Saturday, 13 August 2016

Newbridge,  13th August 2016


Thanks to the ants

its a falcon feast . .


Summer’s got that slightly past-it feel now, long-grass browning and the pink of willow herb fringing roads and tracks.  Evenings are shorter, sunsets are earlier, and resident and migrant birds have all but finished breeding.  Many avian visitors to the UK are already on their way back to southern Europe and Africa, and some are stopping off in the Smestow Valley to rest and feed.  So, time to report on what’s happening now, and on what have been a relatively quiet couple of months for local wildlife.


Highlight so far this month has been the appearance of three Hobbys high over Dunstall Park and the Farndale housing estate, seen from Crowther Road, Newbridge, in the early afternoon of Friday 5th.  A large flock of gulls, mostly Black-headed, had been noted minutes earlier, circling against the cloud base on a close and oppressively warm day, almost certainly feeding on clouds of flying ants, huge numbers of which had been leaving their nests since mid-morning.  Hobbys appear annually but irregularly over the valley in the summer months, but this was the only the second time three had been seen together (three were over Aldersley on 9/8/2001).  For several minutes they swooped and dived among the gulls, picking insects from the air and eating them on the wing before moving further away as the airstream carried the ants eastwards, and eventually disappearing  The earliest local record for these beautiful migratory falcons has been April 20th and the latest October 3rd.  House Martins nesting on the Farndale were for decades mid-summer targets for Hobbys feeding nestlings at breeding sites in South Staffordshire and elsewhere, but this agile and fast-flying raptor has been all but absent from the valley in 2016.


Wader migration is well under way, and on August 5th and 12th four Green Sandpiper were noted on the shoreline of Dunstall Park lake, equalling the site maxima recorded on 21/8/2010.  There have been a handful of winter sightings for this species locally in the last 30 years, but most birds are seen on mid-summer/autumn passage at the racecourse, with reports in 2010 stretching from June 28th to September 9th.

Other summer reports from Dunstall Park include two Cormorant moving south westwards on 11/6, two Sand Martin on 26/6, a male Reed Bunting singing by the lake on 11/6, two male and a female Tufted Duck on the lake on 17/6 and a flock of 42 Lapwing on grass near the lake on 24/7.  An early female Teal was on the lake island on 15/7, and 20-plus Goldfinch were by the lake on 5/8.  Gull numbers have increased dramatically since the beginning of this month, with no less 248 Lesser Black-backed Gull resting and preening on the central grass area on 12/8.  The large percentage of juveniles in this total reflects the growing number of gulls now breeding in the Birmingham/Wolverhampton conurbation.  A juvenile Yellow-legged Gull in the flock was one of several of this species seen recently at regional roost sites such as Belvide reservoir near Brewood.  An unusual feature of early summer came in the shape of regular visits to the lake by two pairs of Greylag, evidence of an increasing number of this goose species at lakes and reservoirs across the West Midlands.  A sign of a good breeding year for thrushes came with the appearance of 32 Mistle Thrush at Dunstall Park on 11/8.


It’s been a mixed breeding story this summer at the racecourse, but Little Grebe have taken advantage of increased shoreline vegetation at the lake, with two pairs producing at least four youngsters, one of which is now adult-sized and diving for its own food.  Coot too have had a good year with at least three pairs raising young (a fox was seen catching a non-breeding adult on 31/5), but a Mute Swan pair first seen nest-building in late winter at the lake have lost seven of the eight cygnets which hatched in late-May (the adults are very likely the pair which lost all five of their cygnets last year at the lake).  Canada Goose breeding attempts failed for the second year running, with all nests on the lake island robbed of their eggs.  At the other end of the site at least four pairs of Swallow nested in the stables and second broods have now fledged successfully.  Three House Martin pairs nesting under the eaves of the nearby hotel have produced fledged young, a pair of Pied Wagtail have again bred in the same area, with three juveniles seen foraging along drainage ditches by the grandstand on 11/6, and juveniles were among at least 30 Starling making daily visits to the lake island daily in late May and early June.


Elsewhere along the valley at least one pair of Grey Wagtail have nested, a singing Goldcrest was heard by Newbridge playingfield through May and into June, and Tawny Owl calls came from Newbridge wood over the same period.  Also at Newbridge two pairs of Swift nested (adults and youngsters had departed by the end of July), House Martins were faithful to what is now a traditional nest site under house eaves near Tettenhall Road, and a Treecreeper was in a mixed bird flock moving through gardens next to the playingfield on 28/6.  The Rose-ringed Parakeet trail has gone cold, despite the fact a pair was seen checking potential nest holes in a Smestow Valley wood in late April.  The only recent report has been of a bird flying low along Henwood Road towards Compton on 27/6.  Raptor records have been intermittent, but a Buzzard was seen carrying prey low over Wightwick fields on 18/6.


Missing bird makes up the numbers


As reported in a previous post, our May morning local bird blitz produced 64 species, falling just short of the Smestow Valley record of 66 seen in 24 hours.  Well, we were even closer than that, since some careless counter had in some way managed to exclude Blackbird from the total.  Apologies all round, it’s just that I can’t read my own writing.  We were close, but no cigar . . .

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