By Gavin Peplow
This spring began with many County birdwatchers in a slightly sombre mood in response to the restrictions imposed by Foot and Mouth precautions as to the locations they could visit in search of incoming breeding migrants and passage birds. As summer arrived, access restrictions were largely lifted and throughout the period there was a good spread of interesting records, including a new species for the County along with two first breeding records.
During the last few days of April a Red-breasted Merganser dropped into Westwood briefly and an adult Whooper Swan paused at Grimley on its way back north. The wildfowl theme continued into early May with a superb adult male Eider selecting the most unlikely venue of Arrow Valley Lake to stop for a 'breather' before heading off to the east. Short-eared Owls were seen over Cherry Orchard, Worcester and on the north Malverns whilst a male Red-footed Falcon was seen well by one fortunate observer at Grimley a few days later. This provided what some would say was a long overdue first County record and amazingly a female of the species was then seen briefly over Westwood Pool a week later, but unfortunately again did not linger. Continuing on the birds of prey theme, a Red Kite drifted though the Lenches whilst seven or eight Marsh Harriers were noted, mainly at Upton Warren. Surprisingly only one Osprey was seen at this time.
This May was reasonable but by no means exceptional for passage waders, with the highlights being parties of up to seven Whimbrel at various sites; a Turnstone at Bredon's Hardwick and five Sanderlings at scattered localities. Tern passage came and went very quickly with a party of ten Arctic Terns through Lower Moor and a similar number of Black Terns at Upton Warren mid month. A single Little Tern at Bredon's Hardwick was followed by two birds at Gwen Finch, a new site record, whilst Common Terns peaked at 31 at Westwood mid-month. Several drake Garganey were seen at sites from Upton Warren to Bredon's Hardwick and a Little Egret at Holt was the first seen there and still an unusual record for spring. Another notable record for the month arrived in the form of a Black Redstart holding territory for a fortnight around a Kidderminster carpet factory!
June is often perceived as a very quiet month for birding with most species in the midst of their breeding cycles but it can often throw up a few surprises. This year, late or perhaps early returning passage waders included a Knot at Upton Warren and a Curlew Sandpiper at Grimley, whilst this last site also hosted a Wood Sandpiper, a species that is seemingly increasingly haphazard in its appearances in the County. The main prize however (for those fortunate to see it before it departed northwards) was a Spoonbill at Wilden, the second year running that this species has been seen at this site.
July began hot and as can be the case in such conditions, several Quail were heard calling. This included up to five in the Peopleton area and three or four elsewhere. A small number of Crossbills were found in the Wyre Forest, Eyemore Wood and on Woodbury Hill whilst three drake Common Scoter rested awhile at Bittell.
It is at this time that the success or otherwise of the breeding season can become apparent. This year a potential female 'Blue-headed' Wagtail - the continental form of Yellow Wagtail - was seen at Holt and may have paired with a male Yellow though whether any young were raised is not known.
Two other species bred for the first time in Worcestershire this year, neither perhaps that welcome! The first were two pairs of Greylag Geese in the south and no doubt 'overspill' birds from further east where they are now very numerous as descendents of original feral birds. Secondly and surprisingly, was a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls that raised one juvenile at Bredon's Hardwick.
At the end of the month the now annual 'incursion' of Little Egrets began with birds at Lower Moor and Upton Warren, whilst up to four juvenile Mediterranean Gulls and three Curlew Sandpipers were also seen at this last locality.
August arrived with a Black-necked Grebe being found at the unlikely location of Throckmorton Landfill site and perhaps more surprisingly it remained for ten days. There followed two birds of this species at Westwood and a further individual at Grimley over the next couple of weeks. An Osprey took up temporary residence at Trimpley Reservoir and another was seen over Bittell whilst a further five Wood Sandpipers and several Little Stint passed through the County. A Spotted Crake put in a very brief appearance at Upton Warren, emerging into a freshly cleared area of rushes for a few minutes whilst a Bittern was typically elusive at Grimley when seen several times over a four-day period mid-month. Little Egrets were somewhat easier to find with birds seen at ten well-scattered sites and with concentrations of three at Bittell and five at the Gwen Finch Reserve, Nafford on single dates.
September produced a nice variety of scarcer species without throwing out anything spectacular. A steady trickle of passage waders included Curlew Sandpipers at Grimley and Upton Warren with Spotted Redshank at this last locality and another commuting between Lower Moor and Nafford. Several Little Stints were also seen before a Pectoral Sandpiper was found at Ryall Gravel Pits at the month end.
Stronger winds pushed three Manx Shearwaters inland mid month but all of these were picked up by the RSPCA after being alerted by members of the public as to the presence of 'a strange bird in my garden'. Other highlights included an Osprey over Holt, Little Gulls at Wilden and Upton Warren, Rock Pipits at this last locality and Grimley and a Black Redstart also at this last locality. Several Redwings arrived early this autumn with birds on Bredon Hill and elsewhere from the third week.
The autumn continued very mild with some warm days throughout October encouraging species such as Black Terns to linger at Bittell and Upton Warren. Ospreys were also later than normal this year, reported near Naunton Beauchamp and for a few days at Bittell. This last locality attracted the highlight of the month in the form of a Dartford Warbler, bizarrely found in a well trimmed hedgerow where it spent a day apparently successfully foraging for insect morsels!
A Grey Phalarope was sadly picked up dead at the beginning of the month whilst a Firecrest at this time was typically elusive near Bewdley. Other notable sightings included a White-fronted Goose at Grimley; Scaup at Bredon's Hardwick whilst perhaps the most unexpected record of the whole autumn was a White Pelican reported flying up the Severn valley late in the month! This was presumably a bird that had been seen earlier in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, though as usual with this species it was presumed 'guilty before proven innocent' in terms of its origin, this despite no claims of any escapees anywhere in the Country at the time!
Records compiled from reports received by Birdline Midlands. Please phone through details of all your interesting sightings to the 24-hour Hotline on 01905-754154 (free on application to regular callers). For all the latest information on birds currently within Worcestershire and the Midlands Region, call 09068-700247 (calls charged at 60p per minute).