Tuesday, 11 November 2014



Hopefully not a Freudian slip by Ian at the start of his October 20th post, but, even if we’re now down to an appreciation society numbering just one, please accept apologies for months of silence.  Seems like an age since House Martins were setting up at Dunstall Park, Kingfishers were feeding young in a Smestow brook nest hole and Whitethroats were displaying over the grass slopes at Aldersley.  So, with autumn leaves carpeting the ground and with the nights drawing in, a seasonal catch-up for the valley is in order. 
Firstly, back to the Kingfishers.  As Ian reported in July, a nest hole was found by the Smestow brook, and soon afterwards a pair were seen taking fish to the chicks hidden inside.  Great to have these beautiful birds back as a Smestow Valley breeding species.  Fingers crossed they’ll nest next year.  Another breeding success for water birds came at Dunstall Park lake, where a pair of Little Grebe raised two broods totalling four fledged youngsters.  At least two young Grey Heron almost certainly from the Pendeford Mill nesting colony visited the lake with adults in July and August, four adult Mute Swan were on the lake on June 6th, and 17 Greylag fed with 27 Canada Geese on the racecourse on 16/9 (a skein of 60-plus Canadas went over Newbridge on 1/10).  A pair of Moorhen bred at the lake, and there was success there for at least four pairs of Coot.  Passage records at the lake in what was a quiet season for waders across the West Midlands included single Green Sandpipers on 24/8 and 18/9 and a Little Ringed Plover on 6/7.  A young Hobby was seen over the racecourse on 2/9, two migrating Yellow Wagtail went over the same site on 31/8, a Tree Pipit flew from the banked grass fields north of the Birmingham Canal on 14/9 and 56 Meadow Pipit were reported from Dunstall Park on 16/9.  Passage passerines included two Wheatear on Dunstall Park on 2/10 (one was present on 16/10), two first-winter Stonechat (the first found by Geoff Russon at the Compton barleyfield on 21/9, the second reported at Dunstall Park lake on 22/10), and an unusually late singing Sedge Warbler at Dunstall Park lake on 16/9.  This bird was seen the next day, and may have been the one reported there on 29/9.  Three Spotted Flycatcher by the barleyfield on 2/9 were shadowed, as is often the case, by at least two Common Whitethroat, and hirundine records included 85-plus House Martin at Dunstall Park on 31/8 and c.200 passage Barn Swallow at the same site on 1/9.  At least 20 Swift were screeching over their Newbridge nest site on 21/7, with 15-plus birds migrating over the same area in rainy conditions on 5/8.  Raptor records included a Sparrowhawk pair high over Newbridge on 29/9, a young Kestrel on a Dunstall Park floodlight pylon on 20/7, eight Buzzard together over the barleyfield on 21/9 (twelve were seen from Dunstall Park on 2/9) and a Peregrine low over Newbridge on 25/9.
Late summer witnessed as usual Lapwing stopping over at Dunstall Park with a flock of c.50 seen on 20/7 and 65 on 27/7. Gull flocks were late in returning to the racecourse, but numbers increased during early autumn.  At least 130 Lesser Black-backed Gull were present on 14/9, more than 350 Black-headed Gull were seen on 26/10, Herring Gull totalled 11 on 26/10, a second-year Yellow-legged Gull was found by Gareth Clements on 14/9, and an adult Common Gull on 31/8 was followed by a first-winter bird on 22/10.  Foraging corvids at Dunstall Park included 30-plus Rook on 20/7 (a good summer at the racecourse rookery with at least 18 nests occupied), and 30 Crow on 26/10, with at least 40 Jackdaw flying low over Newbridge towards the racecourse on 4/11.  Jay were seen burying acorns at the barleyfield, Dunstall Park and elsewhere, and two Raven were together circling north of Aldersley on 7/9.  At least 200 Starling foraged on Dunstall Park on 8/9, a flock of House Sparrow were daily visitors to the island at Dunstall Park lake through the late summer, 12 Stock Dove were by the lake on 26/10, nine Collared Dove perched together on a TV camera platform at the racecourse on 20/9, and 14 Mistle Thrush were on floodlight pylons at the same site on 1/10.  Duck numbers at Dunstall Park lake were slow to build in relatively mild weather, but 12 Shoveler were seen on 5/10, at least three Tufted Duck visited in late summer/early autumn, and among at least 30 Teal present on 29/9 was a new bird for the Smestow Valley, a female RINGED TEAL, bringing to 199 the number of species seen locally since the early 1980s.  Snipe totals at Dunstall Park lake have as yet only reached nine birds on 31/10, but a Jack Snipe flew in on 14/10, the first local sighting since December 2010.
Other records include a Tawny Owl calling from Newbridge wood on 19/8, a Reed Bunting at Dunstall Park on 31/8, two Grey Wagtail over Smestow School playingfields on 12/10, at least 21 Pied Wagtail on Dunstall Park on 20/7, single Treecreeper and Nuthatch at Dunstall Park on 14/9, c.10 Goldfinch at Dunstall Park on 20/9, a Linnet over Dunstall Park lake on 20/9 and a Rose-ringed Parakeet flying from a canalside tree next to Compton Park playingfields on 2/9, the seventh local record for this colourful species which now breeds in the Sandwell Valley.
A migration watch at Castlecroft canal bridge by West Midland Bird Club recorder Kevin Clements on 3/10 produced only the second Woodlark record for the Smestow Valley (the first was of a bird at Turner’s fields, Wightwick, on 29/3/1998). Other records from Kevin’s dawn vigils on the bridge by Wightwick fields this autumn include a Little Owl on 13/9 and 27/9, ten Goosander on 17/9 (two on 16/10), one Goldcrest on 17/9 and 26/9, three Pheasant on 20/9 and 27/9, two Green Sandpiper on 27/9 (one on 20/10), a Peregrine on 30/9, two Gadwall on 2/10, a Mandarin on 10/10, a total of 232 Starling on 16/10, a Lesser Redpoll on 16/10, a total of 2,086 Redwing on 17/10, twenty four Greenfinch on 17/10, a Siskin on 17/10, four Yellowhammer on 17 /10, twenty five Linnet on 17/10, a Brambling on 18/10, four Raven on 19/10, a total of 4,050 Woodpigeon on 22/10, two Cormorant on 25/10 and a Chiffchaff on 27/10.

which do you want first

the good news
our reader may remember a post a couple of months ago alerting them to the licensing of the vulture/raptor killed drug diclofenac for use in Europe.  following quite a widespread outcry its use has now been referred to the European medicines agency with the potential for a ban to be in place by the end of this month.
the bad news
in the same post I highlighted issues around the killing of migrant birds in malta. so it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that the likely next European commissioner for the environment is a maltese MP.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Barely awake

That's how the valley felt this morning in the cold and fog, but actually the reference is to a canal barge.  when there are no birds around one tends to notice the boats and the often original names they have such as the aforementioned.
Anyway as the weak November sun penetrated the fog so things gradually came to life and a circular walk between the water bridge and the meccano became very pleasant.
sometimes you can walk past something many times before you take it in properly. such is the case with me and the Oak tree opposite the MS centre which really is a magnificent tree but is also supporting a huge amount of Ivy. I wonder if it is any threat to the tree.
Birdwise many blackbirds clearly local birds supplemented by Scandinavian visitors but de4spite flyovers still only single Redwing and for me no Fieldfare yet in the valley.  have seen large groups of both in the Shropshire Wealds.  not sure whether will be any berries left for them certainly the good numbers of  local thrushes have already polished off  many of the local supply.  Also good numbers of jays and long tailed tits.  3 goldcrest today was not as good as 7 last weekend but clearly they have done well.  4 great spotted woodpeckers and 2 nuthatches also seen. 3 little grebe were by the boats.
Only one grey wagtail seen today on the smestow but last weekend had 3 at the spill weir two engaged in a territorial dispute whilst a juvenile fed in the culvert, and no kingfisher today having seen one on three consecutive days at the start of the month. the regular bird between meccano and newbridge and then probably a different bird at aldersley junction and possibly the same bird at Oxley sewage works.  Also at Oxley were two grey wags so with a regular bird in my garden we seem to have at least 7 winterers.
finally butterflies just made it into November with a presumed red admiral on the 2nd after several on the barleyfield at the end of October.