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!

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