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Saturday, 18 November 2017

'Well I'll be Jiggered'

Before anyone kicks-off, it's been weeks since I last wrote anything about beer, if you aren't interested you know what to do. Anyway this posting is in response to enquiries I have had from a couple of regulars asking what I thought of Brownhills first Micro pub (for some reason assuming I would have already been in on the first day of opening - which I wasn't)!

The 'Jiggers Whistle' is Brownhills first micro pub - if you don't count 'Chesters' for those of you old enough to remember the 1980s. It opened yesterday on the site of the old photography shop and thankfully they decided not to reference that history in their choice of name (although I bet it would have made the local Camra branch happy - ha! See what I did there?)

I apparently dodged a bullet not going yesterday as it appears to have been heaving with first day visitors, and being notoriously anti-social I held off until this lunchtime for a more relaxing first visit.

So, what do I think (as if it mattered)?

First impressions are very good, a really friendly welcome and some nice folk running the show, five minutes in and I was feeling at home which is always a good sign. The decor is nice, and the whole place is clean and open with lots of places for people to sit and have a chat and more importantly, four ales on tap.

The range of ales may not have been that exciting yet, but it's early days and everything I tried was in excellent condition. I avoided the Wye Valley 'Butty Bach' as I have drank so many pints of that over the years its hard to get up any enthusiasm for it, but it was really nice to see Brownhills own 'Backyard' Brewery represented. Today it was the lovely porter appropriately named 'Jigger'. However, for those who appreciate fine beer, the lovely Victorian recipe 4.9 dark mild is due to go on in the next day or two and I suspect that may lure me back up at some point as I love the stuff (Nice one Austin).

The two other beers were from Walsall newest brewery AJ's. which have been brewing for two or three years now. I am a Walsall lad and I would love to be able to sing the praises of AJ's beers - but with the best will in the world, I can't. I have never had a bad drink or even a badly kept drink of the stuff. It is good bog-standard beer that does what it says on the pull - but its just not exciting.

I met the brewer at Walsall Beer Festival and he comes across as genuinely passionate about his job but that never seems to translate into beers that you crave or desire (its as if something is holding him back from expressing his love of the art as he is obviously competent at what he does). If you think I'm being partisan, I'm not - my regular drinking crew  ('The Grumpy Old Men') feel exactly the same about it, if A.J.'s do something new we try it - usually just once and then say "OK, what else is on".

Just to prove I did have the AJ's !
Having said that, the special birthday edition of AJ's Gold which is on sale at the 'Jigger's Whistle' today is actually one of the nicest pints of it that I have had - and all credit to the cellerman, - in lovely form (not sure if the brewer has changed the malt as it was slightly sweeter than I remember)?

In summary, Nice Venue, Nice people, well-kept 'Pop' and something new in Brownhills that isn't a charity shop - could things finally be looking up? Bottom line is that I will probably be an occasional daytime visitor, particularly if the range of ales becomes more adventurous, I have already agreed to go in and do my best to drink as much 'Bad Santa' as I can if they get it on.

Note: Backyard Bad Santa - a genuine, traditional and proper Christmas beer, not (like too many these days) a bloody ordinary bitter with a picture of a Snowman on it !!!

Anyway all that is left to do is to say well done all and to give my very best wishes to the enterprise, I hope it gets the following it deserves and becomes a popular feature on Brownhills High Street

That's it for beer for now, those who aren't interested can start checking out the blog again. Next birdy update early next week all being well - enjoy the weekend all - Chaz

PS. Interesting note. I rarely go on the Chasewater web-site these days but for some reason I did so today and was very interested to see that on Monday the 13th there were apparently two Hawfinch seen in Pool Road. With the the group that passed through the Mere on the same day it seems as if there was an ongoing movement of the species, lets hope for more as winter progresses.

Friday, 17 November 2017

That Tina Turner! Shes never around when you need her.

Yep, I don't expect it will take you too long to work out what today's star bird was, always noteworthy on the Mere and my first for this winter, a beautifully marked female Goldeneye. Yes I know that, being a 'shallow birder' I will probably hardly glance at any more of them until January, but none the less a lovely addition to the days tally.

It started well, I bumped into a couple of lads from Chasewater and had five minutes nattering about the ups and downs of Chasewater birding and apart from the Goldeneye that was probably the highlight of the day, although I was pleased to see Ray Fellows's seven (or was it nine today?) Cormorant still stripping the Mere of any fish.

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (20) - Goosander (1M) - Fieldfare (2) - Willow Tit (1)

Ryders Mere

Cormorant (7-9) - Shoveler (2) - Pochard (1) - Goldeneye (1F) - Goosander (2F) - Snipe (1)

As you can see, a pretty average late autumn variety.

Rain tomorrow I believe but have a nice weekend anyway - Chaz

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Two weeks to winter - Official

Good grief! It feels like five-minutes since I was giving you a count-down to the beginning of Autumn. my favourite time of year and its already over. I have not had a lot of news from the Marsh although Ray Fellows has informed me that our number of feeding Cormorant had increased to seven today.

To support that number of feeding birds as well as the wintering Goosander there have to be a reasonable amount of fish present and the only way that they are likely to get there is if they are deliberately introduced. Do the fishermen not get it? Its like the road situation, analysts have proven that the more roads you build the more traffic will increase to fill it and the more fish you put in the Mere the more attractive it will become to fish eating birds! Quad erat demonstrandum!

Weather permitting I will have another walk around at some point tomorrow although I suspect that I will be giving the mineral line a miss as it is in an awful state at the moment.

Enjoy your Friday all - just 37 days to Christmas! - Chaz

Monday, 13 November 2017

*** Scarce Species Alert ***


There can be no doubt that the biggest event of the Autumn 2017 has been the previously mentioned Hawfinch invasion and I have to confess to feeling very guilty not to have put in a few early mornings on the pit mound doing visible migration watches. The number of Hawfinch incidents has decreased over the last few weeks so I had given up hope of adding the Marsh or Mere to the invasion story. That was until 14.21 today! As you will see from the notes below, the day had been pretty uneventful and I was already deciding if I should lead with the eventual arrival of five Wigeon on Ryders Mere or the definite influx of Chaffinch along the mineral line.

Photo: Courtesy of Derek Lees
I was starting my return journey along the edge of the buffer zone when out of the corner of my eye I became aware of a party of five birds coming toward me from across the Marsh not far above tree-top height, three of them coming over my head and showing the unmistakable chunky structure, short tail and huge wing crescents of Hawfinch. The other two birds passed over a little to my right and although I was not able to confirm any plumage detail they had the same chunky structure and undulating flight as the others and they all eventually flew toward Ryders Hayes together so I am prepared to stick my neck out and say that all five were Hawfinch.

Hawfinch are one of those bird that unless you are actively birding you are unlikely to come across every year and these birds occurred exactly fifty weeks since my last encounter with the species at Upper Longdon. Of course it is brilliant to find them for yourself and even better when they are a year tick (for those of us who keep such lists), but the real pay-off is getting the site involved in the bit of birding history that this invasion has signified, just when it seemed that all hope was gone!
Nothing to say about today that will top this event so the other species seen today were as follows:

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (1) - Goosander (1M 1F) - Cormorant (1) - Willow Tit (1) - Redwing (3) - Fieldfare (3)

Ryders Mere

Teal (1) - Shoveler (2) - Wigeon (5) - Cormorant (3) - Hawfinch (5)

Great satisfaction writing that last one! Have a good week all - Chaz

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

A more subtle invasion?

Those of you who are not really serious birders are probably unaware of the current birding excitement, a significant influx of one of our more uncommon species, the Hawfinch. Some years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a researcher hired by the R.S.P.B. to study the behaviour of Hawfinches in Britain. At the time it was quite early into the study and he had already ascertained that at least seventy per-cent of our wintering birds are migrants from Europe.

One of the recent Hawfinch - Photo Copyright Bucks Bird Club
Normally though, these birds trickle into the country in small numbers but this year there has been an eruptive movement with birds turning up at many sites where they have previously gone unrecorded (including Chasewater).

A couple of regulars have asked if there have been any records on site so far and the answer is sadly no (although it would not be a new site species as Tony Stackhouse had one along the railway line some years ago). To be honest, twenty years ago I would have been up at Chasewater myself, probably standing around for hours in the hope that one would fly through (I did actually do that, unsuccessfully, during one of the rare Crossbill invasion years - sad eh?), but these days the spirit is willing but the body has a bit more sense.

With everyone looking for Hawfinches, I suspect a much commoner species has snuck in under the radar as yesterday and today I have noted Mistle Thrush everywhere I have been. Yesterday there was a party along the canal at Brownhills, today they were on the Maybrook, at Oak Park, in Clayhanger Village and over the marsh. Mistle Thrush are a local breeding species but most of the year they are something seen occasionally, noted and dismissed but the numbers I am seeing at the moment seem to suggest that there has also been an influx of this species locally?

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (26) - Shoveler (2) - Gadwall (3) - Willow Tit (1) - Grey Wagtail (1) - Yellowhammer (1) - Redwing (1) - Fieldfare (3)

Ryders Mere

Cormorant (4) - Pochard (3) - AND STILL NO WIGEON!

I am not sure if the recent increase in interest by fisherman is the result of a deliberate introduction of fish to the Mere but I wouldn't be surprised as I have not seen such a regular influx of Cormorant for a long time. See, a pointless exercise and the Goosander numbers have not yet even begun to increase.

A final note of good news, the impending return of one of the old Marsh regulars as Glen is relocating his place of work again and hopefully this will mean a return to his occasional and usually beneficial lunchtime visits in the next few months. Perhaps Chat Hedge will once again become a centre of attention for local birders. 

Anyroad, you can stick a fork in me, I'm done. Time to retire to the settee and put my feet up.

Enjoy the rest of your week folks - Chaz

Friday, 3 November 2017

Getting ahead of things

Probably the first time in ten years a Dunnock Photo has graced the blog?
That's both me (getting ahead of tomorrows rain) and also the ambitious male Dunnock who was singing his heart out from the boundary zone, obviously convinced that it was spring and not autumn (well to be fair the day length is about the same as early March).

Lots of bird activity today and I suspect there may actually be a few late migrants going through as well as the incoming winter stuff. A frustrating observation was a distant call that I am pretty sure was a Whooper Swan but the only Swan I was able to find was a juvenile mute! Still worth being alert if you are at any of the local waters today though.

For the first time this winter my Fieldfare count exceeded my Redwing count , but it shows that the stuff is coming in - except for... Blooming Wigeon!

Come on guys, you can't tell me I'm wrong! It is early November and there should be parties of Wigeon everywhere. By this time of year there would normally be around 20+ on the Mere and Marsh (possibly more) but today - NOT ONE!

Either the pool has lost its attraction for the species or something else is going on. I cant believe that our regular birds are still lingering in Eastern Europe. Perhaps the low countries are currently straining under the weight of Wigeon too idle to make the final push across the north sea (I really don't know, but it is an unusual situation in my opinion and I miss their whistling)?

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (15) - Redwing (5) - Fieldfare (16) - Willow Tit (1)

Ryders Mere

Cormorant (2) Gadwall (1M) - Shoveler (10) - Goosander (3)

Anyway, job-done and hopefully I can keep my waterproofs dry for another rainy day. Fifty-two days to Christmas so get your respective fingers out if you haven't already?

Have a nice weekend all - Chaz

Thursday, 2 November 2017

See, it wasnt my imagination!

A big thank you to Carol, who got in touch today to say that she too had heard the big explosion the other night

Hi there I mentioned on Brownhills Bob's site that I love nature and was recommended I take a look at your website. It is quite interesting and I would like to say that I heard that explosion I was In bed trying to sleep and I can tell you that there was a couple of them. Did you ever find out what it was all about?

Sadly I have had to respond in the negative but I promise that it really seemed far too loud a bang to be a firework, even the 'Beirut-simulating' ones that cause such havoc every November.

The only news so far this week was from Ray Fellows today to say that there were still six Goosander on the Mere.

Finally - a big welcome back to blog-follower and all-round grand-chap Jim Miles. As well as being a local birder, Jim is also a fellow 'Oak Park Zombie' (its what the kids call those of us swimming in the slow lane) and due to some quite serious health issues he has been out of the loop for much of this year. Great to have you back mate!

I have applied for an enthusiasm transfusion, so hopefully will be doing the Marsh either tomorrow or Saturday if the weather is reasonable. The predicted cold snap this weekend could move a bit of stuff about.

Enjoy your Friday all - Chaz