Sunday, 27 April 2014

weekend composite

This post is a combination of three reports having bumped into both Angus and Geoff .
Kingfisher; couple of sightings in the southern half along the canal
sand Martin one over lupin field
Whitethroat scattered throughout valley10+
Skylark displaying bird between castlecroft and pool hall
Linnet pair just south castlecroft bridge
Lesser Whitethroat both Geoff and Angus  heard, barleyfield and lupin field respectively maybe also one at wightwick
Yellow wagtail calling bird over the rough ground between pines and dell
Reed Buntings mating birds on the lupin field confounding angus who was lamenting their disappearance.
Thrushes; pair of mistles at Compton and several Songs suggesting much better year for both.
Finally more Chiffchaff song than blackcap today reversing events of recent days

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Quick update from this mornings visit to the north of the valley.  lots of singing Blckcaps including three in the old orchard at Aldersley Junction, but only two singing Chiffchaff. 2 singing whitethroat in the scrub behind the orchard.and Grasshopper Warbler, seen but not heard, in brsambles by railing top middle lupin field.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Willow Warblers

It is that time of year when birders suffer pre migration tension. One does wonder though with the plethora of blogs and information services all reporting sightings whether our expectations are too high. Geoff has been connecting with a singing willow warbler in the top corner of the barleyfield for most of the last week  but that seems to be the only report since the early sighting last month.
However if I reflect on it maybe there is just too much disturbance in the valley. at the risk of being anthropomorphic I wonder if  passing birds are put off by all the building work, maybe the site just looks different and they do not feel safe. Also of course there are a lot of people using the area.  Then again if I look at my own Willow Warbler records this year I did not hear a singing bird until this week just gone. On Monday 5/6 birds on Cannock chase, but all but 1 was in the same small plantation, and 7/8 on cuckoo bank on Wednesday where also had two cuckoos!.  Otherwise it has been perhaps half a dozen on Isle of Wight at start of April , 3 at pool hall yesterday and singles elsewhere.  The early bird I saw in the valley reminded me of a fall of Willows in early April on the Pembrokeshire coast a few years ago. The only other species involved were wheatears and there were about 70 of each.  Whereas the wheatears showed little variation other than gender the willows amazed me with their plumage variation.  Some birds were almost clourless in terms of green/yellow being a washed out fawny colour as was the bird I saw in the valley on 17 march.
Otherwise only catch up reports for 2nd week april were Kingfisher on smestow in paddocks and female grey wagtail at wightwick mill lock.



This morning (Saturday 19th)  it's a north easterly wind at Aldersley/Oxley, the grass slopes next to the bottom end of the Birmingham Canal's 21-lock flight are dull, cold and quiet, bird song is scattered and subdued, and there's very little in the air, save a small group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls making their noisy way towards the city.  The racecourse too is quiet, only the briefest of Little Grebe calls from the lake, and a Nuthatch trilling near its nest tree.  Earlier in the week things were warmer and livelier . . . 

Aldersley/Oxley,  Monday April 14th

Bright and cool, a good day to watch from the top of the rough grass fields between the railway carriageworks and the Birmingham Canal.  A male Sparrowhawk angles low over the railway viaduct at Jones Road, five Chiffchaff and three Blackcap are singing,  the tinkling notes of at least four Goldfinch come from towpath bushes and trees, a Grey Heron makes its laboured way up the flight of locks, while to the south over the city at least 30 Lesser Black-backed Gulls circle over their nests sites.  To the west, low over Aldersley Stadium, a grey shape circles, gaining height, stocky, powerful, broad-based wings outlined against the whisps of white cloud, moving effortlessly against the wind, within minutes towering over the racecourse,  turning and climbing even higher, then slanting away to the south west, a Peregrine, master of the elements, soon returning at speed and, with scarcely a wingbeat, turning and taking up its position again over the city, eventually lost to view, disappearing into  the bright blue bowl of the sky.

Aldersley/Oxley/Newbridge,  Wednesday April 16th

The wind has died and it's hot, conditions perfect for late-morning raptors.  Bang on cue two Buzzards float up from behind the railway carriageworks at Oxley, the northernmost of three pairs nesting along the Smestow Valley, circling together and displaying before separating, one moving low towards Jones Road, the other disappearing northwards behind the railway bank trees.  Later, mid-afternoon, perhaps one of the same birds calls as it circles over Newbridge playingfield, wing patches lit by the sun as it turns.  Always best to check above the circling bird, and sure enough there's another, very high, moving slowly south westwards, very probably a stranger, possibly sounding out a new territory.  The Newbridge bird gains height and then plunge dives, wings folded, before climbing again as if on a roller coaster, repeating the performance to tell  all who need to know that this is its kingdom.

Aldersley/Oxley/Dunstall Park,  Thursday April 17th

Dull and a cool breeze again, but calm and slightly warmer alongside the last five canal locks as they descend to Aldersley junction.  A beautiful pink-red chested male Bullfinch feeds in the willows, "tac tac" calls from a male Blackcap suggests the females are beginning to arrive, Chiffchaff have already paired up, and the clear repeated notes of a Song Thrush sound from a traditional nesting area.  A familiar shape hangs and flutters over the rough grass slope, a male Kestrel, the first I've seen here for some time, a species that until recently nested annually at the racecourse, but is now the least regularly seen local raptor.  Later, one of the area's nesting Buzzards hovers over the same area, hanging gently and effortlessly against the breeze, its lack of wing action in sharp contrast to the trembling movements of the smaller species.
Down on Dunstall Park a Swallow flits over the stables and then diasappears (the ground staff say the first arrivals were two on April 10th),  and at least five House Martin and four Sand Martin skim low over the lake.  Soon it'll be summer . . .
PS.  A pair of Coot are proudly sitting on a nest completed in the last few days on the edge of the Birmingham Canal. They have woven into this impressive structure not only reeds and sticks but mad-made materials including a supermarket carrier bag, string, a plastic Coke bottle and a tobacco packet telling us that UK duty has been paid.  They've covered everything.
NB.  Dunstall Park is a closed commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Migration Update

sun 13th april 2014          early morning           mid section        

clear sky and sunny but chilly

    Willow Warbler singing erratically and mostly distant at the top SE corner of Barleyfield,just after I left Ian by the Meccano bridge,the first this spring.Still singing when revisited late afternoon. Plenty of singing chiffchaff and blackcap,also 2 swallow. A pair of mallard by Meadow View bridge with 7 small chicks.On fri 11th I had a treecreeper at the Barleyfield level crossings,a scarce species in this area.



Dunstall Park,   Saturday 12th April 2014

The spring blossom is everywhere, pink and white waves of cherry and blackthorn bright against the fresh green of hawthorn and willow along the western and northern boundaries of the racecourse.  High broken cloud edges in from the north west, and despite the mid-morning sun the air is cold out on the open grass, so it's a two-fleece layer and a steady walk alongside the drainage ditches where two Wheatear were seen by a member of the racecourse staff on March 29th.  This species has for more than three decades been seen here on spring migration from its sub-Saharan and east African wintering grounds, always favouring the south eastern edge of the site and feeding along edges of the mown central area and its service roads.  Fewer have been recorded in recent years, but in the 1990s good numbers were seen annually, despite racecourse redevelopment in the middle of the decade.  An impressive 70 birds were seen in total during the spring of 1992, and single-day records include 31  on the site on 17/4/2004, a total only exceeded regionally by 35 birds at Sandwell Valley on 3/4/1983.  A scan of the lake confirms that wintering ducks have departed (the Gadwall pair were last seen on April 5th, with three male and two female Shoveler and three female and four male Teal present the day before), and that at least seven pairs of Canada Geese are sitting on nests, most of them enjoying the relative safety of the island.  Coot too are nesting, possibly as many as six pairs, their white forehead "shields" glimpsed among the spiked aquatic grass, and a brief whinnying call shows that the Little Grebe pair are still here.  The fact they're now so elusive as to be invisible strongly suggests they're breeding.  Fingers crossed, as the last nesting success in the valley was at Dunstall Park 14 years ago.  At least three Moorhen are present, again, breeding is on the cards, and close to the lake fence three Snipe are flushed, angling away back towards the island (numbers have fallen away since 16 were seen on March 16th).  High above, a single Cormorant makes its stiff bow-winged way towards the south west, while two female Sparrowhawks are in territorial display over the western edge of the racecourse, white undertail feathers spread as they twist, glide, swoop and circle, one of them eventually diving away towards a traditional nest site pursued by its rival, both birds disappearing below the tree line as a single Buzzard circles high in outline against the white-grey clouds.  At least three singing Chiffchaff and the clear notes of a Blackcap along the tree-lined north western boundary show that the first of our breeding migrants are well and truly back, and from the copse bordering Aldersley canal juction comes the sharp trilling call of a Nuthatch, the bird returning to a nest site used by a pair for the past three summers.  This time of year you never know quite what's about, so one more walk round the lake, and sure enough, just the briefest of glimpses, fast and low, turning up into the sun and back down to skim the surface, our first recorded racecourse Barn Swallow for 2014. Typically it vanishes, but a few minutes later there are two, this time lifting and falling low over the mown grass, slanting away as they hawk, hopefully birds which will help continue the Dunstall Park nesting tradition for this wonderful species.  The ground staff now mark their return date on their office calendar.
OK, time to go, but hang on, something's just dropped in, there's a familiar shape rolling and veering over the lake fence, dark paddle wings propelling their owner on to the top of the island where he stands erect, dark-eyed, black head crest bending in the breeze, a single Lapwing, hopefully back to stand vigil and await the arrival of a mate.  A pair first bred in the lake area in 2002, and there was intermittent success thereafter, with two youngsters successfully fledged in 2007. Since then all nesting attempts have failed, with chicks predated and nests abandoned.  Last year there was just the odd record of a bird in late April, so let's see what happens this time.  Hope springs eternal.
Other recent Smestow Valley sightings have included on March 26th a male Reed Bunting at Dunstall Park lake, 26 Magpie foraging on Dunstall Park, and a total of seven Buzzard seen in the air at the same time over three sites (one over Wightwick, two over Stockwell End and four over Aldersley/Oxley), and on March 23rd two Goldcrest in the hawthorn wood north of Hordern Road.  Six Siskin and a male Redpoll were on garden feeders by the old railway south of Hordern Road on March 25th (three Siskin were still present on March 28th), ten Redwing fed on ivy berries by the canal towpath near Dunstall Water Bridge on March 28th,  a Mistle Thrush sang by Newbridge playingfield on March 31st and April 6th,  Stock Dove called from trees near Aldersley canal junction on April 5th, an adult Mute Swan was on Dunstall Park lake on April 8th, and a female Grey Wagtail foraged along the muddy exit of the Smestow brook culvert by Dunstall Water Bridge on April 10th.  

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