Wildlife - a Penkridge Diary
Southern Hawker -
Apple of Peru - Phalarope - Wildlife Photos
- Wood Mouse
Sites of Biological Importance
Rather than try and write a definitive account of the wildlife of our Parish of Penkridge, I thought it would be much more interesting to write a DIARY throughout the year. We are continually learning and adding to our knowledge and I am therefore inviting everyone in Penkridge to contribute to this diary by submitting records of what they see or hear throughout the spring, summer and autumn of this first year of the new Millennium.
The Parish has changed enormously over the years - we only need to go back to the 50's when we had the Great Marsh - we can all guess what wildlife we might have found here at that time. Maybe some of the older people in our village can remember and let us know.
So - let us look
at what we have today so we can appreciate it and look after it. Hopefully
we can manage our parish a little more sensitively in the future, knowing that
it is often our actions that destroy the habitats and species on our doorstep. Send me your wildlife news either
by email (wildlife at penkridge.org.uk)
or via the
|"A Proact partner - campaigning for the birds and their habitats ..... before it's too late!"|
4 April 2011 - Four Snakeshead Fritillaries were in flower on the River Meadows - and in my front lawn!
March 2011 - Spring arrived on time.
Frogs spawned in garden pond in middle of month. By the end of the
month Wheatears had arrived at Preston Vale, Goosanders were exploring the
parish for nesting holes, Buzzards were displaying in numbers over the village,
Little Egret was seen regularly on the River meadows and brooks in the parish,
often seen flying over the centre of Penkridge. Starlings were carrying
nesting material, many song birds were in full song, Blackbirds building nests,
daffoddils in full bloom and
20 August 2010 - After disappearing for the summer, a Little Egret was back under the Seven Arches on the River Penk today. (reported by Richard)
17 June 2010 - A HOBBY flew over the centre of Penkridge - they are nesting within the parish. Have other people in Penkridge noticed a decline in our House Sparrow population? In Haling Road, they have become quite rare. My garden population is usually quite high but this year I have only recorded the odd pair. My lettuce have not been touched this year - sparrows usually feed on the young juicy leaves if I don't cover them. And its odd not hear their constant chirping!
15 May 2010 - Princefield First School now have two Webcams looking inside two nestboxes where you can watch the parents feeding a brood of Blue Tits and a brood of Great Tits. Go to this link to see them.
15 February 2010
Several residents have been phoning me this
last week telling me of unusual large ALL WHITE BIRDS seen around Penkridge.
My wife first saw them flying over Crown Bridge and the Bakery upstream whilst
we were driving through the centre of Penkridge. We found this bird
eventually feeding in the stream south of New Road within the Open Space.
Since then several people have seen up to three in the meadows from Crown Bridge
to the Mill feeding in the streams and shallow waters and resting on the meadows
near the Riverside homes for the elderly. In fact, the elderly
living there have been able to see them from their windows. They are
- once only to be seen in Southern Europe (France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, etc.)
but in recent years they have spread north and now can be seen regularly in the
south and east of the UK. They are now commonly seen in
Staffordshire and ornithologists fully expect them to begin breeding in the near
future. They nest in colonies like herons do. They roost
in trees at night. Any sightings should be reported to the
8 January 2010
VERY LOW TEMPERATURES, SNOW, ICE, FROZEN CANAL, GARDEN PONDS FROZEN, NO DRINKING WATER, NO WORMS, INSECTS AND PUPAE VERY DIFFICULT TO FIND, SEEDS BECOMING SCARCE, BERRIES GOING FAST, COMPETITION WITH OTHER SPECIES - JUST A FEW OF THE DIFFICULTIES FACING THE WILDLIFE OF THE PENKRIDGE AREA AT THE MOMENT.
I am daily putting out mixed seed on the bird table and in the feeders, as well as peanuts (but not so popular these days), niger seed (popular with Goldfinches, Sparrows, Chaffinch, and even Robin). Also going out on the bird table is any human food we have left over or that has "gone off" a little. And of course, any fat, bacon rind, bread crumbs, porridge, etc. etc. Today I was watching a Grey Squirrel eating (and appearing to be loving), the pastry off the top of a Fruit Pie that finished up on the bird table. An old pork pie was popular with the Starlings and Blackbirds were eating small shelled mixed nuts.
But the cold harsh weather has driven many of them away - presumably gone to look for warmer weather and ground that isn't frozen solid where they can find more food to their liking. I have seen Lapwing flying west over the village recently, Fieldfare also heading in the same direction. And water birds like duck, herons, and even kingfishers will have no alternative but to move to the River and head downstream. If the freeze up continues, they will probably go all the way to the coast and spend time on the estuaries looking for food.
However, the cold spell does bring some surprises - this last few cold days over and since Xmas has brought more Blackbirds to the garden, an odd Song Thrush, several Chaffinches and yesterday, a Great Spotted Woodpecker. And aren't the Wood Pigeons becoming tame! - I counted 21 perched in the trees in my garden yesterday - no doubt waiting for me to go out and put more mixed seed on the table and throw a few cup fulls on the ground for them.
The small insect eating birds will suffer most in a cold spell like this - particularly Wrens. Being so small, they have to eat regularly and on waking in a morning must get food pretty quick if they are to survive. You will see them more commonly in woods, in the dense undergrowth, where they can still find pupae and hibernating caterpillars. So if you have some dense shrubs and ivy covered trees in your garden, please leave that cover (and the food it contains) for birds like the Wren.
7 November 2009
This morning my wife called me to the kitchen window overlooking our garden. She had noticed several blackbirds moving around and chasing each other. I had just returned from a week on Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli) off the Lleyn Peninsula in North West Wales, where bird migration is studied at the Bird Observatory there. We had had lots of thrushes coming in and on one night over 2,000 thrushes had been attracted to the light of the Lighthouse. Most were Redwing but there were many Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. Obviously, our garden Blackbirds were also migrants, coming from the continent across the North Sea and working there way west for the winter. We have a resident Blackbird in the garden - a male who broke a leg a couple of years ago but which mended but did not set properly and now the bird is not very good at running and hopping along. However, he survived last winter (but did not manage to produce any young although he found a mate and had three nests this spring and summer). It was noticeable this morning that he did not welcome the new visitors and spent a lot of time chasing them out of his garden territory and away from "his" bird table.
Whilst watching the Blackbirds, I suddenly noticed a
small bird in a bush near our back door. It looked very much like a
Goldcrest, our smallest British bird. However, as it came closer, it was very
evident that it was in fact a much rarer bird, a FIRECREST. It is
distinguished from the Goldcrest by its very clear white eyestripe.
This all goes to prove that you never know what will turn up in your own garden
- in 45 years this is the first time I have seen a Firecrest in the garden.
20 August 2009
Whilst waiting for a Voluntary Car Scheme client, I noticed on the nearby hedges there were lots of snails crawling on the top of the hedge this morning after a damp night. Fascinating creatures and not everybody's favourite species of wildlife, least of all the keen gardener, but nevertheless the snail must serve a useful purpose in the larger scene. (I will have to go searching to find exactly what though! I have first hand experience of the problems they can cause to the gardener, like many of us have). They are an important food item for some birds, like the Song Thrush, and of course in the mediterranean countries, they are commonly collected from the wild and are a delicacy for humans. However, I don't think many English people have acquired a taste for them yet!
|7 August 2009
A mixed summer so far. Scarce breeding birds these days are Spotted Flycatcher, although a pair have been sighted in the Churchyard. Churchyards are often very good places for wildlife and some, like Blymhill that I visited recently, have even gone to the trouble to turn several areas into special wildlife zones by encouraging and planting lots of wildflower species. Not much room in our churchyard for that I am afraid as it is full of tombstones which tend to prevent the creation of wildlife areas. However, in the Civil Burial Ground under the railway tunnel, we have a great expanse of grassland, mowed very short. The pool is very interesting and contains much wildlife and is managed by the Parish Council taking this into account. However, I think they could be more sympathetic to wildlife on the rest of the site, particularly as some areas won't be used as burial sites for many years to come. Something to think about!
Talking of churchyards - one of my recent projects is the study of the bats of our parish of Penkridge. I took the bat detector down to the churchyard and burial ground recently and noted quite a lot of bat activity at dusk on both sides of the railway line. There is still a lot more survey work to be done but it would be interesting to hear whether anyone knows whether we have any bats roosting in the church or any other buildings around that part of the village. I was at Trentham Chuch recently and counted 71 Brown long-eared bats emerge at dusk from the church tower.
The heronry at Gailey Pools has done well this year and it would appear that numbers are remaining stable at around 50 pairs. However, as the heronry is only 1 Km from the proposed Windfarm (2 large Turbines) on the Rodbaston College land close by, there is much concern at the risk they may cause to the herons flying and feeding in that area. At the peak of the breeding season, over 100 herons regularly fly out and return to the heronry several times a day fetching food for their young. It has also been discovered recently that BATS are at high risk from Wind Turbines. It would appear that the barometric pressure is changed when they are turning and any bats flying near them are exposed to this change and as they are a very small mammal, they suffer from barotrauma which results in their lungs exploding. AND ALL BAT SPECIES ARE SPECIALLY PROTECTED BY LAW. Gaily Pools and the Rodbaston Estate have proved to be very good habitats for several bat species so again, there are worries that the Turbines may cause many deaths. Contact the Webmaster for more details about the windfarm and the wildlife that may be affected.
10 April 2009
- A new year, another spring and wildlife is
abundant in Penkridge - or would be, if we helped it a little more.
And by that, I don't mean just feeding the birds in the winter.
(By the way, there is no need to feed them in the summer as there is
plenty of food available in their favourite habitats, if they are not
destroyed or damaged).
The Rookery that for many
years was in the Churchyard trees, has now moved across the A449 to
trees near the Chapel Car Park and they have also moved further south to
trees either side the A449 towards Rodbaston. Jackdaws are
now very common in several parts of Penkridge, attempting to nest in the
disused chimneys which have no covering over them.
Blackbirds have nests, as does the Song Thrush, Robin and Dunnock.
Starlings and House Sparrows are gathering nesting material and are
taking over once again the special boxes I have erected for the Swifts.
I switched my bat detector on this week and had my first Pippistrelle flying over the garden echo-locating. In my garden pond I counted 32 mature frogs mating and loads of spawn has been produced and the tadpoles have now hatched. Unfortunately, the pool has gone pea soup green and I have placed some barley straw in to try and reduce it. Terrence the Terrapin has emerged (we have now had him for about 6 years since he was rescued from a Wombourne housing estate where he had been cruelly treated and now has a deformed shell and has one foot missing). He looks well and today I was feeding him on shrimps. He has been spending a lot of time on the bank soaking up the warm sunshine.
Herons are regular visitors to our garden ponds in Penkridge but are unwelcome if you have goldfish or koi carp. I don't keep fish but occasionally the heron will come down as the heron also loves frogs and spawn. If you want to prevent them, the solution is to place a net over the pond. These can be acquired quite cheaply from the Garden Centres. Our nearest heronry to PENKRIDGE is at Gailey Lower Pool, where a colony nest on the island. They are now sitting on eggs and will be very busy shortly travelling in all directions hunting along streams, ponds, the river Penk, the canal, marshy areas and ditches and even on fields and meadows. Herons will eat practically anything, including moles and rats.
And finally, my wife, two
friends and I have been planting flower bulbs and wildlflower plugs in
the meadow adjacent to the River Penk which is owned and managed by the
Parish Council. We checked the field first and there was
nothing special growing there, so we decided to try and turn it into a
flower rich meadow. We have planted several wildflower species and
bulbs and we wait to see the outcome. At Penkridge Middle
School, the children planted over 40 trees last week on a part of their
land and I went along and helped them. Its very good to see
children as enthusiastic as this and wanting to improve their
environment. We have a lot to thank the teachers at PMS,
especially the Deputy Head Richard West, for getting them involved like
this. The school are wanting to do more joint environmental
projects within the community so if you want to know more or get
involved, then let me or Richard West know.
Happy Easter Holiday to
you all - I will be working on my allotment, in the greenhouse, checking
my bees (I'm a beekeeper), counting another heronry colony in
Staffordshire and generally being out and about around Penkridge looking
to see what wildlife we have. I am concentrating on BATS in
PENKRIDGE PARISH this year so if you know of any colonies, PLEASE let me
know so I can pop and check their identity and create a BAT MAP for
19 December 2008 -
WAXWINGS ARRIVE FOR XMAS IN PENKRIDGE - Every year Waxwings turn up on the
east coast of Britain, coming from Scandinavia and further east when either food
is scarce or they have had a good breeding season and numbers are very high.
Occasionally, extremely large numbers arrive in the UK and as the winter
progresses the move further west across the British Isles looking for food -
mainly berries. This year looks like being a good year for them and
small flocks have been seen so far in Stoke, Stone, Rugeley, Codsall, Cannock
Chase and this morning in PENKRIDGE.
So keep a lookout for them. They are tame, perching in trees and on buildings (TV aerials) and flying down to shrubs and trees in gardens which have still got berries on them. This morning I took these photos of a couple of birds in a front garden small tree feeding on berries. There have been 14 seen in this area which is the Cherrybrook Estate just on the village side of the M6, close to the Vets. They like most berries but particularly hawthorn, cotoneaster and the exotic shrubs which are berry bearing in gardens. We have had them in Penkridge in the past several times and have attracted lots of birdwatchers so don't be surprised if you see people around with binoculars and cameras - they are probably on the lookout for them. In the evening they usually fly to roost in the woods on Cannock Chase. MORE PICTURES OF WAXWINGS HERE
22 February 2007 - Spring is here. Snowdrops have been out for a while; crocus are out everywhere; daffs not far off; Blackbird and Song Thrush building nests; Many other species pairing up and looking for nest sites; at least 30 frogs in my pond croaking and splashing around; Grey Squirrels very active; Alder catkins out. The ground has obviously warmed up as our bitch dog has once again started creating yellow patches on the lawn indicating that the grass roots are now active again and taking in nutrients. Still lots of birds at the feeders, mainly House Sparrows, Goldfinches (up to 20), Great and Blue Tits and the occasional Siskin. Sparrowhawk now a regular visitor to the garden trying to catch the small birds. A male sat on the fence for 20 minutes yesterday after missing a bird. Just sat there preening. A beautiful bird close up. Buzzards have been soaring over the house with up to 4 birds one day. Many birds now singing as they set up their territories and attract a mate.
28 November 2006 - An
interesting old record was relayed to me recently. A local historian who
is researching the Teddesley Estate in the days when Lord Hatherton owned it, is
reading through Lord Hatherton's old journals he wrote in the 19th century. (Click
here for more information. One of his records is of the
Corncrake keeping him awake at night in May 1848 and he recalls that he had
heard them every year for the previous 30 years. Sadly they no longer
breed in Penkridge (and similarly throughout England), but are making a gradual
comeback (with help) in the Western Isles of Scotland. Does anyone
remember the "crek, crek" call they make when calling from their habitat in the
old hay meadows we once used to have?
6 September 2006 - House Martins and Swallows still over the village and surrounding farms but will shortly be leaving for Africa. A new bird bred in the Parish this year - the nocturnal Nightjar. A Heron is a regular sight on the Penk meadows around Bull Bridge. Water levels have fluctuated in the last month with a flood warning at the end of August.
8 August 2006 - Garden: Second brood Holly Blue Butterflies have been common this year. My wife and I visited the new Burial Ground today and sat and looked over the pond. The water level is down which is not surprising considering the hot dry spell we have experienced this last month. (My garden pond has evaporated very quickly and the Allotment pond is completely dry). We observed over the Burial Ground pond three species of Dragonflies - Brown Hawker, Blue-tailed Damselfly and Ruddy Darter (both male and female).
1 April 2006 - February and March turned out to be much colder with quite a few heavy frosts at night. In March we had snow (I was fortunate to be in Portugal at the time) which brought many more birds into the gardens looking for food. Large numbers of Siskin started to appear in many gardens in March and today there are still up to half a dozen regularly turning up each day. Goldfinches are still regular and a pair of Long-tailed Tits (who may even have a nest somewhere) are often seen on the fat and the peanuts. I found a hatched egg of a Wood Pigeon this last week which means there are young squabs in the nest in the dense ivy covering the silver birches. I haven't searched for nests but I am pretty sure there is a Blackbird laying in the garden at the moment, House Sparrows are very busy building nests in the Swift boxes high up under the eaves.
There was frog spawn in a garden pond in Nursery Drive in mid-March, the first in my pond appeared only a week ago. Now there are dozens of croaking frogs and lots of spawn. Wolgarston Way allotment pond has the usual mass of spawn, although that pond always dries out before they turn into froglets so I will probably move some of it to other ponds. 3 Common Buzzards were soaring above the allotments on the 31 March mewing as they circled.
I had a phone call from a friend in the south of the village describing a bird that had just killed a pigeon and they had sat and watched it pluck and eat the prey. It was without doubt a Sparrowhawk, a regular visitor to many bird tables and gardens these days where it can find easy victims.
In early March I noticed a dead Badger at the side of the Cannock Road opposite the entrance to the Vets - obviously a road casualty at night. A Barn Owl was seen in just south of Gailey Island one evening a week ago. It was hunting along the central reservation.
South Staffs. District Council (who own and manage the Grange Estate Open Space - locally called "The Swamp") have given the Swamp Conservation Group several Bat Boxes. These will be erected in the next week or so. On a recent visit to the Swamp, I noticed the pussy willow was just coming out and was very colourful; Moorhens were present and will no doubt nest again this year; a heron flew up from the far bank where he had been fishing (no doubt he hailed from the island on Gailey Pools where there is an ancient heronry - they will be sitting on eggs now); and a pair of Mallard (quite tame) waddled out of the pool towards me, no doubt hoping I had brought some food for them. However, there is no shortage of food for ducks at the moment. The female will be looking for a site to make her nest any day now.
|Finally, a pair of Mute Swans have built a nest on the canal bankside very close to Princefield School. The Pen (female) is sitting tight and the Cob (the male) is always close by and when I crept close to take this photo, he came quickly towards me, with his wings arched over his back, exaggerating his size and in effect saying "Keep away from my mate". I clicked the shutter and retired quickly!|
2006 - 16 January - Another mild winter so far and therefore the birds are finding plenty of food in the countryside and not visiting my gardens yet in the numbers they have in previous winters. I have had up to 25 Goldfinches feeding on Niger seed and two or three Siskins have just started to appear. Wood Pigeons are already feeding on the Ivy berries and a couple of Grey Squirrels have been very active recently. They have been trying, successfully to take peanuts from the feeders and succeeded in gnawing through the wire hanger so that it fell to the ground and spilled out the nuts. Other birds seen in the garden recently have been several Blackbirds, a Song Thrush, several Collared Doves, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Robin and Dunnocks, Wren, a small flock of resident House Sparrows, and of course the usual local Jackdaws and Carrion Crows. One or two Buzzards have been seen soaring overhead on sunny days and I see that we have some Starling flocks in the evening doing their aerial flights before plunging down to roost in the conifer hedges in nearby gardens.
23 August 2005 - 2 Herons were seen perched on the roof of my next door neighbours house this morning no doubt eyeing the goldfish they could see in the garden pond below. What they didn't know was that the pool is covered by netting so they would not have been able to get them! I haven't seen a Swift for over a week now - the majority will have left to go south for the winter.
22 August 2005 - A Sparrowhawk is regularly seen hunting the gardens of Haling Road. She succeeded in catching a Collared Dove today and a neighbour watched her plucking and feeding on his lawn for 2 hours.
8 August 2005 - Mid-summer and gardens and hanging baskets looking good around Penkridge. Everything is green and there is lots of wildlife around if you can see it! My garden pond is growing duckweed like there's no tomorrow and I have to keep removing it so I can see what's in the water underneath. The Bogbean is also going mad and I had to do some removing there too. At night, by torch light, I occasionally see a tench in the shallows which was put in the pond many years ago. The frog spawn that I removed from the pond and put in my tank all hatched and many young frogs are now emerging and I am gradually putting them back in the pond. There are many which are still tadpoles and it will be interesting to see whether they all turn into frogs over the next couple of months. None of the tons of spawn that I left in the pond came to anything, probably thanks to the tench and to a small turtle that we rescued a couple of years ago and put in there temporary. (I think he will have to go to the Turtle Rescue Centre!).
The Smooth Newts have been obvious and active in the evenings all spring but are now beginning to leave the pond - I saw one on my patio by the back door last night. And another species attracted to garden ponds is the Dragonfly and today, my wife found a Southern Hawker perched low down in the plum tree. I photographed it and watched it for half an hour before it shivered into life again and launched itself straight for me and my right eye. A bit frightening and I had to knock it down to the ground. It was unharmed and helicoptered off slowly into the next garden on its search for food and perhaps a mate. The Southern Hawker is renknowned for being inquisitive and has the reputation of attacking human beings - I don't think it was attacking me, maybe attracted by my shining eyes and just inquisitive OR maybe it even saw its own reflection in my eyes and thought I was trespassing in its territory. Here is the photo I took:
19 July 2005 - A phone call tonight reported a bird
that was once a common occurrence in summer in our meadows and fields around
Penkridge. A Quail was heard calling in the Micklewood Lane area on
the borders of Penkridge and Hatherton Parishes. We seem to have had
a very good year for Swifts in Penkridge. I watched a flock of well over
50 zooming over the village recently screaming away. I am still
trying to persuade them to come and nest in the special nest boxes I have
erected on my house for them. Playing a tape has again attracted them to
come and inspect but they haven't taken residence. I would love to hear
from any householder in Penkridge who already has Swifts nesting in their roof
space. We have several houses in the Haling Road area (the older
ones) which still have them nesting - I see them going in under the eaves.
I can also see one of the ex-Council houses which has a couple of pairs going in
through a slit in the gable wall. The problem today is that new
modern houses do not have access to the roof space which Swifts need.
However, there are special tiles and bricks that can be acquired that allow them
and bats to enter and I would urge any developer or person building their own
house to look further into this. If we don't provide nesting space for
birds like the Swift then they will eventually not be heard screaming overhead
in Penkridge in the summer months. And what a loss that would be!
1 April 2005 - The biggest "twitch" of the year for birdwatchers occurred only a few miles from here today. An American Belted Kingfisher (as big as a Collared Dove) turned up at Shugborough Park on the lake this afternoon. It was still there at dusk and hundreds of birdwatchers from all over the country turned up to see it. However, at dawn on the 2nd it had disappeared, only to turn up at a site near Hawden in East Yorkshire at 11am. Presumably it flew down the Trent to the Ouse . It didn't stop long there and disappeared yet again. However, it eventually turned up in East Scotland where it stayed for a while.
11 March 2005 - First frog spawn of the season appeared last night in my garden pond. No wonder the Heron dropped in and landed on a nearby birch tree. He had seen the turmoil in the water and was about to drop in for a free meal but on opening the back door off he went to look elsewhere. Protect your ponds at this time of the year with a net otherwise not only your frogs will go but maybe your goldfish too. And they arrive early in the morning too!
9 February 2005
- I have seen the result of two accidents today - both
involving cars! In Haling Road, a police car was present to take
particulars after a car had driven across a pavement into a garden wall, causing
considerable damage to the car. The occupant appeared ok and I don't think
anyone else was involved or hurt in the accident. It could, of course,
have been much more serious, especially if a pedestrian had been walking on the
pavement at that spot.
The second accident presumably also involved a car but on this occasion the vehicle probably wasn't damaged but a poor Badger was beyond repair. I was driving back into Penkridge along the Levedale Road a couple of hundred yards beyond the sharp bend just past the Railway Arches when I saw a badger lying in the gutter. I stopped to find that it was still alive and shuddering with shock and couldn't move. A motorist stopped and together we put it in the boot of my car and I took it straight to the vets where unfortunately we had to put it to sleep. It was a full grown female badger but had probably not yet reached breeding age and was not in milk nor do we think it had any young inside. The sad thing is that the person whose vehicle did collide with the badger must have known he/she hit something, but didn't stop. The other sad thing is that dozens of people must have driven past the poor animal throughout the morning and presumably no one stopped to investigate whether the animal was dead or alive.
I would like to thank Straiton's, the vets in Cannock Road, Penkridge, for examining the animal as soon as my wife and I took it there and to the gentleman (from Essex but who lives in Penkridge) for stopping and helping me. Bevan
9 November 2004 - The
Dartford Warbler is a small resident warbler that records show last bred on
Cannock Chase back in 1870. Seven days ago a young bird turned up in
Sherbrook Valley, Cannock Chase, and it has attracted hundreds of local
birdwatchers. It is hoped of course that it will find a mate and
that they will breed again after an absence of 89 years (last bird seen was in
1915). It is the row of mild winters that has
enabled this bird to successfully breed on the heathlands in the south of
Britain and spread again north to Worcestershire in 1995 and now to
5 November 2004 - A naturalist friend in the village writes as follows:
"We have lost the yellow hammers which nested in the hedge just down the lane, both pairs of skylarks, the wrens from the front garden, the greenfinches and many of the tits. The curlews don't seem to have nested in the valley this year and, curiously, I only heard a cuckoo once - usually at least one pair sticks around all Summer. The only things we have lots of are house sparrows! ". He mentions Sparrowhawks and Magpies having probably had a meal or two but I have to say they are both regular visitors to my garden in the centre of Penkridge and yet have had no obvious effect to the birds breeding here.
I have just started to fill the feeders again and already visitors include three species of Tits, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Starling, Hedge Sparrow, Robin, Blackbird, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon and of course House Sparrow. But House Sparrows are still a relatively scarce bird compared with the numbers that used to be found in the countryside in the days when lots of stubble was left around unploughed at this time of the year.
17 October 2004 - Ink
Cap on verge on Riverside - and on the right, the River Penk of course!
Looks like a great Acorn crop so the Jays and the Squirrels are having fun at the moment. Conkers and Sweet Chestnuts looking good too although Sweet Chestnuts never seem to fill out like they do on the continent. (Just returned from the French Pyrenees where the Chestnuts were much bigger and the Walnut Trees were loaded and just beginning to fall). If you pop up to Cannock Chase now listen out for the Deer Stags bellowing. They all have their harems and are being kept busy at the moment defending them against other stags. Below is a picture of a Red Deer Stag and his harem of about 15 hinds at Cuckoo Bank, just north of Chasewater, photographed on the 10 October. But a warning - don't go too close to them as they can be a little aggressive if they think you are threatening their hinds.
Lots of news - Sparrowhawks regularly seen soaring in the sky over the village; Buzzards also now commonly seen over the centre of Penkridge - they breed in the woods close by; by and large I think the birds have had a good breeding season - there are lots of young birds about - in my garden Blackbird, Song Thrush, Hedge Sparrow, Wood Pigeon, Wren, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Collared Dove, Great Tit, Starling and House Sparrow have nested. Comma butterfly seen recently in the garden.
June and July is the time when bats are born and sometimes young ones get lost or fail to fly and they are found on the ground or even sometimes find there way into the living quarters of a house. If they do, phone me for advice (712733). If you handle them, use gloves. Put them in a dark box or container with air holes. They may only need putting high up on a wall so they can launch themselves into the air again and fly or they may, of course, be injured or sick and will need to go to someone who is licensed to look after them in order for them to be rehabilitated. I would be interested to know of anyone who has any in their lofts (don't worry if you have, they are harmless and don't smell or cause problems). Modern houses are often where Pippistrelle Bats roost and we know of one house in Penkridge where up to 70 were counted leaving the roof in the evening to feed.
All British Bats are protected by legislation and it is an offence to disturb them. Free advice is available for anyone who has them in their house or other buildings or trees. They are fascinating creatures and you can learn more about them by clicking here. Of the 16 species left in Britain, 6 are endangered and 6 vulnerable.
Now is the time to check whether you have Newts in your garden pond. Go out late at night with a bright torch and look in the shallow areas of the pond. They will be Common or Smooth Newts. The Great Crested Newt (rare and protected) is not found in garden ponds as it likes much deeper water. We have them in the pools at the Swamp Open Space in Penkridge.
Finally, Spotted Flycatcher has bred again in the Churchyard and can be seen "fly catching" from the gravestones.
23 April 2004
A lovely spring day with blue sky and very warm - well until mid-afternoon! Yesterday I had 2 Buzzards and a female Sparrowhawk displaying over the village. And 5 House Martins passed over whilst I was watching them. Today I saw my first Orange Tip and Holly Blue Butterflies in the garden. And up the Levedale Road there were several Swallows sitting on the wires outside the smallholdings where they breed.
My garden is a hive of activity for breeding birds at the moment. A pair of Carrion Crows are sitting on eggs in one of the Silver Birch trees. Three pairs of Wood Pigeons and a pair of Collared Doves are displaying and some must be nesting in the dense ivy covering the birch trees. Great Tits are building in one of the nest boxes and Blue Tits looking at another. Other birds with nests or behaving as if they have, or are about to nest, are: Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Hedge Sparrow, Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Starling. That's 15 species breeding in my garden or very close! Willow Warblers were singing in the garden for a few days recently but have now moved on.
I have cut the lawns for the first time but managed to leave the Snakeshead Fritillaries on the front lawn so they can set seed. The greenhouse is full of pots and trays with seeds coming through fast and furious like Tomato (several varieties), Cucumber, Pumpkin, Courgette, Sweet and Hot Peppers, Sweet Corn, Runner Beans (I am trying an Asian variety as well this year), as well as several types of flowers for the tubs and hanging baskets. In the small garden vegetable plot (a raised bed), the garlic are doing well and I have planted a few shallot and onion sets and onion seed. The radish are just through and I have put in a couple of rows of Carrots and Spinach. Two or three varieties of lettuce are coming through in the troughs too.
Already we have had two lots of Rhubarb from the allotment (delicious!) and we are still eating home grown parsnips. I am behind with the allotment planting and have so far only got onion sets in. I have planted one or two soft fruit bushes and they have all taken and we might even have some fruit this year. In the garden, the vine is budding nicely and we are looking forward to a crop of grapes this year.
Terrence, the Terrapin, has survived the winter in the pond (he was rescued from a Housing Estate where he was mistreated and has a damaged shell and one amputated foot). Today he was out on a slab sunning himself. Can anyone tell me what terrapins eat? Before we put him in the pond, we fed him on tinned cat meat but he survived the winter in the pond without any food that we gave him. He appears healthy and active. I just wonder how many of the Common Newts and tadpoles he will take.
15 March 2004 -
Plenty of frogs in the garden pond, but still no spawn. However, spawn appeared in a pond in Nursery Drive in the first week of March. Listen out for Chiffchaffs, usually the first bird summer visitor to arrive. I hear there have been records elsewhere in Staffordshire.
1 March 2004
Another year and Spring has definitely arrived. Snowdrops, crocus and the first daffodils are in flower. Moving into the countryside, yesterday on a walk around the parish, my wife and I saw lots of catkins in full flower on Hazel and Alder, Dunnocks in full song, Carrion Crows carrying twigs to build their nests, and even the first Hawthorn leaves appearing and the white Blackthorn flowers out.
Although the small ponds have been frozen over, frogs have already returned and once these frosts stop we will see them spawning in a couple of weeks I think. The first Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins have been seen in the south of England and a migrant butterfly, the Painted Lady, was seen on Bardsey Island by the Warden friend of mine last week. And we are all thinking of getting the mower out to cut the grass which seems to have been growing all winter.
But winter is also still here and the flocks of Starlings are giving some wonderful aerial flight displays for us late afternoon over Penkridge as they gather before dropping to roost in the fast growing Cypress trees that we have all planted in our gardens and open spaces. A few people have been complaining and the press have been making headline news of it in Gnosall, Derrington and in Penkridge - the complaints being that they make a mess with their droppings near where they roost. But - just look it at from the birds point of view - we have provided them with the warmest and safest place to roost on cold winter nights. In the past they used to fly over in enormous flocks to roost in conifer plantations and even as far south as Birmingham. Now they don't need to travel as far as we have provided better places on their doorstep. The majority of these birds are from the continent (Scandinavia, Germany and even as far as Russia) and they winter here in the west. They will, however, be returning to the place where they were born in a few weeks time so just have patience - they won't be here for much longer. (And in Russia - the people there look forward to the return of the first Starling like we do the first Swallow, as it denotes that spring has arrived). I have several nestboxes up under my eaves (put there for the Swifts) and one is always taken over by a pair of Starlings. I let them stay as they are birds of character and they do a lot of good during the summer - feeding on our lawns and in our fields on leatherjackets and wireworms.
29 November 2003
Another search failed to find the Little Egret but upon returning home in late afternoon, I heard that a Little Egret had been seen at Belvide Bird Reserve (on the A5 just past Stretton) and had flown south. This suggests it was the Penkridge bird and was moving on. Little Egrets are now becoming much commoner in the UK, with quite a few breeding birds in the East and South and a pair actually bred in Worcestershire this year. Kingfisher was seen again on the Canal.
28 November 2003
The Little Egret was not seen today.
27 November 2003
And sure enough, next morning and during the day, a Little Egret was seen by several Penkridge birdwatchers at Wood Bank feeding in the stream between the Canal and the Motorway and occasionally flying over the motorway into Teddesley Park. The photograph above (not very good!) was taken against the light in the late afternoon. (It was taken with a digital camera through a telescope - a newish technique called "digiscoping"). However, it clearly shows the all white plumage and dark bill. It had dark legs and yellow feet. Other birds seen in that area were: Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron, Kingfisher, Fieldfare, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Robin, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Blue and Great Tits. A Grey Wagtail was seen at Penkridge Sewage Farm along with dozens of Pied Wagtails and hundreds of Starlings.
26 November 2003
Over 6 months since my last entry! Well, it takes a rarity (well, not quite!) to turn up to get me to write more in this diary. I had a report today that a white heron had been seen feeding in a stream near Wood Bank in the afternoon. The description fitted a Little Egret (which was confirmed the next day).
23 March 2003
Birdwatchers usually say Spring is here when they hear the first Chiffchaff singing. Well, I had my first today and it was in my garden, singing intermittently whilst feeding in the tops of the Silver Birch trees. Lots of wildlife activity in the garden today (besides me tidying up!) - the following either have a nest close by or will be very soon: Blackbird, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Starling, House Sparrow, and of course our resident pair of Carrion Crows (already sitting on eggs). A couple of Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were chasing each other around and a Peacock butterfly was also active today. We now have a pond full of frog spawn but just in case the Newts eat all the tadpoles, I have put some of the spawn into a plastic tank to hatch and will put them back in the pond when the tadpoles have got their back legs and can escape the newts. I counted 70 frogs in my pond two days ago!
Yesterday, the Penkridge Guides turned out to look after our tree nursery at The Swamp. They removed about 30 small trees (Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Holly, etc.) and planted them at Princefield First School around the perimeter fence. Click here for pictures.
What has the New Year brought? Cold weather, cold winds, some ice and even SNOW! And to our gardens in Penkridge, especially to those who put out food, we have been having lots of avian visitors. I have had 2 male Blackcaps, seen feeding one day on cotoneaster berries but most of the time, simply feeding on the fallen crumbs from the peanut feeders. Goldfinch numbers rose to over 20 visiting the nijer seed feeders but in the last week their numbers have fallen but have been taken over by SISKIN. I now regularly can count over 40 birds on and under the feeders and the highest I have seen is 52 during the snowy days last week.
I had a first for my garden in December when a Treecreeper was seen climbing and on one of the silver birch trees. A garden in Nursery Drive regularly records a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the peanuts. Cormorants were seen on the River Penk feeding during the really cold spell when the reservoirs and lakes froze over.
31 October 2002
I took the grandsons to Gailey Pools (Reservoirs) today (Yes - they are in Penkridge Parish) to see a rare feathered visitor to our community. It was an immature Grey Phalarope. They breed on the arctic tundra and Iceland is the nearest breeding area to us. This bird was presumably blown inland during its migration down the west coast of the British Isles on its way to winter in the South Atlantic. It was very tame and allowed us to approach within a few feet as you will see from the photos. They spend their time swimming and spinning on the surface of the water feeding on tiny insects on and near the surface. A late Swallow was also seen at Gailey on the previous day as well as Sparrowhawk and a Hen Harrier.
Photographs © Copyright Bevan Craddock 2002/3
21 October 2002
20 Million birds lost in 30 years (where have all the Sparrows and Starlings gone?)
News just published by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) is that the House Sparrow population has fallen from about 12 million pairs in the early 1970's to six or seven million pairs now. Why is the question? Probable answer - loss of suitable hole nest sites and loss of suitable food in the first year of a sparrow's life, particularly autumn and winter seed supply due to changed farming practises. Starlings have also declined considerably as a breeding bird, particularly in woodlands. A young Starling chick can only expect to survive a few months, but if it survives the first winter, it can expect to live another two or more years. Again, this points to obvious changes in grassland management over the past 40 years and some of these are likely to have decreased the availability of Starling prey, particularly leatherjackets (the larvae of crane flies or daddy long-legs). (Extracted from BTO News - October 2002).
20 October 2002
Grey Wagtails have been reported visiting garden ponds situated near the railway line on the Grange Estate and Nursery Drive. Acorns galore this autumn - the squirrels and the Jays are collecting, eating and storing hundreds to keep them going during the winter ahead. Those they don't find again will of course germinate in the spring and produce new oak seedlings. I collected a bag full recently from underneath a tree with the intention of growing them on and if I don't do it soon, the mice will soon find them!
One of my favourite flowers is the Snakeshead Fritillary which grow wild in only two places in Staffordshire. I have bought some bulbs again and will be planting them in my front garden so look out for "Falfalarums" (local Wheaton Aston name) coming up next spring.
A very large plant (over 6 feet high) that I had never seen before grew in my back garden near the bird table this summer. None of my botanist friends could name it so I emailed a picture to the Natural History Museum in London who informed me it was "Apple of Peru" Nicandra physaloides, a member of the Solanaceae. As its English name suggests, this species is native to Peru, but is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental and has been introduced by various other means to the U.K., so it now occurs as a casual in waste places, etc. Here is a picture of it - the frost has now caught it and it is dying. Bevan
Apple of Peru
12 September 2002
I have been feeding the birds in the garden now for two or three weeks. Sunflowers are attracting lots of Greenfinches and just one or two House Sparrows. Aren't they rare in Penkridge now? If I throw out some stale bread, a starling flock descends within a few minutes and devours the lot. I am sure they have a lookout system keeping an eye open for back doors opening! House Martins are still with us, but not for long. The Swallow flocks on the wires are beginning to get smaller so many will have already left for Africa. The swifts from Haling Road left in August. Next spring I am hoping they will move into one of the special nestboxes I have erected. I will certainly be playing the CD again as it appeared to attract them this year.
10 September 2002
This flew into the kitchen this week - a Southern Hawker Dragonfly
Where did August go? School holidays seem to take over in August and although my kids are now grown up, the next generation (grandchildren) come along. We spent two weeks camping with them in Cornwall and some of the time we spent looking at wildlife. Seabirds, bats, 2 Peregrines over the camp site each day, Marbled White butterfly on the way down in Somerset, and a group of Basking Sharks was a really good sight. But cricket on the sand, surf boarding and kite flying took up most of the time!
8 July 2002
Two months have passed since my last note. But that doesn't mean I have not been observing wildlife in the parish of Penkridge! And several other people have too as I have had one or two notes from them. Only a few days ago (28 June) a Peregrine was seen to strike at a Wood Pigeon only a few hundred yards west of the Railway Aqueduct.
I hear that we now have several pairs of Peregrine actually nesting in Staffordshire (mostly in the north), but one pair has bred in the south of the county.
The reason I haven't had time to put any notes on here is
that I have been busy co-ordinating a breeding survey of all the major species of birds on
Cannock Chase. The West Midland Bird Club have been doing this every five years and
this year was our third survey. It has been very exciting - and we are now coming
towards the end of the breeding season but the one species that is keeping us busy at the
moment is Nightjar (a nocturnal migrant that means we have to be up there on the Chase at
dusk to be able to see and hear them). I did spend a whole night out a couple of
weeks ago (from 9.45pm until 4.30am) and in that time counted 23 different
"churring" male Nightjars over that part of the Chase we surveyed. So far
I haven't seen a Nightjar in Penkridge parish but you never know! I remember seeing
one fly over at dusk at Moseley Old Hall at Featherstone many years ago, when I lived
So what has been happening in Penkridge? Anything new to report? Yes, I was quite excited only last week when I was walking through St. Michael's churchyard early in the morning and saw a Spotted Flycatcher perched on the gravestones - flying up to catch insects and returning to perch on the same one or a nearby one. Spotted Flycatchers used to be a common bird in our community but I hadn't heard of one for a year or two so this was a very nice record. And - a few days later I happened to be in Lapley town crying with the Stafford Morris Men, when lo and behold, right outside the Vaughan Arms, perched above us on the telegraph wires, was a pair of Spotted Flycatchers. They were very active catching flying insects and we watched them take the food to a nest in the nearby ivy on the wall of the pub.
Yesterday was a really warm sunny day and butterflies were evident at last. In the garden I had a Comma. Frogs and newts are now out of the pond and feeding amongst the foliage in the flower beds. I have two pairs of House Martins nesting on the house - they are both feeding their first brood and will shortly be laying a second lot of eggs. A Blackbird nested on top of the electric meter in the porch but deserted when the first egg hatched. They have since reared a family in a neighbours garden. A fleeting visit was made to the garden this weekend by an immature Great Spotted Woodpecker (it has a red forehead). It didn't stay long but was obviously on the lookout for food. I have just started to put out sunflower seeds and peanuts and the sunflowers are disappearing at an alarming rate, being mainly taken by Greenfinches. Goldfinches are now a regular bird in our gardens and have bred in several places in the village. They love to feed on nijer seed (very much like thistle seed) so if you want to attract them to your garden this winter, put out some nijer for them.
Gailey Pools (which is in our parish) had an unusual bird a few days ago - a Black-necked Grebe.
I solved the loudspeaker problem (mentioned on 7 April) and have been playing the response calls of Swifts throughout May and June. And I had some success - birds were seen flying up and perching at the entrance but I don't think they actually entered the box. But if, as I am told, they were young birds, I hope that next year they will perhaps breed in one of the boxes. I have put another one up there too so I now have three Swift nestboxes. Talking of nestboxes, I have just sent a copy of the BTO Nestbox Guide (which gives all the designs and measurements for bird boxes for many species) to a friend in SIBERIA, of all places. He is a student in Tomsk and is planning to produce a brochure "Birds and People" - in Russian, of course. "It will contain information on organisation of Birdwatching Days, construction of bird-houses (starling-houses), conduction of festivals about birds, etc. It will intend for teachers of school for environment education." They look upon the first Starling returning in the spring as we would the first Swallow. It is good to know that in Siberia they are becoming very environmentally aware, particularly the young people so I am trying to help them where I can. They are very poor and their standard of living is very much lower than ours.
Must go and look for more Nightjars! Bevan
25 April 2002
I called in at The Swamp today to check everything was ok. It was looking very tidy since our clean-up operation and I am happy to say that the Moorhen has hatched her eggs - I could just see young chicks moving in the nest. She obviously wasn't deterred by our efforts twelve days ago when she was sitting on 8 eggs.
When visiting a friend in Nursery Drive a couple of days ago, I saw a Holly Blue butterfly. Yesterday one also flew through my garden in Haling Road. What a day today - really hot in the sun. But rain is forecast so I cut my lawn! Bevan
20 April 2002
At least 16 Smooth Newts displaying in the pond at night. All my frog spawn has disappeared and I am suspicious that the newts may be responsible. There was a blue egg shell on the drive yesterday so the Starling's clutch in the swift box has obviously hatched. I had a Swallow over Pillaton today. Cuckoo was heard on the Chase last week but so far I haven't heard of any in the parish. The 21st April is traditionally the day they usually arrive in this area so keep a listen out this weekend. Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler have been heard singing in the garden this last week and Blackcaps at the Wolgarston Way allotment. I also heard a couple of Blackcaps singing at the Swamp last week. The Swamp Conservation Group carried out a Clean-Up there last Saturday (13 April) and we removed a large skip full of rubbish from the ponds, including a wheelbarrow, several car tyres, a trolley, a bicycle and a garden gnome (see pictures by clicking here). 25 local people turned out for this event and everyone had a good time. Thank you to you all. Only duckweed now floats on the pond surface - no longer are there any cans or bottles. And the Moorhen is still sitting on her 8 eggs and three mallard still feed there.
Talking of Mallard - now is the time they begin to appear in gardens, on front lawns, on the road, in fact they seem to lose their fear of humans entirely at this time of the year and simply chase after each other, whatever sex it is. It is all to do with the breeding season and their hormones so do not worry - they will come to no harm and will eventually return to the canal or river and quieten down. Pippistrelle bats have been hawking over the garden and around the trees this last week and ladybirds can be seen everywhere. Queen wasps are seriously searching for sites to make a nest, as are the large Bumblebees. I hope you cleaned out any nestboxes as the Tit species will be getting down to laying any day now. I have been using the moss off my lawn to line the hanging baskets and this last couple of days much of it has been pulled out by birds who are stealing it for their nests.
Finally, so far I have caught alive 7 Wood Mice in my greenhouse and taken them as far away as Pillaton, Rodbaston and the Chase. They were nibbling my Runner Bean seeds in the pots so they had to go! Bevan
7 April 2002
Warm and sunny Penkridge. And still we have wonderful sunny days. The Silver Birch trees are breaking into leaf - buds are bursting everywhere. Brimstone butterfly has been a visitor to the garden this last few days whilst overhead this afternoon a Sparrowhawk was giving a wonderful courtship display. A cock Wren was building a nest in the ivy on the fence. I see the bit of frog spawn that has survived (now covered with a basket) has produced a few tadpoles. Smooth Newts can be seen around the edge of the pool with a torch at night.
With a friend I walked the Canal Towpath to Acton Trussell last Friday looking to see whether there were any waders (particularly Lapwing) in the river meadows. Unfortunately none but we did see 2 Sand Martins flying over. These days those meadows are too intensively grazed and fertilized so have no wild flowers, no rushes and consequently few birds breed there. However, we visited the fields behind Gailey Pools later where there was some set-a-side land where we were rewarded with good views of Yellowhammer, Pied Wagtail, 5 Mute Swans grazing, Canada Geese, Skylarks singing, a flock of 30 Lapwing beginning to pair off. 77 Golden Plover, some in breeding plumage (black bellies) flew overhead giving a wonderful trilling song in flight, and then landed quite close to us. They will shortly be moving north to the high moorlands to breed, maybe in the pennines, maybe even further north in Scotland or Scandinavia.
But the rarest bird of the day seen was a gull, an immature Iceland Gull, which was resting in the early morning in the centre of the field together with about 20 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. They all suddenly took to flight and flew low over our heads towards Shoal Hill, where they joined a much larger flock of gulls. The Iceland Gull's pure white wing tips and light coffee coloured plumage really stood out from its black-backed friends. Then about 200 birds began soaring in the warm thermals higher and higher and eventually disappeared north, on their way back to their breeding grounds further north. Finally, we paid a brief visit to the Pools at Gailey and from the shore were able through a telescope to see young herons in the nests on the island.
I purchased a Swift Nesting Box two years ago with the hope of attracting them to nest - they nest in two or three houses only 100 yards from here. However, I have had no success. I have just learn that when young swifts return in the spring they are attracted by the calls of young swifts in the nest as they like to live in colonies. So to make them think I have a colony in my roof, I have purchased a CD which gives the calls of young swifts. I now have to somehow fix up a loudspeaker near, or within, the nest. The idea is that I will play this each morning and evening in May and June for a few minutes and Swifts that are looking to set up new homes will be attracted to my box by the loudspeaker calls. I will report on the success or otherwise of this at a later date - first I must solve the loudspeaker problem! Bevan
28 March 2002
Spring has arrived in Penkridge! The last few days have been glorious sunny days with clear frosty nights. This has been brought everything alive and on the move. I have been spending lots of time on Cannock Chase (where the West Midland Bird Club are carrying out a comprehensive Breeding Bird Survey) and there was a large fall (arrival) of Chiffchaffs two days ago. Between 7 and 9am on a walk around Sherbrook Valley, Chiffchaffs were singing everywhere. By 9am they had stopped singing and had moved on further north that night. (Many of our small birds migrate at night). Chiffchaffs are small yellow/green warblers that particular like woodlands and their song is just like their name - a high pitched - chiff, chaff - repeated monotonously.
In my own garden in Penkridge a Chiffchaff was singing early this morning too. And my neighbour informed me that he had seen a Brimstone butterfly (easily distinguished as it is yellow in colour) flying around our gardens yesterday. Peacock butterflies have suddenly appeared in numbers too.
Other welcome signs are that the fruit blossoms are breaking out - damson, plum and of course cherry has been out for a while. I planted some Snakeshead Fritillary bulbs in the autumn and they are now coming into flower in my front lawn and around the trees in the back garden. (We have two sites in Staffordshire where they are still found growing in the wild - both now are Nature Reserves).
The Crows are sitting on eggs now and the Starlings are building in the nestbox under the eaves. Much of the frog spawn in the pond has disappeared over the last couple of days - has a Heron been paying an early morning visit I wonder! And on a farm within the parish I have been watching Lapwings displaying and yesterday it appeared that one of the birds was sitting so she may have already laid her clutch of four eggs. A Buzzard flew over the garden last week - now a common site in our parish. And at least one pair of Ravens is breeding within the parish.
But perhaps the rarest birds I have seen recently was 4 Rheas (South American Ostriches) on a field very close to the village centre. No - they didn't migrate here - they can be seen at Riverside Farm in Preston Vale Lane where the owner is breeding them.
28 February 2002
Its 5 months since I wrote my last piece. Its not because I haven't noticed anything happening in Penkridge within the wildlife world - its finding the time to write about it. AND I WAS HOPING SOMEONE ELSE WOULD DROP ME A LINE TO SAY WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN SEEING IN OUR PARISH!
Is winter over? I doubt it, even though I hear that the first Swallow was seen last week in North Wales! Other more genuine signs of approaching spring are of course, the snowdrops, crocus and daffs that are blooming in all our gardens now. I see activity in the pond and had to rescue a frog that was trying to return to our garden pond yesterday when it found I had blocked off his path by a small building extension. It seemed lethargic but on seeing and smelling the water, leaped in and dived to the bottom to join one or two others that have just returned.
Herons are sitting tight on eggs at the Gailey Heronry and will soon be feeding their newly hatched young. (Keep your fish ponds covered). A pair of Carrion Crows are getting ready to build again in one of my tall silver birch trees. Ladybirds were active in the greenhouse this week feeding on aphids that have not been killed off by the cold. I have noticed Hawthorn coming into leaf in several places around the village recently. AND I am sure the grass is growing - must check that the mower is in full working order! Dunnocks are singing, as also are Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove. Blackbirds could well have the odd nest with young now - but they are often not successful in rearing the first brood.
I am feeding lots of seed in the garden at the moment - black sunflower, mixed grain, and nijer seed. The nijer is like thistle seed and is loved by Goldfinches - the highest number I have seen at once in the garden is 31 around Xmas. 21 were seen yesterday. The commonest finch is Greenfinch with regularly over 30. The rarest finch is, believe it or not, the House Sparrow! Never any more than 3 or 4 do I see together in the garden. Around Xmas we had a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the garden for just one day. A Sparrowhawk regularly flies low and fast through the garden, hoping to take a small finch by surprise as it feeds on the ground or on the feeders.
I now have one grey squirrel which has taken up residence in my garden. It built a small drey high up in one of the ivy covered birches. On cold days it doesn't venture out but on warm sunny days we see it visiting the bird table and feeding on the sunflower seeds. I have not yet seen the Wood Mice this winter but I did notice some mouse droppings in the greenhouse recently. A live trap has not yet caught any.
6 October 2001
Strong winds are bringing the leaves down quickly now. Six House Martins still over the village today.
This is the time of year when fungi (mushrooms) are evident everywhere. A friend
of mine has been taking me out showing me how to identify the wild EDIBLE ones. My
favourite is one called Boletus edulis and it has an English name: Cep or
Penny Bun. We had some fresh ones fried in butter and oil and they were
delicious. We have also had some wonderful soups made from them. Others that we have
been eating are Bay Boletus and Shaggy Ink Cap. They must all be collected young
before the grubs attack them. We have also been drying some - they can then be
reconstituted for use later. I hear you ask where do you find these? The
answer is that they grow in all sorts of different habitats - in woods, in fields, under
trees, on dead wood and live trees. But you must be very careful in your
identification as there are many that are poisonous - some deadly - and yet they are very
similar to some edible ones. So you need to be shown exactly what to look for.
I have some friends who live in Tomsk in Central Siberia. At this time of the year
everybody goes out into the Taiga woods collecting fungi for drying for the winter and
they come back with sacks full.
I was shown a large Wasp Nest today hanging in honeysuckle behind a garage. It was the size of a football. I was in the process of cutting it out of the honeysuckle to give to my grandchildren to take to school when several wasps appeared at the entrance in the bottom - very large ones. I quickly descended the ladder :-)) leaving them alone. I thought they would have all have left by now with only the Queen surviving and hibernating elsewhere over the winter. I was wrong. I will go back and have another look in a couple of week's time when hopefully it will be deserted. Bevan
3 October 2001
Well - the summer is practically over, autumn is upon us. The leaves are already beginning to fall. The oak trees have lots of acorns this year and I see the youngsters are searching everywhere for conkers again.
The last one or two House Martins are still floating around the village but the vast majority have now left us for Africa. But look out for a late passage around mid October. Every year I see several over the village around then.
In the garden today I saw Red Admiral and Comma butterflies. Pippistrelle bats are still to be seen hawking at dusk around the trees - they will be now laying down extra layers of fat ready for their hibernation over the next three or four months.
I have kept my bird feeders full throughout most of the summer and now we are beginning to get the finches returning to the seed feeders - greenfinches, goldfinches (to the niger seed). Even robins are hovering in front of the feeders taking small seeds. Today I had a rare visitor to the garden - a Nuthatch was calling from the birch trees. They can be regularly heard and seen in the large trees at Haling Dene and occasionally wander away - they have heard there are peanuts in my garden - they love them. Bevan
13 June 2001
Two weeks since my last report and isn't everything growing! Well, on the garden front, the Song Thrushes have produced young locally as they are now a regular in the garden. Very tame. Blackbirds have successfully produced young too, as have the Blue Tits in the Nest Box. Starlings are on their second brood in the old Swift Nestbox. No sign of any Swifts taking up residence in the specially provided box for them I erected last year. House Martins are now very busy breeding and I imagine they are now sitting their first clutch of eggs high up under the eaves. No one seems to like Crows and Magpies, and yet a pair of Crows have nested again in a Silver Birch in my garden and yet all those song bird youngster have fledged ok. But I have plenty of cover in my garden so the young birds can hide from predators until they are strong flyers.
A first for the year Butterfly to the garden was a Brimstone on the 11 June. I see the Smooth Newts in the garden pond are now active but difficult to see now the surface is covered with duckweed. Slugs and snails don't as yet seem to be quite as numerous as they were last year. I am crossing my fingers as I hate putting down slug pellets which sometimes I have to do to stop them decimating my lettuce plants.
Like many people these days, I am a Hay Fever sufferer and it started with me yesterday (12 June). A sneeze in the kitchen, then my eyes started to run. Today it is much worse and they are continually running and sore. Obviously I am allergic to one or more of the many plants that are giving off pollen now. I suspect it is the grasses which are just coming into flower. I will have to grin and bear it UNLESS someone out there has a magic answer. Bevan
30 May 2001
Walked round the village with my grandsons this morning. First of all had a look from Bull Bridge down the Penk towards the Mill (the same picture you see when you log on to the homepage of this web site). Its a wonderful view with the Chase in the background. On the river we saw a Mallard duck with her ducklings swimming downstream. We then crossed the road and it was good to see that the trees and shrubs planted just north of the bridge behind the railings were looking very well. In time it will make a fine little copse. We then walked through the Market to the Church and on under the railway tunnel into the new Burial Ground. Work here is ongoing as the Parish Council landscape this area. A further path has now been cut out on the high ground. We had a close look at the pond which has been cleaned out and will become a fine feature of the site. A seat is planned so visitors to the Burial Ground can sit overlooking the pond. My grandsons soon discovered Smooth Newts in the water which were continually surfacing for air. We also thought we got a quick glimpse of a Great Crested Newt which if we can confirm will mean only the second site in Penkridge Parish for this species - the rarer species of Newt and protected.
We then came back through the tunnel and walked past the Station up to the Swamp. Here Great Crested Newts were common at one time although we couldn't find any today. We pulled some litter out of the pond that we could reach but it will need a drag hook and a boat to get at much of it. The District Council have promised to help with clearing the litter from the pond. They have already removed a lot of large pieces of litter that Penkridge youngsters had placed in the bushes. Its a pity that the two seats have been removed by vandals as there is now nowhere to sit. The grass has not yet been cut so I will be asking the Council to do that immediately. Only saw one moorhen chick which is now as big as mother. Bevan
22 May 2001
A glorious day spent around Penkridge and in the garden. Swifts screaming overhead, House Martins hawking but still not seriously taken over last year's nests under the eaves. Blue Tits feeding young in the nest box. Starlings about to fledge from the old Swift Nestbox I put up years ago. Lots of insects about now. Orange Tip and Green-veined White Butterflies are regularly seen and my wife had a Holly Blue in the garden a couple of days ago.
I did nip up to the Chase this weekend and was rewarded by lots of Tree Pipits, Cuckoos, Green Woodpecker, a pair of Stonechat and the first Nightjar of the season. A Woodcock was also seen and heard as he flew over the tree tops on his "roding" flight. I also saw my first Damselfly of the season - a Large Red Damselfly - and several Green Hairstreak Butterflies.
The new Wisteria that we planted in the back garden this winter has produced about 7 large flowers and the scent from these is wonderful. We are training it to cover the garage wall. I was so taken with it that I have bought another one to put in a tub at the front of the house. Why didn't we plant one when we first came to live in Penkridge 36 years ago?
You will keep hearing me go on about the Swifts - after Nightjar they are perhaps my favourite bird. Why you ask? Well, just for starters, after leaving Penkridge in August to migrate to Africa for the winter, they never land again until they arrive back here the following May. That's 8 months on the wing - feeding, drinking and sleeping. Beat that if you can. An astonishing bird! So the Swifts deserve our attention and support and conservation. So I was rather worried when I heard from a neighbour last week who has had Swifts nesting in the roof of his house for years that he had boarded it up so they couldn't get in this spring. His reason was that his wife was concerned at the number of flies in the house in the summer which they put down to the Swifts nesting in the attic.
So can I appeal to anyone who has Swifts nesting in their house to please not stop them entering. If you do have to stop them, then please speak to me about erecting specially made Swift Nest Boxes so they can still breed. The swift only breeds in houses and occasionally in churches (not in trees, rocks) and our modern estates are just not suitable. Nothing can enter the lofts. They just need a small hole under the eaves so they can gain entry to lay their two eggs just inside. We have already lost several sites in the village because the old buildings have been demolished, e.g. the houses on the north side of Mill Street. On a summers day dozens screamed low down Mill Street - now there are none. And yet a few special Swift Nest Boxes on the new buildings would maybe have kept them there. Bevan
8 May 2001
At Rodbaston this morning I watched 2 Adult Ravens soaring overhead. They have obviously bred again in the area. A f few years ago they were a rarity in Staffordshire but the species has been spreading from Wales and now they are becoming quite a common site in part of Staffordshire. The West Midland Bird Club is carrying a survey to try and establish how widespread they now are. I also noted that Swallows and House Martins have returned to several smallholdings in that area.
On a visit to The Swamp open space - an area of land situated between St. Michael's Close and Grange Road adjacent to the Railway Line - I had Chiffchaff and Blackcap in full song and a pair of Moorhen had successfully bred and had several young. The site is looking very green and apart from some litter (the collection of which is being organised) the site is looking good. The southern grassy area has not been cut recently because of the wet nature of the ground. As soon as it dries out cutting will be resumed. This land is owned and managed by South Staffordshire District Council with some help from local people in the Swamp Conservation Group.
6 May 2001
Today saw the first Swifts arrive in Haling Road - 3 chasing each other overhead but no screaming heard yet. (Swifts give a loud screaming call while in flight which is a common summer sound in the village). I saw my first Green-veined White Butterfly in the garden today and a couple of Small Tortoishell Butterflies were flying on the Wolgarston Allotment Site whilst my wife and I were sowing seeds. I heard a Blackcap singing there and as we arrived in the car park, overhead a Buzzard was flying low being mobbed by a Carrion Crow. Goldfinches are still seen in the garden but are now down to a pair which are presumably going to nest close by. And a Sparrowhawk flashed low overhead between the houses this evening hunting for a late meal.
5 May 2001
Sad to report that the Robin's nest has been vandalised but not by humans. A few days ago I checked and found 1 dead chick only in the nest. I can only surmise that it was either a Crow or a cat. Hopefully the birds will try again and now we have a few more leaves on the trees and hedgerows, their nest will be better hidden from predators.
I had a phone call today from Owen in the village who said he had found several dead bumblebees on his lawn and what did I think had caused it. I am making enquiries from an "expert" on bees as I am not at all sure what might be the reason. Chemical sprays I have ruled out as I don't believe farmers are using them just yet (although it might be a local gardener!). The large Queen Bumblebees we see around now have come out of hibernation and are searching for a suitable hole to build their nest to raise the next generation. It could be that the coldish nights we have been having have put too much stress on them at this time of the year. When out birdwatching with my grandsons today I noticed many bumblebees around and can't say I noticed any dead ones.
I left the Parish today and took the boys to Belvide Bird Reserve, near Brewood. There we saw several birds new for the year including: Swift (not yet seen in Penkridge but should be arriving any day), Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat. Cuckoos had been seen by other birders but we were unlucky. Lots of Swallows and House Martins were hawking high over the water. We saw six different Buzzards soaring in the sunshine. 2 Common Terns had returned and we watched them fishing and perching on the raft where they will hopefully nest again. Bevan
29 April 2001
Beautiful sunny afternoon in Penkridge and spent time in garden tidying up and taking photos. Below is a photo of the Robin's nest with 6 open beaks waiting to be fed. The Starlings have hatched in the Swift nest box over the front door - egg shells suddenly appeared in the drive and on the front lawn over the last couple of days. And the Carrion Crows are now feeding young and mobbing anything that comes anywhere near - including a Sparrowhawk this afternoon that was soaring over. The first House Martins appeared over the house today - 6 of them feeding high on insects. The Snakeshead Fritillaries are nearly over in the garden. And the Garden Pond - no tadpoles in sight but the Smooth Newts are back and a male and female were seen today. Bevan
Census Day Sky in Penkridge
25 April 2001
My first Swallow was seen in the Parish at Rodbaston last Saturday 21 April. Today I saw another one flying over at Quarry Heath. I have put up two new nestboxes in my garden, both for hole nesting species. Today a Blue Tit was carrying nesting material into one of them. In the hawthorn hedge I discovered a week ago a Robin sitting on a completed nest which I presumed had eggs. That was confirmed today when I showed my grandsons the nest and the Robin had left it for a moment to feed and we saw several tiny babies which appeared to have just hatched. A Song Thrush was singing loudly from the top of one of my birch trees this afternoon and a Wren was in full cry too.
On my way back from a meeting in Derbyshire today, I stopped on the causeway at Blithfield Reservoir (between Rugeley and Abbots Bromley). It was a beautiful afternoon, warm and sunny with hardly a breath of wind. In half an hour watching from the road, I saw 2 Oystercatchers (they bred there last year), Common Sandpiper (a passage bird), 2 White Wagtails, 2 Yellow Wagtails (both summer visitors) and a wonderful view of an OSPREY that flew quite low over my head going north. For a while it circled and looked as if it might stay and feed (one was seen last week to catch a fish there), but it eventually soared higher and flew north - no doubt heading for Scotland where many now breed. Bevan
15 April 2001
This last couple of days we have spent some time in the garden tidying up. Our plum and damson blossom are breaking out and lots of things are coming into bud. Hostas are shooting again and our few Snakeshead Fritillary plants (Latin name: fritillaria meleagris) are in full bloom. Did you know that this rare plant in the wild actually still survives on two nature reserves in Staffordshire - one at Wheaton Aston and the other at Tamworth. It used to be a common plant of wet meadows before the days of fertilisers, chemicals and land drainage. I wouldn't be surprised if they once grew in our meadows along the Penk. Anybody out there who remembers them or whose parents told them?
We have been watching a mouse in the back garden feeding on fallen sunflower seeds from the bird feeders. He/she has been out most day times - picking up each seed between its two front feet and quickly breaking it to get at the seed inside. I thought it was just a house mouse but on closer inspection and after taking a photo and checking with a friend, it turns out it is a Wood Mouse.
My daughter cut her front lawn yesterday for the first time and discovered lots of small holes (inch and half diameter) in the ground. I imagine these will be occupied by short-tailed voles as she is on the edge of farmland.
I took the grandchildren birdwatching to Chasewater
yesterday (the only place round here where you can go at the moment). Very few
people there and we were only allowed to walk the southern shore. It was rather cold
and windy but out flying low over the water were hundreds of Sand Martins. We
found our first Swallow with them too. Otherwise, just the usual Swans, Canada
Geese, Mallard, Tufted Duck, one Great Crested Grebe and a lonely Lapwing on the shore.
Sunshine and showers today - well, it is April!
7 April 2001
Even in the rain today there were lots of birds singing. In the centre of the village, from the car park behind the Methodist Chapel, I heard Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Wren and my first Chiffchaff of the year. Bumblebees were very active around the Pussy Willow catkins that are now in flower. Bevan
2 April 2001
Difficult, with the foot and mouth, to go anywhere. Queen Bumble Bees are active in the garden and I saw my first Small Tortoishell butterfly of the year yesterday.
30 March 2001
To-day, one of my grandsons and I transferred two buckets full of frog spawn from the Allotment Pond (which later dries up completely) into the freshly cleaned out and enlarged Pond on the new Burial Ground. We then walked through the tunnel under the railway into the Churchyard and back and as we crossed the field a Sparrowhawk soared over in the afternoon sunshine. We also saw Pied Wagtail, a pair of Mistle Thrush and the female Mallard that seems to have made that pond her home. Later on at home (Haling Road) another Sparrowhawk flew over the garden being chased by a couple of Starlings.
I hear on the grapevine that Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Sand Martins have been seen elsewhere so keep your eyes and ears open. Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler could turn up in our gardens in the spring. Lapwing used to be a very common bird of our farmland but are now becoming extremely scarce. It has been reported that a pair have taken up residence on farmland to the south of the village which is good news.
We called at Stanelli's Garden Centre and whilst there, rescued a frog that had taken up residence in one of the large greenhouses. We placed him gently in an outside pond there.
I see Blackthorn is just coming into flower
in the hedgerows. Bevan
29th March 2001
After the winter, everything is waking up. Spring is here and there are plenty of signs to that effect.
Pond life - I noted the first frog spawn in the Allotment Pond in late February. It was not until 15 March before they began spawning in my garden pond. The water seems to boil when I approach as 20 to 30 mill around chasing and croaking. I lifted a manhole cover last Sunday and underneath was a male Smooth Newt. Now is the time they are coming out of hibernation so I put him under a stone near the pond where he would eventually be returning to breed. He was already becoming brightly coloured underneath - he uses that to attract a mate.
Birds - With the foot and mouth outbreak, those of us who like to get into the wider countryside to look for wildlife, are having to do with looking closer to home, so the garden is getting more attention. A pair of Crows have built a substantial nest in the Silver Birch and are about to lay eggs. As far as I am aware, we have at least two Rookeries in our parish - both very active at the moment as birds are staking out their claims to the best nest sites in the upper branches. Have a look (and listen) to the one in the trees round the Littleton Arms and Churchyard. It must have been there for years. (Was it there before the last war?). The other rookery is at Rodbaston by the Hall but is out of bounds at the moment because of foot and mouth. I know of two other rookeries just outside our parish - at Yew Tree Farm on the Pottal Pool Road (where f and m has already struck) and at Dunston around the Church. There used to be a large rookery at the Honey Pots. Does anyone know if it is still there? We must remember that Rooks need large trees in which to nest. Are we planting trees for the rooks in the future?
Blackbirds and Robins are singing, Chaffinches have just started. Dunnocks were gathering nesting material on the 25th and Mistle Thrushes are sitting on eggs. The Herons at Gailey (on the Island on the large pool) will be just starting to feed young in the nest now - cover your garden pond if you don't want them to get your goldfish. One visited my pond at mid-day recently - no doubt attracted by the activity of the frogs.
Plants - Spring has definitely arrived. Daffodils are now coming into full flower (as far as I know, we don't have any wild ones in our parish - did we ever?). Snowdrops and crocus are past their best. The wild Lesser Celendine is in full flower in my garden where it thrives in the wet peaty soil. Hazel catkins are out and the Damson flowers won't be long before they appear. Hawthorn buds are opening as everything comes to life.
Winter lingers though - and frost and snow can return. I am still feeding the garden birds and have up to 50 Greenfinches, 20 Goldfinches (they love Nyjer seed) and several Siskin, Coal, Blue and Great Tits daily at the nuts and seed. Earlier this month two Reed Buntings were present when the snow was around, feeding on the bird table on seed. I had a brief visit from a male Blackcap too. This is the time of year when the seed-eating birds find it difficult to find wild seed (as it has all gone or has germinated).
This winter has seen fewer numbers of Starlings gathering at dusk over the village giving a wonderful display every evening of twisting and turning flight. How do they do it? Many people have lopped or removed the Leylandii in their gardens which provided warmth and shelter for them at night. No longer do we get the million-bird Starling roosts in reed beds and conifer woodland (and even City centres) that I remember seeing in the 1960's. We called them a pest then - now they are becoming a scarce breeding bird. A pair have started taking grass and material into an old Swift Nest Box I put up under the eaves. I hope they don't take over the new Swift Box I have erected in the hope that I will get those screaming summer visitors nesting here when they return at the beginning of May. Now is the time to put up any new nest boxes. I bought two more this winter - I must erect them during this next couple of weeks. Those you who live on the edge of the village and have large trees in your garden might attract the more unusual species to nest - maybe Tree Sparrows or Nuthatch. So far I have only had Blue and Great Tit in mine but Blackbird, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Robin, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Greenfinch and Wren have all nested in the garden - and, of course, House Martins under the eaves!
When we can again walk out of the village on the public
rights of way and explore our parish, remember to note down what you see. We have a
splendid footpath network within our parish which will take you through and past many
interesting habitats. Keep your eyes and ears open and let me know what you see.
In the meantime, we have the streams running through the village which attract
wildlife and places like the Haling Dene Centre grounds, the Churchyard and the large Open
Space running at the side of the M6 to the east of Wolgarston Way where you can walk.