both of which are numerous in the area; foxes have been seen from the hide at Coombe Hill, quartering the fields and apparently taking Skylark and Reed Bunting nests. The increasingly large numbers of gulls, particularly immature Lesser Blackbacks with nothing better to do, will circle above hayfields, clearly looking for young chicks and striking terror into the hearts of the parent Curlew which are considerably smaller than these large gulls and cannot defend themselves against them. And then there is always Homo sapiens: the last few days of fine weather have been ideal for hay-making, and many fields have been cut for silage or hay. In one field at least four pairs of Lapwing and one pair of Redshanks were nesting in short grass, where water had been lying on the surface for a long time in the spring, preventing the grass from growing very fast; the fields were cut for silage in late May, and from a distance it appeared that the young must have perished. But fortunately, the grass in the lowest spots was too short to be of any use, so a green area had been left uncut in the centre, where the young birds took refuge. Perhaps this practice could be used more widely? If waders were known to be nesting in a field, the farmer might be asked to leave a small area of grass until the birds had finished raising their young. Casual walkers may also disturb breeding waders, and research at Slimbridge has shown how sensitive the birds are to passers-by, especially if accompanied by dogs.

Some other highlights: a Barn Owl hunting at dusk at Walmore Common on 7 June; after a distinct shortage of observations of Little Owl this year, one seen on a road casualty at Chaceley on 7 June, and one at dusk near Apperley on 8 June. At Coombe Hill, rather surprisingly, two Black-tailed Godwits on 8 June, after the flush of records in April; two Little Egrets still at Coombe Hill on 8 June, together with two Shelducks; as yet, no proof of Shelduck nesting anywhere in the Severn Hams.

Meadow by the Severn near Apperley on 2 June 2005.

Coombe Hill (4 June, contributed by Robert Homan)

Still plenty of warblers singing this afternoon (Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow, Sedge and Reed Warbler). In addition: a total of 18 non-breeding Mute Swans, 2 Canada Geese, 1 Egyptian Goose, 3 or 4 Lapwings, 1 Redshank, at least 3 Curlews and 3 Little Egrets. There were several clumps of Ragged Robin growing by the bridleway on the south side of the canal, along with this very distinctive variegated hawthorn.

River Severn: Deerhurst to Haw Bridge (2 June, contributed by Robert Homan)

Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins all feeding over the river and adjacent meadows. At least 3 Curlews seen, Cuckoos were still calling (though no apparent change of tune) and there were 3 newly emerged Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Anyone approaching from the A38/B4213 junction north of Coombe Hill is sure to notice the extensive webs in the hedge at the start of the lane to Deerhurst Walton (SO 894288) caused by a moth, Yponomeuta cagnagella (the Spindle Ermine).

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