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Thursday, 15 May 2014

Of anglers' pools and the Heart of England Way

I've said it before and I'll repeat here, in terms of prevailing local weather conditions, what a difference a day makes.  Nay, our current experience in Staffordshire has been very much a case of what a difference a few hours make.  Ignore he early morning drizzle, by the time  you reach your planned destination, the weather will have changed, with clear skies replacing the former gloom.  That pattern has repeated itself consistently throughout this current sojourn, from the shores of the Isle of Mull to the distant conifer-rimmed edges of Cannock Chase.
The local television weather forecasts had been predicting a significant change in meteorological conditions across most of the country over the coming week, with longer, more intense, sunny spells.  By Monday [12 May] that prediction was beginning to live up to its expectations.  On Tuesday we had a momentary spit of rain at around 0500 hours which cleared as I turned over the motor.  Yesterday [14 May] there was no rain.
It has been said that the British are fixated with their weather [who mentioned Melbournians anyway?]; birdwatchers worldwide share the same interest.  Birds and weather go hand in glove.
The other morning, a bright and clear start that persisted throughout, our birding target was at least partly dictated by lingering memories of bygone high school days and more recent driving experiences around Cannock Chase.  We needed to answer the question of whether Marquis Drive came out on the Hednesford Road or did it veer off in some other direction.  One of us thought it  did, the other remained sceptical.
Accessing Marquis Drive from the former White House intersection and driving up and down without any [road] signs of an exit point onto the Hednesford Road we pulled up in a large lay-by and almost immediately noticed a large pool on the other side of the hedgerow.  A small flock of Northern Mallard Anas platyrhynchus greeted us as we peered down at them through gaps in the hawthorn but there didn't appear to be a way through the locked gate.
The grounds belong to the Hednesford Angling Society, or more precisely to "The Gaffer" whose father had originally dammed up the small stream to create a series of three fishing pools, although it seems that nowadays only the larger "top" pool was actually fished.  He made his living from selling drink and hot food to both anglers and a substantial flow of passing traffic; on a subsequent drive we noticed several large trucks pulled up into the lay-by.
Having seemingly satisfied himself that w were not would-be fishing permit dodgers [I suppose the lack of fishing rod and the binoculars around our necks was something of a give-away] "The Gaffer" invited in to look around his pools.  We didn't need to be asked twice.
It made for a pleasant enough interlude, with the nesting  European Blue Tit Cyanistes caerleus  as an absorbing highlight.
Thanking "The Gaffer" for his kindness we continued our search for Marquis Drive and found ourselves at the old Moor's Gorse pumping station.   Since our days here the track from the Hednesford Road to the pumping station has become part of the Heart of England Way, one of many long-distance walking [with horse ad bicycle riding also permitted] trails that are scattered across the country: perhaps they can serve as a hopeful beacon to the burgeoning Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.
Birding was difficult.  The birds were there but difficult to pinpoint amid the lush foliage.  It became more a matter of birding by ear rather than by eye - until we spotted the soaring Common Buzzard Buteo buteo.
Moments later we got onto the immature Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus skulking in a beech tree alongside the track.
Post lunch we returned to Blithfield Reservoir in hopes of the Black Tern Chlidonias niger and/or the Red Kite Milvus milvus; neither Lifers or even new to our British List but both would be welcomed additions to our current Trip List.  Neither bird was present although the Black Tern was reported on Staffordshire Bird News for the day.
We decided to chance our luck with the bird feeders along the Permissive Walk. It proved a productive option with a ménage a trois [a male with two females] Common[Ring-necked] Pheasants Phasianus colchicus scratching around beneath the feeders themselves.  A common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybite called from behind bushes.  A Common Chaffinch Fringella coelebs was the first to drop in on one of the feeders; a European Blue Tit was a close second on the nearby vertical feeder.  A Great Tit Parus major also adorned the conglomeration of feeders and horizontal perches.

There was a moment of indrawn breath with a couple of soundless "ooohs" when the Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major suddenly appeared on a branch just beyond the cleared area; a more audible sound as the bird approached the feeder itself, albeit for only seconds.  It flew offseemingly as its claws lightly touched the wooden platform.  A moment later the cry of excitement was clearly discernible as the woodpecker landed on the caged feeder and hung there while it extracted a nut from within. The excitement became almost uncontainable when we realised that  in fact we were observing a possible breeding pair of woodpeckers.

Our birding session ended with glorious views of a pair of European Nuthatches Sitta europaea

That surely deserved  a glass of red wine back at my sister's house.

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