Thursday, 29 December 2011

Seven duck species

At the lakes today were seven species of duck. Apart from the usual Mallard, Tufted Duck and a species that shall not me named(!), there was a pair of Mandarin Ducks at Terry's Pool along with the long-staying 2 Gadwalls and Shoveler, with 2 Teals at Windmill Pool.
M.P. Griffiths

Two patch ticks in two days!

Three uncommon bird species that I'd had in mind to target seeing at Earlswood next year were Woodcock, Curlew and Peregrine Falcon. Woodcock is one of my bogey birds, as a number of other observers have reported seeing them at Earlswood in recent years, but all I'd managed was a sighting of one in flight at nearby Blythe Valley CP and even then I'd have missed it if it hadn't been pointed out to me. Curlew is another bird I've had rotten luck with, as although I've seen them several times in the midlands and even found the rarer Whimbrel at the lakes this year, I've had three Curlew-/Whimbrel-type birds fly over which I've been unable to ID to species. And with the Peregrine, there were several previous documented records, so it seemed to be a bird I'd eventually encounter.

Well, on Christmas Day I went to the lakes a little earlier than usual to avoid the inevitable crowds, and standing at the causeway at c.8:50 am, bingo: an adult Peregrine Falcon flew southeast over Engine Pool and the Valley Road area. Then next day, Boxing Day, I was walking through a marsh when a pigeon-sized bird flew over, apparently coming from the nearby scrubland, and I got my bins on it as it flew over the southeast corner of Windmill Pool and saw that it was the bird I'd been most wanting to add to my patch list - a Woodcock! Two patch ticks in two days, putting me on 138 species for my Earlswood life list and 127 for my Earlswood year list. Very pleased!

I've added 18 species to my patch life list this year, but very much doubt I'll add more than half this many in 2012 - new species just get harder and harder to find. Curlew is of course now the species I most want to tick, but I'll need excellent views or better yet have one calling. I'm also expecting to see Red Kite one of these days, as they expand their breeding range in the midlands further.

M.P. Griffiths

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

Just wishing everyone who reads this a happy Christmas! Main birds of note at the lakes today were the 2 Gadwall and single Shoveler still present at Terry's Pool, though strangely I couldn't find the Gadwall yesterday. As all regulars to the lakes will have noticed, the water levels at Engine and Windmill have risen rapidly in the past couple of weeks. The submerging of the "mudflats" has meant the Teal flock left a while ago, but all of the submerged plants on the shores seem to be attracting a large number of Mallards, which in turn might bring in something interesting.
M.P. Griffiths

One of the Gadwall, 21/12/2011 (© Tony Philp)

Medal for Clowes Wood warden

Ron Hill, warden of Clowes Wood and New Fallings Coppice SSSI, is the recipient of the 2011 Christopher Cadbury medal. Read more here.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Little Gull again, plus a year-tick

With lots of long shifts at the warehouse I work at and not many days off recently, what with the busy run-up to xmas, I've missed visiting Earlswood some days this month. Most unusual for me these days, was only being able to make one 20-minute visit to the lakes in a period of five days - very depressing! Please get in touch if you've seen anything interesting at Earlswood recently, as I could easily have missed it, and many thanks to those who have reported their sightings to me already.

Terry's Pool has been more productive than usual recently. Firstly Robin Moore alerted me to an interesting duck there, which is likely to have been the female Mandarin Duck that I saw in the same area today. Then Jon Chidwick texted me about two Gadwall there, a species I've been waiting all year to see at the lakes for my patch year-list, but alas it was a day that I was working a 6am-5pm shift so definitely no chance of twitching! Not expecting them to still be there based on past experiences, I managed to see them (two males) during a brief visit yesterday, my 125th bird species seen at Earlswood this year! Even more surprisingly, they were still present for a third day today when I did this month's WeBS counts, and also seen by Tony Philp. With rain forecast tonight there's a fair chance they'll still be there tomorrow. Also seen at Terry's Pool today was the long-staying male Shoveler and a flyover Mistle Thrush, with a male Common Pheasant showing briefly on the path along the south side of Windmill Pool. Another surprise yesterday was a first-winter Little Gull flying around the lakes, viewed from the causeway, with rather worn black markings on the wings and tail, which I think was a different bird to the one seen on the 10th; not certain though as the first bird was not seen as well given fading light so tricky to compare, and as I said I've missed visiting some days, when a bird wandering the local area might have made other visits. Interestingly a report of Little Gull came from nearby Bartley Reservoir today, but I don't know the details.

M.P. Griffiths

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

St. Patrick's Church

Back in the autumn, St. Patrick's Church (along Salter Street) was featured in the latest series of the BBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" programme, in the episode featuring artist Tracey Emin. The churchyard (which some of you will know I am gardener of) was shown briefly, and it was really nice to see something I'm so familiar with on the telly. Unfortunately I forgot to put anything about it on here, and actually almost missed watching it myself. A clip can be found at, and hopefully the full episode including the local scenes will be put on the iPlayer when it's no doubt repeated.

Sadly I'll be finishing working at the churchyard at the end of this month, due to lack of time and other reasons, but I have really enjoyed working there and thank the churchwardens for taking me on.

Below is an article from a recent issue of the local church parish magazine, updated and amended, by Tony Philp.




The term ‘God’s Acre’, which is often now used to describe conservation areas in churchyards, probably has its origin in a poem of the same title written by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow in 1841 – around the same time as the first burials at St. Patrick's. Ours though, is much more than an acre (2.15 to be precise), as Matt Griffiths, the gardener can testify, but it is proving to be a real ‘living sanctuary’, providing a refuge for a rich diversity of plants and animals.

For the past two years, both old and new parts of the graveyard have been sympathetically maintained to allow wild flowers to flourish, with selected areas being left un-mown until the plants have seeded, whilst providing food and shelter for insects and birds.

Interpretation boards have been made and strategically placed around the site, pinpointing what can be seen and giving information on particular plants currently in flower. These have created much interest and have been appreciated by many visitors to the graveyard.

So far this year, over 50 different wildflowers have been identified, with fine displays of primrose, bluebell and wood anemone in spring; ox-eye daisy and hawkweed in early summer; and in early autumn, tansy, teasel and knapweed.

In May, Dr. Adam Bates came to tell us the results of his bee survey and confirmed that out of all the churchyards that he surveyed, ours was outstanding in providing an ideal habitat for bees. He also presented us with two ‘Bee Hotels’ which have been placed on the south facing wall of the graveyard and have already been colonised by a number of solitary bees.

Insect life abounds and observations kept by myself and Matt over the past few months have recorded 16 different species of butterfly, with the grassland species of ringlet, meadow brown, gatekeeper and small skipper being the most numerous.

Recently, with the help of Earlswood Wildlife Partnership (who lent us the traps) we have begun a survey of moths in the churchyard. It is amazing how beautiful and numerous these mainly nocturnal insects are. To date we’ve caught and identified 28 different species, bearing some intriguing names like Hebrew character, ruby tiger and antler moth. A few, too, have been seen on the wing during daylight hours, including the five-spot burnet, cinnabar and chimney sweeper – all found among the grassland.

Birds are increasingly attracted to the site by the diversity of habitat and this year alone we have recorded 28 different species, with blackbird, robin, blue-tit, wren, long-tailed tit and wood pigeon all nesting, summer visitors like the blackcap and whitethroat singing in the hedgerow and a rare lesser-spotted woodpecker passing through.

We’ve yet to survey the area for amphibians, reptiles and mammals, but have already encountered the common frog, toad, rabbit, bank vole and grey squirrel during general maintenance work on the site and it is clear that the bat population is quite high – something that we intend to investigate further with the aid of bat detectors that will enable us to identify the species from the frequencies and sound patterns of their calls.

All the observation and research carried out this year has confirmed beyond doubt that maintaining parts of our churchyard as a conservation area has been beneficial, not only to the wildlife, but to many of the visitors tending graves in the churchyard, who now, often pause to take in the peaceful surroundings of a nature reserve and observe the wildlife at close quarters.

If you would like to take in this experience or help with surveys, feel free to contact me or Matt for a personal tour, or just come and sit on one of the benches in the middle of the churchyard on a sunny day and listen, look and marvel at the nature around you.

Tony Philp
(All photos taken in the churchyard this year) © TRP

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Little Gull

It was good to do some birding this evening after having done none during the previous two days due to long work hours. I thought it'd be yet another quiet visit, save for 4 Lesser Redpolls and a male Shoveler at Terry's Pool, but heading back to the causeway I got a call from "Midlands Birder" (thanks mate) saying there was a first-winter Little Gull resting with other gulls at Windmill Pool, so a bit of running got me there quickly and I enjoyed decent views of it in flight (despite fading light - it was late evening) over Windmill then Engine for a few minutes, before it disappeared towards Terry's. I think this is the fourth occurrence of this species at Earlswood this year, following the birds that visited in the spring, and the first ever winter record. It shows that the pre-roost gathering of mainly Black-headed Gulls, usually congregating at Windmill Pool each evening in winter, is worth checking for something unusual.
M.P. Griffiths

Update: A video of the gull now uploaded by MB below.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Short-eared Owl

Yesterday, me and Jon Chidwick saw what we think was a Short-eared Owl briefly circling over Windmill Pool before vanishing somewhere to the east/northeast at ~9:45 am. My impression was that it was a migrant getting its bearings. Amazingly this seems to be only the fourth owl species reported at Earlswood, so perhaps another area first! It would be worth checking areas of rough grassland nearby, maybe Blythe Valley Country Park?

Other birds seen this month include a small long-staying flock of Teals currently favouring the "mudflats" (which are disappearing) at Windmill Pool.

M.P. Griffiths