Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Not so Common Sandpiper!!!

28/4/2013 - Dry, overcast, light SW

Compton to Birmingham Canal - Lock 19 area.

A late start on Saturday produced nothing of note other than 2 Greylag Geese that flew West to Meccano Bridge, then twisted, heading North along the canal, illustrating just how important a navigational tool the valley is!

An early start on Sunday showed all the signs of being quite again on my mid-section patch. The news of the Common Sandpiper in the week tempted me to take a rare trip North of Newbridge. After the Reeling Warbler nightmare at the top of the Barleyfield, I was armed with the camera.

On the way a Willow Warbler was singing at Eddy's Alders, with 3 Chiffchaff together nearby. A keen Blackbird was attempting to build a nest in one go, barely able to fly over the canal with the material it had collected!!

A Goldcrest was singing at Newbridge. A Chiffchaff was singing in Newbridge Wood and a Grey Wagtail flew over Hordern Road Bridge. A Blackcap was singing by the Wildside Activity Centre and a Grey Heron flew up from the North along the canal, landing nearby.

A pair of Bullfinch were by Dunstall Water Bridge and at least 2 Jays were squarking in Hawthorn Wood.
A Chiffchaff sang from the Racecourse Oak Coppice and a pair of Blackcap were also by the canal opposite there. Just North of the coppice 2 Willow Warbler were together with one singing.A Nuthatch called from the NW corner of the Dunstall Park along with singing Blackcap, Song Thrush and Chiffchaff.

At Aldersley junction, I made my way up to the Lupin Field before joining the Birmingham canal at Lock 19.
I was so glad that I had made this trip and my thanks certainly go to those who took time out to report the Sandpiper in the week. (Unfortunately, the Graisley Culvert description of an odd bird was too vague and inconclusive to be accepted, but please please blog readers, keep up those reports to the birders, because it helps us so much. Thank you!!)

First to the Lupin Field, noting 3 Bullfinch, and 2 male and a female Blackcap on the way. A male Common Whitethroat sang near the factory fence and a male Kestrel hunting over the field was most welcome, as our mid-section bird has long since vanished, so we dont get to see them. Then another beautiful encounter. As I was trying to locate a calling Pheasant, a pair of Reed Bunting, lifted off the ground heading down the bank towards the canal.

Male Reed Bunting near Lock 19 on Birmingham Canal
The female crossed over onto the Racecourse, but the confiding male stayed around and I left it calling from canal side bushes.

Then came the prize - a valley first for me. As I passed lock 19, I became aware of a flash of white bobbing on the mud on the opposite side of the canal - Common Sandpiper!!

Although these birds are seen annually at the racecourse (private land), I was surprised after flicking through the valley archives, just how irregular they have been away from that site. I have often seen Common Sandpiper on the canal by Pool Hall over the years, but there have only been 2 days since May 2001 up until December 2010, when the species has graced our canals and brooks. Funny enough on this same date in 2002, one was reported on the Birmingham canal and 2 were at Wightwick Mill. Then there were no records away from Dunstall Park until 20/4/2009 when a single bird was seen along the canal between Newbridge and Compton.

So was my Common Sandpiper the one that had been reported in the week?? Well the above statistics, together with the fact that there have been suspected long-stayers at the racecourse before (One that seemed to have remained from 25/4/2007 to 7/5/2007, for instance), means that in all likelihood it was.

So!! thank you again to those who reported the bird, because I wouldn't have made the trip otherwise, and I would have probably had to wait a few years for such an encounter!!!
Back to the patch! A Grey Heron (With a Crow waiting to pounce!)
by Newbridge old Canal Bridge on my return home.

Saturday, 27 April 2013


Dunstall Park

10.00 to 11.30, cold northerly wind, broken cloud, dry.

Keep your heads down, ducklings . .

Back to the northerlies, dead as a Dodo at Aldersley/Oxley and gloves-on time (again) at Dunstall Park.  A few foraging Crow on the central grass area, and at the lake three Barn Swallow hawking as a single Lapwing flip-flops over the island before disappearing.  Two Stock Dove drink from the margins, two Moorhen pick their way along the shoreline, a Pheasant calls from the oak copse near the Water Bridge, and a pair of Little Grebe swim through the spiked grass.  Suddenly, one of these engaging little birds shoots forward, pattering across the water and creating a bow wave as it slows, a diminutive power boat followed by its mate, both calling shrilly as they pursue another two of their kind in a territorial spat which eventually ends with each pair keeping a respectful distance on opposite sides of the lake.  To have one pair nesting (they last bred here 13 years ago) would be great.  To have two pairs breeding would be a first for the valley.  Let's hope there's room enough for all.  Our Mute Swan pair, feeding quietly close to the shore, have had things all their own way since they arrived early in the year, but today seems to be confrontation time all round, and within seconds of a third bird landing at the far end of the lake, they're powering their way through the water towards the newcomer, wings arched, white galleons at full sail and primed for action.  The dull-billed juvenile, aware of the oncoming threat, clambers up the grass bank to stand near the lake fence, preening as if unconcerned, but keeping a wary eye on the resident pair.  The stand-off lasts only for a few minutes, then one of the adults decides to settle the matter, climbs the bank and forces the youngster to take off, the sound of its wingbeats fading as it lifts, circles and finally flies heavily away towards the north west.  Our birds move back across the lake, wings still arched, still in control of their kingdom, and as one pushes the spiked grass aside there's an eruption of tiny bodies skittering across the surface, ten Mallard ducklings, moving from one bank of vegetation to the next, tiny clockwork toys shepherded by their mother.  They'll find food and shelter here, but there's danger too, suddenly four adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls come in over the water, one breaking off to swoop down towards the young ducks, the mother arching herself upwards to peck at the potential predator, which veers away to follow its companions as they head off towards their city nest areas.  A close shave, but it's been that kind of a day.  Good, therefore, to hear the gentle, descending notes of a Willow Warbler singing from canalside trees.  Close you eyes and it could be summer  . . .                
NB.  Dunstall Park is a restricted commecial site.  Access is strictly controlled.

Water Vole

On a rather quiet day bird wise the hilite was a water vole which swam across the canal andclimbed half out before spotting me and disappearing.  The sighting was halfway between Newbridge and the meccano and is the first I have seen in the valley since the major pollution leak from Barnhurst about 4 years ago.
In terms of birds a single Wheatear in the same area as last Saturday and a few warblers at Pool Hall.  also a thin passage of Swallows going north.
Best bird was a singing Tree Pipit on railway line 50 yrds north of castlecroft bridge again moving north, also reed bunting at wightwick lock.
Finally going back to last Tuesday (23) a singing Lesser Whitethroat 100 mtres south of newbridge on canal.

Friday, 26 April 2013


Aldersley/Oxley/Dunstall Park

10.00 to 12.30,  south westerly breeze, broken cloud, warm.

It's high fives for the floating foursome
A better day, bit of a breeze, warmer than of late, so a trip to the northern end of the valley to see what's about.  Later than I'd intended, but the towpath walk from Jones Road, under the railway arches and down the 21 locks is always worth a try, singing Goldfinch immediately obvious, and as the old smallholding fields come in from the right by lock 18, so four warbler species are heard, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and a single Willow Warbler singing, and what seems still to be the only Common Whitethroat to have arrived, calling from scrub and low bushes.  Apart from that, all pretty quiet, but below lock 20 a handsome male Reed Bunting sings from the edge of the rough grass fields near the canal junction, and a ragged-tailed Kestrel banks away over the railway towards Oxley golfcourse.  Standing on top of the grass bank by the railway carriageworks it's possible to see right down the valley, but despite the clear air and favourable wind, there's nothing obvious of note.  Give it five minutes, and, just as I'm about to head down towards the canal, a large familiar shape floats up from behind the carriageworks, broad wings angled into the wind, moving gently against the warm air, tail fanned, round head turning, a Common Buzzard, a bird that 20 years ago would have had me running to the nearest phone box to contact Frank Dickson.  How times have changed, for now this is the most frequently seen raptor locally, with at least three pairs nesting along the valley.  Within minutes there's a second bird, then another, and finally four are together above the grass slope, riding the upward draught, taking advantage of conditions which for the most part have been absent from this cold, dry spring. There's no real aggravation, there are no calls, the four holding station, almost hovering, until presumably the resident pair break off to descend and fly low over the railway viaducts, one bird perching briefly in embankment trees before both leave towards the golfcourse.  I check for the other two, they're gone too, the show is over.  If you want to see Buzzards well, I tell my relatives in Mid Wales, come to Wolverhampton (there was one yesterday low over New Cross hospital during afternoon visiting).    

Dunstall down just spot on for Starlings

Half an hour at Dunstall Park produces three Barn Swallows and eight House Martin hawking over the lake, six Greylag geese, the long-staying Gadwall pair, plus three Moorhen, a singing Reed Bunting, a pair of Little Grebe, four pairs of sitting Coot, the Mute Swan pair and three handsome Pied Wagtail.  Five adult Lesser Black-backed Gull wash and preen, and Canada Geese are sitting.  Three pairs of this noisy species have set up on the lake island, and House Sparrows and Starlings have been quick to take advantage of the goose down which covers the surroundings of the nests.  The opportunists fly back with beakfulls of the soft material to their own nests on the nearby Farndale housing estate.  Recycling and insulation all in one.  You know it makes sense . . .

NB.  Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.                 


Blackcaps Galore!!!

26/4/13 Dry clear, cool, light-mod Westerlies - dawn - 09:00

Mid-section: Compton to Newbridge including Barleyfield and Compton Park

The passing of a weak front before dark last night, raised expectations, but it turned out to be quite in terms of the number and variety of species present.

The only noticeable fall seemed to involve Blackcaps. 15 birds were recorded around the patch, including 2 females and 6 songsters. (A particularly talented individual, with long flowing, non-accelerating phrases was at the top of the Barleyfield, very similar to one that sang near Compton Lock last year!! Perhaps it was just that one of the few females around was right by him so he was just trying hard?!!! ). There were 6 males together on the Western Border between the Crossings and The Annex early on.

Other highlights:

Pheasant - still calling from the Eastern Border of the Barleyfield. A local had seen it in the Paddock yesterday.
Sparrowhawk - displaying over Compton Hill Wood.
Stock Dove - 2 South over the Western Border of the Barleyfield.
Green Woodpecker - calling beyond Prefab Weir.
Great Spotted Woodpecker - one drumming on the Eastern Border and another calling from the SW corner of the Barleyfield.
Swallow - 2 NW over the Paddocks.
Mistle Thrush - one singing from the Academy and one on the Barleyfield.
Whitethroat - 2 displaying males at the North end of the Barleyfield, one of which was attempting to court a less than impressed female in Hanging Gardens later.
Chiffchaff - 8 on the patch, with 6 singing.
Willow Warbler - one singing at the Barleyfield Annex early on with another in the oak there. One also singing later at eddy's Alders.
Goldcrest - a PB of 4 singing birds around the patch (P Weir, Meccano Bridge at same time as one at smestow Bridge and one in the middle Paddock immediately after. I have assumed that one singing near the crossings later was the Prefab weir bird?)
Nuthatch- calling at the academy.
Jay- one over the Barleyfield.
Greenfinch - one singing near the SW corner of the Barleyfield and two more singing just north of Compton lock.

Common Sandpiper Reports

Firstly, thank you to the two individuals that have reported a Common sandpiper in the valley yesterday -  25/4/13.

I understand that one was near the Prefab Weir, North of Compton Lock, and at 08:30 one alarm-called as it flew North past the Wildside Activity Centre, over the canal. A few minutes later, presumably the same bird headed South past Newbridge Wharf.

Also yesterday, I had meetings near Dudley Port, so I managed to nip into The sheepwash LNR. I was so glad that I did, as I had the pleasure to meet our "Midlands Birder", Craig Reed. 18 years old but definitely an old birding head on young shoulders and one to watch for the future, I'm sure.

He put me onto at least 8 wheatear on the mound to the east of the railway line, by the canal, including one that was showing characteristics of the "Greenland" race.

My list during the brief visit included 2 little Grebe, 2 great Crested Grebe, 2 Shoveler, 10+ Tufted Duck, Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, 2 Common Tern, Green Woodpecker, G S woodpecker, Grey wagtail, Pied Wagtail, 4+ singing Blackcap, 3+ Chiffchaff, 3 singing Willow Warbler, 4 Long-tailed Tit and 2 Reed Bunting. Not bad considering I hadnt got my bin's!!!

Thank you Craig for your hospitality. You remind me so much of my youth, diving around sites as you do. I used to walk to Belvide, Gailey and Chasewater on the same day. Make the most before life's commitments hit you young man!!!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Smestow Valley Advisory Group Meeting 23/4/13 18:30

It was fitting for me to have walked along the valley from Compton Park to the old Station at Newbridge, before this meeting commenced.

It was a glorious sunny and warm evening. Comma Butterflies were courting in the paddocks, and the liquid song of Blackcap's accompanied me pretty much all the way.

Was the tranquil feel of nature about to be broken by a cold meeting where yet again man (and woman!) tramples all over Mother Nature with selfish plans?

NO NO NO!!!!!!

The evening started with a bosting cuppa and a chat about Warblers with Ian from the Ranger Services. And it finished with news that a Peregrine had been spotted taking prey and heading off towards an area of the City Centre, and a caring enquiry from the same Community Council member as to where he might be able to take his son to see our star singing Willow Tit!!!

In between.... a birders heaven!!!!!

News of community projects like WREN that are creating information boards aimed specifically at birds and other wildlife. Another plan that will add native flowers to our canal towpath's.

A report from the Conservation Projects Manager and Nature Improvement Area Programme Manager, from The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country. This included news that the deculveting of Graisley Brook, could soon commence, following a water level survey, so that there is hope that Reed bunting may soon breed again around the Barleyfield!!!

News that we have an Environmental Awareness Officer, who will work with this blog and other community organisations to provide information to local residents and advertise who we are and what we do and to spread the word regarding the success of projects like the WREN canal improvement project.

So many comments from members of the local Community Council  and Tenant's and Residents Association, which showed strong sympathy for the valley's wildlife.

An agreement that from late Summer, detailed work-plans will be available on a quarterly basis so that I can explain the works and their benefits before a spade has been lifted.

Acknowledgement that the Conservation & Access Management Plan, can evolve as a result of future sharing and observations, but speaking for myself, it looks an amazing enhancer of bio-diversity in the valley as it stands.

An offer from the council to provide me with tools that I can include on this blog to encourage children to enjoy and learn more about nature in the valley and so to hopefully nurture our next Clement's family!!!!!!

Discussions relating to the future of the W.E.C (Wolverhampton Environment Centre), that acknowledged it's value to wildlife.

Wide support for the creation of "Belvide - like" work parties to help carry out projects to enhance the valley.

In short, we are just so lucky....... to have a Council that is meeting it's responsibilities for bio-diversity head on...............to have funds secured from the Nature Improvement Area to bring a management plan to life......and to have the local Community Council and Tenants and Residents Association, holding such a caring and passionate approach to their work and the flora and fauna of the valley.

It is so fitting that as the Smestow Valley Bird Group disbands, the fruits of it's tireless years of recording and lobbying, are now being reported.

These are exciting times, not just for the Valley and it's Wildlife. The Advisory group is also working immensely towards another of the key aims from the Management Plan's Vision Statement - FORGING PARTNERSHIPS.

I have come away from my first meeting, wanting so much to support those volunteer groups that exist in the valley and to use the voice of this blog to help make every venture, project or event of theirs a success. To this end I will be developing links from this blog through liaison with those individuals that kindly provided their contact details at the meeting.

Thank you to all who made me feel welcome. I am a bit rusty and appreciate the kindness and consideration whilst I settle in.

The next meeting is scheduled for 16th July 2013.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

the neglected north

A very different feel today (Sunday) to two days ago.
The rough ground to the North of the Birmingham canal held plenty of Blackcaps and Chiffchaff.
Between lock 19 and Tunstall water bridge had about 9 singing Blackcap + two females and maybe 8 Chiffies.  In contrast there was no sign of any Willow Warblers nor indeed any other Warblers.
Other species seen included a Mute Swan which took off from the canal and circled round to the racecourse pool which also had a calling Lapwing; A circling male Sparrowhawk which had crossed the course and another late Redwing by lock 19 and finally a flock of 10 Greylags flying south.

Dunstall Park

Strong north westerly wind, cold, broken cloud, 10am to 11.30am.

It's always worth waiting for the waders

All the action seemed to have been at the Compton barleyfield last week, so a visit to the racecourse on Thursday seemed to be in order.  A strong wind and bright sun meant  conditions weren't easy at the lake, but almost immediately a flash of white drew attention to a small dark bird that appeared to have landed on a patch of spiked vegetation near the shoreline. The lack of exposed margins will probably mean fewer wader sightings this year, but this one had chosen to come down during its migration journey, the site's second Green Sandpiper for 2013, its white undersides clear as it stood motionless on top of what would have been open water in recent years.  Five or so minutes later I heard it call as 13 adult and three immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew up, and despite a search of the shoreline, it was not seen again.  Soon afterwards a single Lapwing left the site and headed off in its rolling jerky way low towards Newbridge. It may have been checking out the lake for others of its kind, as at least one pair of the species has nested there for many years.  Three Snipe crouching motionless on the lee side of the island brought the wader total for the morning to three species.  The strengthening wind and glittering water made it difficult to pinpoint and stay with  two Barn Swallow and a couple of House Martin as they flicked back and fore over the surface, but close attention to one bird's erratic flight action revealed a light-bellied, brown-bibbed Sand Martin, almost certainly the first record for the valley this year.  Elsewhere on the lake at least four Coot pairs were building nests, the Gadwall pair upended in the shallows and  a Little Grebe appeared briefly among vegetation in which it and its mate are almost certainly nesting. Just one pair of Teal were still present, at least three pairs of Canada Geese were sitting, and a male Reed Bunting sang from the island.  Black tail feathers sticking up from two nests in the nearby oak copse suggested two pairs of Rook were sitting, and a check soon afterwards of rookery nests further along the site's north western edge showed another two were occupied.  A male Shoveler flew high across the site towards the city, two Nuthatches called from trees near the raceourse's north western corner, and song from a Blackcap and at least three Chiffchaff showed that good numbers of migrant warblers were now arriving along the valley.  A pair of Bullfinch were among other birds bringing the number of species seen during the visit to 34.  Things are getting better . . .    
NB.  Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.

Saturday, 20 April 2013


sat 20 April 2013                    mid section                        early morning

Warm and sunny after a cold and frosty start

I arrived at Meadow View at at 07:00 and found Chris just leaving the canal ( he's already walked the canal from Compton. Must have started out whilst I was still in bed.) We went south through the Paddocks,much quieter now,the small warbler fall has mostly dissipated. 2 willow warblers a chiffchaff and a blackcap sang in Station Paddock, a blackcap sang and a nuthatch flew east across the main Paddock. Another 2 singing blackcaps and a chiffchaff later and we were well into the Barleyfield, should always check the clump in the middle ( its not called Chat Clump for nothing ) WOW ! a chat like bird sits high on a exposed bramble branch, we need to get a little closer,could be a whinchat or a wheatear. It's a wheatear  a well marked male. The last one of these common upland birds to grace the Barleyfield was 19th April 2011 ( so its a year and 1 day late ). It stayed put for a while but as the area livened up it must have left, for as we checked later ( c 08:45 ) it had gone and we did'nt have it again. A whitethroat sang from the top of Barleyfield and later another sang and displayed to a female around the Shrike Bushes. Great spotted and green woodpeckers drummed and called, willow tit and bullfinch sang, a sparrowhawk, buzzrad, stock dove and 3 jay flew over Barleyfield and grey and pied wagtail were found around the new Wetland lake. Late home for breakfast ( i'm in trouble again ).

half a dozen wheatear

a walk into whitmore reans yesterday (Friday) from hordern rd to dunstall park produced 31 species.
3 nuthatches were calling and 2 great spots drumming. 3 willow warblers were singing but only 2 chiffies and 1 blackcap. even then the songs were brief and not repeating presumably indicating that birds are more intent on feeding and/or migrating.
today walked from newbridge down to pool hall and again the warbler song was disappointing with only two chiffies but 5 blackcaps and two willows.
castlecroft bridge had raven and pair yellowhammer with linnet a little further south.
a diversion down the public footpath towards bridgnorth rd where it crosses the smestow produced kingfisher and 6 wheatear in the sheep paddock.
pool hall itself had late redwing several willow warblers pair great crested grebe and 5 tufties.
stangely no hirundines and only one raptor a circling buzzard and noticeably few birds on the planted fields 1 skylark 2 lapwing

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Wood Warbler Remains

Thursday 18th April 2013
mid-section of reserve, From Compton to Newbridge including Barleyfield and Compton Park
Dull, overcast, drizzle from 07:45 Strong Southerlies

A fall brought 9+ Willow Warbler (incl 4+ singing), 3+ Chiffchaff and a Common Whitethroat, busily feeding low along the Smestow by the Paddocks.

A further two Common Whitethroats were alarm calling in the Graisley Culvert area and 2+ Willow Warbler were in Eddy's Alders.

a single Barn Swallow made it's way low over the top of the Barleyfield.

Blackcaps were singing at the Lower Alders, Compton hill Wood and in the main paddock.

a Siskin flew South over the Western border of the barleyfield.

The Nuthatch was vocal at the Tennis Club.

A Goldcrest was singing at the moorings above Compton Lock and a Coal Tit was calling nearby. (An ivy covered tree was down and had fell onto a barge. You can get round the obstacle until it's removed by cutting in a small arc onto the bank between the canal and Smestow Brook).

The male Pheasant was flushed from the Lower Alders, flying along the Eastern Border and into Compton Hill Wood.

The WOOD WARBLER, was again singing in the mature trees at the reserve entrance on Compton Hill Drive, with no improvement at all in it's song!!!

The Riddle of the "Reeler"

Tuesday 16/4/13
Mild, clearing after light overnight rain, moderate SW
Compton Park/Barleyfield 

An early start!! Dawn. The Magpie roost is now barely in double figures. As I count to 10, I hear a very welcome sound. A Tawny Owl is softly hooting, apparently settling to roost in a mature ivy covered tree. I really felt that we would have lost these birds from our section of the reserve following the housing development that evicted them from their traditional roost near the old crop testing field.

I make my way up the Barleyfield as the light continues to improve: my aim? to sky-watch  I haven't done one on strong South-westerlies in Spring, so wasn't sure what to expect.As I made my way I could here the male Pheasant, calling from the wood at Compton Hill Drive. A Chiffchaff was singing on the Eastern Border and 7 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were calling  and chasing each other from behind me at Compton Park

I positioned myself about 20 yards into the field from the top of the Barleyfield near the Western Border, so that I could look South. Notebook at the ready and...............nothing!!!! From 06:00 to 06:20 nothing...at all. Dilemma! Do the rounds or stick to the Barleyfield? The Pheasant kept calling, so I decided to go and track it down on the off-chance that it may have a partner.

I passed Geoff's bench (Angus - your right, it needs listing or some plaque or something special). Then all of the sudden I could here "reeling". Grasshopper Warbler!!! - my first in the valley!!! Then came a big problem!!! I walked east to get a view over the scrub from where the noise was coming from. As I did the "reeling" stopped and I saw a bird with short round stubby wings fly into a dog rose bush about 3 parts of the way up in full view. It was odd that the bird had actually flown towards me. I was now within 15 yards. I lifted my bins and next came a moment when my head started wrapping itself up in knots!!! I was looking at what appeared to be a muddy Reed Warbler with a distinctive area of white on it's chin and throat REELING!!!!

Now came the idiot in me. I failed to think outside the box! I was just stood there with my bins on it as it uttered 10-15 second long unmistakable bursts of reeling. It felt simpler lower and harder, without the high elements of a "gropper", but what was hitting me was that the bird had no scaling on its dark back and had the complete "jizz" of a Reed Warbler with a pale bib.It was approaching 06:30 and the light from a breaking sun was good. This just didnt have a single look of a "gropper" about it at all.

What felt like a sweaty panic set in. Then came my next mistake. In stead of staying and trying to get a recording on my phone, I just knew that I had to get in touch with Geoff or Angus and their numbers were in my works phone which was on charge at home. I assumed that since the bird was singing it's heart out that I could quickly leave site and get the "heavies" in to unravel the mystery!!!

I sprinted home, which was less than five minutes away and got two sleepy birders out of bed and told them what I had seen. I grabbed my camera and bolted back to the top of the Barleyfield. Fantastic!! When I got there, within two minutes I could hear the reeling again, this time coming from the denser scrub near the garden fences, behind Geoff's bench. It done two sessions of song, and then at 07:15 fell silent and wasnt seen again.I felt such an idiot, having got two poor Guys out of bed that early, with nothing there at all to link onto when they arrive!!!

Not only did I feel stupid, I was half way to nowhere. No verification of a national rarity, and at the same time, my observations meant that no way could I just simply add it to my patch list as my first Grasshopper, even though it was clearly a member of the "Locustella" group of Warblers!!! Dohh

Despite a no show, Geoff had enough trust and friendship to come for an evening visit. I brought my son up for the first time and Ian turned up to join the party.

On the way up I had 2 Swallows and singing Willow Warbler and 3 more Swallows passed SW over the rise as we got to the top of the field.It was great to talk and share things, but there was no show at all from our mystery bird. A welcome Common Whitethroat, also made a brief showing (presumably Angus's from the morning).

Despite this further waste of time, my band of learned friends kept the faith and I felt so touched that these lads were giving so much time, when, knowing that I am just a local patch watcher, rather than a member of the 400 club, they could have just laughed at me shouted "stringer" and walked off site after throwing bricks at me!!! (incidentally, to any readers that don't know me, I hope the fact that I didnt post "Savi's" on bird guides, when I first had the bird, nor look to claim anything shows that I'm not in the habit of wasting birder's time and fuel, as they would have flocked from all over the place!!!)

Next morning I was at the top of the field at dawn. I felt a little confidence that the bird may be a creature of habit, even on passage and prefer to sing again in the morning. Most "Groppers" that have visited the valley over the years have tended to stick around for a bit. However 06:30 came and went and there was nothing, so I decided to explore the area to the East by the top of Compton Hill Wood as there was a small area of scrub there. As I got into the corner near the access path to Compton Hill Drive, my head scrambled again, but for a different reason. A bird was uttering a short rattling song from the tree tops among Ivy-covered trees adjacent to the road. My first reaction was Wood Warbler, but the song was nowhere near as long as it should be and didn't have the trilling bounciness either.

Now I was in a right dilemma!! I was aware that there were only about 10 valley records of Wood Warbler and two of those were mine. So here is the scenario.....grab my phone and then text Geoff!! He would have looked at the text after wasting two days of his time already and thought Yeahh Chris... your third valley Woody and you want me to come up there again!!!.

I moved round onto the road and had had brief views of a "leaf warbler" moving through the ivy as it sang. I was a coward and gingerly started preparing a text to Geoff - "are you near the Barleyfield?". Just as I was about to hit send, Geoff's car pulled up....thank God.

Then the bird shut up!!!! Someone up there was really having a laugh!!!! So then more discomfort....." morning Geoff....no sign of the reeler (you know, that one that I have made you get out of bed at dawn for two days running).....but I've had something else....a Wood Warbler.....only it doesnt sound like one....and it's stopped singing!!!!

I thought he was going to get in his car, run me over, reverse to make sure it was a good job and then drive off, throwing expletives out of the window!!!

Every cloud has a silver lining, and for me the lining was friendship. Geoff did'nt get a machete out and Angus  even kept the faith and arrived. I am so happy because these two quality Guy's were rewarded for their trust in me with only the valley's second singing Wood Warbler (Geoff confirmed it and noted that the truncated song can be heard from early arrivals at Wyre Forest).

I send out two messages:
The first is thanks, to Angus, Geoff and Ian, for holding confidence in me.
My second is to all birders that hear a "gropper" on passage.....don't dismiss it if you have an opportunity to get sight of it. My instincts and observations tell me that there may well still be a very special bird among them!!!!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

TUESDAY, 16th APRIL 2013

Compton barleyfield and  Dunstall Park

Strong westerly wind, dry, high broken cloud, 10.30 to 13.15.

They're back!  Magic as migrants return
Short of time today, so park close to the southern entrance to the barleyfield at Compton Hill Drive and nip through to stand close to Geoff's Seat (this listed structure is more imposing and attractive than its name suggests) and look out over the broad sweep of grass sloping down to the hidden line of the Graiseley brook.  In the far distance the outline of Cannock Chase, with the city skyline off to the right and the wooded slopes of Tettenhall ridge to the left, one of the best panoramic views in the Smestow Valley.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker drums from somewhere down near the canal,  14 Jackdaw forage on the top of the barleyfield bank, a Chiffchaff calls intermittently from trees near the old railway cutting, a Buzzard floats away behind the hilltop houses, and a male Sparrowhawk cuts down steeply towards Compton.  A pair of Bullfinch call from near the gardens fenceline, when a small bird suddenly detaches itself from bushes behind the seat and is literally blown across the main entrance path to the top of a small tree.  It pauses momentarily, and shows enough of its shape before it drops out of sight into a stand of raspberries to suggest a warbler, ruff-necked, stocky, upright, perky.  I suspect it's the valley's first record this year for one of its value-for money visitors, and sure enough, a few minutes later there it is, a day later than the average return date locally, a Common Whitethroat.  This one is keeping a low profile deep in cover, most probably feeding up after its long migration through extremes of weather which have seen Sand Martins reach the UK only to perish through lack of food, and Stone Curlews found dead and emaciated in the fields of East Anglia.  A check yesterday for Whitethroats at their breeding stronghold at Aldersley/Oxley proved fruitless, but hopefully they will soon be hurdy-gurdying away from the margins of the grass fields bordering the Birminhgam Canal at the bottom end of the 21 Locks.  This one doesn't want to come out again, and I'm about to leave when from the direction of the railway cutting comes a sound I haven't heard here, or anywhere else in the valley, for three years.  A three-note territorial call rather Wood Warblerish in style, and sure enough (I know there's one about, because both Geoff and Chris have seen it in the last few days) there it is, my bird of the day or the week for that matter, a superb Willow Tit, a species which last bred successfully in the valley in 2006.  In that year birds were reported from a number of valley sites, but by 2009 only one pair was breeding, and they abandoned their nest.  It really seemed as if we had lost them for good, so to see and here this bird telling the world he's here and wants to breed is a special thrill.  Fingers crossed he'll find a mate.
Right, time's tighter now, so high-tail it to Dunstall Park, and as I lock up the car, a shape flicks low over the stable block, lifting and chattering to curve back round and drop out of view, no dout about it, the racecourse's first Barn Swallow this year (I believe the first valley record for 2013 came from Gary Christianson last Saturday, of six birds flying low over his smallholding fields next to Pool Hall lane).  At least three pairs nest annually at Dunstall Park, and this graceful adult, the length of its tail streamers suggesting a male, has made it back once more.  The strength of the wind is now tiresome, but a quick check round the lake reveals two pairs of Shoveler, two pairs of Teal and our long-staying Gadwall couple.  Two Snipe shelter behind brambles on the island, where two Moorhen try to peck each other to piecess (looking on, just for a change, are two peace-loving Coots).  A pair of Greylag geese fly in, at least three Canada Goose pairs are sitting on nests, two Pied Wagtails pick their way along the margins, a female Reed Bunting perches on shoreline bushes, and then, dipping on to the lake's surface with a flash of white rump before it is blown away northwards like piece of paper, a House Martin, another sign that spring really is here.  At last.                   

NB.  Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.                 

Monday, 15 April 2013

one swallow does not make a summer

but one made my day today

mon 15 April 2013                 mid section

sunny and mild  mod south westerly

I changed my route slightly to make sure I had all bases covered,  having checked out the western border of Barleyfield ( 2 chiffchaff both singing & a singing blackcap + other odds and ends ) I then headed off towards Compton Lock via Compton Rough and back to Barleyfield via the railway walk. I always pause half way up the steep path to the SW cnr of Barleyfield,a good area for goldcrest,chiffchaff,willow warbler,blackcap and other stuff,I caught a brief glimpse of a flicking streamlined bird quickly rise above the trees and just as quickly disappear again. Out onto Barleyfield for just a few minutes and there's the same or maybe another swallow hawking for insects over the top western border,there's another or are all three sightings the same bird? probably, as no more encountered.

other highlights
buzzard                                       1 over Tettenhall Ridge,
sparrowhawk                              1 female over Compton Hill Dr  & another female over Rangers Station,
stock dove                                  2 on Barleyfield,
great spotted woodpecker         2  flew to old oak tree at top of Barleyfield Annex,
blackcap                                     1 singing Graisley Culvert,
chiffchaff                                    4 singing ( Station Paddock, Graisley Culvert,Barleyfield Annex & Barleyfield eastern border,
Willow Warbler                          1 singing Station Paddock and 2 feeding Wetland SW cnr,
Willow/Chiff                               1 seen v/briefly near Meccano Br. looked large and green so prob willow warbler,but no plumage features seen.

more migrants

review of last few days
wed 10th april my first singing chiffchaff behind caravan store
followed by 4 between newbridge and aldersley junction on fri 12th and 6 today on same stretch.
siskin are still around with 1/2 at station today and yesterday altho the lttle group by bridge railway over smestow which numbered 11 on 10th may have moved on. also that day my last redwing also by smestow brook.
today willow warbler on Oxley bank in area where they bred last year, singing blackcap hawthorn wood and 3 house martins over corner hordern rd and crowther rd.

Sunday, 14 April 2013


sun 14 April 2013               early morning

mid section 

The first migrant Blackcap of the year a male flycatching from the hedgerow at the western end of our new wetland pool, occasionally performing some sub song.

other highlights.

willow tit  again found around Graisley Culvert - Meccano Bridge performing aggressive territorial tu-tu calls.

chiffchaff   4 singing, Station Paddock,main Paddock,Graisley Culvert and Barleyfield  Annex.
green woodpecker   male and female in tree at Grasley Culvert,flew to the old railway level crossing,
sparrowhawk   a male hunting through level crossing and disappearing off to the north.
buzzard       3 soaring over valley adjacent to Tettenhall College.

singing species included -  song thrush,mistle thrush,chaffinch and greenfinch.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Walking for Health

You may be aware that the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust in association with Wolverhampton City Council have organised a full time-table of walks in the valley between now and the end of September 2013.

The full timetable is available at www.walkingforhealth.org.uk

All walks tend to be scheduled to start at 10am or later, so there wont be any disturbance for early morning walkers.

I am starting to receive entries for the "guess the next valley rarity" game and Gareth Clements has thrown his cap in the ring. Having clocked up 149 of the 178 species seen in the valley, his instinct will be hard to beat.

To take part, click on the "Fun and games" link on the right for full details.

First Willow Warbler of the Year

Saturday 13th April - Mid-section,Compton to Newbridge and Barleyfield/Compton Park
Dry and clear after light early mist. Light SW

No sign of the Willow Tit, but it was great to find a silent Willow Warbler, feeding low at Eddys Alders.

Other highlights:
Female Sparrowhawk over Compton Hill Wood
1 Stock Dove around Barleyfield all morning
3 Green Woodpeckers calling from Compton Park, railway walk by Barleyfield and at Henwood Road at same time.
Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming at Wetland
Female Grey Wagtail Graisley Culvert.
1 Meadow Pipit off Barleyfield and 2 North over.
4 Redwing and 1 Fieldfare North over Barleyfield.
5 Chiffchaff.
Singing Goldcrest at Compton lock, Meccano Bridge and The Academy with one also feeding at Eddys Alders.
Coal Tits singing at Compton Road and Compton Park.
Nuthatches singing at Compton Park and The Academy.
2 Siskin at Compton Park.
CENSUS: 14 male and 2 fem Mallard,9 moorhen with pair nest building and another sitting,9Wrens singing,11 Dunnock with 8 singing and one nest building,17 singing Robin,12 Great Tit,6 Chaffinch with 2 singing,2 Greenfinch singing
Total 38 species

Friday, 12 April 2013


Dunstall Park

Dull, damp, overnight rain, 10.15 to 11.30am.

It's a ducks de luxe day down at Dunstall

At last, an end to a seemingly endless run of freezing high-pressure easterlies, when nature seems to have been suspended, and wildlife has been barely ticking over.  Some proper weather now, still a wee bit cold, but what a pleasure to walk after the rain, to smell the damp, and to see the first faint signs of green on trees and bushes.  A singing Goldcrest, four Siskin and a bumble bee in the garden yesterday lifted the spirits, so with the Compton barleyfield starting to produce migrant birds for Chris and Geoff,  it's off to Dunstall to see what, if anything, has arrived, and equally importantly, to see what intends to stay.  As usual, colder on the course itself than in the car park, so put on an extra layer, and move out alongside the central grass and drainage ditches.  Nothing on the grass, no migrants, it's late now for gulls, so a brisk walk towards the lake, where at least 15 Canada Geese are grazing or noisily defending nesting territories.  Five young Coot from last year's broods are feeding as usual on top of the grass banks, while at least two pairs of adults are again building nests (some were started and then left during one of the brief lulls in the cold spell).  With at least ten adult birds present, it could be a record breeding year for the species.  A pair of Moorhen are briefly visible by the concrete run-off apron for the Smestow brook, the Mute Swan pair glide out to feed alongside the rafts of vegetation, and from the same area come the shrill calls of Little Grebe.  They're not seen, but a pair has been here for at least three weeks, and with any luck they'll nest (birds last bred here in 2000, when one out of three hatched youngsters fledged).  The telephone-ring song of a  Reed Bunting is eventually traced to a male perched on a bankside bush, but there's no sign of a mate.   On the other side of the lake are three pairs of Teal, resting at the base of the site's steepest bank, a place they have favoured over the past few weeks as they sheltered from the bitter winds.  Near to them a pair of Gadwall (they first arrived in January) move out from the water's edge, shadowed by a single male, as two pairs of Mallard rest on the grass.  A good day for ducks becomes even better as a handsome male Shoveler escorts his partner into the middle of the lake before they both take off and rise to circle before heading off towards the city, their spatular bills obvious against the dull sky.  Then effortlessly and gracefully from the semi-enclosed end of the lake near to the brook run-off, the morning's star emerges, slim, elegant, his sleek head and sawbill pointing out towards the deeper water, a first-summer male Goosander, the first of his species to be seen at the site this year.  He's not yet the real deal in plumage terms, but already what an imperious, superb bird he is.  Regional nicknames include the Yorkshire label "Jacksaw" and the Sussex tag "Spear Duck".  The species only started to breed in Britain in the 1870s, and since then wintering birds have been recorded in increasingly large numbers all over the country.  Breeding is still largely confined to northern Britain, but a few pairs have nested in Worcestershire and Staffordshire.  The first Smestow Valley sighting came in 2002, and wintering birds have been recorded annually since then over and on the canals and on the racecourse lake.  Numbers peaked in 2009 when eight were seen together on the  lake on January 12th, but falling water levels at the site meant that numbers dropped subsequently.  Last year's sodden summer filled the lake again, so hopefully totals will rise once more.  This record was bang on the average date for the last West Midland departures for late winter and spring, and our bird conformed to migration patterns by leaving late morning towards the north.  Five duck species listed, and it's time to go, but first a check of the local Rooks, two nests, one occupied, in the oak copse corner near the Water Bridge, and two pairs sitting on nests in a tree used annually in recent years, again canalside and nearer to Aldersley junction.  So, both breeding sites being used, but nest numbers at a minimum following two difficult foraging years for these early-nesting corvids.   A Mistle Thrush, another early breeder, performs his laboured song from the top of a beech, a Nuthatch calls from a nest tree near the canal junction corner, two Greenfinches weeze away along the Birmingham Canal side of the racecourse, and  a Goldfinch sings from near one of the locks.  Back at the car park, a Pied Wagtail calls as it dips away from the hotel roof.  Booked in for nesting, no doubt . . .               
NB.  Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site.  Acess is strictly controlled.


Chiffy Chaos and Willow Tit Worth Raven About!!

Friday 12th April 2013
Mid afternoon mid-section: dry warm sunny!!

After spotting a singing Chiffchaff and another bathing at the new wetland (also the Pied Wagtail pair were present), I attempted a Chiffy count. After getting another at the Barleyfield Hanging Gardens I realised I had a problem!! Singing birds were following me as I headed North along the towpath. It appears the only way to get a good picture of whats going on is to do it by going South so that you can count and then discount the birds as they pass by. a singer followed me from meccano bridge and was singing at newbridge when i got back from the shop there.

As I headed South through the paddocks, i had the Newbridge bird, one in the main paddock and 2 at Meccano Bridge. one of these was silent and looked bigger and less brown, more green but after following it I eventually got black legs on it at the very moment the joker started singing!!!! Wish I had a pound for every time thats happened.

I have been so lucky at Meccano Bridge this year and I managed to locate what must be Geoff's Willow Tit. It was easily located in the SW corner of the playing fields and showed typical pale cheeks and panel, though the thick neck wasnt obvious. After two short sessions of song it headed into the thicket between the railway and  canal by Graisley Brook and wasn't heard again.

A superb Raven lifted off the big Alder in the NE corner of the barleyfield, heading low towards Compton village.

Other highlights:
Goldcrest (confiding,low,middle paddock),Pair of Grey Wagtail (wetland), singing Coal Tit (Meccano),3 twittering Redwing by the new housing and a pair of Mistle Thrush chasing away Crows near the entrance to Compton Park.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Fun and Games!!! What Will be the Next Valley Rarity???

With Spring passage finally getting under way, I thought it would be good to set up a little game to see what our contributors, followers and other viewers think will be the next addition to our site bird list.

A full list of all bird species recorded in the valley is shown on the right, but to spice things up a little, I thought I would add a few rules. Please feel free to join in whether you watch the valley, are a Midlands Birder, a viewer from abroad (Welcome to Australia, who joined us this week!!!), or just someone who has stumbled on the site and fancy a little fun!!


1. Select five birds from the list below, which you think are likely to be the next new birds to be seen in Smestow Valley.
2. Rank the 5 birds you have chosen from what you think will be the most likely at number 1, to the least likely at number 5.
3. Add your two "wild-cards" - these are birds that havn't been recorded in the valley, but also aren't on my list below.
4. Submit your entry as a comment to this posting or by emailing it to smestowsightings@gmail.com
5. Results of the game in the form of a Grand National Style list of favourites will be published on the blog in due course.
6. When the next new verified species has been added to the valley list, all those that had it at number one or as a wild-card will be displayed on this site.

I have listed my submission as:

1. Firecrest
2. Bar-tailed Godwit
3. Water Pipit
4. Wryneck
5. Egyptian Goose

My "Wild cards" are Green-winged Teal and Black-necked Grebe.

Hope you enjoy this little game and more so hope all these birds come and visit us soon!!!!:

Egyptian Goose
Bean Goose
Northern Gannet
Great White Egret
Honey Buzzard
Spotted Crake
Black-winged Stilt
Grey Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Temmincks Stint
Spotted Redshank
Bar-tailed Godwit
Glaucous Gull
Sandwich Tern
Water Pipit
Savi's Warbler
Icterine Warbler
Great Grey Shrike
Golden Oriole

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


wed 10 April 2013             mid section

08:00 - 11:00

Willow Tit        1 heard singing as I walked out of Graisley Culvert ( a lovely surprise ) 
found and watched as it made its way into Hanging Grds.
Sparrowhawk                                    1 soaring above Tettenhall Ridge
Buzzard                                             ♂  displaying  over  Tettenhall Ridge - Valley
Green Woodpecker                          calling from south end of the Paddock and Compton Park
Great Spot Woodpecker                   pair in tree at Graisley Culvert ♂ very noisy, male disappeared
as I watched sparrowhawk. ♀ flew E to Eddys Alders. 10 mins later 3 flew NW over same place.
Grey Wagtail                                     pair new Wetlands, male singing and displaying.
Pied Wagtail                                     pair new Wetlands
Mistle Thrush                                   2 singing  ( Academy and Compton Lock
Chiffchaff                                         3/  2 singing
Nuthatch                                         distant calls heard as I traversed the top of the Barleyfield
coming from the top SE cnr
Jay                                                  2 resting in Graisley Culvert eventually flew NW.

Enhancement Project in Turners Field Plantation

Further to the recent complaint on the blog regarding lack of information, I just thought I would display one of the notices that were on show for weeks at Turners Field.

The notice is wonderfully produced and I just want to extract two paragraphs from it to illustrate just how lucky we are in the valley:

"With the help of The Wildlife Trust, funding has been secured from the Nature Improvement Area to carry out a woodland enhancement project in Turners Field Plantation"

"The planted woodlands in the reserve were designed to be thinned when the trees reach a certain age. This means that many of the thin and unhealthy trees will be removed to allow the other trees to grow larger and healthier. Following this work, seeds and plants will be added to the woodlands so that they will soon be filled with Bluebells and other woodland flowers"

I think once again the valley speaks for itself!!!

I do want to make a general appeal for co-operation on this blog. Anyone following my posts will see that I have quickly developed faith in the partnership between Wolverhampton City Council and The Woodland Trust. I have only been working with Deborah Davies at Leisure Services for three months and her efforts deserve respect.

In light of the massive amount of work that has been put in on this project I am therefore stating once again, that if anyone has anything negative to say about the council, The woodland Trust, Severn Trent Water or anybody else, can they PLEASE do it by email or as a comment to a posting so that it can be screened first.

I say this purely because it seems that people have been criticized BEFORE facts have been established AND THIS IS GROSSLY UNFAIR!!!

On a positive note Deborah Davies has again been good on her word and I have been invited to an Advisory Group Meeting on 23rd April.

I will provide a separate posting regarding this.

Thank you

Monday, 8 April 2013

Compton Road Bridge Mystery Revealed

I finished work early to dive down to Compton to check out Ian's complaint to see if I had to give STWA a jarring tomorrow for restricting access to the tow-path!!!

Thankfully common sense had been applied. The two pics were taken at the canal exit and entry points which are less than 50 yards away from each other. They kind of speak for themselves!!

Anyway thanks Ian for putting me onto 22+ Goldfinch at the lock- my biggest flock in ages!!!

Highlights Sat 6th and Sun 7th April 2013

Virtually non-existent winds meant that sky-watches were limp to say the least, although a Greylag Goose and 7 Meadow Pipit did pass over the Barleyfield on Saturday. This meant I could commit more time to the patch itself.

A male Pheasant was at the Barleyfield all week-end, favouring the Eastern border and the wood at the NE end. At one stage a Red Fox was sat by the lower Alders, apparently unaware that the Pheasant was feeding on the opposite side of the scrub in the middle of the field!!!

2 singing Chiffchaff were on the western border on Saturday, with presumably the same non-singer scrubbing around, low at Prefab Weir and later North of Meccano Bridge. On Sunday an enthusiastic songster was around the Barleyfield annex and adjacent railway walk, with possibly a different individual singing in dribbs and drabs at Graisley Culvert.

Meccano Bridge Produced again on Saturday. My first Redpoll of the year headed NW over the bridge (one flew out the Lower Alders on Sunday). As I lowered my binoculars from following it, a WOODCOCK flew low South over the bridge. It dropped then turned in front of me and rose over the alders South of the bridge, before appearing to drop in the area of Graisley Culvert. a scouring of the area failed to relocate the bird. The Treecreeper was later found again just North of Meccano.

Collared Doves are now scarce on the mid-section, so it was pleasing to see one albeit heading West quite high, from the top of the Barleyfield. Liz has a pair visit her garden by the canal at Newbridge, but these come from the East and can be seen on the houses by the main entrance to the Tennis Club on Newbridge Crescent.

On the afternoon I went for a game of  football with my son. I showed him the new Compton Park Wetlands and was surprised to see two pairs of Grey Wagtails flitting around the Pool. at one point all four were on the footbridge railings, before continuing their mad chasing games. It was good to see so many species using the water's edge to drink and feed, including Goldfinch, a male Pied wagtail and three Stock Dove.

Sunday was quieter. A Fieldfare passed North over compton Park, where 5+ Redwing were feeding. A late Siskin was in the big garden Willow at Newbridge by the canal. Nuthatches were singing at Waterdale by Compton Park and also at The Tennis Club. A single Little Grebe was below Compton Lock.

Works at Compton Road Bridge and Turner's Field

Thank you Ian for your posting.
The disruption at Compton Bridge is essential emergency work being carried out by Severn Trent Water. When I went down I could see that it's only the bridge that is closed and I was easily able to rejoin the tow-path, behind what used to be Alex's Restaurant. I will check that this is still the case.

With regard to the works at Turner's Fields, as mentioned in previous postings, the work is part of a 5 year management plan that is being co-ordinated between the Council and The Wildlife Trust. I am a novice, but I imagine that tree thinning would be part of a process to improve the biodiversity of the wood as is common practice.

Deborah Davies at Leisure Services is in the process of providing me with regular updates regarding works due to start in the valley. Her department (like everywhere!!) has been a bit "snowed under" over the past weeks, but she supports my appeal for information and will deliver. As a new facility, let's be patient and  then enjoy it when it's fully implemented. In this regard, I would like to thank Deborah, her team and her contacts at the Wildlife Trust for their time taken whilst helping to introduce this system.

In the meantime please, place trust in a project that we are so lucky to have had designed by The Wildlife Trust with guidance from the West Midlands Bird Club. 

Thank you

towpath closure

What idiot thought it was finally spring? 4 stock doves on barley field was as good as it gets and nothing on the water feature??? which yesterday had pair pied wagtails and female grey.
Reason for posting is to alert regulars that the canal towpath is closed going south at Compton bridge not sure for how far or long.
It would have been nice to have an informative notice such as the well posted one alerting valley users of the necessary tree thinning work on turners field including explanation of why necessary (cross/ref chaz's clayhanger marsh blog and Brownhills common.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

finally spring ??

walk this morning from meccano to aldersly junction canal one way and old railway the other.
32 species was good but what was noticeable was the birdsong. both mistle and song thrush were in full song, as were robin wren coal tit nuthatch amongst others.
similar walk on 1st april had produced 34 species highlights being treecreeper and nuthatch both half way between water bridge and aldersly junction; 2xsparrowhawk in hawthorn wood (just south of water bridge) which also held 7+jays. Soaring raven and buzzard over Tettenhall ridge. There were also a few lingering redwing at the stadium.
female grey wagtails were seen on this date and the 3rd both halfway between hordern rd and newbridge one on canal one on smestow. presume same bird but on the 3rd another at aldersly canal junction.
The little flock of siskin were seen regularly up to 5th april but not this morning and likewise little grebe on the canal.
The rooks seem to have settled around two nests towards the canal junction where they have nested for the last couple of years but are also sometimes at water bridge copse (max 2)
Finally chiffchaff which I am yet to hear in song, but after 1st bird near meccano on 26th another (poss same bird) was towards canal junction on 28th and a different (paler) bird was halfway between junction and water bridge on 29th.  All three were feeding at ground level and across canal picking items from the surface of canal.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Valley Produces Again - Quality and Quantity!!

Wednesday 3rd April 2013
Dry, freezing cold still. Heavy overnight frost but overcast for an hour after dawn. Light NE, increasing to moderate/strong.
Mid Section of reserve: Compton to Newbridge including Barleyfield and Compton Park

Every so often nature has a habit of producing something to take your breath away. Today was perfection in terms of the number, variety and quality of the birds. Truly one to remember and arguably the best morning I have had in the Valley.

38 Magpie around the Winter roost area at Compton Park, was significant for this late date.
I arrived at the top of the Barleyfield to start my sky watch with a Song thrush singing it’s heart out, behind geoff’s bench, to keep me company.

The fact that the light wind was blowing perfectly down the valley made me quietly optimistic. Smestow Valley runs from the brook’s source at fallings Park, South-west to Wightwick, meaning that birds are channelled along it on migration. This is emphasised by the fact that Wolverhampton lies at the West end of the West Midlands Conurbation. Birds don’t like flying over built up areas so in a similar way to Lutley Wedge, birds fly around the edge of the conurbation, and hence numbers passing through tend to swell. However the belief that birds simply fly North and South each year on migration is too simplistic. Birds also utilise the winds and so will fly across rather than along the valley, when the winds run in such directions.
Another odd fact is that a lot of birds prefer to fly into the wind, rather than with it. This is due to the design of the wing, and appears to be especially important to smaller species. (numbers of Wood Pigeon heading South last Autumn peaked when they actually had North winds pushing behind them. Nature has very few set rules.)

Anyway enough of the Science and Geography……the next two hours (06:30-08:30) produced a superb range of birds, including what I believe to be a first for the Barleyfield:

Canada goose- 5SW

Black-headed gull – 23 SW
Lesser Black-backed Gull – 2SW
Stock Dove – 1 North
Wood Pigeon – 62 East to North
Skylark3 North
Meadow Pipit – 66 NE to North
Grey Wagtail – presumably a local bird heading North along the line of the canal.
WAXWING – 5 birds flew low NE over the Barleyfield at 07:00aring over Compton Park, heading straight at St Judes Church, showing beautifully in the emerging sunlight.
Redwing – 14 North, 2 NE and 2 East
Mistle Thrush – 2 NW, 2 East and 1 West
Fieldfare – 10 NE, 4 North and 1 SW
Rook a single flew East over.
Brambling a single NE over at 07:30
Greenfinch – 10 East
Siskin – 1 South

I then had a text from Geoff to say that he had found a Chiffchaff in the station Paddock. As if by magic a Chiffchaff started singing in the South-west corner of the Barleyfield. At last they have arrived!!! I rang Geoff and shared the news. In traditional fashion though the bird was slowly making it’s way North along the railway line, but it was replaced by another bird that started singing in the Barleyfield Annex. This was confirmed when both birds were heard singing at the same time, the first having reached Graisley Culvert by this time. This again shows the importance of Wolverhampton’s linear Nature Reserve. Birds not only fly over the valley in significant numbers, they also move along it, feeding and replacing valuable energy along the way.

Having had such a good start to the day, I decided to cover the patch and see how many species I could Knock up. In addition to the sky watch, I had already added Grey Heron, 2 Green Woodpecker, 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (3 chasing each other on the eastern Border whilst a female sat watching the affair from the top of the barleyfield), Long-tailed Tit, Jay and 4+ Bullfinch to the day’s list.

At Compton Lock, the Goldcrest was picked up, with 2 Long-tailed Tits. A Coal Tit was calling as it moved along the tree tops at Prefab Weir.

The area just North of Meccano Bridge has been productive lately (where Ian had the first Chiffchaff of the year). A Little Grebe was present on the canal and a Treecreeper was making it’s way up one of the Alders. 2 long-tailed Tits were calling and 7 Siskin were calling and passing between the trees on both sides of the canal by the south end of the Paddocks.

At Newbridge, House Sparrow was added to the day’s list. I was conscious of time so I forfeited the search for the chiffchaff that Geoff had found at the old station, so I retraced my steps along the canal.

Everything was performing for me today, and the moment I got to the border between the Tennis Club and The Academy, the resident Nuthatch started singing. I had commented to Geoff that I could do with Cormorant and Goosander today, and I nearly fell in the canal when an adult and immature Cormorant passed West overhead. Everything was on cue!!

I started to try and guess how many species I had seen and became aware that I hadn’t had a bird of prey. So it was over to Compton Park at the North end of the Barleyfield to play the waiting game.

Mother Nature was really playing with me today. No sooner had I got myself positioned with a good view of the sky by Eddy’s Alders, when a pair of Linnet flew out of the hawthorn, only my second sighting of the year.....amazing. I spent 10 minutes watching and waiting, during which time, 3 more single Meadow Pipits, fighting against the now strong wind, headed North, being forced to fly just metres above the ground.

This prompted me to reflect on Kevin Clements’s posting at the weekend. I have this theory that might explain why the autumn migration appears to involve masses of birds, compared to much smaller numbers on the spring return….hormones!!!

In Autumn, most species tend to join feeding flocks, which I suppose has the added advantage of protecting the youngsters through safety in numbers. So when the birds do take to the air, their numbers are impressive. In Spring however, if you use say Little Grebe as a good example (for hormones, rather than migration), we see through both the plumage and leaving dates, that birds get the urge to move at different times. Only in the past few weeks, we have had full Winter-plumaged birds that have no intention of thinking of breeding along-side splendid full Summer-plumaged birds that were ready to jump on anything!!!! Black-headed gulls also demonstrate this variation, showing the various stages that their dark hoods are in.

Spring birds aren’t held back or needing to protect young either in Spring, so they are quite literally free as a bird to fly off to breeding grounds as soon as they get the urge. In Autumn it seems that by 9am it’s virtually a waste of time looking to the skies for moving birds, as most have shifted in the first hour and a half after dawn.

In Spring However I have seen Meadow Pipits, Wood Pigeons and Winter thrushes on the move at any time of day, although granted it still peaks about an hour after dawn.

I don’t really have time to read books on bird behaviour and migration much as a single working parent with my own business to run so please understand, these are only my thoughts. I am sure someone out there has the answers, so if you have, then please, please share. The best way to learn is through sharing and making mistakes!!!

Food for thought??…………more to the point!! How great is our Valley?? Within a mile of the City centre, and here I was, just about to tick off my last three birds that meant a grand total of 50 for the morning, and all wrapped up by 9:30 (and all seen within a linear section of the reserve, less than one mile long).

Just as I was about to give up, a  male Sparrowhawk flew into the lower Alders, and after a few minutes I decided I was happy without having to wait for a Buzzard to turn up so I headed off home across Compton park. A male Pied Wagtail was feeding under the foot-bridge at the wetland and after almost tripping over through looking back for a Buzzard as I walked, one kindly obliged, drifting up from the South and then circling overhead to make sure I had seen it!!!

Governments continue to ignore global warming, favouring profits, and vast swathes of the planet continue to vanish beneath the bulldozer, but for all those people who have profiled, created, managed, protected and enjoyed Smestow Valley, please please feel proud when you read these words. For Mother Nature was dancing this morning and showing her beauty up and down, on and over the jewel that is…..Wolverhampton’s only Local Nature reserve…..Smestow valley.

Mother Nature is powerful….but she can’t do it all now that there are billions of us around. She needs YOU!!!!!

This blog is linked to many other sites and also signposts you to organisations that protect our beautiful world. If you aren't already, then please get involved....the more the merrier and the safer our world will be!!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Monday 1st April 2013
Dry, overcast, no frost but bitterly light-mod easterlies Light Easterlies.
Mid Section of reserve:Compton to Newbridge including Barleyfield and Compton Park

Skywatch – Top of Barleyfield 06:45 – 07:15:
Canada Goose – 2 NE 4 SW
Black-headed Gull: 41 SW
Lesser Black-backed Gull: 4 South
Wood Pigeon – 7 North
Meadow Pipit – 2 SW off Barleyfield 4 NE
Redwing – 1 East 3 SW
Starling – 25 SW
Chaffinch – 1 East

Patch Highlights:
Little Grebe - The Summer-plumaged pair were still below Compton Lock, with one uttering its laughing trill call.
Black-headed Gull – 41 still on the pitches by Meccano Bridge
Green Woodpecker – 2 birds calling at same time from Eastern Border of Barleyfield and near the Crossings there. Later a male was in the top of a tree at the South end of The Paddocks calling for over 10 minutes.
Great Spotted Woodpecker – a bird drumming on the eastern border of the Barleyfield.
Meadow Pipit – 1 North off Compton Park Wetlands at dawn. 4 North over Meccano Bridge and 5 over the pitches there later, making a total of 16 for the morning.
Grey Wagtail – the pair were in the overflow channel at prefab weir and later a female was on Compton Park Wetlands.
Redwing – 5 South over Compton.
Mistle Thrush – overcast cold weather meant that only the Great Tits and Dunnocks were really vocal this morning. However the Henwood Ridge/ Newbridge Tennis Club male was singing well.
Goldcrest – an excellent morning with sightings of one by Meccano Bridge, one low in the middle Paddock and presumably the Meccano bird by the smestow at the south end of The Paddocks later.
Coal Tit– one at Compton Lock.
Nuthatch – one singing at Compton Road at dawn by Compton Park.
Treecreeper – after watching one in a Larch by the canal at The Academy, a pair were seen on the same tree between the South end of The Paddocks and Smestow Brook Bridge, continuing the excellent run of sightings here for this species.
Siskin – the pair were again present in tree tops by the South entrance to the Paddocks.
Greenfinch – a pair at the top of The Barleyfield again.
Bullfinch – 4+ at the Barleyfield Crossings, 3+ in the main paddock, with 2 singing there and a pair at the Station Paddock
Mallard: 21 male and 3 female
Moorhen: 7
Dunnock: 13 birds with 12 singing (groups of 3 at Compton Rough, South of Meccano Bridge and Newbridge)
Great Tit: 11 birds, all vocal.

Total: 36 species