The prospect of hail and blustery wet conditions did not deter the group of 23 members. The birds were in full voice in the bushes and hedgerows all around the reserve including Robin, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Wren, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blue Tit, Song Thrush, Blackbird. A Cettti’s Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat were seen by a few of us. At the Centre, Greenfinch, Sparrow and Goldfinch were added. The pond had Coot with young, and a Little Grebe showed on the return. At the start of the walk, towards the lighthouse, Bearded Tits were flying to and fro across the reeds. A few of us saw a Reed Bunting. Reed Warblers were keeping low, although were noisy enough. A Sedge Warbler sitting in a small tree gave everyone a good view. We were hearing a Cuckoo in the distance. Then, first one and then two flew around the reeds giving wonderful sightings. A perching individual allowed some ‘scope work. Later, a third Cuckoo joined the pair before it went off in a different direction. The tide was going out at the estuary; only Shelduck, Curlew, and a Brent Goose were added. Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swifts were swooping over the reed beds. The RSPB built an artificial Sand Martin nest by the Centre but it has not yet attracted any to nest.
After lunchtime, the weather began to change so we headed to Goldcliff to shelter in the hides. A sudden hail storm had us closing the windows to avoid a battering. The Avocets did not appear to have young but a few birds were sitting in the grass. Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Little Ringed Plover, Little Egret, Gadwall and Shoveler and Tufted Duck were added. The Canada Geese had a few goslings but the Redshank chicks seen the previous week were not on view. A Skylark was heard. A Buzzard was the only raptor of the day. A small group was keen to go on to Magor Marshes to see Water Voles. The Wildlife Trust released over 200 Water Voles and set up floating platforms baited with apples. The voles climb onto the platform and are unperturbed at being watched. This turned out to be a very successful day with 47 species noted with some firsts for the group.
(Thanks to Margaret for leading and for the report. Editor). Margaret Bulmer
Storm clouds were gathering as we drove towards Gloucester but we missed the rain. 20 members met on a still, fine evening. A Nightingale was singing metres away as we pulled into the car park, joined by a second in the distance. Hannah Booth from Gloucester RSPB had serious competition from two Song Thrushes as she introduced the walk. Hannah led us on a circuit interspersed with presentations on the ecology of the woodland and the management plan to enhance the habitat for Nightingale at the western edge of its range. Along the first path we heard Chiffchaff, Robin, Wren, Great Tit, and Blackcap. We paused by a two hectare “coup” of coppice as Swifts flew over, Raven ‘cronked’, and there were short bursts from another Nightingale. Coppice, not dense scrub, is the Nightingale’s favoured habitat. The RSPB creates coppiced coups, removing large standard trees to open the canopy. New growth needs protection from Muntjac deer and each coup is surrounded by a thick barrier of cut branches knitted together by bramble. The RSPB bought the 120-hectare wood, predominantly oak and ash, in 1984. Highnam had been a commercial woodland and the scrub and regrowth supported good numbers of Nightingales. There were 20 singing males in 2001, but falling to six in 2012. There were 13 in 2013, but eight in 2016, consistent with the national 50% fall in Nightingale numbers in the last 30 years. As we progressed we heard more Song Thrushes; our evening total was eleven, a third of the reserve’s singing males. Blackbird, Dunnock, Greenfinch, and Chaffinch were added to the list. One third of the wood is intensively managed, including the wide rides which support butterflies and native flowers. Hannah showed us the rare Tintern Spurge, encouraged by heavy machinery disturbing the ground. We passed under a rope across the ride, a bridge for dormice. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, elusive on this visit, favour the undisturbed part of the wood, with some trees up to 200 years old. We did however have both Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker. We heard another Nightingale near a boggy area newly created, by damming ditches, to encourage invertebrates. Some ash trees were less happy with the wet conditions and were dying, good news for the woodpeckers. A Goldcrest and a Coal Tit were heard on the final leg of our walk. We returned to the original coup as the Song Thrushes fell silent.
We were rewarded by two Nightingales beginning a night of competitive singing providing an atmospheric end to an excellent and informative evening. We totted up nine singing Nightingales, although none were seen. Many thanks to Hannah Booth for giving us so much of her time. (Hannah stayed on for a night survey and two more singing males were located, bringing the reserve’s total this year to eleven). Thanks also to Nick Hawkridge for keeping the bird list, a total of 21 species. (Thanks to Gareth for leading and writing the report. Editor).
Fifteen members met at the RSPB Ham Wall car park on a grey morning with a damp forecast. We were immediately treated to a display of a dozen Hobbies over the adjacent reedbed and Cetti’s Warblers singing loudly from the hedgerows. Swallows and Swifts and the occasional House Martin passed overhead. We went on to Ham Wall for the morning and soon saw a Great White Egret flying past and a distant Cormorant. Blackcap, Wren and Robins called loudly from the hedges and we heard several Garden Warblers. Towards the first viewing platform we had an excellent view of a male and female Bulfinch about twenty yards away across the South Drain. Numerous duck including Mallard, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Gadwall and Pochard were on the pools on either side of the old railway track. At the Avalon hide we caught a distant view of a Buzzard. A couple of the group walked a little further along the drain and were rewarded with a Glossy Ibis, Garganey and Cattle Egret. On the return journey, the rest of the group saw the first two of these but, sadly, not the Cattle Egret. The path to the hide was accompanied by Reed Warblers, Reed Buntings, Lapwing and, from the hide, a male and female Marsh Harrier circling over the reeds, a magnificent sight. A pair of Great Crested Grebe was taking it in turns, somewhat reluctantly, to carry their chicks around on their backs. Little Egrets intermittently flew past. We could hear Bittern and one or two of the group saw them flying. The rain was patchy and followed us back to the car park and lunch. After lunch with the weather not looking good some decided to call it a day. The rest went to the Shapwick Tower hide. Here we had good views of Kingfisher, Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwit and a couple of Marsh Harriers before returning home. The tally of species for the day was 56.
(Thanks to Mark for leading and writing the report. Editor). Mark Watson
21 walkers gathered on a cool cloudy morning in the centre of this picturesque limestone village with fine views across the valley, and beyond to the Westbury White Horse. David Body introduced us to the fascinating history of the landscape, which can justifiably lay claim to be the birthplace of geology. We heard Greenfinch, Robin and Blackbird. As we left the village we saw two House Martins around a nest and a Swift flew over. We heard Chaffinch, Wren, and Dunnock as we descended through a field of cow parsley, cowslips, buttercup, and bugle. A group of Jackdaws was soaring, a sight repeated throughout the morning. Blue Tit, Pied Wagtail and Mistle Thrush together with a ‘yaffling’ Green Woodpecker were added to the list.
Entering woodland full of garlic, we heard the first of ten Blackcaps, as well as Chiffchaff. We had good views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. At Tucking Mill reservoir, a pair of Grey Wagtails was showing brilliantly in the welcome sunshine. Swallow, House Martin, and Swift flew over the water. Climbing up to the old “S and D” line, now a cycle track, we had our coffee on the platform at Midford Halt. We saw Goldfinch and Long-tailed Tit along the line, and Buzzard and Sparrowhawk overhead. At Midford a Goldcrest sang so loudly that even some of us with age-related hearing loss could hear it. We followed the valley of the Cam brook and the disused Somerset Coal canal, now reclaimed by nature leaving some fine bridges to nowhere. We saw a Bullfinch and a juvenile Dunnock, naively staying out in the open for us. In an oak wood, we heard more Blackcap and Chiffchaff, our only warblers of the day. Passing under a second disused railway, we came to the remains of the Coombe Hay flight of 22 locks on the canal. Another audible Goldcrest lightened the walk back up the hill to Southstoke, together with sounds of Nuthatch and Stock Dove. We returned to the village in warm summer sunshine and as we passed a splendid limestone barn and the imposing church a group of low flying Swifts screamed overhead. Many thanks to David for leading this excellent walk and to Nick for keeping the list, a total of 35 species. Gareth Roberts
Club Trip: 7-14 May – Wild Herzegovina Leader: Denis Bohm
We arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia on 7 May and drove across the border into Bosnia-Herzegovina. A three-hour drive took us to picturesque Mostar (although many of the buildings still show chunks missing and peppered shrapnel holes from the brutal war this town endured in the 1990s). The scenery was extremely unspoiled, with rivers meandering through rocky valleys and views across to islands dotted about the Adriatic Sea. The weather was moody, ending in torrential rain with dramatic cloud formations. Our first birds seen were several Alpine Swift, hundreds of House Martins (so this is where all ours are) and cracking views of a Nightingale.
On 8 May, from our balcony, we watched Red-rumped Swallows and Pallid Swifts hawking insects above us. We soon noticed a large Honey Buzzard movement along the River Neretva. We headed South to the banks of the River Buna just outside town and what a treat it was. There was no-one else there, the woodland purred with Turtle Doves and Bee-eaters, trilled with Wood Warblers and the sound of bill-snapping Spotted Flycatchers. Six species of Woodpecker were present with Wryneck and Lesser Spotted common, as were Golden Orioles who chased each other around vying for nesting sites. After lunch, we went East of the city and up into the foothills of the Dinaric Alps where Subalpine Warbler and Black-eared Wheatears were numerous. We were around 600 Metres above sea level. This subalpine region is inhabited by a mostly Muslim population, so one can see mosques and minarets dotted around the plateaus of limestone Karst. The star bird though, after a gap of 43 years for me and a lifer for the rest of the group, was Rock Partridge – we had a couple of sightings of this limited-range bird and were able to study its call which is completely different from Chukar. Our attention was also caught by a male Montagu’s Harrier that drifted past us.
At the end of each day in Mostar we dined in a lovely old restaurant in the historic quarter of town near the Old Bridge.
Male Golden Oriole
9 May. A day spent in two countries: the morning Bosnia-Herzegovina and the afternoon Croatia. After breakfast, we visited a Pallid Swift colony under the New Bridge in Mostar. We then headed North-east out of town to the fabulous Blagaj Gorge which is the source of the River Buna. Here we enjoyed nesting Rock Nuthatch, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, and a Dipper on a cafe table! Before crossing the border, we visited a small section of Hutovo Blavo Nature Park where there were large numbers of Bee-eaters; we also found a Penduline Tit weaving a nest and several Pygmy Cormorants. Our sortie into Croatia took us to the Neretva Delta, a great place for water birds with wonderful views of some of the Adriatic Islands that were dotted around the sea. Birds seen included Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Spoonbill, Honey Buzzard, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Great Reed Warbler, Black-headed Wagtail, Serin and Spanish Sparrows.
Great Reed Warbler
10 May, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the best value-for-money country that I have been to in recent times, one’s money goes far here. Lyn and I rose at 6am to head down to the old town, the Stari Grad district of Mostar, and to the Old Bridge famous for its divers. Since the 16th century folk have dived the 24 metres off the bridge into the raging waters below. Just looking at it was frightening enough, yet they even had a divers club!
In 1992 the bridge was destroyed by shelling and reconstructed after the war in 1997 with materials from the quarry originally used in 1566. We walked along the river valley to the mosque. Golden Oriole’s songs reverberated around the valley echoing off the walls and we had great views of some adult males. After breakfast, we all headed up into the Dinaric Alps on Prenj Mountain to a height of 1300 Metres. The alpine meadows were beautiful with myriads of butterflies such as Duke of Burgundy, Queen of Spain Fritillary and Clouded Apollo and spring flowers such as Gentian and Star of Bethlehem. Several nice birds were observed: Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Sombre and Crested Tits and Ortolan Buntings. After dinner, we finished the day off listening to my first ever Slavac Punk band (don’t knock it until you have heard it).
11 May we had a great finale from Mostar on our last night. Lyn and I were treated to a pair of Scops Owls mating on a minaret next to the old bridge in the Stari Grad district. The whole group previously saw the male bird. We spent the day at the picturesque Hutovo Blavo Nature Reserve. In the morning walking alongside the Krupa River looking over the reed-fringed lake. Birds here included Pygmy Cormorant, Collared Pratincole, White-winged Black and Whiskered Terns, Crane, a variety of herons and many Ferruginous Duck. It was also a great place for dragonflies.
In the afternoon we took a small motor boat onto the lake and explored some of its reed corridors, Ferruginous Duck and Garganey gave good views. The lake is fed by mountain water from the Dinaric Alps that flow underground and rise at that spot forming a pristine habitat and a lovely place to be. We saw not another person while out birding all day.
12 May. Our last day in Herzegovina. We arrived in Dubrovnik back into the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Before that though, our first stop in the morning was at the Buna Quarry where there were thousands of Sand Martins and hundreds of Bee-eaters nesting. We also saw a Little Owl with a Sand Martin in its talons. The site was alive with wild flowers and very colourful indeed. We then moved onto the Popovo Polje Karst Fields, these flower-covered green meadows were a perfect place to have lunch and go for a walk, although an inquisitive Short-toed Eagle made us forget our sandwiches. We later stopped at a rocky outpost to buy some honey made by bees that solely pollinate sage. Many of our group had a shot of mead while watching some subalpine birds there. Our final site in the country was Postaja Zavala which is famous for its cave. It was here that the remains of a Leopard were found. There is also a redundant narrow-gauged railway. The old station is now a café, festooned with Spanish Sparrows. We saw several legless Glass Lizards here, very strange creatures indeed. We now looked forward to two days’ sight-seeing in Dubrovnik before heading home late Sunday.
13/14 May were spent relaxing around our resort at Cavtat, Croatia and catching a 45-minute boat ride across the Adriatic Sea past some pine-forested islands to Dubrovnik Old Town. This is a fortified city where one can walk around the top of the wall overlooking the town and the sea. Many Common and Alpine Swifts screamed overhead and came in quite low; one could hear the wind in their wings. We saw a folk band and singers and traditional dancers all put on for the tourists, but the participants genuinely seemed to enjoy performing acts that were deeply rooted in their culture; their faces beamed. At lunch, we were serenaded by the excellent gypsy swing band Gadjo Monouche. Dubrovnik is still a beautiful ancient city. Cadvat was an excellent base on the sea front with coastal walks through pine woods and scrub where we found some migrant Glossy Ibis, Sardinian, Icterine and Wood Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes and black morph Red Squirrels. The village itself is spread out but delightful, apparently, it was once part of Ancient Greece.
Our trip was arranged and expertly led by Denis Bohm who grew up as the only birder in Herzegovina. He now lives in London but returns to his homeland for a couple of months each spring to explore this under-watched country further and introduce its delights to visitors.
For further information, see his website: www.wild-herzegovina.com.
Thanks to Jane Cumming for organizing the trip and to the rest of our BOC travel companions for making it so enjoyable.