Scenes from Seven Springs on Cannock Chase
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Scenes from Seven Springs on Cannock Chase
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
It never rains but it pours. I had intended writing this summary of our UK trip a day or two after our return but… the best laid plans of mice and men… Back in the 1990s, when we travelled overseas fairly extensively, jetlag rarely reared its ugly head. It was one of those urban myths that effected only old ladies and those of a more fragile disposition. Welcome back Kotter!
When it came, it came with a vengeance. We had late Saturday afternoon and all Sunday in which to recover before we both reported back at the coalface on Monday morning, 4 October. Given previous experience it was going to be a piece of cake. Heaps of time to unpack, settle down to the old home routine and be ready for work.
I first noticed that all was not as was well as it could have been when about half way through our mid-morning English lesson. I began to repeatedly drop my chalk [or rather, whiteboard maker]. When I set the lesson’s short piece of writing I sat at my desk to catch up on some of the work the relief teacher had given the class in my absence during the last two weeks of Term 3 [when Fay and I were in the UK]. One of the students eventually tapped me gently on the shoulder and asked if I was okay as I’d been snoring for the past few minutes.
Kids can be surprisingly good that way. They could have grasped the opportunity to run riot but had instead sat quietly in their places, working, while Mr B had a snooze. They understood jetlag.
It took more or less the rest of the week to readjust to Australian Eastern Standard Time – and of course in that week the rest of the eastern seaboard put their clocks back an hour while Queensland [ever fearful that milking cows may cause their curtains to fade] remained on standard time. We found ourselves wide awake at 0200 hours and knackered by 1800 hours. Driving back and forth was a nightmare. Thank God for I-pods and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
By the end of our first week back home I felt fit enough to grapple with the “Trip Reflections” blog. Had the first couple of paragraphs sketched out and decided to test them for visuals on Microsoft Word. Looked promising. I tapped out a few more words, extended some of the sentences, switched a few paragraphs around, dotted a couple of “i’s”, crossed a “t” here and there and then sat back. Time for a drop of the Barossa’s finest red.
Shortly thereafter the computer crashed. Cables and leads were hastily unplugged and the moribund machine taken to the local technician. His wife, a whiz with computers, smiled, suggested it was probably dust on the terminals [or some such disease these technological contraptions suffer from]. She did unspeakable things to the machine, blew here and there, tweaked this, poked that, squeezed a little and sure enough the machine came back to life. Another resurrection to set the Evangelists abuzzing.
The less than heartening prognosis was, however, that my computer was so outdated that should I ever be in need of replacement parts it would be neigh on impossible to find any anywhere this side of Cyber Heaven [where all good electrical appliances go when the last amp leaves their battery].
And yes, you’ve guessed it, that weekend [the weekend before last] the computer crashed again, only it was obviously a mite more serious this time. Last rites were administered; a Requiem Mass celebrated and where possible data rescued. The old desktop was no more.
Long live the desktop!
It took a few days to put together the new computer: Windows 7; Office 2010; cordless keyboard and mouse; new external speakers and that curious pale pink button, bottom left, which, once fully understood, will pour me a glass of wine on demand!
In the meanwhile I kept myself from fretting by backing-up trip pix onto CDs [via the Government-issued laptop].
And all this in a background of rampant fleas. That was a side issue that made sitting still in any one spot not only uncomfortable but also very irritating. Whenever Fay and/or I sat in the “office” for any length of time, the lower half of our legs became covered in fleas! I am assured that it has something to do with the excessively wet conditions while we were away –the rain gauge registered in excess of 100mm of rain. One of life’s little ironies really. During those last few days in the UK, when there had been some drizzle, kith and kin, and the occasional oddball, would come up and say something to the effect that they were sure we would be glad to be back in sunny Queensland.
The thing with excessively wet weather is that it drives the humble house mouse Mus musculus indoors seeking shelter. The thing about mice indoors is that they tend to nibble here and there and occasionally that “here’ is a computer cable, the “there” a wad of important bird notes and so to prevent these calamities, as much as we both dislike the practice, we leave poison baits lying around in strategic spots [under the settee, on the lowest bookshelf, etc.]. The thing about dead mice is that the fleas they hosted leave to seek fresher pastures. The thing about homeless fleas is that they remain hidden in minute dust mounds awaiting some unsuspecting warm-blooded creature to attach themselves onto.
Having a huge English Mastiff die of old age did little to deter the influx of fleas under the house – and of course some inevitably found their way upstairs into the main living quarters.
And so here we are, where we should have been almost a fortnight ago.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Not that there was much to report, a flight back home is, well, to all intents and purposes, a flight back home and the norm is that nothing much worth reporting occurs on such journeys. In avian terms this is probably the case in this instance. We did pick up our only, to date, Middle Eastern tick, a humble, if rather invasive, Common Myna. There had been a small number of other birds flitting around, visible from the transit lounge of ABU DHABI airport but it was late, the light was dimming and the birds never approached close enough for anything but the most cursory diagnostic peek.... a pipit type, something akin to a swallow… The Myna hung around on the edge of a nearby aero-bridge to afford us the opportunity to view all its tale-telling features. Indeed, there were three of them at varying distances and angles of view.
What did have me almost totally gob-smacked, surprised beyond speech, was that for the first time since the knee replacement operation [22 July 2008] my bionic part didn’t trigger the metal detector as I walked through the arch at the airport security area. You probably need to have an artificial, metallic, bit to fully appreciate the difference between a lion leaping through a loop and the same creature leaping through a lighted loop. Having become accustomed to the lights flashing and the alarm resounding I had in fact stopped and pointed down to my knee to indicate the source of the problem. I think I had even started the now almost inevitable stoop to untie my bootlaces- just as I had done on the outward journey. An armed guard bearing nothing more disarming than the most friendly of smiles beckoned me on with a kind “It’s okay, sir.”
In true Shakespearean style I offer the following brief aside: never judge an entire nation by what you might see/hear via various forms of the Media. Not all Arabs are bomb-toting terrorists, just as not all Christians attending weekly church rites are Christian. Until back in 1997 I think I had a rather jaundiced view of North Americans; loud and brash with little sense of humour or at least a sense of humour too cryptic for the likes of me to fathom. It was of course a cynical opinion based on too many hours of American television programs in which the cops only ever chased villains in high speed cars and, again almost inevitably, shot them dead at the end of the chase. The Arizona café owners and the Pittsburgh widow shattered those illusions.
To cap off the Abu Dhabi experience, on returning through security at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, where on the outward journey the metal detector had clanged its dire warning to all and sundry that a potential terrorist was passing through, nothing happened, not so much as a lowly grind or metallic gnashing of electrodes. And again, I hesitated, already pointing my right index finger towards my right knee. I was waved on.
Since the knee replacement in July 2008 I have passed through ten airport metal detectors and in 80% of those instances the alarm was raised and I was more carefully scanned by the hand-held detector and pat searched. What was different on these two last occasions? Is it a sign of better things ahead?
We arrived home mid-afternoon, Saturday 2 October, pleased to find the house still standing, the two dogs and three cats still alive and looking well and the Sacred Kingfisher back on its old limb surveying the area which Fay and I, in our more foolish moments, believe belongs to us.
Sometime in the near future I will analyse the trip in avian terms and put down some reflections. I will of course blog the essentials here but the full version will appear on my soon-to-be-revamped website: http:/members.bordernet.com.au/~osprey/birds.
Meanwhile, for those interested in following the birding exploits of a “Staffordshire Stray” on his local patch, the South Burnett region of Queensland [approximately three hours by car NW of Brisbane] , I invite you to glance across at http://www.birdingsouthburnett.blogspot.com/. Indeed, given a little more spare time I hope to create a blogspot with an even narrower focus – provisionally to be called Backyard Birding: Allen Road.
Monday, September 27, 2010
In birding terms, Friday 24 September was a wasted day. Fay was expecting a telephone call from one of the curators at the Shrewsbury Museum which kept us house-bound until the call came through. By early afternoon, with still no sign of that call, Fay telephoned the Museum only to reach a brick wall. We hung around as the information Fay was hoping to receive was of some importance to her. Sher continues to wait for that information.
Saturday 25 September was only a little better. We had a second appointment to meet up with Fay’s brother and his wife. We need squeeze in an early morning stroll along the towpath of the Trent & Mersey Canal, from Bridge 64 to Love Lane and then took the opportunity to revisit Leathermill Lane.
Sunday 26 September was earmarked for lunch with one of Fay’s more distant cousins in Biddulph, another genealogy aficionado; they shared the grandparents of Fay’s grandparents, whatever that makes them in relative terms!
However, Fay’s paternal grandparents ran the Wesrport Inn on Canal Street and while this beerhouse no longer exists [unless it’s the derelict Pack Horse Inn on the corner or alternatively the Sea Cades building at the other end of that section of canal – it does have the hint of former stable yards to it] Fay was keen to see the area and perhaps even come away with a photograph or two. Using a combination of an old Stoke-on-Trent road atlas and Where to Watch Birds in the West Midlands we headed for the [now non-existent] parking area on nearby Canal Lane. From here we simply followed the canal towpath, alongside Westport Lake- even if the Visitor’s Centre was completely fenced off!
The Westport Lake area did, on the other hand, provide two new Trip and Staffordshire List birds.
Yesterday, Monday 27 September saw us race off to Leek to visit an old favourite haunt, the Picture Book Bookshop and Churnet Valley Publishing in Stanley Street. Back in the 1990s, when Fay and I made frequent overseas birding trips [always calling in on the Old Dart to visit kith and kin] we made a point of calling in here – and, more often than not, either walking out with or having a collection of birding books sent out to us in Australia.
It shuts on Mondays!
We took the opportunity to visit Rudyard Lake and almost immediately came across a Mandarin Duck and Canada Goose.
Tomorrow [Wednesday 29 September] will be largely spent in packing and with final farewells. We leave for Brisbane on Thursday.
Trip List: 102 Staffordshire List: 62
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Right from the outset, at the very beginning of our planning stage for this U.K. trip, the Blackwater Estuary was always going to be an integral part of the itinerary. As a former history major, indeed as a current continuing student of history, it was one of those corners of English history that I had somehow always managed to miss visiting and once in Australia the distance seemed impossible.
The key to a quick, untroubled, journey down to Maldon, or more specifically Mersea Island, appeared to be the A14. Using our AA road atlas we plotted the route: head for Lichfield and Tamworth [A38, A5], connect with the M42 until it hit the M6 at Junction 4 and join the A14 at Junction 19. That would lead us to the M11 and eventually to the A120, A12 and finally onto the B1025 into Mersey.
And all went to plan until we hit the outskirts of Colchester, At this point the earlier free flowing traffic became an agonising snail’s pace; a long series of roundabouts and bumper-to-bumper tail-gating.
We did of course eventually manage to crawl our way around Colchester and join up with the B1025 all the way to Mersea Island.. Given that it was still too early to check into our hotel we veered off to the left on crossing the causeway. This took us to East Mersea, the more agricultural of the two Mersea Island townships.
We added Dunlin and Ringed Plover almost immediately on reaching the estuary.
Other than the one lunch appointment with another of Fay’s cousins we got in as much birding as possible, visiting Abberton Reservoir, paying a second trip to East Mersea and following a number of routes around West Mersea. New additions were made to the Trip List although the Cetti Warbler – and the vaguely possible Lapland Bunting [which the RBA pager had been dotting both north and south of Essex] - eluded us.
Oddly enough, one of the best sightings of the two days was a bird we hadn't even considered as a possible. Our room at the "Victory At Mersea" hotel opened out onto a balcony overlooking the boatyard and estuary but with the concrete carpark immediately below us. At the edge of the carpark, between it and the road, was a narrow strip of lawn. I was enjoying the first cuppa of the morning on the balcony when I happened to look down towards the aforementioned lawn and there, almost unbelievably, was a Green Woodpecker!
Image from English Country Garden website.
Trip List: 96 Staffordshire List: 58
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Following on from the rather disappointing, if not quite shattering Apedale Country Park experience, visit to Chasewater, Fay and I decided to try our luck at what for us was new Staffordshire birding site, Uttoxeter Quarry. I’d come across this via Richard Powell’s “Local Birding for Local People.”
As all too often seems the case when we attempt to follow directions given within the pasges of Where to Watch Birds in the West Midlands, we became somewhat geographically disorientated. In the end, having gone round the island twice, we took the bull by the horns and simply drove into the nearby Works Office and asked. The two men in the office initially appeared rather reluctant, hesitant but when I pulled the old trick of pleading that we had come all the way from Brisbane, Queensland, they mellowed in attitude, pulled down a large map of the area from the wall and gave us directions on how to proceed. Further, the more dominant of the pair contacted someone on his mobile telephone and soon secured permission for us to park in a gateway [unmistakable by the concrete trough placed crosswise].
On leaving the office I noticed a large, colourful plan of what appeared to be an impressive wetlands setting. The men explained that this was the company’s exit proposal once the quarry ceased to function.
We couldn't stay long - yet another date with more of Fay's innumerable cousins- but the Gadwall was both a new Trip and Staffordshire List entrant. Thanks Richard!
Common Wood Pigeon
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Grested Grebe
Trip List: 92 Staffordshire List: 58
Thursday, September 23, 2010
We both retain a fond and enduring memory of Chasewater. It was late December, mid-1990s. At the time the older of my two young sisters lived in Brownhills so obviously a trip to visit Anna almost invariably included at least a quick scan, often a longer look, around the reservoir. On this particular occasion there was a howling, near-gale force wind coming in from either the Arctic or perhaps even more distant Siberia. Whichever, the wind chill factor had the mercury plummeting well below zero; it was brass monkeys’ weather. A sheet of ice stretched across the surface, creaking and cracking as it shifted slightly under pressure.
We were parked somewhere close to the sailing club; we didn’t know any better and in those conditions few sailors would have weighed anchor to “Ahoy” a pair of eccentrics scrutinizing a large screech of gulls. There was a small patch of clear water somewhat ahead and slightly to our right – one o’clock to the car bonnet. For obvious reasons a colony of gulls had gathered on this ice-free section.
Also for obvious reasons, Fay and I scanned the birds from the warm comfort of our hired car, viewing through the windscreen. There appeared to be wall-to-wall Herring Gull in various stages of growth development from 1st-year winter birds to adults in full winter plumage.
It was Fay who spotted the one gull among a group off to the side that was different. You have to appreciate that Fay has perfect 20/20 vision and is particularly good at long distances. She can often describe intricate plumage details with the naked eye while we mere mortals race to our binoculars. Birding was a “natural” pastime for Fay to adopt.
Once I had located which of the gulls was “different” I had to agree that it did appear to be unlike its immediate neighbours but from my angle the bow in the windscreen and the choppy air itself made positive identification problematic. There was really no alternative, either we abandoned the attempt to distinguish it from the others and dismissed it as just another Herring Gull in one of its partial plumages or we braved the icy Arctic blasts to take a better look.
But which of us would be the one to leave the warmth of the car, extend the tripod legs, unzip the all-weather casing and focus the scope on the bird to view it at closer quarters? One of us would have to do it. We compromised and I went out.
With rapidly numbing fingertips and cheeks that felt as id they’d be stung by a thousands red-hot pinpricks I managed to home in on the gull but by that time my eyes were streaming rivulets of tears, blurring my vision so that it was impossible to focus on anything but a general amalgamate of white, grey and black; a massive blob of pied bird body. I dived back into the car, dried my eyes, took a deep breath and ventured forth again where only fools and oddball birders would dare to tread – praying that the anomalous gull hadn’t moved from centre scope.
It hadn’t and it wasn’t a Herring Gull. From here at Attlee Crescent, years from the actual incident and miles from my notes back in Nanango, Queensland, Australia, I can’t now recall all the diagnostic features we considered before coming to our joint prognosis [and we can disagree, leaving the bird unclaimed] but certainly the ring around the bill and the prominent eye-ring were foremost.
It was a Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis.
Given the above you can perhaps imagine how devastated Fay and I were on first sighting the Chasewater of [ 20 September] 2010. We had been warned, at the Chasewater Railway Station where we initially visited for a cup of tea, that owing to remedial work aimed at eventually raising the reservoir water levels there would be a temporary drop in water levels but the spectacle that met our eyes was beyond our wildest dreams – “Dunesque” in its arid proportions. Where water had once lapped the very edge of the carpark wall it now lay two score metres from the edge; where there had been megalitres of water there was now mere thimblefuls. The reservoir appeared as a chronic victim of aquatic cancer overdosed on chemotherapy.
There were a few species hanging around, mostly semi-tame waterfowl scournging titbits from the public together with a myriad of hybrid Mallard in all shades of plumage. Other than that I remained impressed only by the humble Rook.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
As anticipated we could not access a computer during our time in central Wales and Devon. Indeed, in PENBRYN it was next to impossible to find mobile telephone reception, although I did once consider climbing to the top of a towering cliff abutting the caravan park. The replacement knee suggested this might not be a smart career choice.
On the other hand both these locations were primarily periods of visiting/staying with FAY’s relatives: birding would be incidental. The following blog is no more than a brief bridging narrative between DOXEY MARSHES and our return from ALBRIGHTON [Shropshire] this morning [Sunday 19 September].
Back in the late 1990s we had made a point of driving out to GRIGIN’S FARM in Central Wales to add Red Kite to both our Life and British Lists. A little later we saw the bird over the M40, a few miles beyond London. Now it seems the species is fairly common throughout central Wales, if indeed not even further afield.
We saw our first Red Kite low over rooftops as we negotiated a turn taking us around the outskirts of ABERYSTWYTH. A few miles further along, near LLWYNCELYN, we had our second sighting of this elegant kite.
At N52o 26’ 23” W03o 45’ 35” we spotted movement across the other side of the road and pulled up at a convenient layby. We added Common Redpoll to the Trip List. In the carpark of the DYFFRYN CASTELL HOTEL [ N52o 25’ 08” W03o 48’ 14”] we had crippling views of a pair of Common Buzzards gracefully circling overhead.
Using a previous download from www.visitcardigan.com/bird-watching-west-wales.php [“Birdwatching in West Wales”] we found a small window of opportunity on the morning of Monday 13 September and made our way to POPPIT SANDS on the TEIFI ESTUARY. Almost immediately we sighted a small group of Eurasian Oystercatchers and just behind them a Little Egret and Whimbrel. The Eurasian Curlew, almost directly ahead of us, no more than a few metres distant, was a great bonus.
From POPPIT SANDS we travelled to the TEIFI MARSHES at the Welsh Wildlife Centre but by the time we arrived the earlier good weather turned and it rained. Nevertheless, on the vague promise of a possible Cetti’s Warbler, we trudged our way to “Kingfisher Hide” and then “Creek Hide.”
We dipped in both instances.
Mute Swan on the River Nevern below the "Iron Bridge"
Tuesday 14 September found us making the long hike to TEIGNMOUTH, Devon. The funnier side of using a “satnav” to negotiate narrow Welsh country lanes must await telling another day [eventually on our website]. Suffice it to say that we only learnt of the Tour of Britain cycle race as we approached TEIGNMOUTH and were turned back to twiddle our thumbs at the nearby Smuggler’s Inn pub.
The delay also gave us the opportunity to visit the DAWLISH WARREN NATURE RESERVE – and again our true feelings about the Centre building and its almost ghostly staff must await the resurrection of our website. Fortunately the birds themselves were far more cooperative with the Northern Wheatear and Sandwich Tern taking the biscuit. The following morning we dipped on the Cirl Bunting at PRAWL POINT and remained unaware of the House Finch at EAST PRAWL until we were running too short of time to keep a lunch appointment with Fay’s cousins.
We returned to RUGELEY late on Thursday evening and the following morning headed out to BLITHFIELD RESERVOIR again. Having already birded both sides of the causeway we decided to try our luck at TAD BAY. There were a number of signs indicating that only “Permit Holders” were permitted to proceed. We had a permit but what the signs failed to tell us is that it was necessary to carry keys to open padlocked gates! That had us stumped and we wondered what the more elderly WMBC members did in such situations – we’d noted a young birder simply climb over the gate back at the ADMASTON side of the causeway. Or does the WMBC issue powered zimmer-frames capable of upward thrust?
Little more remains to be added. Later that Friday [17 September] we went across to ALBRIGHTON and although we did little birding we saw an awful lot of SHREWSBURY and enjoyed our time at the WROXETER Roman settlement site. However, possibly the highlight of the stay here was to show our hosts [and very good friends] a Great Spotted Woodpecker at their elaborate garden bird feeding station – it was a new addition to their garden list.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
In birding terms Friday [10 September] is best forgotten. We were never really going to get in much real birding. FAY had an appointment to meet up with an 82-year old aunty who had once lived in New Zealand but who FAY hadn’t seen in for many years.
We arose to a bleak, overcast, sky that threatened rain; a sheet of gloom descending over Staffordshire. Clearly it had rained overnight, leaving traces of water in crevices and between cobbles. The canal towpath would be too muddy, too slippery, simply too dangerous and when you’re limited in the number of clean trousers you can change into, caution tends to rule the moment.
As it had cleared slightly by 0830 hours we decided to leave RUGELEY earlier than was absolutely necessary for the journey up to NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME. Where to Watch Birds in the West Midlands indicated a few likely spots in the immediate locality of Newcastle. We opted for the Apedale Country Park.
It was raining along the approach road but again eased as we pulled into the carpark. We decided to go for it, our luck had to change. Wrong! It continued to cast gloom over the scene; the light made photography difficult and then the drizzle came down to punctuate an already miserable morning with a fine mist of raindrops.
The Carrion Crow and Common Wood Pigeon mocked our feeble attempts; they remained unconcerned with the rain. After meeting up with the fifth dog, all off lead, all sniffing around, we decided to turn back to the car. It stopped raining as we approached the last incline to the carpark; the sun popped out from behind a grey cloud and beamed down on us in mockery.
Saturday 11 September
Decided to celebrate my birthday with a quick visit to DOXEY MARSHES, on the edge of STAFFORD.
What a delight compared to yesterday’s debacle at Apedale Country Park. The only frustrating aspect is the knowledge that in all those years when we lived in Rugeley it had never occurred to us to visit here. What a glorious wetlands setting! I even forgive that pair of Mute Swans [with half a dozen older cygnets] who argued the toss with us as to rights of way! Something to tell the grandkids… baled up by a pair of swans on my birthday!
Today’s tally included:
Common Wood Pigeon
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Again, following a little more tweaking, the current tallies stand atL
Staffordshire List: 54
Trip List: 74
We’re off to PENBRYN, on the central Welsh coast, in the[Sunday] morning, again, visiting FAY’s cousins who run a caravan park in the area. I’m unaware of the computer/Internet situation here, as I am unaware of the situation when we visit more of FAY’s cousins in Teignmouth, Devon, immediately on leaving Wales. so this could be the last blog until we return to Rugeley on Thursday 16 September.
Friday, September 10, 2010
It was always going to be difficult to immediately follow up on BELVIDE and SLIMBRIDGE. It’s not every day, or every couple of days, that you can pick up two lifers in as many days.
Much of Wednesday morning was taken up in returning from TEWKESBURY and thereafter in taking my two sisters to HANLEY, part of the STOKE-ON-TRENT conurbation. The only event of note was that Fay and I bought ourselves a new pair of walking shoes [FAY] and boots [me] from the local BLACKS store.
Goldcrest image from cieronymidou.blogspot.comThursday [09 September] did at least see us venture forth to the KATYN MEMORIAL on CANNOCK CHASE in lieu of our early morning canal stroll. Given the surname and memories of my father’s tales of the slaughter of Polish army officers by the Nazis -together with reports that this was a top spot for the local Nightjar- it seemed a good choice to [a] bird and [b]reconnoitre for a planned evening visit.
And while it was only a comparatively brief stroll through cobweb shrouded heather and bilberry patches, we did record a pair of Jays and our first 2010 Goldcrest. Other species included|:
Common Wood Pigeon
And eight Fallow Deer does along Kingsleywood Road on the way back to Rugeley.
And, with corrections from previous postings, the current tally stand at:
STAFFORDSHIRE LIST: 48
TRIP LIST: 74
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Black Tern [juv] What a hectic couple of days!
There we were, Monday morning [6 September], sitting around at Attlee Crescent wondering what we would do for the rest of the day other than engage in further idle gossip with sisters and assorted kin. We’d been out on our now customary early birding stroll, venturing further than the nearby canal, instead driving out to SEVEN SPRINGS, which we’d frequented in a previous era.
The birding was good, the walking even better to counter the rather high blood glucose reading of that morning! There was the usual Carrion Crow, House Sparrow and Common Wood Pigeon en route and at the carpark but the sighting of the moment had to be the Grey Squirrel scurrying around a tree base. Common Chaffinches “pinked” among the treetops and the seemingly odd, skulking, bird amidst the bracken fronds turned out to be a European Robin. At one of the “springs” we spotted three Mallards.
On the way back FAY first heard and then looked skywards to see 100+ Common Sand Martins flying by overheard. No doubt warmer climes were beckoning
From Seven Springs we wound our way to the area we have always known as BROCTON POOL. This was where, all those many years back, we first heard that the local Tree Sparrow population had been decimated. Indeed, a little later, while birding Norfolk, we still recall being sworn to secrecy by a group of birders [we’d hosted most of them on their earlier trip to Australia]. They stealthily lead us between wattle panels either side of a narrow path and at the hide raised fingers to lips to indicate the need for absolute silence. To our utter amazement the expected “megatick” turned out to be a Tree Sparrow, a humble bird that had been a common woodland species during our youth in Staffordshire.
The birding was [for a couple of re-visiting exiles] rewarding, capped when we passed through a patch which presented us with crippling views of both Eurasian Treecreeper and Eurasian Nuthatch. Other species ticked included:
Canada Goose [50+]
European Blue Tit
But that had been then, now it was time to twiddle thumbs and ponder the niceties of polite family conversation and what one could be doing out in the field if only there was an appropriate escape clause.
Then the pager beeped, announcing a Black Tern at BELVIDE RESERVOIR. LIFER! That settled any lingering doubts. Even my sister couldn’t refuse me the opportunity of a lifer – and Belvide wasn’t far away. With luck we’d be back within a couple of hours.
There was a minor hassle in actually locating the entrance to the reserve; the book and our GPS didn’t quite marry but once there we hurried off – along the wrong path as we learnt soon enough. Nothing overly concerning. We arrived at the first hide and asked if anyone had seen the tern but were met with puzzled expressions. Clearly not every West Midlands birder uses the RBA system.
At the second hide we met up with STEVE SEAL, of “Staffordshire Bird News” fame. He readily directed us onto the term as it manoeuvred back and forth on the far side but fortuitously against the dam wall providing good contrast between lightish bird [this was a juvenile] and dark stonework.
Thank you Steve!
The tern was the cream of the crop of course but there was also:
Common House Martin
Tuesday 7 September
Red-necked Phalarope [Image from RSPB]
If Monday was hectic, Tuesday was even more so. FAY and I left RUGELEY early to keep an appointment with our friends LES & SANDY of TEWKESBURY. We had a very narrow window in which to meet up; they were off to Kenya on Thursday and Sandy had to work on the Tuesday anyway.
Perhaps a brief background setting would be of value. The friendship is based on less than half a dozen encounterss!
We first met because of mutual friends when Les & Sandy came to Australia on their initial visit. They weren’t birders at the time although both, I believe, shared a general interest in nature and wildlife. The mutual friends, knowing that Fay and I had been monitoring a nesting Tawny Frogmouth, asked us if we could show them the bird, which we duly did. It was obviously an impressive sight as some time later, after their return to England, we were informed that the pair, but particularly Les, had keenly taken to birding. That made the third couple we had introduced to the pastime.
Some years later Fay and I visited the U.K. and Les & Sandy hosted us for a few days. They took us to Slimbridge.
We saw a little less of them on their next trip to Australia but by that time Les was a competent birder and easily managed his own sightings.
We revisited Slimbridge where, Les informed us, there had been reports, albeit several days ago, of Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Phalarope but of course, as is always the case in these matters, no one could promise anyone anything.
I suspect Les was hoping to repay that Tawny Frogmouth.
At the Zeiss Hide we hit “paydirt,” the RED-NECKED PHALAROPE! Not quick, furtive glimpses but long, sustained views which afforded us the time to check out several diagnostic features at leisure.
The pace continued at almost breakneck speed. We added:
Great Spotted Woodpecker
European Blue Tit
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Crested Grebe
But all good things must come to an end. This had been our first full day of serious birding; Belvide had been a couple of hours snatched from the jaws of boredom courtesy of the RBA. That pint of real ale at the Red Lion was most welcome.
Staffordshire List : 30
Trip List: 71
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Anyone can type in a list of species recorded at any one particular birding spot. There's no real talent in that. We all, however, in one form or another, do it. My list appears below.
Of more interest to Fay and I were the notable changes since 1999 [in my case] and even 2005 [in Fay's case].
We are aware of the decline in Tree Sparrow numbers but where are the House Sparrows? Have they also suffered a decimation? We came across a small handful during our two towpath strolls but back in 1999 they were profuse.
Similarly, while strolling through Rugeley's Market Square, we noted the absence of Rock Dove [Feral Pigeon] which once literally infested the old Town Hall clock tower. We eventually found a couple skulking down by the stream at Brook Square.
Where are the garden Blackbirds? The Starlings?
And when did WoodPigeon become so prolific an urban creature? Indeed, I've seen more Jackdaws in town than I can ever remember in Rugeley in bygone days.
Of course we haven't really started any serious birding yet, we're still at that meeting kith and kin stage of the trip. Nevertheless we have managed to "sneak" out a couple of times to do a little, mostly early morning when others around us appear to be still snugly wrapped up in bed- my sisters have already raised an eyebrow or two at my continuing habit of being up and about by 0400 hours!
The Trent & Mersey Canal is a mere stone's throw away; we enter at Bridge 65 [by the Mossley Tavern] and then either walk up towards Love Lane [next to the old tannery] or down to Bridge 64. Either way, we return via the road.
Yesterday, Sunday 5 September, because of a last-minute change to the family visiting schedule, we managed a few minutes at Blithfield. There were three birders at the Admaston end of the bridge but as I guessed they'd be intent on "ticking" the reported Osprey [we have a RBA rented for the duration] I decided to drive on to the other end.
Cold, overcast and dull but the Osprey duly put in an appearance and a little later, when I looked over, those three birders had disappeared.
There didn't seem much else on offer: Great Black-backed Gull, a solitary Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, in various shades of hybridization, Cormorant, Swallow and somewhere behind us, Woodpigeon.
We cut our losses and headed to Brocton Pool, which may not been its official name but is the name Fay and I have known it by since back in the 1970s. It immediately brought back poignant memories. On a previous visit here [c. mid-1990s] the resident in the end house first notified us of the major decline in the British population of Tree Sparrows. We can still recall, during a later visit to Norfolk, when a small group of local birders [we had hosted them on their last trip to Australia] swore us to secracy and surreptitiously guided us along a narrow path leading to a bird hide. With finger to lips Chris indicated the need for absolute silence. When we looked out both Fay and I were gobsmacked to find ourselves looking at a humble Tree Sparrow.
Back in our halycon Staffordshire days, Tree Sparrow was a common woodland species and certainly never anything worth writing home about. Vestiges of the American Passenger Pigeon?
Brocton provided us with a few gems, capped by magic views of a Treecreeper. We also added Nuthatch [seen earlier at Leighton Moss, Lancashire] to our Staffordshire List. Other birds included: Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Coot, Chiffchaff, Great Tit and, one of my particular all-time favourites, Long-tailed Tit.
And that's it to date.
Trip List: 35
Staffordshire List: 29
PS In an earlier blog I inadvertently gave the wrong URL for my propsed South Burnett blogspot. It should read:
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Alas jetlag was beginning to take its toll so we packed up our binoculars and scopes and headed south on the M6 "home".
Our current Staffordshire list consists of:
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
We're there! All those months of planning and reckoning off the days until departure date are at an end. We fly out of Brisbane in the morning [Thursday 2 September 2010]. There may be some on-the-run, last minutes readjustments to be made once we're in Staffordshire but to all intents and purposed, this is it.
I came to blogging via the West Midlands blogspot to help get a "feel" for my old stomping grounds and that has been worthwhile. I was made welcome and reading through the various posts certainly added further incentive to be there, becoming reaquainted with former "ticked" species and maybe even adding a few new ones to the list. Birding in the U.K. appears to have undergone several changes since I was last there.
And yet it has been perhaps a little incongruous, someone from the South Burnett region of Queensland posting occasional blogs referring to Australian birds. No one appears to have objected, certainly no one told me I shouldn't be there. It may be that I have simply misinterpreted the protocols. Is the spot for West Midlands birders only? Is it in fact open to all and sundry?
What I have most admired during my brief sojourn here is the dissemination of local birding news and knowledge. Clearly local birders are wll catered for here, although I don't doubt that other regions are similarly catered for.
It set me to thinking, what's an old Queenslander doing in a West Midlands blogspot? Yes, I am a former resident but I left Staffordshire in 1974 and have returned only on rare occasions, the last 11 years ago.
It's time to move on, to follow Richard Powell's adage, "Local Birding for Local People." I have my own local patch here in the South Burnett and there are a number of local people with varying degrees of birding interest - from the obsessed [you should talk to Fay about it] to the casual backyard observer who throws out a few crumbs or commercial seeds.
I have made a tentative start [to be continued on my return from the U.K. in October]. Those interested in knowing a little about the local birds from a small area on the other side of the [West Midlands] world are welcome to follow my at:
Not that this is the end. If matters pan out as I trust they will I'll post daily updates on our progress throughout September and even after our return to Nanango I'll keep an eye on the antics of "Blurred Birding" etc.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
We were sitting on the eastern veranda this [Saturday] morning, indulging in a second cup of hot coffee. The ambient temperature was around 5.3oC [it had hit a low of 3.5oC overnight]. When here [and not off somewhere else] we keep an almost religious weekend list of our backyard birds. The usual crowd had been “ticked”: Laughing Kookaburra, Australian Magpie, Pied Currawong, Grey Butcherbird, etc. We noted the caw of several crows off to the south and looked up to the sky. Sure enough four Torresian Crows floated into view. I recorded them and looked away to note the White-winged Chough and Crested Pigeon in the orchard.
It was Fay who drew my attention back to the crows. Surely the one slightly apart from the others, and clearly much higher in the sky, was almost raptor-like. It soared with outstretched fingers, presenting a flat dihedral. Crows tend to soar with wings bent slightly downwards.
Out came the binoculars and, yes, it wasn’t after all a crow but rather an Australian Raven. I deleted the “4”, substituted a “3” but added the 152nd species to the “Backyard List.” We’d have celebrated with a glass of Barossa's finest shiraz but this is Saturday 28 August, the last Saturday before we leave for the U.K. and several last-minute chores remain to be completed prior to our departure.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Life's like that! All appears to be going swimmingly well, then Fate throws a spanner at your spokes in an attempt to derail all those well laid plans. This time the spanner came close...
With thoughts firmly set on Thursday 2 September, a mild smirk could be detected on my face as I considered all those teaching collaegues who would not soon be winging it across to enjoy Cannock Chase, Blithfield Reservoir, Doxey Marshes, etc. Then the postman delivered that letter from the Transport Dept, a brief note to remind me that my driver's licence expires on my next birthday - a week into our U.K. trip!
Ordinarily no problem. These days one can even renew online, except if one happens to be diabetic -in which case the law requires that a GP tests your eyesight on an annual basis and confirms that you are sufficiently sighted not to pose a serious problem on the Queen's highways and byways.
Again, ordinarily no problem, well not in a metropolitan setting where GPs are a penny a dozen and if your regular doctor is over-booked you simply go along to another. But Nanango is country and here doctors are almost as rare as chicken's teeth - over-subscibed and working flat strap to keep up with the demand. To give you an example, on an earlier trip, simply to seek repeat diabetes prescriptions, my 1630 appointment stretched to 1750.
Last Thursday I thought I'd be smart and requested an early appointment. Yes, the doctor could squeeze me in at 0815. I duly informed the Principal [headmaster] that I could be a little late, that my immediate colleague [a simple partition divides our respective classrooms] could keep an eye on my class until I turned up. At 0850 I simply lost patience and informed the receptionist that I had run out of time, was expected back at school and would telephone from there during my lunch break.
We rescheduled for 1500; school ends at 1500 and its a 30-minute drive from Blackbutt [where I teach] to Nanango! No problems. I would leave at 1430, again my colleague would keep an eye on the class while I whizzed off to have an eye test. I arrived at 1455 and was eventually called through to the doctor's surgery at 1615.
Still, the important part had been achieved, I had successfully completed an eye test and had the necessary medical confirmation that I was sufficiently sighted to be allowed loose behind a steering wheel. For those interested, I have 20/20 vision in my left eye while my right eye leaves a little to be desired but nevertheless continues to operate at above 60%.
After school on Friday afternoon I raced through from Blackbutt to Nanango and on to the regional captial at Kingaroy, around an hour's travelling. I walked through the Transport Dept. doors at 1555. They close their doors at 1600!
That particular last minute crisis is over, I have my renewed licence in my wallet
Not all was conducted at such a hectic pace over those few days. There were quiet, more sedate moments. I heard the first Olive-backed Oriole of the season calling from somewhere on the school grounds. A pair of Noisy Friarbirds, again the first of the season, cavorted in the gum tree at the school entrance. A Wonga Pigeon boomed from somewhere in the distance and the usual assortment of Torresian Crows, Australian Magpies, Pied Currawongs and the ubiquitous Noisy Miners scurried around discarded lunch wrappings in search of leftover tasty morsels.
Life's never as bad as it seems as long as there's a bird or two in your sights.
Don't forget to look out for the obvious Aussies doing the usual birding haunts in and around Staffordshire during September. Say "Gidday, mate" and in true Aussie tradition I'll buy you a pint at the nearest watering hole.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Three weeks tomorrow and we’ll be aboard the aircraft destined for Manchester. My first overseas trip since 1999; Fay managed a quick, non-birding, trip in 2005, on the occasion of her mother’s 90th birthday. I would be a poor liar if I didn’t admit to a little excitement at the prospect of revisiting old stomping grounds in Staffordshire and the West Midlands – along with our first venture to the Blackwater Estuary and a brief return to Devon.
This will certainly be the best we’ve been prepared for a British birding trip. Fieldguides to hand. The BirdGuides DVD-ROM guide to British birds studied; British and regional lists compiled, etc.
Not wishing to over-stretch our ambitions, we’ve limited our target species to a humble four:
Cetti Warbler and
Sunday, August 1, 2010
It seems superfluous to yet again apologise for the long absence from these pages. Such is life! Much water has passed beneath the bridge since my last blog.
I originally came to this Blog in search of birding ideas for our forthcoming sojourn to the UK, to our former West Midlands stomping grounds in particular. At the time it remained a distant objective, something to keep simmering on the back burner while we got on with more mundane and immediate matters – like attending the recent “Wine on the Wharf” event at which some 400 different wines were available for tasting- varietal differences and from competing Australian [with a smattering of overseas] vineyards.
Suddenly it is no longer a distant engagement, something to merely pencil in on the wall calendar. All those preparatory months have gone. We are in August, our plane leaves Brisbane airport on 2 September!
And it has been both a learning and sobering experience. While the West Midlands remains our main focus, Fay, a keen amateur genealogist, has kith and kin on the central Welsh coastline and a favourite cousin who recently retired to Devon. The Blackwater Estuary, Essex, is one of those things I have to do before I drop off the perch.
It all went towards extending our birding outlook, while bearing in mind that on my last visit to the UK  I received a fair bollocking from my sisters for spending more time out in the field birding than I did with them!
It has also been interesting gauging the degree of assistance provided by various birders in those four areas to a forthcoming birding visitor. Devon we've decided to tackle alone. The Welsh have been noticeable by their absence; the best I received was a number of suggestions that I visit the websites. The West Midlands Bird Club [of which I am a member] has been outstanding in its efforts to provide me with several necessities. However, I have to acknowledge the best help has come from the local birders of Maldon [Blackwater Estuary] who have provided birdlist specifically for September and even scoured their locality to find suitable hotel/b&b accommodation for Fay and I.
Perhaps Fay and I will see one or two of you around the ridges while we’re out and about in spots such as Blithfield, Doxey Marshes, etc. You can’t miss us; we’re the ones with Zeiss binoculars and a KOWA telescope If you come within hearing range you may even pick up a slight twang of Strine.
Oh yes, I was also promoted at school in the interim.