Sightings – March 2007

Severn Hams (31 March, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

For birdwatchers, as for weather forecasters, life is governed by ridges and troughs. Today was distinctly a day of lows, perhaps because of the cool northeast breeze.

At Coombe Hill: one Little Egret, Mute Swan female incubating by the Wharf (eggs seen during the week – another global warming indicator?), 23 Shelduck, 250 Teal, only 2 Wigeon (looks as though most have departed), 25 Shoveler, one Peregrine (the small unstreaked adult male, sitting on the grass), only two Lapwings (sharp decrease and no sign of display), four Redshank, one Curlew, four Snipe, no Jack Snipe, about three Chiffchaffs singing. No sign of recent Ospreys, LRPs, Blackwits, White Wagtails.

At Ashleworth (where several boards were removed from the sluice, so that water levels will drop in the next few days), one pair of Mute Swans incubating, a second pair mating, still 40 Wigeon, 50 Teal, 50 Shoveler, a Peregrine flying over (same one?), three Blackwits actually swimming, first Swallow, a Treecreeper singing.

Severn Hams (28 March, contributed by Mike Smart)

An evening visit to Coombe Hill, now the clocks have gone forward; it is often interesting at this time of year to see what birds turn up at dusk to roost.

No sign of yesterday’s Black-tailed Godwits, which strengthens the argument that they were passing migrants, in a hurry to reach Icelandic breeding sites. However a first Little Ringed Plover and a White Wagtail were noted among a group of Pied by Laurence Skipp. Otherwise up to a dozen Curlews and eight Shelducks coming in to roost from the surrounding fields.

At Ashleworth, Laurence observed an Osprey perched on a dead tree at 7.00pm, recalling last year’s observation of a passing bird at Coombe Hill on 31 March 2006. This year’s Ashleworth bird took off at 7.15pm and flew off in the direction of Coombe Hill, but was never observed at Coombe Hill. It probably turned north along the Severn like the 2006 bird.

Ashleworth (27 March, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

There are many spring flowers now appearing. One of the early joys is Rue-leaved Saxifrage (Saxifraga tridactylites), which is only about two inches high, but very lovely, with its neat three-fingered leaves and tiny white flower. In Ashleworth it grows on wall tops, so even though it is so small it can be examined with little difficulty.

Rue-leaved Saxifrage, March 2007, Juliet Bailey

Coombe Hill (27 March, contributed by Mike Smart and Les Brown)

Foggy today with several hours spent in the Grundon Hide, peering into mist.

The most interesting observation was of a flock of 32 Black-tailed Godwits at very close range: there have been several observations of flocks of 30-40 Black-tailed Godwits in the last ten days at Walmore, Coombe Hill and Ashleworth; our immediate reaction was to assume that these were part of the same flock, hanging around in the area. But their behaviour suggested otherwise: very anxious and nervous, and feeding extremely actively, as though famished; constant low-pitched chattering with plumage held in display mode – tail spread, back and wing feathers puffed up; everything suggested a recently arrived group of migrants; so perhaps there is a constant turnover of “Icelandic Godwits”, passing though on their way to the breeding grounds.

Otherwise: a Little Egret, 100+ Teal, 40 Wigeon, 15 Lapwings, 4 Redshanks, 1 Water Rail, 1 Sand Martin.

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

The Severn continues to drop. Floods have fallen almost everywhere on the Severn Hams. Bird-wise it was a rather quiet day.

Coombe Hill: Duck numbers are down considerably: 200 Teal, 100 Wigeon, 6 Gadwall, 40 Shoveler, but 68 Shelducks; 34 Lapwings (some display), 2 Redshank, 1 Curlew (display), 5 Dunlin, 4 Snipe, at least 60 Coot, 3 Chiffchaffs singing.

Leigh Meadows: no sign of the Whoopers – looks as though they have left.

Ashleworth: 200 Wigeon, 100 Teal, 30 Pintail, 50 Shoveler, 10 Tufted Ducks.

Coombe Hill Meadows (22 March, contributed by Andy Jayne)

An interesting late afternoon with 74 Shelduck, two Dunlin, 45 Black-tailed Godwits, 14 Curlew, six Redshank, an adult Little Gull and a first-winter Kittiwake!

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

Floodwaters continue to drop and the Grundon Hide at Coombe Hill is now just accessible with Wellingtons and caution!
The ancient Black Poplar by the entrance from the canal bank to the meadows has been brought down by the gales of the last couple of days. There was a fine spectacle today with lots of birds on the remaining shallow floodwater: about 1,500 ducks including some 1,000 Wigeon and 310 Pintail; 32 Shelducks (plus another 18 at the Cobney Meadows end). 38 Black-tailed Godwits ( a few in breeding plumage), at least 34 Lapwings, all in breeding plumage and beginning to display, 5 Redshanks; one Sand Martin and at least two Chiffchaffs singing.

At Ashleworth, the floodwater has almost gone: the three Whoopers are still hanging on (a late date, they have generally left by now, but the cold northerly winds are probably delaying their departure), a few hundred duck (mostly Wigeon), seven Lapwing displaying and 3 Snipe.

The Coombe Hill Black Poplar in its glory days, December 2003, Juliet Bailey

Sudmeadow (20 March, contributed by Gordon Avery)

A Peregrine over the area mid-morning today and a belated first Chiffchaff in song near the river.

Hay and Betty Daw’s Woods (18 March, contributed by Robert Homan)

The wild daffodils in the area north west of Newent are providing a magnificent show this year. However, the return of cold weather with hail and sleet showers reduced the amount of bird activity. More Chiffchaffs were singing from Betty Daw’s Wood and the disused canal cutting south of Dymock. A flock of 20 Redwings in the pasture opposite Gwen and Vera’s Fields.

Gwen and Vera’s Fields, March 2007, Robert Homan

Severn Hams (18 March, contributed by Andy Jayne)

At Walmore Common during the morning there were 15 Shelduck, 100 Teal, adult female Peregrine, two Jack Snipe, 80 Snipe, one Black-tailed Godwit and two adult Mediterreanean Gulls.
In the afternoon, the three adult Whooper Swans were at Ashleworth Ham and there were 440 Pintail and a first-winter Mediterranean Gull at Hasfield Ham.

Stow-on-the-Wold (17 March, contributed per Mary Palfrey)

A Red Kite seen near the Tesco supermarket today.

Cheltenham (17 March, contributed by Robert Homan)

The number of Chiffchaffs has crept up during the week with 1 heard singing from gardens at the rear of St George’s Road near the town centre yesterday (16th) and 3 singing along the Honeybourne Cycle Path at lunchtime today.
A Comma flying in Swindon Lane in today’s afternoon sunshine.

Walmore Common (16 March, contributed by Andy Jayne)

A morning visit produced 38 Black-tailed Godwits and 4 Little Egrets.

Severn Hams (13 March, contributed by Mike Smart)

The River Severn has gone down considerably and floodwater levels on the meadows are dropping, but more slowly than in the river; the water on the flood plain takes a long time to clear once the Severn has overtopped its banks. This is rather frustrating as most areas are still inaccessible.

Coombe Hill is still inaccessible from the Wharf car park; you can admire the hide (water still up to floor level) from a distance on the high ground by Deerhurst Walton: a few Wigeon and Pintail round the edges; some Tufted Ducks and four Curlews.

Ashleworth is still deeply flooded; the hide is inaccessible from the road, but can be reached from footpaths over the higher ground at the back: there was no sign of the Whoopers, but they could be almost anywhere; 2 Shelducks, a few Pintail and Tufted Ducks. Many Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming and a burst of rather uncertain Chiffchaff song as though the bird was trying it out for the first time. A Blackcap in subsong.

Cheltenham (12 March, contributed by Robert Homan)

A Chiffchaff singing at the north end of the Honeybourne Cycle Path this morning.

Betty Daw’s Woods (11 March, contributed by David Anderson)

The daffodils are providing a good display in both Betty Daw’s Wood and at Gwen and Vera’s Fields. Betty Daw’s Wood also had two Chiffchaffs singing with a third, shown below, moving through the trees. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen in the woods adjacent to Gwen and Vera’s Fields.

Chiffchaff and Daffodils, Betty Daw’s Wood, March 2007 (D Anderson)

River Severn (11 March, contributed by Robert Homan)

The river level has fallen in the last 24 hours, but most of the flood plain between Tewkesbury and Gloucester is still under deep water. As Mike Smart’s recent contributions suggest, the extent of the flooding offers a real challenge to the bird watcher and little could be seen in the Deerhurst/Haw Bridge area today apart from a few Canada Geese and Mute Swans on the isolated patches of green. The Haw Bridge road is open to all traffic, but the roads to Wainlode, Ashleworth Ham and Tirley Church are all closed at their junctions with the B4213 and are impassable immediately beyond these points.

Top: Chaceley Stock from Deerhurst, Above: The car park at Odda’s Chapel, Deerhurst, March 2007 (R Homan).

The flood plain north of Haw Bridge, March 2007 (R Homan).

Sudmeadow (10 March, contributed by Gordon Avery)

A pair of Mandarin on the River Severn just below the weir today. This is the first record since April 2002.

Severn Hams (9 March, contributed by Mike Smart and Hichem Azafzaf)

Water levels are even higher today and are approaching November 2000 levels. The main road to Ledbury is closed at Maisemore, the Haw Bridge road is impassable except by lorries and tractors.

Near Tirley, a Red Kite was seen soaring, spotted by Mr Hichem Azafzaf from Tunisia (co-author of Birds of Tunisia).

Ashleworth: the hide can be reached by the footpath from the high ground behind: a flock of water birds on water’s edge below Great House at Hasfield included the three Whoopers, about 150 Wigeon grazing on the edge and about 75 Canada Geese.

Tewkesbury (9 March, contributed per Mary Palfrey)

A Hummingbird Hawkmoth was seen today feeding from the flowers of Daphne odora in a Tewkesbury garden. This is a significant record of a species which normally regarded as migrant during the summer months. However, such an observation suggests that the moth has been able to hibernate successfully and has been induced to feed by the recent warmer day time temperatures. Until now the occasional record of a hibernating insect has been confined to the South West Peninsula.

Severn Hams (6 March, contributed by Mike Smart)

The Severn continues to rise and is overtopping its banks in several places, thus causing much deeper flooding on riverside meadows. Current high tides are aggravating the situation. The road over Haw Bridge (B 4213) is still open.

Leigh Meadows: River Chelt has broken its banks in so many places that there is a single water surface covering the whole area: 3 Whooper Swans asleep on one of the few bits of bank emerging from the water, Curlew (surprisingly) bubbling still. The Red Lion road closed.

Coombe Hill: water is now covering the canal banks from the Wharf car park onwards, so that even the canal banks are inaccessible; The Grundon Hide (viewed from afar at Deerhurst Walton) has water nearly up to lowest window. Two Mute Swans are still looking hopefully at a nesting site by the Wharf where a Blackcap was in subsong, and a Curlew bubbling somewhere in the distance.

Ashleworth Ham: the Ham Road is closed, and the hide inaccessible from the road; the river bank from Haw Bridge is still passable, though water is coming over the top in places; water levels on surrounding meadows have risen by a metre and a half since Saturday, so there is little unflooded land: 15 Snipe, 1 Jack Snipe on one remaining bit of setaside (but no Short-eared Owls!); some ducks on floodwater including at least 150 Pintail. Many ducks have gone to Longdon Marsh, just over the border in Worcestershire, where flooding is less extreme: there were about 500 surface feeding ducks (including 330 Pintail), 5 Curlew and a singing Corn Bunting.

Standish (6 March, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

In my sheltered back garden, I watched a Red Admiral nectaring on Daphne and Primula, and then sunning itself. This is not my first Red Admiral of the year; I saw one nectaring on Viburnum at Ashleworth on 3 February, but did not have a camera handy. The books mostly state that this is a migratory butterfly, unable to over-winter here, with large numbers only arriving in late May or June. One of the more recent books, the Millenium Atlas (2001) says that such early sightings may indeed be over-wintering individuals. So if the world is really hotting up, Red Admirals on Daphne may be an increasingly common sight.

Red Admiral, Standish, March 2007 (J Bailey)

Severn Hams (3 March, contributed by Mike Smart)

The River Severn continues its yo-yo changes in water levels, up again since last week end, and still rising. Meanwhile, water on riverside meadows cannot escape, and they have been almost permanently under water since the end of November.

Coombe Hill: water higher, both hides still completely inaccessible, canal bank still just passable. Not many ducks on open water, but 200+ Teal, 20 Tufted, 2 Shelduck, 120 Lapwings, 3 Dunlin, 3 Ruff, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Redshank (first of spring), 2 Curlews, and last year’s pair of Mute Swans prospecting nest site.

Leigh Meadows: water very high and the River Chelt breaking its banks: 20 Mute Swans (non-breeding flock), 3 Whooper Swans (quite difficult to find of late, hidden below bank of river), 20 Shelducks, 150 Wigeon and 50 Pintail.

Ashleworth Ham: A lot more water on Ham Road, hide only just accessible; no green grass visible on the reserve, all under water. 4 Shelducks, Wigeon and Pintail dotted over floodwater, 5 Snipe on setaside by river, 1 Chiffchaff singing from Meerend Thicket by hide.

No sign of Bewick’s anywhere.

Churchdown (2 March, contributed by Ingrid Twissell)

A Red Kite over the centre of Churchdown in the morning, mobbed by a corvid.

Standish (1 March, contributed by Juliet Bailey)

Continuing the theme of colour variation on from the Winchcombe white blackbird, there seems to be a gene around here for white-flowered Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum). Last year I saw several white plants on the roadside verge, and this year I have a white flowered red deadnettle in my garden. Only one, though, of the tens of thousands that are in bloom now. I have never noticed this colour Red Dead-nettle elsewhere, though white forms of plants are not uncommon, and the botanists’ field guide, Stace, says “corolla usually pinkish-purple”.

White-flowered Red Dead-nettle, Standish, March 2007 (J Bailey)

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