BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

August 2nd - I suspect you readers might be getting fed up with my obsession with swans, but with several local broods this year it’s made me more aware of these fascinating birds and their habits.

This afternoon, the Catshill brood - still at an impressive seven plus mum and dad - were on the canal between Catshill Junction and the Pier Street bridge, just to the rear of Lindon Drive.

They were doing something I never knew that swans would do - they were eating blackberries from brambles growing at the canal side. The youngsters were positively devouring the fruit.

I never knew they ate such things. 

When they realised I was watching, they regrouped, and headed off.

July 20th - A day coloured mainly by the sad news of the loss of a good man, but as I rode the canal mid-afternoon, taking it gentle, I reflected on life. I noted a family of 4 cygnets and mum - dad seems to be gone - doing well up in Walsall Wood. I think they’re from up the canal in Pelsall. They are healthy birds, clearly getting by just fine.

Further down the water at Catshill Junction, the swans from Catshill still numbered seven youngsters and two parents. Nature is cruel, but the cycle of life continues.

I’ve grown very attached to these birds, have many of the local residents. It’s odd that we take such beautiful but grumpy and obstreperous characters to our hearts, but we do.

We feel great sadness at the toll of nature, and predators. But that’s the roll of nature’s dice, and it was ever thus.

And life continues, as it always has.

June 29th - Also showing well was the landscape. From the view down to Sandhills and Springhill over Home Farm, to the threatening skies over Hammerwich, the countryside looked gorgeous. Everywhere I surveyed was turning colour with ripening crops.

This people, is Brownhills. It has some remarkably beautiful views.

June 29th - I wasn’t feeling so hot, and after the canalside festival, headed for a spin up to Chasewater, just to get some air. I must say, the hay fever is playing havoc with me this year.

The canal is teaming with life at the moment, from the growing families of waterfowl - the swan family still stand at 7 and they’re getting huge now - to dragon and damselflies, water lilies and some rather large fish. It’s a fascinating place at the moment, and well worth a walk if you fancy it.

It didn’t help my hay fever in the slightest, but it did take my mind off the sneezing…

June 26th - Without my trusty camera, the phone was employed again on the way home - but I hate it, and inadvertently set it to take square images, which are no use to man nor beast.

I took some photos of a lovely black and white puss that walked out of the hedge in Green Lane, and mewed a greeting at me, but the images were terrible. Just as well that I noticed this impressive pile drilling machine on the building site near Catshill Juntion. It will be drilling foundation piles for the new maisonettes here.

That’s a large drill bit and an impressively complex piece of equipment. Bet it would be fun to play with…

June 7th - Bad news, I’m afraid, but not totally unexpected. 

I dived out in the rain, got something to eat, and as I left, the sun came out. As the landscape gently steamed, I headed to Chasewater along the canal. I saw the swan family, who had numbered 8 cygnets with mum and dad, were now down to 7. The lost one could have been predated by a fox, stoat or mink, or could have died of illness or other cause. 

One of the reasons swans have large broods is due to the loss that’s somewhat inevitable. It’s very sad, but an unfortunate fact of nature. 

The remaining family seemed happy and well enough.

Don’t be too alarmed, but it is sobering and a reminder that nature is red in tooth and claw.

June 3rd - I headed back to Brownhills along the canal, avoiding the rain-maddened traffic. Rounding Catshill Junction, I noticed that the sculpture here ‘Cycle of Life’ by Ron Thompson & Julie Edwards, is again being consumed by the scrub. This sculpture - of which I’m not a fan, to be honest - was unveiled in 2005 as part of the canal refurbishment; the position of the artwork is so far from the towpaths that the detail of it can barely be appreciated, and it’s always felt a bit of an afterthought to me. 

Now, there’s a new development of flats and houses being constructed on the other side of the fence and the sculpture is more isolated than ever. I do hope the plans for the newbuild have taken this into account. 

Ideally, it would be nice it the piece could be moved to somewhere nearby where the public can actually see the detail in the metalwork. A bit of a missed opportunity, really.

May 26th - The family that preens together, stays together. Cute as buttons, fighting fit - 8 cygnets on the canal at Catshill, Brownhills.

The music is ‘Peppermint Patty’ as played by the remarkable George Winston, but originally by Vince Guaraldi.

This one’s for Woz, because he’s off his feet at the mo, and can’t go look for himself.

May 26th - After not seeing them for two weeks, my swan magnet was finally on again as I headed up the canal at Brownhills. On this warm but generally overcast afternoon, it was clearly time for the family ablutions and the whole family of 2 adults and 8 cygnets were preening and bathing. They’ve approximately doubled in size since I last saw them, and look healthy and contented.

So pleased the couple finally got a brood after all these years.

Please though - if you see them, and want to feed them - give them seed, not bread. Bread has no nutritional value to wildfowl like swans and ducks, and can kill the little ones.

May 16th - Early summer, I guess now. I noted yesterday the dog roses in Tyburn, Birmingham, yet hadn’t noticed the highly fragrant bush on Clayhanger Common, just by the canal near Catshill Junction. This time of year is predominantly purple, pink and blue for flowers. Close by, a gorgeous cornflower, and a tiny, delicate vetch.

The flowers will be excellent for the next month or so. Bring it on!

May 11th - I’d really not been well. My stomach was bad, and my body ached, so it was just as well the weather during the day was poor, as I didn’t feel like I’d missed much. I got out at dusk, and took in the sunset, spinning up a wet canal towpath to check up on the swan family. Sadly, I didn’t catch them - once the cygnets hatch, they tend to move around a lot so I’m not overly concerned - but I did catch an impressive sky. 

In the distance, I could see it was raining still out towards Tamworth. A fitting end to a pretty horrible day.

May 9th - They’ve finally done it - and what a brood! The swans that nest every year at Catshill, Brownhills (yes, it’s the same pair), who for years have not had cygnets have just hatched eight grey balls of fluff.

I saw them this afternoon - the nest was empty, and mum and dad were further up the canal, showing the chicks their world. As Warren Parry pointed out after I posted yesterday, it’s eight, not seven little birds. Eight is a fairly large family, and they all look healthy. I feel quite emotional over it.

Please, if you go to see them, don’t be tempted to feed them bread. It has no nutritional value for the birds and can be fatal for the wee cygnets. If you want to feed them, a little wild bird seed will do.

May 8th - It’s rare that I’m too early for something, but today I was just that. At Catshill, the swans who’re sitting the nest there have been causing some speculation. I think this is the third or so nest in exactly this spot, and a pair of birds have nested on this stretch of canal for at least five years, and in that time, none have yielded cygnets.

This year, I’ve avoided overt comment, as I didn’t want to jinx the couple. I’m not convinced it’s the same pair as last year, as I haven’t caught a glimpse of the legs and the rings yet. When I passed today, what I assume to be mum was on the nest asleep, and her partner nearby, similarly in repose.

Also watching the nest carefully has been Warren ‘Ogley Dirt Farmer’ Parry. We’ve both separately seen a bird turning the eggs. Today, the scene for me was serene and undisturbed.

Warren passed this way sometime after me, and observed no less than seven newly hatched cygnets, out with mum and dad. I feel quite emotional. 

They might hiss at me and flap, but I’m very fond of that swan couple…

April 3rd - the mist, poor air and lack of sun means something remarkable is happening unnoticed. In the last week, the trees, hedgerows and shrubs have mostly been bursting into leaf. The deciduous copse at the rear of the new pond in Clayhanger is alive with willow, oak, birch and elder, all sprouting a variety of foliage. At Catshill, the blackthorn blossom is gorgeous, and everywhere there are the vivd greens of fresh growth. 

If the sun would only shine, they’d positively glow.

March 21st - Off to Chasewater for the first time in a while, I took the canal up from Brownhills. Spring is everywhere; in the hedgerows, in the fields, on the water. Despite a grim wind, birds were bountiful, and the sun, when you caught it, was warm. 

My favourite tree at Home Farm is still in winter mode, but the field surrounding it is a warm green. At Catshill, the swan-pair with three unsuccessful breeding years behind them are having another go, and the landmarks of Hammerwich tested the zoom on the camera.

At Chasewater, the canal valve is now open again, and we’re about 40mm off maximum level now, but the wind drove waves onto the spillway weir quite ferociously. Due to the same wind, the Wakeboard lines were closed, but workmen were busy around the boating lake laying lovely new tarmac paths instead of the uneven old slabs.

A great afternoon to be at Chasewater, for sure.