Bird Blog

During 2016, Hilary West visited the Moorend Spout nature reserve several times a month to observe and record bird sightings.

All photos © Hilary West unless otherwise stated

December 2016

Please see here for the December bird blog.

28th November

It is a bright and sunny day, with a chilly northerly wind. Temperature is around 8/9 degrees in the sun as I set off on my rounds about 1.00pm.  We have had some dry days now after all the rain and the ground is reasonably firm to walk on.  I look out for a Heron on the flooded field, but nothing there, and a noticeable lack of birds in the lane. This continues to be the case as I walk on through the reserve. I cannot offer any explanation for this lack of activity.

Water is still raging over the “Spout” but the gateway is negotiable again and water levels seem to have returned to normal.

Our volunteers have done a brilliant job on cutting back the vegetation over the board walk, taking it back further than usual. This is probably due to the use of the new brushcutter! Everything looks very tidy.

Eventually I spot a Buzzard circling over the carr and hear the “chink chink” sound of a Chaffinch or two in the carr.  Even so, there is very little out and about and everywhere looks a bit bleak as though waiting for the inevitable winter to happen.

I am also disappointed not to see my regular Kestrel, not in either of the usual hunting perches.  There is a lot of lying water in the meadow, so I decide to cut my visit short and head back. In the lane I encounter the lady who lives at the farm at the top of the lane. She and her husband have been making a superb job of clearing and replanting a neglected hedge along the boundary of their property and the lane down to Moorend Spout. We chat about the benefits to wildlife of a native species hedgerow and she tells me that they have a lot of blackbirds and robins which nest in their outbuildings every year- so now I know where they go! While we are talking I notice several Wrens pecking about in the Oak trees, which shows that if you wait around there are birds to be seen!

It has been a pleasant visit, I usually meet someone interesting to talk to, but I am sorry I am unable to report more wildlife  sightings. I will be glad to get back to my warm house, and am mindful that for our birds and other wildlife, it is just the start of another round in the battle for survival.

October

Please see here for the October 2016 bird blog.

September

Please see here for the September 2016 bird blog.

August

Please see here for the August bird blog.

24th July

We have just experienced one of the hottest weeks on record with temperatures of 34 degrees being recorded over most of the country on the 19th - it was horrendous!! The humidity was most uncomfortable and I am very glad to be back to our usual sort of summer weather with temperatures in the low 20s.  I am paying a quick visit to Moorend Spout on a Sunday as I do not expect there to be much more I can add to my records for this month.

Sitting on the board walk by the Spout I encounter a lady with her grandson who is happily up to his knees in the river looking for aquatic life. He has some whirlygig beetles in a jar but no fish!  We get to chatting and she tells me that they come here often and think it is an amazing place. She commented that we have made so much difference to the site and asked me to pass on her grateful thanks for all that we have done in making it a special place. So, pat on the back for all of us!

I just check for Butterflies in the sheltered place by the carr, but it is a bit windy today and they are staying at home!

What does grab my attention is a large snail sitting on a leaf in full view at about eye level. It strikes me as rather beautiful and I wonder if it is something different, but Tony Smith confirms that is just a garden snail, but that they all have completely individual patterning on their shells. I didn’t know this before and I shall always look at them in a different way now!

The end of July is traditionally hay making time and we hope we can get someone to do this for us next month. Continued grass cutting will, over time, weaken the grasses and encourage more wild flowers to grow. 

 

14th July

A very pleasant, bright and breezy summer day and dry underfoot, 19/20 degrees.  Greenfinch and Wren can be heard on the way down the lane and Wild Honeysuckle is weaving its way through the hedges.

There is a roar of rushing water coming from the Spout, which makes a very attractive feature on a warm summer’s day. The boardwalk is easy to navigate now that the vegetation has been cut back and I find Small White butterflies enjoying the bramble flowers.  Blackberries are already forming and there will be a good crop if we get enough sun before the end of summer!!  The Sedge area to the right of the boardwalk is enlivened by masses of Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) and Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) The frothy creamy white flowers do indeed have a sweet smell and are attractive to pollinators, but I gather that the name refers more to the use of its leaves in medieval mead making (acknowledgment to “Meadowland” by John Lewis-Stempel) than the scent of its flowers.  White Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) and the smaller pink Field Bindweed (Convolulus arvensis) although thought of as weeds, are colourful additions to the landscape. 

At the end of the boardwalk I get a very easy view of a Comma butterfly sunning itself with open wings. This is a fairly common butterfly at this time of year, but always a pleasure to see one with its pretty scalloped wings. The white punctuation mark on the underside of its wings explains its common name.  (Comma photo by Hilary)

In the damp area to the left of the boardwalk (before you go up to the Land Yeo) there is a large patch of attractive purple spiked plants which I think are Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris). “Wort” on the end of a plant name means that it was traditionally used to treat a particular ailment - this one is self explanatory.

Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)  a pretty yellow 5-leaved plant is underfoot on the riverbanks and easily overlooked.

Butterflies are everywhere in the sunny and sheltered area just before you arrive at the metal gate into the meadow. I am quite certain now that the Gatekeepers are out and about.

They are smaller and more orangey than the Meadow Browns and once you have seen them together the difference is fairly obvious. They are however difficult to photograph because they do not sit still for long!  Again, taking my text from “Meadowland” by John Lewis-Stempel (which is a superb read for anyone who loves the English countryside) the Gatekeeper takes its name from its habit of suddenly rising up, which reminded people in past centuries of the men employed to mind the Tolls who would sit up when customers approached! I love these sort of anecdotes which offer explanation of how common names originated.

Other butterflies around today included the Large White, the Small Skipper and the Small Tortoiseshell. And of course, clouds of Meadow Browns!  The reserve gives the appearance of being really alive at this time of year with the hum of busying insects and butterflies on the wing everywhere. Summer at last after a disappointing couple of months! 

Over by the new pond there is similar amounts of activity going on with two large and very exciting Emperor Dragonflies (Anax imperator), two of the lovely powder blue male Broad-bodied Chasers (Libellula depressa), the Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)  and the Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)  all chasing about constantly over the surface. Any chance of a photograph of any of them would have required me staking out a plant until one decided to perch on it - a long shot!!

Banded Demoiselles are a constant feature at this time of year, and you do not need to look very far to find them flitting to and fro on any part of the reserve.

All the while I am in the meadow I can hear Green Woodpeckers calling to each other from opposite sides but I do not see them. Goldfinches and Dunnocks are always present around the carr and river area where they find their food, mostly from seeds of thistles and teasels.


2nd July

Today is reserve workday again and the rain is holding off for long enough to get some work done on clearing the overgrowing vegetation from the board walk and clearing the ponds of blanket weed.

As we walk over to the ponds a Heron is spotted flying around the carr area and there are Common Darters active on Pond 2.

We are pleased to find a surprising amount of dragonfly larvae in the weed we are heaving out of the pond, all good news to the effect that wildlife is colonizing the new pond quickly.

My time is spent today on sorting through the blanket weed, so not much recording has been done apart from the Meadow Brown Butterflies which are easily spotted and a Ringlet or two in the more shady areas.

On the way back from the meadow, in the banks of the Land Yeo, Terry points out a tall plant known as “Compass Plant” to me - this is the Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola) a member of the Dandelion family, which is so called because in the sun the upper leaves twist round to hold their margins upright.  The stem emits a milky latex sap when cut. It is the closest wild relative of the cultivated lettuce plant.



 

7th JUNE

My first visit of the month is an evening walk starting about 6pm. It has been very hot for the last couple of weeks with temperatures up around 23-24 degrees.

One of the benefits of my regular walks here is really seeing the seasons change- a new scene unfolds every time I walk down the lane leading to Moorend Spout. 

Now, the freshness and vitality of Spring has been replaced by the maturity of Summer and nature has filled out, which I hadn’t really noticed until now.

The delicate Cow Parsley has been succeeded by the much larger and more robust Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) It has pinkish colour stems and leaves which form a sheath round the stem. The flowers are very similar to Cow Parsley, but have larger and more flattened heads. The “Umbellifers” are a very difficult plant family to get to grips with! The Hogweed is growing all along the riverbanks with another attractive plant called Common Comfrey(Symphytum officinale) which has clusters of pink, white or mauve bell shaped flowers. It appears from May-June only and is very attractive to Bees.

 

For me, the wild flower emblems of June must be the Elderflowers (borne on a shrub rather than a plant) and the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) which both grow in hedgerows everywhere.  Elderflowers have a powerful scent and if picked now can be made into a very good cordial drink or even Elderflower Champagne!  The Dog Rose fruits in September and provides a rich food source for Thrushes and Blackbirds. There is also the Field Rose, (Rosa arvensis) which has white flowers, brightening the hedges in the lane. The Dog Rose has pale pink flowers. 

At this time of year it is the flowers which are much easier to record than the birds, the latter being very hard to see with the trees in full leaf. I can make out Whitethroat, Greenfinch and Thrush singing from the carr.

There is a patch of Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) growing in the sedge area which I have not noticed before. I wade over to it (sedges now waist high again!) and find that Bees are interested too. They also love the Bramble flowers (Rubus fruiticosus) which is another headache for us on the reserve, but obviously has its benefits for wildlife! 

As I walk on across the boardwalk I can hear the usual Goldfinches and Blackbirds around.

 

Up on the riverbank the vegetation has become very tall, and the nettles pose a serious hazard to the amateur naturalist!  It is worth the risk however, to see the glorious sight of clouds of Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens) fluttering amongst the nettles and grass. The colours of their wings and bodies in the evening sunshine are dazzling, males are azure blue and females are emerald green. The following text is provided by Terry -   "Only two species of damselfly in Britain have obviously coloured wings. They both belong to the genus Calopteryx. In this species the wings of the mature male have a dark blue-black band across the central portion and those of the female are iridescent pale-green. The body colour is metallic blue-green in the male and green with a bronze tip in the female. The flight is fluttering, butterfly-like and the male often perform a fluttering display flight in front of females." 

There was indeed much fluttering going on!!!! 

 

When I emerge from the “jungle” into the meadow I surprise a young Thrush just sitting on the pathway enjoying the sunshine. It doesn’t move for a moment, we are both startled! But of course it takes off too quickly for me to get the camera on it.

 

The tall grasses are making it difficult to get around in the meadow and I cannot even make out where the ponds are now!  I manage to find a couple of plants of the Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), some Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea), and Ox-Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). There should be more to see in the next few weeks.

On the Butterfly front, it was nice to see some newly emerged Meadow Browns (Maniola jurtina). These are very common butterflies, probably the most abundant species we have in this country. They are grassland specialists, the young caterpillars feeding on a variety of meadow grasses. 

They have a very distinctive black eye spot on the upper wings, which is thought to have evolved to distract any predators from the more vulnerable body parts. Many species of butterflies have adopted this disguise.

The very similar Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) will be along at the end of the month which makes identification a little tricky, but more of that next time! 

24th May

Mornings are definitely best for hearing birdsong - I am here again today with Tim for a meeting with the Environment Agency about repairing the slippage on the banks of the Land Yeo. It is a dry, warm and breezy morning and there is a veritable cacophony of birdsong coming from the carr at the moment!  Song Thrush is the loudest I can identify by sound alone.

On the riverbank I can see one or two of the first male Banded Demosielle (Calopterys splendens) which we use as the NEWT logo and they will be seen amongst the river vegetation and along the banks all summer, often in small fluttering groups.  They usually develop over 2 years and over-winter as nymphs buried in river silt. The species is widespread throughout Britain, Europe and Asia.

(photo © Roger Staples)

And so to finish May on a high note - another photo of the Whitethroat!

 

22nd May

I have to make a couple of extra visits to the reserve this week but it is useful to record the dramatic daily increase in wildlife present. I have Terry with me on Sunday morning and together we fix a new information leaflet dispenser to the gate over the Spout.  

We check on the memorial trees in the meadow and he helps me with identifying some of the plants and grasses which I am not sure about.

In among the grasses I spot a Silver Y Moth, which is quite a large day-flying moth with a marking on its forewings in the shape of a small letter y.  It cannot survive our winters and arrives in Britain from May onwards. It can be found in grassy places and gardens where it loves Lavender plants. The caterpillars feed on nettles, clovers and also cabbages and other food crops which can make it a pest to growers.

Lastly, I finally get to see a Whitethroat singing heartily from the very top of a Hawthorn bush at the eastern end of the meadow (by first pond) This is an endearing little migrant bird, a member of the Warbler family, which will suddenly jump up from its perch into the air and drop back down to the same spot. Its song has a slightly hoarse sound.  I am so pleased to see it here, as it is a regular Spring visitor to Moorend Spout. Feeding in the same bush I also see a single Long-tailed Tit, although they usually appear in small flocks

On our way back up the lane I see my friend the Robin with food in its beak, so obviously he/she has young mouths to feed (there is no difference in the male and female birds, both have red breasts, so impossible to know which it is at a distance).  Again, this sighting gives me much pleasure as it means our Robin has been successful in mating and producing the next generation!

20th May

I decide to try an evening walk for a different look at the landscape and wildlife activity.

Walking down the lane I immediately notice how the trees and hedgerows have exploded into life since my last visit and and now the scene resembles a painting in subtle tones of green and white. The frothy heads of the Cow Parsley or “Queen Anne’s Lace” as it is sometimes known (Anthriscus sylvestris) now adorns the verges and the Hawthorn blossom is fully out in the hedgerows everywhere.

Blackbird, Greenfinch and Chiffchaff are still singing loudly to proclaim their territories.

Robin is singing from his usual place near the old Oak by the Middle Yeo.

On the bank of the Land Yeo I am delighted by the activities of a dozen or so Swallows as they swoop and dive over the river and around the carr, making the most of the daylight and any insects they can catch on the wing.

Down in the meadow, the colour scheme has changed from the dotted pink of the cuckoo flower to a reddish tinge provided by Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and the fur-like heads of the Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis). This is one of the first grasses to ‘flower’ in May and the field is now dominated by the fast growing grasses. There are also splashes of yellow from the Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris) and a few plants of Birdsfoot Trefoil or “Tom Thumb” (Lotus corniculatus) which are probably the result of last year’s seeding or plug planting. These will soon attract the Common Blue Butterfly.

Around the edges of the meadow I can find Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Meadow Forget-me-not (Myosotis arvensis) Cut-leaf Geranium (Geranium disectum) and Sweet Vernal Grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), another of the early flowering grasses which is also the larval food plant of the Meadow Brown and Skipper group of Butterflies. It is also the reason that hay (cut grass) has it’s characteristic sweet smell (Terry told me this!)

Walking back up the lane I spot some Carder Bees out making the most of the last of the day’s warmth to forage on a patch of Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca). 

 18th May

Around 2,000 plug plants were planted out in the meadow by AWT volunteers today, despite treacherous weather conditions!  Each volunteer planted 3 large trays of plants in groups of 3 plants. They achieved a terrific rate of planting!

13th May

This morning we have had volunteers from AWT on site to cut the grass before plug planting of wild flower plants next week, as part of the Coronation Meadows Project. The idea is to help boost our stock of native plants. Conditions are just about perfect for planting at the moment, there is plenty of moisture still in the soil.

Otters are known to be present in the area, although you are extremely unlikely to be lucky enough to spot one.  The next best thing is evidence of their presence provided by their droppings which are known as “Spraint”.  Joe, from AWT has noticed that there is fresh spraint on a stone under the bridge over the Spout, a typical Otter location. I have to admit that this incredibly exciting piece of evidence would have gone un-noticed by me!  An Otter’s diet of fish is obvious by the remains of bones and scales in its droppings.  I make a mental note to learn more about Otters in our area.

It is not particularly warm today, but there are some insects around, searching out food sources and possibly potential mates.  Orange Tip butterfly, 2 female Banded Demoiselle and a Red-tailed Bumblebee are the only ones I can identify.

In the meadow our second pond is at last looking good due to an increase in the water supply from a larger syphon and pipe.  Mallards are making themselves at home but are very wary of any approach. I just manage to grab a photo before 3 of them fly off.

Up on the riverbank I actually catch sight of my first elusive Whitethroat! With the aid of the binoculars I spot it low down in the grass on the other side of the Land Yeo. I can find no others on this occasion or hear their song. Many birds however are in fine voice. I can hear Song Thrush, Chiffchaff, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Wren - all the usual suspects!

 

7th May

Today is monthly work morning on the reserve, weather conditions are dry and warm despite early rain.

9 volunteers help with the job of digging a new trench for a larger pipeline to the second pond.

The dominant birdsong this morning is from the Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)- so named on account of his loud and magnificent song - which seems to be coming from all points of the reserve. There must be at least 3 of them.  Sadly, these birds are in great decline from our town gardens, due in large part to the use of poisonous slug pellets which they ingest when they feed on snails.  It is good to know they are thriving here.

It is warm enough to bring out the Butterflies and during the morning I am able to record sightings of a Peacock, several Orange Tips, and a Green-veined White.

Helen is working hard to remove huge mats of blanket weed which are choking the second pond. During this process there is much excitement when she pulls out a Great Diving Beetle! (Dytiscus marginalis) Identified by the yellowish border around the head and thorax.

The larva of this large and fearsome looking creature is the top invertebrate predator of the pond world. The adult will tackle prey larger than itself, such as small fishes.

They are able to fly, usually at night, so perhaps this is how it got here?  It’s not too keen to hang around, so we pop it back in after a quick photo-call – see May 2016 news.

No Whitethroats.

26th April

For my walk today it is a typical April day - cool and cloudy, short showers and sunny spells; a bit of everything.  Early in the month we had some very warm days, more like summer but today it is around 9 degrees C and the ground is now hard and cracked.

The first sound I hear is a Chiffchaff singing loudly from a tree in the lane and I can actually get a good sighting of it with binoculars.

The Blackthorn bushes in the hedge are in full flower, a good early nectar source for the Bees. The Hawthorn in also well in leaf but will not flower until May.(Blackthorn photo © Hilary West)

I am interested to note that the Oak tree is in leaf, which brings to mind the old country wisdom that  “If the Oak be out before the Ash - we’ll have a splash but if the Ash be out before the Oak we’ll have a soak!”  The Ash still looks very dormant, so there is reason for optimism. 

A Wren darts out of the hedge and back in again - a flash of distinctive “warm” brown colour. Then I am surprised by the sight of a Heron taking off from the wet area of the field with the fallen Oak trunk - he must have spotted me!

As I approach the Spout gate I can hear and see a flock of Goldfinches who seem to be a common theme of my visits.

Spring is all around now, the trees and bushes are showing lovely fresh green coats and Bluetits are busily scampering underneath the leaves for insects.

Up on the riverbank I am delighted to get my first sightings of Swallows swooping and hawking over the fields for insects. They add such excitement to the scene and there is something joyful about their flight, which will entertain us all Summer.  I am told by a friend in Tickenham that they arrived the first week in April. It was warmer then, they must be struggling to find food now in the cold - English weather! they must be thinking.

Bees are out and about despite the chill of the air and I spot a very orangey looking one in the long grass on the riverbank, which on reference to my books, I think is the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) which can be found in many habitats - meadows, ditches, embankments, field margins as well as gardens.

Entering the meadow I am greeted by splashes of pink everywhere as the one or two plants of Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis) of my last visit have become many more spread over most of the meadow. (Cuckoo flower photo © Hilary West)

I spot the Kestrel hovering and hunting over the meadow up by the first pond, but he gives up and flies off.  Looking back at the carr I can see House Martins flying around and then 5 Mallards go by.  A single Greenfinch is singing loudly from right at the top of one of the tall Alders in the carr.

There are no signs yet of the Whitethroats which are known to breed on this site although there are reports of them being present on the coast (Avon Birds) 

Crossing the boardwalk there is a short sunny spell and I get a chance sighting of a Peacock butterfly on the brambles. There are 4 species of British Butterfly which overwinter here (either as an adult or a chrysalis) and come out on warm days anytime from February onwards - the Brimstone, the Peacock, the Comma and the Small Tortosieshell.  The Orange Tip and the Green-Veined White should also be putting in an appearance anytime now.

On my way back across the field by the Middle Yeo I spot the usual Robin by the old Oak, very reassuring to see him around here every time.  Something moving low down on the riverside vegetation catches my eye and sits still long enough for me to photograph it (with great difficulty!) On consulting my books again I think this is the Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) which is often the first one to be seen in Spring. It is very striking in colour and I think this is the male of the species.

(Large Red Damselfly photo © Hilary West)

 I hope that I will be able to report Whitethroats my next visit in May.

10th April

It is a sunny Sunday afternoon, but with a cold and blustery wind.  It always seems that there are not many birds about in windy conditions, but my resident Robin does not let me down and I find him bathing in puddles by the metal gate/stile into the reserve.

At the end of the boardwalk there are Goldfinches and Great Tits and I can hear a little Wren quietly singing to himself in the brambles.  Chiffchaffs are singing strongly again.The field over the river has some new lambs skipping about which is always a treat to see - they are full of life and enthusiasm!

As there is a lack of birds to record, I am happy to see some plant life emerging on the meadow. The first I see is the Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis). I  use the Latin name because wildflower names tend to differ according to regions of the country.  This one is also known as “Milkmaids” among many others. It is the larval food plant of the Orange tip Butterfly, so a good one to have.

On our first pond there is a magnificent display of the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) or “King-Cups”

(Marsh marigold photo © Hilary West)

The second pond is not holding water well and we may have to adjust our plans for this one.

2nd April


Today is our monthly work day on the reserve and it is a lovely sunny morning.

We have one of the largest turnouts of volunteers today with 17 people happily scything the sedges or making the teas!

It is not too long before I have heard my first Chiffchaff. It is always exciting to know that they are here along with the other migrant Warblers such as the Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler.  However, they are notoriously similar and difficult to spot as they move about in tall trees and the      difference between them is best discerned by their songs.  Chiffchaff must be one of the few birds, along with the Cuckoo, are so named because of their song.

The only other notable sighting is that of 6 Buzzards circling and tumbling above us as they do their display flying.

 

28th March

March is ending in a stormy mix of weather and today is Easter Monday - Easter falls very early this year.

On Friday we had temperatures up around 13 degrees and really warm sunshine, Saturday was a complete contrast, cold and wet with gale force winds. The last two days have been dry and breezy, quite pleasant, around 8 or 9 degrees.  A  good day to take a look at Moorend Spout.  Once again, I have the company of my daughter Mel.  We set out about 11.30am and find that there is not much about in the way of birds, it is probably too windy for them. 

We reach the riverbank without having made any definite sightings. The Land Yeo is very full and fast flowing.

Then we spot a Buzzard -  it flies into the carr flushing out at least half a dozen wood pigeons who scatter in all directions, it is quite a comical sight!

We decide to walk a short way along the riverbank in the Tickenham direction, which is out of the bounds of our land, but we are harbouring a faint hope that we might see a Kingfisher along this stretch, as they have been seen here in previous years at this time.

Seemingly by some miracle of timing , Mel sees it first - probably disturbed by our approach - the flash of orange as it flies up from the bank and then the un- mistakeable streak of electric blue as it disappears away from us - a Kingfisher!  We are stunned at our good fortune and so glad to know that this beautiful bird is still here and probably breeding somewhere quite close.

We decide against heading back to the meadow and checking the ponds, it is quite cold and I have lunch in the oven!

The strong winds and bad weather conditions must be keeping the Chiff-Chaffs away from our coasts and it looks as though we must wait until next month to hear their song - the true harbinger of Spring.

17th March

So far, the month of March has been characterized by a lot of dry weather, but bitterly cold winds. Today’s sunshine is deceptive, the air is still cold and temperatures only around 8 or 9 degrees when I set out at about 2.00pm.  Walking on dry and firm ground is quite a novelty! 

Walking down the lane I can hear Greenfinches, Bluetits and Great Tits busying about in the trees. I stop to look for a bird I can just hear singing quietly in the bushes on the left. I have to look for a long time, but eventually see that it is Dunnock I can hear. He appears to be just singing quietly to himself as though practicing his song. A bird’s song is a learnt behaviour, not inherited, and this practicing is known as subsong. It is generally immature birds which do this.

The familiar Robin comes down to the ground, flies off and comes back again as though checking.

Further along I spot a pair of Chaffinches in the trees, a pair of Blackbirds on the ground and a Wren darting amongst the undergrowth. There is probably a mate somewhere around!  The birds definitely seem to be pairing up now in readiness for the breeding season.

The next bit of the walk is very uneventful and I am soon up on the riverbank. I can see a pair of Mallard waddling about on the meadow, but nothing else is about.

Down in the meadow there are bright splashes of yellow Celandines everywhere and some large Dandelion flower heads giving welcome colour.  The Mallards have now settled on Pond 2, but fly off  when I approach to Pond 1. They soon decide they don’t like being disturbed and depart altogether!

A lot of twittering seems to be coming from the large Corsican Pine on the far side of the river and with the binoculars I can see a group of Goldfinches feeding on the cones in which the tree is covered

The dominant birdsong of the day is from the Great Tits with their loud,  rather strident call of  “tee-cher, tee cher” coming from somewhere in the carr.  It is surprisingly difficult to see birds in the trees, despite there being no leaves, they are clever at staying hidden.

I catch a quick glimpse of the Kestrel (our Kestrel?) swooping down on the other side of the river, but it is too distant for me to see where it lands.

As I start back towards the boardwalk I spot a real oddity - a Cormorant flying overhead in the direction of the coast. These are generally  seabirds, but can often be spotted hanging around the Docks in Bristol, so this one may well be returning  to sea after a day trip to the big city! Their name derives from association with the Corvid family - they were once thought to be ‘Sea Ravens’

My last sighting is of the Mallard pair returning to settle on Pond 2.  I rather hope they don’t decide to try nesting there, not with Mister Fox around!

By the stile, it is not birds that catch my eye, it is a Squirrel  scampering through the trees. I have never noticed one here before, but there are likely to be plenty around.

6th March

Today I have the company of my younger daughter Mel for a Mother’s Day walk to Moorend Spout. It is about 2pm when we set out on a still, overcast and chilly afternoon- more like winter than spring.  The landscape looks cold and grey and there is no birdsong as we walk down the lane.  It looks as though someone has cut back the brambles along the wall leading to the stile, the view is definitely more open and we are delighted to see a Heron standing in the middle of the water on the flooded field, but it must have spotted us and flies off in a westerly direction.  A couple of Dunnocks are scrambling about in the brambles over the wall. Nothing to record as we carry on over the boardwalk and up to the riverbank.  I stop to use my secateurs to remove brambles which have overgrown the track from the riverbank down into the meadow, making it hazardous. The collapse of the bank wall into the river is still increasing, but it does not seem to impede the flow of the river.

On the ground in the meadow we notice some quite large wing feathers which have probably been there some time, so it is difficult to identify the bird they came from. Among Mel’s many talents is some bushcraft training and she tells me that the bird had been eaten by a Fox, you can tell by the way the feather quills were nipped neatly across. We find more Fox evidence with what I now know to be Fox poo!! This has been noticed before in different places on the reserve and this time it is by the first pond, so it looks as though Mister Fox is a regular visitor.

At this time of year, when the grass is short, it is possible to make out lots of little tracks and pathways leading from the riverbank to the pond and across the meadow. It seems likely that the local wildlife is grateful for the facility of our ponds!  We look hard for some paw prints to help us identify what they might be but nothing is distinct enough.

The sky is very grey and there are only Crows calling from the trees on the banks of the Middle Yeo. A rather dismal scene, but even so, we spot a Kestrel flying over the meadow which is encouraging. A pair of Mallards arrive and settle on the second pond.

Walking back across the boardwalk, 4 more Mallards come into view flying over the carr towards the meadow.   Then Mel spots the Kestrel again on the telephone pole just this side of the carr. We are both pleased to see him and can say with some probability that this is the same bird seen on previous visits.

 

25th February

Temperatures dipped below freezing again last night, but by the time I set out at around 10.30am the sun is very warm and no frost remains on the ground.

On the way down the lane I only encounter a Blackbird and a couple of Great Tits.  I can hear Bluetits calling to each other and a Chaffinch somewhere nearby.

Goldfinches are reliably present in the tall trees by the gate/stile. I can also identify a Greenfinch and a female Chaffinch in the same trees.

While I am standing there, a Robin comes right down to ground level and sits looking at me before he flies off round the corner in the direction of the Oak tree on the riverbank. I can’t help wondering if it is the “usual” Robin I see.

Walking across the boardwalk there is the unmistakable loud cronking noise of Ravens going on overhead and I look up to see 5 of them in a group circling overhead in a bright blue sky. I would expect to see Buzzards, but there are none today.

I can hear the noise of rushing water under the boardwalk, the outflow from the carr must be very full.

Ian and Tim have been busy clearing brambles by the pathway up to the riverbank which now looks very much more open and attractive.  There is still plenty of cover for birds and mammals to nest in.  Photo © Hilary West

I stop on the top of the riverbank hoping for something of interest to appear and a little Wren flies right down to the waterside vegetation to take a drink and pick up some insects. I have a really good view of it.  A Dunnock is singing from the top of the same bush as last time.

A little flock of 6 Goldfinches flies out from the carr and I can also see Bluetits feeding on the Alder catkins. Goldfinches like the seeds from the little cones on the Alders, which is possibly why there seems to be so many of them attracted to this site.

It is now very warm and sheltered in the meadow as I walk across for a look at the ponds. I just catch sight of a Jay in the trees on the other side of the river.

What has caught my attention on this visit is the sound of Chaffinches singing to each other, surely a sign that they are thinking of pairing up and Spring must be on the way.  Through the binoculars I can clearly see a male singing from the tree tops at the far end of the meadow.

Photo © Hilary West

Again, there is no frog spawn on the ponds, but there is still time - it may not yet be warm enough for them in this unsheltered area.

In an instant the sun disappears and the sky completely clouds over, dropping the temperature dramatically. It is clearly not Spring yet!

The fields reveal nothing more interesting than a couple of Magpies.

On my way back up the lane I can hear and see 3 Greenfinches in the same trees as before. 

What my visits this month have shown me is that if you come regularly, you are likely to see some of the same birds in the same spots, indicating I hope, that they are living out their lives in the relative safety and tranquility of our Reserve and its surrounds. This is a pleasing thought.

Next month I will be listening out for the arrival of the first Chiff-Chaffs on their Spring migration from the Continent.

16th February

Last night was the coldest night of the winter so far - 1 degree below freezing! Hardly remarkable in a normal winter but this winter continues to be warmer and wetter than any on record.

The sun is shining now (about 10.00am) bringing welcome warmth and the temperature is already up to 4 degrees.

The lane down to Moorend Spout is still very muddy and rutted, but the ruts are frozen hard which makes it much easier to walk on.

I am glad to hear a lot of twittering and chirping in the bushes and very quickly spot a bevy of the Tit species - Long-tailed tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and a Dunnock.

I hear the “yaffle” of the Green Woodpecker somewhere in the field to the left and then the “chink chink” of a Chaffinch which I can see plainly sitting in the Oak tree ahead of me - singing away with his lovely pink breast facing me.

3 Mallard in flight appear over the wet fields to the right - they could be heading for one of our ponds!

I spot some birds on the edge of the frozen water by the fallen Oak tree log - hopefully look with the binoculars but nothing of interest, just Wood Pigeons.  

As I approach the gate/stile I can see a small flock of Goldfinches in what I could now consider to be the usual place!

Walking along the riverbank I spot another possible regular - the Robin in the old Oak exactly where Rosemary and I saw him last time. I like to think that he has his own little territory in that tree and find myself feeling slightly possessive of him!

I cross the bridge by the Spout which is not quite so slippery as it was and the first bird I see is a little Wren on top of the brambles. Then a Bluetit also on the brambles and I briefly see a Blackbird taking off from the sedgy area where we sometimes have our bonfires on workdays.

Across the Land Yeo I can see a Dunnock singing heartily from a tree top perch, his chest feathers puffed out and ruffling lightly in the breeze.

By the time I reach the meadow the sun has been shining on it for some time, so the ground is still very wet and very boggy.  There is a thin layer of ice on our ponds, and still no frog spawn that I can see.

I stop for a rest back at the field gate and enjoy the sunshine. I can see some little birds moving about in the trees over the river and then they very obligingly fly over to my side of the river so I can look at them through the binoculars.  I can see now that they are Dunnocks picking about in the grass and brambles for insects.  Dunnocks are also known as Hedge Sparrows, and although they are a similar size and shape to the House Sparrow, they are quite different. The main difference is the very obvious “streaky” patterning on their chests, slate grey and dark brown body and a slim beak designed for insect eating. House Sparrows are grain eaters and have a heavier beak. Dunnocks also are quite vocal have a loud and warbling song, often delivered from the top of a bush or tree.

Surprisingly there seems to be no activity in the carr. Eventually a Blue Tit puts in an appearance and a small flock of Goldfinches briefly flies in.

I can hear a Robin singing and there he sits by the wooden footbridge, red breast clearly visible.

I have a quick scan of the fields but can see nothing but crows and gulls so I head back across the boardwalk.

A couple of Buzzards are circling on the wind as I look back towards the river.

At the gate/stile I can hear Greenfinch (they make a “wheeeeze” sound) and then get a clear sight of one in the trees. They are no longer a common garden bird so I am pleased to see this one.

2 Jays suddenly appear and fly into the trees in the adjacent field. These are large woodland birds, members of the Corvid or Crow family but are seen more frequently in our gardens nowadays.  I try to get a closer look and get into deep water in the field. This is going to take a long time to dry out.  The Jays are squawking loudly (they live up to their Latin name - Garrulus glandarius). I can clearly see their lovely pinkish chests and bright blue wing flashes. They are most attractive birds and tend to be seen where there are Oak trees, as they eat and store acorns.

At the top of the lane there is evidence of possibly a Sparrowhawk’s recent meal - all that is left is a scattering of plucked grey feathers.

Life is hard for our birds and very precarious. I am reminded not to be too sentimental about them.

3rd February

Rosemary & I are taking advantage of a dry morning to see what is about on site.  It is cold and a fierce wind is blowing. The outside temperature is 8 degrees, but it feels more like 4 in the wind chill.

Nothing about as we walk down the lane and across the boardwalk. We glimpse a few birds but they are not stopping long enough to let us identify them!

We note that the Land Yeo is high and flowing very fast downstream. Still nothing else to note, but by the time we reach the meadow, we eventually spot the Kestrel again hunting over the fields across the river.

It rests for a while on the electricity wires crossing our land and we watch it preening before it flies off to resume hunting.

Photo © Rosemary Dennis

Shortly afterwards a small flock of Goldfinches flies over and lands in the carr.

Rosemary spots something moving on the ground and we both get a glimpse of a small dark, almost black bodied animal, moving like lightening in a watery patch of grass just the meadow side of the carr. Obviously not a bird, I guess at it being a Water Shrew by the colouration.  Mice and voles are much more brownish.

We take a look at both the ponds, no Mallards today, and still no frog spawn.  The water in the lower lying parts of the meadow still reaches half way up our wellies!

On the way back across the boardwalk we spot a Buzzard above the carr and it flies over to soar right above us so that we can see the pale markings on the underside of its wings.

Just before the bridge over the spout, we spot 2 Thrushes in the field beyond the brambles. They are ground feeding and stay for quite some time. My identification favours Song Thrushes rather than Mistle Thrushes, although they are heavily spotted on their chests. Mistle Thrushes are larger and have a more upright stance.

Crossing the next field, an old Oak tree by the river bank is providing shelter for 1 lovely Robin, although it is not singing- too cold and windy?

By the time we reach the lane up to the road the sun is out and it is quite warm and sheltered. The trees and bushes to the left of us provide good sightings of a group (4-6) of Long-tailed Tits, 1 Great Tit, and 2 Bluetits.

25th January

A much better day for a walk - the temperature has gone up to a balmy 13 degrees!  It is dry and rather blustery, but still impossible to walk anywhere without being immersed in mud! 

On the way down the lane from Pound Lane I hear lots of chattering and trilling birds in the trees, which I cannot identify immediately as the sound is not familiar, but with my binoculars I can distinguish the “clownish” red cheeks of the Goldfinch, quite a number of them. I also spot a Thrush sized bird which could be a Redwing, but I can’t get a good look at it before it flies off.

As I cross the boardwalk I spot a bird of prey hovering over the hillside across the Land Yeo. It looks a little large for a Kestrel, my first impression, but it quickly goes to ground.

I climb over the gate and walk along the river towards Clevedon in the hope of spotting the bird again. Soon I see it soaring and wheeling on the wind over the moor and I can now clearly see the lovely rufous (brownish/red) colour of its back and the long fan-shaped tail which is certainly that of a Kestrel.  This is a very welcome sight as these birds have been in sharp decline in recent years.  I hope it can find enough mice and voles to sustain itself.

I walk back along the river towards Moorend Spout.  I scan the moor for the Fieldfare that were there on 15th January - a flock of 50 plus feeding on the fields. None today.

As I get nearer to Moorend Spout I can hear Ravens calling. There are two of them (possibly a pair) flying around the Corsican Pine which is a prominent feature of the river bank. Ravens make a loud  “cronking” sound, have large wings with ragged edges and can be distinguished from Crows by their long wedge shaped tails.  These two could be starting early breeding as the weather is so mild.

I carry on sploshing across the meadow to inspect our two ponds for signs of frog spawn, but there is none. I disturb 6 Mallards (4 drakes and 2 ducks) on the wetter part of the field near, but not on the pond. There is enough evidence of feathers and duck poo around the edge of the second pond to suggest that they have been “taking a dip”

There are berries on the Hawthorn and Blackthorn we planted around the first pond, which shows they are doing well. I notice a couple of insects which look like honey bees on the berries but they should be asleep in their hives! They could be Drone flies, which mimic bees and can be out and about this time of year. They soon disappear and I cannot be sure what they were. 

Standing quietly by the Carr, the sun comes out and illuminates the water in the middle. Birds are difficult to spot despite the lack of leaves on the trees.   I can hear several different bird songs and with binoculars can identify a Wren, a Chaffinch, 3 Long-tailed Tits, 3 Bluetits and I can even hear the faint tapping of a Green Woodpecker (they don’t drum as much as the Great Spotted Woodpecker) and soon hear its call too, but it is too distant to spot it.  I do not need the binoculars for the 1 Robin singing sweetly!

Walking back up the lane to the road, I am pleased to hear the chattering of the Goldfinches still finding things to eat on the trees. I think I can detect a couple of Greenfinches alongst them, but it is difficult to tell as both birds have yellow wing bars, but I am fairly certain they are there. Chaffinches and Greenfinches used to be such common garden visitors, but a rarity nowadays.

I also briefly see 3 of the Thrush sized birds fly from one tree to another, so I suspect that they are Redwings as Thrushes are usually solitary birds.

 
12th January  

A cold but dry day after weeks and weeks of heavy persistent rain.  The ground is saturated and extremely muddy - only navigable with a pair of good wellies. There is little wildlife around to spot and I can only record:
 

  • 2 Bluetits
  • 1 Blackbird
  • 1 Wren

The Meadow has a lot of lying water and both the ponds are full to the brim.







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