Thornbury

Tomorosa with BBQ

U3A Birdwatching Group
Social Evening - Monday August 13th
17 members gathered on a dry, cool and pleasant evening at the former Tomorosa Kennels on Awkley Lane, Olveston, for a social event organised by Mike Robinson. Our hosts were Tom and Rose Brown, the founders of Tomerosa. They moved there 54 years ago, when the M4 was being constructed nearby, and they now find themselves in the fork of two motorways, the M48 and the more recent M4 spur to the second Severn Bridge. It was Rose who invented the portmanteau name, inspired by the Ponderosa Ranch on TV’s Bonanza. Mike was Chairman of Dursley Birders in 1990, when Tom joined looking for a new hobby, and they have remained close friends ever since.

After a glass or two of refreshing fruit punch, Mike led the group on an interesting hour-long walk around the Tomerosa garden and the private nature reserve which the Browns have created over the years on their adjoining land. With the permission of the Highway authorities, their reserve also extends into the motorway margins. It’s a unique habitat which includes woodland, undergrowth, pathways and small man-made lakes. The whole area is nicely wild while being well-maintained. Tom has built hides at a few of the best vantage points. Being a welder by trade, he has also constructed a long metal viewing platform 3-4 metres above the ground, set into a 25-metre run of tall Leylandii hedging! The more intrepid among us followed Mike up a spiral staircase into the canopy, which makes a great place to stand with binoculars, looking down on garden birds. Tom keeps a weekly tally of the birds he sees or hears on his patch and reckons on an average of 25-30 species per week throughout the year.
The cultivated garden itself had several “exotic” species. A decoy heron gets moved around at regular intervals to deter real herons from coming to catch the carp in the network of interlocking lily ponds. We actually saw a real Grey Heron fly over, making a disgruntled call. Two metal peacocks in a flower bed and a large resin owl sitting atop the cypress trees were slightly less convincing. However, a very realistic decoy Mute Swan on one of the artificial lakes had at least one member of our group fooled. No names, no pack-drill! If I dwell here on the artificial bird life, it’s because the real thing was rather absent during our tour. Mike had seen Reed Warblers and heard Cetti’s Warblers during his recce visit the previous Saturday, but we had to content ourselves with a Mallard, a Moorhen and a few Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits visiting the garden feeders. Some of us wondered whether the motorway noise would deter birds from settling and breeding in the reserve. Songbirds, for example, would surely struggle to hear mating calls. Nobody actually kept a bird list, but then this was primarily intended as a social event.

By the time the walk was over, the punch jugs had been replenished and Tom had cooked a mound of burgers, sausages and chicken drumsticks on his barbecue. We each chipped in £5 towards the cost. A table had been laid with various bowls of salad brought by members and we all tucked in. Although enthusiastic eating put a temporary halt to idle chatter, there was soon plenty of that too. Tom and Rose regaled us with doggy tales drawn from a lifetime of running a boarding kennel. There was one about a dog which pooped on the command of “Empty!” Anyway, the fastest eaters among us went up for second helpings and then the table was cleared to make way for an array of cold desserts. By 8.30, there were few crumbs left for the birds! Mike drew the event to a close by thanking Tom and Rose for their hospitality and presenting them with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine. We are also grateful to Mike for putting together a very enjoyable and memorable event at this unique venue.

Trevor Hill