Monday, 2 October 2017
Newbridge, October 2nd 2017
A superb summer ends
with two new species
Officially it's now autumn, most of our summer breeding migrant birds are leaving or have left us, and the first of the winter visitors are starting to arrive. As the leaves start to turn and the nights draw in, it's a good time to survey what's been an excellent summer, including a couple of local “firsts” and an addition to the Smestow Valley's list of breeding species . . .
Spring and early summer migrants provided Dunstall Park with a good run of Whinchat, Northern and Greenland Wheatear, plus Yellow Wagtail, Sand Martin, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper. An Oystercatcher flew from the racecourse lake on 2/5, a female Pintail was at the lake from 1/5 to 13/5, fifteen Greylag geese were on Dunstall Park on 25/5 and a male Pheasant was at the same site on 13/4. Migrant species seen elsewhere in the valley included two Common Tern at Pool Hall on 1/5, and a single bird of the same species flying up the 21 canal locks by the racecourse on 27/6. Breeding warblers seemed to have had a good summer along the valley, with Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat numbers on or above average, while Dunstall Park provided the first local record of nesting Reed Warbler. At least four of these migrant birds had appeared suddenly at the lake in June last year, possibly as a result of traditional nest sites in the region being flooded out, and although two were seen mating, there was no proof of nesting. This summer, most likely one of last year's males was heard singing at the lake in late April, and by mid-July a pair had produced at least two fledged youngsters. The species is known for its site fidelity, so hopes are high birds will return to the racecourse in 2018. Other Dunstall Park breeding species included Pied Wagtail, House Sparrow, House Martin, Swallow, Rook, Grey Wagtail, Coot and Little Grebe. Blue Tit and Great Tit successfully fledged from nest boxes put up along the western side of the racecourse, juveniles made up the vast majority of 60-plus visiting Jackdaw, seen and heard in trees along the same boundary on 19/6, and a young Green Woodpecker was seen feeding on Dunstall Park in July and August. Young Linnet from nests on the sloping grass fields just north of the Birmingham Canal locks foraged along drainage ditches on the racecourse in June, and juvenile Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch and Goldfinch were seen in the north west corner of the site near Aldersley canal junction. The racecourse was visited by a Kingfisher throughout July, and in early August the lake provided a touch of Africa with the appearance of a Village Weaver, the second record for the species on the valley's list of aviary escapes.
Pick of the raptors
Elsewhere along the valley a mild winter and damp spring boosted Goldcrest, Song Thrush and Blackbird numbers, with other breeding species including Moorhen, Mallard, Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Swift, Mistle Thrush, Starling, Jay, Crow, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper. A pair of Great Crested Grebe raised three youngsters at Pool Hall lakes, single singing Reed Bunting were heard near the towpath east of Mopps Farm canal bridge in April and at Dunstall Park lake in early May, and two Corn Bunting were on phone wires near Mopps Farm on 16/5. The valley's first proof of attempted breeding by Rose-ringed Parakeet came when a pair were seen mating and attending a nest hole from February until early April. The female was fed in the hole by the male, but he disappeared in late March, and his mate deserted the site soon afterwards.
Tawny Owl were heard calling at traditional nesting areas, Buzzard pairs maintained valley territories, their young heard and seen daily in August during their first tentative flights over nesting sites (eight birds were seen from the racecourse circling together over Oxley/Pendeford on 19/8), and Sparrowhawk juveniles sparred with Magpie and other corvids, twisting and turning low over the trees in late summer as they honed their flying skills. Kestrel records were intermittent, but single birds were seen near Mopps Farm and over Aldersley and the racecourse in April, and over the Compton barleyfield in May, and a Peregrine flew north eastwards over Aldersley/Oxley on 3/5. Pick of the raptor reports involved a Red Kite seen from Newbridge circling with a Buzzard over Lower Street/Lower Green in a cloudless sky on the afternoon of 17/6, then moving south westwards and disappearing. There have been sporadic local reports of this charismatic species since the valley's first sighting, a Welsh-tagged bird over Newbridge on 5/5/1996. Pairs are now nesting in Shropshire, and it can be only a matter of time before birds move into South Staffordshire, as the species continues to spread eastwards.
Mid and late-summer movements brought Lapwing to Dunstall Park, with numbers peaking at 28 on 10/7, and a run of Little Ringed Plover to the racecourse lake (two adults and two juveniles were seen on 1/7). Other lake records included adult and juvenile Grey Heron, a male Tufted Duck on 10/7, a small number of Shoveler in mid-August, with Teal numbers building to 13 on 25/9 and 15-plus Snipe present on the same date. A pair of Gadwall visited the lake on 10/9, a Greenshank circled the site before leaving south westwards on 1/9, and at least 90 Meadow Pipit flew over the racecourse in the same direction on 14/9. Two Sedge Warbler were at the lake on 1/9, a migrating Hobby was seen from Dunstall Park catching a herundine over the Farndale housing estate on 28/8, eight Cormorant moved northwards over the racecourse on 28/8, and a Tree Pipit was seen by the lake on 22/8.
Chance of nesting
Two of the valley's top sightings of the year so far came with a Little Egret seen briefly at the racecourse lake on 7/7, only the second-ever record for the site, and a single Curlew flying north westwards from the central grass area of the racecourse on 9/8. Both of these records came from Gareth Clements, who then surpassed them by finding two new species for the Smestow Valley in ten days, both at Dunstall Park. The first, a bird more often heard than seen, was watched at the lake on the morning of 26/8, flying to and from the island. The valley's first CETTI'S WARBLER was harassed constantly by a Reed Warbler before it eventually disappeared into what has become perfect habitat for its furtive lifestyle, and was not seen again. Vegetation around the lake now provides it with good breeding conditions, and with the spread of the species across the region in recent years, there's a chance of nesting in the future. Species number 183 for the valley, an EGYPTIAN GOOSE, flew on to the central grass area from the west on 5/9, to join a group of Greylag. It was seen visiting the site for the next week with presumably the same group of geese.
The central grass area of the racecourse attracts gulls in late summer and throughout the autumn and winter, sometimes to forage but mostly to preen and rest. Good numbers of juveniles are among Lesser Black-backed Gulls which have bred in the city, and these, combined with visitors of the same species from other urban breeding sites and elsewhere, combined to produce counts of more than 200 birds on 6/9. Other records included c.360 Black headed Gull on 27/8 and 14 Herring Gull on 6/9. The racecourse was visited by a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull through July, August and September, and an adult was noted there on 6/9. Mediterranean Gull are now annual visitors to Dunstall Park, with at least two adults and an immature seen throughout the late summer this year. Other birds seen foraging on the central grass included 38 Mistle Thrush on 8/8, with Greylag totals reaching 24 on 4/9, and 264 Canada Goose counted on the same day.
Recent records have included a sub-song surprise from a Skylark over Dunstall Park on 9/8 (the species nested on the site before its redevelopment in the 1990s) and three chat species on the morning of 25/9 at the racecourse: a juvenile Redstart on the lake fence alongside a Whinchat and near to a Wheatear foraging on the central grass.
(Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site. Access is strictly controlled.)
Mute family moves in a mysterious way . . .
Last year witnessed the sad demise of Mute Swan youngsters at Dunstall Park as the adult pair abandoned the site following predation of cygnets, possibly by foxes. Presumably the same breeding pair reappeared at the lake in March this year, and by late June five youngsters were feeding on the lake with the adults. Falling water levels were giving cause for concern, and plans were drawn up for experts to try to catch the birds and transfer them to the neighbouring canal. However, nature took its own course, and on either 16/7or 17/7 the adults and all five non-fledged cygnets somehow made their way from the lake to the safety of the canal where they were seen happily feeding between Newbridge and Compton. How they navigated their way through hedges and security fences remains a mystery.
Butterflies feature in a year of 'firsts'
The Smestow Valley's invertebrates list increased this year when two new species of butterfly were recorded in late summer. The first, a Marbled White, was seen on 8/7 and 9/7 on a grass slope by the Smestow brook culvert at Dunstall Park lake. The second, a White-letter Hairstreak, was watched feeding on a budleia bush in a garden by Newbridge playingfield on 25/7. No fewer than 14 butterfly species were recorded on 18/7 at the racecourse and along the Staffs & Worcs Canal.