Sightings


Ashleworth Ham CES Visit – April 2018

After a delay caused by the spring flood, the first visits to set up the ringing site have been made. Access was only possible wearing waders, and on Friday afternoon, waders were necessary to get into some of the net lanes. Today however, the water had subsided sufficiently, to make waders only necessary to get across to the ringing site. Once there, wellingtons were sufficient.

The customary greeting from across the ham of a curlew calling was made, and throughout the morning bubbling calls were heard, and at one point three birds came into the reserve. With much flood water still around waterfowl were present in reasonable numbers, a flock of twelve mute swans were on the flooded fields, along with Canada geese, greylag geese, mallard, shelduck and a few teal. Three grey herons and two little egrets were patrolling the edges of the flood. A pair of lapwing, that were no doubt hoping to breed were displaying over the flooded front field.

The late spring, with cold weather, then a flood, has led to the summer migrants arriving late, and although a few were caught, numbers were low, and only a few birds were singing. Willow warblers were the most noticeable, and a chiff chaff was also singing. A couple of bursts of Sedge warbler song were heard, a single whitethroat and late in the morning after it had warmed up two lesser whitethroats became very vocal. All around the reserve Skylarks were singing strongly, and a blackbird sang briefly. A few reed buntings were caught, but none were in breeding condition, and none were heard singing. One of the willow warblers caught had a ring on, that was not from Ashleworth, so where it came from will be reported later.

On the way out, at the end of the session, the remains of an otter’s dinner were found on the sluice gate bridge, along with lots of footprints and a fresh spraint alongside some old spraints. The bream and a carp had been brought to the bridge to eat, presumably caught in the flood water as it dropped. A number of large carp had been observed Friday afternoon swimming in the flood water, and presumably become easy prey as the water drops. Elsewhere across the ham a large flock of gulls could be seen, also feeding from the spoils of the flood. Back at the car in “dirty lane” two roe deer were observed for a while grazing in one of the new fields.

Birds trapped: Blackbird 1, Blue tit 3, Reed Bunting 3, Sedge warbler 2, Willow Warbler 2, Blackcap 1, Bullfinch 1, Chaffinch 1.

Birds seen: Mute Swan 12, Canada Goose 9, Greylag Goose 2, Grey heron 3, Mallard 16, Teal 4, Coot 5, Moorhen 1, Little egret 2, Skylark, Blue tit, Great tit, Blackbird, Song thrush, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Sedge Warbler, Chiff Chaff 1, Willow Warbler 2, Whitethroat 1, Lesser Whitethroat 2, Reed Bunting, Linnet, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Carrion Crow, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Kestrel, Buzzard, Curlew 3, Lapwing 2 , Oystercatcher 2, Woodpigeon.


A possible flower association of Ferdinandea cuprea

This note was written for the national Hoverfly Newsletter and has been published in the autumn 2017 edition issued by the Dipterists’ Forum. It may interest some other naturalists too.

On 19 August 2017 I visited a large woodland site in the Cotswolds. The weather was cool and there had been rain during the night; the grass was still wet in the lower and more shaded rides. As there was very little insect activity I decided that I would spend some time photographing the Naked Ladies which were a conspicuous and colourful feature of the scenery. By Naked Ladies, of course, I mean the flowers of Colchicum autumnale, also known as Meadow Saffron.

My eye was soon caught by an unusually downward facing flower within which there seemed to be some activity going on. I found that there was a female Ferdinandea cuprea moving around inside the base of the inverted flower. The hoverfly may have been foraging for nectar or pollen but as the surroundings were devoid of flying insects, and because of the hesitant way it began to emerge from the flower on my approach, I formed the impression that it might have been sheltering under the tent of petals for some time.

The day warmed up later, but not very much, and the few flowering plants in the woodland continued to attract almost no hoverflies. I had walked some distance from my first sighting of F. cuprea when I spotted a particularly shapely group of Naked Ladies and decided to take their photograph. While I was getting into position I became aware that a fly of some kind was coming into view and was clearly moving towards the same flowers. I quickly took my shot, hoping that the fly might add some interest to the image. Fortunately, the fly came out almost as well-focused as the flowers, and is clearly again a female F. cuprea. On this occasion the hoverfly did not land on the flower; it apparently detected my presence, changed course and flew away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These two separate sightings of F. cuprea with C. autumnale may be a random coincidence. However, as I am not aware of any reported association between this flower and any species of hoverfly, the observation may be of some interest. In Hoverflies of Surrey (Surrey Wildlife Trust, 1998) Roger Morris does not include C. autumnale either in the extensive list of flowers visited by hoverflies (Appendix 2) or among those mentioned in his account of F. cuprea.


Coombe Hill and Cobney Meadows on 21 October

Little sign of any rise in water levels in the Severn Vale: at the GWT reserve at Coombe Hill, the north scrape was till dry, there was just a small puddle in the south scrape, but still shallow water on the Long Pool (the only place where water has lasted throughout the summer). Some hay late had recently been cut on neighbouring fields – a sign of just how dry the conditions are. Storm Brian didn’t succeed in blowing the Grundon Hide away, but made it hard to see songbirds, which stayed in thick vegetation. 

The colour-ringed pair of Mute Swans that had nested locally were still present, with their eight full grown cygnets; at least 260 Greylag Geese grazing, eight Canada Geese, one very striking Canada x white Farmyard Goose hybrid, four Wigeon (the first of the winter here), 160 Teal, eight Shovelers, 11 Grey Herons, a single Green Sandpiper left; 6 Redwings flew over to the southwest (also the first  of the winter).

 At Cobney Meadows, not much water left on the flight pond either: 1 Sparrowhawk hunting, 1 Buzzard; a single Snipe on the old Parish Drain.

 


Black nightshade in maize stubble

Fodder maize in a Standish field was harvested during the week. Gulls and woodpigeons are feasting on the dropped cobs. I’ve taken the opportunity to check the weed flora hoping to find some unusual alien plants, but the ground is overwhelmingly dominated by Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum, which is also common in my garden. It is a member of the potato family, and has small starry white flowers and round fruit that turn from green to black without going through a red stage (unlike Woody Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, that has purple flowers and fruit that go from green to yellow to red.)


Another ringing session at Ashleworth Ham on 1 August

This was the ninth session out of twelve in the British Trust for Ornithology’s Constant Ringing effort at Ashleworth, three each month from May to August.  This study has been going on at Ashleworth for twenty years now.

Starting before sunrise, it didn’t look, at first sight, as though there were many birds about: little birdsong (just a few bursts of Willow Warbler: were these adult birds having a last session at the end of the summer, or newly hatched young ones, trying out their song for the first time?), nor much sign of bird activity early in the morning; yet the ringing session showed there were still quite a lot of birds about. 

Conditions were quite good to start with (overcast, no wind), but unfortunately the wind rose rather earlier than forecast soon after half past seven (the wind makes the nets belly out like galleon sails, so that the birds bounce off instead of getting caught).  So the catch, although just above the average for the time of year, was limited to 73 birds; 44 of them were summer visitor warblers all the same; interestingly, the vast majority of them were juveniles (probably locally bred as they were nearly all still in post juvenile moult), so it looked as though most of the adults had moved out already. Birds caught: 1 juvenile Grasshopper Warbler (another indication of local breeding, picture below by Mervyn Greening); 4 Sedge Warblers (all juveniles); 23 Whitethroats (not a single adult); five Blackcaps (one adult); 6 Chiffchaffs (just one adult in moult); 5 Willow Warblers (one adult in moult); plus the usual array of residents: as many as seven Reed Buntings (all juveniles); a single juvenile Great Tit; one juvenile Long-tailed Tit; no Blue Tits; 2 juvenile Treecreepers; one Blackbird; couple of Dunnocks, couple of Robins, five Wrens (all juveniles); three Linnets , three Goldfinches, two Bullfinches. 

Other birds on the reserve: 1 Sparrowhawk; 2 Buzzards; 1 Green Sandpiper; one Redstart; about 10 each of House Martins and Swallows hawking insects, probably migrants on their way south; one Raven; a flock of at least 50 Goldfinches (autumn coming!)  

No hay has been cut as yet on the reserve (which no doubt gave the Reed Buntings time to raise their second broods).  Water levels low on the scrapes, but a nice stand of Flowering Rush in the middle pool.  


Interesting observations at Coombe Hill, even in dry conditions

Recent rain in Gloucester hasn’t raised water levels at the GWT reserve at Coombe Hill; the north scrape is completely dry, and the south scrape is almost dry – just a dribble of water left yesterday 29 July.  There is still water on the Long Pool however, though the Long Pool hide is closed (as in previous years at this time), because of a hornet’s nest.

Interesting stuff however: at first sight, there were no birds on the north or south scrapes.  But occasional Little Ringed Plover calls could be heard from the Grundon Hide; after a while these became ever more anxious, as two Kestrels landed in the short aquatic vegetation in the north scrape; the Kestrels appeared to be an adult female accompanied by a juvenile, probably recently out of the nest, and were clearly hunting on the ground.  The adult LRP kept running around on the floor of the scrape, then undertaking nervous circular flights round  and round; the chicks (which ought to be fledged by now, as they were first seen on 3 July and someone recorded them during the week as fledged) never showed any sign of flying and stayed round the scrape – there was no sign of LRPs on the Long Pool.  Not sure what the outcome was: the Kestrels were never seen actually to catch any prey, while the chicks were never seen to emerge from the vegetation unscathed.

Surprising, on one hand that the chicks didn’t try to fly, but just lay doggo, on the ground; they can’t yet be confident of flying away; and on the other that Kestrels were trying to catch them on the ground: any other raptor, you might have thought, but surely the windhover is an aerial predator.

Otherwise, mostly on the Long Pool, which still attracts passing waterbirds:  eight unringed Canada Geese, 100 Mallard, 180 Lapwings, five Green Sandpipers, and two Snipe; still at least eight Sedge Warblers (generally churring rather than singing) in the thick ditch side vegetation through the reserve.

And lots of wild flowers now; Corky-fruited Water Dropwort and Flowering Rush among others


Ringing at Ashleworth

Yesterday 22 July we carried out another of the regular Constant Effort Site ringing sessions at Ashleworth, where no hay has as yet been cut on the GWT reserve.

Outwardly, it appeared that there were few birds about: scrapes almost dry, little or no birdsong, not much activity.  But the ringing showed that in fact there were large numbers of recently fledged young birds present, recently emerged from the nest, often just completing their post juvenile moult, before setting off on their long migration journeys to the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa.  It is very likely that all these juveniles were locally bred, as they would hardly move off before completing this moult, and almost none of them showed any additional fat (which migrants arriving from outside the reserve would be likely to do).  So, this represents a snapshot of breeding attempts and successes.  After Friday’s fairly heavy rain, conditions were surprisingly favourable: windless in the early morning, with a light cloud covering which made the nets more difficult for the birds to see.  We had a catch of 93 birds, slightly above the average for the mid July visit, and made up as follows:

  • One juvenile Kingfisher; unusually, no Redstarts caught, though there had been several adults earlier in the season; one juvenile Grasshopper Warbler (particularly interesting, as on earlier visits we had caught an adult male and female in breeding condition: this is a very strong indication of local breeding); no Reed Warblers caught or heard, which suggests that they did not attempt to nest this year; nine Sedge Warblers (mainly juveniles, but a couple of ringed adults, caught earlier in the season; so they haven’t left yet, but will be going soon); as many as 32 Whitethroats (all but one were juveniles, showing that this species has increased greatly in the hay meadow hedges in recent years); seven Blackcaps (two adults and five juveniles, probably birds that had nested in slightly higher ground round the edges of the reserve, and were now moving into lower areas; like Whitethroat, more than usual); no Lesser Whitethroats this time, though we have caught juveniles on previous visits; eleven Chiffchaffs (every man jack of them a juvenile); two Willow Warblers (one adult and one juvenile); nine Reed Buntings (again, all juveniles; late hay cutting may have helped this species which nests in long vegetation in hayfields).  Also, as usual, a variety of resident breeders: one juvenile Dunnock; seven Wrens (nearly all juveniles); three juvenile Robins; one juvenile Great Tit; one juvenile Blue Tit; five Long-tailed Tits, mainly juveniles; one adult Linnet; one juvenile Goldfinch.

Few other birds of note around the reserve: one adult male Peregrine perched on a dead willow; about 20 House Martins and 20 Swallows hawking insects (probably locally bred juveniles as well).Mervyn Greening, Mike Smart

Mervyn Greening, Mike Smart


Strawberry theft by small animal

We have several raised beds with strawberry plants, and nearby another bed with courgette plants. They are all contained in a cage covered in chicken wire, to keep out the deer and pheasants, among other animals that would eat our vegetables. This is out in the country, near Caudle Green.

We noticed that we were not getting many strawberries and sometimes we found unripe ones cut off from their stems and lying on the ground under the plants. Today we found part of the answer. On going to pick some courgettes we found this huge stash of rotting strawberries. A creature has been picking the strawberries and carrying them to the courgette bed.

We have a huge population of voles in the garden, so perhaps it is them, or perhaps a mouse?

Richard and Jenny Beal