BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

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.

January 13th - Caught by the rain again, for heaven’s sake. My return from Darlaston was a hard ride - wet, the traffic was mad, and the New Ring Road in Walsall really shows it’s bad design in heavy rain - it’s just one long pool of standing water. Fed up with the traffic and looking for a good picture, I dropped onto the canal.

I got home soaked again. All I want is a dry week. Is that too much to ask?

September 29th - He was annoyed that I spotted him, but this ginger and white lad was thirsty and there’s nothing like fresh canal water. He’s a lovely chap and I spotted him at the rear of the houses in Sadler Road, Catshill. Those two front feet - this is a practiced manoeuvre…

September 18th - This grey wagtail and several others have been busy along the canal at Catshill, Brownhills, all summer. Before this year, I’d never seen one in Brownhills, and I’m pleased to note their appearance. A small, yellow and grey bird, it has an erratic, pulsing flight that’s fascinating. All the time he’s on the ground, he’s bobbin up and down in the characteristic way that wagtails do.

A lovely, joyous addition to the local wildlife. Sorry for the grainy pics, but the bird was quite a way off.

June 7th - The waterlife went mad today. Riding along the canal to Chasewater, I noticed the tadpoles had hatched en masse; they seem very, very late. They swarmed and clumped on the algae at the canal side, and fish and birds were picking them off. I watched a common tern take something from the water, and sadly, Mrs. Swan has finally vacated the nest at Catshill. Whether she actually hatched any chicks or not, I don’t know, as there was no trace of either parent, but Mrs. mallard and brood seem to have taken advantage of the empty nest. 

Pedro Cutler will appreciate this entry. This one was for you, old chap…

June 2nd - I’m very sad that the swan couple that every year build a nest and lay eggs on the canal near Catshill in Brownhills appear to have had another barren year. I’ve followed their progress for three years now, and she sits, sleeps and waits patiently for her brood to hatch. Last year, after over a month of sitting, she abandoned the nest still with eggs in. I can’t see any this year, but she’s been sitting for over a month again. I don’t know why, but I find the swan couple’s patient vigil tragic. I’d love to see them with a brood.

June 2nd - I’m very sad that the swan couple that every year build a nest and lay eggs on the canal near Catshill in Brownhills appear to have had another barren year. I’ve followed their progress for three years now, and she sits, sleeps and waits patiently for her brood to hatch. Last year, after over a month of sitting, she abandoned the nest still with eggs in. I can’t see any this year, but she’s been sitting for over a month again. I don’t know why, but I find the swan couple’s patient vigil tragic. I’d love to see them with a brood.

May 30th - The Canada geese get a bad press. They’re fine birds, really; great geese, fascinating to observe, and some subtle sub-species to watch out for. They make great, proud parents, and have the cutest chicks. These goslings were on the old tonnage narrows near Catshill Junction, and had cute in shedloads. The whole time I stood watching, dad hissed at me, gently, warning me not to come closer.

May 28th - With most of the other local swan broods hatched, I’m thinking that possibly the pair at Catshill have had another unproductive year. I could be wrong, but the female seems to be losing interest, like she did last year. That time, they did actually have eggs, but they didn’t hatch; the is year, I can’t see anything in the nest at all.

I’ve been told that swan pairs do a dry run for a few seasons before they actually breed - does anyone know if this is true? I’m kind of attached to this couple, I’d love to see them with cygnets. Don’t think it’s going to happen this year, though.

May 25th - Heading back from Stonnall at sunset, down into Brownhills, and off to Chasewater. A beautiful, soft red sunset, painting the town with colour. Come on summer, more please…

May 22nd - I was heading home today from work, and for some reason I hopped on the canal near Anchor Bridge, and headed up and took a look at Clayhanger Common. The sun was bright after a somewhat dull day, and I guess it was my quest for green. Everything is so vivid at the moment you could almost inhale it. Everywhere you look, there is bright, fresh foliage, in shades of emerald more precious and life-affirming than any jewel.

One thing I did notice on my way over Catshill Bridge, is the clock tower added to the roof of a garage in Chandler’s Keep. Has that always been there, or is it new? I’ve never noticed it before.

May 10th - Spring is still going strong. Delightful flowers speckle the hedgerows, and the oilseed rape isn’t quite out yet on Home Farm near Catshill. Mrs. Swan still dozes the day away, hopefully on a decent clutch of eggs, and apart from the wind and rain (which are admittedly pleasantly warm), one might be convinced winter was finally over…

May 4th - A gorgeous, but windy, summer evening. Still taking it gently due to the sore ribs, I took a gentle run out through Brownhills to Chasewater, then back along the canal. The blackcurrant blossom at Home Farm was gorgeous, and my favourite tree is coming into leaf, at last, a sure sign of impending summer.

The Water level at Chasewater has been lowered to around 200mm - 8 inches off maximum, and the valve closed. I find this interesting; the overflow over the poor weather period was clearly to stress-test the dam, and presumably, it’s passed. It will be intrigued to see if they allow it to overflow on a regular basis - to irrigate to spillway wetland - or if this was a rare event.

A fine evening’s ride.

March 10th - Catapulted back into winter, I set off to work off the excesses of the previous evening. It was a cold morning, with a biting east wind, and it was snowing well. I had somewhere to call in Burntwood, then I wanted to go for a decent spin. I noted on my way that although it was wintry, it looks like the swans who abandoned their clutch last year at Catshill are nesting again, in exactly the same spot. That nest is clearly being built up again - let’s hope there are cygnets this year.

Another returnee is Bob the narrowboat. Occupied by an artist painting watercolours, he was in the same spot for a short while last year, and was previously up at Longwood Junction, near Walsall. Sightings of Bob the Boat have been an in-joke on social media for a while, now. It’s good to see it back.

Chasewater itself was more like Prestatyn on a bad day. The water was choppy and there were few folk about. At the water margins, the breakdown of vegetation newly submerged was being accelerated by the waves, and making the periphery of the the reservoir frothy and soapy.

The level is now 4cm off full, and the water in the Nine-Foot Pool is now really close to overtopping the weir. Absolutely unbelievable, really, considering the lake was virtually empty this time last year.

Spring is getting ready to go; only the weather is holding it back. Let’s hope this is winter’s las breath…

March 1st - Although still very cold, it feels like spring is stirring. Crocus tips are turning colour in preparation to bloom, and the birdlife seems busy. I noted the swans on the canal near the old mill by Home Farm were looking cosy again. I’m convinced it’s the same couple from last year who nested, laid and failed to hatch their eggs - hopefully, they’ll have more success this year. 

The crested grebe was pottering about on Chasewater, away from the gull roost by the valve house on the damn. He was hard to photograph in poor light, but he was a beautiful chap, and did the customary grebe dive fro fish, which must mean there’s still a few in there.

If only the weather felt a bit more spring-like.