Saturday, 27 April 2019

Andy Bluett


As I write this in the depths of winter, I look forward to the coming spring and the arrival of birds that enviably spend their winters in sunny locations far to the south and east of our homeland. For most birders, the arrival of Spring migrants gets us out and about, looking for that "first"; incoming migrants generally arrive here during the period from March to May, some later species not appearing until June. Needless to say, for early birds, much depends upon weather conditions as they travel, but for most species, the average arrival dates are consistent over a period of many decades. Apart from the occasional scarce visitor, we can divide returning birds broadly into two categories, those that pass through Gloucestershire on their way elsewhere, and those that stay to breed in our green and pleasant land.

On their way to the hill country of Wales and the north, Wheatears & Ring Ouzels appear on the Cotswold scarp edge, especially on Cleeve Hill where the Wheatears used to breed in the quarries during the 1950s.

Our Sand Martins begin arriving in mid-March, their fizzing calls can be heard along the Severn, the Swallows and House Martins arrive a little later at the end of March and early April but the larger Swifts are much later, during the second half of April.

The most anticipated bird perhaps has to be the Cuckoo, which we hope to hear as early as the first week of April; scarce breeders now in Gloucestershire most of them head for the north and west of England and Scotland where they are still relatively common.

Of the Warblers, it is usually the Chiffchaff first, followed by Willow Warblers at the end of March, then as April progresses, we see Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed & Garden Warbler and finally the Lesser Whitethroat at the end of the month. Again, Grasshopper Warblers don't usually stay with us any more, their flight continues north as far as Scotland; Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers like the grassy slopes of the Cotswolds and Forest of Dean with scattered shrubs and trees; Reed & Sedge Warblers inhabit the Water Park and Phragmites Reed-beds alongside the Severn & Canals. Grasshopper Warblers might appear anywhere, albeit briefly; in past years they've been seen on the scarp edge hills, Cleeve, Charlton Kings Common and Leckhampton. Common Whitethroat love the hedgerows along lanes in the Vale and rough open ground in the Dean, Lesser Whitethroats with their repetitive and less tuneful song prefer a farmland ditch with overhanging brambles in the Vale.

In wetland habitats, Little Ringed Plovers arrive in the Cotswold Water Park after the last week of March, Common Sandpipers pass through the Water Park, Coombe Hill, WWT Slimbridge and along the Severn on their way to the western & northern hill country rivers and lakes from early April. Lapwings can be breeding, though scarcely compared with past years, by mid-April, and Yellow Wagtails reach the damp meadows and arable farmland of the Vale in the first week of April. Golden Plover fly over Cotswold hills, sparkling Grey Plover, Whimbrel and brick-red Bar-tailed Godwit may be seen in the lower estuary and from Saul Warth during April.

Woodland birds begin with Redstart & Tree Pipit in early April, Pied Flycatcher and Nightingale in the second week, Wood Warbler during the third week & Turtle Dove by the end of the month. Spotted Flycatcher arrive in early May and Nightjar a week or two later. Redstart & Pied Flycatcher are still found in the Forest at Nagshead and the Cannop Valley, but look for Redstart in the pollarded Willows on the Severn Hams, there are more there than in Dean's shaded woodland now. Nightingales are singing sweetly at Highnam Woods in May, Tree Pipit and Nightjar are both in the clear-fell & heathland of the Dean; I always look for Spotted Flycatcher in Churchyards, they like shelter and tranquillity among the Yew trees; the last Gloucestershire Turtle Dove I saw was on the edge of a large clear-fell in the Dean, they are scarce here in the 21st century but look for them in the north of Dean, around May Hill, on the Cotswolds and almost anywhere in the Vale; the most beautiful of our Doves, to hear or see one now is a rare and delightful pleasure.

There are others to look for, much less common but no less exciting, a passing Osprey any-time after March, Hobbies in May & June, and possibly Wryneck or Honey Buzzard heading north from Africa.

Whatever you see, do enjoy it, and don't forget to record and report it to Richard Baatsen for posterity, especially the commoner birds by which we measure the state of our environment.

Andrew Bluett
Hon. Membership Secretary Gloucestershire Naturalists' Society