Sep 272016
 

The National Bee Unit has confirmed a sighting of the Asian hornet in the Tetbury area of Gloucestershire – the first time the hornet has been discovered in the UK. The Asian hornet is smaller than our native hornet and poses no greater risk to human health than a bee. However, they do pose a risk to honey bees. The hornet found in Tetbury is currently undergoing DNA testing at the National Bee Unit in North Yorkshire to help establish how it arrived in the UK. The hornet arrived in France in 2004 and is now common across large areas of Europe. It was discovered for the first time in Jersey and Alderney this summer. It is believed the species will not be able survive in the north of the UK due to colder winters.

Defra press release:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/asian-hornet-identified-in-gloucestershire
Links to the ID guide:
http://www.nonnativespecies.org/alerts/index.cfm?id=4
Online recording page:
http://www.brc.ac.uk/risc/alert.php?species=asian_hornet

 Posted by on 27th September 2016 at 10:14
Sep 132016
 

The next GNS Field Meeting is due to take place on Sunday 25th September at Cleeve Hill to be led by Ellie Phillips.

BIOLOGICAL RECORDING – What it is and how to record your observations.

Biological recording is the main purpose of the GNS and this is an important chance to learn or update your skills. You can stay for as much or as little of the meeting as you wish, there will be a mixture of background context and practical sessions.

There is a handout booklet to help with this event; it would therefore be helpful to have some idea of numbers beforehand. Please contact Des Marshall 01242 245143 or catullus@uwclub.net to register your interest.

Meet in the Quarry Car Park (next to the Golf Club), Cleeve Hill, at SO 989 271 at 10.00am (bring a packed lunch).

Sep 102016
 
Water-Lily and Water Fern at Willersey, 7September 2016

Willersey, 7 September 2016

During several recent journeys through Willersey, in the north of the county, I had noticed that the ornamental pond on the village green seemed to have become largely covered by some kind of vegetative growth, much of it a reddish colour. I eventually took an opportunity to park nearby and had a closer look. It turns out that the surface of most of the pond has been colonised by the Water Fern (Azolla filiculoides), an introduced species from the Americas which was first recorded over here, at Pinner in Middlesex, in 1883. I have come across this fern from time to time but it is sensitive to our winter temperatures and I am not aware of any persistent colony in our part of the country. It is quite likely that there will be no sign of it at Willersey next year!

Water Fern is very different from any of the other ferns found in the British Isles. It does not root itself in the soil, but floats free on the surface of still waters it has colonised. The individual plants remain tiny and reproduce readily by simply breaking apart. By this means the plant can spread quickly across the surface of a suitable body of water.

 

dsc_0008

Water Fern close-up, Willersey

Although it is not well-known in this country (as a non-native, it has been given rather limited cover in the standard field guides) Azolla is a significant member of the flora elsewhere, particularly in rice-growing areas. Pockets within the leaf lobes floating at the water surface usually house the nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium Anaboena azollae. In China and Vietnam the native Azolla pinnata was cultivated for hundreds of years so that the nitrogen rich ferns could be used as fertiliser for the rice crop;  quite recently  A. filiculoides has largely taken over this role as it has proved to be a little more cold-tolerant and a great deal less susceptible to insect attack.  Azolla is also used as animal feed in its native regions, and for mosquito control (principally by denying egg-laying females access to the water surface).

Like other ferns, Water Fern can reproduce by means of spores, but very little seems to be known about the extent and significance of this within the British Isles.

dsc_0007

The pond at Willersey, showing the extent of the Water Fern cover this year

Elsewhere, attempts to stimulate significant spore production for commercial purposes have apparently failed, so taking advantage of the plant’s capacity for prolific vegetative reproduction remains the only viable option where cultivation is practised. It is likely that accidental and deliberate introductions by aquarists account for much of the Water Fern’s British distribution but transport of spores and plant fragments on the feet and feathers of birds is also a possibility.

There is evidence that Water Fern has become more common in recent years; this could be a reflection of our changing climate. Perhaps we should be showing more interest in this introduced fern that may have become an established resident, particularly in view of the unique features of its biology and lifestyle. It would be interesting to know whether it is, in fact, persistent at any Gloucestershire sites and whether there is any obvious pattern to its occurrence in the county.

Martin Matthews

 

Aug 062016
 

Some of the ground ivy Glechoma hederacea leaves in my garden are pocked with white-rimmed craters reminding me of rivet washers on jeans. On closer examination, there are hairy green columns also present on some leaves.  These are caused by the fly Rondaniola bursaria.   Each column, known as a “lighthouse gall”, contains a single larva which falls off the leaf in late summer leaving the hole.

20160806 Lighthouse Gall

Robert Homan, the GNS county recorder for plant galls, confirmed the identification and says that it seems to be a good year for “lighthouse galls”. There are a lot on beech and lime, though these are caused by other invertebrate species. He would no doubt appreciate more records.

Posted on behalf of Juliet Bailey.

 Posted by on 6th August 2016 at 19:24
Aug 052016
 

Curlews are a familiar breeding bird along the Severn Vale from Gloucester up to Worcester, and along the Avon from Tewkesbury to Evesham. They nest in hay meadows, and their bubbling call is one of the sounds of summer.   Upwards of 50 pairs may nest in this area, making it one of the most important areas for the species in the South-West.  So in spring and summer 2016 a small group of observers has tried to assess the number of breeding pairs, to identify the fields where they nest (they are known to be strongly faithful to breeding fields), and to make an estimate of productivity – given that many chicks are known to fall a prey to predators (notably foxes, and probably crows and gulls as well), and that some fall victim to early mowing, particularly of silage.

The preliminary results are as follows (a more detailed report will appear in due course):

  • About 30 pairs that attempted to nest were found in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.
  • This is probably an underestimate, as some known sites were not covered, and nesting birds were often difficult to find in long grass, remaining particularly discreet when they had young chicks in June.
  • Nesting began late, as many riverside meadows remained flooded until well into April, rather later than in most recent years.
  • Several pairs, presumed (from their behaviour) to be nesting, were located in April and May; very few nests were found, since they are well hidden in the long grass, and it is important not to disturb grass around the nest, thus making them more liable to predation.
  • Some nesting pairs appeared to lose their eggs or young early in the season; the adult birds tended to stay on for a short time at the breeding site, and then to disappear, no doubt departing to the moulting and wintering areas around the coast, including the Gloucestershire sector of the Severn estuary.
  • When the chicks hatch, the females leave the breeding site fairly early (before the young are full-grown), leaving just the male to care for the  chicks in late June and July when the young are learning to fly.
  • At least six adult males with just-flying chicks were found during July, and at least one more was suspected to have young because of the agitated behaviour of the male.
  • When the chicks are able to fly, the male departs for the coast, leaving the chicks to fend for themselves.  For a few days chicks may be seen on their own near the breeding place; at one site six flying juveniles were seen together in early August, suggesting that the total number of successful broods may have been above seven.
  • There are a few records of young birds appearing at non-breeding sites along the Severn, presumably young birds on their way to the coast.
  • It was notable that the majority of farmers and landowners, on whose land Curlews were nesting, were very favourably disposed towards the birds: they were very familiar with the species, recognised them as returning to the same field or fields year after year; in many cases they made special arrangements to avoid disturbing the nesting birds, in some cases suspending hay making if young birds were present.
 Posted by on 5th August 2016 at 11:46
Jul 292016
 

20160729 Beaver

Dear Partner
Wetlands West would like to invite you to a half day presentation and discussion on beaver re-introduction at Apperley Village Hall on TUESDAY 27th SEPTEMBER 2016, starting at 12.30 pm.  The presentation will be given by Adrian Lloyd Jones and Alicia Leow-Dyke from the Welsh Beaver Project.  The Welsh Beaver Project is investigating the feasibility of bringing wild beavers (Castor fiber) back to Wales. This work is being led by the Wildlife Trusts in Wales as part of their Living Landscapes strategy. Programme for the afternoon is as follows:
12.30   Arrive and registration
13.00   Lunch
13.45   Update from Partners on Wetland Project activity
14.30   Returning the Beaver – the Welsh Experience.  Adrian Lloyd Jones and Alicia Leow-Dyke from the Welsh Beaver Project.
15.30   Questions discussion and next steps
16.00   Topics for future meetings
16.15   Close and Depart

If you wish to attend please email Colin Studholme by FRIDAY 9th SEPTEMBER.  colin.studholme@gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk

 Posted by on 29th July 2016 at 23:49
Jul 292016
 

Natural England are leading on the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Batscape Project (being delivered through the Foresters’ Forest HLF Landscape Partnership Programme), working in close partnership with the Gloucestershire Bat Group and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. As part of this project a Lesser Horseshoe bat survey is being carried out on Saturday 13th August and volunteers are needed!

PDF file with details: 20160729 Forest of Dean Lesser Horseshoe Bat survey 13

Please contact Forest Voluntary Action Forum (FVAF) for more details of how to get involved and to book a place: Tim Fretter or Deb Cook contact@fvaf.org.uk or 01594 822073

 Posted by on 29th July 2016 at 16:25
Jul 192016
 

The bird breeding season in the Severn and Avon Vales is almost over, so this seems a good time to offer an update on the results, based on observations made by the many birdwatchers active in this area, particularly, but not exclusively, at the two Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserves at Coombe Hill and Ashleworth Ham; and not just waterbirds, though they have been the main focus.  We have paid particular attention this year to identifying fields on which Curlews are breeding.

The beginning of the season was unpromising, because of the flooding which lasted well into April; we haven’t had spring flooding for several years now.  Three pairs of Shelducks (rather more than usual; they are more numerous on the estuary, where they nest in rabbit holes) produced duckings  – at Coombe Hill, Ashleworth and Cobney Meadows; two of these were unusually early in mid-May, despite the flooding, which suggests that they were nesting, as is traditional, in the boles of pollarded willows; the Ashleworth pair was seen to lose their young to a passing fox, but at least some of the other two broods seem to have survived.  The usual breeding pairs of Mute Swans, Greylag and Canada Geese and Mallard occurred, but no other ducks have as yet been proved to nest; some Tufted Ducks will no doubt be nesting somewhere.

Grey Herons and Little Egrets have nested at the usual Vale heronries; today at Coombe Hill, the unusually high number of nine Little Egrets was present, most of them clearly recently fledged juveniles, which no doubt originated in a local heronry.  As for waders, Coombe Hill has been the star site, even though successful rearing of chicks has been very poor. For the first time ever, a pair of Avocets attempted to nest; this was hardly unexpected, as there are colonies at Slimbridge and on the Worcs Wildlife Trust reserve at Upton Warren near Droitwich; sadly, they abandoned their attempt fairly early on, but we may hope to see them trying again in future years.  A pair of Oystercatchers successfully raised two chicks on the island.  At least nine Lapwing nests were seen from the hide, but only two produced chicks and both broods seem to have disappeared, which is pretty depressing; there have been few reports from other sites, though one or two pairs seen to be nesting on maize fields in the Vales .  A pair of Redshanks also nested at Coombe Hill for the first time for several years; they produced two chicks, but neither reached the flying stage; no records of nesting Redshanks at any other site have been received.  At Ashleworth, only Coot and Mallard seem to have nested successfully on the reserve, though two pairs of Curlews nested on the SSSI, just outside the reserve, one of them successfully raising two chicks.  No nesting Redshanks and very few Lapwings have been found on other sites in the Vales in Gloucestershire, though several have been successful at other sites on the Severn and Avon in Worcestershire.

As for Curlews, the wet weather of recent weeks has meant late hay cutting, which may have helped them to bring off young chicks successfully.  We have found three adult Curlews with definite broods of chicks in the last ten days, and strongly suspect (from the agitated behaviour of the parent) that at least three more pairs have raised chicks, which are notoriously difficult to find in the long grass.  The Curlew is a well recognised and much loved species in the area, and many farmers are willing to delay hay cutting when they know there is a nesting Curlew on their land.  It is very striking that these adult Curlews (which are highly faithful to the same breeding field, year after year) nest predominantly in ancient hay meadows, so we have been paying greater attention to botany; if you look after the hay meadows (a very desirable conservation objective in itself), you will look after the breeding Curlews – and other ground-nesting birds like Skylarks and maybe other waders too.

Among other breeding birds, there have been no signs of Quail or Sported Crake this year (both probably bred last year).  Ringing at Ashleworth produces good data on nesting songbirds, and it seems that Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat and Reed Bunting have had a good year, with at least one pair of Grasshopper Warbler.

Autumn migration has already begun, with a lone Spoonbill at Coombe Hill in June, the first returning Snipe and Green Sandpipers from mid-June, and already returning Teal, Greenshank, Whinchats and (rather unusually away from the estuary) a Bar-tailed Godwit.

 Posted by on 19th July 2016 at 15:12
Jul 182016
 

Below are further notes on the survey of breeding Curlews in the Severn and Avon Vales in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, as of mid July. The survey is being carried out because of the increasing realisation that conservation of Curlews (both on breeding sites and in wintering areas) is one of the principal bird conservation issues in UK. Similar breeding surveys have been carried on in other parts of lowland England, as well as on the upland breeding areas throughout UK.

  • The nesting season started late because of flooding which continued into mid-April.
  • Although the breeding Curlews were quite obvious and vocal (with lots of bubbling song-flights) over their territories in May, they went quiet and became much more difficult to find during June.  In June, when the eggs would be expected to hatch, the adults became much more discreet; they often kept out of the way in the long grass, only emerging if you got fairly close to the area of grass where the chicks were presumably located; if they did have chicks, their very agitated calls made this pretty obvious.
  • Some birds clearly lost their eggs or young; but the adults seemed to hang about close to the breeding sites, remaining much quieter than birds with young; this makes the picture much more complicated and difficult to interpret.
  • Several farmers in the area have contacted me before hay cutting, asking me to check whether there were breeding Curlews on their fields, and offering to delay hay making if breeding Curlews are found with young.
  • By mid July, the breeding season is almost over.  Several adult Curlews have been seen with full-grown young on hayfields.  This rather early date is something of a surprise to me: I thought it was a late year because of the April flooding, but the young seem to be fledging slightly earlier than usual.
  • Because of damp, miserable weather in the last couple of weeks, hay cutting has been delayed; this extra period of grace may well have helped more breeding Curlews to bring off their young successfully.
  • Curlews will no doubt disappear from the Severn and Avon meadows in the next couple of weeks, moving off to wintering sites on estuaries and round the coast; some birds from further north may be seen moving through. From early August, the focus on Curlew observations will change to the estuary.
  • Over the Hasfield/Ashleworth area in Gloucestershire, a Curlew was seen on 6 July, flying high downriver and taking no notice of local breeding birds – probably a bird that had finished the breeding cycle further north and was on its way to the estuary.
  • In the same site (where two breeding pairs had been noted throughout the spring and early summer) a very anxious adult male was giving alarm calls over a hayfield on 7 July; it was still there, equally anxious, on 9 July, accompanying two full grown chicks, which could just fly (an early date, it seems to me); by 12 July there was no sign of them and they had probably moved off to wintering areas.
  • At Upham Meadow, Twyning (Gloucestershire), where hay cutting is always relatively late, and is staggered (leaving large swathes of uncut hay as a refuge for young Curlews), another anxious male was seen on 15 July, with two flying birds of the year nearby.
  • Near Bredon’s Hardwick on the Worcestershire bank of the Avon, another anxious male was found on 16 July and, shortly afterwards, a flying young bird was seen.  This is a site recognised by the famer as a regular Curlew breeding field; he had seen a non-flying young Curlew a week earlier, and had therefore not cut the hay over a large part of the field.
  • It is probably significant that all three of the above sites are very secluded, with little or no disturbance from visitors (especially dog-walkers).
  • At several other sites along the Avon, both in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, very agitated adults with the characteristic alarm call have been seen in the last ten days; young (flying or not) were not found, but were almost certainly present; the chicks’ natural reaction, even if they can fly, is to crouch in the grass, where they are very difficult to find.  So it is thought that at least three other pairs successfully raised young.
  • At some sites where breeding attempts had been noted earlier in the season, adult Curlews have been noted, but without the alarm calls and with no sign of anxiety.  It is thought that at these sites, the adults had lost eggs or young and were staying on near the site after the failure of their breeding attempt.
  • Thus, at the Severn Ham, Tewkesbury, (where a pair successfully brought off chicks last year), the farmers who had hay cutting rights were all ready to delay hay making if young Curlews were found.  But although one (perhaps two) pairs of Curlews had tried to nest there, it seems they lost their eggs or young (probably to predators such as fox, crow or badger), so had no chicks by the time of hay making.
  • I am sure that there are more pairs that I don’t know about, especially further up the Worcestershire Avon.  I would be very pleased to have any more reports on the progress of the season, there or elsewhere.

More long-term issues:

  • Mary Colwell, who earlier in the year undertook a 500 mile from Northern Ireland to Lincolnshire to highlight the plight of the Curlew (see page 61 of the latest RSPB magazine, in a broad article on Curlews and other waders), has been back to Gloucestershire, together with Phil Sheldrake of RSPB.  We are planning an all-day workshop as a follow-up to Curlew surveys throughout lowland England (and as a prelude to efforts next year), probably on next World Wetland Day, Thursday 2 February 2017; watch this space for further details.
  • Despite my limited botanical knowledge, I have been looking more closely at the botany of hay meadows in the Severn and Avon Vales.  It seems to me that most Curlews are nesting on herb-rich ancient hay meadows, and that if you look after good hay meadows (a highly legitimate conservation aim in itself), you will protect many of the nesting Curlews (and other ground nesting species too – Skylark, Yellow Wagtail, Corn Bunting – and probably other nesting waders such as Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe, though these tend to prefer rather wetter sites than Curlew).   So I shall be talking to county record centres about marshalling botanical data, so that it becomes easier to identify and monitor the best hay meadows in each county (Top Twenty? Top Fifty?  Are they all recognised as SSSIs or Key Wildlife sites?).
 Posted by on 18th July 2016 at 09:58
Jul 182016
 

LawrenceLawrence Skipp, who died in a road accident in the Forest of Dean on 2 July at the age of only 38, was a general naturalist of exceptionally broad interests.  I have known him for fifteen years or more, and usually met him in the hides and lanes round the reserves at Ashleworth and Coombe Hill.  His base was in the Hartpury/ Tibberton area, and the Severn Vale and the Forest of Dean of the county were the two areas where he was particularly active. I am grateful to his father, Dave, who has provided more details about the life and interests of his son.

He would sit for hours in the hides, usually wearing his green and brown camouflage gear, often very late in the day, or even into the night, since he knew that birds often become more active at that time and do interesting things that can’t be seen by day.  As Dave notes ‘Several times this year I have been in a hide with him around dusk time, when you can hardly see your hand in front of your face, and there he is scribbling away without really looking at what he was writing. He seemed to have a knack at writing “blind”.  I will miss him coming round to check on weather forecasts and sighting websites, to be followed by a running commentary from him on what he expected would be seen in the next few days here & there based on wind / weather/ migration patterns’.

In his youth, as his father relates ‘Lawrence was a keen Gloucester Young Ornithologists Club member, a captain of the Hartpury School Nature Team and a mean sprinter on the track. He always had a wildlife pond wherever he lived, and would spend hours with his backside in the air and his head at the water surface, marvelling at the antics of the newts and general pond life as they went about their daily business. When he wasn’t doing that, he was reading natural history books, drawing, or bird watching. His first real job was with the Gloucestershire Trust for Nature Conservation, until he unfortunately suffered a back problem that needed spinal surgery which left him plagued with pain. Later he did voluntary care work for the Animal Rescue Centre, allied to Hartpury College, where they called him the “Bird-Man”. He was always coming home covered in cuts, bites and bird poop but he absolutely loved it. He was the sort of person who wouldn’t kill a fly, but he would fairly happily feed it to the resident wild spiders in the webs around his flat unless of course it was something special or one he hadn’t seen before, in which case he would capture it under a glass tumbler to view and sketch it thoroughly before release’.

His strength was his attention to detail, of which there are many testimonies in the hide log books at Ashleworth and Coombe Hill, in his characteristic neat and elegant handwriting, done with a fine nibbed pen: he had real artistic flair. As his father notes ‘He loved his art, and was gifted with a keen eye for detail and an ability to transfer it to a beautifully drawn replica. He was so excited when was asked to contribute bird studies for inclusion in the “The Birds of Gloucestershire”, but unfortunately had a bad car accident in 2011 which left him wheelchair bound for almost a year and unable to follow that through. His love of nature, art, and bird-life in particular kept him strong and got him through those bad times back up to relative fitness and back out into “the field” and into drawing again. He never really fully recovered, and pain still plagued him daily, but he soldiered on and fought his demons head on.  Perhaps that’s why he loved his “camo-gear” so much, as you would never really catch sight of him out of uniform, ready for action in the hunt for an elusive rarity or just simply marvelling in the beauty of the humble iridescent Starling’.

He did find quite a number of rare birds in the county: he was one of the few who saw the Scarlet Rosefinch at Ashleworth; he was the one who actually identified the Stilt Sandpiper at Coombe Hill (after Les Brown had seen it without identifying it); he found the singing Spotted Crake at Coombe Hill (late at night of course) last year.  I remember him persuading half a dozen of us to join him at Ashleworth round midnight in early June, when an unusually loud and voluble warbler song had convinced him a Marsh Warbler had turned up: it proved to be ‘just’ a Sedge Warbler, one that had probably failed elsewhere, and had moved in for a fresh breeding attempt, which would explain the sudden bursts of song.  He was with us on 10 May this year when Coombe Hill had such a succession of unusual migrants brought in by a south east wind – Grey Plover, Turnstone and Sanderling, plus overflying Black and Arctic Terns, and he was the one who first picked out the terns.  The log books reveal him writing down details of things as they happened in front of him: he would record individual variations in the plumages of Curlews as they arrived (he was the one who most frequently recorded the colour ringed bird at Ashleworth, and he showed me Curlew chicks in a hayfield near Haw Bridge); he recorded not only birds, but invertebrates too, especially dragonflies.  One of the last text messages I received from him (in his usual textspeak) on 19 June ran as follows: “Would you mind asking Ingrid Twissel if teneral Lestes sponsa ever show pale pterostigma pls?  If not, i saw Lestes viridis at coombe the day I last saw you”.  Sadly he died before I could pass on Ingrid’s reply, so let me pass it on here: “Chalcolestes viridis (Willow Emerald Damselfly) is larger than Lestes sponsa (Emerald Damselfly), and has pale wing-spots outlined in black, but at present is only found in south-east England. Other immature/teneral species of Lestes have pale wing-spots which darken on maturity, so this is likely to be what Lawrence saw. L.sponsa is the only species that breeds at present in Gloucestershire. The only other sighting of another Emerald (Southern Emerald Lestes barbarus) occurred on the R. Avon, east of Keynsham in August 2006.”

So sad that such a gifted and observant naturalist should be snatched away so soon, and that many of his observations die with him.  There will be a simple non-religious ceremony at Gloucester Crematorium at 3.p.m. on Monday 1 August, at which all will be welcome.

P1000939

 Posted by on 18th July 2016 at 09:23
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