Bristol Ornithological Club
Jun 13 2017

Tuesday 13 June – Folly Farm

A large group, which waxed and waned a bit throughout the walk, but for the most part numbered 41 members, set out on this new Tuesday walk. The morning started warm but cloudy and turned into a real sunny summer’s day. Our route took us into pastures with long (wet) grass and the sound of many Rooks plus the first of several Song Thrushes with extensive vocabularies which were heard throughout the walk. There were many wonderful views to all points of the compass and with the good visibility Mute swans on Chew Valley Lake were added to the list. Among the summer migrants, seen and heard, were Blackcap, House Martin, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Willow warbler.
At coffee break Mark Watson reminded us that as part of the Club’s 50th anniversary activities, we are funding the purchase of hedging for a planting project at this Avon Wildlife Trust location. This will take place on a Tuesday in late October – hopefully with an even larger group of members! Bird News will have all the details in due course.
We can usually count on seeing a Buzzard, which reminds some that it’s time for a coffee break. Four were seen early on this occasion and a Kestrel towards the end of the walk. A Hobby, spotted by Sue Prince, was possibly the star of the show for some – though our group was sometimes split into two or three so although the final count did match the number of walkers, not everyone saw or heard every species, which included Great Spotted and Green woodpecker, five species of corvid, most of the Tits, Goldcrest, Dunnock and Nuthatch. Two lucky returners to the carpark were treated to a very close, low level, noisy flypast of a Hobby hot on the heels of a Carrion crow.
Many thanks to Jean for leading and introducing so many of us to the delights of Folly Farm. Nancy Barrett

Jun 06 2017

Tuesday 06 June – Sand Point

Six people made the ascent to the trig. point at the top of the steps, where any lingering cobwebs were swiftly dispatched eastward at about 40 knots. Trees and shrubs being all in full leaf and the roaring of the wind over ears, it is surprising that we did get to 28 species. Whitethroat and Blackbird were along and over the path. One Swallow, several Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls were patrolling, skilfully using the updraft from the cliffs. We spent ten fruitless minutes at the point, no dark sickle shape of Manx Shearwater, no long winged Gannet, in fact nothing. Before we reached our coffee stop, three then four beautifully coloured Feral Pigeon played chase along the cliff edge. In the lee of some boulders we drank our brews, the sun warmed us, and above Stonechat and Rock Pipit both scolded loudly. We flushed a Skylark from the newly cut meadows, no soaring song flight for this one, just lifting off, no higher than a Dunnock, sliding along the wind and down. A flock of 28 Goldfinches made enough noise to attract our attention; they swarmed from bushes onto some thistles and back again. Four Jackdaws shot into the belfry of the priory church, a favourite spot. Here two of the party departed for home and we few sat, a little further down for our picnic on the edge of the River Banwell. We listened to singing Blackbird, Greenfinch, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and saw several Shelducks and a single Mallard. The far bank of the river fairly teamed with Corvids and at one point they all lifted off, high enough for us to see that there were well over 300. We would normally have walked back via the Severn edge at St Thomas’s Head, across the field system, but the clouds that were racing towards us had an evil look, so we headed back to the cars. Although it was blowing all day and a few spots of rain hit us, it was an exhilarating outing. Nick Hawkridge

Jun 04 2017

Sunday 04 June – RSPB Arne

Forty-seven members of the BOC, Bristol Naturalists and Bath RSPB joined the coach trip to Arne RSPB reserve. The weather was overcast with sunny spells and a bit windy, the rain holding off until the journey back. RSPB staff, Rob and George met us at Arne. We split into two groups for a guided tour of some of the reserve, including parts not normally open to the public.
My group walked up the West Trail passing remains of a WWII gun emplacement. Arne was a decoy for the cordite factory at Holton Heath and was heavily bombed. Some of the bomb craters are now wildlife-friendly ponds. A Neolithic barrow is close by. The barrow is on the highest point of the reserve and was once covered in bright flint nodules visible for miles in a treeless landscape. The barrow and the gun emplacement mark the beginning and end of lowland heath in Arne. The natural state of the land is oak woodland. Our Neolithic ancestors felled and burnt the trees. The thin, acid soils turned to heathland (which once stretched from Sussex to Devon). In the 1940s the heath converted to conifers for timber production. The RSPB is restoring the heathland landscape. A thick mulch of needles is left once the pines are gone. This prevents natural regeneration and is difficult and expensive to remove. The RSPB is experimenting with Mangalitza (woolly) pigs who root about exposing the soil. Heather seeds can remain dormant for 100 years and will germinate once exposed to light and air. The pigs also supply the bacon for the café which is harsh, but tastes delicious. The pigs are confined by an ineffective electric fence. They escaped and followed us like a pack of dogs as we walked down the hill.Arne is a stronghold for Dartford Warblers. In the 1960s only ten Dartfords survived in the whole country with just two in Arne. With careful management, Arne now has up to 70 pairs. The birds don’t migrate and are very vulnerable to cold winters. They have up to three broods a year so recover from population crashes quite quickly but they are slow to recolonise if they become locally extinct. The gorse is coppiced in rotation to create low, dense bushes that shelter the birds, and the spiders they prey on, from winter snow. We had a good view of a family of four Dartfords, in spite of the wind.
The heath is also home to Smooth Snake, Adder, Grass Snake, Common and Sand Lizards. We were shown a number of shallow, oval holes created by Sand Lizards excavating burrows for their eggs. We saw one female lizard in the act. Rare Ladybird Spiders (as seen on Autumnwatch) are captive bred and released onto the reserve, so far going well with an expanding population.
After the tour, we were free to explore the rest of the reserve. Coombe Heath is to the south. This looks out over Middlebere Lake (part of Poole Harbour). This area is good for Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Linnet, Meadow Pipit. We were unlucky not to see Osprey. A young male has adopted one of the artificial nest sites but on Sunday he was elsewhere.
To the north, the reserve consists of mixed woodland (oak, birch and pine), farmland pasture and patches of heath. A colony of Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls nest on Long Island. An evildoer stole all the eggs last year (apparently gulls’ eggs are a thing in posh restaurants). Increased vigilance this year has led to a successful breeding season, although the only Mediterranean gull seen was in Middlebere Lake. Common and Sandwich terns nest on Brownsea Island but we saw not one! However, one member saw a group of Avocet in the distance. Plus a couple of Common Seal.
A very enjoyable and interesting day out. As is normal with birding ‘we should have been there yesterday’ but we saw 59 species including a Red Kite from the coach (near Shaftesbury). (thanks Alastair for the organisation and leading) Alastair Fraser

May 23 2017

Tuesday May 23 – Newport Wetlands

An unpromising start with low cloud and drizzle over the estuary but this slowly disappeared and the sun eventually came through. Around the centre were House Sparrow, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coot and Little Grebe on the pond. The artificial Sand Martin bank is still unused. Walking out towards the lighthouse gave us Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting and Cetti’s Warblers, hiding from view as usual. The Bearded Tits did appear briefly but not seen by all. Swifts, Swallows, House and Sand Martins were all flying over the water. The tide was well out so there were few birds to see. Curlew, Oystercatcher, Herring Gull and Shelduck were visible and the Whitethroat was a noisy accompaniment as we walked along to the hide where Grey Heron and Moorhen were added. In the wood were Blackcap, Wren and Chiffchaff.
After lunch the group headed to Goldcliff and were able to add Redshank, Lapwing, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover. The Ringed Plover was seen with two little balls of fluff. The Avocets had a few chicks and we had a brief visit from two young Grey Wagtails. A Marsh Harrier and a Buzzard were the only raptors seen, but a family of Raven were mobbed by Crows. Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit were in summer plumage and the drake Garganey was still hanging around. A Teal, a Wigeon and a Black-headed Gull seemed to be the last of the larger flocks. The fifteen walkers enjoyed the two sites and the day gave us a good total of 61 species but sadly no Cuckoo. (thanks to Margaret and Ray for leading) Margaret Bulmer

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

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