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April 2014 blog and sightings

April 28 2014

A female Whinchat and collection of 8 Wheatear included one clearly identifiable male Greenland.

Whinchat, along the Severn fences

Whinchat, female, Severn, 28-04-14, MJMcGill

April 24 2014
Male Ruff-such a smart bird had to show it again. It was crouched in the water on South Lake for a long time, maybe predator related.

Ruff, male, 24-04-14, MJMcGill

Wheatear-male along the foreshore

Wheatear, 17-04-14, MJMcGill

April 17 2014

Bar-tailed Godwit- one of three feeding on the sands, none were in breeding plumage, all were first summers.

Barwit, MJMcGill

April 13 2014
At work I gained my best views yet of the Hooded Crow plus my worst of the Taiga Bean Geese, a notable passage of Swallows was in evidence and 9 Ringed Plover and 45 Dunlin were of note. Bird of the day was the male Ruff on the Rushy. A late call from Nick Goatman alerted me to more Curlew migration, he noted two flocks, one of c100 and a larger one of c200 climbing high and heading inland. I heard a few from my garden plus a few Swallows feeding over the village.

Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow, BNP, 13 Apr 14, MJMcGill

Ruff (attaining breeding plumage)

Ruff, Rushy, 13-04-14, MJMcGill

Pair of Shelduck on Severn ooze

Shelduck pair, Severn Estuary, 13-04-14, MJMcGill

Early morning Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit, MJMcGill

April 12 2014
An evening walk to Hoch Ditch with Rich H turned out to be chilly and breezy but 33 Dunlin and 6 Ringed Plover gave close views, a flock of c45 Curlew were also seen. A morning walk to count singing warblers on the reserve gave me 3 Reed, 2 Sedge and 5 singing Cetti’s Warbler.

April 11 2014
A lot of bike exercise today, a few miles early doors and then a trip to the Forest of Dean to do a couple of rides and a couple of walks with my son. A ride around was memorable for bird song. At RSPB Nagshead I caught up with singing male Pied Flycatcher and a pair of Goshawk. New Fancy View surrendered 3 Crossbill which included a close fly-by female plus 30 Siskin. A Tree Pipit at Crabtree Hill.

At home two House Martin were back over Whitminster

April 10 2014
A pre-work stroll produced a male Greenland Wheatear, a sumptuous fly-catching male Redstart and a Yellowhammer flying along the foreshore. There were also a couple of Sanderling on the estuary sandbanks. Nige Warren got me onto a  distant Red Kite, this provided a first of the year for me in the Vale. At home the Orange Tip butterfly was around again.

April 9 2014
A Little-ringed Plover was flying around calling over the Top Hut/Rushy area at work. It appeared to drop down onto the latter site. Harriet had an Orange Tip butterfly in our garden.

April 8 2014
A search of breezy Severn estuary at lunchtime produced a fishing Sandwich Tern, no doubt the same bird Nick Goatman saw over Townfield Lake, Frampton.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern, The Noose, Severn, MJMcGill 001

Sandwich Tern, The Noose, Severn, MJMcGill

April 7 2014
Back to work at Slimbridge, a smashing start to the day was watching 13 Avocets arguing, pair bonding, nest scraping and chasing and being chased by crows. A local scarcity came in the form of a female Goosander.

Goosander, MJMcGill

April 6 2014
An hour out on my bike along the Glos to Sharpness Canal- 2 Sand Martin and finally Willow Warbler,  at Saul Warth the usual birds but out on the estuary 18 Ringed Plover, 1 Little Stint and 3 Dunlin.

Some thoughts on Partridges- Red-legged v Grey

In Whitminster today I saw a Red-legged Partridge on the road, it was completely soaked looking miserable and bedraggled. It struggled to push through the grass and hedge to get into the field. I started thinking again about this situation. These release birds in behaviour are a million miles from their healthy and beautifully marked wild counterparts that I see on the continent. The hand reared birds are clueless, have no idea how to survive. The Red-legged Partridge shoots I have seen from public roads look pretty dull from a ‘Sport’ point of view. A line of beaters desperately trying to get these birds to fly into the guns but these rotund birds are basically stumbling along in front of them, reluctant to fly, they prefer to walk and hop up and over walls. The doziness of these birds and their close relatives- the release pheasants are a hazard on the roads, I have nearly crashed a few times trying to avoid them. As a non-native bird I don’t think they should be released at all. A link to a thought provoking blog by Dr Mark Avery

I have no interest or reason to hunt anything personally, I cannot understand why anyone gets pleasure out of killing things for fun. I can understand and accept it for food, maybe as a tradition but what I see is so far removed from any tradition it is embarrassing. I am saddened by the fact I watched Grey Partridge become extinct locally, the Slimbridge coveys died out (probably a combination of habitat changes, unsympathetic farming and over-hunting) in the late 80′s. I was still seeing them between Frampton and Whitminster and even on Saul Warth to Fretherne in the 90′s. I have seen them around Severn House Farm, Berkeley in the 2000′s. The last reliable birds near to home were in the Dursley, Wotton under Edge/Tetbury/Bath square but I cannot find any these days.

I wanted to do something about it. Many years back Neil Smart and I attended a Game Conservancy meeting on the Cotswolds along with c40 landowners and farmers concerning Grey Partridge, their habitat and needs. It demonstrated that this group of people were interested and appeared to care.

I wish our native Grey Partridge were still so numerous that those that do want to hunt for food did so in a sustainable way, that small efforts are made to re-establish the Grey Partridge in England. A very small amount of sympathetic farming can make the difference for survival, surely landowners, the farming and rural communities and wildlife lovers all want to see the ‘English’ Partridge back among us.

In January I was delighted to see Grey Partridge in the ‘high’ Cotswolds of Gloucestershire after not doing so for a while. I can identify three areas in the county where the landowners/farmers are apparently sympathetic to wildlife whilst still ’shooting and hunting’. These places are  examples where a greater diversity of birds can be found and often in good numbers, places where declines may be halted, perhaps they are reversing. These examples give great hope and highlight that it can work. It raises the question, why can’t all farmland be this way? We all pay taxes, subsidies are there to make a small allowance for wildlife.

I for one am keen to do something about it, I wanted to a while ago but alas I do not ‘own’  and cannot afford to buy any land. It would be great if local landowners/farmers were keen to support any re-establishment attempt, I and many others for sure can provide help, advice and effort to restore these birds to our fields, surely they have a right to exist locally again. Who wants to do something about Grey Partridges?

Some links

April 5 2014
Good to catch up with NRS ‘Smarty’ and go for a birding stroll together, we were both pleased to see Lapwing and Redshank settling into territories along the Severn foreshore, many could be hassled by the falcon that is hanging around the area. A Swallow flew S and we watched a Common Tern flying/fishing along the canal between Fretherne and Splatt bridges.

Falcon sp- Saker x Gyr? Any suggestions.

Falcon sp, 05-04-14, MJMcGill

Common Tern

Common Tern, Glos to Sharpness Canal, Frampton, 05-04-14, MJMcGill

April 4 2014
Exercise regime through walking today was good and migration watch was excellent. I saw the following on the Severn…

10.15 Goosander female- flew off downstream
10.14 Great Crested Grebe-floating, I reckon the same bird is hanging around out here for last week.
10.30 First winter/summer Little Gull flew high down river, floated up at 10.45

Little Gull with BHG
10.45 33 Dark-bellied Brent Geese-floated up and past Saul Warth to Hock cliff. One small brown first summer and a very well whitish flank-marked bird among them. Still within DBBrent range I felt.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Severn, inc bird clean flanks, 4 Apr 14, MJMcGill
11.05 A Sanderling, 8 Ringed Plover and 3 Dunlin flew downriver.

I had a visit to the doctors for 11.40 but returned to Saul Warth to see if I could get closer to Brents. They had moved back out off Saul Warth. A flock of Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Snipe, variety of duck and 7 Little Egrets were flushed by something on the Saul Flashes.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Severn, in flight, 04-04-14, MJMcGill

Dark-bellied Brent Gees, in flight, 001, Severn, 04-04-14, MJMcGill

Brents with a few Shoveler. Lots of the Saul Warth/flashes duck have been on the estuary over the last few days.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese with Shoveler, Severn, 04-04-14, MJMcGill


12.05pm Located a flock of 27 Kittiwake floating on the river, they called a few times and took off heading high.


Kittiwakes on the Severn, 04-04-14, MJMcGill

Kittiwake, Severn, 1st flock, 04-04-14, MJMcGill
12.15 A picked up a Spoonbill flying high over Splatt/100 Acre, it was flying south, Nige Warren texted to say he had seen it from In Focus too.
12.35 A flock of c 100 Kittiwake flew rapidly low up channel in a tern-like flock and to joined another flock. I made it 131 in total.

Kitiwake, in flight, Severn, 04-04-14, MJMcGill
1255 A second summer Mediterranean Gull with a very feint hood was milling about.
1300 A flock of Curlew flew high from the Dumbles calling and showing pre-migration behaviour.

Had to leave for another doctors appointment at 2.00pm.

3 April 2014

A large, brownish-grey falcon was around the Noose, River Severn. I also saw it last Saturday on driftwood on the sands. Long tailed and winged. I also saw a Red-legged Partridge walking along the foreshore and four Otters (mum and 3 cubs) whilst out. The latter are always a joy to watch. At Townfield Lake, Frampton on Severn I went through a flock of 260 1st summer Black-headed Gulls, it contained a first winter/summer Mediterranean Gull.

Falcon sp, Splatt, 03-4-14, MJMcGill

Falcon sp, Splatt, 03-04-14, MJMcGill

Visibility was pretty bad and by the end of the day I felt pretty awful. The smog pollution and African dust had certainly had an impact on  my health, I wish I hadn’t gone out. Worth bearing in mind that the smog is produced by humans and our usual SW winds blow it all away to somewhere else. Is Britain still the filthy old man of Europe?

April 2 2014

I spent an hour sat watching the Severn tide from 0915-1015 and saw the following…
1 Great Crested Grebe flew N
1 Swallow n
4 Sand Martin N
1 male Yellow Wagtail N
1 Oystercatcher N (plus two territorial birds)
38 LBBGull N
18+8 Linnet N
1 adult Mediterrnean Gull
5 Arctic Terns N (they climbed and went inland)
Common Tern 1 N

The Common and Arctic Terns and Yellow Wagtail are my earliest ever in the county. The weather and conditions are producing some unusual records this year. A Black Tern was seen on the London reservoirs on 4th April!

April 1 2014
A male Goosander flew upriver at 10.01 to Saul Warth and back down at 10.14 heading inland to the canal. Three Sand Martin were the only other migrants.

Goosander, 1 Apr 14, MJMcGill


Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 6:01 am

March 2014 Blog and sightings

March 31 2014
I had to drop my son off at his friends due to an inset day so took the chance to look for some downland or what we called farmland birds whilst at Leighterton. A short drive away and I bagged 8 Corn Bunting from the car and 260 Linnet.

Corn Buntings

Corn Bunting, 31 Mar 14, MJMcGill

Corn Bunting, 31 Mar 14, MJMcGill 001

I headed home and rested up for the afternoon when I saw a tweet from Colin B about a Bean Goose on the Dumbles. I had to have a look and fancied a trip out to loosen up my joints. On reaching the Holden Tower I joined Nige Warren and Paul Taylor, the latter was watching the Hooded Crow proving he does study his birds when given free time. I got onto the Bean and saw it was a female Taiga Bean Goose, a quick scan revealed a male, the same pair I saw on Saturday morning!

Great to see this (should be) species as it has been years since my last at Slimbridge.

Male left and female right Taiga Bean Geese, The Dumbles

Taiga Bean Goose, male, Dumbles, 31-03-14, MJMcGill Taiga Bean Goose, female, 31-03-14, Dumbles, MJMcGill

The lovely couple together

Taiga Bean Geese, male and female, Dumbles, 31-03-14, MJMcGill

Late in the evening I cycled to Saul Flashes where a large pale Greylag was roosting, I saw the same bird floating on the estuary on the morning tide.


March 30 2014
14 Fieldfare and a Redwing W over my house. A canal side stroll produced a female Marsh Harrier hunting the foreshore and single Little-ringed Plover and even scarcer here a Yellowhammer N. I went for a drive to bird from the car and saw a 2nd summer Mediterranean Gull with full hood in fields near Arlingham/Overton Lane.

In the afternoon I got a call from DBP  about a possible Hooded Crow from Holden Tower. I was there when he confirmed it was still present, a county lifer. Thanks to the ‘Sunday gang’ for getting news out and going out of their way to do so. I narrowly missed the 91 bird that Pete Alder saw, long time to get that one back.

Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow, Dumbles, 30 Mar 14, MJMcGill

March 29 2014
I was up very early, seems to be the norm lately and noticed that Mike King was actually enjoying life on Cleeve Hill. I formulated a plan which involved taking my bike, there was no way I could reach the Postlip valley on foot. A short roll down to the area of the washpool and I was able to settle under a hawthorn and scan for the two Ring Ouzels. was joined by two other ouzel hunters and had a chat whilst watching a female feeding on earthworms. Nice to see Andy Wiggins in his usual habitat on the hill but sadly unable to go for a stroll with him. After giving detailed instruction on where to find the birds he reported that he saw the male as well confirming MLK’s previous total. I missed the male.

Heading off in the car I detoured to the reported Tundra Bean Geese at Kemerton, Worcestershire, being just over the border it was not far and close to the car. I was soon watching two Taiga Bean Geese, excellent to see them locally. It was a male and female, the gander being a striking almost fully orange billed bird hence an old name being Yellow billed Bean Goose. The female looked like she had laid eggs before, she showed a real ‘saggy ass’.

Later in the day a short walk across the road from home and I could see 30+ Sand Martin.

Taiga Bean Geese, Kemerton, Worcs.

Taiga Bean Geese, pair, Kemerton Lake, Worcs, 29-03-14,MJMcGill Taiga Bean Geese, pair male on right, Kemerton Lake, Worcs, 29-03-14, MJMcGill Taiga Bean Geese, Kemerton Lake, Worcs, 29-03-14, MJMcGill Taiga Bean Geese, Kemrton Lake, Worc, 29-03-14, pair, MJMcGill

Female Ring Ouzel, Cleeve Hill

Ring Ouzel, female, 29 Mar 14, MJMcGill Ring Ouzel, Cleeve Hill, 29-03-14, MJMcGill

March 28 2014
Off crutches and a painful hobble to the foreshore of my so beloved Severn. I saw my first pair of Little ringed Plover and three Ringed Plover of the year. The latter among 9 Dunlin and 2 Little Stint out on the sands off Hock Ditch. Two Grey Plover went through N.

Little ringed Plover, Saul, 28-03-14, MJMcGill

Little ringed Plover, Saul Warth, 28-03-14, MJMcGill

March 20 2014
My first five Sand Martin and four Grey Plover on the estuary.

The threat of Whitminster losing lots of varied habitat due to housing developments looms large. I intend to provide a voice for the birds, a selection of Whitminster residents in late March below.


Sparrowhawk, female, Whitminster, March 14, MJMcGill

Great spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker,male, Whitminster Mar 14, MJMcGill


Yellowhammer, male, Whitminster, 27 Mar 14, MJMcGill

March 10 2014

I underwent my fifth operation on my damaged foot, it was a relief to finally get it out of the way as it has been highly stressful having it hanging over me. It should be for the best in the long run but means a short-term lay up to heal and then a programme of light then increasing exercise to build up strength. As usual it is totally frustrating to be unable to walk again. Being ill the week before did not help things at all but I am so glad the operation was quick and went to plan. N. Bristol NHS at Southmead were brilliant, they removed the metal plate and eight screws and did a very neat sewing job.

March 5 2014

In the company of Terry Grant in the Holden Tower we were enjoying the birds when he spotted a Spoonbill on the Tack Piece. It was very restless and flew around the reserve visiting many spots.


Spoonbill, Dumbles, 5 Mar 14, MJMcGill Spoonbill, 5 Mar 14, Dumbles, MJMcGill

March 3 2014
A likely candidate for female American Wigeon was on the Dumbles scrape. I watched it for over half and hour and took lots of video but never captured the wing flap. I did see this event through the scope and it had white axillaries. The bird flew off when the tide flooded the Dumbles. It had a very strong mask around the eye and a grey not a all brown head.

Female American Wigeon?

poss American Wigeon, female, Dumbles, 03-03-14, MJMcGill

Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 6:00 pm

January to February 2014 blog and sightings

21 February 2014
Another visit to the Cotswold Water Park to see the Smew before they left. I was pleased to see the ‘set’ , four males, two female and a first winter male.

Smew ‘White Nuns’

Smew, CWP, 21-02-14, MJM

February 10 2014

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull, Severn, 9 Feb 14

This bird was initially spotted by John Phillips, it remained around the estuary for many weeks but never gave me close views. This ambitious effort taken from the Holden Tower.  I never got to age it with such poor views, it was a first or second winter. Maybe the CRC will get closer images submitted showing the plumage detail and eye colour.

A Tundra Bean Goose flew in and fed on the Dumbles as did a particularly large, pale Greylag. This made five of these hulking birds on the saltmarsh.


January 25 2014
A few visits to the Cotswolds kept me interested with Red Kites, Hen Harrier, Merlin, albino Dunnock and utter delight at seeing Grey Partridges.

Great Grey Shrike, Barrington Bushes

Great Grey Shrike, Barrington, 25-01-14

Little Stint

Little Stint, Dumbles, 27-01-14, MJMcGill

At least three Little Stint wintered around the Severn with the newly worked over scrape on the Dumbles being the most reliable place to see them.

January 20 2014

Conducted the monthly Wetland Bird Survey at WWT Slimbridge, the high water levels turned up a few good birds including Water Pipit, Short-eared Owl and Greater Scaup. As I predicted it turned up later on the Rushy and stayed for a couple of days.

Greater Scaup, first winter female with Tufted Duck

Greater Scaup, female, 20-01-14, MJMcGill

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl, 20-01-14, MJMcGill

January 10 2014
A visit to the ‘no entry’ capital of Gloucestershire produced a Kumlien’s Gull. See blog post about it.

Kumlien’s Gull

Kumlien's Gull, adult, CWP Pit 57, 10 Jan 2014, MJMcGill, 003 (1)

January 2 2014

The Green-winged Teal that I saw at the end of December may have been the same bird as depicted below however it did not strike me as being the same bird based on the vertical stripe not being so bold. Perhaps this bird was a second individual? This bird was also on the Tack Piece following a day of no sightings of any GWTeals despite searching. With c5000 of these little ducks in our area this winter I would not be surprised if there were more.

Green winged Teal male, Tack Piece 2 Jan 14


Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 7:19 am

Kumlien’s Gull-adult at the Cotwold Water Park, Pit 57 (Somerford Lake) 10 January 2014

On 10 January 2014 I set out in the morning to go birding in the Cotswolds and to visit a bank. After a Shrike-less visit to Cirencester Park I visit the nearby town to pay in the cash from my son’s Christmas laptop saving fund for use of my credit card to purchase it. As I was nearby and had not visited for years I ended up in the Cotswold Water thinking it would be nice to see a drake Smew. I made my first stop at pit 57 to walk Ted (little family dog who gave me the pleading eyes when I was setting out hence getting to tag along) along the Thames. I was, as is usual drawn to the flocks of wildfowl but eventually turned my attention to the gulls.

Trying to scope through gaps in the hedge I saw what looked like an Iceland Gull among the Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed and Common Gulls. It was very difficult to get a decent view, it was breezy, the bird was on the far, sheltered, side of the lake and nearly always facing directly away from me (into the wind). I moved to new spots to get a side view and avoid the albeit weak low winter sun, being directly in line with the bird. I spent a long time with it trying to get some decent pictures, below are the best I could manage as I was also trying to soak up any flank-on views when it presented.

I did not see it flap very well, what I did see it appeared very white wing-tipped. It preened and showed the true extent of the dark chevrons on the primaries which were narrow. The bird spent most of the time asleep day-roosting on the water with the bill tucked away. I never got a flight view or saw the legs. In the end I ran out of time and had to leave but put news out as soon as I got a signal.

Some features that it sported…

rounded ‘inflated, Fulmar-like’ head, ‘friendly’ and soft looking.

even, smallish, non-fierce bill with blunt tip.

feint ghost chevrons on underside of primaries.

very narrow dark (not solid black) chevrons on upper side of primaries- I think dark grey. Right wingtip more well marked than left.

light head streaking with darker masks around eyes.

long winged.

Kumlien's Gull, adult, CWP Pit 57, 10 Jan 2014, MJMcGill (1)

Kumlien's Gull, adult, CWP Pit 57, 10 Jan 2014, MJMcGill, 002

Kumlien's Gull, adult, CWP Pit 57, 10 Jan 2014, MJMcGill 001

Kumlien's Gull, adult, CWP Pit 57, 10 Jan 2014, MJMcGill, 003 (1)

Kumlien's Gull, adult, CWP Pit 57, 10 Jan 2014, MJMcGill, 004 (1)

Kumlien's Gull, adult, CWP Pit 57, 10 Jan 2014, MJMcGill,005 (2)

I was satisfied that I was watching an adult Kumlien’s Gull which I do not see very often. I did catch up with a bird on the Gloucester tip but had poor flight views only. A better experience was with a Kim Milson? found adult that roosted on nearby Pit 16 so many years ago I don’t remember the year.

Martin J McGill

Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 1:36 pm