BIRDS IN WORCESTERSHIRE - November 2002 to April 2003

by Gavin Peplow

This last winter has been fairly mild with only two or three colder snaps. After a wet late autumn, rainfall was very limited between February and April. As always, an interesting mix of expected and more unusual birds have been reported though sightings particularly during the early part of 2003 have kept all keen birders active!

November began with waterfowl grabbing most attention. The female Long-tailed Duck remained at Westwood (and was to continue in residence here until the beginning of March !), whilst this site also attracted a Common Scoter and two separate Slavonian Grebes. Meanwhile, the drake Scaup from there relocated to Bishampton Vale Pool for a few days and a female of this species found the Gwen Finch Reserve at Nafford to it's liking. One or two late Grey Plovers were seen briefly at Bredon's Hardwick and an adult Ring-billed Gull at Throckmorton Landfill provided the fifth County record of the year of this increasingly regular North American transient. There is of course a good chance that it may have been a returning bird from the passage witnessed in the Spring. Other birds of particular interest included a Firecrest seen for only a few minutes at Grimley and two Twite at Ryall Gravel Pits.

A Black-necked Grebe at Westwood from mid December was surprisingly the first of the year in Worcestershire but it lingered into the New Year. Other pre-Christmas sightings included a Red-breasted Merganser at Bredon's Hardwick and two White-fronted Geese on the flood meadows at this locality. Surprisingly, four separate Sanderling were seen during the month - this being a species more familiarly recorded during spring wader passage. The other main highlight was an adult Iceland Gull, seen on and off at Throckmorton Landfill and Westwood. Having been very scarce for a number of years, it does appear that this species may now be becoming a bit more regular again.

January dawned with an unexpected flush of Little Gull sightings including six together roosting on the floodwater at Upton-upon-Severn. This flooding also attracted 250 Pintail to Longdon Marsh but quickly subsided as drier conditions set in. As the month progressed a party of five Waxwings were found in Kidderminster where they feasted on a diet of apples and berries. A smart male Snow Bunting located at Holt quickly followed, though unfortunately it didn't stay long. A first winter Iceland Gull was seen briefly at Lower Moor and then over Bredon's Hardwick and soon after up to three redhead (female or immature) Smew turned up at this latter site before also being seen at Kinsham Pit. The two White-fronted Geese also continued to linger in the Avon valley.

Perhaps the highlight of the month was the discovery of a drake Green-winged Teal at Grimley New Workings. This provided only the second County sighting of this distinctive North American bird, which has only recently been given full specific status. This was closely rivalled by a Great Grey Shrike that was unexpectedly found in an area of farmland south of Wadborough. Other highlights included a further Little Gull, two Kittiwakes and a Mediterranean Gull at scattered sites, along with a good number of Crossbills at Eyemore Wood.

A Bittern, which during a cold snap in the second half of February walked out onto the ice at Upton Warren Moors Pool, attracted a lot of interest during its stay of several weeks, and showed itself very well on occasions to patient observers. This is surely just reward for all the hard work that has gone into improving the habitat at this reserve in recent years. A Water Pipit was reported from Wilden but couldn't be relocated later, whilst a drake Red-crested Pochard that was ringed at Bredon's Hardwick settled in for a long stay. A party of six White-fronted Geese at Grimley was notable though a Pint-foot there was of slightly more suspect origin having toured several other sites around the County with the local Canada Geese over the preceding few weeks.

March started with a bang when an adult 'Kumlein's' Gull was found in the Westwood roost though it sadly appeared to leave just prior to dusk. This distinctive sub-species of Iceland Gull is still a very rare visitor to the UK and needless to say, this was the first record for the County. Mediterranean Gulls were well represented with two birds seen together at Throckmorton and a further 'pair' at Westwood during the month, whilst a second year Ring-billed Gull paid a brief visit to Bittell.

A Long-eared Owl was a welcome discovery on Castlemorton Common, being the first for four years and equally popular was an Avocet at Upton Warren mid month. A drake Scaup was seen at Bredon before it or another settled in at the Gwen Finch reserve. A Black Redstart appeared around a housing estate in Droitwich, whilst two on North Hill shortly afterwards were at a more expected location. Early migrants began to arrive as the month progressed with Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs as always leading the way. Wheatears were scarce but two Ring Ouzels on the Clent Hills just after mid month were very early. An Osprey was also seen tracking north over both Grimley and Trimpley reservoir.

Migration gathered pace as always once April arrived with waders represented by two separate Knot followed by two Avocets at Grimley, several Whimbrel, a Turnstone at Wilden and a Sanderling at Upton Warren. An adult Ring-billed Gull visited the sheep fields at Bredon's Hardwick during the course of the second week whilst Tern passage was unexceptional but did include three or four individual Black Terns at various sites. The first Garganey seen were a pair at Upton Warren - somewhat later than normally expected for the species and a Marsh Harrier also passed through there.

Of note, a small party of Waxwings were reported in a Redditch garden though full details have yet to emerge. These could well however have been the same birds as seen earlier in March in nearby Warwickshire.

Finally, towards the end of the month a Hoopoe was located in the north of the County near Hunnington and proved very popular, though equally elusive during it's stay. Interestingly it was reported that perhaps the same bird had been seen here a month 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).

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