Going for a song

The main purpose of my walk today was to set up another “now and then” post, but as it was such a bright, sunny morning I took a more circuitous route via Brownhills Common and Chasewater.

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The common is ever-changing. The trees grow, some are cut down to help regenerate the lowland heath, saplings spring up, seasonal palettes rotate, paths are cleared. The work leaves behind some mess that necessitates more boot cleaning than normal, but this is usually short-lived. I noticed that in the pine woods beside the old Midland Railway station holly is fast becoming the main understorey plant, taking over from the unproductive brambles. I wonder if, one day, when the pines are cleared there will be a holly wood – presumably, there must have been such places in the past? Such a wood would be a good place for fieldfare and redwing and other birds that take the berries from the mature tree in my garden.

M6 Toll eastbound

To get to Chasewater I crossed the bridge over the motorway which enables a distant view of Lichfield Cathedral. Sometimes kestrel hunt along the verge and the heath beyond.

On the reservoir itself some of the more photogenic birds seem to have dispersed to find nest sites. Mallard seem often to be overlooked by birders, but the males look quite resplendent in the sunlight. A flock of about 25 lapwing flew towards the power boat club, where they often gather on the jetties. Two more flocks of similar size flew in shortly after. Chasewater is ever-changing, too. Different birds, different people, parties of grey-haired ramblers, joggers and cyclists in their garish costumes, the water itself: one day grey and choppy as the Baltic Sea, the next aquamarine and calm as a millpond.


At the outfall the water is well below overflowing. The invading birch has been cleared from the basin beyond, which it is believed was a filter bed for water pumped from coal mines, so that it could be cleaned up before release into the natural water course, Crane Brook. Today there is a subterranean outfall that I could hear running beneath the canal, so some water was being diverted into Crane Brook. At the weir below the dam water was being let out into the canal. I don’t recall the last time it was so copious.

Weir and basin at Chasewater
Weir feeding Anglesey Branch Canal

Rather than hugging the canal bank I often wander along the edge of this grassy-mossy area, atop a steep drop where the gorse and brambles meet hawthorn scrub and semi-mature birch. This is the site of the Marquis pit, the first of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company mines (1849-1856, according to the blue plaque). The flattish ground is the result of dumping spoil from the motorway construction. In the background is the dam with its little housing for the long defunct sluice control. It is all the result of industry and yet produces a surprising range of wild creatures and plants. Today my reward was the music of a song thrush. I managed this one shot before it plunged back into the undergrowth. In hindsight I wish I had set my camera to movie mode to record the sound, but alas hindsight is precisely that.

Habitat edge. Site of coal mine.
Song thrush

Eventually, I did get to the location for my “now” picture, but that is for another post.

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