Posted by: lensweb | April 30, 2021

We all meet again, LENS at Coombes Valley

Mon Apr 26 Coombes Valley RSPB Reserve, woodland birds

Meet 10.30am in reserve car park, (ST13 7EU) for morning walk, target species redstart & pied flycatcher.

RSPB Coombes Valley, on the southern edge of the Staffordshire Moorlands, is the oldest RSPB reserve in the Midlands. The nature reserve covers 100 hectares of mixed broadleaved woodland and grassland in a steep sided valley draining into the upper Trent. It opened in 1962 when it was home to the last breeding pair of sparrowhawks in Staffordshire.

Due to social distancing we all had to travel separately so we were glad the reserve had a large car park. This costs £4 but is free to RSPB members. How delighted were we to all meet again after such a long hiatus due to the pandemic. Paul Burton, the RSPB warden and introduced us to the reserve, it’s history and aims. The first warden was Maurice Skevington (?) and he devoted a lot of time to identifying arboreal beetles which is why the reserve is known to be one of the best RSPB reserves in the country for biodiversity.

Paul had just returned from a 2 year sabbatical assessing the status of the willow tit in the Midlands (a stronghold for the species) and so this was only the second guided walk he had led. Splitting us into two groups of six, one group walked ahead and the other group followed after a short interval. Our progress was slow through the steep sided valley, so that Paul was able to dart back and forth from one group to the other and no-one missed out.

Paul is attuned to bird song and always has one ear listening so that he can interpret the woodland vibe. Every month he gets up at 4am to write down what birds he can hear at 10 fixed point listening posts.

We saw a pair of redstarts first, fly catching quite low down from a bush, the sun shone through and lit up the bright orange tail. The redstart seemed to start singing well but seemed to lack confidence and stopped mid-song to say ‘oh really’ and then forgot what it was saying!.

As we turned off the easy path to some steps uphill through oak, birch and holly woodland Paul explained how his twice weekly work party had battled with the holly scrub to make horizontal flight lines. The birds had appreciated this and now there were six nest boxes occupied by pied flycatchers. As a group we paused and listened to the birds as Paul urged us to ‘tune in’. Pied flycatchers are one of the easier birds to spot looking a bit like miniature flying penguins. A male posed on a nearby branch,‘chee chee chee’.

As we slowly meandered through the semi-ancient woodland with its scarred oak trees and understorey of recumbent boughs with holly fighting back, woodpeckers were drumming and the black white and red of a great spotted woodpecker is a splendid sight. It sometimes seemed that there was a chiffchaff or a willow warbler singing from the top of every tree.

After Paul left the group for other duties, we sat by the pond and had a picnic in the sun, small tortoiseshell, peacock, orange-tip and green-veined white butterflies chased each other over the heath. Ashy mining bees emerged from the ground as we slowly wandered back, past the old lodge house, over the Coombe Brook, pausing to admire the pretty pink purslane, lesser celandine and opposite leaved yellow saxifrage. We looked in vain for the resident dipper which had absconded to a nearby pool.

There are five star species to tick off on a visit to Coombes Valley RSPB Nature Reserve, Dipper, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Wood Warbler. As we had only ticked off three of these, we will have to return soon, to sit on one of those handy benches and tick off the last two.

Marion Bryce 26 April 2021

Thanks to Joan Breakwell for organising this outing and to Nigel Downes who photographed the birds.

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