Birds in Worcestershire - November 2001 to April 2002

By Gavin Peplow

Another mild winter has passed with only a couple of brief colder snaps. After a very wet February, conditions have been the opposite through most of March and into April. A good selection of winter visitors were recorded prior to a steady passage of scarcer migrant species at the end of the review period.

During November the Scaup lingered at Bredon's Hardwick, whilst a Great Northern Diver was at Bittell for a few hours at the end of the first week: the first County record for four years of the most regularly occurring Diver species. Four adult Whooper Swans pausing at Kinsham were presumably on their way south to winter in Gloucestershire or perhaps even Somerset.

As always at this time of year, a lot of birders pay closer attention to the increasing numbers of gulls occurring in the County. Efforts were rewarded with Mediterranean Gulls being found at Upton Warren and Throckmorton Tip whilst this last site also hosted at least seven Yellow-legged (Herring) Gulls along with a 'Caspian' Gull, the eastern race of Yellow-legged Gull. Neither of these forms has yet been accredited with full specific status by the British Ornithological Union but this is expected in the fairly near future, thereby following the lead of several other European Birding Authorities.

Elsewhere, two Snow Buntings were located on North Hill, Malvern, one of these obligingly allowing approach to within a few feet !

December witnessed several Merlins, another Mediterranean Gull at Westwood, a Ruff at the Gwen Finch Reserve at Nafford and, most surprisingly, a Little Egret near Crowle at the year's end. Reflecting the general mild weather, a pair of Herring Gulls were noted taking up territory around Worcester's chimney pots again around Christmas!

January started with another, or perhaps the same Little Egret, this time near Harvington. A Grey Plover at Bittell was un-seasonal whilst two adult White-fronted Geese dropped in for a few days at Holt, not however joining up with a first year bird of this species at nearby Grimley. Gulls were again much in evidence with another 'Caspian' Gull along with a Glaucous briefly at Throckmorton landfill, a Little Gull at Westwood, and three different Iceland Gulls were seen at sites between Bredon's Hardwick and Westwood.

The star bird of the month however was an Arctic Redpoll, identified at Habberley Valley amongst a flock of about a hundred Lesser Redpolls with also one or two Mealy's present. Although this has not been an exceptional winter nationally for these attractive finches, this observation was a clear demonstration of what can be found through careful scrutiny of wintering finch flocks. On the same theme single Twites were found amongst Linnets at both Wyre Piddle and then Lineholt. This first site also hosted a very respectable flock of up to 20 Tree Sparrows in an area that will shortly accommodate the village bypass. Hawfinches have been typically elusive this winter but birds were found in the Wyre Forest and at Chase End Hill (Malvern) and a flock of 30 Crossbills were reported from Eyemore Wood. Elsewhere a Whooper Swan at Lower Moor one evening was the first site record and two Ruff at Bredon's Hardwick were seen intermittently during the month.

February started wet, with floods encroaching the lower Avon and Severn valleys and attracting yet another record number of Pintail at Longdon Marsh - this time around 600 being counted in the second week. Other wildfowl included a female Scaup which moved between Upton-upon-Severn Ham, Bredon's Hardwick and Westwood whilst gulls were represented by four Kittiwakes and further first winter Iceland Gulls, found at Lower Wick and Wildmoor Tip. The former roosted on the floods at Upton-upon-Severn whilst at least four different Mediterranean Gulls were located. A Red Kite must have been a pleasant surprise for Worcestershire Wildlife Trust staff as it drifted over Smite and at least six Jack Snipe provided a good count at Castlemorton Common.

Early March started quietly but began to warm up, both literally and in terms of the birds appearing in the County. Short-eared Owls were found at Bittell and then Bredon's Hardwick, a Little Egret also spent a short period at the former locality whilst a Whooper Swan there was very unusual. A Pink-footed Goose appeared with Greylags at Bredon but didn't linger, and Black-tailed Godwits were also seen there and at Kinsham. A female Red-breasted Merganser was an unexpected find on the river at Upton-upon-Severn and followed the discovery of two Egyptian Geese at nearby Ryall the previous day. These Geese, although only of feral origin, are a rare sight in the west of the Country and proved popular with local birders whilst they remained at Ryall for a few days before wandering around to various other South Worcestershire localities.

As the month progressed a second Twite joined the bird already at Lineholt whilst early-returning summer migrants included a drake Garganey at Lower Moor and then Gwen Finch, a Tree Pipit in the Wyre Forest and single Ospreys over Castlemorton Common and Upton Warren on their way north. Five Little Gulls and two Mediterranean Gulls were seen before an adult Ring-billed Gull was located amongst Common Gulls at Bredon's Hardwick at the end of the month. Unexpectedly, this bird - only the third multi-observer record of this species in the County - was joined by a second adult the following day !

April began in the same vein with the two Ring-billed Gulls again visiting Bredon's Hardwick daily before amazingly a third adult was found at Ryall Gravel Pits, all three birds being present at their respective localities at the same time. Incredibly, a few days later a second summer bird of this North American species was then also located at Bredon. It can only be presumed that these birds were part of a larger than normal influx of this species into south-west England this winter, moving north on spring migration as they would normally instinctively do on the other side of the Atlantic!

Ring Ouzels stopped over in good numbers at the usual upland localities of Malvern, Bredon Hill and Clent/Walton, and eleven Common Scoter were seen briefly at Upton Warren. A Little Tern was a welcome arrival at this last site, unusually remaining for a full day, whilst another Little Egret spent a few hours at Ryall. The other major highlight of the month was a female Ring-necked Duck at Beckford, only the second ever seen in the County but sadly only staying one evening before relocating over the border to Warwickshire. Just to demonstrate the vagaries of birding, this last species was probably only located as a result of observers searching the water in the area for a drake Red-crested Pochard seen on a nearby pool a day or two earlier!

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).

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