Thursday, 19 January 2017

Newbridge,  19th January 2017


Two top birds are

mid-winter warmers


Happy New Year!  That long dry autumn of 2016 is already a distant memory and we’re deep in a mix of damp misty  days, gale force winds or clear frosty nights.  It’s been a quiet time along the valley, with bird numbers seemingly down in general, possibly due to a poor breeding year for resident passerines s like Blue Tits, Great Tits and Dunnocks.  Winter migrants are with us, but visiting finch flocks are as yet few and far between, and cold-weather wader and duck totals are down on recent years.  Even so there have been some excellent sightings to warm the mid-winter weather . . .


The year started in style in the shape of a Pink-footed Goose found by Geoff on January 11th, only the second ever Smestow Valley record for this wintering species (two were seen flying north westwards over Aldersley stadium on 11/3/2012).  This individual, an adult, was feeding in a stubble field bordering the Smestow brook just to the north west of the dam lake at Pool Hall.  Top Dunstall Park billing must go a female Scaup which stayed for a day on the lake on December 12th.  This diving duck is an annual winter visitor to the West Midlands, averaging perhaps only 40 or so records across the region’s lakes and reservoirs, and the racecourse bird was only the third Smestow Valley report in three decades (a juvenile was noted in January 1987 and there was an unusual summer sighting of a drake in May 2007).  Other racecourse duck records for recent months include two female and three male Gadwall on 21/9 (a pair have been infrequent visitors since then), nine male and three female Shoveler on 31/12, thirty-plus Teal on 28/10, a male Tufted Duck on 9/9 and four male and one “redhead” Goosander on 31/12.  Elsewhere cold weather brought reports of at least 40 Mallard to the Staffs & Worcs Canal between Hordern Road and the Meccano Bridge on 23/12 and five Teal on the Smestow brook by Aldersley Road gardens on 21/12.  A pair of Mute Swan were at Dunstall Park lake in early October (an adult female was on the canal at Newbridge on 8/10), adult and juvenile Grey Heron were late-summer visitors in small numbers to the racecourse, where Coot numbers fell from eight on 29/10 to four by the year’s end.  Wintering Little Grebe numbers are down (two or three at most have been seen along the canal), but Dunstall Park has produced the valley’s first Water Rail for some years, first seen on 23/11, and 2016 was a bumper year at the racecourse for Green Sandpiper. The first reports of this migrant wader came in mid-July, and birds were reported in every month from then until the end of the year, with the last ones recorded two on 11/11 and one on 9/12.  Snipe began returning to the lake in mid-September, with numbers peaking at 32 on 28/10 and tailing off to less than 10 at the end of December.  At least 200 Canada Geese were foraging on the racecourse on 24/12, accompanied by 19 Greylag (numbers of this feral species are increasing markedly across the region), and other records from the same site included two Lapwing on 11/12.  Racecourse gull totals peaked in September, with 128 Lesser Black-backed Gull seen on 5/9 and around 300 Black-headed Gull reported on 21/9.  Dunstall Park passage records included two juvenile Wheatear, a Yellow Wagtail and a Sand Martin all on 5/9 and a Spotted Flycatcher on 6/9.  Reports of flocks foraging on the central grass area included nine Mistle Thrush on 28/9, at least 200 Starling on 9/9, eighteen Stock Dove on 7/9 and 19 Magpie on 23/11.  Other racecourse reports included two Raven flying together high towards the north east, followed minutes later by a third, on 19/12, four Fieldfare in boundary trees on 18/12 and at least five Bullfinch in the north western corner of the site on 2/12.

Winter raptor records along the Smestow Valley have been intermittent, but at least one Common Buzzard has been frequenting the northern end, with birds seen perched at Newbridge and in the grounds of the former Valley Park School.  Sparrowhawk have been less obvious, but males and females have been seen hunting in recent weeks at Aldersley, Newbridge and at the racecourse.  A female Kingfisher was visiting the Smestow brook between Tettenhall Road and Hordern Road in December, Great Spotted Woodpecker have been active (brief drumming was heard at Newbridge in late November), a Tawny Owl called in the early hours at Newbridge on 30/12, and a Grey Wagtail was by the Smestow brook near Aldersley stadium on 12/12 (possibly the same bird has been visiting the open brook culvert at the racecourse lake).  Mixed flocks of foraging passerines have been few, but two Goldcrest were with titmice by the old railway south of Hordern  Road on 3/12, and a Nuthatch called in Newbridge wood throughout December.  Two Treecreeper were by the old railway below Tettenhall Road on 10/12, and at least 10 Long-tailed Tit moved through Newbridge wood on 10/12.  Ten Redwing flew over Newbridge playingfield on 8/12 and subdued Song Thrush notes were heard at Newbridge in December.  Seven Goldfinch were at Dunstall Park on 18/12, and the only wintering finches recorded were a flock of 20 Redpoll in silver birches near Compton lock on 10/12, and last but not least at least two Rose-ringed Parakeet were seen between Compton and Aldersley throughout December

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