Friday, 29 March 2013

Waxwings - 29th March 2013

Living in Hambrook Close, Dunstall Park, for over 25 years we have had a Rowan tree in our front garden in the hope of one day having Waxwings, but the Starlings and thrushes have always eaten the berries long before they even get close. However, imagine my surprise when I looked out of the kitchen window today and five Waxwings were perched in the bushes in the back garden feeding on rose hips instead! They flew to a neighbour's tree to perch for a few minutes before return to feed a couple of times. After about ten minutes at 12.45pm they headed off towards Dunstall Park.

BlackBerry image just about showing two birds.

Five Waxwings perched in neighbour's tree viewed from my kitchen window.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

wed  27 March 2013           mid afternoon  16:00  -  17:00

                          The Paddocks & Barleyfield           

Still searching for the elusive migrants. A quick walk round produced nothing of note,perhaps its a blessing the chiffchaffs and blackcaps have not made it yet. A post on the devon bird forum ( where there's no snow ) shows there struggling to to find insects even in the slightly better conditions down there.

River Exe and Canal at Countess Weir

 A qiuck walk along the toepath towards the DWT Sludge Beds reserve lunch time produced large numbers of Chiffchaffs right along the banks of both river and canal searching for insects. A couple of Sand Martins struggling to find any fly life along the canal. The one in the photo landed on a branch quite close to me it looked very weak, cold, wet, and hungry. Earlier an Angler had netted out a Sandmartin which had landed in the canal. The bird later died. Needs to warm up soon!! Insect feeders are struggling.

Monday, 25 March 2013

First Wader For New Wetland!!

Sunday 24th March 2011

Compton Park Wetlands: 18:15 to 18:50 freezing conditions after heavy snow, stiff Easterlies.

I was on my way to Compton for a quick shopping trip, cutting through the valley for peace and scenery on the way.

As I marched along the bank by the fenced off new wetlands area alongside the birch coppice, I noticed a small, quite streamlined, short-billed,stiff-winged bird heading straight towards me from the main pool.

As it approched the head pattern became clear, as did the lack of any white in its wing - Little Ringed Plover!!!!!

The bird eventually took notice of my prescence and circled back over the waterlogged ground just East of the wetland, travelling over the tennis courts, before settling, to my surprise on the bank behind me. It was obviously attracted to the muddy ground that had been stirred up by walkers.

I turned and slowly advanced towards where the bird was picking, and was amazed to be able to get to within 20 feet of it before it started to scurry off. This brought back fond memories of my days exploring the old open-cast mining mounds at Norton Canes when I was young. The only difference was the snow!!!!

This is a Summer visitor to Britain, and what a shock it must have had when it hit our shores!!!!

I watched the bird till dusk as it moved frequently between the bank, the puddles and the pool itself. A most intimate and prolonged encounter with an enchanting little wader. Thanks for this has to go to The Wildlife Trust - it was their well produced objections and proposals, with the support of local enthusiasts that brought the wetland to our valley. Given the weather conditions, this little migrant was no doubt very tired and hungry. Areas such as has been created at Compton Park provide vital stop-off points for our long-distance travelling troop of birds.

The fact that this new addition to our local habitats lies adjacent to the line of the valley, offers opportunities to see other exciting wetland birds, as they use the corridor to navigate, albeit that they will have so much more disturbance, once the security fencing is removed. Still, an early morning or late evening encounter with such species, while they refuel is still much much better than nothing!!!!

P.S: I visited at 05:50 this morning to try and get pictures, but to my disappointment, the Plover had already moved on. Also there is a link on the blog to the representation made by the Wildlife Trust, in response to the proposed development of Compton Park in 2011.


Well Angus there was actually a Chiffchaff within sight of barleyfield at 11am today.  It flew low over the canal and very much hugged the ground and sayed silent.  Well would you sing from the top of a tree in this weather.
Otherwise very little to report.
11 Greenfinches at Newbridge wharf was my best count in the valley for a while on 19th Mar.
c40 Redwings were flying around over rececourse on 22nd.
The little group of Siskin around the Smestow at back of double pennant have remained all month.
Otherwise only a Skylark over the Water Bridge on the 17th.

I had been avidly watching Toads being very active in my garden pond (Newbridge) at the beginning of the month counting up to 29 individuals engaging in mating and producing toad spawn.  The book said hatch in a week! Dont think so I now have masses of frozen spawn wonder whether it is in suspended animation which would seem plausible given they are amphibians.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The birds Went Two By Two!!!!

Thursday 21st March 2013

Mid-afternoon: quick stroll across Compton Park, and to Compton Village and back:

Cormorant: 2 South over the Railway Walk at Compton village.
Stock Dove: 2 flew up off the Compton Park Wetlands site.
Pied Wagtail: It looks like our regular pair are back and the 2 of them were feeding around the pools of standing water just East of the Compton Park Wetlands site.
Redwing: 2 at Compton Park by the housing development (last year there were dozens of Fieldfare and over 100 Redwing around Compton Park!!)
Mistle Thrush: a pair were feeding with the Redwings.

Buzzard: ....... no, not two, but the one that was hovering on the stiff Easterlies over a traditional nest site, raised hopes that "number 2" might be appearing soon!!!
Thursday 21st March
Dry, light frost, sunny periods, moderate easterlies, daytime temp 4C

Skywatch from North end of Barleyfield 06:00- 07:00 then
Mid-section of reserve - Compton to Newbridge including Barleyfield and Compton Park

Canada Goose 6 West and 1 NE
Black-headed Gull 15 SW
Lesser Black-backed Gull 14 SW
Meadow Pipit 2 N
Starling 160 SW (largest group of 90, peaked at 06:20)
Chaffinch 5 E

Mid-section highlights:
Buzzard - one flew into the college ground trees on the ridge from the South early
Sparrowhawk - usually the best time to watch birds of prey is later on in the day, when the air is warmer. However, this morning I was treated to 3 birds displaying high overhead from 6:10am!! The poor light conditions and varying heights of the birds made it hard to be sure of their sex, (i felt that it was 2 females and a male) but they took turns in performing displays involving undulating, rapid climbs and closed wing dives.
Gulls: 26 Black-headed Gulls, 3 adult and a 1st Winter Lesser Black-backed Gull and 2 adult Herring Gulls were on the playing field by the Wolves Academy.
Green Woodpecker - one was calling early from the Eastern Border and then a female spent over half an hour in an Alder at the North East corner of the Barleyfield.
Grey Wagtail- it appears we now have a settled pair, and they were noted again today around and over the Compton Park wetland site.
Goldcrest- these beautiful little birds are becoming more obvious and its so good to see them after such a harsh Winter. One was near Compton Lock.
Magpie - the Compton Park Winter roost is still forming and 25 late risers were noted around Compton Park.
Carrion Crow - Its amazing how the corvids on Henwood ridge, appear to vary daily. Some days you see just Jackdaws. This morning c15 Carrion Crows were flying around the ridge above the college.
Starlings - 2 birds were singing at their Newbridge breeding stronghold. The modern DIY culture and plastic soffets and fascia boards, fitted to properties offer no nesting opportunities, but it seems that there are still enough older properties around the village, to allow you to see these birds throughout the Spring and Summer on the roofs and t.v. aerials across the canal.
Siskin - 2 went South over Meccano Bridge, and a rowdy individual was calling as it circled over Newbridge canal bridges and houses later.

Mallard: 18 male and 4 female
Moorhen: 7
Dunnock: 10 singing: Graisley Culvert, Compton "Rough" (3), Prefab Weir, South of Meccano Bridge (2), The Academy, The Paddocks (2)
Song Thrush: singing bird numbers well down on last month: 1 at the annex of the Barleyfield and one in the Paddock.
Great Tit: 4 pairs: Compton Lock, Station Paddock, the main Paddock and Graisley Culvert
Long-tailed Tit: a good showing this morning: Graisley Culvert (2), the Barleyfield Crossings (2), Compton "Rough" (3), Meccano Bridge (4), Newbridge (2).

Total: 32 species

Friday, 22 March 2013

FRIDAY 22nd MARCH 2013
Newbridge, Smestow Valley

What a wally!  Migrants muddle is all mine  . . . 

 Oh dear!  I often don't, as my friends and family gently remind me, know what day it is.  Now, it seems, I'm not even aware of what year it is.  One thing's for certain, I didn't pay enough attention when reading Chris' last posting.   His references to warblers arriving at the Compton barleyfield involved records for March 2012, and not for this year.  He showed how last weekend's dearth of birds at the site was in stark contrast to the number of migrants recorded there on the same date 12 months earlier.  Chiffchaffs and other long-distance travellers have been held up in 2013 by adverse weather, and  looking out now at snow falling across the playingfield I doubt if few, if any, have reached us yet.  So, apologies to Chris for my error, and solidarity with the tiny birds battling their way towards us.  Heads down, and keep on flying . . .

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Dunstall Park

Cold, dull, damp, light SE wind, 10.30 to 11.45am.

Flick, flick, flick, it's gone, gone, gone

Well, the first migrants are in, cf. Chris' warbler posting yesterday for the Compton barleyfield.  I couldn't locate any on the same morning at the northern end of the valley (trees along the old railway track from Newbridge to Aldersley are always a good bet), but maybe some joy today at Dunstall Park, despite a return to cold, grey weather.  Still bitter out on the middle of the racecourse, no gulls or corvids on the central grass, so hunch the shoulders and head for the lake.  On the way, check for migrants along the service track and drainage ditches, but nothing,  just a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls lifting off from a floodlight pylon and two adult Black-headed Gulls circling and leaving towards the city.  The honking of Canada Geese tells me they're already contesting nest areas around the lake and on the island, and sure enough, pairs are running at each other, necks forward, while others are content to graze or sit quietly on the water.  It seems the Mute Swan pair are still happy after a stay of some weeks,  Teal numbers are down to three adults and a female, two male Mallard chase a female across the top of the grass bank, and the Gadwall pair preen and rest on the base of the island, still here after a stay of over two months.  A closer check reveals that another pair of this attractive species (the male's plumage of black, subtle greys and soft browns puts him up with best of the breeding ducks) are feeding along the northern shoreline.  After a few minutes they move out on to the middle of the lake, and are immediately attacked by the "resident" male, the three birds circling the site before landing, the aggressor joining his mate and the two pairs then keeping a wary distance from each other.  This species was first known to breed in the West Midlands in 1970 at Belvide reservoir near Brewood, birds have nested there annually since the mid-1980s, and although they're still a scarce nester regionally, that site isn't too far away.  There's now much more cover for them at Dunstall Park lake, so who knows . . ? 
Enough of this, back to reality, a brief glimpse of a Little Grebe, now nearly in full summer plumage, keeping close to the vegetation, four immature Coot grazing on the banks (that's their place in the pecking order, it seems, the adults now nest-building, aggro levels lessening), a male Moorhen fussing along the shore (a pair are already sitting on a nest, snugly set on top of a lopped tree stump just out into the canal on the western edge of the racecourse),  a male House Sparrow calling from lakeside vegetation (one of a breeding population from the nearby Farndale housing estate), and four Snipe, motionless and beautifully camouflaged on the island, their numbers falling as winter ends.  That's it, time to go, the warmth of the hotel reception area beckons, so turn to leave, a last look, and suddenly a small light-brown shape flicks its way low across the water, stiff  bowed wings angled downwards, shallow beats, and the briefest of glimpses as it disappears below the eye line, no doubt about it, my first Common Sandpiper for the year, straightaway doing what its species does so well, and that's vanishing.  Look along the immediate shoreline and the concrete overflow apron, no sign, check the open culvert for the Smestow brook, there's no trace of it here, so walk round the lake once more, nothing, the bird has simply disappeared.  Hard to say whether this was a wintering bird (if it was, the first seasonal record for the valley), or a passage individual.  Certainly it's early for a regional migration record, and would be the earliest sighting for passage along the valley (one was at the lake from 2/4 to 6/4/2000).  Birds usually begin to pass through around the middle of April, and have been seen annually since the racecourse lake was created in the early 1990s.  Prior to that, irregular sightings were restricted to the canals or Smestow brook.  (This bird didn't call, but had it done so, I would have had no excuse if I hadn't recognised it.  Its sharp, thin, fluting notes led to its old Lancashire nickname  Dickie-di-dee.    Honestly).   
One way or the other, it's a good record which warmed the day, and another sign that things are at last beginning to move.  Had an e-mail from a friend in central France on Saturday with pictures of an Osprey catching fish in the Loire.  They're coming!  In a few weeks time, we'd best be checking every big brown gull . . .
NB  Dunstall Park is a restricted commmercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Monday 18th March 2013.
Clear, cold, heavy frost, light Easterlies.
Skywatch: North end of Barleyfield 06:00-07:00

Canada Goose: 6 SW
Goosander: female low South over Meccano Bridge at 07:00
Black-headed Gull - 17 SW
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 7 South
Woodpigeon - 40+ in ones and twos heading East
Meadow Pipit - 4 North

Other sightings:
Sparrowhawk - female low West over Barleyfield.
Grey Wagtail - one Sw ex Compton Park Wetlands.
Nuthatch - one calling from Compton Road.
Siskin - 2 over Eddys Alders early on possibly the same two heading out North from there later
Goldfinch - 9 over Eddys Alders.

On this day 2012 - mid-section:
day time temperatures were starting to rise from 11C to 16C by 19th March.

A Tawny Owl was calling from the junction of Compton Road and Richmond Road - sadly the Compton Park Housing Development has put an end to such encounters here.

2 Chiffchaff were singing and 3+ Blackcaps were also around. This year the cold weather has held up migration, with very few migrants in the Country still.

7 Redpoll flew over Meccano Bridge. Numbers exceeded 30 last Spring. This year none have been recorded during late Winter.

25 Siskin were at Eddys Alders.

Sunday 17th March 2013
Dry, sunny, calm light SW
Dusk watch: 18:00 - 19:00 Top of Barleyfield 

The high number of Starlings counted this morning prompted me to do a dusk watch to see if they were local birds travelling to and from feeding sites. However not a single bird was seen during the watch.

Mallard - 5 SW and 10+ into Compton Park wetland to roost.
Grey Heron - 1 SW over valley.
Lesser Black-backed Gulls - 23 in V formation NW.
Jackdaw - 100 South and 13 North

Other sightings:
Woodpigeon - 50+ on Compton Park
Goldfinch and Greenfinch singing by new housing development
Grey Wagtail - 1 North from Graisley culvert.
Green Woodpecker - calling Eastern Border.
Song Thrush -birds singing till dark at top of Barleyfield, the Crossings and Meccano Bridge.
Bullfinch - 4+ at the Barleyfield Crossings.

Sunday 17th March 2013
Cold, dry, partial high cloud, clearing, light frost, light Southerlies
Skywatch from North end of Barleyfield 06:00- 07:00 then
Mid-section of reserve - Compton to Newbridge including Barleyfield and Compton Park

Canada Goose - 3 SW and 1 NE
Black-headed Gull - 13 SW
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 24 SW
Grey Wagtail - 1 high SE
Redwing - 5 East
Starling - 297 SW ( largest group of 130) peaked at 06:30
Chaffinch - 6 East

Patch Highlights:
Little Grebe - Summer plumaged pair still below Compton Lock and another lone individual just North of Prefab Weir.
Black-headed Gull - 55 on the upper pitches by Meccano Bridge - an exceptional count for this time of year as most birds have usually left for their breeding grounds by now.
Sparrowhawk - male West over Prefabs.
Green Woodpecker - birds calling from Henwood Road and the Barleyfield Annex.
Great Spotted woodpecker - Excellent showing with one chattering at the South end of the Paddock. Later a pair were seen in the lower Alders, whilst one called from the crossings. The two flew into Compton Park, where they were seen in a tree disputing with another bird that left towards S. Peters. Reasonable to assume that there are at least 4 birds in the area, possibly holding 3 territories.
Grey Wagtail -Pair at Compton Lock, raising hopes of local breeding.
Redwing - 1 East off the Barleyfield Crossings and 10+ at Compton Park - a significant count this year and no Fieldfare around or migrating over at all.
Goldcrest - 1 singing by Compton Lock and 1 at Meccano Bridge.
Long-tailed Tit - sparse with just 3 noted at the top of the Barleyfield.
Nuthatch - one calling in traditional spot between the Tennis Club and the Academy.
Jay - 1st mid-section bird of the year making a repeated heron like call in the middle of the Paddocks.
Linnet - one over the Paddock.
Bullfinch - singing males at the Tennis Club and top of The Barleyfield.
Finch Flock - Lower Alders holding 20+ Chaffinch, 5+ Goldfinch and 2+ Siskin.

Mallard - 17 male and 7 female
Moorhen - 12
Song Thrush - 5 (4 singing at Barleyfield Annex, South of Meccano Bridge, Newbridge and the Eastern border of Barleyfield)
Great Tit - 7 pairs

Total: 35 species.

Saturday 16th March 2013
Heavy overnight rain ceased at 07:00 and started again at 09:00
Mid-section of reserve - Compton to Newbridge including Barleyfield and Compton Park

Little Grebe- Summer plumaged pair still below Compton Lock.
Black-headed Gull - these are usually gone by now but there was still 27 on Compton Park and 4 SW over the Barleyfield.
Green Woodpecker - 1 was calling from Compton Park early and one lifted from the North end of the Barleyfield later, heading towards Compton Park.
Great Spotted Woodpecker - a pair were feeding together in a canal side tree at the SW corner of the academy.
Grey Wagtail - a female was at Compton Lock and 2 flew East from Graisley Culvert later.
Redwing - 3 on Compton Park
Goldcrest - 2 chasing each other at Meccano Bridge and 1 singing at The Academy canal side.
Coal Tit - 1+ in canal side trees at the NW end of the Academy.
Long-tailed Tit - pairs at Prefab weir, Meccano Bridge and the Tennis Club.
Treecreeper - once again seen in the alders just North of Meccano Bridge
Carrion Crow - pair nest building just North of Meccano Bridge.
Siskin - male singing in canal side fir tree at SW corner of The Academy and 2 over the Paddocks later.
Bullfinch - 5+ at The Barleyfield Crossings.

Mallard -19 male and 5 female.
Moorhen - 10
Dunnock - 14 (4 singing)
Song Thrush - 4 singing - The Annex, The Crossings, The academy, Newbridge.
Great Tit - 4 pairs

Total 33 species

Saturday, 16 March 2013

catch up from early feb

Havent been able to post for a while so this is just brief highlights of last six weeks which havent already been posted.
2 Raven over Newbridge 9th Feb and calling bird same place on 19th
Kingfisher and Great Tit imitating Marsh Tit at Wightwick Mill Lock on 11th Feb (note this is exactly where I saw my last Marsh Tit in the valley
Peregrine over Oxley bank on 18th Feb
also 4 Jays together at Aldersley
5+ Siskin on 20th Feb where old railway goes over Smestow near Hordern Rd and then regular sightings well into March of presumably the same group in the same vicinity. (on 23rd at Aldersley junction 5 more may have been different)
Also on 20th feb 5 Goldcrest in the Hawthorn wood to Aldersley junction
And then we went into a sterile period as the cold returned and only today have noted increased activity including Rooks at Water Bridge copse.

Friday, 15 March 2013


Pool Hall to Newbridge, canal and Smestow brook via Wightwick and Compton.

Bright, cold, calm, dry, overnight frost, 10.30 - 13.00.

Blue sky, white birds, brown earth . . . 

The freezing wind has died, the sun is up and despite that deathly high-pressure calm there's a
chance something might just stir, after days of  bitter grey weather.  We're halfway through March, the month of movement, and migration has started.  Although our long-distance visitors are still at least a week away, resident birds are already singing, pairing up and defending nesting territories all along the valley and in the open countryside beyond.  The bridleway by Pool Hall is alternately dry-rutted and slushly as the sun penetrates the low canalside hedge.  Out on the dam lake a narrow ice-free tongue of water supports a pair of Great Crested Grebe preening and resting, close to their diminutive toy cousin, a fluffy summer-plumaged Little Grebe, bobbing close to the shore.  A pair of Tufted Duck float quietly, even the 14 or so Coot seem indolent, waiting for the thaw, too close together for the moment to be their aggressive selves.  A male Reed Bunting sings from a canalside hedge south of the lakes, and along the towpath from Mopps Farm Bridge the sound of Skylarks trickles from a bright sky.  A flock of c.30 Linnet swirl from a canalside tree, their thin notes contrasting with a male Yellowhammmer singing from the rough margins of root-crop fields now stripped by sheep.  The animals have gone, but the ground between the canal and the Smestow brook is black-dotted with hundreds of Jackdaw, Rook and Crow,  probing the soil that for weeks has been ice-bound and barred to them.  Suddenly they rise, raucous, a large brown shape glides in and scatters them, wing-tips raised, and settles, standing awkwardly, shuffling and turning.  The Buzzard is not in its element, the corvids seem to know this, closing in, there's danger, hop in and back, not too close, don't let it settle, and minutes later the interloper has had enough, rises and flaps lazily away, a black crowd escorting it.  The foragers have done the business and return to feeding.
High above them the sun lights up the underwing patterns of circling raptors, at first two, then three, then six, their mewing calls clear across the southern end of the valley, the birds funnelling upwards, drifting apart then coming together, floating in the late-morning thermals above Castlecroft and Radford Lane, each flight a statement of intent or union.  This is the March "meet" of the Smestow Valley resident Buzzards and of their neighbours, this time eventually nine, possibly more, birds taking advantage of a clear and calm day to re-establish their positions in the local raptor hierarchy.  Established pairs defend their territories as other birds try to establish new ones, mature adults resisting the challenge of younger interlopers, some of which will have been born locally.  Fifteen or so minutes later and they're starting to drift away, the resident pairs descending to circle over their nest areas, talon-dangling or display-flying in extravagent roller-coaster plunges, the others angling away towards the city or South Staffordshire.  Twenty years ago the sight of a Buzzard over the Smestow Valley was worth a phone call.  Now you can close your eyes and be in Wales as they perform above you.  This beautiful bird is the most commonly reported raptor locally.  How wonderful is that!!
Onwards towards Wightwick, and a pause for breath on Castlecroft canal bridge.  There's a flurry of movement beyond Pool Hall lane, birds rising just above the hedge line, then falling from sight.  This undulating wave is a flock of around 100 Black-headed Gulls, twisting and turning as they follow a tractor ploughing a long field just beyond the track, a traditional rural scene now enacted on the fringe of the city, the pristine white adult gulls fluttering, swirling, hovering and dipping, back-lit by the light as they drop on to the glistening folds of freshly-turned earth.  Then it's over, the gleaming blades lift and the machine grinds away down the lane, the birds settling for a final feed.  Surprisingly, at least six Buzzards fly away from the far edges of the field as the tractor departs.  Were they worm-hunting too?  Were they some of the birds performing above the area some 20 minutes previously? Who knows, but one thing's for sure.  It's lunchtime, and the the Great Bird Lull is nigh. 
Nothing much along the Smestow, just as quiet along the canal to Compton, and so to the barleyfield, where a group of school pupils are sitting by the old oak on the slopes of "sledge hill", on a birdwatching mission looking out towards Newbridge, Dunstall Park and, invisible today, Cannock Chase.  Their teacher tells me they've already seen a male Bullfinch, Woodpigeons, and other species, and we're in luck, for suddenly a male Sparrowhawk circles above us, joined by presumably its mate, and a couple of Stock Dove land on the barleyfield.  Dinner calls, so it's goodbye, and off down to the Meccano Bridge, to see a Mistle Thrush on the Compton Park playingfields, and two summer-plumaged Little Grebe on the canal.  Four Mallard fly in, a feet-first male landing slap bang on top of one of the grebes, which crash-dives to escape, emerging cautiously and closer to the bank.  Have these ducks no manners . . ?               





Sunday, 3 March 2013

Spring is in the (cold) air !!!

Saturday 2nd March 2013

Cold, but dry. High cloud, clearing. Light Northerlies
Mid - section - Compton to Newbridge, Barley field and Compton Park

I arrived on Compton Park, just after dawn, with the cold air, leading me to feel that not much would be about - too early to witness our Winter migrants leaving or any exciting Spring arrivals and the fact that my hands could already feel the cold gave little hope that any of the Wintering Blackcaps that Liz had seen at Newbridge, might be chuntering their weak practice song.

Still, it was dry and I have had little chance to enjoy the patch lately, with work commitments  so I was content to just take in the fresh morning air and unwind the cog, as so many visitors to the valley do.

18 Jackdaw flew into the park from the East, giving further confusion to the roosting habits of our corvids. Surely they should have come either from Peasley Wood or the North?

As I got to the new school construction site, I could hear a Canada Goose, but it was accompanied by a louder, more harsh and erratic call that breached the quiet of dawn. Sure enough a Greylag Goose came into view heading South-west over the park. A scattering of other Canada's followed, totalling 19, indicated that the Spring swelling in passing birds was due shortly.

As I allowed this thought, I became aware, as I got deeper into the park, that the air was in fact filled with Spring. We spend most of the year dropping our binoculars after looking at yet another Woodpigeon, and to me they remain the most obvious and potentially boring bird in the valley. Yet this was their time!!

As I got to the the Northern edge of the Barleyfield, whilst noting 30+ Magpies, leaving roost late, the air was filled with Woodpigeon song and display flights. Boring no more!!! This was accompanied by a chorus of Song Thrush and Robin, with occasional jazzy little bits added by Dunnock, Wren, and a distant Mistle Thrush. Who cares about the cold Northerlies!! - the place was bursting with Spring!!

By the time I got to Geoff's bench I had counted 6 Song Thrush in voice, as well as ticking off a pair of Bullfinch in the blackthorn, and a pair of Long-tailed Tits which indicated that the Winter feeding flocks were now disbanding to allow for romance and privacy among the valley's breeding birds.

At the top of the Barleyfield, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling, as were a few Redwing as they rose up from roost and headed off to their Staffordshire feeding grounds. Green Woodpeckers could be heard laughing at each other from Henwood Road and Compton Park. 3 Bullfinch and 5 Chaffinch also flew in.

A brief skywatch produced c35 Starling, 25 Black-headed Gulls and 6 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, again heading South along the valley to feeding grounds beyond Wightwick. Bird song compelled me to abandon the sky and start off on my regular route around the patch.

When I got to Compton Lock I was able to witness natures version of Eastenders. Above the lock I spotted A summer-plumaged Little Grebe. It was a valued addition to my March list, as I understand these Winter visitor's to our canal can often disappear early to breeding grounds. Then there were 2 more splashes, and 3 birds momentarily were right next to each other, by the Globe Buddleia - 2 Summer-plumaged and one still mainly in dowdy Winter colours. I have watched this area for over 2 years, but I was about to be treated to my first fit of flying and calling Grebes.

It became obvious that the two brightly coloured birds were an item and that the other bird, apparently a male was about to be punished for getting a little too close to "gooseberry" status!! A typical Moorhen like fight ensued with splashing water and a range of trilling and "pinking". Eventually the poor gate-crasher, took his marching orders and solemnly headed off North along the canal at pace, his plain plumage emphasizing  his mood.

At Meccano Bridge, I stopped to check the Alders for the Treecreeper, that has been regular here, but instead located a male and female Siskin quietly feeding in the tops. Another pair of Long-tailed Tits were also nearby and three Dunnock were flitting backward and forward across the canal, giving another Albert Square moment as the two males sang at each other, the female probably laughing, as she watched, knowing that she might be entertaining both males this season. Nature has allowed hen Dunnock's promiscuity in order to get more help raising their young. A Goldcrest started it's tinkling song nearby.

Under the bridge and a quick scan revealed a beautiful female Green Woodpecker, feeding on the bank bordering the playing fields. Although she was aware of me across the canal, it looked like she would allow me time to rummage for the camera.
Female Green Woodpecker, distinguished by the fact she has no flash of red on her cheeks  I haven't made my first million yet so please double click on the image so that you can view and then enlarge the image!!! 
As if by reward for finding the surprisingly well camouflaged Woodpecker, I was treated to a close view of a Kingfisher as it darted North along the canal. 2 more Siskin also flew South overhead and a couple of Coal Tits, were nearby, with one singing it's little heart out, as was a Chaffinch.

At the Tennis club, I found the singing Mistle Thrush, in it's usual spot, high in the poplars adjacent to the academy. These are early songsters and breeders, and this individual has been holding territory for months now. Another Goldcrest flitted across the canal into the station paddocks.

At Newbridge, I had a brief shout across the canal with Liz, who informed me she has only had one male Blackcap in her garden recently and it was last seen a few days ago. The small House Sparrow colony were picked up nearby, along with a pair of Goldfinch and a passing Siskin. A lone Summer-plumaged Little Grebe was successfully fishing between the canal bridges.

The paddocks were quiet, though the air was filled with the voice of Song Thrush. A Buzzard passed slowly overhead and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was softly drumming from Henwood Ridge.

We are so lucky to have so many of these Song Thrush in our valley. They are under threat nationally, so it's great that you can stand anywhere between Newbridge and Compton and be able to hear these talented songsters in early Spring.
Back to the barleyfield, where I enjoyed conversation with the local dog-walkers that included positive feedback about this blog and helpful bird reports (another Wintering male Blackcap in a garden near Smestow School). A female Sparrowhawk circled overhead.

I left the patch, warm from the richness of not only our feathered population, but also the enthusiasm and interest shown by our local community. There really is hope for the future of Wolverhamton's wildlife.

Census data:

Mallard - 14 male/ 7 female
Moorhen - 19
Dunnock - 14 with 9 singing
Song Thrush - 9 with 7 singing

Total : 35 species

Saturday, 2 March 2013


Dimmingsdale to Newbridge, via Pool Hall, Wightwick and Compton

Bright, high thin cloud, dry, cool, 10.15 to 12.5oam.

Why a wad of weed is just so wonderful

At last a break in the endless grey, so a walk along the southern end of the Smestow Valley to stretch limbs and reconnect with life.  All very quiet, but there's an air of expectation, still very much the end of winter but behind the silence a feeling that the earth is beginning to breathe once more, that the sap is starting to rise.  Part of the main lake at Pool Hall is still frozen, but a pair of Mute Swan are already in residence, standing close together in the shallows to preen, while Moorhen fuss aound the ice-free fringes.  There's more activity on the dam lake, a male Pochard diving to feed, a handsome chesnut/grey slab of a duck that's been here for some weeks, seven male and two female Tufted Duck floating in a loose raft, at least 16 Coot criss-crossing the water in their perpetual quest for confrontation, and nine Canada Geese honking and wing-flapping as they waddle along the top of the dam.  Half-hidden by waterside willows there's another shape, slipping smoothly out of sight, only a glimpse, but keep watching, and sure enough, one of Britain's most beautiful birds emerges from the depths.  It turns and waits, slim neck and sharp bill pointing back to the margins where its mate appears, swimming out from the shallows as if summoned, the Great Crested Grebes are back in all their summer-plumaged finery.  They are together now, a mirror-image, alternately head-shaking and neck-twisting, engaging in a ritual between breeding pairs now being performed on open waters all over the country.  Suddenly one dives, resurfacing with a wad of weed, approaching its partner and gently presenting the green offering to strengthen the bond between them.
These birds are simply stunning, slim, sleek, graceful and exotic to the point where you wonder if they're from another continent, head feathers fanning outwards in a mixture of black and orange-red, shading through yellow to pure white, their sharp, slender bill extending to dark eyes by a black band, their branding-iron fore crowns spikey, flat and black when displayed.  This is an in-your-face fashion-statement in feathers from a species once pushed to the brink of extinction by British women wanting "grebe fur" to trim their hats and clothes.  In the early 1880s there were fewer than 40 pairs left in the UK, but these wonderful "Satin" or Tippet" grebes, as they were known, had the last laugh.  Public revulsion at their persecution led to a group of women forming the Fur, Fin and Feather Folk, a wildlife protection body which from 1904 became known as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  The rest, as they say, is history (there are now very probably more than 10,000 birds present across Britain).  Grebes have nested at Pool Hall for years, but in 2012 were absent, as 18 months of drought had left the dam lake all but dry.  Now they're back, hopefully to stay . . .
It's onwards along the towpath towards Wightwick as Skylark sing high against the blue, 19 Stock Dove forage on fields between the Smestow brook and the canal, and a male Yellowhammer calls from a bush by Castlecroft bridge.  There's nothing along the brook, but a Buzzard flies from a garden tree overlooking Wightwick fields, rising to circle as the mid-morning air warms.  It's still quiet, high-pressure weather has this dampening effect, but Goldfinch tinkle and trill from the pines hill by Wightwick Mill canal lock, and mewing calls anounce two more Buzzards, a pair following each other along the treeline bordering the Wolverhampton Environment Centre, then turning to circle low over the sand-extraction fields before rising, in no time lost to view, high against the sun, a territory to announce and defend as the breeding season starts.  A male Sparrowhawk circles above the Compton allotments before cutting sharply down and disappearing into Bridgnorth Road gardens bordering the Smestow.  A male Bullfinch calls from the railway cutting north of Alpine Way, and from there it's up on to the Compton barleyfield, with views across to the city and northwards to Cannock Chase, a chance to check for raptors, prime time now as the clear air continues to warm and rise.  Sure enough, there's a dark-plumaged Buzzard low over Newbridge, and two more birds are circling high over Aldersley, drifting away towards Stockwell End, then floating back, taking the chance of a bright day to announce their presence as a nesting pair and to defend their territory.  Check for birds even higher, and yes, there's a Buzzard way above them, seeming to hang in the air before moving slowly away towards the east.  The stranger has gone, our birds drop down, one wing-angling and slanting fast towards Pendeford, the other . . . well, it's vanished, haven't a clue where to, it seems today's show is over.  Just a taster though, March is a Buzzard month, so it's all eyes on the skies.