West Midland Bird Club

Edgbaston Park, 1937

This article first appeared in the Birmingham (latterly West Midland) Bird Club Report for 1937.

Bird and place names were spelt as shown.


The Birds of Edgbaston Park.

When considering the bird-life of Edgbaston Park [1] it is hard to realise that this lies so very close to the centre of a great city. The upper end is about 3/4 mile from the busy shops of Five Ways, and the lower boundary is even nearer to the noisy works and crowded houses of Selly Oak.

The Hall stands on the south side of Edgbaston Old Church, on a ridge of high ground that rises up from the Beech Spinney. The Pool is at the foot of the sloping ground and on the West side the Park is flat and heavily wooded. The long dam at the lower end of the Pool extends from this woodland to the little bog under the Beech spinney and below the dam is the swamp of Boggy Wood. Then come the meadows of the ancient Spurrier's Mill that go down to the Bristol Road. The old mill pool is now dried up and its site covered with rushes. The area of the Park was formerly 111 acres but the extension to Bristol Road has added another 30 acres. The Pool until about 1900 covered 22 acres but most unfortunately the extent of open water is now greatly reduced.

The estate was leased in 1936 to the Edgbaston Golf Club and certain alterations were rendered necessary to adapt it to its new purpose. These have been most carefully and skillfully planned so as to affect as little as possible the original wild character and beauty of the Park. The west side and Boggy Wood are left untouched as a Nature Reserve and a deep debt of gratitude is due to all who have made this possible.

The following notes cover a period of some 70 years, and although observations have not always been systematic the total number of species of birds recorded to date is 111. It is believed that this is a complete list except for some 5 or 6 species probably overlooked (e.g. Wheatear, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Goldfinch, Shoveller). The mammals and plant life of the Park are also of great interest. To save space Latin names are omitted, and for the same reason the more common species are not referred to, but only those of special interest.

The Redstart is not common but nested in 1890 and probably in 1934, and has occurred in other years. A Nightingale sang regularly in 1883 and was also reported in 1897 and 1900, but the latter cases were very possibly Blackcap or Garden Warbler which come in most years. The Wood Wren [2] is rare and the Grasshopper Warbler especially so. The Golden Crested Wren [3] is sometimes seen in Winter months, but not in recent years. The Dipper was recorded by Mr. Nicolson in September 1934 beside the brook by Boggy Wood. The Long- tailed Tit is uncommon but a party of five was seen in March 1904. There is usually a pair of Nuthatches near the Beech Spinney and I think occasionally a second pair in the Park. The Tree Creeper is generally to be seen and nests here. One nest was built behind a loose strip of bark and was plastered with mud round the entrance so as to reduce the aperture of the split. The Grey Wagtail was first noted on Aug. 5th 1935, an immature bird feeding on the mud, and since that date there have been several records. The Yellow Wagtail is sometimes seen and has nested nearby. A Pied Flycatcher was observed by Mrs. John Cadbury for a few days in the Spring of 1928. The Hawfinch used to nest very many years ago in the old Hawthorns. A flock of eight Bramblings in beautiful plumage was feeding on the seed of tall weeds close to us on Dec. 29th 1934. The Redpoll has been noted by Mr. W. Kenrick and the Reed Bunting is a regular visitor in increasing numbers.

Jays are not common now, and Magpies are not so abundant as a few years ago when a flock of 15 was seen in an adjoining field. Carrion Crows roost in the Park in large numbers, and a Hooded Crow was seen here in February 1905. The great Rookery by Priory Road began to diminish about 1901 and other colonies were formed in Harborne and Edgbaston, and by 1921 the ancient home was finally deserted. On the East shore of the Pool there formerly stood a little group of old alders and in a hollow in a trunk a pair of Starlings usually nested. One Spring soon after the young were hatched a gale blew the tree over into the Pool. The nest-hole was upside down and lay close to the surface of the water, but the young were not thrown out and the pair of old birds somehow managed to feed the family and eventually got them all safely away.

The Nightjar is a great rarity so close to a big city, but in June 1894 one was heard and seen by the upper end of the Park and one (possibly the same bird) was "churring" in Westbourne Road, Edgbaston. Cockchafers were plentiful here that year. Wrynecks used to come here regularly until about 1875, and I am told were generally about the old Crabapple trees on the East side of the Park. The three Woodpeckers all occur but the Green is very unusual. One was watched in May 1899, but in spite of a sharp lookout there was no other record until April 4th 1936 when I was remarking on its absence and actually as I spoke a Green Woodpecker began to laugh. He stayed about here for two or three months. The Great Spotted may almost always be seen or heard, and probably two pairs nest here-one in Boggy Wood and another near the island. The Lesser Spotted has often been seen and heard, but there is no proof of its nesting.

The Kingfisher is a resident and nests here, and there are still sometimes two pairs I believe. Mr. Keep and I once saw a beautiful sight as we sat by the Pool. A Kingfisher flew up and hovered close to us about four feet above the water of a little creek that had a gravel bottom. Evidently it saw minnows there but feared to dive in such shallow water. It hung with such rapid wing-beats that it appeared absolutely motionless as though on an invisible wire, like a big Humming-bird. After about twenty seconds it darted away, but shortly returned and repeated the wonderful performance.

The Park can claim four species of Owl. The Barn Owl is rare but has certainly nested here, probably two or three times, and there are about six records between 1892 and 1936. The Brown Owl is a resident and one pair usually nests, and occasionally there are two pairs. In August 1937 three young birds were making most amusing efforts to hoot which generally ended in a breakdown and a querulous squeak. The pair of old birds were meanwhile calling to them in Boggy Wood. The Little Owl was introduced in 1910 although I suspected a pair in 1903. 1 believe there is now usually one nesting pair and in August 1935 a pair of old and two young were calling to one another, the latter uttering most weird and extraordinary cries. Usually this cry began with a full clear whistle with variations. This then developed into a high-pitched clattering note and ended in a thin squeal. I do not think it was known that a whistle was in a class="vernacular"Little Owl's repertory. Recent intensive study has shown this species to be undeserving of its bad reputation. The Long-eared Owl is reported by Mr. Gillett. One or two came each Spring for a few years prior to 1932.

A Harrier, believed to be Montagu's, was shot many years ago in Boggy Wood but data are unfortunately lacking. The Sparrow Hawk was formerly frequent and nested on several occasions. One was recorded on 1936 by Mr. Alexander and Mr. Groves. In July 1922 a family party were watched playing together and sweeping through the trees, and some years before this five were flying and screaming above Boggy Wood. We saw one of the birds drop its prey while high in the air and another instantly swooped and caught it after it had fallen about 30 feet. The Kestrel is often seen and has nested. On June 20th 1931 seven were playing in the evening near the Hall, one circling to a great height just like a Buzzard.

A Shag, a very rare visitor, was shot on the Pool about sixty years ago. The Heron was formerly much more frequent but still comes occasionally. Seven were once seen standing on the bare boughs of an old oak by the Pool. Wild Geese were occasionally seen or heard flying overhead many years ago and five grey Geese came down to the Pool in December 1927 but the species was not identified. A pair of Canada Geese, apparently quite wild, nested on the island in 1886 and there have been subsequent records of visits in March 1931, &c. The Whooper is one of the greatest rarities seen here. A herd of nine arrived in march 1891 and stayed for a few days. They were very shy and noisy.

Many Mallard used to nest, and a few pairs still do so. A flock of about 350 was here in January 1889. Wigeon are regular Winter visitors, more frequent than they used to be, and Teal sometimes come, though not so often as in former years. Goldeneye do not seem to care for the Pool although Mr. H. K. Beale recorded two ducks on November 4th 1934 and Mr. Wm. Kenrick one duck on February 2nd 1931. Tufted Ducks have greatly increased in recent years and are now regular visitors and one or two birds often stay all the year. On August 6th 1935 my son watched a duck with six small ducklings and we soon saw the drake come up and join them. This is probably the first nesting record in this district. Pochard nested on the Pool in 1866, also the first record, I believe, for the district. No more were noted till December 1897 when a flock of about 200 arrived, and another 20 birds two months later. After that small numbers came constantly and for many years have been regular visitors. In March 1933 there were about 150 but for the last few years they have not been quite so plentiful.

Wood Pigeons are fairly common, but it is many years since we had great flocks of immigrants, probably from Scandinavia, such as there were about 1888. On January 14th of that year there was a flock of quite 300 in the Park. Stock Doves nested in the old hollow trunks but are not now quite so common. The Turtle Dove is infrequent.

Pheasant nested in 1888 in the Beech Spinney and Partridges also came into the Park. Corncrakes were formerly in the adjoining meadows, but the first sign of their steady decrease was noted in 1903 and for very many years none have been heard. Meadows run up from the Park to a house at the back of which is a long yard with a cottage and outbuildings and barn. One day a Corncrake flew up from the meadow, past some dogs and the yard buildings to the cottage. The door was open and the cat was lying across the threshold. The bird flew over the cat and into the house and went through the first room into the kitchen where it sat down. We were called and caught the bird which did not seem frightened. It was uninjured and on letting it go it ran off into the long grass. A Water Rail was heard in the deep rush bed by the island in 1926 and again on July 26th 1929.

Grey Phalarope - this very rare visitor has been recorded on the Pool, I think about 1893 when two were shot at Cannon Hill Park. Woodcock come at long intervals but sometimes stay for some time. One was here in November 1888 and there are five later records including a bird seen by Mr. Groves on April 7th 1937. Snipe are frequent. The Common Sandpiper is a pretty regular visitor and may have nested in 1899 as a young bird was shot by the Pool out of a small party on July 15th. The last occurrence was on August 19th 1937. Redshanks and Ringed Plover are very rare. Golden Plover sometimes pass over in hard winters, a flock of ten being seen on February 21st 1929.

A Common tern stayed for some weeks on the Pool in June 1888 and was often watched at close quarters, as it allowed the boat to come quite near while it fished or rested on a post. Another came on May 18th 1890 and remained for some time and another was seen on May 25th 1899. An Arctic Tern was picked up by the Park palings in a dying state in October 1891. The White-winged Black Tern is our greatest rarity. This Marsh Tern only visits the British Isles at intervals of some years, coming from Central and South East Europe. On May 27th 1927 when in the Park with Dr. Ratcliffe to my amazement I saw one of these birds flying about over the Pool. It was in Summer plumage, and as we watched it for over an hour at fairly close quarters its distinguishing features were clearly seen-deep black head and back and breast, pure white shoulder patch, rump, tail, and upper and under tail coverts, whitish wings and dark blackish grey under-wing. It swooped down to the surface two or three times and once dived quickly and a few times uttered a sharp creaking note, not so shrill as that of a Common Tern. It usually flew about twenty feet above the water. It was a striking and beautiful bird.

Of the Gulls, a Great Black-backed was shot by Spurriers Pool in February 1916, a Kittiwake flew about close to us on January 24th 1931 and the Black-headed often occurs. Probably other species have been seen but not definitely identified. The Dabchick was apparently not a regular visitor much before 1927, but since then has nested each year and there are now usually two pairs, In January 1933 when the Pool was frozen over and was open to skaters a pair of Dabchicks was busy diving in a little patch of open water near the Island and took no notice of the crowd of skaters passing constantly close by them. The Great Crested Grebe first came in 1888 but in a year or two became established and twelve have been seen at the same time on the Pool. When the Grebe Census was taken in 1931 we found on August 29th five old and three young birds, which probably meant three nesting pairs and one young surviving from each pair. They never stay here all winter.

C. W. K. W.


[1] Edgbaston Park is the grounds of Edgbaston Hall, formerly the home of William Withering. The hall is now the "19th Hole" of a golf club, and not open to the public.

[2] Wood Warbler.

[3] Goldcrest.

© West Midland Bird Club, 147 World's End Lane, Birmingham, England B32 1JX
Registered charity, number 213311

Ornithology in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire & the West Midlands county, since 1929.

Fetched from http://www.westmidlandbirdclub.com/archive/edgbaston-37 on Sunday 20 April 2014 21:56:21

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