Thursday, 23 May 2013

Loneliness of the long-wait Lapwing

Dunstall Park

Wednesday 22nd May 2013, cold northerly wind, dull.

It's bitter for the time of year, and the dearth of birds at the racecourse lake is a true reflection of one of the coldest springs ever recorded.  Some species are now sadly marked only by their absence:  the Mute Swan pair have left, the long-staying Gadwall are gone, and the Little Grebe pair have provided neither sight nor sound for around 10 days.  If they're nesting they're keeping their heads down, but I rather think they've quit the site.  Two of three Coot chicks are still being fed by adults, Canada Goose goslings number ten in total (three broods have now hatched), but there's no sign of any Mallard youngsters.  All in all a sorry state of affairs . . . but then a familiar shape on the island shows that hope can spring eternal.  A single Northern Lapwing stands bravely against the wind, half-sheltered by low vegetation, in a spring vigil that its species has kept here for the last ten years.  Lapwings first appeared at the lake only months after its creation late in 1993, and wintering flocks have visited the site annually ever since.  Numbers have fluctuated, but totals of c.500 and c.600 were noted in February of 2000 and 2002, and display flying in April and May was seen as early as 1998.  It seemed only a matter of time before breeding was attempted, and sure enough in 2002 two pairs nested, with one set of youngsters successfully fledging.  Since then at least one pair has bred annually, but success has eluded them since 2007.  Even so, birds have still turned up in late March and early April, waiting for a mate to appear, so although very late, this one is at least keeping the breeding tradition going.  Perhaps the same bird appeared briefly last month at the lake in one of the few warm breaks in the weather, but with June now fast approaching,  hopes of it pairing and nesting are fading fast. The racecourse operators always keep a 20-metre strip unmown near the lake to encourage the birds to nest, so it's fingers crossed all round.  At least ten House Martin are hawking over the lake, harsh calls from treetops at the canalside oak copse on the western edge of the site suggest young Rooks are being fed at their nests, and to the north a single Common Buzzard hovers Kestrel-like against the wind as it scans the grass slopes by the railway carriageworks for anything that moves.  With things the way they are, I wish it luck . . .           

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


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Lovely warm SUNSHINE  does it again

sun 19 May 2013            early morning        07:00  -  09:30

mid section     Tettenhall Rd  -- Compton Rd

A pleasant walk in warm sunshine was enjoyed by both birds and me. Plenty of song for a change,nothing unusual species wise, just nice. A Garden Warbler the only scarcity. This species is now an annual event on the Barleyfield, a male usually sings for 3 - 4 weeks in May from the upper western border, fails to attract a mate and then disappears. Fingers crossed this could be the year he strikes lucky.

the counts.  singing birds in ( brackets )

in order of appearance

Blackbird          (5)
Blackcap           11 (10)
Chiffchaff          6 (5)
Song Thrush     (5)
Chaffinch          (1)   unusually low count 
Long tail Tit      5+
Stock Dove       1
Willow Warbler 2 (1)
Jay                    1
Garden Warbler (1)  also seen and heard same place on my last visit ( thur 16th )
Mallard            6     ¾ grown youngsters ( again no sign of mom )
Whitethroat     0    the only exception ( they normally love the warm sunshine )

Saturday, 18 May 2013


Never mind the weather, the Canadas
(and their offspring) are together . . . 

Dunstall Park

Friday 17th May 2013, dull, cool, easterly wind, 10.00 to 11.30am.
Is this still spring, or are we now in summer?  Hard to say in this strange year of confused seasons, the soft new green covering the trees tells us one thing, the relative quiet along the valley, the lack of  bird song, the cold conditions and the comparative absence of migrant species suggests another.  Anyway, down at Dunstall Park lake one species has carried on regardless through those long weeks of cold easterlies and high pressure silences, our old friends (not everyone would use that word) the Canada Geese have sat through it all, patient on their down-lined nests around the shoreline and on the island, and their fortitude has been rewarded . . . the goslings are here.  One pair of adults has two in tow, another pair has five.  Cream-yellow, cute, the youngsters follow their parents up the banks to graze inside the perimeter fence, their heads bobbing above the grass.  It's hard to believe that these engaging feathered toys will grow into the intrusive, noisy and quarrelsome birds that are now an often unwelcome feature at town park lakes, estuary margins, gravel pits and rural nature reserves across the UK.  As more broods hatch, the youngsters will graze together in creche groups, foraging on the open grass in the centre of the racecourse shepherded by their parents and non-breeding adults.  Not all will fledge, some will fall prey to foxes, but in most years the majority will fly, eventually helping to form the impressive skeins of this feral species which honk their way over the valley to and from their late-summer and autumn feeding grounds.  It's not just the geese that have done the nesting thing at Dunstall.  Up-ending amid the spiked aquatic grass are a pair of Eurasian Coot, industrious and attentive, never further than a metre or so from their offspring, three spikey ginger-red headed chicks totally reliant on their parents for sustenance, finding safety amidst the vegetation.  Another three adult pairs are still sitting on eggs, so the numbers of youngsters on the lake should soon increase.  Ever present in the last few weeks have been adult and immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls, flying low over the water or perched on the floodlight pylons, a constant threat to Mallard youngsters.  A fortnight ago there were at least 17 small ducklings, now no more than two are to be seen, still watched by their mother as they feed amongst the spiked grass around the lake edges.  It seems that the gulls, which now breed within the city boundaries, know they're on to a meal ticket, and the ducklings have been their target.  It's better news near the grandstand, where at least two pairs of Barn Swallow are collecting nest material from the exercise ring and carrying it to the open stables where thay have nested for the last six years.  A last look towards the tractor sheds, and a small white-rumped bird flies up from the mown grass to perch on the roof, a male Northern Wheatear, the first of the species to be recorded here this year.  The species is an annual migrant visitor to the racecourse, and in this lean year, it's the first record for the site.  In 1992 a total of 69 birds were reported here on passage, and in 2004 the valley total for spring migrants was at least 78 birds ( 31 were seen at Dunstall Park on April 17th, a day which saw a total of 35 recorded along the valley, equalling the most seen at one time at any West Midland site up until that date).  This year?  Well one bird, I guess, is better than none . . .
(NB.  Dunstall Park is a commercial restricted site.  Access is strictly controlled.)


Wednesday, 15 May 2013


It's a car boot salute as the grey arrow
from Africa drops in on our valley . . . 


Tuesday 14th May, westerly breeze, broken cloud, sunny spells, rain later,  09.30 to 10.15.
We're halfway through May, and the northern end of the valley's all but silent when it should still be bathed in birdsong.  Residents such as Greenfinch,  Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Robin, Wren and others are doing their best, but for migrants it's been the quietest spring locally in nearly a quarter of a century.  Whitethroat numbers are way down on recent years, and the few singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap present are are quietening now as pairs begin to nest.  On the same date in 2007 no less than eight different kinds of warbler were heard singing here and on the edges of Dunstall Park just across the canal.  So far this year only half that number of species have been recorded, other migrants including wagtails, chats and thrushes have not shown, and the Smestow Valley's  "rarities fortnight" at the end of April and beginning of May was a non-event.  This sad state of affairs could be down to a combination of a calamitous breeding summer last year and adverse weather affecting migration this spring, and some experts are now forecasting a 50 per cent drop in bird numbers across the UK in 2013.  Whatever the reason, it means visits to places like Aldersley/Oxley with ideal warbler habitats have been made in hope rather than expectation.  So, after half an hour's looking and listening across the sloped grass, it's a reluctant retreat along the Birmingham Canal towpath up towards the Stafford Road and under the blue-brick arches.  Cross over, fleece off, lift the car boot, when for some reason I look up, and over Jones Road and The Downs there's an unmistakable shape against the sky, sharp-winged, lightweight and angular, holding against the breeze, floating lower and hanging before gently settling on a metal rail running along the edge of the railway viaduct parapet.  The small head turns to look downward, white-cheeked with a smudged black moustache, slate-grey backed, yellow-legged and sharp-eyed, its short tail shifting and reddish undertail feathers ruffled as it balances against the updraught, our first Eurasian Hobby for the year.  The jizz is "small Peregrine", but without the menace, without the muscular power, almost gentle by comparison, but arrow sharp, incredibly quick, a bird that can catch a Swift on the wing.  Within a minute or so a resident Crow takes an interest in the visitor, which drops off the parapet and accelerates away to disappear over the racecourse.  Early May is a good date locally to catch this migratory falcon on its return from southern Africa, and this bird may well have been on its way to a breeding site elsewhere in the West Midlands or further north.  Hirundine nest sites along the edge of the Wolverhampton conurbation attract hunting birds during mid and late summer, and they have been seen regularly in recent years checking out the House Martin colony on the Farndale housing estate next to Dunstall Park (I recall watching one on a late-summer afternoon some years ago hawking in a flying-ant swarm over Wightwick canal lock, flashing and twisting amidst a flock of Black-headed Gulls before powering away towards the city).  Yesterday was only the second time I had seen one actually perched in the valley.  Suddenly, a dull day seemed brighter.           



Saturday, 11 May 2013

Unsettled weather but birds settling down

fri 10 May 2013            early morning         light  drizzle

mid section 

With good weather for birders ( unsettled and showery ) if not for the birds ( poor things ) I was expecting some minor rarity this week. I was sadly disappointed,just the usual fare. Things will settle down now as resident and migrant birds are busy nest building,sitting on eggs or feeding young.

Mallard                          6 young near Tettenhall Bridge, unusually moms been missing since at least 30th April.

Buzzard                        Probably one of the resident pair over Compton Field.
Swift                             The odd one over.
Swallow                        1 over Barleyfield.
Herring Gull                The odd one over ( usually a near adult ).
Stock Dove                  2 around the new Wetland area.
Starling                        Small numbers gathering food on Compton Field to take back for youngsters.

Singing birds included:   wren,dunnock,robin,song thrush,blackbird,whitethroat,blackcap,chiffchaff,willow warbler,goldcrest,blue tit,great tit,greenfinch and chaffinch.

And finally a brown staffordshire bull terrier which was first seen by a dog walker on sun 28th April on Barleyfield is still roaming free. I have seen it 3 times,including this morning,always near the trees in the NE corner.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

migrant update

These are sightings from the last 9 days 30 april to today
My first was on Sunday 5th single bird flew north into valley from Pool Hall a second bird ,or maybe 1st doubling back was over the pool 10 mins later.  Two birds were over the station at Tettenhall early on Tues 7th and 2 more over Oxley today.
10 were on the cattle field between pool hall and Perton mill farm on 30th April.
3 (2F&1M) were with the wheatear on 30th
A bird briefly perched on phone wire just to west pool hall and halfway to road on 30th Apr.
A bird flew across paddock on 2nd May.
3 singing birds on30 April 1 NW corner Barleyfield and 2 just north of meccano.  Cross referencing with jeff confirmed different birds. Conspicuously absent since.
6 birds contact calling and being very active at north end in morning then 3 singing same spot early afternoon. 3 singing birds paddocks today.
the odd bird each visit including one In a garden at the Chase on 3rd and the orchard 1st.
Singing bird also seen 50 yds south of the fishing pool at pool hall on 30 Apr.  Another singing bird seen in paddock on 2nd May, both birds attracting attention from male Blackcaps.
Other notable sighting was Little Owl with the pair of Yellowhammers at Castle Croft bridge looking east on 5th may

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A "Swift" Walk Home Produces Late Arriving migrants!!

Monday 6th May -  Early evening Farndale to Compton Park

A beautiful sunny Bank Holiday prompted me to walk along the valley after work.

I rarely visit the area of the valley between Lock 16 on the Birmingham Canal and The Lupin Field, so I was pleasantly surprised to see good numbers of House Sparrows among the canal side hedges.

On the Farndale Estate, it looked like around 20 House Martins were busy around nest sites.

Goldfinches were singing at Locks 16,17 and 18 and at the Lupin Field, 3 Common Whitethroat, were noted, apparently in separate territories.

2 Blackcap were singing near Lock 20, with a pair of Greenfinch and a vocal Song Thrush nearby.

Rooks were on 2 nests in the NW corner of Dunstall Park (Private land), and on all 4 near Dunstall Water Bridge. A Chiffchaff was singing and presumably it's mate calling nearby.

The Moorhen was still sitting on the nest platform at The Wildside Activity Centre, and at Hordern Road Bridge an adult was with 2 small chicks on the canal.

At Newbridge Wood the Great Spotted Woodpecker was still drumming and calling along with a singing Chiffchaff.

I hadn't eaten so I grabbed a some Fish & Chips and went up to Geoff's bench at the top of the Barleyfield to scoff them, doing a half-hearted skywatch as I filled my belly!!!

At about 8pm, they arrived. The balmy weather seemed to have made them lazier than usual on passage.
At first they headed straight up the valley from the SW, but then they started climbing and circling, with occasional banking and dives: Swifts, 2 of them. They continued to circle and dive, working their way slowly up the valley till they were out of sight with the naked eye.

I finished my meal, happy that though late, these amazing masters of speed were back. I headed up onto Compton Park and as I got up onto the top pitches, I looked up towards the traditional Swift nesting area at Newbridge. To my Surprise, there were now three birds, tracking backwards and forwards, quite high, between. These were certainly behaving as local birds and may possibly have explained the leisurely behavior of the two birds I had seen earlier....lets see.

2 Grey Wagtail headed NE off the Wetland to roost and 3 Stock Dove were on the wetlands.

N.B On Saturday, whilst playing football with my lad and some mates by S. Peter's School, I noted a pair of crows chasing off Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, from their nest site, an adult Herring Gull flew North (causing me to let in a goal!!) and 2 Stock Dove passed over.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Rattlers, cronkers and super songsters bring sound to this semi-silent spring . .
Thursday 2nd May, bright, warm, calm, 09.30 to 10.15.
Back to the rough grass fields at the northern end of the valley, a site that by now should be full of birds and birdsong.  Yet despite the calm, warm conditions bringing song from Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Mistle Thrush, Wrens, Robins, Dunnocks and other resident species, the sounds I'm hoping for just aren't there.  Three Common Whitethroat appear briefly along the field margins, three singing Blackcaps and at least three singing Chiffchaffs (their contact calls show that pairs are already on station) suggest that warbler numbers are increasing, but at least three members of this bird family normally seen and heard in the last week in April and in early May seem not to have arrived.  Then, at last, from a hedge line near lock 19 of the Birmingham Canal, comes a rattling call, identified immediately as one of the valley's most unobtrusive migrant breeders, a Lesser Whitethroat, which flies up to feed among the emerging blossoms high in nearby trees.  Always difficult to pin down, eventually it's located, grey-headed and compact, a smaller and longer-tailed version of a Common Whitethroat, lacking the eye ring and reddish brown wing feathers of its more in-your-face relative.  Breeding numbers in the valley have never been high, and seem to have decreased in recent years.  Let's hope this one finds a mate.
Tettenhall Upper Green
Saturday 4th May, bright, warm, westerly breeze, 10.30am.
Pop to the shops to get a key cut, and as I unlock the car to leave, the sharp, clear notes of the Northern Nightingale cut the air from trees on the green's western corner.  There are cars moving, but the Blackcap's liquid song lifts and flows above the noise of traffic.  There's a seat nearby, so I move towards it to sit and listen to this superb performer.  Yet some of the notes don't seem quite to fit, they're slower, more deliberate, there are gaps between them, and after a few seconds I realise there are two songs involved, two species are singing against each other, the rival bird just as striking and memorable,  a lone Song Thrush high in a tree close by.  Neither of these top-flight songsters will fall silent, neither will gave way to its neighbour, their notes combining in a joyous chorus to tell us that spring is well and truly here.
Smestow Valley
Saturday 4th May,  11.15am.             
Wind down the car window and wait.  A brief shower passes, and high above the tops of the trees sway gently as the squall quietens.  People have told me they're here again, but I need to hear and see for myself.  The valley's only breeding pair, a species that until 2007 was a rare visitor, a bird that, like the Buzzard, seemed to call to us from the west, conjuring the sea cliffs of Wales and the jagged hillsides of the Stiperstones.  Ten minutes pass, silence, then a large black shape sweeps in low behind the treetops, the bird lost to view as it lifts to land at its now traditonal breeding site.  Still silence, then the sound I want, the deep unmistakable "cronk, cronk" of the Common Raven.  If they're breeding they're late, and it's hard to tell if there are young at the nest, but no matter.  They're back.                       



Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A little bird told me about the "WREN" project's latest contribution to the valley!

George Reiss has kindly provided an update.

On Sunday morning (28.4.13), George encountered our Common Sandpiper at 10:00 on the canal by Hordern Road Bridge.

Also he noted that 3 Mistle Thrush were having a scrap just North of the bridge. I have noted a Mistle Thrush territory from Newbridge Tennis Club over to Henwood Road, and would be interested to receive records of singing birds in the Hordern Road area. There are territories at Compton Park and also at the top of the barleyfield.

I have also had news that we should now have an additional Bird and Mammal interpretation board on display at Newbridge Station, compliments of the WREN project.

You will also note, that I have added the website for the Wildside Activity Centre to my list of links. It is amazing just how much this organisation contributes to the valley and education regarding Wildlife and Conservation.