Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Dunstall Park

Dull, very cold, north east wind, 10.45 to 12.30am.

A stately return for the lake's white lady

Who needs this?  We've had days of it, overcast, cold, grey, miserable.  Today, another four-layer job, always worse out in the middle than on the car park, so lock up, head down and briskly out on to a desiccated landscape, freeze-dried by days of winter weather.  The birds aren't keen either, eight foraging Rook on the central grass area, a scattering of Woodpigeon, at least 200 Black-headed Gull, plus a few Lesser Black-backed Gull near the lake fence and c.100 Canada Geese grazing inside the perimeter.  Surprisingly there's thin ice only round the shoreline, so a mixture of species take advantage of the open water, the pair of long-staying Gadwall joined by a single male, keeping a respectful distance, a male Shoveler feeding half-heartedly, a Mallard pair sheltered and asleep halfway down the sloped bank, and at least 12 Teal tucked in low along the water's edge, out of the bitter wind.  Coot numbers are still around the 14 mark, a group of at least four youngsters grazing together on top of the western bank and adults already on territorial stations, at least three pairs starting to build nest platforms amidst the spike-grass vegetation (what a contrast to rafts of 100-plus wind-buffeted birds seen last week riding out a wave-tossed Rutland Water).  A Snipe count (more accurately three Snipe counts, the numbers increase each time) reveals at least 14 birds motionless on the island, but it's so cold round the fingertips now there won't be a fourth census.  Getting ready to go, then round from behind the island appear shapes missing from the lake for nearly two years, white, graceful, stately, a female Mute Swan and her mate.  They pause, floating close together and bowing slightly, bending their necks in unison before pushing their way across to the northern shoreline and climbing the low bank in somewhat ungainly fashion, both turning to pull up dried grass and lay it ceremoniously and gently one after the other on a flattened area a metre or so above the water.   At least one pair of swans bred successfully at the lake from 2001 until 2005, but nests and cygnets were abandoned over the next five summers, and after the final sighting of a bird in April 2011, the lake had virtually dried out.  By the spring of 2012 all water-based species, with the exception of a pair of Coot, had left the site.  Then came last summer's rains, and back came the birds.  These swans are new to the lake, the male without rings, the female with an orange plastic band on her left leg, black letters 88A.  After a few minutes they leave the shore and move out across the water to the edge of the ice along the southern edge, pushing their necks downwards to feed from the lake bed.  They seem at home here, and with any luck they'll stay.  A movement from the grass bank and a hint of white feather as a small brown bird flies low into a waterside willow, a female Reed Bunting now half-hidden among the branches.  Along the western edge of the racecourse, a black-bibbed male bunting, perhaps the lake bird's mate, tail-flicks on top of a hedge, then goes into cover.  A band of  Jackdaw around 50-strong spill from the tops of beech trees and chatter their way towards the Water Bridge, the wind has died a little, and on the edge of a hawthorn thicket in the north western corner of the site at least four Goldfinch are singing, their tinkling notes thin in the cold air.  Nearby a male Bullfinch is calling softly, and a Greenfinch weezes into song (three days ago a lone Brambling played hide and seek in the thicket, the first one seen here for some years).  A Great Spotted Woodpecker undulates its way towards the railway carriageworks as I walk back, looking past the grandstand over the cold expanse of  grass that used to be a home for larks.  Just think.  In four weeks there'll be Wheatear out there . . .                               

(NB  Dunstall Park is a closed commercial site  Access is strictly limited).


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Sunday 17/2/2013 Mid-section of Reserve: 
Compton Park, Barleyfield and Compton to Newbridge

Frosty, dry, clear, calm - light SE

7am-8am Skywatch from top of Barleyfield:

84 Black-headed Gull SW
Adult Common Gull - SW along valley with a single Black-headed, offering good size comparison.
109 Starling SW in 6 flocks (ex roost)
1 Mistle Thrush NE
2 Stock dove NE

On Canal:

14 Moorhen
23 Mallard
2 Little Grebe (just North of Meccano Bridge and at the academy)

19 Dunnock (16 singing)
8 Song Thrush (all singing)

Other highlights:

Sparrowhawk - female SW over Compton Lock and later 2 females soaring over Paddocks
Green Woodpecker - By Prefabs
Great Spotted Woodpecker - female top of Barleyfield.
Nuthatch - 1 at Tennis Club
Grey Wagtail - female at Prefab weir
Coal Tit - one calling behind prefabs
Long-tailed Tits - 15+ at Eddys Alders

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Saturday 16/2/2013 Dry, light frost foggy start, clearing around 10:30, then clear and sunny. 
Calm – light SW

 Compton, Castlecroft, Pool Hall, Perton Mill Farm, Trescott, Freehold Wood, Sling Wood, Great Moor, Staffordshire Way to Seisdon via Furnace Grange, Church Lane, Trysull, The Grotto, Awbridge, Bratch Locks, Staffs & Worcs Canal to Aldersley Junction, Barleyfield and Compton Park.

A target based on probability, produced what seemed like a low aim of 45 species for this trip. I had used the same method for my last trip North of the valley and that had produced a target of 55, which I missed by one. So I kept faith with the system and set off before dawn, in order to arrive at Pool Hall for first full light, and make the most of the day.

Song Thrush, Robin, Blackbird and Wren were all singing along the Compton Road, and some Carrion Crows were on Compton Park. 4 more Song Thrushes were in voice at Compton Hill Road, Compton Railway Bridge, Boots Field and the start of the Bridgnorth Road. Mallard and Jackdaw could just about be made out in the darkness at the Dell. The fog made viewing of the Corvid Roost difficult, so I continued and was lucky to catch a Male Tawny Owl (8) calling at pine Tree Hill, before heading off over Smestow School Fields.

An 8th Song Thrush was also singing by Wightwick Mill Lock, where my first Woodpigeon of the day was seen. The first visible Moorhen (10) was below the lock. Further Song Thrushes were vocal at Wightwick lock, 2, West of Wightwick Road Bridge, at Windmill Lane and on Wightwick Fields, making 13 in all on the reserve South of Compton Road.

Two Dunnock were singing by the canal at Windmill Lane, and the first Magpie (12) was also there. A Yellowhammer (13), was in the hedge half-way along Wightwick Fields. On my trip North, I had recorded 32 species on the morning, before leaving the Valley, so all of the sudden the 45 species target felt more of a challenge!!!

I arrived at Castlecroft Bridge at 7am. Grey Wagtail, Great Tit and Pheasant (16) were noted just South of the bridge. A Song Thrush was in voice at the Willow Coppice near Mopps Bridge. 7 Yellowhammers, left roost from the hedgerow at the South end of Pool Hall Lane, causing 2 Redwing (17) to lift with them.

At Pool Hall, 13 Canada Geese were on the flooded field by the dam. A male and 2 female Reed Bunting were in the bushes on the near bank by the dam. Two Chaffinch and a Pied Wagtail (21) passed overhead. A great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in the copse beyond the canal.

A male Reed Bunting on a foggy morning by the dam at Pool Hall,
which was accompanied by 2 females

On the main Pool, 15 Coot were splashing around, and I was pleased to find a Drake Pochard and two Drake and one female Tufted Duck, through the mist. I was now on 25 species and feeling back on track.
A Song Thrush and a Fieldfare (26) lifted from the central path between the Pools and my first Blue Tit of the morning was nearby. I checked the wood at the South end for Treecreeper or Goldcrest which were regular there in the 90’s, to no avail, so I returned after noting two adult Mute Swans (28). The first few Gulls arrived so I was able to tick off Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed (30), before leaving the Pool.

A lone male Pochard on Pool Hall

Hybrid Geese at Pool Hall - these two have been around over the last few years and have been the
source of the many valley reports for "Snow Geese"

2 Buzzard (31) were worming in the hall gardens and 4 fieldfare, a Pied wagtail and a Pheasant were noted by the brook near Perton mill Farm. 15 Starling (32) were seen heading South-West from roost and at the sewage works an impressive flock of c50 Chaffinches flew in from the South. Unfortunately they were too distant and had dropped low, so I was unable to check for any Brambling amongst them.

A Grey Wagtail, 10+ Crows and 30+ Jackdaw were at the sewage Works, a Grey Heron (33) rose off the Brook and 50+ Black-headed Gulls and a male Pheasant were around a flooded area of the field. Unfortunately there was no sign of any Tree Sparrows, which I had seen in this area last year.

I got to the Ford at 08:20 and was well happy that I now needed to find only 12 more species during the rest of the day to reach my target. Things got off to a good start, when a small colony of House Sparrows and a singing Mistle Thrush (35) were at at the houses on the Bridgnorth Road.

Then a bird which, when I last used to watch this area in the 90’s would have been took for granted, but on this visit, by no means had been taken as a certainty. I had just started on the track North towards Freehold Wood, when 11 Lapwing (36), lifted from the field to the North. With Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting already under the belt, I was developing a strong feeling that this area of farmland was much richer in bird life than that which I encountered North of the valley a few weeks ago.

Freehold Wood had game feeders and it was no surprise that 4 cock Pheasant were noted immediately on the eastern fringe. Then another bonus bird, away from the Valley: a Green woodpecker (37) laughed briefly, whilst a Song Thrush sang and a Great Spotted woodpecker drummed nearby.

On to Great Moor Ridge and Sling wood, and this area definitely felt like a hot-spot for passage migrants, with Redstart and Flycatchers in the mind. A Buzzard was in a low tree on the ridge, with another drumming Woodpecker nearby. Along the path, 3 Nuthatch (38) were seen together in an oak and my first Long-tailed Tit and Goldfinch of the day were by the stile leading to the fishing pool at Great Moor. I had now hit 40 species and it had only just turned 9am!!!

The path between Great Moor ridge and Sling Wood, just North of Freehold Wood

Back to Trescott on the Staffordshire Way, where 6 Collared Doves (41) were present along with 2 singing Chaffinches, c10 House Sparrows and rather worryingly, my first 2 Greenfinches (42) of the day. These birds, really seem to have crashed, locally over the last few years.

Across the Bridgnorth Road and back onto the Staffordshire Way, where my first Badger activity outside the valley was noted along with a Mistle Thrush. I bumped into the farmer, and after a ten-minute chat, I began to understand why this area felt so rich for wildlife. This guy shared details of Barn Owl nest projects, Skylark set aside, his son’s feeding station and a recent sighting of two “English Partridge” and 40 Lapwing near the farm. As he spoke, my first Linnet (43) passed overhead and I left him energised with hope that here was a man with power over the land that actually cared for his birds and knew Angus Dickie!!!

It wasn’t long before I had a beautiful sign as to just how good the land management and farming methods were. I left Furnace Grange and in the field immediately South an incredible (by today’s standards) 13 Skylark (44) rose and circled the field together, before settling again, after 2 or 3 had a quick singing practice. To add to this my first Meadow Pipit (45) lifted and called. What a fitting way to reach my target, celebrated through the efforts of such a caring land-owner.

All of the sudden, I realised that I was in with a shot of beating the 55 species that I recorded, on my trip North of the valley. I avoided an analysis of my predicted list in the fear that I might miss something whilst buried in my papers. However, my head started picking out a string of birds which I had missed so far: little Grebe, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Jay (Dohh!!), Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Bullfinch…..maybe, just maybe??

On the way into Seisdon, I noted 3 Starling and 2 Fieldfare in the Horse Paddocks, and registered this as my second potential migrant hot-spot!! The rolling fields and fences felt like areas of Kingswood near Cannock, or Berry Hill Fields in Stoke, where Wheatear and Whinchat were regular, and it also felt like a good patch for Ring Ouzel and Hoopoe….sorry I just started dreaming again!!!

I could hear the strange sound of traffic and at the Elms in Seisdon, 4 Bullfinch (46) flew across the narrow path, with 2 Goldfinch tinkling nearby. In the village, 6+ Jackdaw, a Pied Wagtail, 2+ Greenfinch and 10+ House Sparrow were noted, and then it was on to Church Lane, where I was hoping to encounter Red-legged partridge and Kestrel around the ridge. I was sorely disappointed. In the late 90’s the paddocks and fields held good numbers of Partridge, but after extensive searching, none could be found. Only a Buzzard was worthy of note.

Good numbers of Corvids could be seen across Seisdon Road, but they were too distant to be able to tell what they were for sure. At Trysull 2 Rooks (47), were seen on wires as I entered Church Lane. A Song Thrush was singing near the brook and as I headed across the field to Bell Road, I could see 4 Skylark to the North, and as I watched them I could see that there was a considerable Corvid gathering around a stubble field at The Grotto. I climbed the bank for a view over the open area and was pleased to see about 150 Corvids, comprised roughly of 40% Rook, 40% Crows and 20% Jackdaw, with 6 Skylark circling the field together. 2 Stock Dove (48) also passed over.

Part of the Corvid flock The Grotto near Trysull

C5 Long-tailed Tits were at Awbridge and 2 Grey Heron were seen by a pool opposite the Cricket Club. A mistle Thrush passed over the canal. A search for Little Owl on some Pollarded trees just South of the Cricket Club was fruitless, so I turned round and started the journey home. It was 12:30 and I was ahead of schedule, so I was planning to have another shot at locating the Tree Sparrow near Trescott. At Awbridge canal bridge a Song Thrush was singing, a Buzzard was mewing overhead and 2 more Skylark were over fields beyond the farm. Then, another bonus bird – the hard to find Treecreeper (49). I had regularly seen these birds in the Alders along the canal here, but that was many years ago, so to find one in the same place by the moorings was pleasing to say the least. I watched the bird for 10 minutes or so and took a few shots of it. I noticed a feeding station nearby, so while I had the camera out I took a pic’ of a Goldfinch feeding there. This allowed me to stay long enough to see a beautiful male Reed Bunting in full breeding plumage lift from below the feeders and cross the canal.

Goldfinch on one of the many canal mooring feeding stations
- this one  just North of Awbridge.

Treecreeper - on the same Alders by the canal at Awbridge Farm,
where I used to watch them in the 90's

A Skylark was singing near Ebstree Lock and 3 Goldfinch passed over. Then on to Dimmingsdale Lock, a stronghold for Willow Tit in the past. The outflow from the angling pool had been upgraded which meant the loss of a lot of scrub, and a good scouring of the rough and wet woodland to the East of the lock produced nothing. I was rewarded for my efforts with a singing Goldcrest by the Severn Trent Water Station, my first and species number 50 for the day. With two birds of prey and Little Grebe left to add, it looked possible to beat my last trips total.

100+ Woodpigeon were in the field by the Ebstree Road Bridge, and I reached Pool Hall at 1:20pm and was greeted by a Siskin (51), calling as it circled the birches at the South End.

The same birds were present on the Pools, so I moved on to retrace my steps to the sewage works at Trescot in search of Tree Sparrows. As I headed out from Mopps farm over 175 Winter thrushes, most of which were Fieldfare headed North overhead in the direction of wightwight Fields. Were they early departing birds or was it a local feeding flock?? 10 stock Dove also passed over North-east.

Back to the Sewage works where 2 Kingfisher (52) were on the brook with 100+ Starling, a Yellowhammer, 75+ Black-headed Gulls and a male Pheasant nearby. Whilst counting the Gulls, I suddenly heard Lapwing and realised that c50 had lifted off the field at the Southwest end. This presumably contained the birds I had seen this morning and represented the flock reported by the farmer at Furnace Grange. It was such a good sight, even though it failed to match the 150+ I used to see around Pool Hall in late Winter during the early noughties. A singing Pied Wagtail was on a fence-post near a traditional nest-site, by the brook.

I then decided to go and locate the finch flock just East of Mops Farm Bridge. As I headed out to the area where up to 150 Linnet had been earlier in the Winter, I suddenly became aware of a stout undulating bird heading towards me…. Little Owl (53). It landed awkwardly on a lower bow of an oak, right by me and as I tried to get my camera out, it dropped out of the tree and headed low along the line of the hedge and could not be relocated. Although I had heard calling birds in this area last year, to see one at such close quarters was such a treat and a definite contender for bird of the day.

So there I was, home and dry!! I added my Feral Pigeon from up my sleeve and had now matched the 54 species seen on my last trip!!!

I came across c30 chaffinch in the area where the finch flock had been, but I headed further round the field for better viewing of the area. 10+ Long-tailed Tit and my second Treecreeper, were in an Oak Tree, but there was no sign of more finches.

I headed back to Mopps Bridge and decided to check along Pool Hall Lane. Immediately I could see a Flock of thrushes, starlings and Finches in front of me and birds were passing from the field to the right of the lane to the trees lining it and also across the canal to a sheep field. After watching the flock for some time, I was able to conclude that 200+ Fieldfare, 30+ Redwing, 200+ Starling, c25 Chaffinch, c50 Linnet and 2+ Reed Bunting were present. A male Yellowhammer was seen in the oak at the South end of Wightwick Fields as I approached Castlecroft Bridge and a Collared Dove flew over the canal near the clubhouse.

I decided not to return to Compton via the railway walk. I weighed up that although I had less chance of seeing Jay, the canal would increase visibility and the chances of seeing Kestrel and perhaps the unexpected. It also allowed me more chance to look for Little Grebe as I was aware that numbers may have fallen heavily due to the change in weather.

Surprisingly I had my third Treecreeper of the day, when one was seen in the lone alder by Wightwick Fields just South of the road bridge among 8 Long-tailed Tits.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from Peasley Wood and a Nuthatch flew West over the canal from Pine Tree Hill.

A second singing Goldcrest was at the canalside by the allotments at Compton, but there were no Little Grebe around. 3:30pm and I was at Prefab Weir, watching a soaring Buzzard. Amazingly my fourth Treecreeper was in Alders by the damp wood South of Meccano bridge, in the company of 4+ Blue tit and 2 Great tit. This was the second sighting this month in this area and hopefully it bodes well for the breeding season.

I was still after my Little Grebe and with none at Meccano Bridge I began to think that the milder weather had dispersed the entire local population.

A calling Coal Tit (55) was a lucky find for this time of day, seen in trees by the caravan park at Newbridge. A Nuthatch called at Crowther Road Playing fields and nearby a group of Magpies and Crows started a rowdy show, possibly in response to an Owl or Sparrowhawk. I waited to try and see what was causing the commotion, and suddenly 2 Jays (56) joined in the racket….Yes, my bogey bird from the last trip!! I couldn’t find the source of the chaos and a Buzzard over Dunstall Water bridge seemed too far from the scene to be involved.

7 moorhen were together at the water bridge underlining just how they enjoy the shelter and prosper in our valley. A single Rook was at the Dunstall Park nest site and 2 Bullfinches were quietly singing at each other, nearby.

No Little grebe!!! Dohh!! Better head back to the Barleyfield for Raptors!!
I had got just North of Hordern Road, when there was a splash near the footpath and shortly after a virtually full Summer-plumaged Little Grebe (57) surfaced near the far bank. How could I have missed it?

Little Grebe - Emblem of Smestow Valley- most leave the canals before attaining this level of breeding plumage,
so it was a colourful addition to the days list

10+ long-tailed tits were at Horden Road and I looked among them almost expecting to find a Treecreeper….. not this time!! A great spotted woodpecker called from Crowther Road Playing Fields, and then a more Winter-plumaged Little Grebe was by the barges at Newbridge Wharf.

The day’s birding had been way beyond my expectations: no scarcities or rarities, and all species had been on my probability list but it was just a rock-solid farmland experience, and at no point during the day, had the word sterile entered my head. Perhaps the morning fog, had extended the period of activity for the birds, but whatever, it was there was no real lull in the birding.

To finish the day -  back to the Barleyfield, to enjoy a dusk-watch, having already beaten my target for both trips!!

When I arrived, I was put off a little as the “2013 Compton, One Woman and her dogs competition” appeared to be well under way and the only additions to my bird list seemed likely to be those knocked out by flying rings and frisby’s…..Dohh.

I made my way to the top of the field. 4 Song Thrushes were vocal and a Great spotted woodpecker was calling to the south. Surprisingly 100+ Starling passed high over Northeast. Presumably these were part of the Pool Hall Lane flock, heading to a roost in the City.

Shortly after, a massive stroke of luck. The male Kestrel (58) headed Northeast over the barleyfield towards Newbridge on the same roost flight as has been seen since late summer. 4 Redwing flew in to roost on the western border and then 75 Jackdaw headed NNE over, confirming that roosts have locally altered over the last two years. Strange how birds headed from the south, don’t roost at Peasley wood. Then another familiar sight: a female Sparrowhawk (59) flew low across the field and into the crossings. A further 65 Jackdaw headed NNE at 5:50pm, making it a record dusk roost number for this site, signalling home time.

As I crossed Compton Park, I reflected on a superb days birding, and I felt warm at the thought that there still remains a diverse pool of birds at the Southern end of the Smestow Valley green corridor. Long may it continue. The Valley itself had also produced 39 species, highlighting, as it did on my last trip just how special the reserve is. 59 species overall and all this in a month, which is generally one of the quietest of the year!!!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Growing support for Blog

Firstly, today is the last day to lodge any objections to plans which would threaten several Red and Amber listed species including the ever rarer Corn Buntings on Jason's patch at Shenstone, near Kidderminster. To give eleventh hour support to Jason's cause, if you have knowledge of, or interests in the area, then visit shenstonebirder@blogspot.com for all relevant information on how to do this.

I have lodged my own objection to the plans, and have received a notice from Wyre Forest DC, regarding a proposed Planning Committee meeting at the start of April to consider the application. Jason has kindly agreed to sort out an "update" tour of the patch during March and I shall be posting a report on the day's birding and prevalent issues shared. I am so looking forward to spending time in an area of farmland, where birds have for so far been considered and protected by the farming and general community.

Right, from potential destruction to good news!!!

Our blog received traffic of well in excess of 100 on two consecutive days, this week, for the first time since the site went live. Another landmark, which was re-enforced by a fantastic email, I received from Gareth Clements.

He has kindly given wholehearted support to the blog and also gave an impressive summary of his time in the valley: a patch list of 149 species and personal finds which included Gargarney, Brent Goose, Iceland Gull, and Little Bunting!!! Incidentally he also noted that his bogey bird was Pochard, so anyone discovering one on the reserve should get onto him straight away!!!

I have got quite a few ideas to further widen our audience by increasing interest and participation, but until they creep off the drawing board I just want to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU to all those in the local community and Midlands birding network for following us, spreading the word and creating this early growth.

And to all those that have the Smestow Valley running through their veins and who have helped me so much over the last 18 months, I want to wish you all the very best of birding as Spring passage gets ever-closer.

Finally, conditions look right for my tour of the area immediately South of Smestow Valley to take place tomorrow. I shall be covering the area between Pool Hall, Trescott, Nurton, Great Moor, Seisdon, Trysull and Bratch Locks.

I used the same prediction technique which produced a target of 55 species for my last trip North of the valley. Only this time it came up with a target of 45, which surprised me. I  am quietly confident I can break this, although my main objective remains to get a fresh feel for an area which has seen a massive decline in birds since my days spent around it in the mid 90's (when I was able to easily pick up Grey Partridge, Red-legged Partridge (10 a penny at Trysull quarries!!) , Skylark flocks, Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings, at this time of year).

I shall be posting a trip summary at some point on Monday.

Thursday, 14 February 2013


Newbridge, Smestow Valley

10.15 to 10.45am, cold, damp, melting snow.

Aerial pair bring warmth to a cold day

The back's playing up a bit, so best I can muster today is a slow, slushy shuffle to the paper shop to dissect Man City's dire performance at Southampton (for Kevin, the result tops even last month's brace of Barn Owls during Foot It).  That sorted, it's back down the sloping road looking across the valley towards the Stockwell End/Tettenhall ridge trees, the top of St.Michael's Church just showing, so stop for a moment, breathe in the cold air, have a look around.  Somewhere near the playingfield Magpies are sounding off, two Jackdaws chatter their way busily low and fast towards the main road, and a Crow floats up on to a chimney pot, suddenly a corvid cornucopia. Pavements treacherous, I set off again, Richard III-style,  gingerly in the middle of the road, glance up to the left and there, together on a corner house TV aerial . . . no bins, so check again, a pair of Rooks, swaying gently against the cold wind from the north, leg feathers ruffled as they turn on the narrow metal, close together, dark against the dull sky, one gently grooming its partner's neck, then carefully shifting positions, each rubbing its white-based bill up and down against the inside of the iced rungs to send a thin shower of snow on to the roof below.  These are the birds of the massed black flocks that move slowly, lifting and falling as the light fades, across the winter wastes of rural Britain, gathering at dusk in their thousands over dark fringe woodlands that are their centuries-old roosts.  These are the birds that nest communally and noisily in village copses across the land, their coarse deep calls as symbolic of  country life as the peal of church bells.  Here in a Wolverhampton street on this cold morning there are just two, gently and quietly reinforcing the bond between them, getting ready to join other pairs that as spring approaches will soon be tail-fanning, bowing and calling to each other at their rough stick nests, chase-flying across playingfields and foraging near to city housing estates.  Years ago you could hear their calls in March in church trees at the bottom of Broad Street near the canal and ring road.  Those birds are long gone, but ours are still with us.  We should cherish them.   

(PS.  Wonderful Blackcap picture!  Where are the fairies?)                  


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Well done to Liz at Newbridge for capturing this photo of a male Blackcap on her table yesterday.

Amazingly she has had 2 males and a female visiting her canalside garden this Winter. Also Willow Tit visited her feeding station in previous years.

Liz wasn't aware of the blog, so I gave her the details and when she got back home, she had the visit almost immediately and emailed the image.

Well done Liz and we look forward to you becoming a blog author shortly.

Conservation concerns -Paddocks and Compton Rough - UPDATE 2

I am now able to provide more information regarding the works that has recently been undertaken in the mid-section of the reserve.

It is part of a massive schedule of proposed works that is contained in the Conservation and Access Management Plan.

This is a 5 year plan and it was produced by our friends at The Wildlife Trust, with a hefty contribution from the birding angle, thanks to the efforts of Kevin Clements and the West Midlands Bird Club (WMBC).

I have now had chance to digest this plan, and quite frankly I am excited by it's aims!!

In it's Vision Statement it says:

" The wildlife of Smestow Valley is what makes it special; it's long-standing biodiversity will be conserved and steps will be taken to actively enhance it's ecological value"

This plan came after a lengthy consultation plan, with 300 written representations being considered.

Proposed work is basically under two headings: access and infrastructure, and habitat and species. The work in the Paddocks and at Compton Rough falls under the second heading of work.

Firstly, at the Paddocks: the plan proposes that the area be divided into 3 strips of equal width along the length of the paddock.The first strip, running immediately alongside the old railway line, is to be left for 5 years to develop into native scrub. The middle strip will receive an annual late Summer cut. The final strip adjacent to the existing path will be cut twice a year.

This work will create a "Woodland Edge" and WMBC recommended:
Much of the Paddock is of limited value to birds and should be managed as a "Woodland Edge", including planting of appropriate native shrub species and management of the vegetation.

A similar "Woodland Edge" management approach is planned for the bank by Compton Lock .In this case a 5 metre strip adjacent to the Railway Walk, will be allowed to develop into native scrub, with the remainder, being encouraged to hay meadow with seed dispersal and annual late Summer cutting. A hedgerow that appears on historical maps of the area will also be re-instated so as to cut the meadow in half and recreate the two fields that existed in the past!!

With such a large open space available to exercise dogs on Compton Park, at Newbridge Playing Field and at other sites, I am going to be asking for signage to be displayed, asking for dogs to be on lead,whilst passing through The Paddocks and the proposed Compton Lock Meadows.It would be impossible to create an undisturbed and safe haven for woodland-edge species, without this level of co-operation and understanding. The loss of nesting Reed-Bunting and Yellowhammer in the last few years on the Barleyfield is clear evidence that the aims of this new Management Plan could not be met without some element of protection, being afforded.

The rest of the plan is equally positive, with a wide array of improvements that places biodiversity at it's core (like a pond creation and conversion of the under-used Aldersley Playing Fields into hay-meadows, in the North, plus an application to English Nature to extend the total area falling within the LNR).

Again Deborah Davies at Leisure Services, Wolverhampton City Council has been exceptionally helpful, and I now feel that after a rather mixed and at times torrid history, everyone is starting to pull in the same direction.I really want to nurture this.

The Management plan is massive. It is my intention now to obtain monthly updates of imminent proposed works and it's aims, so that I can publish it on our blog, before work commences to give everyone a deeper understanding. If this undertaking gets too hefty then I shall-be creating a "Sister" blog that deals solely with the management plan, so that this blog can concentrate on the enjoyment of the valley, rather than all the red-tape, especially, since Spring migration will soon be underway!!! (Yippee!!!)

Please, please bare with me. I am on a very steep learning curve, having only sent this blog live on 1st January 2013, and then only been in a position to get involved with the conservation side on 1st February. Things have took off at a rather fast rate. I mean to harm no one, and I have a passion for this valley and it's wildlife, so my intentions shall be focussed on that and that alone.

I do ask that all posts made on this blog remain in a co-operative and helpful spirit, and as I have stated before, anyone with deep-rooted concerns and red-mist should use the smestow sightings e-mail address so that views can be taken into account and considered before publication. This is especially important as our profile continues to rise.

In my experience, all good things come when everyone is pulling in the same direction, and with regards to this Management Plan, the involvement of WMBC and The Wildlife Trust, together with a caring City Council, commands that respect.

As regards the short-term disturbance, which will arise from the Access and Infrastructure schedule of works, please view this as "no pain-no gain", because only by demonstrating that the Management Plan benefits ALL users of the Valley, can it receive the funding and so achieve its conservation objectives.


Sunday, 10 February 2013


Calm, steady light rain, dull, cold,  11.00 to 12.20am.

A damp day at Dunstall, drainage ditches flowing, windsock limp, grass sodden, so just walking in the rain is the only option.  Few birds about, nothing flying, c.125 Canada Geese grazing near the track, a few Crow and Jackdaw foraging, and inside the lake fence, all is quiet.  Two Mallard pairs are feeding, a pair of Gadwall, seen daily now for some weeks, are asleep on the bank overlooking the water, two male Shoveler up-end in the shallows, and three Teal pairs are resting along the stone base of the island.  A closer check reveals at least 10 Snipe, running between the Teal to preen and wash at the water's edge, taking advantage of the dull conditions to scurry back and fore from the dead vegetation in which they spend most of their day beautifully camouflaged.  Grazing along the base of the fence with the ducks and corvids are eight Coot, more confidant now and growing in numbers as the breeding season approaches.  A pair were the great nesting survivors here during the drought and floods of the last two summers, and with vegetation now covering a greater area of the lake fringes than ever before, others have arrived to take advantage of ideal feeding and breeding habitat.  A check through c.130 washing and preening Black-headed Gull produces nothing unusual, the flock growing suddenly as birds seem to fall from the sky like snow, many more settling down on the central grass expanse of the racecourse, or proceeding high south westwards.  Peace, gentle rain, and quiet. Then, suddenly, everything kicks off, sqeaks, yelps, mini-explosions of sound, they're at it, stroppy, querulous, irritable, aggressive, it's a Coot confrontation, someone has swum over the line, someone must be put in their place.  Two pairs are squaring up, heads angled downwards, tails up, black wedge shapes circling each other like dark ships of war, another two join in, and from across the lake others are arrowing in, determined to join the action. It's serious now, the defending pair and their opponants lying back and flailing at each other with their legs, thrashing the water like demented paddle steamers.  No feathers fly, and it's always hard to tell if physical damge is done, but it seems the message has got home, for the main protagonists eventually break away and move off gradually, each returning to their patch of the lake, the fringe birds too are swimming off, move on now, there's nothing to see.  All is quiet again, the Teal  feed among the beds of  grass, the Snipe are invisible once more, and the gulls have flown.  The Gadwall?  They slept through the lot . . .       
(NB  Dunstall Park is a commercial site, access is strictly controlled).
There may or may not be wintering fairies at the bottom of your garden, but the British Trust for Ornitholoy has been trying to find out if there are any Blackcaps.  Breeding birds of this species leave the Smestow Valley in late summer and autumn for Spain and Africa, and don't return until the spring.  However, more and more of these attractive warblers are leaving the Continent in autumn and spending their winters in the UK, and the BTO has been trying to find out how many are involved, what they eat, whether there are more females than males etc. etc.  Officially the last reports should have been submitted last Friday (8th February), but you could always try your luck at www.BTO.org.
It might be just too late for submssions to the BTO, but you can forward your Smestow Valley wintering Blackcap records to this blog site at the e-mail address on the main page (photographic evidence may be required for fairies).      

Keep those eyes peeled!!

The current spell of dismal birding conditions along with the fact that February patch watching can become a little mundane, may mean that we become a little turned off and less vigilant.

However a quick rummage through the valley archives provides a little hope that our efforts may be rewarded.

Whilst Waterfowl numbers and variety are due to start dwindling, we should look to the skies as raptor display and movements commence.

Whilst looking up keep a careful eye on the passing Gulls, since Iceland and Yellow-legged Gulls have been February hits in years gone by.

With a massive flock of Waxwings still present around Wolverhampton, hopes of another show of these captivating birds in the valley remain high.

Unfortunately Hawfinch, which have been recorded here during February, have long since vanished from our Winter Woodlands. However there is still interest among our finches.
Redpolls have been extremely scarce for so far this Winter, but now is the time to take a closer look at any "Lesser's" that you come across in case, there is the odd larger and paler "Meally" among them. It has been a good Winter for Brambling in the Midlands and the Barleyfield area has produced a decent share of the records for this species in late Winter.

Great Crested Grebes may nest locally, but believe it or not there have been less than 10 valley records of this species, and it remains a prized tick in the LNR, so keep 'em peeled because February to April has historically been the best part of the year to catch them heading to breeding grounds and maybe stopping off on the way.

And lastly, remember that our valley can produce rarities at any time of year, as evidenced by the Leach's Petrel that headed over the North Section of the reserve on 6th February 2002.

So, whilst enjoying the first signs of Spring along the valley, remember that there have been 100 species of bird recorded here during February.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Calm, cold, dull, rain later.

Brief encounter with the Angels of Death

It's a quiet morning, not much happening, cold, so a walk to warm up.  Leave the grass and into the trees, stand still, close to a trunk, look up for movement against the light, listen for calls.  Nothing for a few minutes, then a Stock Dove's woo woo high in the branches, the chattering of Magpies, subdued Song Thrush notes and contact calls of assorted titmice ("if you don't know what it is, it's a Great Tit").  A Great Spotted Woodpecker drums in the distance, the sound dies away, silence, but  then there's tension, the corvids are flying to the top of one of the tallest trees, agitated, noisy, something's about.  Suddenly across he comes, slate-grey-backed, quick, direct, silent, arrowing through the trees and up, driving one of the corvids down and away, showing his russet-brown barred breast as returns to bank, climb and perch unseen nearby.  A minute or so passes, and as if from nowhere another larger shape appears, passes close-by, broad-winged, long-tailed, powerful, the woodland avian assassin, gliding away through the trees to rise and sit halfway along a branch, the small head turning, a striking light stripe above piercing yellow eyes.  They're already a pair: The Sparrowhawks are back.  No calls between them, a Magpie forces the female away for a moment, but then she's back, waiting and watching.  Again, no movement, but the male reappears to fly past her, accelerating away to climb and perch on an old nest, settling for a few moments before dropping down and disappearing.  She watches, silently, then leaves the perch, dropping but then climbing away, perhaps aware of human presence.  It's time to for me to leave . . .                        

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Conservation Concerns - Paddocks and Compton Rough - UPDATE


I have, today had an extremely helpful and constructive conversation with Deborah Davies at Leisure Services.

Firstly, she highlighted that in respect of the works carried out at the above sites, there had been a lengthy consultation process, prior to agreeing the management plan, which contained this work.

Secondly, she mentioned that our ranger, Mark checked both sites in order to consider any conservation issues, prior to the commencement of work at the two sites.

Having given time for views and consultation to take place, Deborah feels frustrated that as soon as work has commenced on the agreed Management Plan, it has been met with protests AFTER the event.

I was allowed to put my points forward and upon considering what I said, Deborah is arranging a meeting, when Ian Nicholls returns to work, to allow for information sharing and to discuss the way forward.

In the mean-time she has also assured that there will be no further work conducted, until the meeting takes place. She is sending me details of the full management plan, and I will provide a summary of this on the blog.

I will keep you all posted as to developments.

Thank you

P.S. The blog had traffic approaching the 100 mark yesterday, so thank you to all those who are showing interest and spreading the word!!! Well done!!

State of the birds - North of the valley

Time for my conclusions from the trip North of the valley on 2/2/2013!!!! (I always used to hand my homework in late!!!)

I always believe in looking for silver linings. So I am going to run through the negatives that came from my trip from Compton to Calf Heath along the canal system, before finding the light.

1. I was amazed that in 9 hours of birding, I failed to record Yellowhammer, Linnet, Tree Sparrow, Willow Tit/Marsh Tit Skylark, Red-legged Partridge and Grey Partridge. My reference point for comparison was my days between 1978 and 1990, when I covered pretty much every square inch from Chasewater through Kingswood, Newlands Lane, Bridgtown, Four Crosses, Four Ashes and down to Calf Heath. In Winter, the above species were literally 10 a penny on farmland and around hedgerows. I know that I could have ventured to particular sites close to my route and located a few of these specieson Saturday, but back in the quite recent day, these birds quite literally came to you!!!

2. Although I managed to tick Kestrel, Kingfisher, Meadow Pipit, Treecreeper, Redpoll and Greenfinch, they were all singles. Even the Golden Plovers in the past would have numbered more than 2!!!

3. The overall feel of birding in the countryside has changed completely. The notebook of my young days on such a trip would have read "Flock of" this and "covey" of that and "mixed group of" the other. So much of Saturday's birding was watching singles or looking out over vast expanses of countryside and seeing little or no noticeable bird activity at all.

My negative conclusion is therefore that my instincts tell me that the countryside is becoming sterile. I remember seeing a program where they showed that the actual full structure of a strand of human DNA had been documented in dozens of massive hard-back books on a big book-case.

I feel that our mad pursuit for cheap food and the destruction of insect "pests" has done two things: it has taken the "glue" out of the farmland ecology - the web that holds it all safely together, and secondly that in some way the chemistry has been affected by mans sprays, feeds, herbicides and pesticides has affected breeding success and the general attraction of the fields and margins to our feathered friends.

To sum up really needs one of our 100 top Briton's. So over to the main man, that in 2006 asked whether we can save our planet?.........

"In the past, we didn't understand the effect of our actions. Unknowingly, we sowed the wind and now, literally, we are reaping the whirlwind. But we no longer have that excuse: now we do recognise the consequences of our behaviour. Now surely, we must act to reform it - individually and collectively, nationally and internationally - or we doom future generations to catastrophe."..... Sir David Attenborough

So where is the silver-lining?........

...............in the valley.

32 species were noted between Compton Bridge and the northern edge of the valley on Saturday morning. A further 3 species were added on my afternoon return. Furthermore the highest concentrations of Little Grebe, Bullfinch, Moorhen and Song Thrush during the 6 mile walk out were actually in the valley and our patch produced the only Green Woodpeckers, Ravens and Meadow Pipit of the day.

The diverse habitats that exist in Smestow Valley provide a good range of species in a relatively small area and that must surely be the silver-lining, but one to be managed and protected through co-operation and the sharing of information.

I am planning a trip beyond the South end of the valley over the next few weeks. I will be travelling from Compton Bridge, out to Pool Hall, Trescott, Slingwood, Freehold Way, Furnace Grange, Seisdon, the Trysull sandpits, Awbridge, Bratch Locks and back via Langley Hall and the railway walk.

Anyone with helpful knowledge of these areas, please email me at the sightings email address, so that I can plan the day. This trip will be interesting in that Yellowhammer, Reed bunting, Tree Sparrows and maybe the Corn Bunting, that have been reported along the Bridgnorth Road are targets and it will be good to see what, on the face of it makes the South better than the North for farmland species.

Any help with this will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Great "North" Bird Run!!!!

Saturday 2nd February 2013

Since in a way, this was an experimental trip, the words of my old Biology teacher scare me to death and lead me to follow the old Method, Results and Conclusions way of reporting my trip!! So bare with me and here goes......


The route was basically simple. Set off from Compton Bridge at 07:20am (dawn) and head North along the canal to eventually end up at Calf Heath Marina, almost 6 miles away, returning via the same route in order to increase my observations and understandings of the area.

Before setting off, I listed all bird species that I was likely to see and applied a probability factor for each factor between 0 and 1. By adding up all the probabilities it gave me my species target for the day, which I rounded up to 55 species.....now you can wake up and enjoy the results.........


I spent too much time on my sandwiches, so by the time I arrived at Compton Hospice, I missed the opportunity to pick up the Tawny Owls, but managed to see the 100+ Peasley Wood Corvids heading North. Robin, Blackbird, Woodpigeon and Wren had been picked up on the way down and Song Thrushes had been noted singing at the canal and railway bridges, so the Carrion Crow, Jackdaw And Rook, got my total up to 8, before first light.

On the canal by the road bridge there were 5 Moorhen, 2 Mallard and an early singing Blue Tit (11). At Compton lock there were 2 more Song Thrushes in Song, one by the lock and the other mid-way along Compton  Rough on the railway line.

I noticed the new valley information sign at the lock, but my Biology teacher told me never to include politics in your results, so I am saving that for my conclusions!!!!....

A beautiful confiding Coal Tit (12), was in the canal side trees by the weir and 6 noisy Canada Geese (13) headed SW over Compton from West Park.

At Prefab Weir a Great Tit announced it's presence, as did a Green Woodpecker as it headed towards Henwood Road. 2 Little Grebe(16) were fishing by the far bank. On the way up to Meccano Bridge, the Green Woodpecker at Henwood Road started calling in response to another bird that was laughing from the Barleyfield area.
At the bridge a Dunnock was singing and Goldcrest, Magpie and Black-headed Gull (20) were noted. Then came a lucky encounter with a bird that I had not seen at this site since the breeding season. I was doing a count on Long-tailed Tits just North of the bridge in the far bank alders, when a single Treecreeper appeared, characteristically climbing one tree before dropping to the next. An early bonus and bird number 22 already.

A lesser Black-backed Gull (23) passed over and 2 more Song Thrushes were singing from the main Paddock. The 3rd Little Grebe of the morning was at the Tennis Club along with another singing Dunnock.
At Newbridge a Coal Tit was briefly singing and 4 Starling (24) were noted along with an extremely well-camaflauged mammal.....Geoff Russon!!!!!! I was so pleased to bump into Geoff on my trip, as he really has been the driving force behind all the developments regarding valley birding lately and for me he is just the perfect mentor, and thereason why I am posting this report today. After a half hour chat and a quick look at a 4th Little Grebe just North of the old bridge, we parted.
A Redwing (25) was in trees by the new bridge and my first Chaffinches (26) were on the wharf feeders. A Grey Heron (27) then passed low overhead South along the canal.
A Bullfinch (28) joined the frenzy at the feeders and a little further along a 5th Little Grebe was seen.
Just South of Hordern Road bridge a Great Spotted Woodpecker (29) was drumming away and another Song Thrush further enhanced the feeling that Spring is near. A Nuthatch (30) was feeding at the Boatyard feeders, and the couple at the bungalow told me that they had young visiting there last year.

A partial Summer-plumaged 6th Little Grebe was at the Wildside Activity Centre and 2+ Bullfinch were nearby. At Dunstall Water Bridge Goldcrest another Nuthatch and Coal Tit were present, as was an adult Coot (31). On past Aldersley Stadium, where 5+ Long-tailed Tit were noted and to Aldersley Canal Junction where another similar sized flock was observed.

At the viaducts my first Goldfinch (32) was jangling away, and unfortunately, just off patch, I picked up a flock of 25+ Siskin (33) at Oxley Marine.

As you can see I am no Simon King, but if you click on the image, you can enlarge it to see part of the Siskin flock.
A Grey wagtail (34) lifted off the canal nearby. Now I was onto new territory. At Blaydon Road Bridge I picked up c5 Long-tailed Tits, c10 Goldfinch and my first Greenfinch (35). 8 Fieldfare (36)  passed over West as I arrived at Pendeford and along the estate Coal Tit, single Siskin, 2 Canada Geese and Collared Dove (37) were seen.

At Marsh Lane Bridge some 55 Mallard were congregated and c10 House Sparrows (38) were calling at the houses to the West. At Foster Bridge a Mistle Thrush (39) provided beautiful song to enhance the blue sky and warming sun. First sight of the Marshy area opposite the lorry park raised hopes of new finds and it wasn't long before a splendid and much-missed female Reed Bunting (40) was seen perched on the low trees at the edge of the reed-bed.

Forty species and it was only 09:40!!!! Surely I can break my target?? I avoided looking at my predicted list  to avoid adding pressure to the shear joy that this walk was providing, and continued. I was once again thankful to Geoff, as our little chat meant that although my pace was going to plan, I abandoned any plans to leg-it to Gailey, once I reached Calf-heath, or the racecourse on the way home. Birding in today's world often involves time pressure and I didn't want that on this day. Work commitments meant that I hadn't had a holiday in two years, so I was determined to unwind and make the most.

Just South of the M54 I could see a very distant pool and a scan revealed 6 Teal (41) were on it. This was a real bonus, having just made the decision not to visit a body of water today.On the adjacent canal 2 Little Grebe and a Coot were together and 3 Goldfinch were by the Motorway Bridge.

A distant group of Teal - apologies for making you squint!!!

My childhood instincts were telling me that the area just North of the motorway felt like Willow Tit and Treecreeper territory, but sadly I was in dream-land, though it may warrant a separate, more detailed visit.
Sadly my schedule prevented me from going to try and find the I54 finch flock, and I bargained that with the morning going so well, it wouldn't be needed to reach target and would be too much of a risk.

On to Coven Heath Sewage Works (Thoughts of Hobby and rare passage birds entered the head!! Anyone got archives for this site??...sorry I am dreaming again!!), where 100+ Carrion Crow, 175+ Jackdaw, 1+ Pied Wagtail (42) and a Nuthatch were noted.

At Coven Heath Bridge, 28 Mallard were gathered and 10+ Fieldfare, 5+Redwing and 5+ Starling were on a flooded paddock nearby. The first of many House Sparrow colonies was around Brinsford Bridge, which I reached at 10:05. 4 Fieldfare, 10 Starling and my first Buzzard (43) were noted nearby and at the 3 Hammers Golf Club another House Sparrow colony and c5 Long-tailed Tits were present.

I passed the pub at Cross Green, which made me hungry but I didn't want to stop just yet. 2 Mistle Thrush and a Redwing were had just South of the railway line, and a Greenfinch was overhead.

At Slade Heath Bridge, yet another good House Sparrow Colony along with 20 Mallard. two Rook and c5 Long-tailed Tits were nearby, but then another special bird for the day was had in trees alongside a paddock South of Larches Wood. A Goldfinch had caught my attention, but as I scanned through the trees for birds on the deck, I noticed a silent solitary bird sat quite high up in an alder on the other side of the canal. Will it sit still long enough for me to get my camera?............

.......YES female Brambling and species number 44!!!
On to Larches Bridge and surprisingly, another Brambling called as it headed North overhead.

At last between Moat House and Deepmore Bridge I finally got my first Kingfisher (45) of the day!!!! It was interesting to note that my first encounter off patch was in an area similar to ours where a brook and the canal are in close proximity, presumably giving more feeding options, depending on the strength of currents, making it a prime territory.

I was going through a little purple-patch and at Deepmore Bridge I had another lucky encounter. just to the south of the bridge to the West there was a flood meadow, reminiscent of the Newlands Lane one at Cannock, which was part of my patch in my teens. I stopped to scan the small pond and immediately picked up 2 Snipe (46) at the water's edge. I hazarded that there could be maybe 10+ present and maybe a prized Jack Snipe, but I hadn't got the heart to go off on a flushing expedition, like I used to as a kid at Chasewater.

After the excitement of the last half hour I arrived at the terminus of my walk... Calf Heath Marina...Dohhh... no Mute Swans!!!!.....time to eat.....

Time to rest, eat and cool my wellies down in the canal!!!
a Buzzard rose up from beyond the bridge. I ate, had a quick rest and back on the return leg. What happened next has happened to all of us.....nothing. Between 11:20 and 12:45, it died as it so often does with lunchtime birding and my target suddenly looked beyond me!! Should I have sprinted up onto the bank at Gailey to add 7 or 8 to the list and breezed home and dry????

In that Hour and a half, I had 2 Buzzard  at Deepmore Bridge, a Siskin, North of Larches Wood, 2 more Buzzard over the wood, with a singing Mistle Thrush nearby and a Nuthatch at Slade Heath Bridge. Then a second brief purple-patch occurred that kept me on track....

At Slade Heath Bridge, surprisingly my only Kestrel (47) of the day, a male was hunting over the adjacent fields and railway embankment.

Whilst watching 25 Rook in a field between Cross Green and Stafford Road, 2 Golden Plover (48) flew up, skimmed a hedge and disappeared out of view. As a young man I used to maintain a garden on the long-mile at Calf-Heath and at this time of year hundreds of these waders would be seen passing overhead. So it was with a strange mix of ecstasy and sadness that I added the sighting to my notebook.

I explored fields in search of Linnet and Yellowhammer, without luck but did turn up a lone Stock Dove (49) overhead.

2 Collared Dove, 10+ Long-tailed Tit and the now slightly larger Corvid gathering were at Coven Heath Sewage Works.

Then silence........ until at last at 14:00 as I was recounting the Teal (still 6) South of the M54, a lone Redpoll (50) an amazingly scarce bird this Winter flew East over the truck park.

The next part of the walk yielded little (Pendeford held good numbers of Starling with 20+ in the Poplars together by the canal). And at 14:45 I was sat having a picnic on the lupin fields, reflecting on the gains and losses of the day. But what a glorious day it had been, for pleasure, for learning, for birding and for the friendly people I met along the way. Then what was pretty much always meant to be!!!!!

After serving up 32 species this morning (would have been 34 if I had terrorised the Grey Wagtails and Siskin into heading South earlier!!!), 2 gifts which the romantic in me puts down to the caring attitude of Dunstall Park racecourse owners.....2 Raven (51) and a single Meadow Pipit (52) over the racecourse asI ate. Thank you, thank you, thank you, at least I could head off home with a respectable go at my target!!

Dunstall Park Racecourse - shining example of wildlife care and management and source of 2 valuable ticks.
So what do I do... Im on 52.....I then for the first time studied my misses. I had good old Feral Pigeons up my sleeves, so I needed two species......The Wintering Chiffchaff was a needle in a hay-stack so was too much of a gamble....GOT IT, back to the barleyfield.

Jay and Sparrowhawk!! Last year both these birds had been noted regularly on dusk watches so it was worth a shot to head straight there to increase my chances.....
Geoff's bench at the top of the barleyfield....home sweet home.
I arrived at the barleyfield just after 4pm and was greeted by a Green Woodpecker, heading to roost over the lower alders. I headed up to the bench and within 2 minutes, a male Sparrowhawk (53), oh and a Feral Pigeon (54) lol, headed low over the field, disappearing into the crossings.

after 15 minutes, there was no jay squawking and the Merlin that I had ordered, failed to turn up so homeward bound, with a much larger female Sparrowhawk, rounding off a thoroughly enjoyable day.

P.S. Next morning a Jay (the first I have seen there this year) was in a tree right outside my window at home. was he having a laugh or what????

Conclusions tomorrow, since posting this blog has added some extra thoughts that i need to sleep on!!!!

Update regarding works carried out at "Compton Rough" and "Newbridge Paddocks"

Good morning all,

I have this morning visited Leisure Services at Wolverhampton City Council.

I have submitted that the works carried out last week together with the supposed future works at the above sites has threatened a number of species of birds and also caused major disturbance to Badgers that will already have young underground and at present are free from the T.B. mayhem that threatens their farmland counterparts.

I am pleased to report that I was met with sympathy and understanding and I have requested a formal meeting to share information, before any further work or disturbance occurs.

The council are aware that most species are already paired and prospecting nest sites, so that effectively the breeding system has begun.

I shall keep everyone updated regarding developments as they unfold.

In the meantime, please have faith and lets not allow red mist to lead us to jump to conclusions. So many people came to me over the weekend, after asking the work-people questions last week. Let's wait and see what comes from the horse's mouth. I was given a lot of time this morning and my initial feelings are positive.

Anyone with concerns or feelings can email their views to smestowsightings@gmail.com

Thank you so much for the support and coverage by David Ashcroft. It shows the level of care and understanding for the valley's ecology that will protect our precious LNR. To see David's report of 2/3/2013 and also on a more positive note to enjoy his photographic abilities go to wolveswild.net

Also I want to give wholehearted support to Jason who is the "guardian" for the area around Shenstone, near Kidderminster.

You may be aware that it is one of the few sites left where you can be pretty much guaranteed to see good numbers of Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge.

Jason is fighting plans to turn a former paddock along Heath Lane into a permanent site for travelling show people.

the proposals are under consultation until 16 February 2013, so we do not have much time to voice our opposition. Please help protect these endearing bird species and other wildlife by airing your views to the council at:

Right!! Now back to birding......

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Friday 1st February 2013.

Newbridge Wood, by Staffs & Worcs Canal and Newbridge playingfield.
Calm, cold, clearing, 09.50 to 10.15.

A somewhat circuitous route to the paper shop finds just a few of the usual suspects in my local wood, but at least they're telling me the end of the winter is nigh.  Two Stock Dove call and flap fast away, returning to stand close together at the top of one of the tallest trees, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker drums near to them, the contact call of a Nuthatch comes from the other side of the canal, and then, umistakable in shape and unwelcome to the resident Crows, a female Sparrowhawk moves low over the trees in a brief and half-hearted territorial display, with exaggerated, wearisome wing-flaps as one of the Crow escorts her off its patch.  Told you . . . spring's almost here.

PS.  Repeated much of the walk this morning (Saturday) that I did with Kevin last Saturday out into South Staffs (cf 26th January blog ).  What a difference a week makes! Hardly anything about, but near Trescott, the bird we'd initially gone for, two Red-Legged Partridge flying from a field margin.  Don't think Kevin will be too put out though . . .      

Friday, 1 February 2013

The Work Begins.....

Friday 1st February 2013

At last I have got through my work commitments and have some precious time to devote to the patch, this blog and tackling issues in the valley.

The events in the mid-section of Smestow Valley are a strong signal that the time has come to once again share our knowledge of the area's wildlife and conservation issues, with those that now control it's future!!!

There have been thousands of hours involved by Angus Dickie, Frank Dickson and others to keep the authorities informed over the years.

Furthermore the owners of Dunstall Park Racecourse have demonstrated just how an area can be protected and enhanced through a shared and understanding approach.

LNR, as I understand it means Local NATURE RESERVE!!!

So I am about to embark on a mission to try and find out why, after the loss and disturbance at Compton Park (which has removed Tawny Owls and threatened the breeding status of Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper there), we have just put two other key nesting areas in severe jeopardy.

Unfortunately our contact at Leisure Services is on leave till Monday, so I am unable to get the ball rolling immediately so please bare with me. My intention is to share information as soon as possible in order to prevent any further damage to the Valley.

I will keep you posted.

In the mean time I am planning to explore the area North of the Valley, possibly as far as Calf Heath tomorrow, in order to get a feel for the status of birds in the surrounding area. At the same time, having missed out on the fun of the "Foot it" challenge, I have set myself a target of finding 55 species during the day. This is a relatively new area for me so please could you all share any knowledge of strongholds for less common species that may exist along the tract of land that basically runs through Pendeford, M54, The 3 Hammers Golf Club and on to Calf Heath.

Sorry about the short notice. I had to check the weather and work commitments first. Please either email any helpful info for my trip to the sightings email, comment here or text me on my usual mobile number if you have it.

I shall post an update of the day's birding at some point on Monday.

Thank you