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.