Sunday, 23 April 2017

Dawn over Moor Green 4.45 am on the 22nd April 2017

4.45 am looking east over Cannon Hill Park
A cool morning but not unpleasantly so, and dry. At precisely 5.00 am a north westerly breeze blows by adding some discomfort.

 5 of us wait at the gates, expecting more and thinking most have overslept - often the case with dawn chorus promises.

30 more eargerly awaiting souls are inside the gates - we meet up and early morning greetings are made.

'The Dawn' is a somewhat primitive time of day- and what a strange moment and place to meet, yet, although we mostly know each other, we are briefly strangers in the twilight - 
Sunrise by Sahira
 Dawn has no precise time, we figured, and is dependent on weather conditions; if the sky is full of dark clouds the daybreak may be thwarted for a while. 

By 5.15 am the day began to break, leading me to think that perhaps dawn is from the moment the light changes until Sunrise, which is predictable and today it was precisely 5.54 am
photo by Sahira
"We are here today to listen and then look"

The chattering continues and I don't wish to spoil their moment.

6.00 am at Centenary Woods (Carley Perry)

The Mistle Thrush is the first song on my list as I walk along the riverside, and a badger hovers across the path in quick succession. The legless form of the low lying badger is unmistakable, even in low light.

Eyes soon become accustomed to the dark and ears to the quiet.

The dawn chorus is mostly free from background city noise, but I realise that Sunday choruses are best with even less distant traffic. Saturday, perhaps more people are at work. A Sunday before a bank holiday is the prime time - therefore the International Dawn Chorus is held on the first Sunday in May. Indeed the 7th this year.

Check out the International Dawn Chorus Day web page with the following link -


International Dawn Chorus Day is the worldwide celebration of nature's daily miracle. 
The next International Dawn Chorus Day is 7th May 2017. 

Evening choruses likewise are polluted with the drone of distant traffic.

Today, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs compete well with Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds and Thrushes.

7.00 am - time for breakfast in the pavilion. A good start to the day.

Thanks to Sahira Noor and Carley Perry for the photos.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Ten Acres Revisited- once again

The Ten Acres site is a historic backwater on the west bank of River Rea at Stirchley; a seemingly 'unloved' area with no immediate neighbouring human community, although, somewhat contradictory, a much loved site by those in the know.

In terms of wildlife, Ten Acres is a veritable haven, with much of the site receiving little in the way of footfall or disturbance - a single, unkempt and at times muddy path being the only option of traverse, with thorny blackthorn either side keeping walkers on track. Therefore there is little 'off the beaten track' exploitation.

East side of the River Rea
East bank
On the east side of the river we have another largely undisturbed swathe of land, containing grassland scrub and tall herbaceous vegetation, together with a number of planted fruit trees. Bullfinches thrive here, feeding on the early spring blossoms.

The site as a whole (east and west of river) is therefore rich in both plant and animal species, and a great asset to the neighbouring residents. The east side also contains the Rea Valley Cycle Route with many of the users passing by without a glance. There's not much scope here for loitering with the intent on wildlife, as attention is required on the speedy two wheel passers by. It might be that an 'off track' option for walkers would be desirable - just a thought. Management of the existing fruit trees together with the addition of other types has also been suggested - these ideas can be achieved with a rally call to volunteers and with little or no financial cost.

In my opinion, the site, presumably close to 10 acres to the west with similar to the east, is unique along the Rea Valley, having both heritage and wildlife appeal, with enough diversity of habitat to make it significant both locally and regionally. For much of its course the Rea is encroached upon right to the water's edge on one side or the other, either by buildings, other hard surfacing, pathways or mown grass, but here we have a substantial area of unmanaged floodplain, rich in riparian vegetation and little in the way of daily human impact.

Andy Slater of 'Eco Record', The Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust's database, has recorded a few gems at Ten Acres and thanks to him we have the following images -
Flea Beetles (Andy Slater images)

A Bee Fly (Andy Slater)

Many invertebrate species thrive at Ten Acres

A variety of hoverflies at Ten Acres by Andy Slater

Looking downstream along the west bank
From west to east across the Rea Valley at Ten Acres we have a green span of around 150 metres at its widest.

Lady's smock

Looking downstream from Ten Acres footbridge

Butterflies of Ten Acres by Andy Slater

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Springing along in 2017

A Random mix of images from the Rea Valley, past and present - make of them what you will - there's not always a specific theme, other than -
  • the natural aspect of the area
  • changes over time
  • observation of small details
  • a world on our doorstep
  • discovery 
  • biodiversity
  • people 
  • together with a few urban gems, many of which will never get a mention - 

18th century River Rea near Digbeth- a big sweep on the river in those days rendered the land to the left vulnerable to flooding - 'Floodgate Street' is in that vicinity.
Ten Acres, Stirchley, Butterbur and Cow Parsley with a central sprig of Eucalyptus
Greater burnet on the banks of the Rea at Ten Acres
The guillotine lock at Lifford Lane
Coppice Regrowth at Moor Green
Mistletoe seems to be on the increase in the Rea Valley area, and we're encouraging people to send records to Eco Record
Spanish bluebells with Snowberry compliment between the CHP meadow and Queen Mother's plantation
Ten Acres Field (Late 19th Century)
Dog Violets at Queen Mother's Plantation, Cannon Hill
A path bordered by wild garlic
Five fruit trees for Selly Park Rec. x2 Apple, x2 Cherry, x1 Pear.
Thanks to the Selly Oak Community Wardens

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Storm Doris and More Dead Wood

A huge amount of fallen and lying timber currently adorns the ground in gardens, parks and woodlands around Britain,  following Storm Doris's fly-by a few weeks ago.

A Met Office image of Storm Doris
The clean up operation began immediately -  but many fallen trees will remain undisturbed where they lie, and will gradually decay naturally. In some cases taking 50 years or more, the rate of decay depending on a multitude of invading decomposers, including fungi and invertebrates in all shapes and sizes and further aided by wind, rain and extremes of temperature.

other trees will be cleared away immediately
The transition from 'plantation' to 'woodland' is a gradual one, elevated somewhat by the presence of deadwood and the decaying process.

For details on deadwood management in woodland and forest follow the link below$FILE/FCPG020.pdf

Monday, 20 March 2017

Eyes On The Ground - EOTG

A Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust initiative to encourage the observation of wild flowers -

March hedgerow, bank and ditch at the Grove, Kings Heath. The oldest oak tree is around 150 years but the feature could date back to the Enclosure Act of 1772. A 'hidden history' of Kings Heath.
The term 'eyes on the ground' often has military connotations and has been conceptualised thus since the Iraqi war.

other definitions =
"The term "eyes on the ground" is occasionally used to describe those
individuals (frequently soldiers) who are close to an event and can
give first-hand information to decision makers." Google


""witnesses."  The Americanism "eyes on the ground" appears
to be military (or espionage) jargon for information obtained directly
("what they saw with their own eyes") as distinguished from
deductions, documentary information etc.   But the meaning is
simply witnesses." Google

Here's a link to a blog, exploring the concept further =

Our approach focuses on less sinister motives and encourages a 'walking pace' approach to life - a slow, very slow, walking pace at that. No dashing from here to there required - simple gentle grazing only.

Daffodils at Highbury
The season for EOTG began, for many, a couple of weeks ago, or perhaps earlier, when the snowdrops first poked an appearance. it's a bit like searching for a pinhole of light in a darkened place, such as a sweat lodge, odd analogy but never mind. The first sign that winter is subsiding and/or that Spring, warmth and light and food, is near.

This means a 'chance of survival' for many creatures, no time to lose in the search for an essential morsal - creatures with an adeptness for spotting the first bud or bug, behaviour becomes slightly frantic - feeding - establishing territory - attracting a mate. The song of Blackbirds and Thrushes have been my wake up call for the past 3 weeks.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

A mixed bag of Springy goings-on

This is, at least for me, always an exciting time of year. I'm not desperate to be rid of Winter 2016-17, for it has been relatively comfortable, 'unseasonal', some might say, followed by 'we need a good freeze to get rid of pests'. I'm not convinced with this argument, although I do enjoy wintery seasonal conditions, you know - threatening, moody skies followed by heavy snow, resulting in standstill on the roads, or bright clear night skies followed by hard, hoary frost. I do sympathise however with those poor unsteady-on-feet souls during such conditions, and falls can be fatal for elderly people; indeed it seems that most years an inevitable 'fatal fall' happens somewhere in my extended family, as it did this year to a 99 year old. The 100th celebration will continue later this year however.

The 'pest wipe-out' argument' also results in many small bird species declining, and in some cases, quite devastatingly, although often recovering in numbers the following breeding season.

This Winter I have both witnessed and received reports of Goldcrests galore, together with positive sightings of Wrens, Dunnocks and Goldfinches locally.

For now it is Spring with loads of changes taking place as we read/speak; and rapid plans are afoot for the coming seasons. I'm somewhat perturbed by the frantic nature of human behaviour at this time of year. For some, it's as if they've been cooped up for the past 16 weeks, and have now burst in to action with overgrown excitement. 

Aah but hang on, that's perfectly natural, look at the Blackbirds dancing on the lawn, listen to the early morning song of Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Robin and Blackbird, see the aerial cavorting of Crows and Buzzards, hark the drumming GS Woodpecker or the yaffling Green, smile at the antics of Blue Tits. 

All animal behaviour changes in Britain during early Spring.

Which brings us to the 'Spring Clean', there are plenty of site clean-ups around, so let's spend some of that built up and stored energy  out and about tidying up a littered green space.

For there is much litter.......
Rea Valley footbridge at Ten Acres

Kings Heath Park pond

The rear of Kings Heath Park House

Ground art at Kings Heath Park by Colmore School
Hidden History walk at Highbury with Mary-Ann Ochota (12th March 2017)

Friday, 10 February 2017

Highbury Park Friends January 2017 newsletter

Join Highbury Park Friends to get up to date information about this wonderful park - follow the link above for the latest newsletter.
NIA funded meadow seeding with the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust, January 2017

There's so much going on already and this is set to increase as the Chamberlain Highbury Trust look to bring many new and exciting ideas to the Highbury estate and adjoining park land. Check out their website on the links below

Weekly and monthly activities incuding 'Woodland Wednesdays' with the Rangers and B&BCWT, supported by NIA (Nature Improvement Area) funding.

Woodland Play after school club, every Wednesday at the Orchard - Highbury Orchard Community Interest Company oversee this -

Highbury Park coppice 2012

Coppice stool

Coppice products and crafts

Woodland activity with hazel stobs

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Hidden History of Highbury with Mary-Ann Ochota

Mary-Ann Ochota is an archaeology writer and TV presenter who's worked on Time Team, Britain's Secret Treasures and Ancient Impossible. Her new book, Hidden Histories: A Spotter's Guide to the British Landscape arms the landscape spotter with the information to explore the archaeology & history of the British countryside 

Alf Dimmock is a Senior Park Ranger for Birmingham City Council, and is the resident expert on the history and wildlife of Highbury Park.

check out this link for further details and booking procedure - 

Historic features of Highbury Park -

  • Bronze aged burnt mound - 
  • Mediaeval ridge and furrow (open field system)
  • The ancient Yew (Possibly 12th century)
  • The Henburys estate and farm (established by the early 18th Century)
  • Dad’s Lane Farm
  • Hedgerow (early enclosures)
  • The Great Oak (C1690)
  • Kings Norton Enclosures Act of Parliament 1772
  • The Railway 1837
  • Highbury house and estate from1878
  • The Highbury crucible wall

Sunday, 22 January 2017

A visiting student from Virginia asks -


Q1 What do you think are the biggest benefits of teaching and using traditional woodland management techniques in city parks?

A1. The essence of a Ranger’s role is to engage the community at large with the aim of encouraging more people to use parks and green spaces. Therefore a range of themes, topics and activities are employed to meet the broad interests and diverse nature of the public, involving people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities etc. 

The ‘woodland’ theme seems to have universal appeal and is steeped in history, ecology, science, spirituality, mythology and culturally, much more.

So generally we can assume people want to learn something new, make something using natural resources and have an involvement in their local green space, so that a few basic skills, some knowledge and a morsel of understanding related to ecological principles allows people to feel good about themselves and enables them to share these good feelings, acquired skills and gained knowledge with family and friends.

Q2.  Why do you think it is important to offer volunteer/educational events in city parks?

A2. Healthy outdoor activity is key to a balanced healthy life, especially in a modern city in which ‘green’ opportunities are few and the stresses many. So by providing outdoor activities in pleasant green space we provide an opportunity for people to escape the pressures of city living. Try Richard Louve, ‘Last Child in the Woods’ for a fully persuasive account of the consequences of inadequate exposure to nature and green space. Here he coins the term ‘nature deficit disorder’, awaiting those in later life who fail to satisfy their primeval needs early on.

Q3.  What's been one of your most rewarding projects in Highbury Park (or another park if something stands out)?

A3. The concept of ‘Woodland Wednesdays’ was born out of the persistent demands from the Highbury Park Friends and other park users, who came with a series of never ending and insatiable enquiries, so that we were meeting weekly to discuss the latest ‘new track’ or unauthorised activity’ or bit of unexplained flattened vegetation. Relatively minor issues in themselves but the sum of which required attention - so began regular site meetings entitled the Highbury ‘Working Party’, and included the Friends, the Orchard (HOCCIC), bee keepers, allotment holders, passers by and anyone caring to join in. 

I was determined to keep the themes and meetings positive, and rather than constant ‘fire fighting’ or fending off awkward questions with equally awkward and pathetic responses I decided to overwhelm the complaints and feelings of dissatisfaction with an overload of information and philosophy, that was the idea anyhow.

Woodland Wednesdays came as we were setting up ‘Active Parks’ sessions and rangers were encouraged to put a programme together. There was no way I was leading ‘zumba’ or ‘pilates’, which at first I thought was some type of Italian food, so we managed to successfully persuade the organisers that woodland management, themed walks and ‘Down To Earth’ activities for young children would fit the bill as far as public health and well being was concerned. This has been most satisfying but is now under threat from budget cuts - which leads nicely to the next question.

Q4.  What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing Birmingham's city parks?

A4. Surviving the budget cuts - check out this link - 

Parks, along with all local authority services have received severe budget cuts for the past 8 or 9 years and there’s no let up this year, in fact the Parks Department is at a critical stage in its existence and by 2020 is likely to be unrecognisable from the department of 2010. 

Wildlife connections - "Modern life is such that it can be hard to see beyond the present"

 (Rob Cowen - Common Ground)
The Brockley Oak at Brockley Grove, Holders Fields
Rob Cowan's early words in 'Common Ground' resonate with many of us as we struggle to come to terms with 'life's meaning'. We are provoked to read on in search of 'the way' forward, an answer maybe or a coping mechanism; 'Common Ground' encourages us to observe the detail around us and to connect with our local green space.

The map of Edge-land at the beginning of the book provides a simplified snapshot of space around Bilton in Yorkshire, but it could be anywhere, a somewhat timeless image that almost everyone can imagine and one that virtually anyone can draw, no scale or perspective required. 
From 'Common Ground'
Modern life is an ordeal, and so it was last year and last decade, last century and beyond; life and survival have always been an ordeal, the present is everything, the future a luxury and the past? well, nostalgic for one, and many prominent men and women have very different things to say about the past - 

""Every past is worth condemning." Friedrich Nietzsche"

""Only a good-for-nothing is not interested in his past." Sigmund Freud"

The great oak trees speak a different history, one in which we can delve, with a little insight and observation and portions of time. As we are sensitive to seasonal changes and aware of light and temperature variations, a visit to the local oak tree aids a distraction from modern life and draws us into unspecified realms in time and space. Like us, and all species, trees have a heritage.

natural history carries a somewhat broader significance beyond the human record and is defined by The Free Dictionary -

The study and description of living things and natural objects, especially their origins, evolution, and relationships to one another. Natural history includes the sciences of zoology, mineralogy, geology, and paleontology.

Friday, 20 January 2017


Cannon Hill Meadow
10.00am January sunburst across the meadow at Cannon Hill. Deep midwinter and mid morning beams stirring the undergrowth.
Brockley Grove

Here I briefly sunbathed with a squirrel as a male Sparrowhawk glides through in hunting mode. The crows stir.

Perhaps it's a youngster as little else seems concerned.

Brockley Grove was once a garden area, between the 1940's and 70's, now it is overgrown and lush, providing good and largely undisturbed cover. 

Badgers abound and the sett is prominent.
Brockley Grove vegetational density
January 20th 2017; a winter's day with frost and blue skies, and enough sunburst to spark the garden and woodland birds into territorial song. 
It's a mixture of dense hawthorn, hazel coppice and regenerating oak scrub, amongst coarse grassland thus providing a rich mix of feeding and shelter opportunity to many birds

Here we hear and see bullfinches abundant together with a variety of other woodland species. 
Brockley Grove scrub, woodland and grassland
The Brockley Oak complete with coding for 'crown reduction'

Today's list included - 
  1. Bullfinch
  2. Blackbird
  3. Nuthatch
  4. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  5. Stock Dove
  6. Magpie
  7. Crow
  8. Blue Tit

The Brockley Oak with winter sun