Sunday, 4 August 2013

Doxey Marshes v Upton Warren

We had the idea that while we are in the UK we would try to visit at least a few of what were once our regular birding sites around the West Midlands and maybe fit in a trip a bit further afield.  We have plenty of other distractions but we hoped that this vague plan would ensure that we get out and see at least some birds while we are here. 

We started by going to our local reservoirs, Blithfield and Belvide, and since then we’ve been birding on Cannock Chase, at Doxey Marshes, at Chillington and at Upton Warren, all of these places where we have spent many happy hours over the years. 

We have blogged already about Blithfield and Belvide; our time on Cannock Chase has been in the evenings, mostly looking for and at Nightjars; we spent an enjoyable sunny afternoon at Chillington looking as much for butterflies as for birds.

Just 40 miles apart, Doxey Marshes and Upton Warren, one in Staffordshire and the other in Worcestershire, are very similar in some respects but in others they are also very different.  Both are reserves managed by county wildlife trusts, both have several pools that have formed as a result of land subsidence following brine extraction, both are bisected by rivers (the Sow and the Salwarpe) and both are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Amongst the birds we saw at Upton Warren last week were more than 80 Lapwings, 20 Curlews, 14 Green Sandpipers, 7 Avocets, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Dunlin, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Common Redshank and several Common Terns.  We were able to watch these from several well-positioned hides that overlook the best areas of the reserve.

 Juvenile Avocet at Upton Warren

Upton Warren Flashes

Other than a few Lapwings, our earlier visit to Doxey Marshes produced no waders at all.  There were plenty of Canada Geese and at least three pairs of Mute Swans appeared to have bred successfully but really they weren’t what we had hoped for!  The view from the only hide was certainly unrewarding, the water level on what we laughingly refer to as ‘the scrape’ being suitable for ducks but not shorebirds.

 Mute Swans at Doxey Marshes

View from the hide at Doxey Marshes

Where Doxey and Upton Warren differ is in the way that they have been managed over the years and their current condition which results from that management.  Staffs Wildlife Trust has undoubtedly had difficulties to contend with.  Flood alleviation work involving the re-grading and deepening of the river have certainly had a detrimental effect and it seems that the agreement and co-operation of the Internal Drainage Board and the Environment Agency are needed before anything can be done to achieve better control of water levels.  There is also the complication that subsidence is continuing.  Four years ago the IDB and the EA were said to have begun implementation of a water level management plan to create better habitats for ground nesting and migrating birds on the reserve but there is precious little sign of that being successful or of breeding success for any of the waders that support the reserve’s status as an SSSI.  Maybe there are factors that we don’t know about.  It probably doesn’t help that the SWT newsletter Marsh Warblings, which used to keep us informed about Doxey, has been discontinued and that no Annual Report has been published since 2009.

Moors Pool, Upton Warren

At Upton Warren amongst the species that have bred on the reserve this year are Avocet, Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Common Tern and Black-headed Gull.  As evidenced by what we saw during our visit, conditions are currently just right for wading birds and local birders can certainly look forward with optimism to the coming weeks of migration season.  Worcs Wildlife Trust and everyone involved with the management of the reserve are to be congratulated.  Although we no longer visit there with the regularity we once did, it’s one of the main reasons that we continue our membership and support of WWT.  Maybe if we weren’t going back to the Algarve, we would think of moving down there.

Doxey Marshes v Upton Warren?  It really is no contest!

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