GNS Nightjar Walks June / July 2016

Nightjar IMG_3375a      Nightjar IMG_3358b

30th June 2016

For the first of the series of Nightjar meetings the weather didn’t look promising, heavily overcast with low cloud, almost constant drizzle, strong wind from south-west and pretty chilly, so there wasn’t a great deal of optimism. However, 4 brave souls gathered with Andrew Bluett and set off into the gathering gloom in search of crepuscular quarry.

In view of the weather, and with only 5 people to accommodate, we cheated and drove to the viewing area rather than walking, which made things rather easier and also provided for a quick escape route if the weather became significantly worse.

As things turned out we had a real treat, 3 males churring and flying around from 9.45pm, with excellent views of birds coming close to investigate who we were and hunting low over the heath in pursuit of the moths. Several times the birds perched on one of a number of favoured perches and stayed there churring for extended periods. There was also much “chirping” as they flew and some wing clapping at times. We were favoured with 3 sightings of Woodcock, a few Bats and a frog or two, 3 large male Wild Boar and several Fallow Deer. A young Tawny Owl called from the trees on the way back to the main road.

On the way home, Colin & Ingrid Twissell who had travelled with Andrew Bluett were treated to excellent views of two family parties of Wild Boar – a female with 12 boarlets and a second female with 8, in both cases the adult lactating females being accompanied by a couple of “nursemaids” helping to care for the young.

8th July 2016

This meeting originally planned for the 7th had to be changed to the 8th. The weather was not quite as poor as for the previous meeting but was again overcast, chilly and windy. Given the success of the previous meeting, there was rather more hope of decent views of Nightjar which proved to be well founded.

6 members and guests duly met with Andrew Bluett and the party walked through the forest to the viewing area, within a very few minutes after reaching the viewing point at 9.40pm, the first Nightjar started churring, closely followed by others and much aerial activity with birds flying around, coming close and at times chasing one another around over the heath. The same favoured perches were used making it quite easy to keep track of the birds for almost two hours.

The Woodcock was heard several times but not seen and on this occasion no Boar or Deer appeared. On the walk back to the cars, the juvenile Tawny Owl was heard calling again and proved to be visible in the outer branches of a Birch tree by the side of the track before slipping away into cover.

14th July 2016

Eight members and guests turned up for the best of the three evenings weather-wise. It was relatively warm, still and fairly clear with some moonlight. Very shortly after arriving on the viewing point the first Nightjar was sighted and the activity gradually built up as darkness closed in. Again at least three males were performing, floating across the heather and bracken, perching in their favoured spots and churring, some wing clapping was seen and much chirping was uttered as the birds flew about. Several times one bird chased another and at one point, a bird took off from a high perch and rose into the sky in a display flight, quickly joined by a second bird, they then drifted off high overhead towards the woodland.

Very good views were had of birds coming close to the party – Nightjars are innately curious and will investigate intruders and foreign objects on their patch – as was the case with the video camera set up in front of one particular favoured perch with a bird lifting off the dead tree stump and almost landing on the camera and tripod before returning to the perch.

On the way back after a very good evening, a solitary Wild Boar scuttled off through the trees and two deer appeared, they also bounded off into the darkness. David Priddis discovered a few bats with his detector which added something to the evening and finally, the reliable young Tawny Owl was again head calling from the depths of the trees.

My thanks to all who turned out on the series of evening walks, their faith was rewarded and the whole venture was a great success.

A short video clip of a Nightjar can be seen here –


Nightjar evening walks 2016

Following the success of previous year’s Nightjar evening walks in the Forest of Dean, I plan to do more this year, proposed dates are:

Thursday 30th June

Thursday 7th July

Thursday 14th July

If anyone is interested, please contact me by e-mail and let me know your preferred date.

As previously, the evening meetings will begin with a 9.30pm start and will be weather dependent. The chance of seeing Nightjars on cold, wet or windy evenings is poor, we will therefore be hoping for reasonably clear and still evenings and if necessary, will revise the dates.

I will send out full instructions ahead of the proposed dates to all who wish to attend.

Andrew Bluett, Membership Secretary –

GNS Field Meeting, Saturday 11th June

Field Meeting Edge Common IMG_1031

The next GNS Field Meeting is due to take place on Saturday 11th JuneA Walk on Edge Common – to be led by Linda Moore (01452 389950). Edge Common is an area of unimproved limestone grassland with woodland and scrub, good for limestone vascular plants and other botanical gems. 11.00 am to 14.00 pm.

Meet at SO 846 095 on the road from Edge to Haresfield Beacon, parking is available in a number of places along the road but please take care, the road can be busy and traffic does not always travel at an appropriate speed.

Field Meeting – Crabtree Hill and Woorgreens Lake 10th April 2016

On a bright but slightly chilly morning some 25 members and guests joined Andrew Bluett for a walk around Crabtree Hill and to Woorgreens Lake.

Wood Anemones and the Gorse were out in flower, the Great Grey Shrike put on a show, a solitary Tree Pipit appeared, the first few Willow Warblers of the season were singing as were the earlier Chiff Chaffs, a cock Stonechat appeared briefly and Ravens flew overhead a couple of Times. Nick Christian spotted and pointed out a swift flying Sparrowhawk.

At Woorgreens Lake there were numbers of Greylag & Canada Geese, a Merganser, Dabchicks, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen and a pair of Mute Swans. The Raven flew over twice, both times being chased off by the male Carrion Crow of a pair that appeared to be nesting on the island. Again, Nick Christian spotted a Long Tailed Tit’s nest under construction for all to see and a solitary Buzzard cut lazy circles in the distance.

Thanks to all who took part, a good meeting with signs of the Spring to come.


Upcoming GNS meetings

Tales of Remarkable Birds

Tales of Remarkable Birds, by Dominic Couzens

The next GNS Indoor Meeting is due to take place on Friday 8th April – An illustrated talk on Scotland – Landscape and Wildlife by Andrew Bluett. Come and see why Scotland looks like it does and some of the wildlife that inhabits the landscapes there. At Watermoor Church Hall, Watermoor Lane, Cirencester GL7 1JR, 7pm for a 7.30 start.

The next field meeting is on Sunday 10th April – Crabtree Hill and Woorgreens Lake in the beautiful Forest of Dean – A meeting of general interest, Birds and other wildlife to be led by Andrew Bluett (01452 610085 / 07584 689090). Meet at SO 624 125 in the car park on the north side of the road ½ mile to the east of Speech House Hotel. 11am to 1pm. Binoculars are an advantage and please dress appropriately, it may be chilly and damp but will be interesting.

On Thursday 14th April a joint meeting with Painswick Bird Club, 7.00pm for 7.30pm at Painswick Town Hall in the centre of Painswick, just across the road from the Churchyard entrance. An illustrated talk by author and broadcaster Dominic Couzens – “Tales of Remarkable Birds – interesting and unusual behaviour”.

GNS Field Meeting at Minsterworth Ham on 20 March 2016

A small group of members took part in a field meeting at Minsterworth Ham on Sunday 20 March.  This is one of the “Severn Hams”, the large grassy meadows in the floodplain of the Severn, which take up winter floodwater, and are cultivated, mainly as hay meadows, in summer; other Severn Hams include Ashleworth Ham, Coombe Hill Meadows and the Severn Ham at Tewkesbury, all popular and well covered by naturalists.  Minsterworth Ham (which also includes the so-called “Corn Ham”), on the other hand, has been rather neglected, perhaps because it is rather isolated (in the large southward bend in the course of the Severn between Minsterworth and Over), though it is hardly remote, being only a few miles from the centre of the City of Gloucester.  Being very close to the course of the Severn, a number of birds pass over the site, which has regularly been mentioned as a possible for wetland restoration.

The participants used public footpaths to walk down to the river through the Corn Ham, returning by a parallel footpath.  The landscape is one of very wide open spaces, punctuated by very deep drainage ditches, with hedges of hawthorn, willow and oak; one of the attractions of the site is the chance to see well known features from a new angle – not just the Cathedral, but the looming presence of the Landfill Site, the reserve at Hempsted, and Windmill Hill and Elmore Back.

Initial impressions were that much of the present grassland has at some stage in the past been ploughed up, so that the botanical interest of the vegetation may be limited (but more visits later in the flowering season will be required to confirm this).  One of the birds being sought was Curlew, for which a breeding survey is being organised this spring in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, as well as other lowland counties; no display flights were noted, and only a single bird was heard (though it was a cold windy day and conditions may not have been perfect).  A couple of Lapwings showed signs of breeding display, and about a dozen Shelducks, mainly in pairs, may well have been seeking nesting sites in holes such as rabbit holes or pollarded willow boles.    Half a dozen Cormorants, some in flashy summer plumage, were loafing in a tree on the river bank.  One unexpected finding was a couple of male Ruff, feeding round a shallow pool remaining from the winter floods; a few of this species have recently been seen round floodwater at Ashleworth and Coombe Hill, no doubt migrants on their way to breeding grounds further north in continental Europe.  Minsterworth Ham used to be popular as a resting place for gulls from the Landfill Site across the river; with the decreasing numbers of gulls present at the Landfill Site nowadays, only a couple of hundred were found during the GNS visit, some Black-headed Gulls coming into summer plumage and a few Common Gulls, as well as the ubiquitous Lesser Blackbacks and Herring Gulls.   A large flock of some 500 Fieldfares was feeding on the grass, so there were clearly plenty of invertebrates in the soil.

A number of Lichen records were made, some frog spawn was noted in one ditch, and the mammals seen included fox, rabbit and grey squirrel.

GNS Meetings, Friday 12th and Sunday 14th February

The next GNS Indoor Meeting is due to take place on Friday 12th February – At Cirencester Branch, takes place at Watermoor Church Hall, Watermoor Lane, Cirencester GL7 1JR, 7pm for a 7.30 start

An illustrated talk by Helen Mugridge ARPS, renowned wildlife photographer, entitled Wildlife Photography at Home and Abroad – for a taste of what might be seen have a look at the web-site – Promises to be a feast of very fine photographs and interesting dialogue.

Field Meeting – The Awre Peninsula

And the next field meeting on Sunday 14th February Awre Peninsula, Estuary Birds and Wildlife to be led by Mike Smart (01452 421131). Meet at the centre of Awre village at SO 705 084 – leave the A48 and follow the signs to Awre. 11am to 2pm. Binoculars or Telescope a distinct advantage and please dress appropriately, it may be cold, wet and muddy but will be interesting.

Foresters’ Forest Landscape Project training: Ponds, Newts and Adders in the Forest of Dean

Ponds, Newts and Adders

Dear All,

Thank you for being interested in my projects which form part of the Foresters’ Forest Landscape Partnership project. I would like to give you some information on how these projects are shaping up. Some aspects are still a bit fluid but this is how I see things developing.

Pond Habitat Surveys

There are at least 150 ponds on the public forest estate and more besides on farm land and in people’s gardens. These need to be mapped and catalogued so that we have an overall picture of the pond network. Having such a network of ponds is very valuable for many species of wildlife. We will be better informed on how to manage the pond network where necessary and probably more importantly, where to create new ponds. We also need this information to help us plan for the next step in the Foresters’ Forest project (the ‘Delivery Phase’) and to make the case for receiving additional money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As luck would have it an organisation called Freshwater Habitats Trust is starting to create a national database of ponds and we should be able to utilise the facilities they have just set up.

This part of the project will involve visiting each pond with a standard form and recording all the relevant information about the pond. It will include things like the location, size, depth, the type of habitat surrounding it, etc. Also, testing the water for nitrates and phosphates, looking out for alien plant species and taking photos. The form comes with clear instructions and is quite easy to complete. There will be no need to enter the water or put yourself at risk. The next step is to take the form home and enter the data into the national pond database, including entering your photos.

Key Date: Saturday, 23rd January, 2016 at 10:00am until 12:00. Although this is all very easy to do, there will be a short training course at the Forestry Commission offices in Bank House, Coleford to run through it all. We will then drive over to the pond at the RSPB Nags Head reserve near Parkend to see how this would work in practice. This will involve some transfer time but parking will be available at both venues and a lift can be provided. Families and older children are welcome but very young children might find it a bit too challenging. No dogs though.

Please let me know if you think you may come just to ensure that the venue will cope with the numbers.

Additional training dates may be available if required.


Pond Invertebrate Families

This part of the project will aim to look a bit deeper into a selection of the ponds to see what lives in them. Depending on how many people are able to take part and their skills, we will survey up to about 20 of our ponds to see what families of invertebrates live in them. Invertebrates include such things as dragonfly larvae and water beetles and the number of different ones which can be found is a key indicator of the health and value of a pond. This will involve doing pond dipping and requires a higher level of knowledge. I’m hoping to organise some training for this and for my own benefit also!

This part will not start properly until April when things have warmed up a bit.

More ponds will be included during the Delivery Phase of the project after 2016.

Pond Botany

The objectives for this project are similar to the pond invertebrates except obviously will involve surveying plants. This is certainly not my area of expertise and requires fairly specialised knowledge.


I am hoping to survey most of the 150 ponds plus any others which come to light to see what newts can be found. I have covered many of these ponds over the last 5 years but would like some other people to repeat this work to see how good my results were! It is also jolly interesting.

The surveys will be done using the ‘Dewsbury Box Trap’ which catches quite a lot of newts and is quite easy to use. It will involve visiting the pond (or several ponds) towards the end of the day to deploy about 3 traps and returning the following morning to record the newts which have been captured and release them unharmed. This type of trap is much safer than the traditional bottle traps and I have not had a single casualty caused by my trap having caught well over 5,000 newts.

All three species of newt can be found in many Forest ponds and I am applying for a project newt licence from Natural England to cover any legal requirements. There are many aspects to this and I will train some key individuals who I hope will accept responsibility for ensuring that their groups of people will comply with the requirements. Hopefully we will have several groups who will cover agreed areas. I would also like to make some of these events open to the public so that they may join in and see some newts.


The adder may not be everyone’s favourite animal but I think, in many ways, this is Britain’s least understood and most threatened reptile. If we can help the adder to thrive in the Forest then it will help the other 3 species of reptile also.

I would really like to find out where some of our adders hibernate because this will help to ensure that these places are known and can be protected when normal forestry operations and other potentially disruptive activities take place. An adder hibernaculum typically is used by several animals who all return to this safe haven to spend the winter protected from severe frost, flooding and other perils. The male adders emerge at any time from mid-February to bask in the sun to get themselves into breeding condition. They tend to remain here until early April when they shed their skins and then take themselves off in their shiny new skin to find a mate.

Hence, we have a window from mid-February until about mid-April (depending on the warmth of the season) to find them. We will also find other reptiles at the same time. What I would like to try is going out in small groups on sunny days to explore suitable open habitat. I will endeavour to make a list of suitable habitat which I know of including all the places where adders have been recorded in the past. We will then attempt to draw up a schedule for visits. (You may well know of other places.)The tricky part is that we cannot forecast the weather. We need sunny days, especially earlier in the season so groups will need to be fairly flexible to take opportunities as they arise. We can look at the Met Office forecast the day before but as they will admit, they don’t always get it right! So people with a flexible life-style would be particularly welcome.

As part of the Delivery Phase after 2016 we may be able to run a project which will involve tracking some adders to find out more about their movements. We need the new adder locations to help us plan this project as well as possible. The new knowledge will also help us to plan where new open habitat might best be created throughout the Forest.

General Timescale.

January onwards: Pond Habitat surveys.

Mid-Feb to mid-April adder surveys

Mid-March to early June: newt surveys

April onwards: pond invertebrate families and plants


The most important requirement for these projects is safety. Whilst small accidents can always happen by chance there are ways of anticipating the dangers and advice will be provided. However, two key rules which should be adhered to are that no-one enters any pond almost without exception and that there are at least two people so that help is always at hand.

Please feel free to ask any further questions and don’t assume I’ve thought of everything! Hope we can meet sometime at a pond near you.

David Dewsbury.


Field Meeting – Aylburton Warth & Estuary Birds

Group P1030373

The next GNS Field Meeting is due to take place on Sunday 1st November – Birds of the Estuary at Aylburton Warth on the high tide.

Meet at 11.00am – Woolaston Level Crossing at Plusterwine, ST 601 991 (turn off the A48 just south-west of Woolaston onto Station Road and follow the lane to the end at the railway crossing). To be led by Mike Smart, 01452 421131.

Weather is supposed to be cloudy but fair with a temperature around 13oC but it will be wet and muddy under foot and breezy so do dress appropriately, binoculars or telescope would be a distinct advantage.