Blithfield is a 800-acre (324 hectare) drinking-water supply reservoir, situated to the West of Abbotts Bromley in Staffordshire, at SK0524 . It is operated by South Staffordshire Water plc, who have granted a lease to the West Midland Bird Club for the issue permits for the purpose of observing and recording birds and for the study of natural history. It was opened in 1953 to supply water to the growing conurbation around North Birmingham, and its large size and position close to the "flyways" of the Tame and Trent valleys have ensured its status as one of the most important sites for wetland birds in the Midlands. The site was first leased by Club as a reserve in the 1970s and this arrangement continues, ensuring that the changes in the birdlife of the site are able to be observed and recorded. Recently, we set up a Blithfield Group, to coordinate our work at Blithfield.
Inevitably with such a large body of water, the bulk of the birds attracted to the site are water birds such as ducks and grebes, and nationally important numbers of Tufted Ducks and Great Crested Grebe are present on occasion. The slowly shelving sides leading to deeper water provide feeding opportunities for both dabbling and diving ducks which occur in their thousands during the Winter, with the calls of Wigeon and others mingling evocatively to provide real 'atmosphere' during a visit. Sawbilled ducks have become a feature of the site in recent years with Goosanders occurring in large numbers, particularly during the early months of the year, and Smew being regular visitors as they move between Blithfield and their regular haunts in the river-valley gravel pits.
During late Summer, with rainfall low and water consumption at its highest, Blithfield is often subjected to some dramatic drops in water level, exposing large areas of mud thet provides suitable feeding habitat for wading birds which begin to arrive in good numbers from July onwards. These birds are a main feature of the site and in Autumn you are guaranteed to see flocks of Dunlin and other waders as they roam the sides of the reservoir in search of invertebrate food to fuel their southwards journey. Several species of wading birds can often be present at the same time and Blithfield will 'produce' regionally rare birds every year, with national rarities such as Baird's Sandpiper and White-Rumped Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs occuring every so often. Even with little change in water levels as has been seen in some recent summers the reservoir sides provide plenty to feed on, and the shallower water in the arms of the reservoir are always a wader "hotspot" although high water levels usually means a longer walk for birders to find them! As with most large water-bodies close to a river system Blithfield will attract a range of terns during the spring and autumn months, with Black Tern possible during the appropriate weather conditions in May, and both Common Tern and Arctic Tern passing through every year, along with some less frequent relatives.
With the onset of the winter months the number of gulls visiting the West Midland region begin to increase. These birds often look to feed on waste-disposal sites in the region but use large areas of open water on which roost and have provided some most spectacular evening sights as thousands congregate to roost in January and February. Black-headed Gull are by far the most numerous of the gulls visiting Blithfield but in any large flock there's a strong chance of an unusual species, with Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull being regular, and in the past Blithfield has played host to real rarities such as Bonaparte's Gull.
The birds do of course attract birdwatchers and the coverage of the site means that passerine rarities (such as the 1993 Arctic Warbler) are occasionally found, but even without this excitement Blithfield will always hold birds of interest and provide a great day's birding!
Blithfield's large size and long streches of shoreline means that you have lots of options! The north side of the reservoir is perhaps a good starting point and, if arriving by car, parking near to the Education Centre will allow you to drop down easily into either arm for a view into both Tad and Blithe Bays where many of the ducks and waders congregate, and from there a walk round Beech Tree Point would make a good circuit if you only have a short time available. A telescope is essential for viewing the distant birds and allows inspection of any bird flocks without disturbing them. A start from either end of the Causeway enables coverage of the open-water areas and would be the ideal place to start a day's birding if you do have the time to walk the entire site.
Several parts of the reservoir are visible from public areas such as the causeway, car parks adjacent to it, and a stretch of Watery Lane.
Access to the reserve is free for members who join at the "inclusive" rate.
For other members, permits can be obtained, on an individual basis.
Permit Holders may walk the entire perimeter of the reservoir.
The reserve is not open to the public, but organised groups wishing to visit should contact our secretary.
Vehicular access is possible via several roads around the site, with car parking available to permit holders at both ends of the causeway, near the dam at the south end, and at the Education Centre near Stansley Wood, as well as other points around the site. Please note that some access gates require the use of a key if you wish to enter by car: keys can be collected from the engineer's office during working hours, for a small administration charge. Permit holders may take their cars along some banks of the reservoir as marked on the map. Please park with reasonable consideration for others. Do not leave valuable items in your car and ensure that the vehicle is locked. Windscreen stickers, issued by the Club to permit holders, should be on display in any car parked at Blithfield.
Disabled access to Blithfield is possible in some areas, and may be impossible in others. To the north of the causeway, Admaston Reach would provide views to Blithe Bay, and it is also possible to take a car down to Beech Tree Point, although do note that a locked gate would need to be opened in both cases. Stansley Wood does have a metalled path that leads down to the water's edge from the Education Centre. Views of the water to the south of the causeway can be obtained from both ends of main road, and also from areas near to the dam at the south of the reservoir.
All reserve visitors must read and follow the rules and regulations for the site which are posted in the Stansley Wood Hide.
A PDF (Portable Document Format) map, showing both location and layout of Blithfield , suitable for printing (218Kb).
Ornithology in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire & the West Midlands county, since 1929.
Fetched fromon Sunday 19 May 2013 21:07:38
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