Thursday, 7 January 2016

Newbridge,  7th January 2016


Blossom, Blackcaps,

drumming and daffs 


There’s tree blossom in Newhampton Road, daffodils are in bloom at Newbridge wharf, catkins hang in curtains along the barleyfield boundaries at Compton and a woodpecker drums from canalside trees at Dunstall Park.  Wildlife locally and nationally has responded to the warmest December since the 1930s, four weeks in which record amounts of rain fell across the UK.  So, as the New Year gets under way it’s perhaps a good time to report on bird records from recent months along the Smestow Valley covering a period of autumn and early winter that may as well be spring . . .

Records from Dunstall Park lake reflect the weather, with duck and wader numbers falling away in the unusually mild winter conditions.  Snipe totals rose and fell, with two seen on 5/9, at least 30 present on 28/10, and just three counted on 23/12.  Likewise Teal, with three birds present on 22/8, eighteen on 4/10, at least 30 on 6/12 and 14 on 23/12.  The most Shoveler seen were four birds on 13/9 and three males and a female on 21/11.  A pair of Gadwall made their annual winter appearance in November and were still present on 14/12, a handsome male Pochard was an unusual visitor on 28/10, and the lake’s only Goosander record for the year came when a drake flew in at midday on 5/12.  Single Grey Heron were sporadic visitors throughout the period, two Little Grebe were present on 4/10, four Coot were seen on 23/12, and at least six Moorhen, adults and juveniles, were October visitors.  Lapwing counts at the racecourse included 60 birds on the central grass area on 9/8, around 30 on 13/9, at least 35 landing at the lake on 26/11 and c.40 circling over the site on 19/12.  The year’s second lake record for Common Sandpiper came with a single bird on 13/9, and a wintering Green Sandpiper was seen there on 3/11.

Racecourse gull numbers fluctuated as usual, with maximum counts of at least 400 Black-headed Gull on the central grass on 21/11, c.450 on 23/12, seventy six Lesser Black-backed Gull (including 26 juveniles) seen on 21/11, and four adult and two immature Herring Gull on 14/11.  Other Dunstall Park records included 76 grazing Canada Geese on 26/11 and a group of 18 grazing Greylag on 13/8 (the albino Greylag was with the grazing geese throughout August and into September).  A pair of non-ringed Mute Swan first seen at the lake in early October were still visiting at the end of the year, and were most probably the birds seen in recent weeks on the Staffs & Worcs Canal between Compton and Autherley junction.

                                                             Finch flocks                                                                 

Autumn and early winter raptor records from along the Smestow Valley were intermittent, but two Buzzard were seen plunge-diving over the old Valley Park School buildings on 18/8, and at least one young Sparrowhawk called for food on the western edge of the racecourse on 13/8.  By the year’s end most winter thrushes had moved through into South Staffordshire, Shropshire and beyond, but at least 20 Redwing were noted flying over Newbridge on 17/11.  Resident Mistle Thrush were vocal and active as the year ended, as were Great Spotted Woodpecker, both species seen disputing territories in the Newbridge area on 27/12.  A Green Woodpecker called from the edge of the Compton barleyfield on 16/11, territorial calls were heard from Nuthatch in and near Newbridge wood and along the old railway south of Hordern Road at the end of December, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed by Dunstall Park on the exceptionally early date of 23/12.  Winter finch flocks were noted by the barleyfield (cf Ian and Geoff’s posts), with six Redpoll feeding in a silver birch by Newbridge playingfield on 26/11 and a singing Goldfinch among a small flock just north of Compton canal lock on 16/11.  Five male Bullfinch were seen together by the old railway just south the Meccano bridge on 16/11.

Closer to home at Newbridge there were a number of late summer/autumn warbler records, including a Garden Warbler living up to its name as it ate honeysuckle berries next to the playingfield on 26/8, and four passage Chiffchaff in a mixed feeding flock in a silver birch at the same site on 18/9.  A singing Chiffchaff was in the same tree on 28/9 and one was in voice at Dunstall Park on 18/9.  The warm winter weather has so far favoured some of the UK’s smallest birds, with single Goldcrest seen in mixed flocks by Newbridge playingfield on 1/10, 28/10 and 26/11, and at Dunstall Park on 28/10 and in Newbridge wood on 28/12, and at least ten Long-tailed Tit with Blue Tit, Great Tit and other species moving through gardens by Newbridge playingfield on 19/12 and by the old railway south of Hordern Road on 19/12.  A Grey Wagtail fed by the Smestow brook just south of Tettenhall Road on 26/12, at least one pair of Stock Dove were setting up in Newbridge wood, and two Collared Dove were at the racecourse on 4/10.  Other Dunstall Park records included two Pied Wagtail by the grandstand on 4/18, two Jay at the lake on 14/11 and two Rook foraging on the central grass on 21/11. 
(NB.   Dunstall Park is a closed commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled).

PS.   Recent records suggest that the valley is witnessing an unusually large number of Coal Tits visiting garden feeding stations and other sites this autumn and winter.  Is this due to one of the nominate Continental species’ (Parus ater ater) periodic irruptions into the UK (the last recorded invasion was in 1996), or did birds of the resident race (Parus ater britannicus) had an exceptionally successful breeding season last year?
PPS.   There are more and more reports that a colourful and vocal species is establishing itself along the valley.  It’s open to question whether the presence of at least six Rose-ringed Parakeet should be welcomed, but all the evidence suggests that at least one pair has successfully nested locally in the last 12 months.  It’s very possible that some of our birds are from a small breeding colony in the Sandwell Valley.  Until recent years there were only a few annual records for the Smestow Valley dating back to the 1980s, almost all very probably involving escaped birds.  It’s too early to say what effect their presence will now have on other tree hole nesting species, but numbers in their breeding stronghold in outer London have reached plague proportions.  One thing’s for sure.  They’re among the valley’s fastest fliers, calling shrilly as they rocket along the canal and old railway.  For the time being, just enjoy!!

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