Making Memories on the Rowley Hills

As part of the Living Memory project, Friends of Rowley Hills recently contributed to Making Memories, a new creative project exploring the local area and its rich history. Led by artist Hannah Boyd and Blue and White Creative, pupils from Grace Mary Primary School and St James’s CofE School participated in a series of workshops exploring Jim Rippin’s photography of the area, with knowledge contributed by FORH’s Mike Poulton and Bob Duncan about the hills’ flora, fauna and geology. You can read a full account of the project and see photos at https://livingmemory.live/making-memories/; below are comments from some of the pupils and their teachers.

Mrs Wood:

Watching the children explore the Rowley Hills area and engage with the activities was amazing! They were really engrossed and were fascinated by the talks they were given. It was a very enjoyable day and a wonderful experience for children and teachers alike.

Mrs Freeman:

The day was filled with fabulous opportunities to learn new art techniques whilst experiencing the natural habitat in our local environment.

The input from Hannah, Richard, Bob and Mike was excellent and we all learned a great deal about what the Rowley Hills have to offer!

Amy:

I enjoyed:

Learning new techniques

Painting with sticks and ink- it was fun!

Exploring blue rock and the onion rocks

Looking at different flowers

Seeing a bee on Mike’s top!

Logan:

I enjoyed everything but especially painting with sticks because I never knew you could do it! I loved learning about blue rock and I had a very great time doing it.

Kai:

I enjoyed all of the techniques and the information about butterflies. I loved the water colour pencils and most of all how my art turned out!

Muhammed:

I loved drawing with sticks and using the water colour pencils.

Annie:

I loved drawing with sticks as it was unusual and fun!

Mariel:

I enjoyed drawing with the black pens.

Barin:

I particularly enjoyed the journey up to blue rock where the landscape of Oldbury looked beautiful. I loved the activity where we drew a picture of choice. I enjoyed every single bit of the day!

Ammar:

I loved drawing with sticks as it was really beautiful!

Macie:

I enjoyed painting with sticks and the special water colour pencils. It was fun learning about the types of flowers.

Ben:

I enjoyed the painting with sticks and blue rock was an amazing part of nature.

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New aerial images

We’ve just added a few more amazing aerial images taken by Andy Purcell to our gallery – here’s a preview below, to see them all, head over to our aerial photography gallery now!

Rough Hill Quarry (image © Andy Purcell)

Turners Hill (image © Andy Purcell)

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.

 

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.