Monday, 26 January 2015

'All aboard the Skylark' (A chance would be a fine thing!)

Our V.I.P. bird the Great Northern Diver is back from its weekend break at Chasewater. Kev Clements let me know it was there this morning and both Ray and I had some good views of it this afternoon. Kev also had Chiffchaff and Kingfisher but the big attraction for me was... wait for it... eight Skylark (including a singing bird).

The possibility of another notch on my yearlist belt, it had to be done so I set out for the marsh determined to see this elusive year tick. First the Ford Brook. Kingfisher flying down, no problem. Then Great Northern Diver cruising low in the water at the west end of the Mere, tick for the day. But the big question has to be, did I see Skylark?

Did I eck as like!

I had the pleasure of  Ray Fellows company for much of the afternoon and he and I scoured the site and did a full circuit but the biting wind was obviously too much for the Skylark to perform in. Despite that we had a pretty good species list all in all:

Clayhanger Marsh

Wigeon (2) - Teal (29) - Stock Dove (5) - Kingfisher (1) - Little Owl (1) - Grey Wagtail (1) - Redwing (3) - Rook (15) - Yellowhammer (1)

Ryders Mere

Wigeon (14) - Pochard (4) - Goosander (4) - Great Crested Grebe (8) - Great Northern Diver (1)

So there I am, still stuck on 97 for the year and the pressure is on if I am to do the magic 100 in January as it looks as if the weather means that Thursday and Friday are going to be write-offs.

Why do we do this to ourselves? - Chaz

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Potential Rarity brings out the birders

Chasewater again this afternoon, thanks to Ian Ward who found a possible north American rarity in the roost yesterday. If anyone other than Ian had found it, the report would have been treated with some scepticism but Ian is a Gull specialist and as such is one of the most highly respected of the breed, so for him to suggest a possible Thayers Gull was enough to bring in the usual suspects and a plethora of birders from further afield.

Unfortunately the bird did not oblige with a repeat performance but those who turned out had the pleasure of seeing 2nd and 3rd winter Yellow Legged Gulls, a third winter Caspian Gull, the adult Iceland Gull and two oddities in the form of a leucistic Black Headed Gull and the white winged Herring gull (which most opinion seems to favour being also leucistic rather than a Herring x Glaucous hybrid as is sometimes reported). No sign of the Diver at Chasewater today, I wonder...?

The big rarity may not have shown itself but it was a good afternoon none the less and as always, just being a part of the 'craik' was good enough reason to turn out on a winters afternoon.

Many thanks to J.J.H. for being my chauffeur and saving me from an afternoons walk.

Have a good week all - Chaz

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Mission Accomplished (Updated)

A nice bright morning over the marsh today and without the distraction of the Great Northern Diver I was determined to grill the site for the Stonechat which has so far eluded me this year. I tend to be very casual about how I look for birds but today proved the benefit of a bit of strategy and fore-thought. I was aware of the various sites where I had seen this bird last year and also where various people had seen it this year so these would obviously be my first targets but what if it wasn't there?

The answer is to try and put yourself into the head of the bird (not too difficult as the Stonechat and I probably have similar brain capacity!). If I were a Stonechat, where would I want to be? Well its closest cousin the Whinchat often favours the open area with scattered bushes in front of the Pit Mound so that would probably suit a Stonechat too wouldn't it? Having drawn a blank with the reported sites I decided to follow this strategy. First bird seen - Robin. Second bird seen Stonechat!

It does appear to be a female but if you saw it from the front you could be excused for thinking it is a first winter male as there is a significant amount of reddish plumage to the breast. The bird is staying very low, favouring the branches of the shrubs and bushes which are nearest to the ground and then making occasional forays to ground feed. Excellent but it does cause another bit of a problem for me - itchy feet!

You see, three weeks into January and Stonechat puts me on 95 for the year and I am now a gnats-proverbial away from doing the 100 Species in January (something I haven't done for a fair few years). Despite that there are some strikingly common species I have not seen so far including; Skylark, Raven, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Grey Partridge and Tree Sparrow so this is not even the stuff of fantasy and is easily achievable in theory. I am going to see how things play-out before trying the Big-Year approach and lurking around the woods at Dusk but I may use this as an excuse to pay a visit to Park Lime Pits to see if their population of Tree Sparrow is still present. I haven't heard anything about this for quite a time so if anyone has any information I would appreciate the support!

Ryders Mere - mostly unfrozen today; Teal (12) - Wigeon (12) - Pochard (19) - Shoveler (2M) - Great Crested Grebe (7)

Enjoy your weekend all - Chaz

P.S. Since doing the above post I decided to push the year list envelope a bit and revisited some of my old haunts where I used to go birding. The result was a group of five Lessser Redpoll on Wyrley Common and two Nuthatch in Coppice Lane woods. I actually first saw both those species at those same sites thirty-years ago! 
Anyway 97 for the year so cross your fingers as I am going to need some luck with the 100 in January!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Deserted by the Diver

Those of you with access to bird updates will by now be aware that our long staying guest has now deserted us for the bright lights of Chasewater. Given that the Mere has been reportedly almost totally frozen over this behaviour can be excused I suppose. Many thanks to Phil Ward and Kev McCarthy for letting me know.

Kev M. has also done better than I have managed so far this year by finding the female Stonechat, perched on a bush on the Marsh early this morning. The confirmation that it is still around means that I am likely to be over again this weekend trying to find it. I will let you know how I get on! - Chaz

P.S. I found out where at least one of our Greylags has gone. I had to attend at Walsall Manor Hospital this Morning and on the frozen canal viewable from Bridgeman Street there was a group of about fifteen Canada Geese. The  Greylag was standing on the ice preening alongside of them. It must be a good tick for the Pleck (land of my birth)! 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Chasewater stuff

Firstly I had a call from Graham Evans today about the longest standing Great Northern in the West Midlands and he asked me not to forget the bird at Chasewater a few years ago that stayed for almost a year (and he is quite right as I saw that bird many times during its stay). However I think we need to look at the Ryders Mere bird in the context of the WEST MIDLANDS COUNTY rather than the region of the same name. As Draycot is in Warwickshire and Chasewater is in Staffordshire our bird will probably be more worthy of plaudits in that category.

Having said that - is it all over again anyway. The Diver was certainly reported on the Mere this morning but at lunch time another (or the same ?) Great Northern was reported off the dam at Chasewater. Was our bird there this afternoon and if it was, had it been absent without leave for a while (its done it before)? I was up at Chasewater this afternoon and could not find the bird so if it was our bird it has either gone back or flown off altogether.

As I was up at the pool, I stayed to do the roost and saw the Adult Iceland Gull and the White-winged Herring Gull/hybrid, at one point quite close to each other and this prompts a couple of questions. Now I am genuinely asking these and not having a go or being confrontational so these are just questions, nothing sinister or controversial, just genuine questions.

I have now seen the Iceland Gull twice this year and as far as I am concerned it is an Adult bird. When the Third-winter (sub-adult) bird is being called are we talking a different specimen or do these records (as I suspect) relate to the same bird and has someone actually managed to specifically age this bird as a third winter (in which case I will have to amend my records).

In a similar vein the white-winged third winter Herring Gull Hybrid appears to be the same bird that was present in December. How is it now re-identified as a Herring-Glaucous hybrid? I appreciate that it is a hybrid and that Glaucous Gull is the most likely candidate for hybridisation but exactly what features have led to such a firm conclusion?

I was not fortunate enough to see the hybrid Ring-Billed Gull in December, but knowing the quality of some of the birders who did see it I have little doubt that it was hybrid rather than a full Ring-billed. But how was the conclusion reached that it was a hybrid Ring Billed x Lesser Black backed? There seems to have been an abnormal influx of Ring-Billed Gull during the Autumn and Winter and presumably this bird came into the country as a part of that influx? So why is it presumed that this bird results from a mating between an American and a predominantly European species? Isn't it much more likely to have been the result of a mating on the other side of the pond between two Nearctic species?

To some of you this may seem nit-picking or irrelavent but I am concerned that sometimes assumptions become enshrined in records as fact. If my understanding is incorrect and these designations result from the analysis of specific features on these birds I would genuinely like to know what those features are! I'm not too proud to learn something new and would be glad to get some feedback and share it with my other blog-followers (so if you know, please oblige) - Chaz

Day 38

Great Northern Diver still present this morning - Nuff said - Chaz

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Dont hold your breath...

...for that record. In response to my last posting Kev Clements has sent me the details of the current record holder for the West Midlands County.

The longest staying Great Northern Diver was one of three birds that arrived at Draycote on October 31st 1998 and remained until May 11th 1999 - 193 days no less! Kev assures me that to beat this record, our bird would have to remain on the mere until June 26th - I'm OK with that, it will be in full breeding plumage by then and as I said to Kev, I should be able to lie in bed with the window open listening to it yodelling from the Mere (if you didn't know, its that unholy weird call you here in all the American dramas at Night - or if you watch the film "Young Sherlock Holmes" from the Thames in Victorian England, along with the calling cicadas they have in London during the nineteenth century winter- yeah right!).

Actually I have only heard the call of a Great Northern once in Britain. some years ago a bird arrived at Chasewater and unfortunately flew into the power lines and damaged its wing. The following day many attempts were made to catch and help the bird and during this activity, both Phil Ward and I had the pleasure of hearing this evocative call briefly echoing across Norton Pool.

Kev also pointed out that it has been twenty years since Alan Perry passed away. Now there was a legendary character and brilliant birdwatcher. He was one of the old school for whom it was never too much trouble to help those who were beginning to take an interest in wildlife. Alan used to perch on the side of Chasewater five days a week during the spring along with two flasks and a tin of sandwiches and cake. I probably learnt more about bird identification (and learnt to identify my first butterflies) while sitting with Alan watching live migration up and down the pool.

Happy days! - Chaz