Sightings – May 2005

Severn Hams (28 – 31 May, contributed by Mike Smart)

Great Hay Meadow, Twyning (Upham Meadow), 28 May: Rather an unpleasant windy day, not very suitable for birdsong or display: one Oystercatcher on the Avon, Curlews and Redshanks as usual, no sign of Corn Buntings, perhaps because of the wind.

Ashleworth Ham, 29 May: Peregrine back, first since 23 April. Appears that otters have been sighted from the hide in the evening of late.

R. Severn, Haw Bridge to Lower Lode, 30 May: a male Mandarin Duck on the river; Sand Martins nesting in the river bank in two places; a Cetti’s Warbler singing strongly from the river bank near Apperley. Lots of hay meadows looking good with big stands of buttercups and sorrel. The GWT Meadow Reserve at Chaceley in fine fettle with meadow plants coming into bloom.

Coombe Hill, 31 May: Much less about; two Little Egrets; lot less non-breeding Mute Swans and no sign of the Egyptian Geese; doesn’t appear that Lapwings have brought off any chicks at all this year (yet) because of the April flood, still two pairs behaving as though they have just started nesting again, with active aerial display, but it seems unlikely that they will succeed this late; still hope for Curlew and Redshank; at least three Redstarts singing; the hide overlooking the Long Pool is now operational, hay meadows at the back of the Long Pool looking very good with lots of Ragged Robin.

Cleeve Hill (31 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

A good selection of butterflies and day-flying moths seen on the slopes of “Dry Bottom” this morning, including, Wall Brown, Dingy Skipper, Small Heath, Brown Argus, Cistus Forester and Common Heath.

In addition, this attractively marked hoverfly (Leucozona lucorum) and a rose showing some evidence of pimpinellifolia in its parentage were also seen.

Cleeve Hill in late May

Woorgreens, Forest of Dean (28 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

Many of the strange cut-out leaf mines of Incurvaria pectinea were found on birch trees (see also entry for 22 May 2004) together with the little recorded blotch mines of another micro-moth, Eriocrania salopiella

One plant of Lousewort Pedicularis palustris was in flower on one of the tracks upto Crabtree Hill and the spectacular fly Rhagio scolopacea, also known as the down-looker fly because of its characteristic posture, was seen by the main lake.

Woorgreens, Forest of Dean

Thoughts after a visit to Slimbridge (25 May, contributed by Mike Smart)

I spent 15 happy years working in Slimbridge in the 1970s and 1980s; I haven’t been there that often of late, but went back yesterday to talk with the reserve managers about measures to encourage breeding waders elsewhere in the Severn Vale, notably in the Severn Hams.

Most people, especially the bird watching community in both Gloucestershire and beyond, will think of Slimbridge mainly in terms of wintering waterbirds, especially White-fronted Geese and Bewick’s Swans and of migrant waders on the estuary. In the last few winters however, the numbers of Whitefronts and Bewick’s have decreased considerably as, with milder winters, many of these birds have stayed back on the continent, especially in the Netherlands. In recent winters for example, Whitefront numbers have not reached a thousand and Bewick’s have decreased too. Which means that there is no longer a need to take special management measures in the fields used by the geese; in the past special swards were developed to attract them and measures were taken to encourage them to come closer to the hides; but nowadays the existing fields round the centre are large enough to cater for the needs of the reduced numbers. As a result, management of the fields behind the seawall between Purton, Slimbridge and Frampton has changed fairly drastically; the aim now is to create wet grassland (as the name Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust implies), of particular interest to breeding waders like Lapwing, Redshank and the recently arrived Oystercatchers and indeed much else besides, as the recent observation of Black-winged Stilts shows. With assistance from schemes like Countryside Stewardship, and much hard work and experiment, this has been very successful. In addition to getting the habitat right, which involves trying to read the waders’ minds, two other considerations are important for breeding waders: (a) control of predators, mainly crows, but also foxes and even badgers, and probably coot too; and (b) lack of disturbance; local birdwatchers have reacted well to requests to avoid disturbing the area in the breeding months, it is clear that Lapwing and Redshank have moved into areas which were previously greatly disturbed by walkers and dogs; and there are places where the sites can be observed from a discreet distance.

Severn Hams (25 May, contributed by Mike Smart)

The heavy rain of recent days doesn’t wseem to have affected water levels on the Hams.

Coombe Hill: 2 Little Egrets; non-breeding flock of 27 Mute Swans; 2 Egyptian Geese; 7 Greylags; 11 Canadas; 2 Shelducks; Coot with young on the canal and on the scrapes; only 2 Lapwings left (and these two are not nesting, looks as though Lapwings have failed to bring off any young at all this year at Coombe Hill); at least two Redshanks; several Curlew; no sign of singing Redstarts, but lots of song from Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff.

The second hide at the back of the Long Pool is now being installed and should soon be ready for use as part of the new Circular walk; a pile of boards was left alongside the hide last Friday, and on Monday morning they were covered with otter spraint, welcome proof that otters are using the Long Pool!

Ashleworth: three Shelduck; three Lapwings behaving as though they had young; lots of Redstarts shouting their heads off even late in the morning- if they are singing it’s pretty hard to overlook them! Nothing of note singing, calling or drumming at night.

Handkerchief Pool, Apperley: two Redstarts singing well from the tops of tall oak trees – a new site (to me at least).

Leigh Meadows: female Mallard with ducklings on the Chelt; about a dozen Lapwings, plus several non-flying young, and some adults sitting others with young; several Redshank looking broody; Curlews rather quiet; no Redstarts.

Woodmancote (24 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

A Hobby over the lower slopes of Nottingham Hill in the mid afternoon.

Hucclecote Meadows (23 May, contributed by Gordon Avery)

A Hobby – watched for 20 minutes hawking for insects over Hucclecote Meadows, Gloucester between 1.00 and 1.20pm.

Redstarts and Collin Park Wood (22 May, contributed by Mike Smart)


The Redstart is normally regarded in Britain as a breeding bird of western (especially Welsh) oakwoods, nesting in holes (and easily adapting to nestboxes). In Gloucestershire, it is best known from Nagshead in the Forest of Dean. In the Severn Vale, however, there is a local adaptation to nesting in the boles of pollarded willows, and for many years it has been recorded in such situations (though only in small numbers) in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. This year and next year, the British Trust for Ornithology is carrying out a survey of Scarce Woodland Bird Survey, focussing on eight scarce woodland species, one of them being Redstart.

I am trying to ensure that the survey gives due weight to our own local Redstart adaptation, and am carefully gathering any records from the vale. As usual, the species is showing well in the Ashleworth and Hasfield area, with at least half a dozen males singing well in the area of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust Reserve. There are smaller numbers this year on the opposite side of the river, at Coombe Hill and the Leigh Meadows. On 20 May I found one singing well in a new site at Sandhurst, in an old line of willows that hadn’t been pollarded for a long time, but that from a distance looked absolutely perfect for the species. There are other places that look suitable in the Apperley, Chaceley and Tewkesbury areas, and I hope to check them in the coming weeks. Any records from these or other sites will be very welcome.

Collin Park Wood, near Newent

Collin Park Wood is one of only 12 Grade One conservation sites in Glocuestershire. It is an ancient woodland of over 100 acres, 35 acres of which form the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Collin Park Wood reserve. The wood has extensive stands of Small-leafed Lime which used to be coppiced, and the canopy is largely made up of Sessile Oak. Its botany, entomology and bat populations have been well recorded. Yesterday 21 May, the GWT held its annual Reserve Managers’ Conference at Collin Park. Among the birds recorded were at least two singing Wood Warblers and a Spotted Flycatcher; Wood Warbler doesn’t seeem to have been recorded from here in the past – only from the Forest of Dean proper. And Spotted Flycatcher is red-listed nationally and one of the Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plan priority species, which still seems to survive in the Forest of Dean area (and the Cotswolds), though it has become very scarce elsewhere.

Pittville Park, Cheltenham (21 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

The prolific breeding machine that is the Pittville pair of Great Crested Grebes are now feeding 2 broods simultaneously – 1 adult is attending to 2 well grown young, while the other is looking after 3 much smaller birds.

Cheltenham (18 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

This curious multi-headed Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) was one of several found by the Honeybourne Cyclepath near the town centre. This type of mutation has been put down to the effects of internal feeding by the nematode Ditylenchus dipsaci, a widespread polyphagous “eelworm”. An alternative explanation could be genetic mutation. Thanks to Juliet Bailey for help in solving the mystery of the flowers.

Severn Hams (18 May, contributed by Mike Smart)

May is one of the best periods at the Severn Hams: most of the summer bird migrants have arrived and are singing on fine days, especially in the mornings,and the carpet of meadow plants in the hay fields is most attractive with plenty of buttercups and cuckoo-flowers.

Coombe Hill hay meadows in May

In the last few days, there has been at Coombe Hill: a Little Egret (16-18 May); still the two Egyptian Geese (16-18 May); the Mute Swans on the canal by the Wharf have hatched six cygnets, and there is a non-breeding flock of at least 27 immature swans; Coot and Moorhen also have young along the canal; the Lapwings appear to have been badly hit by the flood in early April; their nests were probably flooded and at present only three pairs are left, and none of them have either young or eggs (though one pair seems to be making a new nest, and mating was seen); perhaps the young were predated by crows or foxes (foxes have walked right below the hide on the last two mornings); there seems to be only one, perhaps two, pairs of Redshanks left. Curlews are still present, but spread thinly through large hay fields, and undoubtedly trying to breed. On 18 May there was a Quail singing from a field outside the reserve. Along the canal there is a wide range of warblers singing: Sedge Warblers and Whitethroat are particularly common, generally doing aerial song-flights; but there are also Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Only one Redstart singing regularly on the Apperley side of the reserve.

The Wharf end Mute Swans in May

At the Leigh Meadows, the Lapwings seem to be doing better: four pairs, two with young, two with eggs on 17 May. Also Curlews bubbling.

At Ashleworth, Hobbies have continued to appear around midday, hawking high flying insects; the Redstarts there are showing particularly well, with at least four singing males around the reserve and more along Stank Lane. Rather few nesting waders – perhaps a couple of pairs of Lapwings, same of Curlews. At Ashleworth too, there is a good range of singing warblers and lots of singing Reed Buntings.

Coombe Hill (17 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler and 2 Reed Warblers heard singing. 16 non-breeding? Mute Swans + the pair at the Wharf now with 6 cygnets, 11 Canada Geese, 8 Greylags and the 2 Egyptian Geese. Single Sand and House Martins over the reserve and 1 Little Egret – all this afternoon.

Leigh Meadows (15 May, contributed Andy Jayne)

An afternoon visit produced a good series of records including: 2 Shelduck, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2+ Buzzard, 12 adult Lapwing (+ 2 chicks), 2 pairs of Curlew, 1 Redshank, 1 pair of Yellow Wagtail, 3 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Yellowhammer (in song) and 3 Reed Buntings (in song).

Coombe Hill (14 May, contributed by Ian Ralphs)

Two female Broad-bodied Chasers this afternoon at Coombe Hill meadows.

Southam (12 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

An afternoon visit to the woods east of the village produced good views of two swarms of the micro-moth Adela reaumurella “dancing” in the sunshine and gathering together on new beech leaves. The picture below gives an impression of the metallic colouration of the wings and the remarkably long, pale tipped antennae which are waved in the display flights.

Ashleworth (11 May, contributed by Mike Smart)

As is often the case at this time of year, Hobbies appear between midday and 14h00, chasing big insects (dragonflies etc), which rise high in warm weather; at least three seen hawking on 11 May They have been seen occasionally since late April. Higher numbers occur in the Cotswold Water Park at this time of year; are these migrants passing through? Or are they birds breeding locally stepping out for a snack?

Coombe Hill (11 May, contributed by Mike Smart)

The two Egyptian Geese still present; two Shelducks – are they nesting? At least three female Mallard with parties of ducklings, two Teal and two Gadwall, 6 Lapwings looking a bit lethargic – have they perhaps relaid after losing their eggs in the April flood?; a Whimbrel which had probably stopped off on migration to roost; a Reed Warbler singing in the canal; good numbers of othere Warblers singing – Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler.

Aylburton Warth (11 May, contributed Gordon Avery)

3 Whimbrel, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 female Wheatear, a pair of Yellow Wagtails, 2 pairs of Oystercatchers and, an unusual record, 5 Tufted Ducks in Cone Pill.

Walmore Common (10 May, contributed by Andy Jayne)

During an afternoon/evening visit there were 4 Shelduck, 2 Shoveler, at least 4 pairs of Lapwing, 3 Whimbrel, 3 Redshank and a Greenshank. At around 1800hrs the odd Raven was seen flying into roost in the oaks to the West of the common. By 1930hrs, a total of 140 had been seen, all arriving from a ENE direction and in varying stages of wing-moult i.e. non-breeders.

Coombe Hill (9 May, contributed by Mike Smart)

An evening visit produced nothing out of the ordinary except for an additional Egyptian Goose, increasing the total to two; the usual waders were there: Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank; one of the Lapwings dive bombed a fox running across the fields.

Beachley Point (8 May, contributed by Gordon Avery)

A morning visit to Beachley Point produced: 7 Cormorants, 8 Shelduck with at least one pair in territory on the island (could be two pairs). 10 Dunlin, 1 Common Sandpiper and a pair of Oystercatchers nesting on top of the old chapel remains on the island! Three others were seen flying across the estuary. Suprisingly, only 2 Meadow Pipits could be found.

Wye Valley (8 May, per Gordon Avery)

An excellent record from the GNS moth recorder’s garden in the form of a family party of Crossbills drinking from his garden pond this morning, an adult and 3 juveniles.

Forest of Dean and Highnam (5 May, contributed by Ivan Proctor per Gordon Avery)

A single Nightjar was at Tidenham in the evening, flying near the trig point on the heath at 9.05. 1 or 2 roding Woodcock in the same area. There are currently 8 Nightingales at Highnam Woods RSPB Reserve.

Cheltenham (5 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

In the afternoon, 12 Swifts feeding over fields on the north side of Cheltenham and a Large Red Damselfly in a garden in a Swindon Lane.

Cheltenham (4 May, contributed by Robert Homan)

Now 3 Lesser Whitethroats singing along the Honeybourne Cycle Path between Swindon Lane and the town centre – this represents the typical breeding population.

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