Birds in Worcestershire - November 2000 to April 2001

By Gavin Peplow

A very wet winter with extensive and near record flooding of the river valleys also included two or three cold snaps later in the period. Birding from February became considerably more difficult with the closure of virtually all footpaths and Nature Reserves as a precautionary response to Foot and Mouth disease, though thankfully this didn’t lead to a complete drought of interesting bird sightings!

After the excitement of a multitude of scarce species last autumn, birding settled into a more typical pattern from November, the highlight of that month being a Great Grey Shrike seen briefly near Habberley valley. A Fulmar was picked up exhausted near Droitwich whilst a party of eight Hawfinches on the south Malverns were found most probably in correlation to an exceptionally good Hornbeam crop there

Elsewhere two Common Sandpipers settled in to winter at Grimley, a Mediterranean Gull was found at Westwood and a browner, Scandinavian race Chiffchaff was found at Upton Warren. Merlins were seen briefly at four sites

December continued very wet though the first few days produced a Smew at Westwood and a brief sighting of a Bittern at Upper Bittell. Parties of twelve and nine Bewick’s Swans were seen on floodwater at Longdon and Kempsey respectively whilst late Little Gulls were located at Westwood (two) and Kinsham. Other gulls included another Mediterranean at Westwood and a Kittiwake at the same site around Christmas.

Birds of the northern ‘Siberian’ race of Chiffchaff were found at Lower Moor and Kempsey Sewage Works and were joined on both sites by both Scandinavian and nominate race birds to continue an increasing trend both in the County and nationally of overwintering by this species. Other interesting birds during the month included a couple of Crossbills over the Abberley Hills, a Black Redstart at Defford and a Mealy Redpoll at Ripple. A Red Kite drifted over Tibberton and a Ruff was seen into the New Year at Bredon’s Hardwick.

As the floods rose again in January, a family party of five Whooper Swans joined up to 14 Bewick’s at Longdon Marsh whilst counts of other wintering duck there soared with Pintail reaching 200 Other notable wildfowl included two redhead Smew at Bittell for a few days, these birds being joined by 21 Goosander. A Mediterranean Gull was also seen intermittently at this site over a period of several weeks and a Glaucous Gull roosted at Westwood over a couple of nights. Mid month witnessed the discovery of a party of seven Waxwings at Lower Broadheath for about a week, though surprisingly in view of the number of this attractive winter visitor around nationally, there were no further county sightings. Hawfinches continued to show well at Chase End Hill whilst a flock of 20 Tree Sparrows at Lea End near Bittell was sadly notable as this species becomes increasingly difficult to find anywhere.

Up to four Ruff were seen on and off at Bredon’s Hardwick and Shelduck numbers rose to 26 as they found the feeding on the muddy fields there very much to their liking.

February highlights included a drake Scaup at Bredon’s Hardwick and up to 41 Shelduck at this site by the end of the month. Up to eight Hawfinches were found in the Wyre Forest along with a handful of Bramblings and a couple of Crossbills. A flock of 70 Lesser Redpoll found at Redstone near Stourport contained a few birds resembling Mealy Redpoll – the slightly larger and greyer continental form that has recently been awarded full specific status. A Mediterranean Gull roosted on floods at Upton upon Severn and a Kittiwake visited Westwood. Two Bewick’s Swans at this last location were also noteworthy.

As always March heralded the arrival of the first returning early migrants and despite cold northerly winds, witnessed a typical arrival of Little Ringed Plovers, Wheatears and Sand Martins. Either migrant or overwintering Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs started singing whilst a second bird believed to be a ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaff was found and trapped at Kempsey and adjudged to be an intergrade between this and an adjoining form, on the basis of traces of yellow colouration in its plumage!

Mediterranean Gulls were seen at Arrow Valley Lake and Westwood ant Shelduck numbers peaked at a County record 45 at Bredon’s Hardwick. Three Red-crested Pochard briefly at Bredon’s Hardwick, appeared wild enough amongst a thousand or so Wigeon but suspicions are always raised as to this species’ true origin due to its popularity in captivity and the existence of various feral flocks!

A count of 120 Snipe at Gwen Finch provided a very good recent winter total for the species whilst Black-tailed Godwits were seen at Bredon, Gwen Finch, Kinsham and Lower Moor and Red Kites were watched mid month near Bewdley, Ladywood and Tibberton.

March finished with a bit of a flourish with a Black Redstart proving typically elusive around the new Hospital development in Worcester, a Sandwich Tern lingering for a short while at Grimley and the first Garganey of the year at Lower Moor. Another Mediterranean Gull and the earliest County record of a Common Tern followed at Bredon’s Hardwick.

April started barely any warmer though summer migrants such as Yellow Wagtails and Willow Warblers continued trickling in. A probable immature male Hen Harrier drifted around the Gwen Finch reserve for a short while early month and was followed a day later by a summer plumage Black-necked Grebe at Westwood.

A Firecrest was an unexpected find on the fringes of Ombersley Golf Course but sadly didn’t linger and a Knot at Upton Warren was similarly ‘unobtainable’ due to access restrictions. A Bar-tailed Godwit at Lower Moor demonstrated what can turn up if suitable wetland habitat is maintained - it is only hoped that an area may be set aside for wildlife there to compensate the large scale ‘incursion’ of caravans and chalets currently proceeding on this formal gravel extraction site.

Further migrants included a couple of Ring Ouzels in the extreme north of the County near Wassell Grove and Grasshopper Warbler and Redstart on scrubby ‘wasteland’ at Diglis, Worcester. The period was concluded with the undoubted ‘star bird’ arriving in the form of an overshooting Red-rumped Swallow which showed for a couple of hours around Westwood the second ever County record and perhaps the same bird as seen further south at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire five days previously?

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).

Hawfinch There are probably more hawfinches in Worcestershire that we suspect, although there is some evidence of a decline. Any records, especially of breeding birds would be of interest. In winter there is a close association with hornbeam trees as the birds are partial to the seeds. There is also a lot of hornbeam scattered through the county as shown by Worcestershire Flora Project. The birds at Chase End Hill use hornbeam, as they do at the famous Ludlow site. - Harry
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