Spring 1999 was generally mild with some fine spells of weather and periods of east and south easterly winds, producing a lot of species of interest to the local birder, particularly in the form of passage waders. Following Worcestershire's first Common Crane at Kinsham Private Nature Reserve in mid March, the site continued to attract passage migrants during the spring period. A pair of Mandarin Ducks also favoured the site, presumably as a secure feeding area for their young despite the regular presence of local Buzzards and Sparrowhawks!
Garganeys were found at several sites whilst three Red-breasted Mergansers through Westwood sadly didn't linger. Five Ospreys were noted passing through; Marsh Harriers appeared briefly at Upton Warren and Westwood and Red Kites were reported from four scattered sites.
Wader attractions across the County included ten Sanderling with separate groups of three birds at Kinsham and Ryall in May, two Bar-tailed Godwits at this first site, a Grey Plover at Upton Warren, six Turnstones and four Wood Sandpipers at various sites and also a Curlew Sandpiper at Bredon's Hardwick. The main highlights however were Worcestershire's largest ever trip of 20 Dotterel on Bredon Hill one evening in mid-May (after a single the previous week), followed by a superb female Red-necked Phalarope in breeding plumage at Upton Warren (the female acquiring the brighter plumage in this sexually dimorphic species!). Only a little less unusual was a Temminck's Stint for a couple of days at Upton Warren during this period.
Spring Tern passage was generally unexceptional apart from a party of 20 Arctics at Bredon's Hardwick in late April following heavy rain. Black Terns, traditionally slightly later moving through, were very scarce, but a Roseate landing briefly on the Tern raft at Upton Warren quickened the pulses of the half dozen or so birders present at the time but sadly it didn't stay for more than a couple of minutes ! A Sandwich Tern, at this site a little later in May was also a good local find. Little Gulls were very scarce, but of interest a Yellow-legged Gull paired with a Lesser Black-backed at Bredon's Hardwick. Extensive unseasonal flooding in June however, put paid to any hybrid young being raised – perhaps a relief to gull enthusiasts already struggling to fully understand the very complex realms of gull taxonomy!
A Short-eared Owl was seen on Bredon Hill in mid May a scarce visitor in recent years, whilst Wheatear passage there peaked at 15 birds including several of the larger, more northerly 'Greenland' form. A count of White Wagtails – the continental counterpart of our Pied, totalled 13 at Holt in late April, again another local record. Two 'Blue-headed' Wagtails were also found amongst parties of Yellows.
Other passerine highlights included a reeling Savi's Warbler at a central reedbed in May and two Nightingales were heard at Upton Warren late in the month. Also of interest was a report of a Woodlark holding territory in the north of the County during the spring. If confirmed, this could hopefully prove to be the start of a very welcome return of a former breeding species.
As spring matured, Quails were heard at Abberton, Defford and Holt whilst at the end of June, an extremely elusive Hoopoe toured the Eldersfield area in the 'deep south west' of the County, singing around various homesteads during the early morning periods.
Late summer and autumn records included Black-necked Grebes at Kinsham, Ryall and Westwood, along with several Mediterranean Gulls around the County. A Spotted Crake at Upton Warren in July was totally unexpected and was surprisingly followed by a (perhaps the same) long staying individual at Grimley for a month from mid August.
Perhaps the most significant 'development' of the autumn from a birders perspective, was the creation of the new Gwen Finch Wetland Reserve by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust at Nafford. (See also John Hodson's notes in this issue) Although intended as an Otter reserve, it immediately proved very attractive to passage waders with at least 18 species being recorded from late July !These included Spotted Redshank, up to 13 Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper (including one flock of 8 birds) and amazingly the County's second Red-necked Phalarope of the year, this time a juvenile. Also of interest there were up to three different Little Egrets in August with others being seen at Bredon's Hardwick, Strensham and over Hindlip.
In late July a Spoonbill was watched at Bredon for a few minutes before regrettably heading off westwards, whilst a juvenile Marsh Harrier cruised through Upton Warren in early September. A potential first County record was of a Great White Egret was found at Westwood Pool in mid September. This bird roosted overnight before flying off soon after dawn broke the following day and was later seen back down in Wiltshire at the site where it had first been found! It had been colour ringed and one suggestion was that the rings matched up to a ringing scheme being carried out in Poland.
As autumn progressed the quality of birds being found continued to be of an excellent standard with a dark phase Honey Buzzard at Long Green at the end of September, perhaps long overdue. Similarly, a juvenile Red-backed Shrike was warmly welcomed by everyone who saw it at Upton Warren one afternoon in early October, proving to be the first on the reserve since the mid 1970's.
Three Shags flew over Bredon's Hardwick at this time and in what turned out to be a bit of a golden patch for the site were followed by a Pectoral Sandpiper, three fly-over Eiders, Scaup and then a female Ferruginous Duck in mid November. Other notable duck records from around the County included 17 Common Scoter, a somewhat elusive Long-tailed Duck at Bittell, and a redhead Smew at Lower Moor.
The Malverns were also productive with a Yellow-browed Warbler being heard on North Hill in mid October and up to 12 different Snow Buntings (maxima of five together) lingering around Worcestershire Beacon and at times allowing approach to within a few feet ! A party of eight Ravens there during early November was also testimony to their spread back eastwards in recent years from their Welsh strongholds.
Elsewhere a Black Redstart was found on the top of Bredon Hill and a Hen Harrier was reported in the Goosehill Wood area at the end of October to continue what has been an extremely varied year for avian records.
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 0891-700247 (calls charged at 60p per minute).
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