Wednesday, 31 July 2013

First Sand Martin for Compton Park Wetland

28th July 2013 p.m

3+ House Martin over Compton Park Wetland. The results of what, at first seemed like an inadequate planting scheme at the new wetland now appear to be amazing, viewed through the security fencing. I really hope this area is maintained and policed in the future, because it really does look like a valuable habitat addition.Thanks for this has to go to the Wildlife Trusts for reminding developers that you cannot just walk all over mother nature!!!!

On the Barleyfield things were quiet so I turned my attentions to the world of insects!!

I am still on a steep learning curve in my bid to become a competent amateur naturalist, but as I keep adding to my knowledge, then my updates will be of interest to others who notice the wildlife of Smestow Valley as they enjoy their walks through the reserve.

First up- how to sex Red-tailed Bumblebees!! This is quite an easy one:

Large size and simple black coloration with red tail - a female.

Much smaller and note the small amount of yellow in bands
on the head and base of abdomen - the male
Bees can be highly variable and this male is showing
 much more yellow around the head.

Next up a bit more of a challenge - Skipper Butterflies!! These beautiful small butterflies are relatively easy to find on the Barleyfield at the moment. However to sex them we have to look for a line or scar on the upper wing (the sex gland). Also we have to be on the look out for the rarer Essex Skipper. We are right on the edge of the range for this species and to identify it you have to look closely at the antennae!! The underside of the antennae are black in the case of the Essex Skipper and brown in the case of the commoner Small Skipper.

However not much is simple in nature and if you look at the antennae on the following two pics of Skippers seen on the Barleyfield and Eddy's Alders, you will notice that they are highly variable!!! Anyone who has more experience in this area of the natural world, please email me your tips for field identification, as it's not quite as easy as it looks!!!
This example of Small Skipper is showing visible areas of Brown on the antennae

This example appears to show all black antennae with
no striping or definition at all!!

To finish, here is perhaps the most beautiful insect you could wish to encounter on the Barleyfield. Its a type of Longhorn Beetle:
Strangalia maculata - in it's attempt to avoid being eaten, this species has
 evolved to look like a Wasp and in the process has provided
 us with a stunning insect to encounter on walks where
Parsleys and Hogweeds grow. The larvae feed on wood so a
 nearby scrub or woodland edge is necessary for it to colonize a meadow. 
Tuesday 30th July 2013 - late evening
Dry calm and bright after days of intermittent storms and showers. Cooler (c20C)

A late walk to Compton village brought a couple of nice surprises.

First Compton Park wetland attracted 13 Swift 2 House Martin and a single Sand Martin, all swooping low over the water to feast on the insects which had gathered on such a calm evening. It will be interesting to see just how many Swift and hirundines we get here over the coming weeks as passage gets under way.

A young Green Woodpecker was also calling from the Wetland area.

At Compton Rough a pair of Tawny Owl were moving slowly South along the railway line, just before dusk, having emerged from nearby.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Ever Decreasing Circles

I have just taken a break for munch and was reading the 2007 edition of "Where To Watch Birds WEST MIDLANDS" (Graham Harrison, Steve Coney, frank Gribble, Helen J. Griffiths, Jim Winsper. Published by Christopher Helm, an imprint of A&C Black Publishers Ltd).

I was pleased to see Smestow Valley was at the top of the list of just 6 areas in the Black Country, mentioned for birding.

But as I read the section covering our Local Nature Reserve I became saddened.

Firstly it mentions that "the outstanding feature (of Smestow Valley) the population of Willow Tits, which at around six pairs, is one of the largest in the region". Just 6 years on and we have only occasional sightings of Willow Tit in the valley, and the species no longer breeds here at all.

Just as disturbing is the fact that the publication mentions breeding Northern Lapwing, Skylarks, Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers at Wightwick Fields. Today, all of these species have retreated from this end of the reserve into South Staffordshire, although singing Yellowhammers and Skylarks can be heard on the border from Castlecroft Bridge. Also vanished, are the Grey Partidges which are mentioned, and only the odd rare encounter with the commoner Red-legged Partridge may be enjoyed. Barn Owls have also now abandoned the reserve, bar rare Winter encounters.

Aside from the above species, the 2007 list for the Smestow Valley remains intact, though there has to be cause for concern for the future status of Kestrel, Little Owl, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and Reed Bunting.

Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat, have a bare toehold as a Summer visitor to the valley now as well.

Passage migrants; Cuckoo, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher all have an ever-decreasing prescence in the Smestow Valley on Spring and Autumn passage.

It is so easy to pass all of this off by saying decline in species is happening all across Britain, so we cannot do anything at local level to prevent it. This is nonsence, as the success of so many schemes mentioned in the "State of Nature" report demonstrates. Nature's whole food-chain is under threat from weaknesses within it and we need to have strong, positive minds in order to turn things around.

The whole of nature is affected, not just birds. Does anyone know what plants, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles or mammals have vanished from the reserve in recent years?

There is hope!!! The vast majority of species mentioned above remain on the valley's yearly sightings list. With good management, these can be attracted back into the valley, through the protection, enhancement or introduction of suitable habitat, where strong eco-systems can be built. These measures will also ensure that no further species become threatened or extinct in what surely is Wolverhampton's jewel and only Local Nature Reserve.

Through the efforts of so many scientists, naturalists and organisations, the U.K. appears busier than ever, trying to protect our natural heritage. However 70% of species remain in rapid decline. More effort, from some yet more decline - something is not right. We have to act as a nation of communities that care for nature and who understand it's fragility.

In it's recent history, this valley provided the template for management of urban parks in this country. Lets try now to show the steel of Black-country folk by setting an example to the rest of the U.K and showing that we have the strength to break the trend of these truly ever-decreasing circles.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sunday 28th July 2013
Dry and sunny after heavy overnight rain.

A quick bolt along the valley from Compton to Hordern Road produced:

Success for the Compton Pied Wagtails - A juvenile was with both parents on the upper playing fields by Meccano Bridge.

Also making use of the rain-soaked ground there were 3 Mistle Thrush and 2 Starling.

The Goldfinch flock at the North end of the Barleyfield had risen to 8 birds, all adult.

A Stock Dove was on the Compton Park Wetland.

Other matters:

Some blog members were experiencing problems opening the document I sent out. I have resubmitted this and would greatly appreciate feed-back from everyone as soon as possible please. Thank you for your time taken with regard to this matter.

There is a rumor spreading through the valley that The Barleyfield is under threat from development.I'm not sure whether this has stemmed from developments regarding "The Cedars" at Compton Road, but I shall certainly be getting the facts for everyone, when I visit the council later this coming week.

Anyone with information regarding such proposals, please contact me via

Thank you all

Friday, 26 July 2013

Note to Blog Members

Just a quick note for Geoff Russon, Angus Dickie, Ian Phillips, Gareth Clements and Kevin Clements.

I have sent you all some info via e-mail (to gmail accounts where applicable) and would welcome your views regarding the proposals.

Please respond using a reply email.

Thank you all

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Early Kingfisher Return to Mid-section of Reserve

Andy, a local resident has just reported that he saw a Kingfisher on Smestow Brook at Prefab Weir on Sunday 21/7/13 at 8:30pm.

This is quite an early return sighting for a species that nowadays leaves the valley to breed each year, so extra special thanks for sharing this encounter.

Pics From an Evening Stroll From Compton to Wightwick Fields

Monday 22nd July 2013

Hottest day of the year!! Calm with no wind at all. Ground rock hard and grasses golden brown.

Birding Highlights:
2 Grey Heron - Wightwick Fields and another near Pool Hall.
Male Sparrowhawk - low over canal from Sand Fields at Compton.
6 Lapwing near Pool Hall.
2 Swift, 7+ Barn Swallow and 2+ House Martin over Castlecroft Bridge (5 Barn Swallow South over Compton Sandfields earlier).
Chiffchaff singing at Sand Fields.
3 singing Common Whitethroat at Sand Fields, one at the Sheep Fields and one on Pool Hall Lane.
Good concentration of Song Thrushes around Wightwick Road Bridge - 3 close territories possibly.
3+ Linnet on wires just South of wightwick Fields.
Singing Reed Bunting just South of Castlecroft Bridge.
Yellowhammer singing on wires in West Midlands near the smallholdings at Castlecroft Bridge with 3+ others nearby.

Other Nature:

Juvenile Black-headed Gull at Compton Park.
Common Blue Damselfly - seen at Compton Lock and Wightwick

Green-veined White Butterfly Castlecroft

Meadow Brown Butterfly - Barleyfield

White Tailed Bumblebee Nest Castlecroft

Male Yellowhammer on wires near Castlecroft Canal Bridge
The only negative on a beautiful evening!!!! A threat to our children, who visit our Local Nature Reserve and a disgusting reminder of how lazy and selfish some people can be. I am so annoyed, having formed so many friendships with the Valley's dog-walkers, to see that someone is letting them down!!!! I have been walking through this area for three years now and I see first hand that 99% of dog-walkers take time and effort to keep the valley clean:

Friday, 19 July 2013

Sightings Update and Advisory Group Meeting

Apologies for my absence on the blog. Work and home commitments are still quite heavy.

Firstly brief high-lights of the few visits I have made to the valley so far this month:

Sunday 7th July 2013

Yellow Wagtail - seen lifting off the new wetland at Compton at 09:00 and calling as it headed off to the NE.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth - a species that is expanding it's range North as a result of climate change. This individual was darting with audible wing-beats between emerging Willow Herb flowers by the canal at between Compton Lock and Prefab Weir. The abdomen pattern showed surprisingly well in flight and its speed was certainly up there with that of dragonflies. It eventually shot off North along the canal.

Coal Tit - family party again seen near Compton Lock.

100's of Garden Chafer beetles flying around the Barleyfield. plus a lot of Ringlet butterflies and Red-tailed Bumble-bees.

3 Buzzard soaring over Tettenhall Ridge.

First 2 returning adult Black-headed Gulls at Compton Park.

Late P.M: Silver Ground Carpet Moth (Xanthothoe montanata) - Compton Rough.

Sunday 14th July 2013

Black-headed Gull - 16 adults at St. Peter's Playing Fields and 27 Adults at the entrance to the Academy at Compton Park.

Swift - good to see 17+ at Newbridge, South of Tettenhall Road. Also a Collared Dove over and a Nuthatch calling near the station, the latter appearing scarcer this year.

Goldfinch - the Thistle parties have started!!! With 4 at the North end of the Barleyfield.

Common Whitethroat - a bit late for breeding but this male has appeared at
Compton Rough and seems to be holding a territory between Compton Lock and Prefab Weir

Insect Life:

Flesh Fly (Sarcophaga carnaria) - attracted to carrion and carcasses.
The female gives birth to live young

Greenbottle (Lucilia caesar) - larvae found in rotting carcasses and sometimes
 attracted to open wounds, making it another of Nature's "cleaners"

Hover-fly (Helophilus pendulus) - sunbathing. These favor wet wooded habitats
 and the males are often seen hovering over water. Their larvae live in stagnant water.

Hover-fly (Syrphus ribesii) - our commonest hover-fly.
These have multiple broods and are a gardeners friend, since their larvae feed on
aphids (Greenfly, Blackfly and Whitefly)

There are 25,000 species of Longhorn Beetle!!!! This one looked like Leptura rubra
 but lacked the yellow lower legs???
Another puzzle!! There are over 500 species of Sawfly in Britain. I have narrowed this one down to one of three species. When I get more time next Month I shall study the pics to see whether it was Tenthredo notha, Tenthredo arcuata or Tenthredo brevicornis. Although this individual is enjoying pollen, it will take small insects and is probably  reliant on clover species for it's larvae to feed on, which the Barleyfield provides- thanks to good management:


Another positive Advisory Group meeting, with so many caring individuals in attendance.

As promised Wolverhampton City Council and Ranger Service will be providing this blog with updates as to any work planned in the valley, in advance of it's commencement. Thank you.

Also, Wolverhampton City Council have offered to work with this blog in order to provide information to local residents and schools, regarding the natural assets of the valley, and also to publicize local events that are organised by the many groups and associations that exist along the valley.

On a negative note, since attending the meeting, I have had a lot of concerned people contacting me with regard to proposals for development of "The Cedars" site at Compton Road.

At the start of August I shall be obtaining more detailed information, including any consultation processes that are planned. I shall provide updates in due course. To this end thank you to the growing number of local residents who enjoy and contribute to this blog and to the protection of the Valley and it's borders.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The North

Wader Feast

Fri 5th July 2013

Work started on friday morning repairing the wall of lock 20 on the Birmingham Canal,it is expected to take 3 to 4 weeks.The pound below the lock will be drained and the pound above partially drained.The return wader passage is approaching and may!just may attract the odd bird to the newly exposed mud.