Mike Smart

First Curlew of the year

The level of the Severn rose considerably on 1-2 February, though it is dropping again now; as a result, smaller local streams could not flow out into the Severn and have backed up on the meadows, bringing a light flood with perfect conditions for the birds – after a very short flood in the second half of November, this is the first real flood of this winter.

At Coombe Hill Meadows on 4 February, the circular walk was under water; some water on the boardwalk to the Grundon Hide, but the hide is perfectly accessible, scrapes on 1.05m. and shallow flooding everywhere. The first Curlew of the year (unringed) was sitting quietly on its own, feeding and preening, not calling at all, behaving just like a bird that had only just arrived from its winter quarters on an estuary or coast somewhere.  Also a Black-tailed Godwit and 340 Lapwings.  Sharp increase in duck numbers: 3 Mute Swans, 20 Canada Geese, 1 Shelduck, 1040 Wigeon, 1000 + Teal, 40 Mallard, 48 Pintails (29 males, 19 females, many paired but some courtship parties with more males), 20 Shoveler.  Flock of 16 Pied Wagtails, probably migrants.

At Boddington, where there have been several hundred Lapwings for the last week, none at all today.

At Severn Ham, Tewkesbury, no sign of any Curlews; 10 Mute Swans flew over to the south, 3 Cormorants were fishing on the Severn.

Near Corse, where there have been good numbers of Lapwings in the last few weeks, only about 30 left; also a large flock of at least 1,500  mixed Fieldfares and Redwings (mainly Fieldfares, probably at least 1,200) on a freshly planted field.

At Ashleworth Ham, where water levels were also higher: no Culrews yet, but 2 Mute Swans, 175 Canada Geese, 4 Greylag Geese, 1 Shelduck, 130 Wigeon, 800 Teal, 45 Mallard, 1 Pintail, 2 Shoveler, 3 Tufted Ducks, only 1 Lapwing, 2 Nuthatches, 1 Goldcrest.


Coombe Hill and Ashleworth today

For some weeks now, water levels at both Coombe Hill and Ashleworth have been unusually low for the winter months, and water bird numbers have been low: we really need a small flood!

No change in conditions today: light frost, mist early on, much of the water surfaces iced over, rather more birds at Ashleworth than at Coombe Hill.

At Coombe Hill, practically all birds were round a hole in the ice on the Long Pool: 2 Mute Swans; 2 Canada Geese; 1 Shelduck; 40 Wigeon; 60 Teal; 15 Mallard; 10 Shoveler; 2 Grey Herons; 1 Coot on the Long Pool, five on the canal;  NIL Lapwings or Snipe; finally succeeded in finding two Stonechats alongside the footpath.

At Ashleworth, good numbers of birds right in front of the hide: 2 Mute Swans; 61 Greylags flew in (so they haven’t all departed to the breeding grounds); 200 Wigeon; 700 Teal; 20 Mallard; 2 Pintail; 15 Shoveler; 25 Snipe.  While we were pouring over our telescopes, carefully counting ducks and Snipe, we missed a Marsh Harrier flying past at some height, which was photographed by one of the keen cameramen: the picture looked altogether convincing.

Why do people buy takeaway meals then leave the debris on the roadside at nature reserves?

Boddington: about 200 Lapwing, shared between sheep grazed and cereal fields just south of the Gloucester Old Spot Inn.  So that’s why there are none at Coombe Hill or Ashleworth.


Field Meeting at Lower Lode on 22 January 2017

Fourteen members gathered for a walk, following public footpaths through a variety of habitats in the Lower Lode and Forthampton Court area, on a bright, frosty, late January morning. Starting by the Severn, the first point of interest was the brick pits just behind the flood-bank, originally excavated in the nineteenth century to provide clay for bricks to build houses in Tewkesbury; though the pits were frozen over, at least 40 Cormorants were resting in the tops of tall trees surrounding the pits; this is a regular loafing spot for these birds which must be finding a lot of fish in the Severn. Walking inland we then went through meadows now converted to maize cultivation, and slightly uphill to the first river terrace, where gravel brought down in distant geological times was evident; en route two members were fortunate to hear the breeding call of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a species rapidly declining all over the country, and something of a speciality in the area; worth looking and listening again here as the season progresses! We flushed a Snipe from some maize left uncut as game cover in the maize field, and a Green Sandpiper flew over, clearly wintering along the stream, though not frequently recorded here.

On the higher ground is the Key Wildlife Site of Forthampton Oaks: (Key Wildlife Sites are areas not actually registered as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, but of interest for their wildlife, and recognised in the planning system). Forthampton Oaks is an impressive stand of oak trees on higher ground overlooking the Severn and looking across to the Severn Ham at Tewkesbury, some dying, some in rude health; their special interest is a series of unusual beetles, recorded by GNS member Keith Alexander. In the parkland around Forthampton Court there are a variety of large trees, including a Wellingtonia in which we found a Tree Creeper roost, with good numbers of wintering thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings, feeding (on invertebrates) on grassy fields.

Then back down to the river, through ancient hay meadows, in their original state and not ploughed up for maize, where Curlews nest in summer, and with a summer Sand Martin colony in the mud banks of the river. From the river bank there are fine views back upstream of Tewkesbury Abbey, dominating that reach of the river. The historic Lower Lode Inn, just by the former ferry across the river to Tewkesbury, provided a good spot to reflect on the morning’s observations.

Preliminary report on 2016 breeding Curlew survey

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.

Breeding birds in the Severn and Avon Vales this year

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.

Latest news on the breeding Curlew survey in the Severn and Avon Vales

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?).

In Memoriam Lawrence Skipp

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.


Latest news on the breeding Curlew survey

A real movement to study and protect breeding Curlews in lowland Britain seems to be developing.  Apart from our efforts in the Severn and Avon Vales in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, Phil Sheldrake is busy on Salisbury Plain and has contacts with Curlew observers in the New Forest; surveys are being carried out in two areas of the Upper Thames Catchment (through RSPB Otmoor and Jenny Phelps of  Gloucestershire FWAG) and there’s a demonstration on one of the farms near Faringdon tomorrow); Phil and I are planning to visit the Somerset Levels next week, to see how their Curlews are doing.  Furthermore Mary Colwell is now in the middle of her 500 mile walk from Ireland to East Anglia to highlight the plight of the Curlew: she came to the Severn and Avon Vales in early April before beginning her walk; you can see notes on her visit to our area, plus details of how her walk is going, on her website www.curlewmedia .  The latest edition of RSPB’s magazine “Nature’s Home” carries a note about the lowland Curlew surveys on page 39.

We hope at the end of the breeding season to arrange some kind of get together for all those interested in Curlews and who have taken part in the surveys.

Now for some updates on the situation in the Severn and Avon Vales in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire:

  • In the Gloucestershire section we had April flooding for the first time since 2012 (thanks to Storm Katie coinciding with high elver tides); this meant that many of the traditional breeding sites were under water until mid-April, and still remain very wet; so 2016 is definitely a late season.
  • Whether because of the wet conditions, or because of the continuing decline in Curlew numbers, I have the impression that there are fewer Curlews than usual in the traditional breeding haunts this year: that’s only an impression, and I hope I shall be proved wrong as the season advances.  Several people have sent NIL returns for sites usually occupied.
  • Many pairs at traditional sites have spent the month of April holding territory, just standing round (often in pairs), showing other pairs that this field is occupied.  I haven’t seen much chasing or courtship behaviour: this is in fact quite hard to see, because they stand still, apparently doing nothing, for a very long time, and you need patience, waiting at the edge of a field behind your telescope to see them actually indulging in courtship chases.
  • The grass has now grown belly high to a Curlew, and I think they are just now in the process of laying.  Typically, a pair will stand feeding in a field, then one (the female which can be distinguished by its longer de-curved bill and larger size) walks away, often with a particular gait, looking alert and keeping close to the ground to avoid attention, and disappears out of sight.  Meanwhile the male stands round, on guard.  Phil Sheldrake tells me that he has observed this kind of behaviour on Salisbury Plain, and has pinpointed several nests in this way.
  • I have been to the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve at Coombe Hill a couple of time in the evenings, to look at numbers coming to roost.  Numbers were small because of the flooding in early April, but the last two visits have produced only five and four roosting birds, another reason for thinking numbers are low.
  • Two of the birds colour ringed in autumn from 2010 to 2013 on the Severn estuary have been re-sighted on their traditional fields, one at the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve at Ashleworth, one near Twyning.  No one has as yet found the colour-ringed bird seen in previous breeding seasons in the Queenshill Rough/ Ripple Lake area.
  • I have been to see John Belsey at the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust reserve of Upton Warren, where there is a tradition  of Curlew roosts; interestingly, these turn out to be mainly in winter, with numbers dropping off in summer; so the situation there is clearly different, with wintering rather than breeding birds coming to roost.
  • Carrion Crow and Magpie control is practised by many farmers in the area around Haw Bridge.  They are convinced that excessive numbers of predators is one of the reasons for the decline of breeding Curlews (which is  what the British Birds article in November 2015 said).  Foxes at Coombe Hill cause panic among the waders present.
  • It is hoped that mowing on the Severn Ham at Tewkesbury will be flexible (like last year), to allow any chicks produced there to fledge before the hay is cut.

I’d welcome any comments on the above remarks, and – even more so! – any additional observations that any of you may have made.

Otters seen at Coombe Hill

Water levels at Coombe Hill are currently quite high, because of recent rain and the high level of the Severn, made even higher by high tides between 6 and 12 April. On the morning of 9 April, Andy Lodge was lucky enough to see and photograph three otters very close to the Grundon Hide. There have been more and more records of otters along the Severn in recent years, indicating that this once scarce species is returning, and that water quality must be improving, but not many people get such good views; the Lapwing was clearly interested too!

Otters 2016.04.09 DSCN0269

Otters 2016.04.09 DSCN0273





Coombe Hill on 16 April

Horrid weather with snow showers early in the morning, leaving probably the heaviest snowfall of the year on the Cotswolds and a little snow on the southern end of the Malverns, and bringing large numbers of hirundines down over Coombe Hill; once the snow passed, fair numbers of singing summer migrants; no sign of the cranes seen yesterday by Andy Jayne.  Water levels continuing to rise (over the top of the stage boards again, water on the boardwalk) , making life very difficult for any ground nesting birds but nice variety pof breeding and passage waders.

4 Mute Swans (one with nest by board walk); 6 Greylags; 2 Canada Geese; 6 Shelducks; 3 Wigeon; 6 Gadwall; 150 Teal (still lots of them about, are they going to nest??); 20 Mallard; 20 Shoveler; 3 Tufted Ducks; 3 Little Egrets; 2 Grey Herons; 1 Cormorant landed; 15 Coot (family still with four growing chicks on canal); 2 Oystercatchers (mating seen); 20 Lapwings (lots of aerial display, and some display on the ground with raised tail, but no sign of any sitting birds, either on the reserve which was under water, or on the barley field which has recently been ploughed and sown); 1 Little Ringed Plover; 2 Snipe; 1 Curlew (only a bit of bubbling); 1 Whimbrel; 1 Black-tailed Godwit (in bright summer plumage); 2 Redshanks (very lively, lots of trilling and display, looks as though they would like to nest if the water levels ever drop); 1 Green Sandpiper, 10 Black-headed Gulls moving through; hundreds of Swallows and dozens of Sand Martins, plus a single House Martin, flying low early on and landing on willows to get out of the wind and snow; 2 Yellow Wagtails; 3 Pied Wagtails; one male Wheatear; at least one singing Cetti’s Warbler; about four singing Sedge Warblers; one singing Whitethroat; 1 singing Lesser Whitethroat; 3 singing Blackcaps; 2 singing Willow Warblers; at least three singing Chiffchaffs; 2 singing Reed Buntings.