Tuesday, 1 September 2015

And welcome to Autumn (Updated)

Stuart got in touch to say how different his experience of the marsh was to mine. If he thinks that was different he should have been with Gareth this morning!

Record shot of today's Godwit
His highlights included a juvenile Black Tailed Godwit on the Mere from 07.06 until it was flushed by dog walkers at 08.25, a male Redstart on the mineral line, a Yellow Wagtail, the Common Sandpiper on the Mere, a female Wheatear at the pit mound and a juvenile along the track at Pelsall Road, twelve Teal on the marsh along with two Shoveler, six Siskin over, calling Willow Tit as well as a Whitethroat and good numbers of Phylloscopus Warblers on site.

I was going over later but I suspect that by this afternoon much of that stuff will be gone so I will let you know how I get on over there later this morning.

Chaz's Visit 10.00 - 11.20

How right I was!

I have been trying to get across to people just how dynamic the current migration movements are and today was a case in point. I was over the Marsh and mere probably an hour and a half after Gareth had left and I had a totally different experience.

I found no sign of the Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail or Redstart. I heard the Common Sandpiper in flight (presumably leaving?) and saw very few Phylloscopus warblers.

What I did have was an influx or major movement of Sylvia warblers, Common Whitethroat everywhere and at least two Lesser Whitethroat seen (one at the pit mound and another along the ford Brook). We actually seem to be getting more lesser-throats in autumn than we had in spring!

My star bird however was a stonking male Whinchat, finally making my regular bush-beating activity around the Pit Mound worthwhile. Whinchat always remind me of those girls who are really beautiful but really know it! This one sat at the top of a bush and posed from every possible angle for a while until I had seen just how gorgeous it was.

Also today there was Reed Warbler and all three hirundine and I also had my first experience of this unseasonal Siskin invasion with a group heard calling in flight at Pelsall Road and a flock of eleven calling birds seen in flight over the set aside. Whats that all about then - problems in northern Europe perhaps? Could make for an interesting winter - Chaz

P.S. Get over there - I have been home for half an hour so there is probably something else there now!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Bank Holiday News

Summer Sunrise, Ryders Mere - Keith Whitehouse
 Gareth and Kev were over before six this morning despite the rain and on Ryders Mere had the Common Sandpiper, eighteen Teal, two Shoveler, a Gadwall nine Tufted Duck and a Sand Martin amongst the House Martins and Swallows. they also had a Redstart. I was over this afternoon and the only birds of any significance that I found were the two Juvenile/female Shoveler. It is obvious that things are presently going through the sites at quite a pace.This was brought home to me by my experience.

After yesterdays adventure I have to confess that I spent most of my visit working the buffer zone again. I did increase my seasons tally for Redstart by two as there was a breeding plumage male and female showing when I arrived (neither of which was the bird I saw yesterday) as well as a fair few warblers, almost all of which were Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler (although there was a definite rain darkened Acrocephalus (Reed) Warbler and I had a frustratingly brief glimpse of a skulking warbler that I am pretty sure was a Garden Warbler).

However, another belt of drizzle set in and I proceeded to the mere. On my return journey there was hardly a single bird to be seen in the same area.The only other birds of note were a calling Water Rail on the marsh again and a couple of Stock Dove but that was about it for my visit.

Keep persevering, with the coverage the site is getting at the moment there has to be something good found soon.

The photo (above) was inspired by my end of summer posting, Keith has provided the beautiful view of a Summer sunrise over the Mere, make the most of it, there is a long road to the next one! - Chaz

Farewell to Summer

There we go then. Summer 2015 ends today. Did you enjoy it? 

OK, I won't rub your noses in it, it was cooler and wetter than average but you did have that one awful record breaking day in early July to remember. You all know by now that I am not a fan of summer. Autumn officially begins tomorrow and that really is my time of year. I love the shortening days, lowering sunlight and the build-up to Christmas - not trying to defend that, its just the way I'm wired-up.

Anyway - if it makes you feel better this traditional Bank Holiday weather is getting to me today. After yesterdays excitement I was keen to get over the Marsh and see what treasures were waiting to be found, but I awoke at about 06.30 to the sound of that kind of rain that you know is not going anywhere fast. At present it looks like things may break mid-afternoon but that's the best part of a birding day lost.

I believe that Ray went over yesterday afternoon but as I have not had a report from him I assume that there was nothing much to be seen and that the migrating birds that I saw during the morning  may have moved on south?

Well I will leave it there for now, try to do something nice with your bank holiday and lets all hope for some birding excitement now that Autumn is officially here - Chaz

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Follow-up to this afternoons posting - Of interest to more serious birders?

My encounter today with some unusually dark juvenile Blackcap has led me to do a little research on clinal variation. So far I have been unable to find anything significant about ground-colour variation however it has been a learning experience.

Did you know that there are distinct differences between the wing shapes of birds from northern and southern Europe? I must admit I didn't however here is an extract from the Journal of Avian Biology (30:63-71 - Copenhagen 1999).

This paper analyses the variation of several morphological traits in five populations of Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla distributed along a latitudinal gradient in the Iberian peninsula. The northern and central populations differ from the southern ones in their longer and more pointed wings, narrower bills, shorter tarsi and smaller body size. These features define two morphological groups and correlate with differences in their migration and feeding habits. Birds from northern and central Iberia breed in habitats with harsh winter conditions, which they abandon in autumn when they migrate to their wintering grounds. Birds from the mild, southern sectors remain there throughout the winter. Their migratory behaviour, and a stronger specialisation for feeding on foliage invertebrates, could explain the morphological differentiation of northern Blackcaps relative to southern ones. Our results suggest that the Iberian migratory populations might have descended from ancestral, southern-like ones, that have become adapted to exploit their seasonal breeding grounds.

So start having a look at the wing-tips of your local Blackcaps if you are so inclined. I would expect that photographers could come into their own with a task like this and perhaps the reward might be an extra-limital encounter with a bird from one of the southern populations? - Chaz

What a glorious day!

Photo by mali (Lakenheath Warren)
I left the house at about 10.20 this morning and told Mrs Chaz that I would be back in an hour. I got home at 13.30! That should give you some indication of what today has been like on the Marsh and Mere!

Probably the most impressive bit of autumn passage activity I have witnessed in many a year. The Marsh itself was very quiet and my cursory glance at the Mere produced the Common Sandpiper amongst the Lapwing flock and an early Male Wigeon which alone would have normally made the visit worthwhile.

So where was the action then? At risk of sounding like some one with a clever bottom (always watch my language on a Sunday) that area on the buffer zone between the Mineral Line and the Mere that I have toted several times over the last few weeks as 'The Place to watch' really turned up the goods.

Those of you who have been at Spurn or Flamborough when there is a fall going on will have some idea of what it was like. I had seen a Goldcrest right in the village as I left the house which is always a good indicator of a fall at this time of year so I was not too surprised when the first bird I saw as I walked up the fence-line was a male Redstart (my personal third for the year of at least six records) which dropped onto the floor before flying up into a bush. What I wasn't prepared for was the sheer number of Warblers that were working their way along the hedges from the north and accumulating around some Elderberry bushes (best viewed from the right angle in the fence).

There were dozens of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, many putting in a good show and allowing easy separation. Blackcap were everywhere including some young birds the colour of Welsh slate that I suspect might be indicative of clinal variation. Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and one or two who-dunits that were frustratingly elusive. Add to this Willow Tit, two circling Hobby and a fly-through by a Curlew (heading North!)and it all adds up to my most exciting day of birding this year (I'm tempted to go back again this afternoon but doubt that I can get a Pass-out).

I also got to have a chat with one or two people as I went around and spent a pleasant ten minutes with a nice young lady called Sindy (Hi Sindy) who was photographing insects. She was nice enough not to think me demented when I was doing bird calls to lure in phylloscopus warblers. Keep learning the calls Sindy, learn one or two every year and you will soon get it cracked!

The big question now is - will it be the same tomorrow? If you are giving it a go I would suggest starting at the stile between the Marsh and Mere and very slowly working your way down to where the fence does an obvious right angle. Stand there for half an hour and check out everything that appears (some of it will be moving in the dense hedge growth at the back but a lot of birds seem to have a look in those elderberry bushes).

Good luck if you give it a go, but be warned, there is a good chance that you will have to put up with my company if you do (there has to be something good amongst this lot)? - Chaz

Friday, 28 August 2015

Do you want to know what is brilliant about birding Clayhanger in 2015

Do you really want to know? well I'll tell you:


Yes I have taken a lot of stick over the years from 'Proper' birders for the things that I like. I'm the only birder I know who has been fascinated with Canada Goose Taxonomy since I began birding. I am unashamedly pleased when I find a non-native species to brighten a drab days birding and get a buzz of finding escaped birds that provide an identification challenge without feeling that I need to pretend that they don't interest me in case it stops other birders from taking me seriously (like I give a...).

That doesn't mean that I'm not just as excited as all the other birders when I see a Siberian or American rarity, or find something special or unusual, its just those mundane things that I have mentioned can really brighten-up an otherwise drab day.

For example, on a boring summer day with nothing happening why not go through a large flock of Canada Geese looking for birds with characteristics of the rarer races? I have gone through thousands over the years and for my efforts have found a parvipes bird (twice) and a taverners bird and Tony Stackhouse and I once found a gorgeous minima bird at Chasewater.

Did it make me a frivolous or less serious birder? Honestly? Or does it make me a bit better at separating sub-species than people who only twitch them when they are a potential armchair-tick or insurance bird (I have explained those terms before so I wont reiterate, if you really need to know, e-mail me)?

So whats so magic about Ravens then eh? Firstly they are now and have always been gorgeous. They are not just big crows, so if you honestly think that you need some serious coaching. Huge, agile, charismatic with a call that in its own way is as evocative as a Curlew. The call of the wild places and barren mountains, and where do I hear them? -  in Clayhanger Lane.

So far this Autumn I have had birds actually displaying over my garden for about ten minutes, 'Kronking' and doing their wonderful aerobatics. Yesterday the wife and I walked down to the local Coop and as we did, FOUR Raven overflew, Kronking to each other as they headed off toward Brownhills. And this is really now a daily occurrence. These are birds that thirty years ago I would have had to go into western Shropshire to see, or the Welsh mountains and now they are a garden bird - isn't that fantastic? We really are living in an exciting time to watch Birds/Butterflies/Dragonflies/Flowers.

To some extent, all bets are off these days so a whole new range of possibilities need to be considered when we see something unusual. But even in this very different world of potential species, I would never have believed that Raven would be so accessible locally and every time I hear that evocative call in the village or over the Marsh I still find it genuinely exciting.

Not much news from the Marsh today. Keith went over and had a pleasant visit. He did find a Shoveler on the Marsh and as usual in his generous way he has sent me some of his photographs to share so find below a juvenile Blackcap that he managed to capture. A lot of these birds going through at the moment.

Anyway - have a good weekend and a happy bank holiday all - Chaz

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Thursday Morning visit

A lovely bright morning with lots of renewed butterfly activity including my first Small Copper of the year. On Ryders Mere there was still a Common Sandpiper and also a Cormorant while on Clayhanger Marsh there were three Reed Warbler, a very active Willow Tit, a newly moulted drake Gadwall and all three Hirundine including one Swallow and two Sand Martin. Lots of warbler active although most that I saw appeared to be young Chiffchaff. - Chaz