Notes on the breeding season in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, April 2018

World Curlew Day at Upton on Severn on 21 April seemed to go well, and John Dickinson and I attended the annual Upton Town meeting on 24 April, where we made some follow-up contacts among Town officials, and there seemed to be general support from the public.

Mervyn Greening has not yet received the formal permit to collect eggs for headstarting, but hopes it may materialise in the coming week; he has bought two sets of electric fences (with Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society funding), and we plan to have a trial session putting them up. Mervyn and I have been looking at the possibility of acquiring an image intensifier; we have found a gun shop which has experience of them and has offered to advise and, if we want one, to acquire one for us. Seems that there are plenty of suppliers, not just one trade supplier as we had feared.

I have been making regular visits to Tewkesbury Ham to look at breeding Curlews; the grass there grows at frightening speed, and it is already quite difficult to see the birds in the grass if they don’t stick up their necks.  Earlier in the season, they were generally in pairs, now you are more likely to see single males, which makes me think that the females are now sitting on eggs.  At one stage I saw several Curlews chasing crows very aggressively, which is another reason to think they are on eggs.

I looked at Coombe Hill one evening, to see if any came in to roost; rather unusually, none at all came in.  But the water there is still quite high, and the floods must have affected their breeding patterns. There are two fields, one off the reserve, where I strongly suspect nesting. I had a good look at Ashleworth/ Hasfield Ham; as at the time of the flood, there seem to be two pairs present. But the weather has been very unfavourable for bubbling and nest finding; the birds don’t seem to be very active in these cold, damp, windy conditions.  Coming week is likely to be important for nest finding.

On 29 April I visited Chris Robinson in Hereford, to see some of the Herefordshire Curlew sites.  Very interesting: their prime site on the Lugg Meadows is remarkably like our river meadow sites; we saw at least two probable pairs – one still acting as a pair, and being chased away by another male; one male (with a recognisable face pattern) on his own, but aggressive to the other pair and to passing crows, so I guess he has a female on eggs nearby.  Afterwards we went to look at two other sites away from the valley and in agricultural (mainly arable) areas.  These areas were very reminiscent of Shropshire or upland Worcestershire sites, with birds squeezing into heavily arable landscapes (cereals, maize, the occasional green field, probably used for silage).  Both sites held a pair and one of the birds was chasing crows; but I wonder if these aren’t the birds at greatest risk, and where action is most urgently needed. Our relict population in the Forest of Dean is probably a site of this kind too.

Two of the Curlews on Tewkesbury Ham have recognisable plumage features – one female with a white spot at the base of the bill, one male with a distinct white throat.  As with the Lugg Meadows bird, this may make it easier to recognise individuals (so there is no need to attach colour rings, which you wouldn’t see in the long grass anyhow”!)

We have received some nice observations from the Ripple/ Uckinghall area of Worcestershire.

Mike Smart

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