Sunday, 30 June 2013

Saturday 29th June 2013

Dry, calm, cloud clearing, light SW – mid-section – Compton to Newbridge including Barleyfield and Compton Park. Early morning

A combination of work and home commitments, together with time spent on “The State of Nature” work, meant that this was only my third visit of the month.

A Chaffinch and Song Thrush were singing near the Compton Road entrance to Compton Park. 2 Greenfinch and 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls passed over the new school development.

A Blackcap was singing in the coppice by St. Edmunds and a Greenfinch was also in song at Eddy’s Alders. 40+ Woodpigeon were on the top playing fields by Meccano Bridge.

Whitethroat remain in situ at the Barleyfield, with activity at the Shrike Bushes, between Graisley Culvert and The Crossings (with a singing male), and at the top of the field within established territories, although no young were noted.

A Song Thrush was singing at Graisley Culvert, a Swift, Buzzard and 2 Goldfinch passed overhead, and pair of Blackcap were flitting around the NW corner, with young concealed in the hawthorns calling.

At the Crossings, 2 Chiffchaff were singing (one on the junction and another just North along the railway walk).
At Compton Rough, 2 Jays flew out from the central Crack Willows, where a Song Thrush was singing.

As I passed the Globe Buddleja’s I couldn’t help but notice that they were attracting dozens of bees on each bush, so I decided to track back later, when it had warmed up to take some photo’s.

At Compton Lock a Grey Heron and my 4th vocal Song Thrush, were noted and family party of at least 5 Coal Tit in the firs were a welcome sight.

At Prefab Weir, a Blackcap was singing by Graisley Brook, with a female nearby, along with a Moorhen and two chicks (about a week old). Nearby in the Crack Willows there was a large Tit Flock, holding over 25 birds, a mixture of adult and juveniles, with 4 Long-tailed Tit amongst them.

If ever you wander what you would get if you crossed a Magpie with a Moorhen, then the answer was on the bank of the canal, just North of Prefab Weir!!!

Another Moorhen with an advanced chick was South of Meccano Bridge. A Song Thrush was singing from the Main Paddock and a Goldcrest was singing beside the canal at the Academy. A Moorhen was quite comically trying to use a four-foot length of stem for it’s nest there, eventually giving up and frantically grabbing at nearby vegetation in frustration. One of the resident Mistle Thrush’s, settled briefly on a conifer top there.

My 6th and final Song Thrush was singing in the Middle Paddock.

At Newbridge only 3 Swift were present, which I put down to the time of day, but I was surprised to see 8 House Martin hawking just above the tree line, up and down the canal, eventually leaving to the North. 2 Coal Tit were calling from the gardens and 2 Goldfinch.

Having walked the whole section of the canal, without seeing young Mallard, Newbridge had two females with 5, and an amazing 11 advanced ducklings respectively.

De ja vu!!! another Newbridge group of 5 young this year,
 but these have a long  treacherous road ahead to survival

I think this mother saw our blog praising the mum
 who raised 5 young successfully here earlier in the month and wanted to beat her!!!
11 at this age is simply brilliant - well done mum, your mothercare vouchers are in the post.
A Blackcap was singing in the Middle Paddock and a Goldcrest was singing from the Railway Walk near the South end of the Main Paddock.

At Meccano Bridge, the first singing Dunnock and Chaffinch of the day were noted, as was a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

To the Barleyfield, where a Willow Warbler was calling from the annex with just 3 Swift, darting overhead. 14 Starling flew South-West off the meadow and another Dunnock was singing by Geoff's bench. A lone Stock Dove flew over - numbers have fallen now that the wetlands development area has been prepared for the pitches to be laid. There were 11 there on 5th June this year.

Before leaving I had a quick look amongst the flowers and found a few clumps of Goats-beard:

Tragopogon pratensis - a lover of morning sun!! -
it usually closes back up by midday and wont open at all when it's gloomy.

Now as the sun was warming, I headed back to study the bees at Compton Rough. A Coal Tit was calling from Alpine Way and a pair of Jay and Bullfinch flew over as I arrived at the lock area. A single House Martin headed South.

The Globe Buddleja bushes really are an asset to the valley: in Winter they support a Finch roost and at this time, they are a magnet to Bees. Since they are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the moment, I have provided a gallery just to show how spectacular and varied they can be. It also shows that just because, the scene on the bird front is quiet, there is still loads to record and enjoy in the valley:

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) - domesticated and slim.

Mystery Bee!! - showing characteristics of a
female Forest Cuckoo Bumblebee
(Bombus sylvestris)

Tree Bumblebee species??? - this isnt as easy at it looks

Ahh - Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)

OMG!!! - Help!!! White upper and brown lower abdomen - no idea!!!

I know this one!! Tree Bumblebee and Buff-tailed Bumblebee

Note the orange tail contrasting with yellow head and upper abdomen.
A hairy  Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)??
It was quite small, but I'm still not sure!!! Shame on me.

Common Carder Bee- (Bombus Pascuorum)

Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis) - the only species (I think)
that has prominent yellow bordering a white tail

Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)
I hope that the above bee gallery serves to show a few things. Firstly just how little we know about our natural world. I am so ashamed that as someone who has scoured the countryside, since I were knee-height to a Doberman, I am unable to accurately identify, record and spot a rarity amongst our local bee population. Secondly how hard must it be for our National Nature Organisations to monitor and protect nature with so few amateur naturalists about who can supply data, other than bird notes!!!! Lastly and most importantly, where is our next generation of nature lovers?? I have been walking the valley now for over three years, and have yet to stumble upon anyone younger than me recording nature (Although this blog has served to identify a few new kids on the block locally). Something has to be done to change this.

Anyway!! Off my soap-box (for now)!!

Whilst watching the activity, I noted a small Moth that was present in good numbers on the flowers. The Bees had put me into mini-beast mode and on the way back along the Rough towards the Barleyfield Crossings I found a nice little weevil, with an awkward long name!!!
Phyllobus pomaceus - A Weevil with Blue-green scales on its dark body, that tend to fade with age.

Back to the Barleyfield and before long I noticed that the same small day-flying Moth was present in large numbers. Again shame!!, this undoubtedly would be an important pollinator and I hadn't got a clue what it was. Appeal to the Valley and wider World please....can anyone tell me what it is???

Mystery pollinator!! It looked like a small Hooktip species??
Back through Compton Park, where I learned that 3 Red Fox cubs have been raised near St. Peter's Playing Fields, and then stumbled upon another mystery, which echoed the findings of the "State of Nature" Report - there are hardly any fungi records being compiled and submitted by amateurs, which is alarming given the important role that they play in our eco-systems.

I do know that we do have at least 1 Fungi and funlady in our valley so please help identify what is probably a common lawn mushroom:

It's a sign as to how quiet birding is at this time of year is that my final request is for someone to help identify some poo!!!! This spraint or dropping was actually ON TOP OF the old bridge at Newbridge, ruling out a Bull-Terrier and was quite a size, appearing to be composed of vegetative waste. Any ideas???

Incidentally, the birding wasn't bad - still managed to record 35 Species - not bad for a City Local Nature Reserve during the quite part of the year.

N.B: Please feel free to share by posting a comment. Your comments are not automatically visible, they come through to me for screening first, so any help, views or contributions are welcome.

Please do not pick wild flowers and do not take any wildlife away from where you find them (the weevil shown for example is almost exclusively associated with nettle beds). Thank you.

Friday, 28 June 2013

By 'eck, Drain Swallows are back

and these two are early birds . . .

Dunstall Park

Sunday 23rd June 2013,  cool, early drizzle, clearing later, 09.40 to 10.30.

A few days away, so back to the racecourse to see what if anything is happening in one of the quietest years in three decades locally for breeding and passage bird species.  Barn Swallow flit back and fore from the open stables where their newly fledged youngsters are sheltering from the weather, and adult and juvenile Rook forage on the open grass, near to a group of Canada Geese, the 13 surviving youngsters grazing alongside their parents and other adults.  Gulls are beginning to return, with 14 adult and two immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single second-summer Herring Gull preening and resting near to the geese before flying off towards the city.  At the lake at least ten Coot youngsters of varying sizes either stick close to their parents or are starting to find food for themselves, a female Mallard still shepherds three youngsters nearly as big as herself, and a pair of Gadwall sleep on the water near the island, the male's breeding plumage starting to fade as the summer progresses (these may have been the birds which stayed at the lake from early January until late April this year).  A male Pied Wagtail picks his way along the shoreline, near to a single Lapwing and two Green Sandpiper, the latter very possibly the birds seen at the lake six days ago on 17th.  These waders are among the first species to be seen locally on return migration, leaving their breeding grounds in northern and eastern Europe in mid-summer and flying back to their wintering quarters in Africa and western Europe.  On return passage, they and other species often stay for some time at favoured sites, and in 2010 ones and twos stopped off at Dunstall Park, sometimes lingering for periods of a week or longer, from late June through to early September, with four birds present on one occasion.  These latest visitors fed along the shallow margins before flying to a more sheltered inlet by the island, white rumps showing why their old Norfolk nickname Martin Snipe is so appropriate (other names include the intriguing Yorkshire tag of Drain Swallow, perhaps referring to the bird's liking for relatively small wetland sites such as farm ponds and rural sewage beds).  This is the second-earliest local return record for Green Sandpiper, so good to know that not everything this year has been weeks late.

Dunstall Park        

Thursday 27th June 2013, hot, broken cloud, westerly wind, 10.20 to 11.30.

Weather better, with at least 20 Jackdaw swirling and chacking their way against the wind over the western edge trees, and brief song from Chiffchaff and Blackcap near the canal junction copse.  A Chiffchaff family with at least four youngsters is in a hedge near the old pumphouse (the shale-based racetrack had to be watered regularly during hot spells in the 1990s), and Greenfinch and Common Whitethroat call from lakeside bushes.  There's a pleasant surprise in the form of three Moorhen chicks being fed by their parents along the base of the island, where 50-plus Starling, mostly juveniles, preen and sunbathe.  A single Common Buzzard wings its way heavily low along the canal towards Newbridge, at the same time as two more of its kind sweep up to circle high above Tettenhall ridge far off to the west.  Buzzard sightings will become more frequent now, with youngsters fledging or flying.  They will soon be calling continuously from exposed perches as their parents circle above, drawing them away from the security of their nest sites into the world of the adult raptor.    

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




Sunday, 16 June 2013

sunday morning walk to pool hal

set out this morning just after 7 from newbridge along railway to Compton allotments and onto canal at wightwick mill looped back along bridleway from south of pool hall and along lane to return to canal at castle croft bridge. (had done similar route previous sunday.

Great crested Grebe the pair at pool hall have two young three quarter grown.
Lapwing last week pair very agitated around castle croft bridge suggesting young but no sign today
Skylarks a few present and singing maybe 4/5 pairs which is disappointing
Blackcap the most frequently heard songster with 10+ all between tettenhall and wightwick
Whitethroat reasonable numbers 5 singing males and family party at Pool hall
Lesser Whitethroat very well seen gathering food presumably for young birds halfway between Compton and wightwick
Willow warbler also food collecting just beyond the lesser
Chiffchaff only 1 calling bird on each walk
Yellowhammer 2 singing birds by castle croft bridge today and last week

disappointment was only one distant swallow today and only 3/4 last week and no raptors today altho male sparrowhawk in my garden yday was compensation.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Winter Barn Owl Sighting in the Valley

Tom Herrington, who lives near Hordern Road has kindly reported that he saw a Barn Owl flying low across Aldersley Rough towards the canal and racecourse in February this year.

Thanks Tom for your information and for following this blog, and to Steve Nuttall at Belvide Birding for publicising it.

Friday, 7 June 2013

One glimpse, and the grebe is gone

Dunstall Park

Friday 7th June 2013, calm, warm, bright, 09.30 to 10.25.

At last it's summer, warmest day so far this year, so a quick check of the racecourse before the sun gets hot and high.  Barn Swallows are hawking low near their nests in the open stables, and corvids, including juvenile and adult Rook, are feeding on the central grass area, where the Canada Goose creche is grazing, 14 well-developed youngsters with 18 adults in attendance.  On to the lake, where a few House Martin from the Farndale housing estate nests are hawking, and a juvenile Grey Heron, very probably from the Pendeford Mill breeding colony, sits motionless in long grass near the shoreline.  An adult Moorhen chugs away beyond the island, and three pairs of Coot are feeding a total of eight chicks (there are probably more, but it's the devil's own job to count them accurately).  Adult and juvenile Starling take advantage of the falling water level to bathe, splashing vigorously on the shoreline near to a single drinking Stock Dove, and a female Mallard shadows three well-grown ducklings, the only ones of her 10-strong brood to survive.  That appears to be it, when a low, squat shape suddenly appears deep amidst the patches of spiked aquatic grass, a single Little Grebe sitting motionless, in outline against the glittering water.  I'd virtually written them off as a breeding species here this year, despite the presence of two pairs at the lake at the end of April, and this sighting proves nothing.  But these diminutive birds are secretive nesters, so it's just possible they may be breeding after all.  Another look to check where it might go, but too late, the bird's already dived, not a ripple remains.  We'll have to wait and see . . .   

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


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Tuesday 4th June 2013
Another clear sunny day!!! (Light-mod Easterlies)
Mid-section: Compton Park, Barleyfield, Compton to Newbridge

Brief highlights on another evening visit to photograph insects and plant life include:

Great Spotted Woodpecker again on feeding sorties just North of Compton (with soft drumming heard nearby)

An excellent local update from Andy at Henwood Road:
At the start of May, the local pair of Buzzard were air-born over the ridge with at least 6 more circling much higher above them.
The Coal Tits that had been singing and calling at Prefab Weir last month have utilised a nest-box in a neighboring garden.
The Tawny Owls were vocal for most of May on Henwood Ridge, but had quietened down of late.

Well done and thank you Andy.

For those interested I also bumped into a local fisherman who confirmed that Perch and Carp are commonest in the canal, whilst there is also a stock of Bream and Gudgeon, though these havn't been showing yet much this year. We saw what looked like an ornamental " Ghost Carp " which seems to have explained the massive splashes seen and heard around Meccano Bridge.

Thanks go to this gentleman, not only for the info, but also for keeping me stood just North of Meccano Bridge allowing me to spy a hunting female Kestrel - definite highlight for the evening and my first hunting in the mid-section this year for me.

Sorry for the quality, I was on the canal and the Kestrel was over the Shrike Bushes!!!
 My  new camera and scope kit has been ordered at!!!
(double-click image to enlarge)
Goldcrests were singing by Meccano Bridge and near the Tennis Club.

Monday 3rd June 2013
Sunny, Dry, Clear, light Easterlies Evening

Mid-section - Compton Park, Barleyfield and Compton to Newbridge

At last!! Back on the patch. And what a difference: the trees and plants certainly seem to have caught up after such a cold Spring and it was great to see 10 Swift  over Compton Park and the Eastern border of the Barleyfield.

At the Barleyfield itself it was also pleasing to see that 3 pairs of active Common Whitethroat were still holding territories around the site.

3+ singing Blackcap were also present and the Willow Warbler was also singing on the Western border along with a pair of Bullfinch. 4 Greenfinch and Stock Dove passed South West overhead.

The speed, range and movement of the swifts, make it so hard to assess overall numbers and at least nine were darting high over Compton Rough, presumed to be those seen earlier.

On the Rough, the central Willows were certainly providing a valuable food-source as a 2 male Blackcaps tollerated each other, just, to feed along with many Blue Tits and Great Tits.

2 Song Thrush were singing near Compton Lock  and a Grey Heron was perched on one of the conifer tops.

I was taking pictures of Insects and Flowers on the rough, and the extra time spent near the lock served to confirm that a Great Spotted Woodpecker was running feeding trips from the railway line towards the Smestow/Henwood Road area to the West, raising hopes of young being seen in the area again this year. A Jay flew onto the railway walk from the West so hopefully they will be successful in this area too (A family of 5 was seen between Compton Park and The Barleyfield last year).

On the canal, the Moorhen nests appear to be much more conspicuous on the canal and after finding nests with one and two in I was amazed to find a pair just South of Meccano bridge with 7 newly hatched chicks!!!!

Family parties of 4 Long-tailed Tits and 4 Carrion Crow were at The Academy along with another advanced Moorhen chick (With possibly more underneath the overhanging branches??). A Chaffinch and 2 Chiffchaff were also singing along the canal here.

Our early brood of Mallard, have done remarkably well with 5 still together just South of Newbridge, having just lost one over the last month.

At Newbridge, more confusion over Swift numbers. 11 were tearing around the village, but were these the same birds that had wandered up to Compton Park? I feel that they weren't since birds nest at Paget Road and around Compton, but short of synchronized counting at the different sites you can never be sure, given the speed of these masters of flight.I have sat at the Barleyfield and watched groups appearing to move up and down the entire mid-section of the valley in past years.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Beyond the rising flies, a graceful

grey visitor journeys onwards . . . 

Dunstall Park

Wednesday 29th May 2013, calm, cool, overcast, rain later.
The duller the day, sometimes the brighter the bird, and so it proved as 20-plus House Martin and at least three Barn Swallow hawked at the northern end of the racecourse, presumably following flies emerging from the grass, the damp conditions keeping the insects and birds low, the flocks moving back and forward just above ground level as they fed.  Behind them an indistinct shape, moving at treetop level along the Staffs & Worcs Canal  towards Aldersley junction, small-gull jizz and colour, but wing beats and wing shape wrong, so adjust the bins, and sure enough our first Common Tern for the year is clearly in focus, now altering direction and flip-flopping its way up the Birmingham Canal 21 locks towards the city, grey and white, graceful and lightweight, eventually disappearing beyond the railway viaduct and the Stafford Road.  Always a sight to lift the spirits, the species is an annual but infrequent visitor locally in mid and late summer, sometimes joining flocks of returning Black-headed Gulls on Dunstall Park or following the line of the canal to and from Pool Hall lakes just south of the Smestow Valley.  This one appeared to have a food item hanging from its bill, suggesting it may have been fishing at Pool Hall, along the canal or even at the racecourse lake (in June 2004 a pair stayed for at least three days at the lake, one presenting small fish to its mate and helping Lapwings drive Grey Herons away from the island).  Nesting has been recorded at Belvide Reservoir near Brewood and at Sheepwash Urban Park near Tipton, and with migrating birds late this year, this one may have been following the line of the Birmingham Canal to the latter site.  Whatever its destination, it's given a lift to this topsy-turvy season.  So, on to the lake itself, where Canada Goose youngsters now number 14, two pairs of Coot are feeding a total of seven chicks (at least two other pairs are still sitting), a female Grey Wagtail is picking her way along the shoreline, two Sand Martin are hawking low with at least two Swift and a small number of House Martin,  and our lone Lapwing continues its island vigil (no sign of a male Green Woodpecker which the previous Sunday (May 26th) had called loudly from lakeside bushes before dropping down to feed along the grass margins of the concrete apron below the open culvert of the Smestow brook).
(NB.  Dunstall Park is a commercial restricted site.  Access is strictly controlled.)
PS.   Geoff has asked me to tell you that he heard a Common Cuckoo (sadly now a bird infrequently recorded here and in many other parts of the UK) last Sunday morning (May 26th)  from the Compton barleyfield as it called from somewhere along Tettenhall ridge.  Problems with a broadband connection while he moved house means he's been "off-screen" for more than a week.  If his internet provider gets its act together, he'll be back soon . . .