Thursday, 26 May 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 22/05/16

Last Sunday I took my weekly visit to my local patch; although it was another lovely day it seemed quieter than normal. I only saw or heard 33 species, none of which were new; however there were quite a few juvenile birds to see, and a few new butterflies about. Here are the highlights!
  • The Great Spotted Woodpecker nest I found last week is still going strong, with the young ones sounding even louder this week. I wonder when they will emerge from the nest hole? It'd be brilliant to see them enter the wider world for the first time but my timing would have to be pretty spectacular to coincide with that! I also saw an adult Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding in a slightly unorthodox fashion from the top of a tree - it was flycatching, chasing flies around in the air and picking them out to eat!
  • The Grey Heron family is doing great, with all the youngsters now clearly fledged - they are flying about and exploring the site.
  • The two families of Coots on Merecroft Pool now have one and two chicks each. The two chicks in particular were quite big and looking as though they will make it to adulthood now.
  • Other juvenile birds seen around the site included Robin and Long-tailed Tit. 
  • I heard Whitethroat again in the same two places, along the Rea Valley path west of Wychall Reservoir, and in the Peafields/West Extension.
  • I had really lovely views of a Nuthatch feeding on a tree trunk in the marshy area at the south end of Merecroft Pool.
  • A Buzzard was being mobbed by Carrion Crows over the Paddocks.
  • Some good butterfly sightings - I saw a couple of blue ones which I couldn't get a good enough look at to identify conclusively but I think were Holly Blue. Also saw Orange Tip, Large White, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood and possibly Small White, although again, I didn't quite get a good enough look to be sure.
I was also on the lookout for plants - some I needed for my Identiplant course, others just for interest.

British Waterways Meadow looking lush (HDR).
The marshy area behind the Merecroft Pool dam (HDR). Lots of botanical interest here at the moment, and it smells minty-fresh due to all the mint growing there!
The Peafields/West Extension (HDR).
A big patch of Red Campion (Silene Dioica) which I needed to find for my Identiplant assignment!
Male Red Campion (Silene Dioica) flowers.
Male Red Campion (Silene Dioica) flower.
Female Red Campion (Silene Dioica) flower.

Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines).

The Silverweed (Argentina anserina) is flowering!

Buzzard and Carrion Crow argy-bargy.
Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus).
Bog Stitchwort (Stellaria alsine).

I am trying to get better at grass identification. I think this one is Sweet Vernal Grass (Anthoxanum odoratum). It smells and tastes vaguely vanilla-ish!

This was a new one to me. It had very fine delicate leaves compared to Cow Parsley, I think it is Pignut (Conopodium majus).

Large White butterfly (Pieris brassicae).

Blackbird Goldcrest Long-tailed Tit
Blackcap Goldfinch Magpie
Blue Tit Great Spotted Woodpecker Mallard
Buzzard Great Tit Nuthatch
Canada Goose Greenfinch Robin
Carrion Crow Grey Heron Song Thrush
Chaffinch Herring Gull Starling
Chiffchaff House Sparrow Stock Dove
Coot Jackdaw Whitethroat
Dunnock Jay Woodpigeon
Feral Pigeon Lesser Black-backed Gull Wren

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 14/05/16

Another tardy blog post, due to another busy week. Unbelievably (to me at least, it having been my first job interview in nearly seven years), I got the job I was interviewed for a couple of weeks ago! I'd been jobhunting in the ecology/conservation sectors since finishing my Open University degree in Environmental Science last September, and had not had much luck - as is well-known, it's a difficult area to break into with lots of competition and at times I did feel somewhat disillusioned. So I am feeling super-excited to have been offered the post of Data Officer at Herefordshire Biological Records Centre! It's only a 12-month post but is a big step in the right direction. However the excitement is tinged with sadness, as it will mean leaving Birmingham, and one of the many things I will miss is of course Kings Norton Nature Reserve. I won't be able to visit regularly any more, but as the new job is only for 12 months, it's quite possible I will be back in Birmingham at some point - my partner very much enjoys his job at Birmingham University so we are happy to be tied to the West Midlands for the foreseeable future. In the meantime I plan to enjoy my last few visits to Kings Norton Nature Reserve!

Onto my visit to the reserve on the 14th of May! It was another lovely sunny day and I saw 40 species in all - no new ones but some great sightings, especially of juvenile birds. Here are the highlights:
  • I found a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest in one of the large willow trees growing in the open area next to Merecroft Pool. It was easy to track down because the chicks inside were making a right racket! Safely hidden within a hole in the tree trunk, the chicks weren't visible but I enjoyed watching the two parents making feeding trips back and forth to the nest.
  • At the bottom end of Merecroft Pool in a Hawthorn, a cute fluffy bundle of juvenile Long-tailed Tits was huddling! I counted six of them and I think there were at least four adults bringing them food. In Long-tailed Tits, birds that are closely related (e.g. offspring from a previous year) to the parents of a brood may help the parents raise the chicks if they themselves have not been successful in breeding.
  • The Grey Heron family is going strong and I think the youngsters are now capable of flight. There were three juveniles and one adult on Merecroft Pool, and one juvenile and an adult on Wychall Reservoir, so I'm assuming that juvenile was from the Merecroft Pool brood. 
  • There were two families of Coots on Merecroft Pool, one with two chicks and the other with three.
  • I had nice views of the Whitethroat along the Rea Valley path west of Wychall Reservoir, and heard the other one again in the Peafields/West Extension.
  • Once again, I heard but did not see Green Woodpecker.
  • Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were still plentiful, but I haven't heard or seen Willow Warbler for a couple of weeks now - wonder if they are still around?
  • More butterflies this week - Green-veined White are now on the wing, and there were still Orange Tip, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoiseshell about.
  • I was just finishing up my walk in the Peafields/West Extension when I realised that a Muntjac Deer was coming towards me seemingly without a care in the world! Unfortunately I didn't have the right lens on my camera for close-up photos and I didn't want to spook the deer by fumbling around with lenses, so I just kept still and took photos with what was already on my camera. The deer didn't seem to mind me watching it and in the end it came so close that even photos taken with the wrong lens were OK!
Everything is starting to look really lush now with the warmer temperatures getting everything growing fast - the trees were looking noticeably leafier than on my last visit, making it harder to see some of the birds!

Along the River Rea route.
Along the River Rea route (HDR).

The Paddocks (HDR).

Along the River Rea (HDR).

The River Rea (HDR).
My Speedwell obsession continues, there was quite a bit of Germander Speedwell growing near Merecroft Pool including this large patch right next to the path:

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys).

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys).

Here's a couple of shots of baby birds!

This came out better than I thought it would actually. Best viewed large, you should be able to see the young Long-tailed Tits in the centre.
One of the Coot families.
Here are the best shots I managed of the Muntjac - best viewed full size!

Muntjac deer.

Muntjac deer.


Blackbird Goldfinch Mallard
Blackcap Great Crested Grebe Moorhen
Blue Tit Great Spotted Woodpecker Mute Swan
Bullfinch Great Tit Nuthatch
Buzzard Green Woodpecker Robin
Canada Goose Greenfinch Song Thrush
Carrion Crow Grey Heron Starling
Chaffinch House Sparrow Stock Dove
Chiffchaff Jackdaw Swallow
Coal Tit Jay Treecreeper
Coot Lesser Black-backed Gull Whitethroat
Dunnock Long-tailed Tit Woodpigeon
Feral Pigeon Magpie Wren

Monday, 16 May 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve, plus a bit extra 07/05/16

Bit tardy posting this, as last week was mega-busy with bat stuff, preparing for then having a job interview, and first aid training! Saturday 7th May was the day of the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve's Walks on the Wild Side, a varied programme of walks and fun nature activities including bird, bat, bug and botany walks, pond dipping, a treasure hunt and more. It was a very early start for me as I was leading the dawn chorus walk, starting at 05:30. When I arrived at Wychall Reservoir just as the sun was rising there were already three super-keen attendees there who had been out since 04:00, listening to Tawny Owls and spotting bats!

Wychall Reservoir at dawn (HDR).
In total there were 18 people on the walk. I'd never led a walk before and I think my leadership style was probably fairly low-key, but I managed to find plenty of nice birds to show the participants and everyone seemed pleased with the experience! We walked west along the River Rea and looped around the Peafields before heading back along to finish at Merecroft Pool. We then enjoyed a lovely cooked breakfast at Molly's Cafe.

We saw and/or heard 36 species on our walk in total; one of these was new for me at this site taking my patch total to 66. Here are the highlights:
  • The new species was Swift! I'd been walking around with my eyes to the sky for the past couple of days on the lookout for these speedy sky-dwellers as they had just started to arrive en masse in the UK. We spotted a pair flying over just before we crossed Wychall Lane to get to Merecroft Pool, and after that I was seeing Swifts everywhere for the rest of the weekend :o)
  • We had great views again of the Grey Heron family on Merecroft Pool. The four juveniles stood up in their nest and were visited by one of their parents.
  • Two Great Crested Grebes were present on Merecroft Pool. Are they going to have a go at breeding? I think there's still time....
  • We heard Whitethroat in two places, but they were tricky to see. One was from the path west of Wychall Reservoir where I have heard one previously, and the other was in the south half of the Peafields/West Extension.
  • We heard a Green Woodpecker yaffling at the start of the walk. Have been hearing them quite a lot recently at the reserve, I rarely see them but it's better than nothing at all!
  • Jays were everywhere again.
  • We had a brilliant surprise right at the end of the walk while we were watching the Grey Herons; a Kingfisher whizzed across the back of Merecroft Pool behind the island! This is the first time I've seen Kingfisher here, normally they are along the River Rea or on Wychall Reservoir.
The Grey Heron family.

After breakfast there was an hour and a half to go before the next event, a botanical walk at 10:30. As we'd just spent several hours on the reserve, I decided to go for a wander somewhere else that I hadn't been before. Rob had commented on my previous blog post about seeing a pair of Great Crested Grebes on Lifford Reservoir so I thought I'd see if I could get there. It turned out not to be far away and I had a very nice walk through Kings Norton Park and along bits of the River Rea and Worcester & Birmingham Canal to get there. 

The canal (HDR).
The canal (HDR).
The canal (HDR).
The canal (HDR).
Among other things I saw plenty more Swifts, a Grey Wagtail and a Kestrel. As I walked up to the Reservoir a Buzzard flew over my head with a few Carrion Crows in hot pursuit! The reservoir turned out to be very small but with a few interesting birds. There were a few Tufted Ducks there; I haven't seen any at Kings Norton for a couple of weeks now. There also bizarrely seemed to be a very small Rookery in the trees at one corner of the reservoir, a very urban setting for birds normally associated with rural landscapes. And I found the Great Crested Grebes.....a pair of them, but best of all, with two very small chicks riding on the back of one of the parents! I watched the other adult come in with a small fish and feed one of the chicks; I managed to get some OK photos too - view them full size to see the chicks properly:
Great Crested Grebe family.

Great Crested Grebe family.
Great Crested Grebe family.
Great Crested Grebe family.
Great Crested Grebe family.

After that I walked back to the reserve for the botanical walk, led by Mary Green. We went around part of the Merecroft Pool section of the reserve, learning about various different species, their place in folklore, their medicinal properties and whether they were edible. As the walk went at quite a slow pace, it was great to be able to take our time and I took lots of photos of various plants. It was also nice to be solely concentrating on plants for a change, usually I have my bird hat on and although I often keep half an eye open for plants too, sometimes find it difficult to shift focus between the two groups. I guess I worry that if I'm busy looking at plants I might miss an awesome bird! At least you know plants aren't going to fly off suddenly. We also saw LOADS of Orange Tip butterflies patrolling around, and Alastair found a Speckled Wood butterfly.

Bird Cherry (Prunus padus).
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa).
I am a bit obsessed with Speedwells. Thyme-leaved Speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia).
Silverweed (Argentina anserina).
After that I was rather sleepy so headed home for some lunch and a nap! I saw my first Large White butterfly of the year on my way out of the reserve, and took a few more plant photos.
More Speedwell, Wall Speedwell (Veronica arvensis).

One of my favourite spring flowers, Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis).

At 20:00 I was heading out to the reserve again for the bat walk led by Matt Wall and Brian Hewitt. It poured with rain while I was en route but luckily by the time the walk started at 20:30, it had ceased and the weather remained pretty much dry for the rest of the walk. We were all kitted out with bat detectors and shown how to use them; at the moment I am a complete bat novice but I'm making efforts to learn a lot more about bats, so here follows a fairly detailed account of the walk! We mostly used heterodyne bat detectors which mix the incoming bat sound with sound at another frequency, then subtract one from the other to emit a in real time sound which is audible to human ears. These detectors can be tuned to detect sounds at different frequencies, as different species of bats produce calls at different frequencies. The peak intensity frequencies for the species we might have expected to see on this bat walk are 45 kHz for Common Pipistrelle, 55 kHz for Soprano Pipistrelle, 25 kHz for Noctule and 45 - 50 kHz for Daubenton's Bat. 

We started off by walking to Wychall Reservoir and loafing around there for a bit with our detectors on, but we only encountered the occasional Pipistrelle among the trees. After the recent rain the air was very humid and misty so this may have interfered with the bats' echolocation. We walked back to Merecroft Pool where we found ALL THE BATS, swooping around and hunting over the water. We saw and heard Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, and a Noctule bat flew over. That one was my favourite as the sound they make is loud and weird - they go CHIP CHOP CHIP CHOP! There were probably also Daubenton's Bats present but it was difficult to hear them over the din created by the Pipistrelles. Matt played us some recordings of the sounds made by a few other bat species too which we wouldn't expect to see on this walk, including a Greater Horseshoe Bat - if I'd thought the Noctule sounded weird, this one sounded like something Aphex Twin might come up with. He was also recording the whole walk on a fancier device in order to analyse all the sounds properly later, so we would get to the bottom of whether there were also Daubentons' present. We also heard a Tawny Owl hooting, another addition to my patch list. It was a great end to a super day of nature antics in and around Kings Norton Nature Reserve!


Blackbird Green Woodpecker Nuthatch
Blackcap Greenfinch Robin
Blue Tit Grey Heron Song Thrush
Bullfinch Herring Gull Sparrowhawk
Canada Goose Jackdaw Stock Dove
Chaffinch Jay Swallow
Chiffchaff Kingfisher Swift
Coot Lesser Black-backed Gull Tawny Owl
Crow Long-tailed Tit Whitethroat
Goldfinch Magpie Woodpigeon
Great Crested Grebe Mallard Wren
Great Spotted Woodpecker Moorhen
Great Tit Mute Swan

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 30/04/16

On Saturday I took my weekly stroll around Kings Norton Nature Reserve. This week it was the monthly guided walk and I was a few minutes late for the start due to rushing there (via a very quick snack at home) straight from a dawn chorus walk on the Rowley Hills! Luckily the group hadn't set off yet so it was all OK :o)

It was a great walk; I saw and/or heard 35 species in all, of which two were new for me at this site, taking my patch total to 65. Here are the highlights!
  • The first of this week's new species was Swallow - two flew over just after we'd started our walk at British Waterways Meadow. I wouldn't have thought that Swallows would breed anywhere on the reserve as I don't think there is any suitable habitat, but there is plenty of feeding habitat for them (over the paddocks and Merecroft Pool) so I'm hoping I will see them some more, along with maybe some House Martins, Sand Martins and Swifts (none of which I've seen yet at the reserve).
  • The second new species was Whitethroat, hurrah! On my last visit I saw Adrian who said he had heard one singing in the area behind Wychall Reservoir; I didn't find it then, but this week I had smashing views of a male Whitethroat on some scrubby vegetation, seen from the path just west of Wychall Reservoir.
  • We spent rather a long time enjoying the view from the dam at Merecroft Pool. This was because the Grey Heron chicks all stood up in their nest, so I could finally count how many there were! On my previous visits they've always been asleep, making it difficult to count them. I haven't mentioned the breeding Grey Herons for a while as disturbance (unintentional or otherwise) is always a risk with breeding birds, but the juveniles are looking quite big now and will probably be fledging soon. A couple of them were having a good practice, flapping their wings in preparation for flight!
  • Also from the dam, we watched a Great Crested Grebe diving and surfacing multiple times in front of us - it didn't seem to mind that we were quite close. I don't think they are breeding at the reserve which is a shame, as I've only seen them intermittently there.
  • Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps are now singing all over the reserve.
  • As I arrived at the Wychall Lane entrance to Merecroft Pool, I saw a Buzzard overhead being mobbed by gulls.
  • Not a bird, but we found a patch of beautiful Fritillary flowers which I think had been planted by the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve as part of their management. This is an uncommon spring flower of marshy meadows and is one of my favourites!
As it was sunny, I took loads of photos - including yet more of the Bluebells which are still looking great!

Merecroft Pool (HDR).
The juvenile Grey Herons.
Great Crested Grebe.
Mute Swan portrait.

Sleepy Mute Swan.
Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris).
Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris).
Bluebells by Merecroft Pool (HDR).

Bluebells by Merecroft Pool.
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) along the River Rea (HDR).

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) along the River Rea (HDR).

Don't forget this Saturday there are loads of nature-related activities on at Kings Norton Nature Reserve including a dawn chorus walk which I will be leading. Click here for all the info!


Blackbird Goldfinch Mallard
Blackcap Great Crested Grebe Moorhen
Blue Tit Great Spotted Woodpecker Mute Swan
Bullfinch Great Tit Robin
Buzzard Greenfinch Song Thrush
Canada Goose Grey Heron Stock Dove
Carrion Crow Herring Gull Swallow
Chiffchaff Jackdaw Whitethroat
Coal Tit Jay Willow Warbler
Coot Lesser Black-backed Gull Woodpigeon
Dunnock Long-tailed Tit Wren
Goldcrest Magpie