December - Venus Pool
Eighteen of us met in the car park at 10.00am on a dull and slightly drizzly morning. There are three main areas to explore.
The hides overlooking the main lake
Lots of ducks on view so let’s identify them. Teal, pochard, mallard, wigeon, shoveller, shelduck all obvious but is there anything less common. Someone spots a single pintail and also one gadwall but what are those two over the far side. Two female goldeneye. That’s nice. What else? Lots of canada geese and greylag geese, coots and moorhens, black-headed gulls, lapwings, pied wagtails, carrion crows, blackbirds, a robin, a mute swan and a cormorant. A later visit to the second hide added 12 snipe and a little grebe.
The woodland hide
The first thing we noticed was that the trees had been thinned out creating more light in the small clearing. There were plenty of nuts in the feeders so lots of blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and a couple of coal tits. Then a nuthatch and a treecreeper and after 5 minutes a great spotted woodpecker. Greenfinch, dunnock and woodpigeon were added to the list and, what’s this, two mallards. Shouldn’t they be on the lake? They were here last year.
The walk along the field to the causeway and around to the back hide
The hedge on the left is usually good for yellowhammers and the field for goldfinches and both duly obliged. Also pheasants, magpies and on the fishing lake, lesser black-backed gull and great crested grebe. Any winter thrushes? Yes, redwings and fieldfares and also about 20 lesser redpolls. Starling, jackdaw and linnet completed the list to make 45 in all, not bad for a cold, damp day.
Now off to the warmth of the Riverside Inn for lunch. The mushroom and walnut soup was delicious as was the chocolate torte. Naughty me!
* * *
November - Colstey Wood
Following a very wet and windy week it was pleasing to have the company of eight hardy others on our first effort in guiding a walk through Colstey Wood for the South Shopshire group. The weather was kind, if near freezing temperatures and wind chill can be described that way, but it was sunny so visibility was good and there were snow-topped hills to enhance the views.
Our route began at the forestry car park off the Clun to Bishops Castle Road and took us downhill through deciduous woodland (beech, oak and silver birch) interspersed with conifers and along a pleasant if somewhat muddy track bordering crop fields and meadows with views to the Long Mynd and Acton village. Bird sightings were scarce but we saw or heard a surprising variety: Raven, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Wren, Goldcrest, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Wood Pigeon, Magpie, Pheasant, Robin, Blackbird, Yellowhammer, House Sparrow, Song Thrush, Grey Wagtail, Mallard, Rook and Jay.
At a remote cottage the route took us uphill following a lovely sunken stream to a pond and more crop fields bordered by some mature trees where yellowhammers could be seen and buzzards were soaring overhead.
At the top of the hill we joined a track which passed by Guilden Down and farm buildings and onto two sunken lanes (reputed to be an old monk’s trod) which led us back into the woodland and downhill to our starting point. One final uphill pull to the car park warmed us up and those who were able met at the White Horse Inn at Clun for a pleasant lunch.
Although the bird count was low the walk was enjoyed by all.
(Special thanks to Clive and Clarissa Cooke who contributed to the book “Clun Valley & Borders – 33 Favourite Walks” in which we found what has become one of our favourite walks).
Linda and Nick Pyne
* * *
October - Along the Teme from Little Hereford
September - A walk from the Discovery Centre
We were a group of 13. Some would regard that as unlucky but in fact we were very lucky with the weather – warm and sunny – and equally lucky with our sightings – a total of 30 species.
We saw, and heard, several birds from the car park – jackdaw, crow, blackbird and wood pigeon. Above us housemartins were noisily wheeling across the sky.
With trees still in full leaf we struggled to spot all the twitterers in the Meadows but we did see robins, blue tit, great tit, wren, dunnock, goldfinches, a male bullfinch and even had a good view of a chiffchaff. There was a moorhen on the River Onny.
Having crossed the Newton bridge to walk down the far side of the river there were many more crows and jackdaws plus a buzzard mewing high above. A distant view of a characteristic undulating flight was confirmed as a great spotted woodpecker when one was seen close by.
A coffee stop beside the river proved very productive. A kingfisher flashed past low over the water and we caught glimpses of treecreeper, nuthatch, grey wagtail and marsh tit.
The pool opposite Stokesay Castle was attracting a few swallows and housemartins swooping down for insects and there were several pied wagtails prospecting the surrounding mud but only one mallard and one moorhen actually in the water. A magpie flew between the trees and as we walked through the gate someone managed to spot the single house sparrow of the day. .A flock of starlings preceded us up the hedge towards Sallow Coppice. Amongst yet more jackdaws and crows there were several rooks in the fields and a raven was seen and heard.
Nothing new was observed in the coppice or on the walk back down to Craven Arms but a keen-eyed group member saw bird number thirty back in the car park – a collared dove.
We were able to conclude a very enjoyable walk with lunch sitting in the sunshine outside the Discovery Centre.
Pat and Ron Fairweather
* * *
July - The Devil's Spittleful
A death-defying dash across the main road from the car park brought our group of 11 to a pretty lane , bordered on each side by banks of wild flowers buzzing with insects. We followed this under two railway bridges (one disused, the other serving the Severn Valley railway) passing Blackstone Fields where kestrels were flying. There were lovely extensive views on our left over fields full of borage, and we saw gatekeeper butterflies, meadow browns, tortoiseshells, skippers, speckled woods and small and large whites, as well as several small birds including whitethroat, yellowhammer and blackcap. On reaching the reserve we could see that the ground under our feet was very sandy and pitted with tiny holes – homes to mason bees. We went through a gate on our right into the "spittleful" area – this refers to a large rocky sandstone knoll crowned with Scots pine. After skirting the knoll through clumps of heather and grasses and exploring the small wooded area where a spotted flycatcher was hunting for insects, we climbed the steep steps right up to the top – well worth the effort for the spectacular views (and the sense of achievement!)
The other side of the path which cuts the reserve in half also has a wide range of habitats and plenty of wildlife at all times of year. We picked our way carefully through the heath following the markers which were thankfully very clear. All around were moths, butterflies (including an unexpected marbled white - see photo) and wild flowers, some of them normally associated with coastal areas. We also saw a brown hawker dragonfly though there didn't seem to be any water nearby.
This little-known Worcestershire Wildlife Trust reserve surprisingly close to Bewdley has a lot to offer – not least the steam and diesel hauled trains passing through on the Severn Valley line. Then of course there is the adjacent West Midlands Safari Park, where we were able to spot a rather splendid Indian Rhino. While eating our picnic lunch we watched queues of cars moving slowly around in the distance, baking in the hot sunshine, and certainly didn't envy those trapped inside!
On returning the Blackstone car park two of us had just about enough energy to walk down to the river Severn, where we were rewarded with views of a brilliant metallic-turquoise banded demoiselle, several bright comma butterflies and a kingfisher.
Bird Species count: Sparrowhawk, Goldfinch, Buzzard, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Carrion Crow, Wood Pigeon, Blackcap(H), Jay, White Throat, Chiffchaff (H), Swallow, House martin, Swift, Skylark, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Wren (H), Blackbird, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Green Woodpecker, Blue Tit, Pied Wagtail, Magpie, Robin, Great. Spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher and 3 Kestrels
* * *
May - Clunton Coppice
A welcome pit-stop for refreshments (photo: Gail Ellis)
A cool wind greeted us at Clunton Coppice on Saturday morning and we wondered if it would keep the birds hidden in the trees. As we walked into the woodland we could hear Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Wood Warbler, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Wren and Goldcrest. I was worried we wouldn't see any birds but a female and then a male Pied Flycatcher were soon spotted followed by Great Tit, Chaffinch, Blackbird and the inevitable Blue Tit.
Further along the woodland trail we saw a Treecreeper and heard a Gt. Spotted Woodpecker. As we came out of the woods walking towards the lane down Laydebank we saw a Spotted Flycatcher, Greenfinch, Swallows and Dunnock.
In the field by our coffee stop a Mistle Thrush was looking for food and overhead were Wood Pigeons and Crows.
Walking with a conifer plantation on our left and fields bordered by a hedge of gorse, hazel and blooming hawthorn we were rewarded with good views of Yellowhammer and Redstart. Overhead a Red Kite, Raven and House Martin were spotted. Along the lane leading back to the woodland were a Stock Dove and Long Tailed Tits.
We finished the walk on a high point of hearing a Garden Warbler and then hearing again and seeing very briefly the Wood Warbler just before we left the woods.
Aside from the birdlife Clunton Coppice also held some delightful wild flowers especially clumps of Pink Purslane, Wood Violets and drifts of Bluebells and Greater Stitchwort. Along the hedges there were still Primroses blooming also Bitter Vetchling, Celendine, Red Campion, Germander and Thyme leaved Speedwell and frothy Cow Parsley.
Grand total of 33 birds spotted and/or heard!
Clive and Clarissa Cooke
* * *
April - Yatton to Croft Ambrey
Luckily the 18th April dawned bright and sunny and a good turnout of 18 met at Yatton. We followed the tracks that crisscross the slopes of Croft Ambrey, a fairly unspoilt habitat with bracken trees and scrub and superb views. We had good sightings of willow warbler, tree pipit, chiffchaff and blackcap all singing with the joy of spring. More secretly garden warbler, tree creeper, coal tit, marsh tit, nuthatch, jay, great spotted woodpecker and goldcrest were spotted. A kestrel was busy hunting while we ate our sandwiches, eight fallow deer stood and watched us and a tawny owl hooted! A total of 32 birds were spotted but the highlight had to be great views of a redstart catching insects and darting back to the fence. Good birds enjoyed with good company.
* * *
March - Catherton Common
13 of us met on a fine but breezy morning. We headed east through a group of birch trees, where we soon saw a small flock of mistle thrushes and great tits, Crossing the crest of Catherton marshes we listened to the evocative call of curlews from neighbouring fields and were lucky to see a pair in flight, claiming territory. We paused to admire views over Worcestershire and Wyre Forest, and to identify both meadow and tree pipits, and also a female reed bunting.
Following the wooded edge of we saw more tit flocks including long-tailed and blue, and more surprisingly, a hare. Leaving the common we descended through a series of fields and paddocks, meeting a particularly friendly flock of sheep, and crossing some cultivated fields where a lark was claiming territory. We had numerous sightings of buzzards, a couple of kestrels and a sparrowhawk, as well as vociferous jackdaws, pairs of ravens and wagtails in and over the fields here. A second mammal, this time inanimate, was found in the form of a bleached skull (probably badger) with an almost complete set of teeth.
After dropping down to Detton bridge, we turned back up the road to a track leading in to Cramer Gutter, and back across to Catherton marshes. By now the sun had come out and more larks were singing. Passing the smallholding of the Barn Owl Recorder Chris Bargman, we paused for a short debate with him on owl pellets. Chris, by the way would really appreciate sightings of barn owls, and can be contacted by email: email@example.com
The morning finished with eating of packed lunches round my kitchen table, and increasing our 31 species to 34, with goldfinch, greenfinch and house sparrow on the garden feeders. Thanks to all who joined in this morning to share your expertise. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
* * *
February - Coed y Dinas, Welshpool
February's trip was the hide on this lovely reserve on the outskirts of Weshpool. We did try to go there last year, but the constant heavy rain prevented access to the car park, which became part of the River Severn! We were fortunate this year, in fact it was a very pleasant, later winter day.
For those unfamiliar with this area, it is one of Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's reserves. The lake, which is most of the reserve, was formed when sand and gravel was extracted to create the Welshpool bypass. It is a large glass-fronted hide, providing a very adequate, comfortable bird watching experience.
There is usually something interesting to see there at most times of the year and we saw quite a selection of ducks and waders plus the usual small birds and even a redwing in the surrounding bushes. Unusually the warden was there who told us that a bittern had been present for the last fortnight, but it was usually seen in the late afternoon. We were in luck. We all managed to get a view of this shy reclusive bird. It was a first for me and several others. How such a big bird - it's the size of a small heron - can disappear amongst the reeds, is amazing. Camouflage in action.
Following our success, we went to The Old Station, now a shop and cafe, for a light lunch. As the weather remained fine, we visited the nearby Severn Farm Ponds, a small reserve set on an industrial estate. We were very impressed by the bullrush sculpture (above), made from beer bottles, and were rewarded by a good view of a male bullfinch and a herring gull. This brought our total for the day to thirty one.
Coed y Dinas - buzzard-shelduck-tufted duck-snipe(5)-lesser black backed gull-jackdaw-oyster catcher-goosander-bittern-teal-great crested grebe-coot-mallard-chaffinch-pheasant-magpie-redwing-robin-heron-great tit.
Severn Farm Pond - wren-blue tit-dunnock-blackbird-wood pigeon-carrion crow-long tailed tit-bullfinch-herring gull.
* * * * * *