Monday, 2 October 2017



Newbridge, October 2nd 2017



A superb summer ends


with two new species

Officially it's now autumn, most of our summer breeding migrant birds are leaving or have left us, and the first of the winter visitors are starting to arrive. As the leaves start to turn and the nights draw in, it's a good time to survey what's been an excellent summer, including a couple of local “firsts” and an addition to the Smestow Valley's list of breeding species . . .

Spring and early summer migrants provided Dunstall Park with a good run of Whinchat, Northern and Greenland Wheatear, plus Yellow Wagtail, Sand Martin, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper. An Oystercatcher flew from the racecourse lake on 2/5, a female Pintail was at the lake from 1/5 to 13/5, fifteen Greylag geese were on Dunstall Park on 25/5 and a male Pheasant was at the same site on 13/4. Migrant species seen elsewhere in the valley included two Common Tern at Pool Hall on 1/5, and a single bird of the same species flying up the 21 canal locks by the racecourse on 27/6. Breeding warblers seemed to have had a good summer along the valley, with Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat numbers on or above average, while Dunstall Park provided the first local record of nesting Reed Warbler. At least four of these migrant birds had appeared suddenly at the lake in June last year, possibly as a result of traditional nest sites in the region being flooded out, and although two were seen mating, there was no proof of nesting. This summer, most likely one of last year's males was heard singing at the lake in late April, and by mid-July a pair had produced at least two fledged youngsters. The species is known for its site fidelity, so hopes are high birds will return to the racecourse in 2018. Other Dunstall Park breeding species included Pied Wagtail, House Sparrow, House Martin, Swallow, Rook, Grey Wagtail, Coot and Little Grebe. Blue Tit and Great Tit successfully fledged from nest boxes put up along the western side of the racecourse, juveniles made up the vast majority of 60-plus visiting Jackdaw, seen and heard in trees along the same boundary on 19/6, and a young Green Woodpecker was seen feeding on Dunstall Park in July and August. Young Linnet from nests on the sloping grass fields just north of the Birmingham Canal locks foraged along drainage ditches on the racecourse in June, and juvenile Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch and Goldfinch were seen in the north west corner of the site near Aldersley canal junction. The racecourse was visited by a Kingfisher throughout July, and in early August the lake provided a touch of Africa with the appearance of a Village Weaver, the second record for the species on the valley's list of aviary escapes.

                                        Pick of the raptors

Elsewhere along the valley a mild winter and damp spring boosted Goldcrest, Song Thrush and Blackbird numbers, with other breeding species including Moorhen, Mallard, Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Swift, Mistle Thrush, Starling, Jay, Crow, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper. A pair of Great Crested Grebe raised three youngsters at Pool Hall lakes, single singing Reed Bunting were heard near the towpath east of Mopps Farm canal bridge in April and at Dunstall Park lake in early May, and two Corn Bunting were on phone wires near Mopps Farm on 16/5. The valley's first proof of attempted breeding by Rose-ringed Parakeet came when a pair were seen mating and attending a nest hole from February until early April. The female was fed in the hole by the male, but he disappeared in late March, and his mate deserted the site soon afterwards.
Tawny Owl were heard calling at traditional nesting areas, Buzzard pairs maintained valley territories, their young heard and seen daily in August during their first tentative flights over nesting sites (eight birds were seen from the racecourse circling together over Oxley/Pendeford on 19/8), and Sparrowhawk juveniles sparred with Magpie and other corvids, twisting and turning low over the trees in late summer as they honed their flying skills. Kestrel records were intermittent, but single birds were seen near Mopps Farm and over Aldersley and the racecourse in April, and over the Compton barleyfield in May, and a Peregrine flew north eastwards over Aldersley/Oxley on 3/5. Pick of the raptor reports involved a Red Kite seen from Newbridge circling with a Buzzard over Lower Street/Lower Green in a cloudless sky on the afternoon of 17/6, then moving south westwards and disappearing. There have been sporadic local reports of this charismatic species since the valley's first sighting, a Welsh-tagged bird over Newbridge on 5/5/1996. Pairs are now nesting in Shropshire, and it can be only a matter of time before birds move into South Staffordshire, as the species continues to spread eastwards.
Mid and late-summer movements brought Lapwing to Dunstall Park, with numbers peaking at 28 on 10/7, and a run of Little Ringed Plover to the racecourse lake (two adults and two juveniles were seen on 1/7). Other lake records included adult and juvenile Grey Heron, a male Tufted Duck on 10/7, a small number of Shoveler in mid-August, with Teal numbers building to 13 on 25/9 and 15-plus Snipe present on the same date. A pair of Gadwall visited the lake on 10/9, a Greenshank circled the site before leaving south westwards on 1/9, and at least 90 Meadow Pipit flew over the racecourse in the same direction on 14/9. Two Sedge Warbler were at the lake on 1/9, a migrating Hobby was seen from Dunstall Park catching a herundine over the Farndale housing estate on 28/8, eight Cormorant moved northwards over the racecourse on 28/8, and a Tree Pipit was seen by the lake on 22/8.

                                  Chance of nesting

Two of the valley's top sightings of the year so far came with a Little Egret seen briefly at the racecourse lake on 7/7, only the second-ever record for the site, and a single Curlew flying north westwards from the central grass area of the racecourse on 9/8. Both of these records came from Gareth Clements, who then surpassed them by finding two new species for the Smestow Valley in ten days, both at Dunstall Park. The first, a bird more often heard than seen, was watched at the lake on the morning of 26/8, flying to and from the island. The valley's first CETTI'S WARBLER was harassed constantly by a Reed Warbler before it eventually disappeared into what has become perfect habitat for its furtive lifestyle, and was not seen again. Vegetation around the lake now provides it with good breeding conditions, and with the spread of the species across the region in recent years, there's a chance of nesting in the future. Species number 183 for the valley, an EGYPTIAN GOOSE, flew on to the central grass area from the west on 5/9, to join a group of Greylag. It was seen visiting the site for the next week with presumably the same group of geese.
The central grass area of the racecourse attracts gulls in late summer and throughout the autumn and winter, sometimes to forage but mostly to preen and rest. Good numbers of juveniles are among Lesser Black-backed Gulls which have bred in the city, and these, combined with visitors of the same species from other urban breeding sites and elsewhere, combined to produce counts of more than 200 birds on 6/9. Other records included c.360 Black headed Gull on 27/8 and 14 Herring Gull on 6/9. The racecourse was visited by a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull through July, August and September, and an adult was noted there on 6/9. Mediterranean Gull are now annual visitors to Dunstall Park, with at least two adults and an immature seen throughout the late summer this year. Other birds seen foraging on the central grass included 38 Mistle Thrush on 8/8, with Greylag totals reaching 24 on 4/9, and 264 Canada Goose counted on the same day.
Recent records have included a sub-song surprise from a Skylark over Dunstall Park on 9/8 (the species nested on the site before its redevelopment in the 1990s) and three chat species on the morning of 25/9 at the racecourse: a juvenile Redstart on the lake fence alongside a Whinchat and near to a Wheatear foraging on the central grass.

(Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site. Access is strictly controlled.)

Mute family moves in a mysterious way  . . .

Last year witnessed the sad demise of Mute Swan youngsters at Dunstall Park as the adult pair abandoned the site following predation of cygnets, possibly by foxes. Presumably the same breeding pair reappeared at the lake in March this year, and by late June five youngsters were feeding on the lake with the adults. Falling water levels were giving cause for concern, and plans were drawn up for experts to try to catch the birds and transfer them to the neighbouring canal. However, nature took its own course, and on either 16/7or 17/7 the adults and all five non-fledged cygnets somehow made their way from the lake to the safety of the canal where they were seen happily feeding between Newbridge and Compton. How they navigated their way through hedges and security fences remains a mystery.

Butterflies feature in a year of 'firsts'

The Smestow Valley's invertebrates list increased this year when two new species of butterfly were recorded in late summer. The first, a Marbled White, was seen on 8/7 and 9/7 on a grass slope by the Smestow brook culvert at Dunstall Park lake. The second, a White-letter Hairstreak, was watched feeding on a budleia bush in a garden by Newbridge playingfield on 25/7. No fewer than 14 butterfly species were recorded on 18/7 at the racecourse and along the Staffs & Worcs Canal.









Tuesday, 8 August 2017

breeding season part 1

Great crested grebe:  After false starts finally young birds at pool hall, so no repeat of last years double brooding and seemingly a poor year regionally, predation or weather?
Little grebe:  attempted to breed at Dunstall Park but probably unsuccessful.
Mute swan:  Pair at Dunstall successfully translocated their 5 young to the canal at the end of last month.  Coincidentally a pair at west park with 5 similar sized young disappeared from their natal area at the same time. both pairs were being monitored so we know the group which appeared by MS centre were the dunstall birds which then moved to Compton and I suspect went south.  The report this week of the family of swans around the dead fish at autherley junction could therefore be the west park birds. The mystery is how they get from the lakes to the canal. ABC taxis maybe airial bird carriers.
Mallard:  Disastrous breeding season with almost all of the many hatchlings predated within days. Lesser black back gulls and herons are the main culprits, but wonder if large pike or even carp attack from below.  The one brood which prospered was at Compton lock where 7 survived for several weeks and five have made it to full size.
Moorhen: Very similar to previous species. young did not appear until early june when pairs elsewhere were hatching second broods. Few survived long but Compton again fared better with 5 (out of initial 6) lasting over a month and 3 still around and fully grown. Speculation as to why relates to nearby haven of smestow brook, presence of long term moorings and better cover unaffected by last autumns bank repairs.

RAPTORS

Not a good year.  No reports of any kestrel breeding attempts and the species is becoming a rare sight in the valley.  More surprisingly no reports yet of young sparrowhawks which normally have at least two nests and still waiting to see pristine young buzzards sharing the skies with their dishevelled parents. could the weather be the explanation?

Parakeets: Hopes were raised early in spring by prospecting in newbridge wood but it came to nothing and sightings dropped off.  A sudden surge in sightings at the end of july with up to three birds flying between west park and tettenhall ridge raises the possibility they bred on the ridge somewhere.
Kingfisher:  Only occasional records in spring but in a manner which suggested possible breeding.  An upsurge in reports from june including 2 at the meccano suggests this probably happened.

If you have any info on the swans or the birds covered so far please use the comment facility.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Early thoughts on migration

The current spells of high pressure and northerly winds have led to a subdued spring migration thus far.
Chiffchaff, traditionally the first arrival and true to form this year with all birds seeming to arrive in one go in the 3rd week of March. Nine singers in middle and north sections and nesting now well underway.
Blackcap, always interesting to see the gap between departing winter birds heading for central Europe and spring arrivals from Iberia and North Africa. We had 1 or 2 males giving a desultory song in the 3rd week of March and I had a female in my garden on the with. Also was on the south coast of Devon for the last weekend of March and had about 10 songstress on the coast. None were visible and the contrast with the arrivals from the 3rd of April, full song and showing well was stark. 8 in the middle and 8 in the north on that day with females appearing around 5 days later. Much contact calling now  in evidence and numbers swelled by further arrivals this week. I wonder if the Devon birds had spent the winter on the coast or were preparing to cross the channel.
Willow warbler, thin on the ground in the valley with 1 or 2 birds for the last 10 days either end of the paddocks probably passing through and a contrast to good numbers on Cannock Chase.
Swallow passage birds on one or two days (max3) and returning pair to racecourse last Sunday.
Sand Martin 2 flew south also last Sunday.
Wheatear .Also the same day 2 on racecourse a male which was ringed (by a licensed ringer) and found to be a Greenland bird by wing measurement accompanied by a female, 2 having been seen on the 14th.
The southern section has given Angus both lesser and common whitethroat but they don't seem to have reached the rest of the valley.
In terms of resident birds the first brood of Mallard today 11 at the water bridge.
Grey wagtail around dunstall park (could they be the pair which were regular at lock 21 before moving through disturbance) and around prefab weir.
A kingfisher carrying material in its beak was only the second report of the year.
A singing reed Bunning was a one day wonder on the 3rd April also single red poll and siskin in the 2nd week all 3 presumably on passage.
Finally twice in the last week 2 herons flying north over the paddocks early doors, a spcies we seem to see far less often these days.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Postscript

Further to the Angus post yesterday, I went early to aldersley stadium this morning and was surprised to see a waxing fly up into the trees by the old railway at the far end. This was followed by 2 groups of about ten and all birds departed in the direction of claregate.
Other additions are a pair of grey wagtail around lock 20, two linens at the top of the Lupton field and the singing chiffie by the same lock. All seen both Sunday and today the chiffie being a surprisingly pale buff bird.
Additionally on Sunday we had a woodcock flying along parallel to the railway towards the Lupton field and a very brief view of a kestrel by lock 19.
Some wintering birds lingered into March with a dozen fieldfare at the southern end last Friday and half a dozen redwing by the wetland on Saturday. A very wintry looking little green remained south of Compton to at least the ninth of March.
The bright weather on the 1st had produced a singing blackcap yards from the old bridge, it sang quite well which is unusual but was back to a more normal chunter a few days later. However on Monday it was quite loud from the station laurel, we assume this is a wintering bird testing its vocal chords before heading off to its breeding grounds in central Europe.
Finally Saturday afternoon gave me an encounter with a presumed goshawk which flew across my view as I was checking out a perched buzzard. The bird perched twice and generally only showed rear views but I was able to study its head and see two clear eyestripes of a rather off white colour. The tail was very dark and contrasted with the blue grey back.  I did not get a view of the underparts which would have clinched it but dont see what else it could have been.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017


Newbridge,  14th March  2017

 

Chiffies are singing

so spring has sprung

 

The daffs are out on the playingfield, celandines are brightening the towpaths, hedgerows are white with blackthorn and queen wasps and bumble bees are flying . . . it might as well be spring (meteorologically it already is).  March is the month of change along the Smestow Valley for birds, with winter visitors departing, the first passage and breeding migrants arriving, and resident species paired, defending territories and looking for nest sites.  Late-winter weather conditions have again been relatively benign, despite last month’s brief cold snaps and the damaging winds of Storm Doris.  So, as the sun rises higher and the days lengthen it’s time to take a look back at bird activity locally over the last ten weeks or so

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST . . . our migrants are arriving!  A Chiffchaff singing yesterday along the track between Castlecroft Lane and Pool Hall (Ian and Geoff listed a singing bird at Aldersley on Sunday) followed reports of many appearing across the West Midlands at the weekend.  Chiffchaff return dates for the valley are on average earlier now than when our records began in the late 1980s, with March 29th the latest date for the first singing bird, and March 5th the earliest date for one being heard.

One obvious sign that the seasons are changing has been the sound of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers marking out territories in the still leafless trees.  Both sexes are involved, with at least four birds heard calling and drumming between Newbridge and Aldersley on 12/3.  Green Woodpeckers have been vocal in the last week or so after months of absence, and Nuthatch continue to maintain territories.  A Treecreeper was in Newbridge wood on 11/3, Mistle Thrush are singing and nest-prospecting, and Stock Dove are display-flying low over the trees.  Resident passerines in full song include Blackbird, Song Thrush and Dunnock.  There have been few winter finch records, but at least eight Siskin, some of them singing, were at a garden feeding station by the old railway south of Hordern Road on 5/2, a Redpoll was at Dunstall Park on 4/2, the same day as a Linnet was reported from the same site.   Resident finches have enjoyed the relatively mild conditions, with Chaffinch now in full song and Greenfinch males producing their wheezing song from the tops of playingfield trees.  Wintering Goldfinch flocks were reported early in the year (at least 20 birds were in the Dunstall Park oak copse on 22/1) and Bullfinch pairs have been evident along the old railway between Newbridge and Aldersley.  Blue Tit, Great Tit and Coal Tit are now paired, Long-tailed Tit have been seen carrying nest material, and a pair of courting Goldcrest were watched flaring their crown feathers by the canal towpath north of Hordern Road on 2/3.  Wintering thrush records include c.30 Redwing at Dunstall Park on 19/1 and at least 20 by the old railway north of Aldersley stadium on 2/3, and a single Fieldfare at Newbridge on 5/1.  A wintering female Blackcap first seen in a garden by Newbridge playingfield on 28/1 was still a daily visitor at the start of this month.  Despite some warm bright mornings in recent weeks soaring Buzzard records have been sporadic, but three were circling together over Wightwick yesterday, and pairs have been reported over Compton and Aldersley.  A female Kestrel was hunting last month at Wightwick fields south of Windmill Lane, and Sparrowhawks of both sexes are becoming more obvious as the breeding season starts, with two birds soaring high over Wightwick yesterday.  Records of Grey Wagtail along the Smestow brook include singles by Aldersley stadium and between Tettenhall Road and Hordern Road throughout February, and a pair by the open culvert at Dunstall Park on 10/3.  A Tawny Owl called from the edge of Newbridge playingfield in early January, a Little Owl was seen at the south end of the valley yesterday, and there have been regular reports of at least two Rose-ringed Parakeets locally since the beginning of the year.  A pair of Great Crested Grebe were in courtship display at Pool Hall lakes yesterday, a site which produced records of a male Goosander on 17/1 a pair of Tufted Duck on 18/2 and a juvenile Mute Swan on 13/3.  At least two Skylark were over fields between Pool Hall and Wightwick on 18/2, a flock of 17 Lapwing were in the same area, also on 18/2, and single Grey Heron were by the Smestow at Wightwick fields on 18/2 and at Dunstall Park lake on 4/2.

                                                                  Impressive species

Corvids have been at the centre of activity at Dunstall Park racecourse in recent weeks, with an unexpected and unprecedented influx of Ravens taking centre stage.  Up to four birds have been seen regularly since mid-February, with records involving individuals flying low over the central grass in various directions, and at least one pair foraging on the lake’s grass banks.  This impressive species is spreading eastwards nationally and regionally, and was found to be breeding locally a decade ago.  The racecourse Rook colony had built at least ten nests by 12/3, and other corvid records from the site include more than 100 Jackdaw on the central grass on 11/1, twenty-plus Magpie on 10/3 and more than 40 Crow on 24/2.  At least two Little Grebe pairs are defending territories on the racecourse lake, where up to 15 Coot have been seen this month.  Other lake records include an impressive total of 52 Snipe counted on 1/3, four Jack Snipe flying from the island on 18/2, a male Goosander on 8/3, twenty-plus Teal on 25/2, seven Tufted Duck on 8/3, a male Shoveler on 17/2 and a pair of Gadwall on 3/2 and 18/2.  More than 170 Canada Geese were at the racecourse on 8/3, two Greylag were present on 10/3, and two Cormorant flew south westwards over the site on 17/2.  Gull numbers are now falling away, but 900-plus Black-headed Gull were on the racecourse on 4/2, thirty six Lesser Black-backed Gull were counted there on 29/1, and six Herring Gull were present on 4/1.  Other racecourse records include 17 Stock Dove on 9/1, a flock of c.60 foraging Starling on 25/2, and a Reed Bunting at the lake on 14/2.

 

(Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.)

 

A couple of important recent additions to this year’s valley list:   At least one of two Stonechat found by Geoff and Ian on 26/2 on the rough grass slopes between the canal locks and the railway carriageworks at Aldersley/Oxley was still present last Sunday, and there was a report yesterday of c.20 Waxwing in a garden by the Bridgnorth Road between Compton and Wightwick.  Everywhere else in the UK seems to have enjoyed these exotic visitors this winter (birds have been seen in Codsall, Wolverhampton, Penkridge and Brownhills since Christmas), so it’s nice to have our own at last!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Things are looking up

A good weekend in the valley mainly focused around the neglected northern end.
Friday afternoon produced a raven flying at tree top height, and calling, in a NNE direction over aldersley canal junction. A few minutes later what was presumably the same bird made the reverse trip.
The weekend produced 9 grey wagtail sightings. Difficult to know how many birds were involved a minimum of 4 seen in 2X2 at water bridge, but 2 at Oxley were probably one 2 and 2 at the pre fabs could have been the others. If so this would suggest passage birds heading towards their upland breeding sites but hopefully we will have breeding success again in the valley.
Two stone chat, presumed to be female were on the Lupin field.(the rough ground below the Oxley carriage sidings). Wonder how long they had been there. Similarly with a very active chiffchaff just north of oxley viaduct which is not an unusual wintering spot.
The rooks seem to have moved a little south perhaps due to the high winds with regular counts just into double figures.
Great spotted woodpeckers are much more obvious than of late (as are nuthatch) with a pair excavating at the regular spot by the water bridge.
Also in their regular spot were a twittering group of about 10 siskin on the railway line by the coachyard.
Finally the parakeets continue to be seen but am not sure what is going on, a pair have been noted but early doors there was a three some with 2 possibly young birds snuggling up  together on a branch and the 3rd not seeming to have a ringed neck although it may have had a little black under the bill.  It certainly did not have the bright pink bill and pink collar of the regular male as seen today.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Signs of Spring

Birds signing is a classic signal of an impending springtime, as is the recently blooming crocus and snow drop. But this time last year the daffodils had been out for a while.  Actually some birds have already been in song for sometime.
An early morning visit on a bright sunny day this week was rewarded with much song especially in the paddocks.  Song thrushes dominated with at least 9 in the middle sector reflecting decent breeding in the previous 2 years.
Dunnock were also well represented.  Strangely one bird, by the old bridge, has been singing for about 3 weeks but now many others joined in.
Not many robin's which seem to start a little later in the morning but they have been signing all winter.
Another winter singer can be the wren but this year they seemed to go quite before Xmas and have only recently started, but not full song.
Another curiosity is the blackbird which in the mid section does not sing till April but in the last week Geoff and I have each heard a signing bird in a street garden.
Chaffinch has joined the party as have many great tots.
As far as wintering spices are concerned Redding are still with us, normally the flock only comes together in high wind, fog or late in the day and numbers 40ish.  This group's frequents the mid section and dispersed around the adjoining gardens.  Another larger flock feeds with fieldfare at the southern end.
My recent visit gave me both siskin and red poll.  Flocks around 20 of two species which have been scarce this year.
Two spices more associated with breeding appeared towards the end of January, a chiffchaff by Wightwicl lock and a female blackcap visiting 2 gardens in Crowther rd.
Otherwise a wasp on friday whilst the gulls behaved as if they were catching insects and the parakeets bursting out of an ivy covered bush right in front of me whilst the ground was frozen.
What we haven't been seeing is kingfisher and greywagtail which may sought warmth further south and in the town centre respectively.
Finally on Friday afternoon at least 6, probably 7 or even 8, buzzards were soaring very high between Oxley and Newbridge.

Thursday, 19 January 2017


Newbridge,  19th January 2017

 

Two top birds are

mid-winter warmers

 

Happy New Year!  That long dry autumn of 2016 is already a distant memory and we’re deep in a mix of damp misty  days, gale force winds or clear frosty nights.  It’s been a quiet time along the valley, with bird numbers seemingly down in general, possibly due to a poor breeding year for resident passerines s like Blue Tits, Great Tits and Dunnocks.  Winter migrants are with us, but visiting finch flocks are as yet few and far between, and cold-weather wader and duck totals are down on recent years.  Even so there have been some excellent sightings to warm the mid-winter weather . . .

 

The year started in style in the shape of a Pink-footed Goose found by Geoff on January 11th, only the second ever Smestow Valley record for this wintering species (two were seen flying north westwards over Aldersley stadium on 11/3/2012).  This individual, an adult, was feeding in a stubble field bordering the Smestow brook just to the north west of the dam lake at Pool Hall.  Top Dunstall Park billing must go a female Scaup which stayed for a day on the lake on December 12th.  This diving duck is an annual winter visitor to the West Midlands, averaging perhaps only 40 or so records across the region’s lakes and reservoirs, and the racecourse bird was only the third Smestow Valley report in three decades (a juvenile was noted in January 1987 and there was an unusual summer sighting of a drake in May 2007).  Other racecourse duck records for recent months include two female and three male Gadwall on 21/9 (a pair have been infrequent visitors since then), nine male and three female Shoveler on 31/12, thirty-plus Teal on 28/10, a male Tufted Duck on 9/9 and four male and one “redhead” Goosander on 31/12.  Elsewhere cold weather brought reports of at least 40 Mallard to the Staffs & Worcs Canal between Hordern Road and the Meccano Bridge on 23/12 and five Teal on the Smestow brook by Aldersley Road gardens on 21/12.  A pair of Mute Swan were at Dunstall Park lake in early October (an adult female was on the canal at Newbridge on 8/10), adult and juvenile Grey Heron were late-summer visitors in small numbers to the racecourse, where Coot numbers fell from eight on 29/10 to four by the year’s end.  Wintering Little Grebe numbers are down (two or three at most have been seen along the canal), but Dunstall Park has produced the valley’s first Water Rail for some years, first seen on 23/11, and 2016 was a bumper year at the racecourse for Green Sandpiper. The first reports of this migrant wader came in mid-July, and birds were reported in every month from then until the end of the year, with the last ones recorded two on 11/11 and one on 9/12.  Snipe began returning to the lake in mid-September, with numbers peaking at 32 on 28/10 and tailing off to less than 10 at the end of December.  At least 200 Canada Geese were foraging on the racecourse on 24/12, accompanied by 19 Greylag (numbers of this feral species are increasing markedly across the region), and other records from the same site included two Lapwing on 11/12.  Racecourse gull totals peaked in September, with 128 Lesser Black-backed Gull seen on 5/9 and around 300 Black-headed Gull reported on 21/9.  Dunstall Park passage records included two juvenile Wheatear, a Yellow Wagtail and a Sand Martin all on 5/9 and a Spotted Flycatcher on 6/9.  Reports of flocks foraging on the central grass area included nine Mistle Thrush on 28/9, at least 200 Starling on 9/9, eighteen Stock Dove on 7/9 and 19 Magpie on 23/11.  Other racecourse reports included two Raven flying together high towards the north east, followed minutes later by a third, on 19/12, four Fieldfare in boundary trees on 18/12 and at least five Bullfinch in the north western corner of the site on 2/12.

Winter raptor records along the Smestow Valley have been intermittent, but at least one Common Buzzard has been frequenting the northern end, with birds seen perched at Newbridge and in the grounds of the former Valley Park School.  Sparrowhawk have been less obvious, but males and females have been seen hunting in recent weeks at Aldersley, Newbridge and at the racecourse.  A female Kingfisher was visiting the Smestow brook between Tettenhall Road and Hordern Road in December, Great Spotted Woodpecker have been active (brief drumming was heard at Newbridge in late November), a Tawny Owl called in the early hours at Newbridge on 30/12, and a Grey Wagtail was by the Smestow brook near Aldersley stadium on 12/12 (possibly the same bird has been visiting the open brook culvert at the racecourse lake).  Mixed flocks of foraging passerines have been few, but two Goldcrest were with titmice by the old railway south of Hordern  Road on 3/12, and a Nuthatch called in Newbridge wood throughout December.  Two Treecreeper were by the old railway below Tettenhall Road on 10/12, and at least 10 Long-tailed Tit moved through Newbridge wood on 10/12.  Ten Redwing flew over Newbridge playingfield on 8/12 and subdued Song Thrush notes were heard at Newbridge in December.  Seven Goldfinch were at Dunstall Park on 18/12, and the only wintering finches recorded were a flock of 20 Redpoll in silver birches near Compton lock on 10/12, and last but not least at least two Rose-ringed Parakeet were seen between Compton and Aldersley throughout December

Monday, 2 January 2017

December review

Little to report in the way of unusual sightings in the last month, but still plenty of interesting behaviour. Dunstall park has done better but I will leave that to Angus.
The parakeets have been scarce during the year but December saw daily sightings between the meccano and the water bridge. There had been a couple of reports of 4 and a pair have been exploring nest holes.  This is not unusual as they nest anytime between January and June.  Also investigating their nests have been the rooks where 10 birds have been seen on 3 occasions in the rookery, more surprisingly the adjacent pair of crows have also been visiting their old nest and even passing nest sticks.
Raven are the earliest nesting of the corvids and it would not surprise me if the birds that breed just into staffordshire are regularly visiting their nests already but the rooks will be driven away by the cold and not return properly for a few weeks whilst the crows don't normally set up until march.
Collared doves are another early nester and they are already actively courting.
Birdsong increased during the month, at the beginning mistle thrush, from the middle song thrush and at the end wren and great tit; whilst robins sang throughout the month.
Most intriguing behaviour was a pair of goldcrest mutually preening. Normally when you see a goldcrest they flit around and quickly disappear but these two remained extremely close together and seemed to be picking at each other. the male constantly displayed his orange crest (as opposed to the yellow of the female).
On the canal little grebe were scarce with few sightings (maybe due to disturbance/tree cutting), although the cold days either end of the month saw 3 birds present. Finally the juvenile moorhens seem to have heralded the new year by acquiring red bills, although one presumably a late hatching only has yellow so far.
All the best for the new year from the local crew.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

More signs of winter

Having previously bemoaned the lack of flocks November has produced a change.
Most notable have been the 40ish goldfinches around the wetland (which continues to deteriorate).
Don't think there were any other finch species involved although have seen a single redpoll at newbridge wharf.
Bullfinches usually stay in small groups so 9 at Compton lock was good. 10plus long tailed tit were at the same location.
A loose mixed flock seems to frequent the metal bridge area and includes nuthatch and great spotted woodpecker as well as the common tit species. 
Winter thrushes are more in evidence with decent numbers of redwing especially at the south end.  " fieldfare were at aldersley junction and a few at castlecroft.  The expected Scandinavian blackbirds have supplemented the local population although I was surprised to see 2 males fighting.
Jackdaws are flighting to their winter roosts with 100plus in a single flock heading for the racecourse.

Individual sightings have included several of kingfishers.  So far we have only managed to confirm males but it is possible we could have up to 4 winterers.  Two sightings yesterday at wightwick lock (closed for major repair until 9th December) and the recently privatised wightwick fields were assumed to be the same bird.  A bird was at Oxley last weekend.  2 were seen within minutes either side of tettenhall road one on canal and the presumed other (based on colouration) on the smestow.
With regular sightings around the prefab weir and others north of the water bridge and a normal lateral territory of a mile to a mile and a half I think 4 is a fair guess.

Grey wagtails follow a very similar pattern of sightings but are more variable and I would suggest we have 4/5 wintering in the valley.
We only seem to have 1 wintering little grebe at the moment favouring the area just below Compton lock, a juvenile seen in October seems to have moved on.
Star bird of the month so far was a woodcock which flew languidly from the canal sdrub onto the racecourse in the vicinity if the feeding station.
Curiosity of last month was what I think was a king quail, an Australian species.  Readily available to buy on the internet it was at a puddle by the old tettenhall bridge and not in the least spooked by my presence.  It was seen the day after the barleyfield was mown which could mirror sightings I had of grey partridge in unusual spots adjacent to recently mowed hay fields.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

signs of winter

Our reader will have noticed no mention of autumn, the reason being very little to report. The midlands as a whole has had a comparatively poor autumn migration season and the valley has as far as we know failed to attract any scarce migrants.
Specifically we have had no mixed flocks of any size which can attract rarities to join them. Also absent have been the normally regular passage and local pied wagtails, perhaps just too much disturbance on their favoured short cut grass.
In contrast much evidence of badger activity with new setts appearing and a welcome  water vole sighting yesterday.
So the signs of winter: redwings appeared in small numbers at the beginning of the month although they appear to have moved on; robins have established winter territories and are everywhere suggesting a population supplemented by Scandinavian birds; blackbirds will follow the same pattern though given the success of the breeding season will be less obvious.
The only other songster, besides robins, is the wren and a lone great tit at the station which has been singing on and off since end of August. Jays also have an increased presence (8 in a day) again difficult to differentiate between immigration and breeding success.
Finally an immature male sparrowhawk at the wetland and 4 overflying cormorant this weekend.

Friday, 2 September 2016

last days of summer.......

Overall disappointing end to the month with little evidence of passage birds.
The parakeet has been heard more often and a male kingfisher (all dark bill) was watched fishing successfully north if the water bridge raising the question of the gender of the bird at the prefabs,.
last Thursday's gloom produced my only sighting of a large mixed flock made up of at least 40 birds.  Unfortunately the light was so  poor and they moved so quickly that I could only pick out goldcrest and the commoner tit species.
Friday was better with a group of blackcap in the hanging gardens along with willow warbler and both common and lesser whitethroat.  Another willow was with a couple of blackcap at the wetland.
Then it went downhill with nothing to report/
1st of September was almost an exact repeat of last Friday at the hanging gardens but presumably they were different birds. A treecreeper was seen at the metal bridge, my first for a couple of months but they will have been there and hopefully raised young.  It seemed to be with a very loose mixed flock which included nuthatch in bright weather.  Was the tightness of last weeks flock due to the gloom??
Finally having reported the seeming departure of the bigger groups of goldfinches I am now seeing the odd little group of 3/4 but they are all juveniles-could they be from 2nd broods?

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Subtle changes

More to report this week with a good range of birds and a noticeable change in behaviour.
2 kingfisher sightings yesterday at prefab weir and today reported by a regular dog walker by the meccano.  Could be a bird establishing a winter territory.
A calling parakeet from the paddock continues the recent run.
Blackbirds foraging on ripening berries rather than on the ground is a portent of autumn.
A singing chiffy at t6he wetland yesterday was very hesitant and seemed to be a juvenile whereas todays bird was more confident but unseen.  Which raises an interesting question about autumn singers. Also a silent willow warbler yesterday and a calling bird today. And a garden warbler at the hanging gardens (NW barleyfield today).
Biggest surprise today was a flock of 9 cormorant flying south.
Mondays bird of the day was a high flying duck over the paddock which initially puzzled me.  I got as far as that's not a mallard and is it a goosander before getting the bins on it-a rather uniform pale buff elongated slim bird with set back wings-but needed a look at the books to realise it was a pintail.
Other species encountered in the last 2 days have been green woodpecker, collared dove, and a (mega) house sparrow where we saw an adult and juvenile last year.
Finally flocking behaviour with 2 family parties of bullfinch temporarily giving a flock of 9 but goldfinch and mistle thrush seemingly joining larger flocks elsewhere.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Well into August

Had been waiting for something to happen before doing a post and maybe with stormy weather this weekend it will, but so far it has been a quiet month.
Star bird was a juvenile cuckoo which made a brief visit to the wetland last Saturday.
Otherwise pretty thin pickings, an adult lesser whitethroat at the wetland on 1st, the odd willow warbler, and passing swifts.  Our swift had left by the end of July but passage birds were apparent for the first 10 days of Aug, with best count of 20 on 3rd. (also a flock of 11 at i54 last sunday must surely have passed thru the valley.
As far as breeding is concerned sir Geoffrey has confirmed the third moorhen brood at the wetland, though they are very hard to see and 2nd brood of great crested grebe at pool hall.  Recently fledged
birds indicate 2nd broods of blackbird, song thrush, chiffchaff (5 birds feeding on last years bulrushes at wetland) robin and dunnock.
Calling kestrel and raven at castlecroft bridge raise hopes of breeding.
Only one parakeet sighting high over paddock coming from ridge and a similar report.
Southern and migrant hawker dragonflies.

Saturday, 13 August 2016


Newbridge,  13th August 2016

 

Thanks to the ants

its a falcon feast . .

 

Summer’s got that slightly past-it feel now, long-grass browning and the pink of willow herb fringing roads and tracks.  Evenings are shorter, sunsets are earlier, and resident and migrant birds have all but finished breeding.  Many avian visitors to the UK are already on their way back to southern Europe and Africa, and some are stopping off in the Smestow Valley to rest and feed.  So, time to report on what’s happening now, and on what have been a relatively quiet couple of months for local wildlife.

 

Highlight so far this month has been the appearance of three Hobbys high over Dunstall Park and the Farndale housing estate, seen from Crowther Road, Newbridge, in the early afternoon of Friday 5th.  A large flock of gulls, mostly Black-headed, had been noted minutes earlier, circling against the cloud base on a close and oppressively warm day, almost certainly feeding on clouds of flying ants, huge numbers of which had been leaving their nests since mid-morning.  Hobbys appear annually but irregularly over the valley in the summer months, but this was the only the second time three had been seen together (three were over Aldersley on 9/8/2001).  For several minutes they swooped and dived among the gulls, picking insects from the air and eating them on the wing before moving further away as the airstream carried the ants eastwards, and eventually disappearing  The earliest local record for these beautiful migratory falcons has been April 20th and the latest October 3rd.  House Martins nesting on the Farndale were for decades mid-summer targets for Hobbys feeding nestlings at breeding sites in South Staffordshire and elsewhere, but this agile and fast-flying raptor has been all but absent from the valley in 2016.

 

Wader migration is well under way, and on August 5th and 12th four Green Sandpiper were noted on the shoreline of Dunstall Park lake, equalling the site maxima recorded on 21/8/2010.  There have been a handful of winter sightings for this species locally in the last 30 years, but most birds are seen on mid-summer/autumn passage at the racecourse, with reports in 2010 stretching from June 28th to September 9th.

Other summer reports from Dunstall Park include two Cormorant moving south westwards on 11/6, two Sand Martin on 26/6, a male Reed Bunting singing by the lake on 11/6, two male and a female Tufted Duck on the lake on 17/6 and a flock of 42 Lapwing on grass near the lake on 24/7.  An early female Teal was on the lake island on 15/7, and 20-plus Goldfinch were by the lake on 5/8.  Gull numbers have increased dramatically since the beginning of this month, with no less 248 Lesser Black-backed Gull resting and preening on the central grass area on 12/8.  The large percentage of juveniles in this total reflects the growing number of gulls now breeding in the Birmingham/Wolverhampton conurbation.  A juvenile Yellow-legged Gull in the flock was one of several of this species seen recently at regional roost sites such as Belvide reservoir near Brewood.  An unusual feature of early summer came in the shape of regular visits to the lake by two pairs of Greylag, evidence of an increasing number of this goose species at lakes and reservoirs across the West Midlands.  A sign of a good breeding year for thrushes came with the appearance of 32 Mistle Thrush at Dunstall Park on 11/8.

 

It’s been a mixed breeding story this summer at the racecourse, but Little Grebe have taken advantage of increased shoreline vegetation at the lake, with two pairs producing at least four youngsters, one of which is now adult-sized and diving for its own food.  Coot too have had a good year with at least three pairs raising young (a fox was seen catching a non-breeding adult on 31/5), but a Mute Swan pair first seen nest-building in late winter at the lake have lost seven of the eight cygnets which hatched in late-May (the adults are very likely the pair which lost all five of their cygnets last year at the lake).  Canada Goose breeding attempts failed for the second year running, with all nests on the lake island robbed of their eggs.  At the other end of the site at least four pairs of Swallow nested in the stables and second broods have now fledged successfully.  Three House Martin pairs nesting under the eaves of the nearby hotel have produced fledged young, a pair of Pied Wagtail have again bred in the same area, with three juveniles seen foraging along drainage ditches by the grandstand on 11/6, and juveniles were among at least 30 Starling making daily visits to the lake island daily in late May and early June.

 

Elsewhere along the valley at least one pair of Grey Wagtail have nested, a singing Goldcrest was heard by Newbridge playingfield through May and into June, and Tawny Owl calls came from Newbridge wood over the same period.  Also at Newbridge two pairs of Swift nested (adults and youngsters had departed by the end of July), House Martins were faithful to what is now a traditional nest site under house eaves near Tettenhall Road, and a Treecreeper was in a mixed bird flock moving through gardens next to the playingfield on 28/6.  The Rose-ringed Parakeet trail has gone cold, despite the fact a pair was seen checking potential nest holes in a Smestow Valley wood in late April.  The only recent report has been of a bird flying low along Henwood Road towards Compton on 27/6.  Raptor records have been intermittent, but a Buzzard was seen carrying prey low over Wightwick fields on 18/6.

 

Missing bird makes up the numbers

 

As reported in a previous post, our May morning local bird blitz produced 64 species, falling just short of the Smestow Valley record of 66 seen in 24 hours.  Well, we were even closer than that, since some careless counter had in some way managed to exclude Blackbird from the total.  Apologies all round, it’s just that I can’t read my own writing.  We were close, but no cigar . . .

Monday, 25 July 2016

More breeding news

Species already reviewed
Swift seem to be departing but a reasonable year
Whitethroat finally a juvenile at top of barley field and at the difficult to access lupin field
Kingfisher a dark bird at aldersley junction probably worn adult rather than youngster
Goldfinch a good year throughout the valley

Species not previously reviewed
Buzzard 2 juveniles at both wightwick fields and Tettenhall ridge, distinguished by their pristine plumage as compared to the increasingly worn adults
Sparrowhawk juvenile at Compton
Chaffinch 2 juveniles in hanging gardens
Song thrush an excellent year and finally stopped singing
Blackbird again a very productive year
Blue and great tits both done OK but more so the former, yet to find juv coal tit but several family parties of long tails.

Negative on kestrels which had hoped would breed at wightwick

Saturday, 16 July 2016

london busses-more thoughts on breeding season

Yeah I know nothing for weeks and then 2 posts in 2 days.
Truth is I forgot to mention the bird of the year on the barleyfield.
Reed warbler;  A singing bird took up residence at the wetland for 8 days in early july (and could still be there sil;ently). Lord angus had reported 4 from dunstall in june so it could have been one of these.
Bullfinch; several juveniles this morning
Coot; 2 adults and 5 juvs by waterbridge.  Presumably bred on dunstall.

An early morning visit today produced a surprise when a bird flew up from the ground in the main paddock flashing an orange tail.  despite searching I could not relocate it so it will have to go down as redstart sp(ecies).  Interesting though after sir Geoffreys's black redstart last year july and mine this year at pool hall (see ydays post), some consolation was a spotted flycatcher.

Apparently absent as breeders this year are willow and garden warblers and last years mega house sparrow.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Breeding season review

Time for some early thoughts on this years nesting season in the valley.  The mild winter had induced some species to nest early but I suspect they were caught out by the cold spring.  Some species will still be rearing young or sitting on eggs but the majority have now completed their breeding cycle and young have fledged and dispersed from the natal area.  Thus we are starting to see records of birds moving into or through the area.
Moorhen;  Badly affected by the canal dredging work and only a few young raised of which 3 at MS centre is the seemingly the only success on a stretch of canal which might have 6 nests.  The exception is the new wetland where the first brood of 2 are now fully grown and helping to raise the second brood of 4.  There is every chance of a third brood something I haven't seen since 2009 at the water bridge immediately before the harsh winter that year almost wiped out the local population of this sedentary species.
House Martin; Good numbers nesting around local streets and feeding over the barleyfield with food passing noted at beginning of July,
Swallow; nesting at north and south of valley.
Swift; numbers seem to be on a par with recent years.
Kingfisher: Occasional sightings but no evidence of  repeat of breeding of 2 years ago
Grey Wagtail;  2 juveniles regularly at wetland suggest local breeding around Compton as does 3 birds by spill weir in the week.
Green Woodpecker; juvenile on canal towpath opposite tennis club today.
Nuthatch; juvenile in station paddock last weekend
Goldfinch;  family party of 7 on bfield
Chiichaff; many juveniles and 2/3 still singing
Blackcap; one still singing and birds suddenly more obvious but may have bred elsewhere, whereas 2 weeks ago several still singing and a family party in main paddock.
Whitethroat; bit of a puzzle this year, did well at turner's field 4 singing birds and 2 family parties but apparently absent from the bfield in May but 3 singing birds into July.
Jay; family party of 4 on bfield

Gulls have returned now with 80+ black headed this morning. Only 1 juvenile but have had 3. wonder where they bred.  Also juvenile lesser black back which presumably bred in town.

Other birds passing through this week on bfield were meadow pipit, reed bunting and lesser whitethroat.

Down at pool hall the great crested grebes which have raised 2 young seem to be sitting again, a common tern adult visits regularly (surely too far to have come from belvide although I saw it flying in from that direction) and a surprising black redstart last sunday which could not be relocated.

Finally a stunning red kite (untagged) on 1st june on perton golf  course (back of 14th green) so keep eyes open,

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

end of may review

I have been back for over a week but still wish I was in the wilds of assynt and the far north west.
First reaction when I headed into the paddocks was to be overwhelmed by the greenery. More surprisingly I was taken aback by the amount of birdsong, by far the loudest of the year. When I caught up with Geoff he had noted the same dramatic but short lived cacophony.  We speculated as it was the third week of may perhaps the late april/early may cold snap had caused many nests to fail and the noise reflected a resurgence of interest in breeding.
Blackbirds were the dominant species closely followed by song thrush also 11 chiffchaff singing.
the amount of song has settled down now but still plenty of blackcap, song thrush and a resurgence of dunnock.  The lack of any passerine young birds would seem to support the theory.
There is also a contrast between the ornithological desert formerly known as the barleyfield and the rest of the valley although the lupin field is also disappointing.
This is most notable for whitethroats which are quite numerous in the surrounding area and 4/5 were singing on turners and sand fields-see map, also a willow warbler sang there repeatedly-all on Saturday.
A treecreeper was a nice find at the metal bridge on sunday where a kingfisher has been occasional. A female grey wagtail fed on the tow path at the spill weirs yesterday and flew off low towards Compton lock and in the paddocks a fully independent juvenile blackbird showed that some early breeding succeeded and a little ringed plover flew fast overhead towards the wetland but was not relocated.

Friday, 20 May 2016


Newbridge,  20th May  2016

 

Morning’s bird blitz

so near to the record

 

Ian had forsaken us for a fortnight in God’ Country (it starts at Gretna) so it was down to Geoff, Gareth and myself to see just how many bird species we could tot up in or over the valley on a weekend morning in May.  The record number seen or heard locally in 24 hours stands at 66, achieved some years ago by Gareth and his dad Kevin.  But they were up at dawn and considered it over only when the fat Tawny Owl hooted, so we didn’t expect to top their total (us ancient birders do need our rest).

So, the Saturday before last (May 7th) yet-to-be-ancient Gareth went straight from a night shift to cover Pool Hall, Wightwick fields and Turner’s fields, Geoff took in the mid-section centred on the Compton barleyfield, and yours truly trudged northwards from Newbridge, taking in Aldersley, Oxley and Dunstall Park.  Migration had slowed (the north end of the valley continues to be quiet for the second spring running) high pressure weather didn’t help, but comparing notes over a welcome Cupcake coffee at Newbridge station around mid-day we were more than pleased with the result.  Sixty four species, a total which would have been bettered had we seen among others Rose-ringed Parakeet, Little Owl, Garden Warble and Bearded Vulture.

As it was, we managed to list Kingfisher, the first Spotted Flycatchers for the year (single passage birds by the barleyfield and Wightwick fields), Great Crested Grebe feeding youngsters at Pool Hall, singing Skylark, nesting Barn Swallow, House Martin and Mute Swan, and a singing Sedge Warbler. Among other species seen were Bullfinch, Lapwing, Linnet, Herring Gull, Grey Wagtail, Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Swift, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Rook, Raven, Jay, Collared Dove, Stock Dove, Mistle Thrush, Coot, Tufted Duck, Greylag, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel. A male Pheasant called from a rough grass field just north of Windmill Lane, and Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer were seen and heard near Castlecroft canal bridge.

All in all, not bad for patch that at its furthest point is less than four miles from the centre of Wolverhampton.  At a time when monoculture agriculture is degrading large tracts of the British countryside in terms of wildlife variety it’s refreshing to see a relatively small mixed-habitat linear park on the edge of one of Britain’s largest conurbations produce such an extensive list of bird species.  Here’s to the Smestow Valley!