Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Newbridge, January 17th 2018

Year ended on a high

The new year's under way, so let's round off the old one with some notable sighting from December, a month which reflected one of the Smestow Valleys' best-ever 12 months for records of resident and visiting birds . . .

The cold snap mid-month was perhaps too short to produce any discernible bird movements into the valley, but the subsequent thaw meant that melting snow and a few days of rain did raise water levels at Dunstall Park lake. Single Goosander were visitors on 19th and 22nd, three Jack Snipe were recorded on 16th, and the last day of the year saw counts of 40 Teal, 12 Snipe and two Lapwing. Green Sandpiper records of two birds flying south westwards over the racecourse on 1st and a bird at the lake on 31st showed once more how the valley has become an annual wintering passage area for the species. Three Shoveler flew south westwards over the racecourse on 17th, three Skylark went northwards over the same site on 16th and a Mute Swan pair swam in thin ice on the lake on 28th. Other Dunstall Park records included 28 Greylag geese foraging on the central grass area on 16th, two Grey Heron at the lake on 31st, nine foraging Rook on 31st, and c.50 Crow on the last day of the year, some of which kept watch on a light-plumaged Buzzard perched near the school perimeter fence.
Elsewhere along the valley the cold snap brought Goldcrest and Nuthatch into a Newbridge garden, a Treecreeper was in Newbridge wood on 9th, Bullfinch were recorded at Newbridge and Compton Park, a Raven flew low over Castlecroft Lane on 30th, Jay were reported from Newbridge, Compton and the racecourse, and the winter's largest Siskin flock was seen on 6th when c.30 birds fed in alders on the edge of Compton Park. Records from the southern end on the valley included a male Shoveler on the dam lake at Pool Hall on 3rd, a Little Owl perched near Mops Farm on 30th, a Kestrel hovering north of Mops Farm on 3rd, and 40-plus Stock Dove foraging on fields north east of Mops Farm on 30th (a bird displayed over Newbridge wood on 6th). A mixed flock of foraging birds on fields near the Smestow brook north of Mops Farm on 30th included at least 60 Redwing, 30-plus Fieldfare and 100-plus Starling.
The valley's run of wintering warblers continued, with a Chiffchaff caught at Dunstall Park on 2nd found to have been ringed previously in Belgium. Other single Chiffchaff were at the racecourse lake on 1st and 16th, another was seen there on 28th, and one foraged on the racecourse bank of the Staffs & Worcs Canal in freezing weather on 12th. At least two Little Grebe were on the canal between Compton and Aldersley throughout the month, a Grey Wagtail foraged along the Smestow brook by Aldersley stadium on 12th, a Mistle Thrush sang at Newbridge on 24th, eight Collared Dove were in a tree near Castlecroft canal bridge on 3rd, a Tawny Owl called by Newbridge playingfield on the night of 28th and a Mute Swan pair with three youngsters was on the canal at Newbridge on 9th.

(Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.)

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Newbridge, December 24th 2017

Finch feast, plus new 

'first' feeding in a field

The last of the ice has melted, it's dark soon after four, and we're into calm, dull days after the first real snowfall for some years. It's a quiet time for birds, but the first winter visitors have been with us for weeks following an excellent autumn run of local records, including a “first” for the valley and an invasion by a species last recorded locally more than two decades ago . . .

It's the country bus adage, none for ages then two at once. Except that this year we've done even better, with no less than three new species recorded in the Smestow Valley, the first, as reported earlier, a Cetti's Warbler in August, then an Egyptian Goose in September, and the third a totally unexpected CATTLE EGRET seen on October 18th foraging with cows and sheep in a field by the Smestow brook just north of Mops Farm. The bird was found around mid-day and was present for at least 90 minutes before disappearing. Another was reported at exactly the same time at Doxey Marshes near Stafford, and there's the distinct possibility both birds had dispersed from Alvecote pools north of Tamworth where at least three had been reported the previous week. This rare visitor to the UK is now appearing more and more regularly, with reports of breeding, and this year communal roosts of 30-plus birds seen in the South West.
Winter invasions by species from Continental Europe moving westwards as their food sources dry up are not uncommon (last year it was again the turn of Waxwings) but the latest irruptive behaviour involved a species not seen locally for more than two decades. The UK reports began in mid-October, and since then an unprecedented number of Hawfinch records have poured in from across the country, with the Smestow Valley enjoying its fair share. A flock of nine flew south westwards over Wightwick fields on 24/10, and subsequent sightings have totalled 15 birds, not a huge total, but astonishingly the first of their kind seen locally for 27 years. Other autumn and winter finch records include at least 11 Redpoll over Wightwick fields on 16/11, a flock of 30-plus Siskin in alders by the Compton barleyfield on 6/12, at least 12 Goldfinch over Wightwick fields on 16/10, seven-plus Bullfinch at Dunstall Park on 9/10, no less than 100 Linnet foraging on fields by the Smestow brook west of Wightwick on 27/10, two Brambling over Wightwick fields on 26/10, four Greenfinch by Newbridge canal wharf on 16/12, and at least 80 Chaffinch over Castlecroft canal bridge on 26/10. 


Low water levels at Dunstall Park lake have restricted wildfowl counts, but at least 20 wintering Teal have visited the site, with 80 Mallard recorded there at dusk on 5/9. Other lake records include 16 Lapwing on 22/10, thirty Snipe on 15/11, three Jack Snipe on 16/12 and a Water Rail seen throughout November. Three Shoveler flew northwards over the racecourse on 17/12, two Green Sandpiper went south westwards over the lake on 1/12, and two Cormorant flew north westwards over the same site on 4/11. Other racecourse records included passage Redstart, Whinchat and Wheatear, four Rose-ringed Parakeet on 10/10, four Rook on 17/10, twenty-plus Skylark moving south westwards on 6/10, and three Buzzard on 13/12. A Grey Wagtail foraged along the Smestow brook by Aldersley stadium in icy conditions on 12/12, (one was regular autumn visitor to a Wightwick garden), four Grey Heron were near the Smestow brook west of Wightwick in freezing weather on 12/11, and two female Pheasant were flushed in the same area on 27/10. At least 30 Stock Dove were on fields west of Wightwick on 27/10, eight Collared Dove were in a tree by horse fields near Castlecroft canal bridge on 3/12, where a dawn migration watch on 26/10 produced the astonishing total of 2,900 Wood Pigeon. A group of up to 28 Greylag geese have been foraging on the racecourse, where more than 500 Black-headed Gull were seen resting and preening on 22/10. A family of Mute Swan (possibly the birds which bred at Dunstall Park lake this year) were on the Staffs & Worcs Canal at Newbridge on 29/11, at least two Little Grebe have been wintering along the canal, a Great Crested Grebe was at Pool Hall lakes on 4/11, where three male and a female Tufted Duck were present on 12/11.
Wintering thrush records have centred on Dunstall Park, where more than 280 Redwing have been caught and ringed already this year (a total of 764 birds were seen during a dawn watch at Castlecroft canal bridge on 26/10). Other species ringed at the racecourse this autumn and early winter include Stonechat, Green Sandpiper, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Treecreeper and Meadow Pipit. Among a run of passage or wintering Chiffchaff visiting the racecourse lake during the last two months was a greyish-plumaged bird caught and ringed on 2/11, a member of the Siberian tristis sub-species, the first record of its kind for the valley. A wintering Chiffchaff was seen by Aldersley stadium along the canal towpath on 12/12, and a female Blackcap was on a garden feeder by Newbridge playingfield on 1/12.
Records from elsewhere along the valley include singing Mistle Thrush by Newbridge playingfield in mid-November, eight Raven over Wightwick fields on 27/11, a Kestrel on phone wires near Mops Farm on 27/10, a Jay bathing in the Smestow brook at Newbridge on 2/12, a male Sparrowhawk flying through St.Michael's churchyard, Tettenhall, on 2/12, Stock Dove display flight and Dunnock wing-waving courtship at Newbridge, two Little Owl together near Mops Farm on 12/11, two Nuthatch in Newbridge wood on 19/12, and 20-plus Yellowhammer along hedges near Mops Farm on 18/10.
Flying fierce and free . . . but only for a week

An addition to the Smestow Valley's list of exotic / escaped birds came with the sighting one night in the late summer of an Eagle Owl in a tree in a Tettenhall Wood cul-de-sac. This huge bird, the largest owl in Europe, had disappeared by the next day, but reports then came in of it having been seen in trees in the Finchfield Hill area. Around a week after the Tettenhall Wood sighting the bird was relocated in trees in the grounds of the Mount Hotel on Tettenhall ridge, was captured and returned to its owner in Compton. Local cat owners could breathe again.
The southern end of the valley has over the years been a something of a hotspot for escaped raptors. A female Lanner Falcon was returned to her home at the Hagley Falconry Centre after being found exhausted and hungry in a garden in Henwood Road on 15/3/1990, and in September 1993 a female Harris's Hawk being flown in Wightwick fields disappeared into Peasley Wood chasing a Wood Pigeon. The hawk was free for three days before suddenly appearing near Wightwick canal lock and flying down to land on the gloved fist of her relieved owner as he walked along the towpath in search of her.   

Monday, 20 November 2017

Breeding season part 2

Apologies for delay of this post and thanks to everyone who has given me info, especially angus and Gareth for comments on part 1.
So to start with update on species covered in part 1;
Little Grebe, a juvenile at the racecourse may well have been raised there.
Sparrowhawk, almost as soon as had published part 1 young were heard and then seen at the northern end of the reserve.
Parakeet; a sudden upsurge in records with several double figure reports in early autumn suggests they bred locally.
Green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker and nuthatch all successfully reared young.
Swift swallow and house martin were rare in the central part of the reserve and were sustained by crowther rd, the racecourse and farndale/racecourse respectively.
Warblers also had mixed fortunes the hilite being the successful breeding of reed warblers on the racecourse. But willow warbler and garden warbler seemingly failed to nest and common whitethroat were thin on the ground with the lupin field producing the only family parties of local nesters. Chiffchaff  and blackcap nested in good numbers but lesser whitethroat were probably restricted to passage birds.
Treecreeper; the only known nest failed due to predation (possibly due to the weasel seen in the paddocks) but were regular in newbridge wood and probably bred elsewhere.
All the common tits did ok with great being the most successful but a lack of the usual mixed flocks in late summer suggests it was not a good year.
Whereas thrushes especially song and blackbirds had a good year as did robins.
Grey wagtails were successful at the prefabs and on the racecourse raising at least 5 young but their pied cousins were very lacking apart from on the racecourse.
Linnet; two pairs on lupin field outcome unknown.
Goldfinches had another good year judging by the flock of 30 plus at the end of August at the wetland and both bullfinch and greenfinch bred on barleyfield successfully but chaffinch were scarce.

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.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

breeding season part 1

Great crested grebe:  After false starts finally young birds at pool hall, so no repeat of last years double brooding and seemingly a poor year regionally, predation or weather?
Little grebe:  attempted to breed at Dunstall Park but probably unsuccessful.
Mute swan:  Pair at Dunstall successfully translocated their 5 young to the canal at the end of last month.  Coincidentally a pair at west park with 5 similar sized young disappeared from their natal area at the same time. both pairs were being monitored so we know the group which appeared by MS centre were the dunstall birds which then moved to Compton and I suspect went south.  The report this week of the family of swans around the dead fish at autherley junction could therefore be the west park birds. The mystery is how they get from the lakes to the canal. ABC taxis maybe airial bird carriers.
Mallard:  Disastrous breeding season with almost all of the many hatchlings predated within days. Lesser black back gulls and herons are the main culprits, but wonder if large pike or even carp attack from below.  The one brood which prospered was at Compton lock where 7 survived for several weeks and five have made it to full size.
Moorhen: Very similar to previous species. young did not appear until early june when pairs elsewhere were hatching second broods. Few survived long but Compton again fared better with 5 (out of initial 6) lasting over a month and 3 still around and fully grown. Speculation as to why relates to nearby haven of smestow brook, presence of long term moorings and better cover unaffected by last autumns bank repairs.


Not a good year.  No reports of any kestrel breeding attempts and the species is becoming a rare sight in the valley.  More surprisingly no reports yet of young sparrowhawks which normally have at least two nests and still waiting to see pristine young buzzards sharing the skies with their dishevelled parents. could the weather be the explanation?

Parakeets: Hopes were raised early in spring by prospecting in newbridge wood but it came to nothing and sightings dropped off.  A sudden surge in sightings at the end of july with up to three birds flying between west park and tettenhall ridge raises the possibility they bred on the ridge somewhere.
Kingfisher:  Only occasional records in spring but in a manner which suggested possible breeding.  An upsurge in reports from june including 2 at the meccano suggests this probably happened.

If you have any info on the swans or the birds covered so far please use the comment facility.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Early thoughts on migration

The current spells of high pressure and northerly winds have led to a subdued spring migration thus far.
Chiffchaff, traditionally the first arrival and true to form this year with all birds seeming to arrive in one go in the 3rd week of March. Nine singers in middle and north sections and nesting now well underway.
Blackcap, always interesting to see the gap between departing winter birds heading for central Europe and spring arrivals from Iberia and North Africa. We had 1 or 2 males giving a desultory song in the 3rd week of March and I had a female in my garden on the with. Also was on the south coast of Devon for the last weekend of March and had about 10 songstress on the coast. None were visible and the contrast with the arrivals from the 3rd of April, full song and showing well was stark. 8 in the middle and 8 in the north on that day with females appearing around 5 days later. Much contact calling now  in evidence and numbers swelled by further arrivals this week. I wonder if the Devon birds had spent the winter on the coast or were preparing to cross the channel.
Willow warbler, thin on the ground in the valley with 1 or 2 birds for the last 10 days either end of the paddocks probably passing through and a contrast to good numbers on Cannock Chase.
Swallow passage birds on one or two days (max3) and returning pair to racecourse last Sunday.
Sand Martin 2 flew south also last Sunday.
Wheatear .Also the same day 2 on racecourse a male which was ringed (by a licensed ringer) and found to be a Greenland bird by wing measurement accompanied by a female, 2 having been seen on the 14th.
The southern section has given Angus both lesser and common whitethroat but they don't seem to have reached the rest of the valley.
In terms of resident birds the first brood of Mallard today 11 at the water bridge.
Grey wagtail around dunstall park (could they be the pair which were regular at lock 21 before moving through disturbance) and around prefab weir.
A kingfisher carrying material in its beak was only the second report of the year.
A singing reed Bunning was a one day wonder on the 3rd April also single red poll and siskin in the 2nd week all 3 presumably on passage.
Finally twice in the last week 2 herons flying north over the paddocks early doors, a spcies we seem to see far less often these days.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017


Further to the Angus post yesterday, I went early to aldersley stadium this morning and was surprised to see a waxing fly up into the trees by the old railway at the far end. This was followed by 2 groups of about ten and all birds departed in the direction of claregate.
Other additions are a pair of grey wagtail around lock 20, two linens at the top of the Lupton field and the singing chiffie by the same lock. All seen both Sunday and today the chiffie being a surprisingly pale buff bird.
Additionally on Sunday we had a woodcock flying along parallel to the railway towards the Lupton field and a very brief view of a kestrel by lock 19.
Some wintering birds lingered into March with a dozen fieldfare at the southern end last Friday and half a dozen redwing by the wetland on Saturday. A very wintry looking little green remained south of Compton to at least the ninth of March.
The bright weather on the 1st had produced a singing blackcap yards from the old bridge, it sang quite well which is unusual but was back to a more normal chunter a few days later. However on Monday it was quite loud from the station laurel, we assume this is a wintering bird testing its vocal chords before heading off to its breeding grounds in central Europe.
Finally Saturday afternoon gave me an encounter with a presumed goshawk which flew across my view as I was checking out a perched buzzard. The bird perched twice and generally only showed rear views but I was able to study its head and see two clear eyestripes of a rather off white colour. The tail was very dark and contrasted with the blue grey back.  I did not get a view of the underparts which would have clinched it but dont see what else it could have been.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Newbridge,  14th March  2017


Chiffies are singing

so spring has sprung


The daffs are out on the playingfield, celandines are brightening the towpaths, hedgerows are white with blackthorn and queen wasps and bumble bees are flying . . . it might as well be spring (meteorologically it already is).  March is the month of change along the Smestow Valley for birds, with winter visitors departing, the first passage and breeding migrants arriving, and resident species paired, defending territories and looking for nest sites.  Late-winter weather conditions have again been relatively benign, despite last month’s brief cold snaps and the damaging winds of Storm Doris.  So, as the sun rises higher and the days lengthen it’s time to take a look back at bird activity locally over the last ten weeks or so


FIRST THINGS FIRST . . . our migrants are arriving!  A Chiffchaff singing yesterday along the track between Castlecroft Lane and Pool Hall (Ian and Geoff listed a singing bird at Aldersley on Sunday) followed reports of many appearing across the West Midlands at the weekend.  Chiffchaff return dates for the valley are on average earlier now than when our records began in the late 1980s, with March 29th the latest date for the first singing bird, and March 5th the earliest date for one being heard.

One obvious sign that the seasons are changing has been the sound of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers marking out territories in the still leafless trees.  Both sexes are involved, with at least four birds heard calling and drumming between Newbridge and Aldersley on 12/3.  Green Woodpeckers have been vocal in the last week or so after months of absence, and Nuthatch continue to maintain territories.  A Treecreeper was in Newbridge wood on 11/3, Mistle Thrush are singing and nest-prospecting, and Stock Dove are display-flying low over the trees.  Resident passerines in full song include Blackbird, Song Thrush and Dunnock.  There have been few winter finch records, but at least eight Siskin, some of them singing, were at a garden feeding station by the old railway south of Hordern Road on 5/2, a Redpoll was at Dunstall Park on 4/2, the same day as a Linnet was reported from the same site.   Resident finches have enjoyed the relatively mild conditions, with Chaffinch now in full song and Greenfinch males producing their wheezing song from the tops of playingfield trees.  Wintering Goldfinch flocks were reported early in the year (at least 20 birds were in the Dunstall Park oak copse on 22/1) and Bullfinch pairs have been evident along the old railway between Newbridge and Aldersley.  Blue Tit, Great Tit and Coal Tit are now paired, Long-tailed Tit have been seen carrying nest material, and a pair of courting Goldcrest were watched flaring their crown feathers by the canal towpath north of Hordern Road on 2/3.  Wintering thrush records include c.30 Redwing at Dunstall Park on 19/1 and at least 20 by the old railway north of Aldersley stadium on 2/3, and a single Fieldfare at Newbridge on 5/1.  A wintering female Blackcap first seen in a garden by Newbridge playingfield on 28/1 was still a daily visitor at the start of this month.  Despite some warm bright mornings in recent weeks soaring Buzzard records have been sporadic, but three were circling together over Wightwick yesterday, and pairs have been reported over Compton and Aldersley.  A female Kestrel was hunting last month at Wightwick fields south of Windmill Lane, and Sparrowhawks of both sexes are becoming more obvious as the breeding season starts, with two birds soaring high over Wightwick yesterday.  Records of Grey Wagtail along the Smestow brook include singles by Aldersley stadium and between Tettenhall Road and Hordern Road throughout February, and a pair by the open culvert at Dunstall Park on 10/3.  A Tawny Owl called from the edge of Newbridge playingfield in early January, a Little Owl was seen at the south end of the valley yesterday, and there have been regular reports of at least two Rose-ringed Parakeets locally since the beginning of the year.  A pair of Great Crested Grebe were in courtship display at Pool Hall lakes yesterday, a site which produced records of a male Goosander on 17/1 a pair of Tufted Duck on 18/2 and a juvenile Mute Swan on 13/3.  At least two Skylark were over fields between Pool Hall and Wightwick on 18/2, a flock of 17 Lapwing were in the same area, also on 18/2, and single Grey Heron were by the Smestow at Wightwick fields on 18/2 and at Dunstall Park lake on 4/2.

                                                                  Impressive species

Corvids have been at the centre of activity at Dunstall Park racecourse in recent weeks, with an unexpected and unprecedented influx of Ravens taking centre stage.  Up to four birds have been seen regularly since mid-February, with records involving individuals flying low over the central grass in various directions, and at least one pair foraging on the lake’s grass banks.  This impressive species is spreading eastwards nationally and regionally, and was found to be breeding locally a decade ago.  The racecourse Rook colony had built at least ten nests by 12/3, and other corvid records from the site include more than 100 Jackdaw on the central grass on 11/1, twenty-plus Magpie on 10/3 and more than 40 Crow on 24/2.  At least two Little Grebe pairs are defending territories on the racecourse lake, where up to 15 Coot have been seen this month.  Other lake records include an impressive total of 52 Snipe counted on 1/3, four Jack Snipe flying from the island on 18/2, a male Goosander on 8/3, twenty-plus Teal on 25/2, seven Tufted Duck on 8/3, a male Shoveler on 17/2 and a pair of Gadwall on 3/2 and 18/2.  More than 170 Canada Geese were at the racecourse on 8/3, two Greylag were present on 10/3, and two Cormorant flew south westwards over the site on 17/2.  Gull numbers are now falling away, but 900-plus Black-headed Gull were on the racecourse on 4/2, thirty six Lesser Black-backed Gull were counted there on 29/1, and six Herring Gull were present on 4/1.  Other racecourse records include 17 Stock Dove on 9/1, a flock of c.60 foraging Starling on 25/2, and a Reed Bunting at the lake on 14/2.


(Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.)


A couple of important recent additions to this year’s valley list:   At least one of two Stonechat found by Geoff and Ian on 26/2 on the rough grass slopes between the canal locks and the railway carriageworks at Aldersley/Oxley was still present last Sunday, and there was a report yesterday of c.20 Waxwing in a garden by the Bridgnorth Road between Compton and Wightwick.  Everywhere else in the UK seems to have enjoyed these exotic visitors this winter (birds have been seen in Codsall, Wolverhampton, Penkridge and Brownhills since Christmas), so it’s nice to have our own at last!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Things are looking up

A good weekend in the valley mainly focused around the neglected northern end.
Friday afternoon produced a raven flying at tree top height, and calling, in a NNE direction over aldersley canal junction. A few minutes later what was presumably the same bird made the reverse trip.
The weekend produced 9 grey wagtail sightings. Difficult to know how many birds were involved a minimum of 4 seen in 2X2 at water bridge, but 2 at Oxley were probably one 2 and 2 at the pre fabs could have been the others. If so this would suggest passage birds heading towards their upland breeding sites but hopefully we will have breeding success again in the valley.
Two stone chat, presumed to be female were on the Lupin field.(the rough ground below the Oxley carriage sidings). Wonder how long they had been there. Similarly with a very active chiffchaff just north of oxley viaduct which is not an unusual wintering spot.
The rooks seem to have moved a little south perhaps due to the high winds with regular counts just into double figures.
Great spotted woodpeckers are much more obvious than of late (as are nuthatch) with a pair excavating at the regular spot by the water bridge.
Also in their regular spot were a twittering group of about 10 siskin on the railway line by the coachyard.
Finally the parakeets continue to be seen but am not sure what is going on, a pair have been noted but early doors there was a three some with 2 possibly young birds snuggling up  together on a branch and the 3rd not seeming to have a ringed neck although it may have had a little black under the bill.  It certainly did not have the bright pink bill and pink collar of the regular male as seen today.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Signs of Spring

Birds signing is a classic signal of an impending springtime, as is the recently blooming crocus and snow drop. But this time last year the daffodils had been out for a while.  Actually some birds have already been in song for sometime.
An early morning visit on a bright sunny day this week was rewarded with much song especially in the paddocks.  Song thrushes dominated with at least 9 in the middle sector reflecting decent breeding in the previous 2 years.
Dunnock were also well represented.  Strangely one bird, by the old bridge, has been singing for about 3 weeks but now many others joined in.
Not many robin's which seem to start a little later in the morning but they have been signing all winter.
Another winter singer can be the wren but this year they seemed to go quite before Xmas and have only recently started, but not full song.
Another curiosity is the blackbird which in the mid section does not sing till April but in the last week Geoff and I have each heard a signing bird in a street garden.
Chaffinch has joined the party as have many great tots.
As far as wintering spices are concerned Redding are still with us, normally the flock only comes together in high wind, fog or late in the day and numbers 40ish.  This group's frequents the mid section and dispersed around the adjoining gardens.  Another larger flock feeds with fieldfare at the southern end.
My recent visit gave me both siskin and red poll.  Flocks around 20 of two species which have been scarce this year.
Two spices more associated with breeding appeared towards the end of January, a chiffchaff by Wightwicl lock and a female blackcap visiting 2 gardens in Crowther rd.
Otherwise a wasp on friday whilst the gulls behaved as if they were catching insects and the parakeets bursting out of an ivy covered bush right in front of me whilst the ground was frozen.
What we haven't been seeing is kingfisher and greywagtail which may sought warmth further south and in the town centre respectively.
Finally on Friday afternoon at least 6, probably 7 or even 8, buzzards were soaring very high between Oxley and Newbridge.

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