I try to make it back to Good Ole’ Blighty whenever I can. When I first came to Canada, I didn’t go back as much because back then, the focus was necessarily on getting settled and finding work. Covid travel restrictions aside, I have visited more often in the last few years, often to coincide with my birthday in October.

I have just returned from this year’s visit and, for the first time, I took my camera with me. I’d avoided it on previous trips. The super-telephoto lens is fragile and takes up a lot of space. I wanted to make an effort to do some birding on this trip, and so I carefully packaged the lens inside a massive sock for protection!

The lens made it in one piece, but the weather was not entirely co-operative during my trip. October is not a great time for birding in The UK (summer is peak) and many mornings saw drizzle or downpours, though the afternoons were a little more clear. I grew up in Worcestershire in the Wyre Forest area and on my first morning back, I went for a little walk along Burlish Top in Stourport.

Moo

Burlish Top is a small nature reserve of woodland and heath sitting in a triangle between the Wyre Forest towns of Stourport, Bewdley and Kidderminster and it adjoins The Rifle Range Nature Reserve. I used to walk through here and straddle the edge of a golf course as part of my route to work some 15 years ago when I lived here. The golf course is gone now, and the land is being developed into a meadow as part of the nature reserve.

This was just a quick walk to get outdoors and I stuck to the heath I was somewhat familiar with, though it seemed more overgrown today. I was immediately amused to see a cow calmly grazing in some woodland. A decade-and-half-ago, this would have been par-for-the-course, but it made for a more unusual sight for someone living in the 4th most populous city in all of North America. Shortly thereafter, a small herd of cows grumpily moo’d their way past me, cutting from the heath onto the trail and onto their next grazing spot. A proper Worcestershire welcome.

Anyway, enough about cows. I don’t have very many British birds on my “life list” because I only started to record my sightings once I moved to Canada. So almost any sighting would be a “lifer”. That said, it was a quiet morning with few birds and even those that appeared were difficult to photograph due to the low light. I am an almost complete novice when it comes to the bird songs and calls of Europe, though I did hear multiple tits of some kind (which I could identify because they sounded enough like the related Black-capped Chickadee).

I did, of course, see a few trusty European Robins. The very blurry bird photo shown here had me confused for a while, because it has some yellow colouring. I think it’s a trick of the light, with the sun rising and still positioned low in the sky, giving a warm cast to this very common Dunnock (also known as the hedge sparrow). I also saw plenty of the even more common Eurasian Magpie, a Wood Pigeon and towards the end of my walk, a Eurasian Nuthatch that was too high up to photograph. They look a little bit like the White-breasted and the Red-breasted Nuthatch of the North-Eastern Americas, merged into a single species.

Sandwell Valley Pools

Onwards to somewhere a little larger a few days later, and I can actually start to write about some birds! Sandwell Valley is on the outskirts of Birmingham and not far from my Dad’s house, where I visited for a few days. It’s quite a large park with multiple spots to explore, but we started at Priory Woods where there were lots of passerines (perching birds) that were quite used to humans. Hand feeding was common here, though it is worth noting that like many places currently, The UK has an epidemic of avian bird flu that can be spread through feeding.

Blue tits (pictured above) and Great tits were plentiful. They are part of the same family as the Black-capped Chickadee and this is apparent in both the appearance and their calls. I’ll include a few more photos, so keep scrolling to read more.

Chaffinch
European Robin
Great Tit

As common as the Chaffinch, Great tit and Blue tit are, as I explained, I hadn’t recorded many UK birds, so these are all additions to my “life list”. Anyway, we walked onwards to a couple of ponds, named Ice House Pool and Cascade Pool. These small bodies of water were quite lively with waterfowl. A few Northern Shovelers, which are also found in Canada, were present with their amusingly large beaks. Eurasian Coot, which is slightly different from the American Coot and is a lifer. Another lifer is the Eurasian Wigeon.

Eurasian Wigeon

I noticed something on the opposite bank of the pond, kind of in a crouching position and looking all leafy and strange. My eyesight isn’t the best, but I found it quite amusing when it dawned on me that it was a slightly overweight gentleman dressed in a ghille suit. I just found it slightly preposterous. It’s something that you might expect someone in Canada to wear if they were stalking through brush hunting for moose or whatever. But this was essentially a municipal park, the bloke was stood in the wide open, and he had a camera lens or scope protruding through the front of his suit. Anyway, birds. There was a Little Grebe, Moorhens and some Tufted Ducks with their amusing tuft on the back of their heads. Others: Canada Goose (definitely familiar with these), Mute Swans, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, tons of Black-backed Gulls, Carrion Crow and a Common Buzzard that crashed through some trees in pursuit of a squirrel. Although I don’t have photos, a quick note to say that on the drive up the M40 through High Wycome towards home, where the thermals make for good flying, I saw loads of Buzzards and Red Kites.

Tufted Duck
Eurasian Moorhen

RSPB Sandwell Valley

We drove to another part of the park to an area administered by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). It has a visitors centre, where I grabbed a much needed coffee. There is a trail that leads to a bird hide at Forge Mills Lake via woodland. Although we saw a Eurasian Kestrel in the car park, we otherwise hastened towards the hide seeing mainly more Robins and Chaffinches en route.

Inside the hide were a couple of RSPB volunteers. My Dad never fears rocking up to places and announcing that his son (that’s me) “lives in Canada” and has come looking at birds. At least I suspect he did this, arriving in the hide a couple of minutes before us. The volunteers were friendly and helped us to identify some of the birds we were uncertain of and also pointed out a very well hidden Common Snipe. There was a Little Egret, lots of Lapwings. A Grey Heron, somewhat similar to North America’s Great Blue Heron, stalked across the shallows of the lake.

Grey Heron

Other species seen and not yet mentioned: Common Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Cormorant. The volunteers were keeping a list of the birds seen so far that day. I was pleased to spot a Pied (white) Wagtail. Not uncommon by any means, but still the first of the day. A school group approached the hide, so we made a quick escape before the inevitable ruckus ensued. There was a bird feeder back at the visitor centre, mostly catering to Blue and Great Tits, but I got a nice shot of a Eurasian Goldfinch.

Eurasian Goldfinch

My Dad took it upon himself to pluck a red fruit from a small tree and gobble it up. “It tastes of crab apple”, he insisted. It was probably time to leave, lest we need an ambulance! I wasn’t convinced it was apple, but I’m not the one that tasted it!

A few days later, I visited Upton Warren in Worcestershire. I’ll write about that in a future post.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment

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  • great write up,was definitely some kind of apple ,mulberries are similar to blackberries, I’ve eaten those too.👍🇬🇧

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