Birding Trip Report: Black Redstart at Stirchley, West Midlands Wednesday 30th January 2019
Twitching in Birmingham
Normally, when I twitch a rare bird it involves jumping in the car and driving for at least an hour to a distant site that I've usually never heard of let alone been to. But just two days after I returned from East Yorkshire, an opportunity arose to twitch a bird not only in my home county but my home city. The bird had been reported from Stirchley, an area of Birmingham lying roughly four miles to the south of the City Centre and about 5 miles west of my location near Birmingham Airport. I'd actually first heard about this bird whilst I was away, and couldn't help but laugh at the irony as I digested the news whilst sitting in a cafe in Bridlington. Paula and I had actually failed to see a female Black Redstart up at Flamborough Head, so having a fine looking male just literally down the road from my house was enough to bring on a chuckle.
I had planned to visit the bird on the 29th the day after my return to the Midlands, but the car had developed a problem with its brakes so needed fixing urgently. The 30th was the last day of my booked holiday, so I resolved to take a trip across town then. On the Tuesday night, I read people's reports with much eagerness. I saw the photos, heeded their advice e.g. parking and where to view; and even smiled as they told of their engagement with the locals who were thrilled to have such a marvellous bird on their doorstep.
Where is Stirchley?
The location of the Black Redstart
Wednesday morning loomed, I left home early partly out of eagerness to see the bird and to also try and avoid the worst of the notorious Birmingham traffic. My Jack Russell Marley was with me and he quickly made himself comfortable on the passenger seat, although every now and then he would shoot a glance at me, as if to say 'oh no here we go again!' In fairness travelling across the city was fairly easy- far easier than I anticipated and surprisingly the traffic was fairly calm. Stirchley, as an area looked very similar to my own neighbourhood. A tiny labyrinth of cramped roads, semi-detached houses and shops. As I took in the views I couldn't help but ponder whether a Black Redstart had ever decided to spend the winter in my own neighbourhood, I'd have to keep a closer eye on the rooftops including my own.
After narrowly avoiding a bus I turned into Cherington Road, the present home of the bird and raised an eyebrow at its narrowness. There was barely enough room for two cars to pass each other, and traversing down its length was all more the tricky given the fact that cars were parked all the way along. From what I could see though, all of them belonged to local residents rather than any birders. In fact I was surprised to find that there were no birders here at all. My mind then recalled how another birder who had visited the previous day had also commented on the lack of viewers. Although, given the rather sensitive location I could understand why some birders may have decided to stay away.
After failing to find a parking spot in Cherington Road itself, I tried to find a space in nearby Gristhorpe Road, but the local school and the associated traffic cancelled out that option. Instead, I decided to complete a full circle and again attempt to park in Cherington Road. As I drove up again, I noticed to my right a small avenue separated from Cherington by a small patch of grass. This was Rissington Avenue, and it was virtually car free. After parking safely, Marley and I walked up the road towards the house with the feeding station in the front garden. For privacy reasons, the exact house number had been kept quiet, so it was just a case of remaining observant. As it turned out, we would nearly walk straight past the house, I only clocked the feeding station out of the corner of my eye, and when my brain alerted me I quickly scrambled to the other side of the road conveniently hiding behind a couple of cars.
Birds, Beer and Football
After a short time, the other birders began to materialise. A couple joined me on the opposite side of road, appearing from nowhere it seems. Another birder was watching the house safely from his car. I have to admit that I felt just a tad uncomfortable standing there gazing at people’s houses. I half expected a few curtains to twitch, or some angry resident to come charging out pelting eggs at us. It had happened to a group of birders in Ipswich who had been watching Waxwings in a similar sort of area. I chatted briefly with a couple of the birders and to the lady who lived opposite, who had just returned from taking her kids to school. She’d noticed birders outside her house the previous day and was curious as to what was going on. After filling her in, she actually became quite excited and said that she couldn’t wait to tell her husband.
After about ten minutes I saw it, a small robin sized bird with a mostly black plumage, white wing patches and a rusty red tail. A male Black Redstart undoubtedly. It had been feeding in the front garden of the house before suddenly flying up to the roof giving superb views. I quickly scrambled for my camera and waited for the bird to assume an obliging position, which it did when it settled on the guttering just above the porch. I took just one photograph, and without blowing my own trumpet as soon as I saw the image on my camera screen I thought ’Blimey, that’s a good one’. I could have left right there right then, but I fancied admiring the bird a little bit more.
The birder in the car leaned out and asked if I’d gotten a photo and I showed him, he then showed me his, and we both admired each other’s photos. We then started chatting as if we were old friends. As it turned out, the birder was actually somebody I already knew; we were both members of a local birding group on Facebook, and indeed were already friends on that platform. Once we’d put names to faces, we shook hands and continued chatting about birds, the Facebook group, beer (apparently the homeowner had bought him a six pack of Carling) and Football. The Black Redstart had hidden itself away for a short time, so we continued to talk about football and the follies of supporting our local football teams- West Bromwich Albion for him and Birmingham City for me. The bird reappeared shortly after we shared a joke about Birmingham’s rather erratic goalkeeper. Camera lenses and binoculars were trained on the male as it sat on the front garden wall. I failed to get a photo on this occasion though, as I was far too slow, but still I was more than satisfied with the one and only photo I’d got. After bidding farewell to my birding friend, Marley and I walked the short distance back to the car. To be fair my little dog had been as good as gold. He hadn’t barked, whined or done anything to grab my attention. He’d simply stood there sniffing the air, so it was only fair that I rewarded him with a good brisk walk.
A Walk Around the Patch
Marley and I would conclude our morning by making the short journey to Trittiford Mill Pool in Yardley Wood. It had been rather cold over the previous few days, so it was no surprise to find that pool was at least 80% frozen. After parking in the small car park just off Priory Mill Road, Marley and I completed two quick laps of the pool, where I noted 4 Goosanders (Common Merganser) and a single Greylag Goose in amongst the numerous Canada Geese, that often cross Priory Mill Road to graze on the grassy verge in the middle. They are both a source of great joy and annoyance amongst the locals.
After Trittiford, we travelled a couple of miles to Moseley and to Swanshurst Park to check the Gulls. The previous two winters had seen it play host to a fine looking juvenile Iceland Gull, but thus far it has failed to return. It has also played host to another Gull, an individual that has generated plenty of debate in regards to its origins. To some it is a pure Yellow-legged Gull. However, anomalies in its plumage and general profile have led many to conclude that its more likely a hybrid between a Yellow-legged Gull and Caspian Gull. Admittedly though, on this visit the star birds were a fine Great Crested Grebe looking resplendent in full breeding plumage and a good number of Northern Shovelers- 13 individuals in total. Lucky for some. As the clock struck 12, Marley and I returned home, satisfied and happy with a great morning of birding in my home city.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 James Kenny