Sunday, 17 February 2013

Saturday 16/2/2013 Dry, light frost foggy start, clearing around 10:30, then clear and sunny. 
Calm – light SW

 Compton, Castlecroft, Pool Hall, Perton Mill Farm, Trescott, Freehold Wood, Sling Wood, Great Moor, Staffordshire Way to Seisdon via Furnace Grange, Church Lane, Trysull, The Grotto, Awbridge, Bratch Locks, Staffs & Worcs Canal to Aldersley Junction, Barleyfield and Compton Park.

A target based on probability, produced what seemed like a low aim of 45 species for this trip. I had used the same method for my last trip North of the valley and that had produced a target of 55, which I missed by one. So I kept faith with the system and set off before dawn, in order to arrive at Pool Hall for first full light, and make the most of the day.

Song Thrush, Robin, Blackbird and Wren were all singing along the Compton Road, and some Carrion Crows were on Compton Park. 4 more Song Thrushes were in voice at Compton Hill Road, Compton Railway Bridge, Boots Field and the start of the Bridgnorth Road. Mallard and Jackdaw could just about be made out in the darkness at the Dell. The fog made viewing of the Corvid Roost difficult, so I continued and was lucky to catch a Male Tawny Owl (8) calling at pine Tree Hill, before heading off over Smestow School Fields.

An 8th Song Thrush was also singing by Wightwick Mill Lock, where my first Woodpigeon of the day was seen. The first visible Moorhen (10) was below the lock. Further Song Thrushes were vocal at Wightwick lock, 2, West of Wightwick Road Bridge, at Windmill Lane and on Wightwick Fields, making 13 in all on the reserve South of Compton Road.

Two Dunnock were singing by the canal at Windmill Lane, and the first Magpie (12) was also there. A Yellowhammer (13), was in the hedge half-way along Wightwick Fields. On my trip North, I had recorded 32 species on the morning, before leaving the Valley, so all of the sudden the 45 species target felt more of a challenge!!!

I arrived at Castlecroft Bridge at 7am. Grey Wagtail, Great Tit and Pheasant (16) were noted just South of the bridge. A Song Thrush was in voice at the Willow Coppice near Mopps Bridge. 7 Yellowhammers, left roost from the hedgerow at the South end of Pool Hall Lane, causing 2 Redwing (17) to lift with them.

At Pool Hall, 13 Canada Geese were on the flooded field by the dam. A male and 2 female Reed Bunting were in the bushes on the near bank by the dam. Two Chaffinch and a Pied Wagtail (21) passed overhead. A great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in the copse beyond the canal.

A male Reed Bunting on a foggy morning by the dam at Pool Hall,
which was accompanied by 2 females

On the main Pool, 15 Coot were splashing around, and I was pleased to find a Drake Pochard and two Drake and one female Tufted Duck, through the mist. I was now on 25 species and feeling back on track.
A Song Thrush and a Fieldfare (26) lifted from the central path between the Pools and my first Blue Tit of the morning was nearby. I checked the wood at the South end for Treecreeper or Goldcrest which were regular there in the 90’s, to no avail, so I returned after noting two adult Mute Swans (28). The first few Gulls arrived so I was able to tick off Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed (30), before leaving the Pool.

A lone male Pochard on Pool Hall

Hybrid Geese at Pool Hall - these two have been around over the last few years and have been the
source of the many valley reports for "Snow Geese"

2 Buzzard (31) were worming in the hall gardens and 4 fieldfare, a Pied wagtail and a Pheasant were noted by the brook near Perton mill Farm. 15 Starling (32) were seen heading South-West from roost and at the sewage works an impressive flock of c50 Chaffinches flew in from the South. Unfortunately they were too distant and had dropped low, so I was unable to check for any Brambling amongst them.

A Grey Wagtail, 10+ Crows and 30+ Jackdaw were at the sewage Works, a Grey Heron (33) rose off the Brook and 50+ Black-headed Gulls and a male Pheasant were around a flooded area of the field. Unfortunately there was no sign of any Tree Sparrows, which I had seen in this area last year.

I got to the Ford at 08:20 and was well happy that I now needed to find only 12 more species during the rest of the day to reach my target. Things got off to a good start, when a small colony of House Sparrows and a singing Mistle Thrush (35) were at at the houses on the Bridgnorth Road.

Then a bird which, when I last used to watch this area in the 90’s would have been took for granted, but on this visit, by no means had been taken as a certainty. I had just started on the track North towards Freehold Wood, when 11 Lapwing (36), lifted from the field to the North. With Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting already under the belt, I was developing a strong feeling that this area of farmland was much richer in bird life than that which I encountered North of the valley a few weeks ago.

Freehold Wood had game feeders and it was no surprise that 4 cock Pheasant were noted immediately on the eastern fringe. Then another bonus bird, away from the Valley: a Green woodpecker (37) laughed briefly, whilst a Song Thrush sang and a Great Spotted woodpecker drummed nearby.

On to Great Moor Ridge and Sling wood, and this area definitely felt like a hot-spot for passage migrants, with Redstart and Flycatchers in the mind. A Buzzard was in a low tree on the ridge, with another drumming Woodpecker nearby. Along the path, 3 Nuthatch (38) were seen together in an oak and my first Long-tailed Tit and Goldfinch of the day were by the stile leading to the fishing pool at Great Moor. I had now hit 40 species and it had only just turned 9am!!!

The path between Great Moor ridge and Sling Wood, just North of Freehold Wood

Back to Trescott on the Staffordshire Way, where 6 Collared Doves (41) were present along with 2 singing Chaffinches, c10 House Sparrows and rather worryingly, my first 2 Greenfinches (42) of the day. These birds, really seem to have crashed, locally over the last few years.

Across the Bridgnorth Road and back onto the Staffordshire Way, where my first Badger activity outside the valley was noted along with a Mistle Thrush. I bumped into the farmer, and after a ten-minute chat, I began to understand why this area felt so rich for wildlife. This guy shared details of Barn Owl nest projects, Skylark set aside, his son’s feeding station and a recent sighting of two “English Partridge” and 40 Lapwing near the farm. As he spoke, my first Linnet (43) passed overhead and I left him energised with hope that here was a man with power over the land that actually cared for his birds and knew Angus Dickie!!!

It wasn’t long before I had a beautiful sign as to just how good the land management and farming methods were. I left Furnace Grange and in the field immediately South an incredible (by today’s standards) 13 Skylark (44) rose and circled the field together, before settling again, after 2 or 3 had a quick singing practice. To add to this my first Meadow Pipit (45) lifted and called. What a fitting way to reach my target, celebrated through the efforts of such a caring land-owner.

All of the sudden, I realised that I was in with a shot of beating the 55 species that I recorded, on my trip North of the valley. I avoided an analysis of my predicted list in the fear that I might miss something whilst buried in my papers. However, my head started picking out a string of birds which I had missed so far: little Grebe, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Jay (Dohh!!), Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Bullfinch…..maybe, just maybe??

On the way into Seisdon, I noted 3 Starling and 2 Fieldfare in the Horse Paddocks, and registered this as my second potential migrant hot-spot!! The rolling fields and fences felt like areas of Kingswood near Cannock, or Berry Hill Fields in Stoke, where Wheatear and Whinchat were regular, and it also felt like a good patch for Ring Ouzel and Hoopoe….sorry I just started dreaming again!!!

I could hear the strange sound of traffic and at the Elms in Seisdon, 4 Bullfinch (46) flew across the narrow path, with 2 Goldfinch tinkling nearby. In the village, 6+ Jackdaw, a Pied Wagtail, 2+ Greenfinch and 10+ House Sparrow were noted, and then it was on to Church Lane, where I was hoping to encounter Red-legged partridge and Kestrel around the ridge. I was sorely disappointed. In the late 90’s the paddocks and fields held good numbers of Partridge, but after extensive searching, none could be found. Only a Buzzard was worthy of note.

Good numbers of Corvids could be seen across Seisdon Road, but they were too distant to be able to tell what they were for sure. At Trysull 2 Rooks (47), were seen on wires as I entered Church Lane. A Song Thrush was singing near the brook and as I headed across the field to Bell Road, I could see 4 Skylark to the North, and as I watched them I could see that there was a considerable Corvid gathering around a stubble field at The Grotto. I climbed the bank for a view over the open area and was pleased to see about 150 Corvids, comprised roughly of 40% Rook, 40% Crows and 20% Jackdaw, with 6 Skylark circling the field together. 2 Stock Dove (48) also passed over.

Part of the Corvid flock The Grotto near Trysull

C5 Long-tailed Tits were at Awbridge and 2 Grey Heron were seen by a pool opposite the Cricket Club. A mistle Thrush passed over the canal. A search for Little Owl on some Pollarded trees just South of the Cricket Club was fruitless, so I turned round and started the journey home. It was 12:30 and I was ahead of schedule, so I was planning to have another shot at locating the Tree Sparrow near Trescott. At Awbridge canal bridge a Song Thrush was singing, a Buzzard was mewing overhead and 2 more Skylark were over fields beyond the farm. Then, another bonus bird – the hard to find Treecreeper (49). I had regularly seen these birds in the Alders along the canal here, but that was many years ago, so to find one in the same place by the moorings was pleasing to say the least. I watched the bird for 10 minutes or so and took a few shots of it. I noticed a feeding station nearby, so while I had the camera out I took a pic’ of a Goldfinch feeding there. This allowed me to stay long enough to see a beautiful male Reed Bunting in full breeding plumage lift from below the feeders and cross the canal.

Goldfinch on one of the many canal mooring feeding stations
- this one  just North of Awbridge.

Treecreeper - on the same Alders by the canal at Awbridge Farm,
where I used to watch them in the 90's

A Skylark was singing near Ebstree Lock and 3 Goldfinch passed over. Then on to Dimmingsdale Lock, a stronghold for Willow Tit in the past. The outflow from the angling pool had been upgraded which meant the loss of a lot of scrub, and a good scouring of the rough and wet woodland to the East of the lock produced nothing. I was rewarded for my efforts with a singing Goldcrest by the Severn Trent Water Station, my first and species number 50 for the day. With two birds of prey and Little Grebe left to add, it looked possible to beat my last trips total.

100+ Woodpigeon were in the field by the Ebstree Road Bridge, and I reached Pool Hall at 1:20pm and was greeted by a Siskin (51), calling as it circled the birches at the South End.

The same birds were present on the Pools, so I moved on to retrace my steps to the sewage works at Trescot in search of Tree Sparrows. As I headed out from Mopps farm over 175 Winter thrushes, most of which were Fieldfare headed North overhead in the direction of wightwight Fields. Were they early departing birds or was it a local feeding flock?? 10 stock Dove also passed over North-east.

Back to the Sewage works where 2 Kingfisher (52) were on the brook with 100+ Starling, a Yellowhammer, 75+ Black-headed Gulls and a male Pheasant nearby. Whilst counting the Gulls, I suddenly heard Lapwing and realised that c50 had lifted off the field at the Southwest end. This presumably contained the birds I had seen this morning and represented the flock reported by the farmer at Furnace Grange. It was such a good sight, even though it failed to match the 150+ I used to see around Pool Hall in late Winter during the early noughties. A singing Pied Wagtail was on a fence-post near a traditional nest-site, by the brook.

I then decided to go and locate the finch flock just East of Mops Farm Bridge. As I headed out to the area where up to 150 Linnet had been earlier in the Winter, I suddenly became aware of a stout undulating bird heading towards me…. Little Owl (53). It landed awkwardly on a lower bow of an oak, right by me and as I tried to get my camera out, it dropped out of the tree and headed low along the line of the hedge and could not be relocated. Although I had heard calling birds in this area last year, to see one at such close quarters was such a treat and a definite contender for bird of the day.

So there I was, home and dry!! I added my Feral Pigeon from up my sleeve and had now matched the 54 species seen on my last trip!!!

I came across c30 chaffinch in the area where the finch flock had been, but I headed further round the field for better viewing of the area. 10+ Long-tailed Tit and my second Treecreeper, were in an Oak Tree, but there was no sign of more finches.

I headed back to Mopps Bridge and decided to check along Pool Hall Lane. Immediately I could see a Flock of thrushes, starlings and Finches in front of me and birds were passing from the field to the right of the lane to the trees lining it and also across the canal to a sheep field. After watching the flock for some time, I was able to conclude that 200+ Fieldfare, 30+ Redwing, 200+ Starling, c25 Chaffinch, c50 Linnet and 2+ Reed Bunting were present. A male Yellowhammer was seen in the oak at the South end of Wightwick Fields as I approached Castlecroft Bridge and a Collared Dove flew over the canal near the clubhouse.

I decided not to return to Compton via the railway walk. I weighed up that although I had less chance of seeing Jay, the canal would increase visibility and the chances of seeing Kestrel and perhaps the unexpected. It also allowed me more chance to look for Little Grebe as I was aware that numbers may have fallen heavily due to the change in weather.

Surprisingly I had my third Treecreeper of the day, when one was seen in the lone alder by Wightwick Fields just South of the road bridge among 8 Long-tailed Tits.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from Peasley Wood and a Nuthatch flew West over the canal from Pine Tree Hill.

A second singing Goldcrest was at the canalside by the allotments at Compton, but there were no Little Grebe around. 3:30pm and I was at Prefab Weir, watching a soaring Buzzard. Amazingly my fourth Treecreeper was in Alders by the damp wood South of Meccano bridge, in the company of 4+ Blue tit and 2 Great tit. This was the second sighting this month in this area and hopefully it bodes well for the breeding season.

I was still after my Little Grebe and with none at Meccano Bridge I began to think that the milder weather had dispersed the entire local population.

A calling Coal Tit (55) was a lucky find for this time of day, seen in trees by the caravan park at Newbridge. A Nuthatch called at Crowther Road Playing fields and nearby a group of Magpies and Crows started a rowdy show, possibly in response to an Owl or Sparrowhawk. I waited to try and see what was causing the commotion, and suddenly 2 Jays (56) joined in the racket….Yes, my bogey bird from the last trip!! I couldn’t find the source of the chaos and a Buzzard over Dunstall Water bridge seemed too far from the scene to be involved.

7 moorhen were together at the water bridge underlining just how they enjoy the shelter and prosper in our valley. A single Rook was at the Dunstall Park nest site and 2 Bullfinches were quietly singing at each other, nearby.

No Little grebe!!! Dohh!! Better head back to the Barleyfield for Raptors!!
I had got just North of Hordern Road, when there was a splash near the footpath and shortly after a virtually full Summer-plumaged Little Grebe (57) surfaced near the far bank. How could I have missed it?

Little Grebe - Emblem of Smestow Valley- most leave the canals before attaining this level of breeding plumage,
so it was a colourful addition to the days list

10+ long-tailed tits were at Horden Road and I looked among them almost expecting to find a Treecreeper….. not this time!! A great spotted woodpecker called from Crowther Road Playing Fields, and then a more Winter-plumaged Little Grebe was by the barges at Newbridge Wharf.

The day’s birding had been way beyond my expectations: no scarcities or rarities, and all species had been on my probability list but it was just a rock-solid farmland experience, and at no point during the day, had the word sterile entered my head. Perhaps the morning fog, had extended the period of activity for the birds, but whatever, it was there was no real lull in the birding.

To finish the day -  back to the Barleyfield, to enjoy a dusk-watch, having already beaten my target for both trips!!

When I arrived, I was put off a little as the “2013 Compton, One Woman and her dogs competition” appeared to be well under way and the only additions to my bird list seemed likely to be those knocked out by flying rings and frisby’s…..Dohh.

I made my way to the top of the field. 4 Song Thrushes were vocal and a Great spotted woodpecker was calling to the south. Surprisingly 100+ Starling passed high over Northeast. Presumably these were part of the Pool Hall Lane flock, heading to a roost in the City.

Shortly after, a massive stroke of luck. The male Kestrel (58) headed Northeast over the barleyfield towards Newbridge on the same roost flight as has been seen since late summer. 4 Redwing flew in to roost on the western border and then 75 Jackdaw headed NNE over, confirming that roosts have locally altered over the last two years. Strange how birds headed from the south, don’t roost at Peasley wood. Then another familiar sight: a female Sparrowhawk (59) flew low across the field and into the crossings. A further 65 Jackdaw headed NNE at 5:50pm, making it a record dusk roost number for this site, signalling home time.

As I crossed Compton Park, I reflected on a superb days birding, and I felt warm at the thought that there still remains a diverse pool of birds at the Southern end of the Smestow Valley green corridor. Long may it continue. The Valley itself had also produced 39 species, highlighting, as it did on my last trip just how special the reserve is. 59 species overall and all this in a month, which is generally one of the quietest of the year!!!

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