Places to see birds

Ashleworth Ham and Coombe Hill Meadows & Canal

Ashleworth Ham and Coombe Hill Meadows & Canal
Gavin Black

Ashleworth Ham and Coombe Hill Meadows are part of the River Severn flood plain area above Gloucester, on either side of the river. It is in the nature of flood plains that there are times when the sites are too dry to attract any wetland birds and there are other times when they are too flooded to access. The ideal conditions, from a bird finding point of view, is a good amount of rainfall but without the River Severn overflowing. Ashleworth Ham is a Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust site and the water levels are managed, as far as this is possible, to meet the interests of both wildlife and farming (grazing and mowing) There is a hide overlooking the site and screens. At Coombe Hill there is an unfinished, silted canal, which is also managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and two hides.
Wigeon and Teal are drawn to The Duckeries, as the fields at Ashleworth are also known, in large numbers in most winters along with good numbers of Pintail and some other surface feeding species such as Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall. As the flood levels rise, diving ducks may arrive and are also usually to be found on the deep pool at Coombe Hill. Tufted Duck and Pochard are likely at such times and Goldeneye a possibility. Goosander and even Smew could occur on the flood water as could Mandarin and rare visitors from across the Atlantic such as Green-winged Teal or American Wigeon. Also Garganey may stop off on passage and a pair bred here in 2000. Shelducks may breed nearby.
Whooper Swans have been fairly regular in small numbers (typically two) in recent years and Bewick's Swans may move up from Slimbridge from time to time. Feral Greylag Geese and Canada Geese are usual and it is worth checking amongst the latter in case of the occasional Barnacle Goose. Bittern is sometimes possible and Water Rail more regular, as are Snipe. Passage Whimbrel and Ruff may stop off here and Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank probably breed in small numbers.
Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks are regular and Peregrines can be found, outside of the breeding season, perched on pylons and hunting nearby. Flocks of Siskins and Redpolls feed in the Alders in winter when good numbers of winter Thrushes can also be seen. Passage migrants sometimes stay and breed in the area. Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and sometimes Grasshopper Warblers and even Nightingales, Yellow Wagtails and Redstarts may breed. Autumn migration may bring Greenshanks and will bring in Yellow Wagtails, Wheatears and Whinchats. Recent rarities have included a Great White Egret which spent some time at Ashleworth (see photo) and a female (the more colourful gender) Red-necked Phalarope which has spent summer 2012 at Coombe Hill and a juvenile Purple Heron spent a few days at the end of July.
Access to Ashleworth Ham; Drive north from Gloucester on the A417 via Over roundabout. Turn right at the public house at Hartpury (the Royal Exchange) and follow signposts toward Hasfield and Tirley. Continue until you see the viewing screens on your right and park in the lay-by on the left, opposite. There is a hide up on the bank behind you which gives shelter and a slightly different view from that at the screens.
Access to Coombe Hill Canal and meadows; Take the A38 north from Gloucester towards Tewkesbury. When you reach the traffic lights at the Swan Inn, turn left onto the no-through road. Park in the small car park at the bottom, beside the end of the canal. There is a notice board and map at the start of the often muddy footpath and sometimes leaflets are available to help you find the hides. Walk along the canal and cross over to access the fields and hides. Search the hedgerows and fields on your left as you walk. Bullfinches, Long-tailed Tits, Treecreepers, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are all frequent here and a couple of Whooper Swans may be in the fields.