Bristol Ornithological Club
May 23 2017

Tuesday 23 May – Newport Wetlands

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

May 19 2017

Friday 19 May – Highnam Woods

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).
Gareth Roberts

May 16 2017

Tuesday 16 May – Shapwick Heath/Ham Wall

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

May 09 2017

Tuesday 09 May – Southstoke

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

May 02 2017

Tuesday 02 May – Elm Farm, Burnett

28 members set off for the walk around Elm Farm on a beautiful sunny, warm spring morning. The farm is managed to enhance wildlife and records are kept on bats, insects (moths, butterflies, hoverflies, dragonflies), flowers and, of course, birds in order to monitor progress on improving biodiversity. Parts of the farm are sown with a variety of plants specifically for insects, birds and mammals resulting in good habitat and the production of winter feed. As we set off we saw Greenfinch, Goldfinch, House Martin and Swallow around the farm buildings. We saw a number of common species including Jackdaw, Chaffinch, Grey Heron across the fields. We heard Dunnock, Blackcap and Song Thrush. We heard, and then saw, Skylarks and added Chiffchaff and Pheasant to our list. The farm had 150 Yellowhammers during the winter and although most of these dispersed to breed, we had good views of four feeding on the seed put out on the ground. A Sparrowhawk was hunting in the distance. We then saw a Buzzard, Jay and a Bullfinch, with a good view of the tell-tale white rump as it flew away from us. We had heard a Green Woodpecker earlier and then had good views of another one as it flew in front of us during our coffee stop. Towards the end of the walk we had good views of a Willow Warbler and added Raven, Whitethroat, Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest and Collared Dove. Our walk was enhanced by hares and foxes as well as various butterflies and flowers.
Thanks to Roger Palmer for leading and to Philippa Paget for explaining the management of the land and for arranging a lift for those who wanted to avoid the walk up the hill back to Burnett. Thanks also to Nick for keeping his usual accurate bird list. In all we saw 36 species on an enjoyable walk. Mike Landen

Apr 29 2017

Saturday 29 April – St Catherine’s Valley

A group of twelve stalwarts gathered together in Beek’s Lane for an invigorating walk in the Valley. Expert birders they were too! I just had to point them in the right direction, mainly down in the first half and back up in the second half. But before that we chalked up quite a few species as we put on our boots. These included Skylark, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Song Thrush. We walked on to a chorus of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and just a single Willow Warbler, Goldcrest (seen not heard) and a Whitethroat, which gave us enticing views in the top of the hedge. We then found the Yellowhammers in a taller hedgerow adjacent to an arable field (recently seeded). A few Linnets appeared there as well. A Sparrowhawk sailed low over the woodland and soon after a Buzzard appeared – the first of several. As we walked the valley bottom Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Raven and Swallow were added to the list. Monkswood Reservoir held many Lesser Black-backed Gulls plus a few Herring Gulls but a Grey Wagtail was on the roof of the adjacent buildings, unfortunately only seen by a couple of us. On the slow climb back to the cars we added Whinchat (which also flew off before all could see it), Magpie, Green Woodpecker and Jay to the list. The total seen was 44 species. It was a thoroughly enjoyable walk in fine weather. (Thank you for a splendid walk Robin) Robin Prytherch

Apr 25 2017

Tuesday 25 April – King’s Wood and Wavering Down

Twenty-three members set off from a car park packed with dog-walkers and entered the glorious spring woodland, carpeted with Bluebells, Lesser Celandine, Wild Garlic and orchids. Our wildflower experts were much in demand the whole trip. Bird song filled our ears on a beautiful spring morning – Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Wren and Blackcap especially singing their hearts out. Out on Wavering Down we saw several Song Thrush anvils – empty snail shells surrounded the large stones that had been used to crack them open. Linnets and Stonechats showed well, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Whitethroat gave song flights and a Green Woodpecker perched on a drystone wall watching us watching him. Our coffee stop had stunning views over the Somerset Levels, across the estuary to the West Somerset Coast and over to Wales (and we were out of the wind on that side!) We heard, but never saw, a probable Garden Warbler; Stock Dove and Raven were seen by some and it was good to see Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin all flying together near the quarry. Back in the woodland we surprised a perched Buzzard and the final bird count was 36 species. Thank you Clive for a lovely morning! Julie Ottley

Apr 23 2017

Sunday 23 April – New Forest

Thirteen of us travelled to the New Forest for a walk from the Ashley Walk car park. The number was far from unlucky as we had sunny weather (albeit a bit cool at times) and great views of a pair of Woodlarks in Pitts Wood Enclosure. These were lifers for some members and a long-searched for UK-first for a few others. From the beginning of the walk we started to find the New Forest specialities we had come for such as Linnets, Stonechats and both Meadow and Tree Pipits. On closer examination, all of these refused to turn into a Dartford Warbler which remained elusive throughout the trip. Another highlight was a beautiful male Redstart perched at the top of a tree. Two Lapwings were spotted on a flypast and twice we heard a Cuckoo but it refused to show itself. Three raptors were seen – Buzzard, Kestrel with a single Red Kite as an added bonus; this species is really spreading out from the various reintroduction sites. The lone Hawthorn bush in front of the lunch stop had a Stonechat and Common Whitethroat competing for the highest branch to search for their lunch.
On St George’s Day, I wonder if we all realised the significance of the area to the defence of the realm. Who noticed the large white mound, which was not ash from a fire, but a pile of chalk used to mark the targets on the wartime bombing range? Lunch was taken on top of a replica German submarine bunker now covered in earth at the top of Hampton Ridge! The return route produced nice views of Green Woodpecker for the backmarkers and finally a Wheatear, which is unusual for this site, and did someone mention a Willow Warbler (or 20!)? A good time was had by all, with 34 species seen. Thanks to Jane for leading. Keith Williams

Apr 18 2017

Tuesday 18 April – Chilcombe Bottom, Northend, Bath

Today’s 21 walkers had been warned about quantities of mud during the pre-walk, but by this point in a parched spring the earth was cracked and dry everywhere which at least made for easy walking. We checked Northend for the traditional village species such as House Sparrow and Starling, Collared Dove, Swift and House Martin (the last two not back yet), then walked up the long slope to Solsbury Hill, watching Swallows, Linnets and Skylarks en route. We sat down for a coffee break on the ramparts of the hill fort to admire the views over Bath, while a Whitethroat sang in a nearby bush and Skylarks hovered over the summit serenading us. Swallows were coming in to perch on twigs around the large barn down the hill, perhaps checking out a potential nest site. We 14 walked round the summit and away down the northern slope through fields of sheep and greening woodlands. Turning down Chilcombe Bottom, we stopped to read signs about the disused reservoirs and their new life as part of a nature reserve, but the only waterbirds to be found were a couple of Moorhens. On through a pretty green valley full of sheep, with plenty of Buzzards around and a Raven calling, across a small stream and up to a market garden – this walk has a wonderful variety of habitat. Although some migrants hadn’t returned to their breeding locations yet, we managed a total of 37 species on a sunny spring morning. (Thank you Jane for leading one of your favourite walks.) Jane Cumming

Apr 11 2017

Tuesday 11 April – Castle Combe

Being at the top of the combe, the car park offered up many vocal corvids flying over, including; Raven, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Rook. The first of 27 Chiffchaff was heard as we entered the lane and one even showed itself a bit further down. Some Blackbirds were singing fit to burst and filling the combe with noise, quite masking the soft ‘coocoocoo’ of a spooning pair of Stock Doves. Our climb up the opposite bank had Nuthatch calling and at the top, towards the houses, a Song Thrush and then some Greenfinches also lit up the soundscape and even afforded us a nice clear sighting. Many Blackcaps and Robins sang for us but were not often seen, but the squeaky toy call of the Coal Tit was rewarded with a sighting. The rookery at Upper Castle Combe had nine active nests, more spread out than last year with the old site containing many abandoned homes. Along Summer Track the first Buzzards were seen, a small flock of Linnets twittered their way across out path and we had a fleeting glimpse of a Bullfinch couple. We went for a short way on the B4039, then down to Kent Bottom where the pond had a nice selection of birds; a pair of Tufted Ducks, two House Martins, five Mallards (all male), 16 Canada Geese and singles of Lesser Black-backed Gull, Coot and Little Grebe. The racing circuit being in use made identifying a possible Garden Warbler very difficult. As the lure of identifying the Garden Warbler took so long, we were behind the rest of the group. Along Kent’s Bottom Plantation we had a splendid Peregrine flypast and two Marsh Tits ‘pitchoue-ing’ in the bushes with lengthy sightings of aggressive ‘battle stance’. At the mill in Long Dean a pair of Swallows were caught napping on the roof. Along the path above the river a Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen, more Nuthatch and the lovely song of a Mistle Thrush echoed along the valley. Back in the village, one lucky person saw the Dipper fly round a corner of By Brook and we all heard Greenfinches calling. At the car park a few of the advance party were happily munching their lunch and told us of the finding of Lesser Whitethroat and Grey Wagtail, which brought the tally up to 49. A splendid walk was had by the 30 of us and our thanks go to David for leading. Nick Hawkridge

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