Category Archives: Nature & conservation

Some recent sightings

On a recent walk from Warrens Hall Nature Reserve, up across Dudley Golf Course, and onto the Portway Hill site, Mike Poulton, Matt Hadlington and Tom Hartland-Smith had several interesting sightings. A regular dog walker stopped to tell them that at about 7pm on a previous evening, as he was returning from a walk, up on his neighbour’s roof was an Eagle Owl! Matt said that there had also been a recent Eagle Owl sighting at nearby Sheepwash Lane in Oldbury – it’s likely that these sightings were of the same individual, possibly an escaped pet or falconry bird. And if that wasn’t enough, on the way back to his car, Tom watched a Red Kite fly across. However the group’s first two sightings were of a tiny Common Toad, and a Pygmy Shrew. The toad was very much alive; the shrew was sadly deceased, but this is not unusual for these incredibly tiny mammals as the following information from Mike explains.

Pygmy Shrews are found throughout the UK; their habitat is woods and hedgerows and they can be seen all year round. They are our smallest mammal, up to 55mm from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. The tail can be up to 45mm long, around three quarters the length of the body (unlike the larger Common Shrew, whose tail is only half the length of it’s body). The average weight is about 4 grams, the same as a one penny coin. 

Shrews superficially resemble mice but with a longer, pointed snout, and even when fully grown are only around a quarter of the size of a House Mouse. The thick fur is brown on top and greyish-white below, and grows thicker in the autumn to help maintain body heat during the winter months.

Pygmy Shrews needs to consume food every two hours or so in order to maintain their body temperature. Their diet consists of spiders, beetles, woodlice, slugs and other small invertebrates. Active day and night searching for their next meal, the Pygmy Shrew literally lives its life in the fast lane. This unmarked specimen could have died of starvation because it hadn’t eaten for a few hours! 

The breeding season runs from April through to August, and female Pygmy Shrews produce between two and eight young per litter, in an underground nest. The gestation period is a little over three weeks, and a female can produce up to five litters in one year. The life span of this tiny mammal is approximately 15 months.

Winter on the Rowley Hills

We hope you are keeping safe and well. The current lockdown feels like the hardest yet, with the short days and wintery weather to contend with – however the hills are always open for your daily exercise and even in winter nature provides ever-changing interest, as these photos taken recently by Mike Poulton illustrate. With spring on the way, there will be even more to see so keep your eyes open when you’re out and about on the hills!

Rowley Hills now part of a UNESCO Global Geopark, plus some recent photos

On the 10th of July this year, the Black Country became a UNESCO Global Geopark. This prestigious UN status has been awarded in recognition of the Black Country’s internationally important geology stretching back 428 million years, and its cultural heritage; inextricably linked to the area’s geology, this reveals the significant part the Black Country played in the industrial revolution. More than 40 geosites within the geopark have been chosen to tell its story, including the rock face on the Wildlife Trust’s Portway Hill reserve (geosite 23). Click here to read the full story!

Of course, because of the pandemic and the restrictions imposed by lockdown, we haven’t had much to report in 2020 in the way of events. However the hills remain an important oasis where people can spend much-needed time outdoors, and nature has been getting on with things regardless of the virus. Here is a selection of fantastic photos from Mike Poulton taken over the past few months, showing the varied and beautiful life to be found in the Rowley Hills.

Recent sightings from the hills

We hope you have all been keeping safe and well during the lockdown and that nature has been able to provide you with some relief. Mike Poulton from the Friends of Rowley Hills has been able to carry out some butterfly transect walks on the hills while doing his daily exercise, and so far this season has recorded Orange-tip, Speckled Wood, Green-veined White, Small White, Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, and Burnet Companion moth.

On the bird front there’s been a pair of Ravens flying over the site (invariably pursued by Carrion Crows), Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Green Woodpecker, Song Thrush, Swifts and all of the usual common species. FORH member Nick Horton heard a Garden Warbler and a Grasshopper Warbler when he was walking in the hills at the beginning of May.

Another of our members, Mike Siviter, took a fabulous sunrise photograph from Portway Hill in early May. When he got home he sent it to the local BBC television station and it appeared on the BBC’s lunchtime local weather forecast. He has also sent us this rather good photograph of a Whitethroat that he had taken up there.

Wildlife recording during lockdown

Although we’ve all been greatly limited recently in our day-to-day activities and you may not have been able to travel to the places you usually go to enjoy the natural world, nature is all around us. Those of us lucky enough to have gardens might find that they are spending a lot more time in them that they used to, and getting to know the local wildlife as a result. Recording what you see can be a great way to engage with the natural world and enjoy all the benefits that this brings – particularly important in these uncertain times. Even if you don’t have a garden, you may be able to see species just from your window or during your daily exercise.

EcoRecord are always interested in receiving any records of wildlife spotted in Birmingham and the Black Country. It doesn’t have to be anything unusual or out of the ordinary, records of the everyday wildlife you see in your garden and local area are just as valuable as records of rarer species. EcoRecord have ready-made recording forms with full instructions on their website at http://www.ecorecord.org.uk/index.php?q=wildlife/forms, so why not start recording wildlife today?

Peacock (Inachis io) (image © Mike Poulton)

Owls on the hills!

We hope you are all staying safe and well during this very strange and uncertain time. As per  the Government’s guidance, all Friends of Rowley Hills events have been postponed and we’ll keep you updated about when normal service will resume.

Here’s recent some good news from the hills. During one of our volunteer days at the start of March, an owl pellet was found on top of a fence post. Owl pellets are composed of all the parts of an owl’s prey that cannot be digested – mainly bones and fur. As these cannot pass through an owl’s digestive tract, they are instead regurgitated as a neat package. This may sound a bit disgusting, but it tells us 2 very interesting pieces of information – the first one being that an owl has been using the hills, and the second one being what it has been eating! We are uncertain of the species of owl but it is likely to be a Tawny Owl, or possibly a Barn Owl. Tom from the Wildlife Trust dissected the pellet to discover what the owl had eaten, and found that it was a vole species. He was able to reconstruct almost its entire skeleton – see the photos below.

Fungal foray this Sunday!

Join us for a Fungal Foray across Portway Hill this coming Sunday (27th October), 10:30am -1:30pm. The recent wet weather has brought out lots of colourful fungi in the hills and local fungi expert Lukas Large will be helping us to identify them. Meet at the entrance to Bury Hill Park on the A4123 Wolverhampton Road (grid ref. SO 97834 89474). We advise all those attending to wear sturdy footwear and outdoor clothing appropriate for the weather. Participants will need to be moderately fit as the walk involves some steep hills.

Clustered Brittlestem (Psathyrella multipedata) (image © Andrew Cook)

 

Recent sightings

We’ve had a few nice sightings recently while carrying out conservation work on the hills. All the recent rain has been great for fungi and we’ve spotted some colourful specimens – see photos below for tentative identifications (please let us know if any are incorrect!). The highlight though was around 6 Bank Voles that were found under a pile of cut grass on the Wildlife Trust’s reserve – before they scattered we managed to photograph one! The grassland and scrub here provides ideal habitat for them – although we’ve previously carried out mammal trapping on the hills to monitor which species are present, we hadn’t caught any Bank Voles, so it’s great to know that they are here.

Some recent sightings

Here are a few recent photos from the Rowley Hills taken over the summer. Our Bee Orchids returned once again, and we had a couple of new and notable insect sightings – Black and Red Squashbug (Corizus hyoscyami) which has only been recorded once before in the Black Country, and Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus fuscus), the first time this species has been recorded on the Rowley Hills. Both of these species are thought to be spreading northwards, probably due to climate change, so sightings are likely to increase in coming years.

Portway Hill – Green Hairstreak Search, 25th May

On a dry and mostly sunny May morning, 27 wildlife enthusiasts assembled just inside the entrance to Bury Hill Park off the A4123 Wolverhampton Road in Oldbury, for our walk entitled ‘Portway Hill – Green Hairstreak Search’. The route planned initially involved the ascent of the grassy slope of Bury Hill Park, which at this time of year is dotted with numerous umbels of white Pignut flowers. Small numbers of Chimney Sweeper moths have been seen here in in the past but council grass-cutting restricts this moth to a few small areas where the tractor’s grass cutting blades are unable to reach. At the summit of Bury Hill Park the ground levels out and excellent views of the surrounding urban landscape can be seen. Once everyone had gathered together, we followed the path that descends into and through the oldest of the Portway Hill quarries dating back to the late 1700s. A Speckled Wood butterfly flew by, but despite a brief appearance by a brownish-coloured butterfly or moth that quickly disappeared into the dense vegetation, which we thought might have been a Green Hairstreak, nothing came of it.

This track eventually opens out onto the lower part of the land owned by the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, known now as Rowley Hills Nature Reserve. The group by this time had split up into two, with the serious entomologists straggling behind searching the vegetation for insects which, on what was now turning into a very pleasant day, were becoming quite active. With such a knowledgeable group of people very little went unnoticed, and soon Dock Bug, Hairy Shieldbug and Bishop’s-mitre Shieldbug were found. Discovery of a plant bug with distinctive orange and black markings, black legs and black antennae by one of our group, was later confirmed by Ecorecord as new to Birmingham and the Back Country. Corizus hyoscyami, sometimes called the Cinnamon Bug or Black and Red Squash Bug was until quite recently only locally distributed in sandy habitats around the coasts of southern Britain, but for reasons unclear it is now rapidly extending its range to a variety of habitats inland.

Heading in a south-west direction the leading part of the group paused at the exposed cliff-face where spheroid shapes peel off in layers during weathering, and good examples of columnar jointing, caused by cracks which formed when the magma originally cooled and contracted, can be seen. It was here that a Green Hairstreak made an appearance, alighting on an Oxeye Daisy flower just long enough for two or three of the party to take a photograph. Soon it was gone and for those at the back, sadly they were not to see a Green Hairstreak, our main quarry, as no further sightings were made during the walk. We did however all get a good view of the Small Copper that obligingly settled on a nettle leaf in front of us. Not the freshest of specimens, with a piece missing from the top corner of one wing, but nonetheless always a pleasing little butterfly to encounter.

Onwards and upwards in the direction of the radio masts on top of Turner’s Hill, we passed the remains of the old double-hedgerow which at one time formed part of a track leading all the way up to Rowley Church, about a mile away. Eventually, having reached the expanse of grassland adjacent to Portway Hill at the highest point of the site, where Lye Cross Colliery once dominated the landscape, and of which sadly, no trace remains today, we looked out at a mosaic of rank grassland and flowery meadow. Ever since the land was levelled and graded with spoil from the old colliery days little has changed other than Hawthorn becoming more dominant. The overgrown Hawthorn hedges marking the old field boundaries shelter the grassland from the brunt of the cold and drying easterly winds, and in doing so provide a certain amount of protection for the many butterflies, day-flying moths and other invertebrates found here. A search of the grassland here revealed Common Blue and Small Heath butterflies, and Mother Shipton and Burnet Companion moths.

To complete our circular walk, we headed back downhill, this time taking the track on the southern side of the site, passing close to the back gardens of houses in Kennford and Wadham Close, and following the wide track along the ridge of the water-stressed banks overlooking Wallace Road, to finally exit the site near to the Total garage on Birmingham New Road. As we descended a Holly Blue was seen and a Brimstone flew swiftly by. Last year small Alder Buckthorns were planted here, with the hope that once they have established Brimstones might breed here.

Today’s visit had been very rewarding with nine different butterflies recorded; Brimstone, Common Blue, Green Hairstreak, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Small Copper, Small Heath, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, and also the larvae of Orange-tip butterfly on the two main foodplants of this butterfly, Lady’s Smock and Hedge-garlic.

Several moths were also seen today, Angle Shades, Burnet Companion, Cinnabar, Mother Shipton, Small Magpie, and two micro-moths, Ruddy Streak, and Cranbus lathoniellis. Additionally, both larvae and their papery cocoons attached to grass stems of Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet and possibly Six-spot Burnet moths were seen in places.

As to be expected, many other invertebrates were also seen. Harlequin Ladybird, 7-spot ladybird, 14-spot ladybird, 16-spot Ladybird, 24-spot Ladybird, Violet Ground Beetle, Umbellifer Longhorn Beetle, Thick-legged Flower Beetle, Cardinal Beetle, Common Red-legged Robberfly, Batman Hoverfly, Grey-backed Snout-hoverfly, Thick-legged Hoverfly, Barred Ant-hill Hoverfly, Empis tessellata, Tipula luna, Dock Bug, Bishop’s Mitre Shieldbug, Hairy Shieldbug, Tawny Mining-bee, Ashy Mining-bee, Red-tailed Mining-bee, Honey Bee, Tree Bumblebee, Red-tailed Bumblebee, Common Carder Bee, Early Bumblebee, Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Orange-legged Furrow-bee, Buathra laborator, Yellow Meadow Ant, Azure Damselfly and Common Blue Damselfly.

Two new additions to the floral list for Portway Hill SINC were also made today, Spotted Medick Medicago arabica and Round-leaved Crane’s-bill Geranium rotundifolium.