Fine weather, nice places and good company – we had another a great morning watching wildlife along the Canal and the Frome with Martin Wright. The last thing he said at Lydney was that soon we would be looking for Swallows and sure enough, our first sights at the Fromebridge Mill car park were Sand- and House-Martins swooping overhead at great speed, never slowing or stopping as they collected insects on the wing. Later on our walk they were joined by Swallows, all of them coming within a few feet of our heads and knees.
Either side of the canal, and below its level, are meadows with trees and bushes next to the water. The Willows have been pollarded and reeds and water-lilies are kept in check leaving the water beautifully clear. Piles of logs, nettles and ivy helped with the variety of plants. Great wildlife habitats and nice for people – the two so often go together. Two Mute Swans were incubating eggs in large nests (one on the canal, one on the river) both on the far side from the paths. Another Mute Swan flew past using a lot of effort and foot-paddling to take off – very different from the aerobatics of the Swallows, and we were accompanied by a Heron flying ahead of us twenty yards at a time on the canal towpath.
A lot of splashing in the canal by a bridge turned out to be spawning Carp. Most wildlife hears us coming and stays low until we have passed, but these were rather preoccupied. We also spotted a Brown Rat scuttling into bramble bushes. What we saw nothing of were Otters and Water-Voles but there were two rafts on the far side of the canal, as in the picture, designed to capture their paw-prints on a clay pad inside the tunnel. The second raft had bars at the entrance to record only smaller river-creatures. Also on this stretch were lots of lemonade bottles attached to garden canes – low-cost kit for recording Newts and other amphibians. The results of these surveys will help Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to improve the canal habitats for a whole range of species.
The reeds and willows were home to several Warbler species, including the first Willow-Warbler seen by any of us this year. A standing dead tree showed signs of many years use by Woodpeckers, but we did not see any on this day. All in all, this stretch of canal was as full of wildlife as anywhere we have been this year.
As we followed a ditch back towards the Frome, we could see how complex and vulnerable is the drainage of this part of the Severn Vale, because the ditch which drains the fields passed ten feet beneath the Frome in a culvert protected by sluices. The river here is raised above the level of the fields – the whole system needing regular inspection and maintenance or the fields would become unusable. They obviously become regularly waterlogged as it is and the area comes under the Lower Severn Internal Drainage Board who take wider responsibility for making it all work.
Noticeably, with the relative lack of cover, there was less wildlife around this part of the Frome than along the canal that we had just left, although there are apparent Water Vole holes in the old river bed and we saw a Green-Veined White butterfly. Management here is for Farming first, but we have seen elsewhere how even a thin broken hedge can make all the difference to wildlife.
And so to finish at the pub.
Out of 33 bird species we had seen, 6 were Summer migrants. There are more arriving daily from Africa and the Mediterranean, so we are hopeful of good things in our next trip to Cotswold Water Park.
April 24th – Cotswold Water Park, Cirencester — on the line of the Thames & Severn canal towards Lechlade
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