Sunday, 17 March 2019

Adult and child birdwatching
RSPB Images


Ten years ago in this newsletter I was commenting on the wonderful wildlife seen on our television screens but extolling the virtues of getting outside and seeing wildlife in its natural habitat close at hand. As I re-read the article I thought how little had changed. There are still Short-eared Owls patrolling rough grasslands in the county during the winter months; flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing to be found in the autumn sown fields of wheat; the Forest of Dean continues to be a hotspot in the country for Hawfinches; and Nightingales still introduce the Dawn Chorus at Highnam Woods. Recently I enjoyed another of nature's spectacles, a murmuration of Starlings over Kemerton Lake just across the border in Worcestershire. With me, at that time, was a young boy, eight years old, who lived perhaps half a mile away who had never witnessed the spectacle before. He was enthralled. Three weeks earlier I had taken a couple of youngsters for a walk in the Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve in Cheltenham. We didn't see anything unusual but they were entranced by a Robin that sat for a few minutes on a twig just a few feet from them. Nature gives us a thrill but it can provide a really special experience for youngsters and perhaps instil in them a desire to get out and look for and at the wonderful flora and fauna which are just around the corner.

But there are still people around whose actions deprive others of enjoying the wildlife that should be about. In the last newsletter I described the need for more action to be taken to protect our birds of prey. The need was brought into sharper focus recently when it was reported that of 37 juvenile Hen Harriers tagged by the RSPB in 2018 eight had already disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Some young birds die of natural causes but if they have been tagged the corpses can usually be recovered; the tags leading conservation staff to the location of the bodies. In the eight instances mentioned above the tags were never recovered suggesting they had been destroyed along with the victims. I hope the Red Kites that are regularly seen over my garden these days and the dozen or so that are patrolling the skies over Winchcombe do not meet a similar gruesome end and will bring delight to many people like the Starlings and Robin did to those three youngsters.

In this newsletter we look at some of the other marvels that can be found in Gloucestershire during the spring and summer; the small birds that migrate thousands of miles each year to and from Africa. The Swallows, Martins and Swifts are always obvious as they patrol the skies chasing insects. But, at the same time, the hedgerows, copses and woodlands come alive with birdsong. Our resident birds are joined in the cacophony with contributions by Redstarts and Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and occasionally Cuckoos. Reedbeds come alive to the chattering songs of Reed and Sedge Warblers and overhead Hobby are on the watch for unsuspecting dragonflies and the unwary Sand Martin. These may not be birds that take advantage of our gardens but they are not far away. So get out and enjoy them and take a youngster with you to help grow the next generation of nature lovers.

If you need some help in identifying those birds and their songs, why not come along on one of our field trips. These are walks designed to enjoy the countryside with like-minded people. We will visit the two RSPB reserves in the county, Rodborough Common for the butterfly enthusiasts amongst you and other sites in the Cotswolds, Severn Vale and Forest of Dean. A full programme of the planned field trips is listed in the newsletter. And even if there are few birds, butterflies and other creatures to be seen the exercise will be good for you.

David Cramp