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A Visitor from Greenland at Upham Meadow

 

Most people will think of Upham Meadow at Twyning as a Lammas Meadow, one of the traditional Severn and Avon Vale riverside meadows, which floods in winter and produces a hay crop in summer.  It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its nesting hay meadow birds – in particular Curlews, Redshanks, until recently Corn Buntings, with Reed  and Sedge Warblers round the edges, and many pairs of Reed Buntings. It’s also well known for its hay meadow botany, and is particularly rich in species like Meadowsweet and Great Burnet, as well as two species of Water Dropwort, the Narrow-leaved and the Tubular. This natural diversity is maintained by traditional farming practices: no fertiliser (the river floods bring enough of that); no spraying (which means that Ragwort is a problem); hay cutting beginning on 15 June and proceeding strip by strip until Lammas Day  in early August; prohibited access in the summer months; then aftermath grazing by commoners who have grazing rights. The whole system is overseen by the Haywarden, one of the owners of the strips of land. This system is supported by current agri-environmental schemes, managed by Natural England.

In autumn and winter, before the floods rise, the site is grazed by sheep and cattle. Among the species present are large numbers of Canada Geese, and in recent winters some of these birds have proved to be carrying engraved colour rings, which were put on in midsummer, of all places at Windermere.  The birds go there during the moult period, when they are flightless, and need to keep well out of the way of marauders. Having renewed their flight feathers, they make for the Severn and Avon Vales to winter. One of these Canada Geese was marked at Bowness in Windermere in July 2013, with a red ring bearing the inscription AASK in white letters. I have since seen this same bird with the same ring, at Upham Meadow in November and December 2014, February, October and December 2015 and in November 2016; I didn’t manage to find it in winter 2017/18, so was pleased to observe it again on 17 November 2018, back in familiar surroundings. It is clearly very faithful to this site.

While I was pleased to see Canada AASK again, a much more surprising find was a Greenland White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons flavirostris, among a flock of just over a hundred Canada Geese. The Greenland Whitefront is the subspecies of Whitefront that nests in Greenland, and passes through Iceland to winter in Ireland and western Scotland; it was first named by Sir Peter Scott who named it for its yellow bill (‘flavirostiris’), yellow legs and heavier barring on the belly. It is fairly unusual in Gloucestershire – The “Birds of Gloucestershire” indicates that it has occurred, mainly at Slimbridge, in about 20 winters since 1945, generally birds which overshot Ireland on their way southeast. This subspecies is relatively easy to distinguish from the European Whitefront Anser albifrons albifrons which breeds in Russia and migrates through western Europe, reaching Slimbridge as its most westerly wintering site.

When I looked more closely at the bird – even more exciting –  I found it had a satellite transmitter round its neck, so (if the transmitter was working) there was a chance of finding out more about the route it had taken to reach Twyning. The bird was seen a bit later on the Worcestershire bank near Fleet Lane by Andy Warr who took the attached pictures, which clearly show the transmitter, and the yellow bill. It has been seen since then in several sites on the Worcestershire border, at least until 20 November.

I sent this information to goose expert Dr Tony Fox, once of Slimbridge, now working in Denmark as a key figure in international goose studies, and for many years a specialist in Greenland Whitefront. His response was as follows:

“This bird was indeed an adult female Greenland White-fronted Goose caught in Hvanneyri, West Iceland, on 23 September 2017; after several days at Hvanneyri, she shifted westwards within Iceland to spend the remaining time staging in Myrar. That autumn she overshot Wexford (literally overflying County Waterford), hit the Brittany coast and looped round back over Cornwall to arrive finally at Wexford, where she wintered.

“In autumn of 2018, she left Iceland on 24 October sometime after 14:37 UTC and was mid-way across the sea at 02:00 on 25 October, but was clearly drifting very far east, ending up in mid North Sea, arriving off Texel at 17:00.  She clipped Goeree, south of Rotterdam, at 20:00, and a little later left the Belgian coast off Zeebrugge, reaching the English coast at 00:30 on 26 October at the mouth of the Deben Estuary. She looped southwest and departed the southern English coast between Newhaven and Seaford, heading for the French coast, which she reached at about 07:00 same day, just north of Le Havre. Clearly not satisfied with her landfall, she headed NE and just inland of Calais and at around 12:00 swung NW and crossed the Channel again, coming into NE Kent in mid-afternoon on 26 October.  She headed for the north coast and seemed to rest on the sea (the first time she seems to have rested since leaving Iceland) between 19:00-21:00 between Birchington-on-Sea and Herne Bay.  She seemed to land in a field just inland from there, but at midnight set off west, following the north coast of Kent, continuing over south London (just south of Heathrow at 15:00 on 27 October).  She stopped briefly for a few hours from 19:00-21:00 in fields near Aynho, at the southern end of Northamptonshire before heading on, and probably roosted in north Gloucestershire before heading onwards. By 17:50 on 28 October she reached gravel pits at Great Comberton and has been on the Gloucestershire/Worcestershire border ever since.

The map below shows her itinerary, as revealed by the satellite. This all shows that Upham Meadow is interesting not just for Curlews and Water-Dropwort!

STOP PRESS: Latest news of the Greenland Whitefront: the transmitter suddenly stopped working overnight on 20 November, when the bird was known to be roosting at Kemerton Lake in south Worcestershire.  It was feared that the bird had been predated, perhaps by a fox? Careful searches of the site revealed no corpse and no transmitter, and searches for the bird among flocks of Canada Geese were also unsuccessful. Fortunately, however, it turned out that the fears were groundless: the transmitter started working again (sending a signal every 15 minutes), and in the last few days of November, she has visited Ripple Lake and Longdon Marsh in Worcestershire, and Tirley and Coombe Hill in Gloucestershire. Incidentally, while the neck collars may look ugly and cumbersome, Tiny Fox comments: “We started by using backpacks back in the 1990s, but had huge problems with geese ripping out the antennae and chewing through harnesses.  There have been some published analyses of using different types of attachment on geese, and the prevailing wisdom is that collar mounted devices are by far the best for the survival and fitness of the birds.”

Mike Smart


Letter from the Chair, November 2018

Dear Members

The Society’s Rules stipulate that we must give members three months’ notice of the Annual General Meeting; we have duly observed this obligation, by posting advance notice of the meeting both in GNS NEWS, and on the Society’s website; (by the way, I wonder whether you are in the habit of looking at the website, in between quarterly issues of GNS NEWS? Lots of interesting information there, plus reminders of upcoming events, both indoors and outdoors, of interest to GNS members; do take a look at www.glosnats.org). Just to confirm, the AGM will be held on Friday 22 March 2019, at the Gala Club, Fairmile Gardens, Gloucester, with the Society’s President, Mrs Anna Ball, in the Chair.

However the 2019 AGM will see a number of changes to the Society’s Executive Committee. David Scott-Langley is stepping down as Vice Chairman, after a very long stint, during which he has also been Chairman of the Cirencester branch and of the Scientific and Publications Committee, and in addition has been County Recorder for a variety of invertebrate groups; and as if that was not enough, he has continued to edit the annual volume of “The Gloucestershire Naturalist”. David is moving out of the county, but the good news is that he plans to continue acting as an invertebrate recorder, and to continue editing “The Gloucestershire Naturalist”. Since David stepped down as Chairman in 2016, the Cirencester Branch has continued its activities (notably the indoor meetings), with a group of three members – Ken Cservenka, Andrew Bluett and Rob Curtis – acting as a steering committee. Furthermore, Juliet Bailey took over from David as Chair of the Scientific and Publications Committee in 2016; Juliet is a long-standing member of the Society, is active in many fields of natural history in the county (notably botany and ornithology), and has for some time been the county Lichen Recorder; so we can be confident that the Society’s scientific activities and publications are in good hands.

Since I became Chairman of GNS in 2003, I have tried to strengthen links between the Society and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust; to pursue this end, I have for many years been a Trustee of GWT, but my permitted period as Trustee is now up and I stood down in September. Both GNS and GWT were keen to maintain the close links, so Andrew Bluett, the GNS Membership Secretary, was elected to the GWT Board in September. An initial meeting has already taken place to look more closely at how GNS, with its corps of very experienced volunteer naturalists, can cooperate even more closely with GWT. So, all in all, this seems to me to be a good opportunity for me to step down as GNS Chairman at the 2019 AGM.

The Society’s Executive Committee has obviously been considering this situation, and a number of existing members of the Committee have indicated that they would be happy to stand for election at the coming AGM. All are active field naturalists, with a long record of involvement in the Society’s activities: Mervyn Greening (a trained biologist, until recently a science teacher in Gloucestershire secondary schools, an active bird-ringer, and a keen botanist) will stand for Hon. Chairman. Juliet Bailey is to stand for Hon Vice Chair. In addition, I am delighted to say that Barrie Mills, who has recently been co-opted to the Executive Committee, is standing as a candidate for the post of Hon Secretary, a position which has remained vacant for far too long. Most of the other current Committee members are standing for re-election, notably Andy Lewis who has been a member of the Committee during the amalgamation between GNS and the North Cotswolds Ornithological Society, which is now happily almost complete. I too (with the approval of the other members of the Committee!) shall be standing again, as an ordinary member of the Committee.

Please note that there will be an election at the AGM. The members mentioned above are for the moment candidates for the various positions in the Society; if any other GNS members wish to put their names forward, this will be very welcome: don’t hesitate to contact me. Above all, please do come along to the AGM, to join in the latest episode in the history of GNS, which began way back in 1948.

After the AGM there will be an address by Dr Keith Alexander on ‘Gloucestershire’s best beetles’. Keith is an Honorary member of the Society, a former invertebrate recorder, author of the recent GNS publication in the TGN series on “Beetles of Gloucestershire”, and he took part in the field surveys in the county in the last two summers of Cosnard’s Net-winged Beetle. His presentation will undoubtedly throw new light on the invertebrates – often the most neglected, yet perhaps the fundamental component of biodiversity. Do come along to hear him speak; it should be an interesting and inspiring  event.

Until then, I send compliments of the season to all members and wish you a year full of inspiring natural history experiences in 2019.

With very best wishes

Mike Smart
Hon Chairman


Discovering Bats Day, 27th October

Organiser John Moore Museum
Date Saturday 27th October 2018
Time Four sessions to choose from:
10.30am to 11.30am
11.45am to 12.45pm
2.30pm to 3.30pm
3.45pm to 4.45pm
Venue John Moore Museum, 41 Church Street, Tewkesbury, GL20 5SN
Details Why do bats hang upside-down?
How do they find their way in the dark?
What different types of bats live in the UK?
How can I encourage them to visit my garden?
Bat expert David Endacott will be at the museum with a selection of live, rescued British Bats to explain all about these fascinating creatures of the night.  Also displays by the Gloucestershire Bat Group where you can learn about their work and how to join.  This is the perfect opportunity to find out the truth about these much misunderstood animals.
PLUS
Pick up FREE information on how you can help bats, and craft activities for children – make your own origami bat or bat mask!
 
Tickets available on the door or in advance from the museum
Adults £6.00 / Seniors & Students £4.50 / Children £2
(Includes admission to the John Moore Museum & The Old Baptist Chapel).
Contact: Simon Lawton (Curator)
E-Mail: curator@johnmooremuseum.org
Telephone: 01684 297174

Northern Goshawk, the phantom of the forest, an illustrated talk by Steve Watson, 16th November

Steve Watson will cover the natural history of the goshawk, including its ecology, population dynamics, biology, foraging, courtship and breeding behaviour.

Information: https://www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk/events/2018-11-16-northern-goshawk-phantom-forest-illustrated-talk-steve-watson

Location: Catholic Church Hall, Cinder Hall, Coleford, Glos, GL16 8HN

Event details

Date: Friday 16 November 2018
Time: 19:30 to 21:30

About the event: This event is organised by the Forest of Dean Group of the GWT. Tickets are available are on the door.

Booking

Price/donation: £2 including tea/coffee and biscuits, free for children.

Know before you go

Mobility: Suitable for people with limited mobility.
Wheelchair access: Suitable for wheelchair users.

Contact us

Philip Mugridge
Contact number: 01594 510384
Contact email: info@gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk


Ashleworth Ham CES Visit 11, 2018

Ringing at Ashleworth Ham

Visit 11 on 21 August 2018

The conditions for catching birds were perfect, slightly overcast, and only a light breeze. The trouble is that, in order to catch birds, there need to be birds present. The complete absence of bird sound whilst putting up the nets, soon materialised into the second lowest catch of the year. Whilst not totally unexpected, it is always disappointing to have fears confirmed. The catch of 30 birds was well below the averages (48 for last five years, and 52 for the full twenty previous years). The hedgerows are full of fruit, and a few insects are around, but for the time being, the birds appear to have left the site, a feature that has been noted in previous years. Numbers pick up again in mid- to late September, and good catches are obtained in October.

Whitethroat topped the list with six birds caught, closely followed by Blackcap and Redstart with five of each species. All five Blackcaps were re-traps, of which two were adults in full annual moult. Two each of Redstart and Whitethroat were re-traps, one of the Whitethroats being an adult in annual moult.

The Redstarts were all juveniles at different stages of their post juvenile moult. Two were females fully moulted out, but still recognisable as juveniles by the orange fringes on the greater coverts, the other three were males, one obviously so as it was nearly through its moult, the other two were only just recognisable as males, as their moult had just reached their heads, and a few white feathers were just beginning to show through their protective sheaths. It is this opportunity to see these intimate details of a bird’s life cycle, that is one of the major appeals of ringing. For the scientists studying populations, the data from Ashleworth show that in this area, Redstarts have had a successful breeding season, with 22 of the 31 individuals handled this year being juveniles.

Chiffchaffs on the other hand appear not to have done so well locally.  Most years at this time, the sound we hear most frequently is the disyllabic call note of the young birds keeping contact with each other. This year there is little or no sound of them, and the catching figures reflect this, each visit yielding an average of just over one bird per visit, compared with last year when each visit yielded 8.4 birds per visit, and 5.8 birds per visit in 2016. It will be interesting to see if visit 12 (the final CES visit) does anything to change these statistics, but it is doubtful if it will.

Mervyn Greening


Ashleworth Ham CES Visit 10, 2018

Ringing at Hasfield Ham

by Mervyn Greening

Visit 10 on Tuesday 14 August 2018

The electric fence, to protect the netting area from cattle, was re-instated yesterday, and was still standing when operations started this morning. Weather-wise, the conditions could not have been better, slightly overcast and with the gentlest of breezes. Whilst the nets were being erected it was noted that there was virtually no bird sound. So, despite the perfect conditions, it was no surprise that catching was very slow.

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If it hadn’t been for the arrival of good numbers of migrating Swallows and House Martins, some of which descended low enough to be caught, the catch would have been well below the average of 57. As it was the catch, with the hirundines, was slightly above average at 63. Of the regular birds, Whitethroat was top of the list with nine caught, followed by Bullfinches with six.

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Of the 63 birds caught, only five were adults, four of which were in post-breeding moult, while one had completed its moult. All the hirundines were birds of the year which had completed their rapid, short, and incomplete post-juvenile moult, which will be finished when they reach their winter quarters. Young Swallows look like adults, but with much subdued colours, especially the throat which is rusty rather than red. House Martin juveniles on the other hand look quite different from the adults. Their plumage is more the colour of Sand Martins, as the blue tinge to the black feathers is not developed until post-juvenile plumage. When the birds are in the hand, and the rump (which is white) and the underparts are not readily visible, then the head alone could easily be mistaken for a Sand Martin.

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During the morning the cattle paid us a visit, and the effectiveness of a fully operational electric fence was demonstrated, when the herd tried to walk through the hedge where the nets are, only for the leading cows to touch the fence and jump back; this in turn caused confusion for the cows behind which ran off. Question now is, do the others learn from the ones in front? Or do they all have to touch the fence at some time to know what it does?

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One of the interesting things for me at this time of year is seeing young birds at different stages of post-juvenile (PJ) moult. A multi-brooded species like the Robin, can have young ranging from birds still completely in juvenile plumage, up to birds of the year that have completed their PJ moult and look exactly like adults. It’s also interesting to see the difference in the speed at which PJ moult happens. Long distance migrants like Swallows have a rapid and incomplete PJ moult; Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers have a partial PJ moult of all their body feathers (but not flight feathers) which takes a few weeks; Wrens which have a similar strategy, stay in juvenile plumage a long time, then have a rapid moult; and Long-tailed Tits have a complete moult so are indistinguishable from adults by September.

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Not all birds are healthy, and sometimes individuals are caught which cannot be ringed. Bullfinches and Chaffinches sometimes have mite infestations that cause their legs to develop growths. Such was the case with one of the adult Bullfinches caught today. In this male bird, the infestation has made the legs and claws grow unevenly and bigger.

 


Birds of Prey Day, John Moore Museum, 18 August 2018

A Live Animal Event for the Summer Holidays 2018

Organiser John Moore Museum
Date Saturday 18th August  2018
Time 10am to 1pm & 2pm to 5pm
Venue John Moore Museum, 41 Church Street, Tewkesbury, GL20 5SN
Details For the summer holidays the museum welcomes back J.R.C.S Falconry who will be bringing along a selection of birds of prey from their extensive collection.

Visit us to meet a Golden Eagle, a Hooded Vulture, an Eagle Owl, a Little Owl, an American Kestrel and a Barn Owl.  An opportunity to see birds of prey, from some of the largest to the smallest.

A falconer will be on hand to answer all your questions about these amazing birds as well as on the ancient art of falconry.

Four sessions to choose from:

10.00am to 11.15am
11.45am to 1pm
2pm to 3.15pm
3.45pm to 5pm

Admission

Adult: £6.00, Seniors & Students £4.50, Children £2.00

(Tickets include admission to the John Moore Museum, the Merchant’s House & the Old Baptist Chapel)

  Contact: Simon Lawton (Curator)
E-Mail: curator@johnmooremuseum.org
Website: www.johnmooremuseum.org
Telephone: 01684 297174

Broad-leaved Helleborine

I have probably 12 Broad-leaved Helleborine in our garden. One appeared between 10 and 12 years ago. Since then the numbers have increased annually without any conscious assistance on my part. This is the 2018 photograph of the original plant which has grown stronger each year.

They appear spontaneously in cracks between walls and the tarmac drive; in beds and borders, in shade or in sunny places. And I have been delighted that they have thrived here in our garden in Eastcombe (GL6 7DW)
We are both members of the GNS (my husband has been a member since 1984) and attend the Cirencester winter meetings and occasional field meetings in the summer.
I hope this report is of interest.
Kind regards
Pam Perry


Ashleworth Ham CES Visits 2, 3, 4, 2018

These three visits took place on 18th May, 28th May and 7th June. Visit 2 on the 18th was a quiet visit, with 31 birds caught which is exactly on the average for this visit. It is always a quiet visit, with the adult birds getting on with the business of breeding, territories have been sorted out, females are laying or sitting, so there is little movement. All the regular migrants were caught, and probably the most notable thing about the visit was the catching of six linnets, of which two were re-traps from previous years.

Visit three on 28th May was a day with ideal weather conditions, still and overcast, but despite this we recorded a well below average catch of 24 birds. It was notable in that no Redd Buntings or Willow Warblers were caught, and only one Whitethroat. All the Sedge Warblers caught were re-traps, so it looks as though there have been no new arrivals recently.

Visit four on the 7th June, was another good weather morning, with plenty of cloud and only a gentle breeze. The grass is now long, and it took only a few paces into the fields for us to be soaked.  The bird song by now is much reduced, but the bubbling calls of curlew, which are an ever-present feature of the early visits continued.  Male redstarts being an exception and singing well.

It is usually on visits three or four that the first juveniles are caught. With the Spring that we have had, it was no surprise not to catch any juveniles on visit three, but it was nice to find that there has been some successful breeding, as the first youngsters were caught on this visit. Four species of resident bird provided the newly fledged birds, in the form of Blue Tits, a Blackbird, Chaffinch and a Robin. Any time soon we should get some juvenile Song Thrushes, because we have had the best year ever for adult Song Thrushes with eight new birds ringed and a couple of re-traps. Unfortunately, the one Song Thrush nest found was predated before the young could be ringed and fledge. Two Carrion Crow nests along the reserve boundary have been successful with visible young in each of them.

As would be expected, all the female birds caught on the last two visits have had brood patches that indicate they are sitting on eggs.  A female Grasshopper Warbler was caught with an incubating brood patch, so they are here this year, trying to breed, despite the fact that we thought there weren’t any, as we have not heard a singing male on any visit.

Cuckoos have been very active around the site, with up to two males seen regularly, and a female heard on several occasions.

Botanically, the fields are in their prime, with lots of Yellow Iris providing splashes of colour, and the meadow sweet, the Oenanthe and the great Burnet all flowering now.