HEADS OR TAILS, MALE TEALS WIN
WHEN IT COMES TO WOOING . . .
Sunday December 29th 2013Cold, calm, bright, slight frost, mid-morning.
The gales of recent days have blown themslves out, new ones are forecast, but at least now there's a brief respite between storms as the year nears its end. Clear overnight skies have brought a frost, but not hard enough to put off at least 175 Canada Geese which with two Greylag Geese graze the central grass area near to resting groups of c.380 Black-headed Gull, 35 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and a single adult Herring Gull. Around 20 per cent of the lake is covered with thin ice, five Coot busy themselves on the open water, two adult and an immature Moorhen tread gingerly along the shoreline, and at least seven Snipe rest and preen in the morning sunshine between sandy-coloured rocks along the base of the island. An adult Grey Heron stands motionless on the grass banks, looking down as a single male Shoveler pushes out from the shore, and a group of 12 Teal emerge one by one from the spiked aquatic grass. This diminutive duck species has been at the lake since late summer (22 birds were present on October 22nd), and the group that remains are mostly males, now resplendent in full chestnut, green, grey, white and yellow breeding plumage. They are determined to impress the four or so light-brown females, escorting and chasing, giving high fluted calls and pushing their heads and tails skywards in a exaggerated banana-shaped attempt to catch the eye (the species' collective name is a "spring", capturing perfectly their ability to rise instantly and vertically into the air when disturbed). A Wren and a Robin are heard and seen in shoreline bushes, two species which have become more frequent visitors to the lake as the waterside vegetation has spread, and two Stock Dove float in to perch in the canalside oak copse near the Water Bridge. Corvid commotion often means there's a raptor about, and sure enough at least six Crows and a couple of Magpies surround a Common Buzzard as it sits on the banked grass between the racetrack and service road. Quite what it's up to is unclear, but if it's looking for worms there's no joy, and it flies up on to a junction box on the side of one the light pylons which line the course perimeter. The corvids won't give up, and eventually the Buzzard drops off the pylon and flaps slowly away towards the northern end of the site. The tree-lined western edge of the racecourse is a quiet reflection of a calm day, there's nothing about, so it's back across the tracks and grass to the warmth of the hotel and its reception staff. A Happy New Year to them, and to you all.
NB. Dunstall Park is a restricted commercial site. Access is strictly controlled.
DRUM FINALE TO A QUIET YEAR
All told, a quiet end to a quiet year for the whole of the Smestow Valley. Autumn passage wader records have been few across the region, not helped by high water levels at lakes and reservoirs, but a Green Sandpiper was present from December 1st to at least 4th at Dunstall Park, only the second winter record for the site. A male Peregrine visited the racecourse on December 4th, and a wintering Coot was on the canal by Newbridge wood on December 16th. Relatively warm weather encouraged a few singing birds, including single Mistle Thrush near the canalside flats by Hordern Road on December 16th and by Newbridge playingfield on December 24th. And, sandwiched between the squalls and rain, came the sounds of spring in Newbridge wood on a calm, clear morning on December 29th . . . territorial calls from at least one Nuthatch, and, high in the bare trees, a male Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming away for all the world to hear.