Visitors to Warley Woods on an overcast, very windy Saturday 29th January may have noticed a group of 35 people gazing into the trees and bushes around the carpark. They were taking part in Warley Woods's version of The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. This guided walk has been the first event of the year in the Warley Woods calendar since 2007. I was particularly delighted that we could hold the walk in person this year, unlike in 2021 when Lockdown rules had prevented this. We were fully booked with people aged from 7 to over 70. Our youngest birdwatcher was so excited that he had been up with his binoculars ready since 5am!I was ably assisted by two young volunteers, George Lee-Harris and my daughter, Emma Coleman. George and Emma had both taken part in Wild Warley projects: conservation work and Breeding Bird surveys. It is good to see that Wild Warley is inspiring more volunteers with an interest in nature and the environment to get involved.

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch started 40 years ago and is the world’s largest wildlife survey, with over a million people taking part last year. ‘Shockingly, we have lost 38 million birds from UK skies in the last 50 years, so it really is vital that we do all we can to look after our birdlife’ (RSPB). Warley Woods is an important local habitat and home to many species. The Big Garden Birdwatch methodology means that observers record the maximum number of each species of bird seen together. It is not a running total, so in a large site like Warley Woods, numbers of birds are under-recorded using this method. However, it still gives us a useful snapshot of the species present in January and allows us to compare with data from previous years.

We began the walk from the carpark and headed down the pedestrian path running between the main drive and the golf course. Doug Barber and the Wild Warley volunteers have done a lot of work in this area, clearing back invasive species and allowing in more light. This is usually a good area to spot Robins, Blackbirds and Thrushes foraging on the ground as well as Blue Tits and Great Tits in the trees. We did see a pair of Blackbirds here and several Great Tits. A pair of Stock Doves were perched in the cleft of a beech tree. The Robins, however, were rather elusive – perhaps reluctant to venture out in the cold wind and preferring to shelter in the dense holly thickets.We followed the path along the edge of the Golf Course and were rewarded with clear views of a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the mature trees to our right. We believe that there are 4 nesting pairs of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in Warley Woods; this is about the maximum number for a site of this size. Woodpeckers, and other species such as Nuthatch and Treecreeper, feed on insects in the bark of trees and benefit from the standing deadwood which the Trust leaves as one of the ways we manage the Woods for biodiversity.

Approaching the stand of beech trees next to the 7th fairway, we heard the distinctive ‘squeaky dog toy’ calls of the Ring-necked Parakeets. This colourful, tropical species first made an appearance on the January Bird Walk as recently as 2018 when three birds were spotted. There are now three nesting colonies in the Woods. It is likely that the Warley Woods parakeets are from the well established colony at Sandwell Valley. On this occasion, two parakeets were huddled together on a branch near their roosting site. It was also a sound that alerted us to the presence of a charm of 15 Goldfinches. These beautiful birds form large flocks in the winter and listening out for their characteristic high-pitched twittering is a good way to spot them.

We continued the walk, heading towards The Rose Garden. Eagle-eyed Emma spotted a Goldcrest in the conifers – this is one of Britain’s smallest birds and prefers conifers, flitting quickly from branch to branch. George helped to identify a group of three Greenfinches in this area, after we first wondered if they were winter visiting finches, Siskins, which can look rather similar. Greenfinches are now on the Red List of UK Birds as their population has suffered a dramatic decline in recent years, due in part to a disease Trichomonosis, which was first seen in 2006. 

The Rose Garden, with its mixture of conifers, beech and hedgerow is good place for smaller woodland birds such as Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Goldcrest. We had excellent views of a pair of Nuthatch, a beautiful woodland specialist and one of the key species in Warley Woods, as well as a mixed group of tits.

The Wilderness provides a different ‘urban mosaic’ habitat with scrub, hedgerows and a few larger trees. I'd hoped that we might see one of my favourite birds here – the Bullfinch. However, the Wild Warley Group were working on the pond and we were quite a large group and could potentially disturb these shy birds.

At the top of the steps we had good views of two Coal Tits and a Long-tailed tit in the willows. Then, along the hedge bordering the golf course we spotted both two strikingly colourful males and one sepia-toned female. Our youngest birdwatcher also noticed a Wren hopping through the scrub. A pair of Bullfinches was first recorded in the 2011 Bird Walk and the Breeding Bird Survey recorded three pairs, usually around the Wilderness area. 

Leaving The Wilderness, we turned right and headed down the path towards The Fountain. We stopped where the path overlooks the playground. This is a good vantage point for birdwatching and I told the group we could hope to see Mistle Thrushes or Jays. Right on cue, a pair of Jays flew in, really close to us, showing their beautiful pink and blue markings.

By now our allotted hour was almost complete and we headed back along the Main Drive towards the Pavilion. I was delighted to spot two Siskins near the culvert; George, meanwhile was pointing out another woodpecker. Our walk finished with the dramatic sight of a Buzzard being mobbed by Carrion Crows over the Meadow – another good spot for the January Bird Walk. Emma told the group that she often spotted ‘The Bearwood Buzzard’ when travelling from school on the Number 11 bus. Counting up our total over a cup of coffee, we recorded 22 different species within the hour. Not bad for an urban park!

It is always good to see the joy and enthusiasm for our Warley Woods birds. Please do visit the Warley Woods website and take a look at the Wild Warley pages to find out more and to get involved. Doug and I are looking forward to delivering Spring Breeding Birds Survey training coming up in March.

Liz Coleman

This article was originally written for The LEAFlet - our newsletter.  The newsletter is one of the benefits of being a member of the Community and always contains a range of articles on history, golf, nature and other subjects.  You get the news and under the surface of the Trust - we hope leading to a better appreciation of Warley Woods itself and the charity that manages it.  If you would like to hear more and receive the full newsletter, then please join the Trust.  It is the small donations from all our kind supporters that helps us take care of Warley Woods today and for future generations.  Thank you

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