Tag Archives: Birmingham

Help survey Birmingham & the Black Country’s canals for Otters and Shrews!

Lutra lutra

Image © Peter Trimming via Flickr Creative Commons.

Here is a great opportunity to get involved with some hands-on ecology work! The first ever official survey of Otters and Shrews in Birmingham and the Black Country’s canals has just been launched by the Canal & River Trust and the University of Birmingham. They are looking for volunteers to help out with survey work; you will receive full training – click here for details.

Some training sessions have already been arranged; these will consist of a powerpoint presentation of how to survey for Otters, place Shrew traps, take habitat measurements, and anything else you will need to do for the survey. If possible, the nearest canal may be visited to look for Otter and Shrew signs. The dates and times are as follows:

Wednesday, 25/01/17, 10:00-12:00, University of Birmingham

Wednesday, 25/01/17, 13:00-15:00, University of Birmingham

Wednesday, 25/01/17, 18:00-20:00, University of Birmingham

Saturday, 28/01/17, time to be arranged, Wildside Activity Centre, Wolverhampton.

Apologies for the short notice; however there may be further training opportunities available. For the most up-to-date information visit the Otter and Shrew Birmingham Canal Survey Facebook group or email:

Samantha Mason: ssm385@student.bham.ac.uk (Survey coordinator).

Paul Wilkinson: Paul.Wilkinson@canalrivertrust.org.uk (Canal and Rivers Trust Ecologist).

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Swifts in my roof, a Birmingham bird story

Here is a guest blog post kindly written for us by John Davison of Selly Oak, who is a keen Swift enthusiast spreading the word about what we can do to encourage these acrobatic but sadly declining birds. Swifts will start arriving any day now after their long migration from Africa so now is the perfect time to start looking out for them in your area! For further information about Swift conservation please visit http://www.swift-conservation.org/.

I moved into my very ordinary semi in B29 a few years ago. The roof is plain clay tiles on timber batten on timber rafters. The rafters are supported on the top of the outer walls on a timber, the wall plate. The ends of the rafters can be seen from outside and this is because when built, air was intended to flow through the loft space. This circulating air dries the back of those tiles after heavy rain.

It was after I had moved in that I found that in the summer, visitors arrive. These visitors, birds, have travelled hundreds of miles. By chance, because my roof was as first built and not later stopped up with soffit boards, the visitors set up nest on my wall plate. The Swifts are rarely there as they are almost always on the wing; nests are for chicks.

Swift - © Graham Catley

Swift © Graham Catley

You can see the Swifts, careering across the sky above a housing estate by Selly Oak Park, from May onwards. Perhaps you have Swifts in your area. They eat (only) insects, they stay airborne, and with their sometimes incredibly fast flight, are sometimes mistaken for swallows. Their acrobatic stunts are called ‘low-level screaming parties’.

Sadly what I have noticed is that the numbers are declining. This is also documented: Common Swifts (Apus apus) are declining in the UK and are an amber listed species of conservation concern. The RSPB asks the public each year to enter their sightings of Swifts into their survey form at http://www.rspb.org.uk/helpswifts. One aim is to protect existing nest sites when people are refurbishing their homes; another is to provide new nest sites in new developments in areas where Swifts are already present.

This issue, the new nest sites, is crucial. Housebuilding in the UK collapsed during the years 1990 to 2012. Very few new homes were built for people, let alone ones with places for Swifts to nest in. The situation is changing. The government estimates that 1.4-1.8 million more households will need accommodation by 2020. A building boom will be necessary to provide for them all. From the point of view of saving declining Swift populations, the problem is that new buildings are useless for Swifts. However, new housing projects can include Swift nest places if we ask for them. If the roof form of a new building does not suit, commercially-available Swift nest bricks can be incorporated. This can happen if more of us become Swift enthusiasts, and make it happen.

Birmingham and the Black Country, with its bodies of water, has plenty of insects for Swifts to eat. So too has Cambridge, the heartland of the Action for Swifts group, where more than fifty Swift projects have been carried out in commercial and private buildings, schools and church towers. In one case, a thriving colony of Swifts in old houses was saved as the old houses were demolished and new ones erected by phasing the project over three seasons and by building Swift nest accommodation into the new buildings. Over 200 nests were built into the new houses, and so far 44 breeding pairs have been recorded in them.

Building for Swifts © swift-conservation.org

Building for Swifts © swift-conservation.org

I want to see more Swifts in Selly Oak, and I am discussing with some neighbours (who have blocked up their eaves) the installation of Swift boxes. I ordered boxes from http://www.swift-conservation.org and I will then need access to a ladder to install them.

You too could host Swifts and play a part in stopping their decline. What we do want is a Rowley Hills Swift group!

It is a privilege and a joy to share a summers day with these amazing birds.

John Davison

Special offer on Butterflies of the West Midlands book!

A new book about the butterflies of the West Midlands will be launched later this spring; this is the first ever book about the West Midlands’ butterflies and includes a wealth of information about the species seen in the area, distribution maps, butterfly walks, gardening and photography tips. It even contains a guided walk of the Rowley Hills written by the Friends of Rowley Hills’ Vice-Chair Mike Poulton. It’s a must-have for butterfly fans!

The book can currently be pre-ordered at the special pre-publication price of £13.95 + £4.00 p&p; once published the price will increase to £18.95 + £4.00 p&p so take the chance to grab a bargain now! For more information and an order form, see below; you can also order online at http://www.naturebureau.co.uk/bookshop/.

Butterflies of the West Midlands pre-pub offer 02

Latest news about the proposed redevelopment of Edwin Richards Quarry

Another article has been published in the Express & Star regarding the proposed redevelopments of Edwin Richards Quarry in the Rowley Hills. Of particular concern is the amount of traffic that will pass through the local area for the duration of the work (up to 30 years), carrying thousands of tonnes of soil and other material; additionally the quarry site is of ecological and geological importance and also is part of the area’s industrial heritage.

If you would like to comment on the planning applications, you can still do so – click here for details of how to do so.

Rowley Hills butterfly walk to be published by Butterfly Conservation

11th June 2015

Marbled White (Melanargia galanthea) (image © Mike Poulton)

A butterfly walk across Portway Hill written by FORH member Mike Poulton has been selected for inclusion in a new book by Butterfly Conservation. It will be one of 25 butterfly walks in the book, to be published in 2016. Butterfly Conservation is the leading UK charity dedicated to saving butterflies, moths and our environment. More news on the book as we have it!

Rowley Hills wildlife update – April and May 2015

11th June 2015

Here is the latest wildlife update from the Rowley Hills, written by plant and butterfly expert Mike Poulton.

Following a warm April with days of uninterrupted sunshine, May has been rather disappointing with cool and unsettled conditions and temperatures below the seasonal average.

Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) (image © Mike Poulton)

Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) (image © Mike Poulton)

Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were the first butterflies to show on the hillside this spring and good numbers of both could be seen throughout April.  On 9th April I recorded my first Brimstone for the Rowley Hills. This is a strong flying butterfly and merely passing through the site as neither of the caterpillar’s food plants, Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn, occur anywhere on Rowley Hills.

As we moved into May there were very few butterflies and day-flying moths on the wing and my count for the month was well down on previous years.

Green Hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys rubi) (image © Mike Poulton)

Green Hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys rubi) (image © Mike Poulton)

On the 15th a Green Hairstreak was seen in the hawthorn-colonised meadow near the top of Portway Hill. The following week, on the 21st a second individual showed further down the hillside on the land owned by the Wildlife Trust. This small, inconspicuous butterfly overwinters as a chrysalis and is one of the first to appear when conditions are favourable in the spring. At rest, always with closed wings, the green coloration of the lower wing merges in with the surrounding vegetation and it is only on calm, sunny days when in flight that the brown upper side of the wing is visible. There is only one generation of Green Hairstreaks each year and when blustery and cool conditions prevail for days on end without sunshine, very little flying activity takes place. The butterflies stay well down in the foliage for protection from the wind and rain and there they remain until conditions improve. Small colonies such as this one, with little chance of natural recolonization from a site nearby, face local extinction when the short-lived adult butterflies perish before they have an opportunity to mate.

The Small Heath is another notable butterfly found on the Rowley Hills and individuals are just beginning to appear. They range across the whole of the hillside and can be seen from May right through to August. Fine-leaved grasses are the caterpillar’s food plant and the threat to the future survival of this species on the Rowley Hills is from encroachment to the grassland from bramble and hawthorn. When at rest, always with wings folded, they are exceptionally difficult to locate.

Another species that first appears in May is the Common Blue. On Rowley Hills there are two generations of this butterfly each year. The first generation is on the wing during May and June with the second generation appearing in August and September. Few Common Blues have so far been seen and this could impact seriously on second generation numbers later in the summer.

St Mark's Fly (Bibio marci) (image © Mike Poulton)

St Mark’s Fly (Bibio marci) (image © Mike Poulton)

St Mark’s Flies have been exceptionally abundant on the hillside this spring and towards the end of April and the first week of May, wherever one walked, these large, black flies could be seen alighting on grass stems and hovering around hawthorn bushes.  Their season is short and by the middle of May they had all gone.

Bumble Bees have been fairly common this spring and, unlike butterflies and moths, they will fly in blustery and overcast conditions. The early flowering Bush Vetch, whose flowers are a rich source of nectar is particularly common up here on the hillside and eagerly sought after by bees.

As we move into June many of the early summer-flowering plants such as Oxeye Daisies, Broom, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Common Vetch, Oxford Ragwort, Hairy Tare, Mouse-ear hawkweed, Beaked Hawk’s-beard and Hogweed are now in flower and June and July are the optimum months to visit the Rowley Hills to see the butterflies and flowers at their best.

During the winter of 2012, a sowing of Yellow-rattle was carried out on the Wildlife Trust site. This annual is partly parasitic on roots of grasses and the purpose of the sowing was to reduce the vigour of the coarse grasses and encourage the spread of the wild flowers found here. The sowing has been a great success with thousands of these yellow-flowered annuals blooming and spreading throughout the hillside. A particularly impressive display can at the time of writing be seen on the Wildlife Trust site.

Water-stressed bank overlooking houses where Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed can be found

Water-stressed bank overlooking houses where Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed can be found

Late May and early June is the optimum time to search for the flowers of Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed on the steep-sided bank overlooking the houses where it is mixed in with other similar-looking yellow, dandelion-like flowers and with which it can easily be confused. This is one of several uncommon plants that thrive up here on the Rowley Hills and although not a native plant in Britain it nevertheless looks very natural where it is growing.

Hopefully, during the next few months we can look forward to long sunny days with not too many wet days in between. Butterfly numbers should start to recover this month and all of the rain we have experienced over the past month should keep the vegetation looking fresh and green for weeks to come.

Mike Poulton 04/06/2015

Easter on the Rowley Hills

8th April 2015

On Monday, plant and butterfly expert Mike Poulton carried out the first of his 2015 butterfly transects on the Rowley Hills, on the lookout for butterflies, birds, plants and other spring interest. Here is his report from the transect.

It’s Easter week and spring has finally arrived here on the Rowley Hills. The sun was shining brightly as I strolled across Portway Hill Nature Reserve on my first Butterfly Transect walk of 2015.

Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera) in the Rowley Hills (image ©Mike Poulton)

The main aims of a butterfly transect is to count numbers of each species of butterfly seen on a weekly basis at a given site throughout a full butterfly recording season from April to September inclusive. The chosen transect or route remains constant from year to year and is divided up into a maximum of 15 sections. A count of the butterflies seen in each section is carried out each week and the results entered onto a recording sheet. These records are then submitted to Butterfly Conservation’s ‘Butterfly Monitoring Scheme’. By keeping weekly records comparisons with previous years can be made showing which species are prospering and those that are doing badly. Comparisons can also be made of the dates when different butterflies first appear. For example, here on the Rowley Hills, in an average year the first Marbled Whites can be expected around the middle of June, reaching a peak during the first 10 days of July and then slowly tailing off through the second half of July with just an odd individual or two persisting into the first few days of August. A cold spring could delay this emergence by as much as two weeks. A warm spring will advance the first sighting by several days.

Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera) (image ©Mike Poulton)

Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera) (image ©Mike Poulton)

There was a great deal of bird activity on the hillside; Magpies, Robins, Blackbirds, Carrion Crows and House Sparrows I see regularly, and today I also noted Chaffinches and caught a fleeting glimpse of a Lesser Whitethroat, or was it a Whitethroat? Unfortunately the encounter was somewhat brief as it flew off in pursuit of one of two Long-tailed Tits that departed from the same Hawthorn bush. I also heard and then had a good sighting of a Chiffchaff calling from the top of one of the Cherry Plums that grow here. This shrub is very obvious on the hillside now with its leafless twigs smothered in 5-petalled, white flowers that open just before the leaves unfurl. Further into the site I spotted two Foxes blissfully unaware of my presence sleeping side by side in the warm sunshine half way down a secluded steep bank.

 

Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) (image ©Mike Poulton)

Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) (image ©Mike Poulton)

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) (image ©Mike Poulton)

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) (image ©Mike Poulton)

There was a great deal of butterfly activity from Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells. These two showy butterflies have only just emerged from hibernation having overwintered in sheds, garages and old buildings. The male Peacocks were having aerial tussles with each other, darting off in an instant at the sight of a passing female of the species. The eggs of both are deposited on newly emerging stinging nettle leaves with a preference shown for plants growing in sunny places. The resulting caterpillars build a communal web in young leaves near the top of the plants and remain quite conspicuous, feeding both by day and night. Feeding continues until around mid-summer when the caterpillars pupate to produce the next generation of butterflies that will be seen on the hillside later in the summer.

Apart from Cherry Plum and the golden bloom of Gorse which covers the bank near the Wildlife Trust land, there are very few plants in flower on the hillside so far this year. I saw the occasional Pussy Willow, Colt’s-foot, Dandelion and Lesser Celandine in flower but the main display of flowers is still more than a month away.

Mike Poulton