Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Newbridge,  3rd May  2016


Forget the weather,

it’s time for a chat


Sleet, squalls, stair-rod rain, hail and snow last week, winds from the north, frost at night.  Spring has been somewhat unsprung, but nights have often been sharp and clear, and, as Ian, Gareth and Geoff have reported, bird migration is well under way.  Despite the wintry conditions, chats, wagtails, pipits, waders and warblers are calling in on the valley on their way to breeding grounds, some of them staying on to nest locally, others feeding up and moving on . . .


Star birds for 2016 so far are in fact non-migrants, Gareth’s and Ian’s Goshawks, only the seventh and eighth of their kind reported locally since 1990.  Gareth’s male bird attacked a Buzzard over Wightwick ridge late in the morning on 2/4, Ian’s sighting involved a bird over Aldersley playingfields on 20/4, and there was a reliable late-winter report of one flying over the Mermaid pub at Wightwick.  Goshawks nationally are now being seen more frequently in or near to urban areas, and these records may have involved a bird or birds from a small Shropshire/South Staffordshire breeding population.  Another top raptor sighting came from Gareth in the shape of a Red Kite flying northwards over Wightwick fields towards Tinacre Hill on 9/4.  This is a prime time of year to see wandering birds of this species locally, and there have been around eight valley records since the first sighting of a Welsh-tagged bird over Newbridge on May 5th 1996.  Just as Buzzards moved eastwards to nest in and beyond the Wolverhampton conurbation in the late 1990s, so Red Kites have already spread into Shropshire (more than 30 breeding pairs were reported in the county last year).  It can only be a matter of time before these beautiful birds hold nesting territories close to the Smestow Valley.

On a smaller scale, but none the less impressive, three chat species have been recorded passing through the valley in recent weeks.  First up was a single male Wheatear seen on 26/3 on Dunstall Park, a site visited annually by this perky species.  Totals since the end of March at the racecourse have reached double figures, including eleven present on 12/4, with birds feeding in and alongside drainage ditches near to the grandstand.  Ian’s female Common Redstart on the Compton barleyfield on 23/4 was reported on the same morning as a male Whinchat was seen feeding near the Smestow brook on Wightwick fields.  Other migrant records at the racecourse include two Little Ringed Plover on 24/3, a Lesser Whitethroat by the lake on 20/4, a male Yellow Wagtail on 4/4, a Sand Martin on 15/4, a Meadow Pipit on 3/4, and by far the valley’s earliest ever Sedge Warbler singing on the Birmingham Canal side of the site on 8/4.  Three Barn Swallows were back at their racecourse nest area on 12/4, fifteen House Martin were over the same site on 15/4, and two Willow Warbler were at Dunstall Park on 6/4.  Chiffchaff have been vocal all along the valley since late March, with Blackcap totals increasing over the same period (adverse weather meant that females were catching up with males, the two sexes appearing within days of each other.)  Migration for other later warblers is, just as last year, relatively slow, with only four Common Whitethroat reported from their main valley breeding ground at Aldersley/Oxley on 30/4.


Records in late winter and spring for resident species include two pairs of Grey Wagtail active at former nest sites, Stock Dove pairs displaying, Green Woodpeckers calling, and Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker seen mating.  Goldcrest and Coal Tit have been reported all along the valley, Goldfinch have been singing at Wightwick, Newbridge, Aldersley, Compton and elsewhere, Nuthatch pairs have been seen narrowing nest holes with mud at a traditional breeding site, at least 12 Rook nests had been built in the oak copse at Dunstall Park by the end of March, Linnet have been singing at last year’s nest site and a male Reed Bunting was in voice by the racecourse lake on 2/4.  Little Grebe, a pair of Mute Swan and at least three pairs of Coot have set up at the lake, but Canada Goose nests on the island have been abandoned for the second year running.  Sparrowhawk activity has been limited, but Buzzard pairs have been seen daily since late winter, with plunge-diving displays over what are now traditional nest sites (at least 14 birds were seen at the same time over Wightwick and out towards Pool Hall late in the morning on 5/4).  A pair of hunting Kestrel suggests the species may be nesting again in the valley after an absence of several years.

Sawbill surge as waters rise


Water levels at Dunstall Park lake are still high after a warm, wet winter, and although this may have put off passage waders this spring, good numbers of a sawbill diving duck have been reported.  Goosander have been using the lake as a stopping-off place to rest, preen and fish, with regular sightings there and along the valley since December.  Records include two males and a female on the lake on 20/4, and eight birds flying along the line of the canal by the racecourse towards Newbridge on 10/4.  Reports of other wintering duck at the racecourse lake include a pair of Tufted Duck on 28/3 and 2/4, ten pairs of Teal on 23/1, three males and a female Shoveler on 5/3 and a pair of Gadwall on 26/1 and 3/4.  Snipe numbers at the lake peaked at 14 on 15/2 and a wintering Green Sandpiper was in the open culvert of the Smestow brook by the lake on 15/2 and 16/2.  Other racecourse records include a Cormorant seen moving south westwards on 30/1, fourteen Greylag Goose on 20/2, a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull on 15/2, a moulting adult Mediterranean Gull on 20/2 and a Peregrine flying over the site on 20/3.


NB   Dunstall Park is a closed commercial site.  Access is strictly controlled.


Late-winter and spring records from elsewhere along the valley include sightings of at least three Rose-ringed Parakeet, three late-departing Redwing near Tunstall Water Bridge on 12/3 and at least ten Siskin by the old railway south of Hordern Road on 12/3.  Two Red-legged Partridge were seen on Wightwick fields on 17/4, a male Pheasant called from a field just north of Windmill Lane canal bridge at Wightwick on 5/4 and 6/4 and a Kingfisher was by the canal run-off stream at Wightwick fields on 11/3.  A Tawny Owl called from Newbridge playingfield on 5/3 and 1/4, and Little Owl were reported regularly at dusk near Castlecroft canal bridge by Wightwick fields.


A sad postscript:  A dead Barn Owl found under a hedge at the southern end of Wightwick fields on 11/3 may well have been the bird seen regularly quartering the same area in late January.  This beautiful species bred in the valley in the late 1990s, and birds could be seen at dusk hunting over grass fields north of Smestow School, Wightwick, and over Wightwick fields.

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