Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Newbridge,   July 28th  2015

Chat show at lake

as city show exits

The tents are packed away, the fairground rides are gone, the giant screens have vanished, the music stage has been dismantled and there’s now no trace of what for two days turned Dunstall Park into a cross between Alton Towers and Brighton pier.  The annual City Show, moved this year  for the first time from West Park to the racecourse, was rightly a weekend fun time for many (not, as it transpired, for as many as the organisers had hoped for) but a worry for those who care about the wildlife living on and around one of Wolverhampton’s largest green spaces.  But, credit to Arena Leisure who run the site, within 24 hours the whole area was spick and span, cleared of clutter and litter and ready for a race meeting on the very next day.  So as we move into the second half of summer, for birds, animals, insects and plants it’s business as usual . . .

Mid-summer highlights at the racecourse have involved two birds not seen at the site for some years.  For looks alone it was no contest, a superb male Whinchat by the lake on July 15th.  Return passage has started for this migrant species leaving its scattered breeding sites in the West Midlands for wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.  Regional nesting numbers dropped sharply in the 1980s, and nesting is now largely confined to northern moorlands.  Local records have been few in recent years, but an astonishing total of 17 were found along the Smestow Valley on May 14th 2007 after an overnight “fall” of migrant birds, including unprecedented numbers of Wheatears and Sedge Warblers (the number of Whinchat recorded for that year was 25).  Less striking but just as welcome at the racecourse this summer was a Reed Warbler, heard and seen intermittently in lakeside vegetation in dull and blustery conditions on June 28th.  Its visit constituted only the second record for the site, the first being a bird singing there, again in inclement weather, on June 10th 2010.  Breeding records for the lake have been boosted by the success of two pairs of Little Grebe, with at least two adult-sized youngsters seen in recent weeks.  At least two pairs of Coot have produced young, and two small Moorhen chicks seen with their parents at the lake on July 25th were proof of nesting.

It seems sadly that 2015 is turning out to be another year of failed Mute Swan breeding at the racecourse.  Of the five hatched cygnets only one was present at the end of last week, and the body of one its siblings in the lake and the disappearance of the adults and third surviving youngster suggested a sudden and calamitous intervention by a predator, possibly a fox.  Small numbers of adult and young Grey Heron, almost certainly from the Pendeford Mill nature reserve breeding colony, are visiting the lake, where up to 24 Mallard have been resting as adults go into moult.  Two Shoveler were on the lake on July 19th, a male Tufted Duck was present on July 7th, a single Teal was seen on July 27th, foraging Canada Geese totalled 38 on July 25th, the same day as a Greylag left the lake towards the north west, a Reed Bunting sang in lakeside bushes on July 3rd and House Sparrow and Starling have been using the lake island as a bathing/preening station.  Two juvenile Grey Wagtail fed along the shoreline on June 21st and 30th, and single Chiffchaff were singing in lakeside bushes on July 15th and 21st.
Wader passage is under way, with birds able to feed and preen along the lake shoreline.  Three Little Ringed Plover adults were present on June 21st and 28th, two Green Sandpiper were seen on July 15th and 19th, and the first Common Sandpiper seen at the lake since 2011 was noted on July 21st.  Lapwing are arriving to rest and feed on the central grass area, with 57 counted on July 25th, alongside an increasing number of gulls:  around 70 Black-headed Gull, including three juveniles, on July 19th and nine Lesser Black-backed Gull (including four juveniles) on July 27th. 
Elsewhere on the racecourse, four juvenile Linnet foraging with adults in a drainage ditch near the grandstand on June 10th were proof of successful nesting at the top of the sloped grass fields below the nearby railway carriageworks at Oxley.  A Pied Wagtail pair have again nested in the hotel precinct, and House Martin and Barn Swallow youngsters have fledged in the hotel/stables area.  Raptor presence has been intermittent, but Common Buzzard adults, some now increasingly ragged in appearance as the summer progresses, are starting to call up their young, a female Kestrel hovered over the bottom of the Birmingham Canal locks on July 19th before perching on a racecourse floodlight pylon, and a female Sparrowhawk tried for and missed a small bird low over the lake on July 15th.

Reports from elsewhere along the valley include four Raven circling together over Aldersley/Oxley on July 19th at the same time as a fifth flew low towards the north west.  Twelve Swift were screaming over their Newbridge nest site at dusk on June 26th, while 12 or more House Martin hawked over the same area late on July 25th.  At least one juvenile Coal Tit was with a group of ten-plus adult and juvenile Long-tailed Tits in a garden by Newbridge playingfield on July 17th.  At least one juvenile Robin has been a daily visitor to the same garden, where young Dunnock and House Sparrow have been fed by adults, and a Collared Dove was seen perched on July 19th and 21st.  A singing Goldcrest was heard in a playingfield conifer next to the same garden on July 1st and 2nd.

PS.  Worst fears over the racecourse swans have been realised.  A check yesterday found no trace of the third cygnet on or near the lake, so it seems the first breeding attempt at the site for five years has failed (a pair built a nest in 2010 but abandoned it before eggs were laid).  Successful nesting took place annually from 2001 to 2005 with a total of 16 cygnets fledged.  In 2006 a nest was abandoned after seven eggs were laid, and in 2007 three cygnets died after being abandoned by their parents.
(NB.   Dunstall Park is a closed commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled).

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