A lovely balmy day yesterday clouding and cooling mid-morning but returning to form mid-afternoon. VE Day promises more of the same and continues into Saturday. Sunday will see a change with widespread showers and cooling temperatures but this could bring a scattering of species at reservoirs and elsewhere...
Out at 7 and back at 1030. Noticeably less activity on the canal with correspondingly increased car use. More small shops open and lots of factory operations resuming altho a lot have ticked over or kept calm and carried on throughout the ChinaVirus siege. No repeat of the WaderFest at Fens Pools but plenty of warblers on show and in song notably Whitethroats with the odd Lesser. After a coupla hours and a cigar i moved on to the PearTree Lane area adjacent to Merry Hill. Transitting thru the Waterfront i noted both Ravens active so presumably they are both feeding young. I also noted several 'official looking' vehicles including some sort of traffic monitering and enforcment. These were being used for some sort of training exercise for what looked like a group of young Gurkhas!
PearTree Lane is an area of industrial units with plenty of rooves and valleys for breeding Gulls - there are always birds wheeling over the area so it figures that adults present at this time of year will be likely candidates for breeding. A quick scan yielded a number of alert birds and i decided to cycle down a likely access road which ended in a cul-de-sac and 2 adult Lesser Black-backed staring me down from a few hundred yards away. Despite the 'social distancing' i had put between us the agitated calls meant a nice nest was present. Perhaps these birds have taken a leaf out of so-called 'expert' Neil Ferguson's book and have decided that conjugal visits are not included and does not apply to them. What surprises me is how few nests there actually are, i saw only one there is possibly another but little signs of any more. A visit to the nearby lower slopes of Netherton Hill are in order as the elevated position affords excellent views over the Estate and a tripod/scope combo will reveal more if they are there.
Part of the area contains the newer Blackbrook Valley Trading Estate. I birded this area regularly in the 80's when it was an old sand and gravel pit, it often held watery flashes due to the ground water level being relatively high. Sadly the area is now long transformed and a gem of a habitat gone forevever. It was an excellent watering hole for migrants but it yielded more than that. For a 3 year period, 83-86/7 iirc, it held a superb range of breeding species. I recorded 2 pair of Stonechat, upto 3 pairs of Little Ringed Plover, a regular colony of Sand Martins and repeated breeding of a single pair of Wheatear. Species like Grasshopper Warbler and Whinchat were annual and Yellow Wagtail also bred once during that period. This was before the age of the Internet, pushy photographers and birders imbued with a sense of entitlement to information - i am glad i had the place more or less to myself apart from visitations from people like the late Eric Phillips and ian Whitethroat.
The cloud had lifted by 3 so i decided to cycle over to Bunkers Wood, bumped into another Stourbridge birder called Dave, and spent nearly 2 hours mooching about. Bunkers is a decent size and has a series of paths and tracks. The far end of the wood, about 25% of it is much wilder with broken Pines and plenty of understorey. Late afternoon can still be a good time for bird song particularly migrants that sing on an ad hoc basis at all times of the day whilst deciding whether to stay or go. A handful of Willow Warblers along with several other species were noted. 5 years ago a mate placed a dozen open-fronted nestboxes in the 'wilder'area and was rewarded with no less than 4 pairs of breeding Redstart in the first year! This shows that birds move thru but there is a shortage of nest sites not food. Ravens have prospected several times but i think it is just too regularly used by dog walkers but if they can overcome their natural waryness the World is their Oyster. It is also an eminently suitable site for colonising Goshawk as there are large numbers of excellent tall Scots Pine. Again if the species can handle the visitors i predict this a possible site away from its Wyre Forest stronghold. This wood, like many others in the area, were cut over extensively for strategic supplies of timber during WW2 this means there are a distinct lack of older trees containing suitable cavities. Some woods were managed by people like Harris Brushes which kept the Coppice with Standards management regime in situ and this provided 5-7 year regrowth which benefitted regional Nightingales but their presences seems just a memory now for whatever reason. At other local Woodland Trust sites there is active repetition of the Harris regime i.e. Uffmoor and Pepper Wood. I visited Pepper a few weeks ago and was pleased to see, finally, the implementation of a widespread nestbox scheme - i shall revisit next week and update accordingly.
I took in the Hagley Fields to finish at 6pm. The County Lane field held nothing which left the 2 large fields up the Sandy track. The lower one quickly revealed 5 standout loud Wheatears at the top end of it. I moved a couple of hundred yards up the track for some distant record shots and by the time i had reached the boundary hedge between the lower and upper field they, like ephemeral Mayflies, had departed literally for pastures new. A gaggle of buzzy Whitethroats were present in the main hedge with both Corn Bunting and LesserThroat for backup and that as they say was that.....
Good birding -
Female Raven, Ghurkas, 5 Wheatears, LBB on nest and my afternoon route yesterday with Bunkers on the extreme left of the ride...