Tag Archives: spring

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.

 

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Early morning bird walk on the Rowley Hills

Once again, our annual early morning bird watching walk led by local expert Nick Horton did not disappoint. Following an introductory talk, in which he informed us of what birds we should particularly be looking out for at this time of the year, we headed onto the hillside, taking the track leading through the old quarries excavated back in the 1700s which opens out onto the site of Blue Rock Quarry landfill. As we walked through the canyon, bird calls were evident, and we heard or saw in this area Chiffchaff, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Song Thrush, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Dunnock. Once out in the open, those who had them trained their binoculars on the dense patches of bramble and it wasn’t too long before Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat were spotted. It’s hard to believe that these tiny birds have in the past few weeks flown all the way from Africa to breed here, and in the next three months will raise their young and then both adults and juveniles will fly off to Africa to spend the winter in sunnier climes. Those that survive this mammoth journey will be back next year and the cycle will continue. Both species are relatively frequent up here on Portway Hill and Nick informed us that this was the best site he knew where both birds could reliably be seen at this time of the year.

Moving on further up the hillside in the direction of the masts, more birds were added to our ever-increasing list – Robin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Green Woodpecker, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Wren, a Peregrine, and possibly a fleeting glimpse of a Linnet as it flew off.

As we headed up towards the golf course, crossing Portway Hill, a Sparrowhawk flew quickly by. There was too much human activity on the golf course by this time so from here we turned back, crossed Portway Hill and returned along the track, skirting back gardens in Lye Cross Road where House Sparrow and Goldfinch were added to the list.

Our walk ended shortly after this and Nick was thanked for providing us with his expertise which always makes this early morning walk so much more rewarding. As he walked back home, he reported later that a Buzzard and a Heron had flown over.

The total of different birds either seen or heard in the three hours we were out was an impressive 27, showing just how important the open spaces of the Rowley Hills are for our wild birds.

‘Looking Back’ walk

Not to be put off by the cold easterly wind, those who attended the ‘Looking Back’ walk with Jim Rippin across the Portway Hill site on Saturday 13th April had a great time. To mark the occasion Jim brought along a special edition booklet containing some of his and others’ old photographs. Two of the photographs taken from his booklet (see below) show the entrance to Bury Hill Park as it was, prior to, and just after the A4123 Wolverhampton Road was cut through in 1927. It’s interesting to note that the terrace houses of Bury Hill Road in the middle of the first photograph and to the left in the second photograph are still there today.

Don’t forget that we have our Dawn Chorus walk this Monday 6th May, starting at 7:00am. Join local bird expert Nick Horton for a walk around the Portway Hill site; in December Nick spotted a Red Kite on two separate occasions over Turners/Portway Hill and watched crows mobbing a Raven. We will also be on the lookout for Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Peregrine, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, all birds regularly seen on the hillside. Wear sturdy footwear and dress appropriately for the early morning weather conditions. Meet on St Brades Close at the junction with Tower Road.

Looking Back: Walk 2. A guided walk over Rowley Hills with archive photographs

Led by Jim Rippin and Mike Poulton and in partnership with the Friends of Rowley Hills10.00am – 13.00pm, April 13 2019 

Join us for the second guided walk based on archive photos and stories from around the Rowley Hills. Jim and Mike’s carefully designed walk invites us to see the area in new and fascinating ways and reflect on the many changes that have taken place over the last 60 years. Come along and share your own views, photographs, and experiences of this iconic area.

Cost: £6 (all proceeds go to the Friends of Rowley Hills).

A special edition booklet will be available for an additional fee.

No need to book – assemble at the entrance to Bury Hill Park (adjacent to the Wolverhampton New Road and opposite Bury Hill Road) at 9.45 am.

Please wear sturdy footwear and bring appropriate clothing for changeable spring weather. We are sorry but the route is not suitable for wheelchair users. The terrain is at times undulating and possibly muddy in places.

For more information call 0121 559 4886 or visit https://livingmemory.live.

2019 dates for your diary

We’ve added the first batch of events for 2019 to our Events page – see also below:

  • Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 19th January 2019, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. You will need to bring along a packed lunch but tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. No need to book, just turn up!
  • Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 1st February 2019, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. You will need to bring along a packed lunch but tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. No need to book, just turn up!
  • Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 16th February 2019, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. You will need to bring along a packed lunch but tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. No need to book, just turn up!
  • Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 1st March 2019, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. You will need to bring along a packed lunch but tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. No need to book, just turn up!
  • Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 16th March 2019, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. You will need to bring along a packed lunch but tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. No need to book, just turn up!
  • Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 5th April 2019, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. You will need to bring along a packed lunch but tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. No need to book, just turn up!
  • ‘Looking Back’ walk led by Jim Rippin and Mike Poulton, Saturday 13th April 2019, 10:00am – 1:00pm. Meet at the entrance to Bury Hill Park. Cost £6 payable on the day (all proceeds go to the Friends of Rowley Hills). A guided walk-and-talk over the Rowley Hills with archive photographs. Following on from our very successful ‘Looking Back’ walk in September 2018 by popular request we have decided to repeat the event again this spring. This is a specially designed guided walk-and-talk based around a series of remarkable photographs taken by Jim Rippin over the last 70 years. The walk will invite us to see the area in new and fascinating ways, helping us to reflect on the many changes that have taken place within living memory. Souvenir booklets with old photographs will also be available to purchase on the day.
  • Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 20th April 2019, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. You will need to bring along a packed lunch but tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. No need to book, just turn up!
  • Dawn chorus walk, Portway Hill, Monday 6th May 2019, time to be confirmed. Join local bird expert Nick Horton for a dawn chorus walk around the Portway Hill site. In December Nick spotted a Red Kite on two separate occasions over Turners/Portway Hill and watched crows mobbing a Raven. We will also be on the lookout for Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Peregrine, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, all birds regularly seen on the hillside. Wear sturdy footwear and dress appropriately for the early morning weather conditions. Meet on St Brades Close at the junction with Tower Road.
  • Green Hairstreak search, meeting place to be confirmed, Saturday 25th May, 11:00am. More details to follow!

Dawn chorus walk report

Following on from our successful dawn chorus event last year, on Sunday May 7th we held our second annual Dawn Chorus walk on the Rowley Hills, once again led by local bird expert Nick Horton. Eleven attendees met at 7:00am at the cairn on Portway Hill in sunny, still weather conditions with a little chill in the air. We headed through the canyon to Bury Hill Park, across Portway Hill towards Turners Hill, and then down towards Warrens Hall Park, passing Warrens Hall Farm Riding School. In total we saw or heard 38 bird species.

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) (image © Andrew Cook)

Before setting off from the cairn Nick briefed us on which birds we should be particularly looking out for at this time of year and made us aware of some of his recent sightings on Portway Hill. Almost immediately, one that he had mentioned, our first Whitethroat of the day, and almost certainly a male, was seen launching itself skywards and then dropping down into a nearby patch of bramble in which there was probably a nest. Whitethroat is a summer visitor to our shores, arriving from Africa during April. The breeding habitat requirements of this bird are met with perfectly up here on Portway Hill, dense patches of scrub for nesting and an abundance of insects in the surrounding grassland on which to feed their young. Their numbers, Nick told us, are on the increase on this site, with many pairs noted in suitable habitat all over the hillside.

As we headed along the recently opened-up right-of-way through the old canyon leading out onto the top of Bury Hill Park we saw Long-tailed, Blue, Great Tit and Chiffchaff and a Blackcap was heard in the distance. High up above us, recently arrived House Martins and Swallows were a reminder of the summer yet to come.

After taking in the panoramic views towards Cannock, Barr Beacon and Birmingham city centre from the top of Bury Hill Park we set off in the direction of the masts on Turners Hill pausing briefly to count 13 Swifts soaring overhead. Stopping near the extensive patches of bramble and other rank vegetation about halfway up the hillside Nick pointed out where he had previously seen Lesser Whitethroat, and as if by order, one was spotted flying low over the bramble into a nearby hawthorn bush. With similar habitat requirements to Whitethroat the Lesser Whitethroat is much less common and more secretive and can be difficult to spot.

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (image © Andrew Cook)

As we approached the upper regions of Portway Hill a Kestrel was hovering above the open grassland and provided a perfect photographic opportunity for those of us with a camera and telephoto lens. Nearby, from the top of the nearby hawthorn hedge, a Blackcap obligingly made its presence known.

Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) (image © Andrew Cook)

As we neared the masts on Turners Hill, two of our larger raptors were noted; a Buzzard was soaring high overhead and a fleeting glimpse of a Peregrine was made by just a few of the group. A rabbit foraging in the nearby horse field was a first on this site for most of us. The morning sunshine had brought out the golfers so on this occasion the golf course was avoided and instead some of the party continued down Oakham Road towards the riding stable. By now the sun was high in the sky and it was becoming quite warm with butterflies becoming active. As we headed along the track which runs along the back of the stables and then descends, passing the fishing pond on the right, we noted Speckled Wood, Orange-tip and Green-veined White. Numerous Long-awned Moths, flitting about and alighting upon newly opened Wych Elm leaves were a pleasant distraction in the morning sunshine and a Holly Blue butterfly was yet another addition to our butterfly list.

Buzzard (Buteo buteo) (image © Mike Poulton)

A small warbler noted in the hedgerow was confirmed by Nick as Garden Warbler after consulting his bird book to compare it with the very similar and much commoner Chiffchaff. Debatably, the most memorable sighting was probably our last of the day. There before us in a large Ash tree, whose leaves were not yet open, sat a Buzzard, totally oblivious of our presence. Through binoculars it was apparent just how large this bird is and how fortunate we are to have them here on the Rowley Hills in such good numbers. Our thanks once again go to Nick for leading us and for passing on his invaluable knowledge of the bird life of this area and we look forward to him leading another bird walk for us towards the end of the summer.

Birds Butterflies and Moths
Blackbird Garden Warbler Mallard Orange-tip
Blackcap Goldfinch Moorhen Speckled Wood
Blue Tit Great Tit Peregrine Green-veined White
Bullfinch Green Woodpecker Peregrine Falcon Holly Blue
Buzzard Greenfinch Robin Long-awned Moth (species not confirmed)
Canada Goose Heron Song Thrush
Carrion Crow House Martin Starling
Chaffinch House Sparrow Swallow
Chiffchaff Kestrel Swift x 13
Collared Dove Lesser Black-backed Gull Whitethroat
Common Gull Lesser Whitethroat Woodpigeon
Coot Long-tailed Tit Wren
Dunnock Magpie

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Dawn chorus walk this Sunday!

Don’t forget it’s our dawn chorus walk this Sunday (7th May), starting at 7:00am at the cairn on Portway Hill. Join local bird expert Nick Horton to look and listen out for the Rowley Hills’ resident birds such as Kestrel, Bullfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Mistle Thrush and Buzzard, as well as recently arrived migrants including Chiffchaff, Swallow, Blackcap, Whitethroat and maybe even a Lesser Whitethroat, Wheatear or Ring Ouzel. This event was very popular last year with some great bird sightings and we hope for similar successes this year! No need to book, just turn up; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. Bring binoculars if you have them!