A new dawn a new day...(a blog reboot)

As readers of this blog you will probably be aware that in 2013 I had pretty much lost my birding & wildlife blogging mojo.  As a consequence of this I came into 2014 with the plan to focus on 1 km² area of my patch and undertake a year long Bio Survey.  So far this has been an interesting exercise and I have already recorded number of new fungi for the patch and as a by product of this focus I have enjoyed writing the blog posts again.  But I am still unhappy with my time spent at Shenstone/Stone and feel the need for pastures new.  Let me explain a little of my reasons.

For the last 7 years I have worked Shenstone as my local patch and enjoyed the majority of time doing so.  I have found some good birds there:  Black Redstart, Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Quail, Ring Ouzel & Short-eared Owl to name but a few.  I have also discovered colonies of new butterflies for the site:  Brown Argus, Essex Skipper, Marbled White and Purple Hairstreak.  But, the main drawback with Shenstone/Stone is the lack of public footpaths.  There are a few between Stanklyn and Summerfield and one on Butts Lane.  To walk a circuit it mostly involves staying on the lanes and viewing the habitats from the roadside.  Some of these lanes are used as a  cut through between 'A' roads.  After a while this becomes quite demoralising.

Compounding the matter in 2014 is the fact that a number of the lanes their are going to be closed off for major water pipeline replacement works, which could last up to 10 months.  Also, Heath Lane paddock may be lost to become a travelling show people site and the knock on effect of this on such as the nearby nesting Little Owl & Corn Buntings could be catastrophic.  Other areas of the patch have already gone down the proverbial swanny in terms of the migrant birds with 'Redstart hedge' now having wooden horse shelters etc. built in front of it and other paddocks being constantly used and attended to by the horse owners. there is rarely a bird in sight there these days.

So it is with mixed feeling that I have decided to suspend the Bio Survey and have a break from Stone/Shenstone, spending 2014 going out and about to a number of different sites locally and enjoy there wildlife and maybe make a few interesting finds on the way.  In some ways this is quite saddening but in another it feels quite liberating, like I am throwing off the shackles. It will be great to go out and just enjoy the wildlife again, wherever and whenever I chose without beating myself up about neglecting the patch. That said I shall return for the odd visit to Shenstone but when and how often who knows, either way I wont be pressuring myself to do so.  I will also keep an eye on the area's Corn Buntings and keep fighting their corner.

So this post represents a new dawn if you will and I will happily keep blogging on this site about my travels.  To tie in with this change of approach I am renaming the blog title but  keeping the same web address (http://shenstonebirder.blogspot.co.uk/)  to avoid too much confusion.

So enough of my prattling on...I hope you will all continue enjoying the blog posts as I leave Shenstone behind and head out 'Wild and Wandering'....


Owl be seeing ya.....

Monday 20th January 2014:
Today, Tony S and I decided to have an 'away day' and pay our now annual winter visit to Baggeridge Country Park in South Staffordshire to see/photograph the Tawny Owls.  These days I no longer year list but it is still a site I like to visit and adds a bit of interest during the dull winter months of January and February

Some of you may think, well hang on there are surely nearer roosting Tawny Owls.  Well yes there are but this one (sometimes two are present), show very well not far from a well used public footpath.  I have seen kids playing just by the tree and dogs running around it, but these wild Owls have become so used to people they rarely take a blind bit of notice.

On the walk through the wood we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call 4 or 5 times but couldn't locate the beggar!  A Lesser Spot's call always reminds me of that of a juvenile Kestrel...any way I digress.

Other woodland specialties were showed well on the walk to the Owl site with Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Treecreeper all putting in an appearance.

The Owl roost didn't disappoint with a Tawny Owl sat out enjoying a rare bit of late morning sunshine.  As with every time I visit this site I felt that it was an absolute privilege to be in the company of such a wonderful creature (and no I'm not referring to that cantankerous old so & so Tony S).  We then took a while to enjoy this magnificent bird.

On the walk balk I noticed a few fungi present on the decaying wood including three with superb common names:  Hairy Curtain CrustKing Alfred's Cakes and Witches Butter.  King Alfred's Cakes are interestingly named as they look a little like burnt cakes and according to legend the 9th century Anglo-Saxon  King, Alfred was given shelter by a peasant woman.  Alfred, preoccupied by other concerns, was reputed to have inadvertently allowed her cakes to burn, having promised that he would watch her cakes cooking.  It's a great tale and a a great name for a fungi.

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

The 'wider patch' and beyond....

Sunday 19th January 2014

Today I had received a text from my old mate Jared 'Bellamy' Tibbetts informing me that he had encountered the winter Corn Bunting flock in the field known as the beet field off Stanklyn Lane, and had counted 34 Corn Bunting.

I headed down there an hour or so later and walked the fields but, sods law, there was no sign.  That said I did flush 7 Meadow Pipits, 2 Skylarks and c.50 Linnet.  Also noted during this walk were 1 Fieldfare, 11 Redwing, 1 Mistle Thrush, 6 Blackbirds, 1 Jay, 2 Robins and 4 Dunnock.

Another flock of c.80 Linnets were present further along Stanklyn Lane towards Summerfield.

At Stanklyn Lane Paddocks a large mixed flock of Fieldfare and Redwing were feeding on the deck.

There was not much was happening over at Witch lane but for the seemingly ever present Grey Heron sat in the field.

From the patch I headed a mile or so down the road to check the pools at Hartlebury.  The drake Mandarin was again present on the larger pool and 74 Lapwing were present in the adjacent field.  The Little Grebe was again present on one of the two smaller pools just down the lane

Little Grebe - Hartlebury

Thursday 23rd January 2014
A pair of Goosander were present on Captains Pool this afternoon and left shortly before dusk (TS).

Friday 24th January 2014

Captains Pool:
I received a message today from my old mate and general all round curmudgeon Tony Smith today informing me that there was both a Goosander and a drake Pochard present on Captains Pool.  Both of these species are good winter birds at the pool with Pochard being very scarce these days.  The last one at Captains was on 4th March 2012, so needless to say I headed over there.

On arriving I managed to pick up both the Goosander and the Pochard.  In fact the Pochard was being typically Pochard-like and kept its head tucked in the whole time I was there!   A Lesser Black-backed Gull, 4 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Coots and a Moorhen were also of note on the pool.

Whilst I was stood at the edge of the pool a Treecreeper landed on a nearby Oak and a Goldcrest was seen flitting around in an adjacent Alder.

Pochard - Captains Pool
(record shot)

Goosander - Captains Pool
(record shot)

From Captains Pool I headed over to the pools at Hartlebury to see if anything interesting had turned up there.  Today there was no sign of the Little Grebe, Mandarin or Lapwing.  Infact the only bird of note was the Barnacle Goose which had showed up again with 22 Canada Geese.

Barnacle Goose - Hartlebury 
(record shot)

Bio Survey (week 3)

Wednesday 15th to Tuesday 22nd January 2014 (Bio Survey wk. 3)

As expected for this time of year, things have slowed down considerably on the 1km² survey.  That said there was still a trickle of new species added to the list.

Two species of birds were added for the 1km² in Wren and Song Thrush.  In fact 2 Song Thrushes were showing well as they fed in the paddock opposite the entrance to the gallops field.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

I finally added Rabbit to the list this week, as they don't seem to be very showy on the patch at the mo.

A single invert was added to the survey list in the form of a Harlequin Ladybird that I found hibernating in the leaf litter.

Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)

Also whist having a furtle about in the leaf litter I found a number of Common Spangle galls.  These had now dropped of the Oak leaves on which they were formed and dropped amongst the leaf litter.  It's within these galls that the larvae of a tiny gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum spends the winter, emerging as adults in the spring.

Fungi is the most productive area of the survey at the present time with 5 new species identified and added to the 1km²:  Crepidotus fungus s.p., Exidia plana, Hairy Curtain Crust, Peniophora cinerea and Yellow Brain.  I also recorded more White Brain fungus in 3 further locations around the periphery of Stanklyn Wood.  

Crepidotus fungus s.p.

Exidia plana

Yellow Brain (Tremella mesenterica)

I also managed to identify 2 more species of tree present in Stanklyn Wood this week in the shape of Corsican Pine and Elder.

So there you have it, this weeks Bio Survey findings. Roll on Spring when things really start to pick up! 

Total no. of Species recorded in 1km² = 87 

Corn Buntings at risk again....

Hi blog readers,

It appears that the planning application for the Travelling Show People site (on my local patch) at Shenstone has been re-submitted....

As you may or may not be aware, Shenstone holds one of the largest and last remaining breeding populations of Corn Bunting in the Worcestershire and this development could have an adverse effect on said species and other declining arable birds in the area.

So I am rallying around and would be grateful if you could lend your support and object to this proposal on the grounds of the potential impact on the areas bird life

The application can be viewed/objected to/commented on by clicking on the the following web link:


Corn Buntings are a nationally declining red data species and any support that you can give (regardless of where you live) will be much appreciated!

Corn Bunting - Shenstone

Bio Survey (week 2)

Wednesday 8th January to Tuesday 14th January 2014

It's been a slower week on the patch this week but there were still a few bits and bobs to add to the Bio Survey list from the 1km².

The highlight of the week was picking up on 2 Lesser Redpolls (1♂) with the flock of c.40 Siskin that were feeding in the Alders at the edge of Stanklyn Wood on Monday 13th Jan.  These were actually the first patch Lesser Redpolls I had recorded all winter!  Other additions to the survey bird list were Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Collared Dove, Stock Dove, Greenfinch, Jay and Rook.

Three more fungi were added to the 1km² list:  Coral SpotHolly Speckle and Crystal Brain.

Holly Speckle is a tiny brown/black disco type fungi that grows on dead Holly leaves.

Crystal Brain (Exidia nucleata)

Coral Spot (Nectria cinnabarina)

Holly Speckle (Trochila ilicina)

Click on image to enlarge

During a walk around the 1k square on Saturday 11th Jan. I noticed that there were the remains of many Robin's Pincushion galls on the Dog Rose plants along Butts Lane.  Robin's Pincushions are caused by a minute gall wasp called Dipoloepis rosaeThe gall develops on the stems of wild roses during late summer and acquires a reddish colour as it matures and later turns brown.  The grubs inside the gall feed on the host plant throughout the winter and emerge in spring as adults.

Robin's Pincushion

During this period, I was able to identify 4 more wildflowers that were in bloom and a fifth by it's seed head.  The four in bloom were Common Field-speedwell (Veronica persica), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) .  The other plant identified was Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum).

Another tree was identified within the 1k square in the form of a Hazel which was present just off Butts Lane.

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Total no. of Species recorded in 1km² = 76 

The 'wider patch' and beyond....

Well, I am happy to say 2014 has seen me find my wildlife and blogging mojo again.  I think sometimes a bit of timeout followed by a fresh approach can really help.  But enough on my current renewed passion for the great outdoors (and associated wildlife) and on with the post.  Aside from the 1km² that I am studying in depth I am still making time to look at what's happening on the 'wider patch', although not in the same level of detail. 

Birdwise, the patch year list has got off to a sluggish start and believe it or not, It's now the 9th January and I still haven't added Corn Bunting to said list.  Don't panic though folks, Shenstone's Corn Bunting population (which is the biggest remaining one in Worcestershire) has not just disappeared.  During the winter months the Corn Buntings flock together, sometimes with other buntings, to search for food amongst the stubble fields around the patch.  Some years they are easily seen feeding in fields near public footpaths or just off the lanes, but other times they favour some of the fields that are privately owned and just cannot be accessed or viewed (of which there are a fair few).  I will certainly keep you all updated when I do next connect with them.

At Witch Lane a Grey Heron has seemingly taken up residence in one of the ploughed fields there.  It's amazing what they will feed on,  away from there usual diet of fish their diet can also consist of insects, crustaceans, frogs and even small mammals.  I've even seen them eating raw offal at a Red Kite feeding station in the past.

Just 'off patch' at Hartlebury the local winter Lapwing flock has numbered 72 birds, I just need them now to head the mile or so up  the road to Shenstone!

Also on a small pool at Hartlebury there was a drake Mandarin present on 4th January (discovered by TMH).  When I popped to see the bird later that day a Barnacle Goose had also come in with a flock of Canada Geese.  This was an unringed bird and presumably the same one that visits Captains Pool periodically.

Barnacle Goose and Mandarin Duck
(distant record shots)

Bio Survey (week 1)

Welcome back to Shenstone Birder in 2014.  As outlined in my previous post I am going to spend some time throughout the year trying to record as many species of fauna and flora in a 1km square area of the patch as possible.  The area I am looking at is primarily looking at is on the Stone side of my patch and can be seen by clicking on the link at the side of this blog.

In between undertaking this Bio Survey I will also record the goings on of the various birdlife on the 'greater patch' and other areas that I may go birding/recording at throughout 2014.  So to make things simpler I have decided to undertake a Bio Survey update post on a weekly basis to start with (although this may increase later in the year) and also post about my other birding travels and Shenstone visits in between.  Clear as mud...I thought so, on with the post!

Wednesday 1st January to Tuesday 7th January 2014

As expected, the recording got off to a quite start due to the time of year.  Still it was a good time to start the new year patch bird list and in the 1km square I managed to record 24 species of bird.  Highlights included a flock of 30+ Siskin in the Alders at the edge of Stanklyn Wood (TMH) on the 5th Jan and 5 Ravens 'kronking' away over Stanklyn Wood on the 6th.

The other species of bird recorded in this period were:  Blackbird, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Common Buzzard, Cormorant, Fieldfare, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Linnet, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Mistle Thrush, Nuthatch, Pheasant, Redwing, Robin and Skylark.

As expected the inverts were all but none existent with my only records being a single 7-spot Ladybird and the Holly Leaf Miner.  The presence of this tiny fly can be discovered by looking for the 'mines' (off the tunnel variety not the exploding ones) that it's pupae leave in Holly leaves.

7-spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata)

Most of the patch flora isn't in flower but I did find a rather nice White Dead Nettle in bloom,  Other species of flora identified this period were Bramble, Broom, Dog Rose, Holly, Ivy, Lesser Celandine & Rosebay Willowherb.

White Dead-nettle (Lamium album)

I was only able to confidently id 2 types of lichen this week:  Oak Moss (Evernia prunastri) & Xanthoria parietina.  There are many more lichen on the patch but they are a difficult area and one I will have to spend a rainy day (or two) swatting up on.

Xanthoria parietina

Oak Marble Galls were still present on some of the Oak trees within the 1km square

There is still some fungi to be found during the winter months and during this recording period I noted the following 7 species:  Birch Polypore, The Goblet, Jelly Ear, Sycamore Tarspot, Toothed Crust, Velvet Shank and Violet Bramble Rust.

Sycamore Tarspot (Rhytisma acerinum)

Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae)

The Goblet (Pseudoclitocybe cyathiformis)

Toothed Crust (Basidioradulum radula)

As expected it was also a slow start to the mammal list with only 3 species recorded. These were Grey Squirrel Mole (indicated by the presence of freshly dug mole hills) and Badger (indicated by the rather sad discovery of a dead one that I found on a grass verge not far from the site of a known set).  More species will no doubt be picked up Spring/Summer during some of my dusk visits to the area.

I have also recorded 9 species of tree so far:  Alder, Ash, Crab Apple, English Oak, Hawthorn, Larch, Silver Birch, Sycamore and YewThere are many more within the BioBlitz area but I want to wait until they are all in leaf/flower/fruit before accurately identifying them.

So there you have it in total I recorded 56 species within week one and this looking for other things helped pass the time during this quite patch birding time.  I hope you will find this journey of discovery as interesting as I do.