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
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
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