Friday, 30 January 2015

Newbridge,   January 30th  2015

All-colour show by

the beaky blinders

A damp, cold end to a quiet January along the valley, sleet and snow showers swept in by a bitter north westerly, the ground, when not frozen, sodden with a mat of decaying leaves, the floor of the wood littered with twigs and branches brought down by gale force winds earlier in the month.  Migrant finch flocks are all but absent, winter thrushes are few and far between, but as the daffodils begin to push up through the playingfield grass and the days begin to lengthen there are already signs of change in the world of birds.  Territories are defended, pair-bonds are established and confirmed, and an exotic species is bringing a splash of colour to dull mid-winter days . . .
(Yes Ian, your birds did land !)
It’s January 22nd, the weather is calm, the wood dull and dripping.  Crow, Magpie, Stock Dove, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker call intermittently, Blue Tit and Great Tit chase and scold, when suddenly there’s a screeching call from above.  Nothing seen at first, but then, against the flat mid-morning sky there’s a bright green shape, then two, close together, high in the trees.  One bird is preening, the other pecking at the base of buds on the topmost branches, their slim yellowish green bodies, long tails and bright red bills in stark contrast to the greys and browns of a winter woodland.  These exotic visitors are the two Rose-ringed Parakeets seen by Ian earlier in the morning flying towards the wood, birds which have been reported in West Park and at garden feeding stations in Whitmore Reans, Newbridge and along the Tettenhall Road since late summer.  The species, which now nests in the West Midlands and which is firmly established in the South East of the UK, originated in central and north eastern Africa and in southern Asia.  There have been captive birds in Great Britain since the mid 1880s, and in the 1930s small numbers were seen flying free in Epping Forest north east of London.  Breeding was reported near Rochester in Kent in 1969, and by the late 1970s there were small nesting colonies in Kent and Surrey.  Since then, as BBC television “Winterwatch” viewers will have seen recently, numbers in Greater London have risen dramatically, with thousands now roosting communally in parkland and at other green spaces.  Small numbers have been reported in the West Midlands for decades, and in recent years nesting has been reported from the Sandwell Valley.  There have been a handful of sightings involving single birds along the Smestow Valley since the 1980s, but this is the first time two have been recorded together locally.  The effects nationally this species may have on native breeding birds is at present being investigated by Defra.  Rose-ringed Parakeets are tree nesters, so woodpeckers, nuthatches and other species could be adversely affected.  Certainly a Mistle Thrush that encountered our two birds in its breeding territory seemed uncertain how to react, approaching gingerly along a branch, then retreating as soon as the visitors squawked a warning.  No wonder.  It’s odds-on this was the first time the two species had ever come face to face locally.  Watch this space!

Mid-winter reports from Dunstall Park lake have included a pair of Gadwall throughout the month (up to four birds have been seen there most winters since the early 2000s), up to seven Shoveler with a similar number of Teal, a pair of Mute Swan, at least eight Coot, with three or more Moorhen, up to three Snipe, a Grey Heron on 18th and a 1st-winter Grey Wagtail a daily visitor to the open Smestow brook culvert.  Elsewhere on the racecourse up to 140 Canada Geese have been grazing on the central grass area, with three Greylag and a single albino of the same species, and 45 Lesser Black-backed Gull and more than 270 Black-headed Gull were present on 18th.  At least one Common Buzzard visited regularly, a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed from the oak copse near Tunstall Water Bridge from c.25th, and two Raven flew eastwards over the site on 18th.  Two Nuthatch were with a Long-tailed Tit flock on 27th, and a Pied Wagtail pair were at their nesting territory in the hotel area on 4th and 27th.

Sightings from elsewhere along the valley included a Treecreeper in Newbridge wood on 16th, an immature male Kestrel perched by the Compton barleyfield on 22nd, and two Little Grebe (starting to show their summer plumage) on the canal by Newbridge wood on 29th.  A Green Woodpecker called from the bottom of the barleyfield on 22nd, twenty three Redwing foraged on the school playingfield next to Newbridge wood on 27th, and a Bullfinch pair were on garden feeders by the old railway south of Hordern Road on 29th, the same day as a Coot was with Mallard and Moorhen on the canal by the Wildside Centre.

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

Thursday, 22 January 2015

keep yours eyes and ears open......

This morning at 9.30 as I turned the corner to walk towards town from crowther road I heard a shriek and looked up to see the pair of Rose-ringed parakeets (also known as ring-necked) flying from the direction of west park.  they flew overhead and over the crowther road allotments towards newbridge wood.  Could not tell if they landed there or carried on, but certainly there are trees there which would be similar to the plain trees they favour in the park.
Otherwise little to report, 2 coot and 2 little grebe on canal near water bridge. 30+greenfinch at the stadium is good these days and alongside about a dozen at wildside, but still no siskin/redpoll .

Sunday, 18 January 2015

.... continue from yesterday

up to 4 little grebe have been on the canal generally north of newbridge, one today at Compton.
siskin and redpoll seem scarce this year I have not seen any redpoll and only one small flock of siskin at wildside on new years day. anybody out there had better luck.
Rooks were active at their rookery by racecourse on new yrs day with at least 10 birds hanging around the nests, though I suspect the cold snap will have pushed them away now. however in the bright sunshine this morning there was plenty of song with dunnock, robin, song thrush and great tit all in good voice. One of the last mentioned was giving a chiff chiff chiff song which reflects the variability of this species.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

...and into the new year

Not much to report in first two weeks of Jan.
A Kingfisher has been seen on the Smestow brook north of Hordern rd which showed an all black bill which means male as opposed to the female usually seen south of the meccano around the spill weir.
A grey wagtail remains faithful to this latter sight as does one at the waterbridge, a third bird is regular in my garden.
very few winter thrushes with just 4 on the football pitches, all redwing,
and no sightings of the barleyfield kestrel(s).
Just outside of the valley the local paper has reported the ring-necked parakeets from west park. A pair were around the boating lake this morning and their are rumours of more than this.
Also just outside the valley ,and belatedly, a little egret fed in the field on the corner of wobaston rd and pendeford hall lane in mid December.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Wednesday  December 31st  2014

Winter welcome for
a wonderful warbler

 The last post for 2014, the last day of the year, on a slowly thawing Dunstall Park, beech branches dripping on to silver-fringed frosted grass, a watery morning sun low behind bare hawthorns, high thin grey cloud, the cracking of ice as a narrowboat inches into a lock at the bottom  of the Wolverhampton 21 flight.  There’s little or no sign of birdlife along the northern and western edges of the racecourse, no winter passerine flocks, just the occasional corvid call and the sound of joggers huffing their way along the towpath towards Aldersley.  The lake is still frozen, save a stretch of water kept open by ducks and other species.  This first cold spell of the winter marks the end of a relatively quiet year along the Smestow Valley, but the last two months have not been without interest . . .

 So, let’s start with the bird of the year for 2014, and for that matter for the last few years.  Gareth Clements tells how on November 18th late in the afternoon at Dunstall Park lake he found a real gem, the valley’s third Yellow-browed Warbler.

 “I was hoping for a Mandarin to drop in with roosting ducks, when I realised a large tit flock was going around the lake.  I was pleased to pick out a Chiffchaff, and was thinking how I missed the days when there were Willow Tits in these flocks.  Soon after 4 o’clock I decided to walk around the lake again, and could hear a Coal Tit. It was going frantic, and then I then realised it wasn't a Coal Tit but a Yellow-browed.  I messaged Dad, saying: ‘I’ve got a Yellow-browed, but I can't see it’.  Then I did manage to see it briefly as it came high enough in a bush for it to be visible over the bank.  I was expecting a dull bird, but it was very well marked and had very clear double wing bars.  Afterwards I counted the tits as they went from bush to bush, in total 52 Long-tailed Tits and two Blue Tits.  I looked for the Yellow-browed later, but there was no sign of it.”

 Gareth’s bird, which was not seen again despite a search next morning by local birders, was in a typical waterside sallows habitat, just as was the valley’s first Yellow-browed found by David Jackson next to the Smestow brook just south of the old Tettenhall railway station on October 25th 1998.  Jacko’s bird was the first ever Yellow-browed record for the West Midlands.  Gareth found the valley’s second bird in towpath bushes near lock 4 of the Birmingham Canal above Stafford Road next to Wolverhampton Science Park on the afternoon of October 4th 2008 (this was a Smestow Valley record, as the brook flows under the science park grounds via Fowlers Park from its source in Park Village).  Yellow-broweds are still regarded as a relatively rare migrant species across inland Britain, with only around 16 records for the whole of the area encompassing Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands.  In that context, not a bad end to our birding year.  Is Gareth on a hat trick . . ?
Early winter reports from Dunstall Park lake included a pair of Mute Swan first seen on 28/12 (the male was seen ice-breaking  to reach feeding areas, followed along the narrow open channel by two enterprising Coot), a Grey Heron on 7/12, single Little Grebe on 5/11 and 20/12, eighteen-plus Teal on 19/11, seven male and three female Shoveler on 15/11, two female Tufted Duck on 15/11, a male Gadwall on 18/12, and the female Ringed Teal on 28/11.  Three Chiffchaff were by the lake on 28/11, nine Snipe were reported there on 5/11 (with minimal mud margins and freezing weather, none were seen after 20/12), a Water Rail was recorded on 28/11, a female Reed Bunting was seen on 30/11 with a male reported on 14/12, a first-winter Grey Wagtail fed along the Smestow brook open culvert on 14/12 and 31/12, and two Pied Wagtail were on the racecourse hotel roof on 30/11.  At least ten House Sparrow were daily visitors to the lake island, 20-plus Starling were in island bushes on 28/12, twenty six Crow were on the lake fences and grass on 14/12, and at least six Rook chasing and calling around the oak copse rookery nests in calm bright weather on 28/12 gave a hint of spring to come.  Three Stock Dove were in the oak copse on 28/12, a Nuthatch was on what is now a traditional nest tree on 19/11, and on the central grass area, a Canada Goose flock totalling up to 130 birds were joined by five Greylag from early December, and by an albino Greylag from mid-November.  Gull numbers peaked at 350-plus Black-headed Gull on 30/11, at least 100 Lesser Black-backed Gull on 30/11 and nine Herring Gull (four immatures) on 15/11.

Elsewhere along the valley there were regular reports of Jackdaw, Jay and Common Buzzard, single Goldcrest were seen along the old railway by the Compton barleyfield and south of Hordern Road, two female Bullfinch were by the old railway near the barleyfield on 26/12, eight Goldfinch (one bird was singing) were in a canalside bush near Compton lock on 26/12, and Coal Tit was seen and heard at Newbridge and by the old Tettenhall railway station.
On 19/11 a male Blackcap was in a garden by Newbridge playingfield (very probably the same bird was seen there on 4/12).  Also on 19/11 Gareth found his Yellow-browed and a Common Chiffchaff.  Three winter warbler species in the valley on one day . . .

West Midland county bird recorder Kevin Clements continued his dawn migration watches from Castlecroft canal bridge at the southern end of the Smestow Valley into the early winter.  On 31/10 he saw one Common Gull,  909 Redwing and 504 Starling,  on 1/11 eleven Linnet and a total of 2,575 Woodpigeon,  on 4/11 eleven Goosander,   on 5/11 four Siskin,  on 9/11 five Goosander,  281 Fieldfare and 13 Redpoll,  on 10/11 fourteen Greenfinch,  and on 13/11 two Goosander and 63 Jackdaw.

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