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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Loocal extinction averted - for now!

Day 263 of the year and against all hope, a calling Willow Tit seen on the Mineral Line this afternoon. This is the longest I have ever gone into a year without seeing a specimen and I have to be honest, I had given up hope that it was going to survive at Clayhanger. Even the specimens being reported at Chasewater had eluded me so you can imagine that I was very happy to have this as the first species of the day.
Still hanging on then? But by a thread!
I stood for a while with Tony Stackhouse and together we were able to put another bird on the day list with the arrival of the first Wigeon of the winter. Tony also tells me that a couple of weeks ago, he also heard a Curlew going through although he couldn't give me a precise date.

Ryders Mere

The only birds of note were three Shoveler. Noticeable by their absence were any hirundine today.

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (6) - Gadwall (6) - Wigeon (1M) and the Little Grebe still present. Along the mineral line there was also a calling juvenile Willow Warbler (the only summer species noted today).

This may be my last update until the weekend. Tomorrow looks as if we might suffer some precipitation and I have a social engagement on Friday (the detectives amongst you will no doubt have worked out what that is from previous postings)?

Anyway, enjoy Thursday and Friday and update at the weekend - Chaz

Monday, 18 September 2017

One for fellow Beer Lovers

As some of you know, the legendary blogger 'Brownhills Bob' has a tendency to refer to me as 'That well known Beer Arse' so I thought I would put my 'Beer-Arse' hat on (whatever the heck that would look like?) for a change, to share some information with the more enlightened amongst you who see decent beer as one of the few genuine pleasures in life.

My recent trip to southern Europe provided a couple of surprises that impressed me greatly. We all drink soapy southern lagers when in that part of the world as the climate compliments it (I myself am quite partial for a Mahou grandee in a pre-chilled glass when the temperature is c35 degrees) and lets face it, there is rarely any choice - But that may be changing!

Our nearest supplier of Bottled Water was a mini-market with a chiller at the back for tinned and bottled beer and it was in this that I found two real treasures and a sign that hopefully Spain will soon cease to be a desert for those who appreciate a quality beer?


The first is a 5.7% BOTTLE CONDITIONED (yes, you read correctly but I will still repeat - Bottle Conditioned) lager from Dorada Brewery called Dorad Especial: Seleccion De Trigo.

Now for those not familiar with the complexities of proper beer, Bottle Conditioned means that a beer is properly brewed, NOT pasteurised and then is bottled with a small amount of yeast which allows it to continue to convert any sugars in suspension into alcohol - effectively the beer will increase in strength and develops interesting and sometimes complex flavours. The problem in Spain however is that these bottles will almost certainly be stored in chillers which prevent the activity from taking place (although given the climate, a couple of days standing out of the chiller may quickly reactivate the yeast). This was a rich fruity flavoured lager which I would happily have brought home by the case-load if I could.

The second bottle is from a more obscure Spanish Brewery which has apparently only been brewing since 1906 (and I don't mean nearly ten past seven)! To my shame, I have to confess that Huos de Reveira is a brewery that had previously escaped my attentions but having tried this lager, brewed to a Barley Wine strength of 6.5% I will now be far more aware of their products.

The 1906 Reserva Especial is pasteurised but still has an astonishingly rich palate for a southern European beer, providing real Barley-Wine characteristics but with an unmistakable Lager flavour. If some U.K. Brewers could manage something of this quality we might get a few of the sad and often overcharged British Lager Drinkers on board to enjoy proper beer!

Prior to this discovery the only Beer from the region that commanded any respect from me was the Cerveza Branca produced by the Beer House on Madeira, but hopefully enough people will value these valiant efforts from the Spanish Brewers to signal a change of attitude and hopefully a lot more happy holidays for beer enthusiasts visiting that part of the world?

Finally - don't forget, this weekend is the annual Cannock Beer Festival at the Prince of Wales Theatre. I believe that this is the fourth (I have attended them all but am getting on a bit) and if it is anywhere near as good as the previous three it is certainly something to put in your diaries.

Any road-up, that's Chaz's Beery-Bulletin for this week, so I will take my 'Beer Arse' hat off and you purist Birders can start paying attention again if you want? - Chaz


Sunday, 17 September 2017

A lot of people moan about them but.... (UPDATED)

Every time I put up a posting about the Ring-Necked Parakeets I get more feedback than almost anything else (unless its one of those weeks when I have ranted and got someones back-up) So far its been four e-mails this time!

Firstly, Dave Saunders at Sandwell Valley got in touch with some interesting (and impressive) information:

Hi Chaz
We had a party of 60 birds going to roost in August but up to 75 birds have been reported.


I asked Dave if anyone has ever gone through them to see if any of the birds were showing characteristics of Alexandrine Parakeet as I believe that there are some around Manchester and I am certain that some of the stock that these birds are descended from must have included a few escaped Alexandrine birds?


Secondly Derek Lees has been in touch and with his usual generosity, has let me have some copies of photographs he has taken of the Park Lime Pits birds. I expect that you will find them more pleasing to the eye than my efforts?

Anyway, enjoy! - Chaz

P.S. Dave got back to me to say that an Alexandrine Parakeet was reported in May this year, so if you find a Parakeet, have a good look at it (if it was about in May it probably wont have gone far). 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

News from somewhere else (Updated)

Ray Fellows obviously couldn't sleep this morning as at 07.00 he was watching FIFTEEN Ring-Necked Parakeets at Sandwell Valley today - that must be some kind of local record but a long way from the three thousand that reportedly used to roost at a Rugby Club at Sunbury on Thames.

Still, its a noble effort, perhaps we should plant a few Palm Trees around the Mere, Pelsall could do with a bit more exotica don't you think?

Since my initial posting I have received a couple of update, the first from Richard Collins is as follows:

Hi Chaz

Hope that your well, just thought you might be interested to know there’s a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets that have taken up residence at Darlaston, they are seen most days in the trees opposite the Police Station, got to say better than seeing just Pigeons. I’m sure they will make it to the Mere at some point as I believe that there’s a healthy group of them at the Park Lime Pits?

And finally, I received some criticism from one blog follower (who shall be nameless)  who thought that as an ex-Train Driver, I should be more enthusiastic about the fact that (while Bird watching) they saw a certain railway locomotive this morning (my response was - "OK") - So this is just for you, enjoy!




As for the rest of you, enjoy your Sunday all - Chaz

Friday, 15 September 2017

A Wakl around the Pool - but not Barefood, I promise!

For anyone who didn't believe - a flock of Stone Curlew! (Zoom In to see)
Three days ago I was in shorts and a vest hiding from 35 degree+ temperatures. Today I went around the Marsh and Mere - in North Face Boots, a tee shirt, fleece, body-warmer and waterproof coat! Talk about culture shock!

It was worth the effort though as for once an outsider came in for me. I did the Mere first in the unlikely hope that Tony Stackhouse's juvenile Arctic Tern might hang-in for a third day and you know what? It did. Sometimes you have to be careful with juvenile terns but the broad white forehead, all dark bill and absence of any significant grey on the forewing all seemed to point conclusively toward this being a juvenile Arctic Tern.

Not much else on the Mere although still good numbers of House Martin and Swallow feeding over the water.

The Marsh was a different matter. I had the pleasure of Ray Fellows company and together we managed to put Teal, immature male Gadwall and two Shoveler on the list for the day, a sure sign that things are now progressing toward winter birding.

More of a surprise though was a fly-over from a Little Egret, probably one of the Chasewater birds given the direction from which it originated?

And finally, as we stood talking we were serenaded by a juvenile Willow Warbler as it called from the bushes along the mineral line. I was telling Ray that while I was away I chased a beautiful bright canary yellow warbler around a quarry, convinced it was going to be something exotic and sure enough, it was a Willow Warbler (but to be fair, an unusually bright and yellow one).

You don't want to know what the bloke at the bottom is prohibited from doing!
Anyway, stuff to see but you must promise to be careful and if you do decide to wakl around the pool, DON'T DO IT BAREFOOD!

Have a nice weekend all - Chaz

Thursday, 14 September 2017

A Tern up for the books

Just letting you know. Yesterdays Arctic Tern was actually found by Tony Stackhouse and is still present today as it was seen this afternoon by Ray Fellows - Chaz

Did you work out what it was then?

Lovely, but not a welcome sight I'm afraid!
Well I feel a bit guilty as I have to confess to a thrill of excitement when I found these birds (see previous posting) as they were something I had never seen before, but for the island of Fuerteventura they are sadly not good news. This is the notorious Red-Vented Bulbul, an Indian species that is literally on the 'Most Unwanted' list of one hundred most invasive species in the world. I first heard their raucous call when we were walking back to our room one morning as six birds flew in to feed on the ornamental areas around the pools at the Matas Blancas Hotel, Costa Calma. These probably originated from cage bird escapes but the  presence of six suggests to me either a very sloppy aviculturist or (more likely) breeding in the wild?

So, what about proper birds then? Mrs Chaz and I had been pondering a visit to Fuerteventura for some time but in the end it was something of a last minute decision. I went with ambitions of seeing three island specialities but only managed one (and that was more luck than judgement). However the last few hours were to provide me with a life-bird that I would have given blood to catch-up with in my twitching days (more of that later).

One of 120+ - Honest!
There were two themes for the visit, regular island endemics and northern European passage migrants.

Regular Canary Island species/sub-species included: Yellow-Legged Gull, Spanish Sparrow, Spectacled Warbler (everywhere!), Berthelots Pipit, Plain Swift, Buzzard, Raven, Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike, Kestrel, Linnet, Egyptian Vulture (3), African Blue Tit, Corys Shearwater (6 of Faro De Jandia) AND Stone Curlew.

The later was something that really blew me away as the first time we explored the desert near our accommodation I found a flock of more than twenty birds. Last Sunday I walked into the desert for an hour and on the way back, accidentally flushed a flock of more than 120 Stone Curlew (yes you read that right)!

As four were the most I had ever seen together at one time before you can imagine how unbelievable this was. I went back and tried to get photographs but only managed to capture one of the birds with my little pocket camera as they were very flighty and unapproachable.

Despite touring the North and South of the island by Landrover and tourist bus, and checking dozens of mountain Baranco's I was totally unsuccessful at finding the unique Fuerteventura Chat (think Stonechat with attitude) and was equally unsuccessful with the local Houbara Bustards although I had been advised by an island expert that at this time of year they were most likely to be in the mountains and very difficult to find.

A visit to a Goat Farm (yes I managed to get Mrs Chaz out safely despite the protestations of farmers who thought she belonged to them) above Tiscamanita provided a blessed relief when three stunning Black Bellied Sandgrouse were flushed from the roadside verge by our tourist bus, my first proper 'tick' of the holiday and even more stunning to see than I had expected.

European passage birds were the other theme and during the course of our stay I connected with Common Chiffchaff (1) - Willow Warbler (1) - Spotted Flycatcher (4) - Pied Flycatcher (2) - White Wagtail (1) and another big surprise in the form of three Red-Rumped Swallow that were hawking insects over one of the main roads in Costa Calma. Even Mrs Chaz was able to pick out the black undertail and pinkish rump patch, and that was without optics (I was hogging those as it is always one of my favourite species). There appeared to be two adults with long tail streamers and one presumed juvenile with shorter and thicker based tail streamers. Sadly we were mostly looking at them from below so neither of us were able to get a glimpse of the nape patch.

So what was the biggy that I have been holding until last? Lets say that on a list of birds I would have expected to find for myself on the Canary Islands, it would not have been in the first fifty.

Over the road from our hotel was a disused quarry which was surprisingly well vegetated and being so close, became a regular focus for my attention without having to get too hot and bothered. This was a site where most of my European passage migrants were found.

We were due to depart from our hotel room at 12.00 and that left us with more than three hours of waiting around for our connection to the airport. Having secured our bags, we both decided to check out the quarry with the intention of checking the migrant situation and believe it or not,
photographing some wild Tomatoes that were growing there (See photo - sad eh?).

Out of the corner of my eye I suddenly became aware of a drab looking warbler flying along the far side of the quarry. At first I expected it to be a phylosc (there had been a Chiffchaff the previous evening) but as I viewed it at distance it was obviously something unusual and more importantly, not familiar!

The most striking first impression was the length of the bird when it was perched, followed by the size and slope of its head and the thickness of its bill base. This looked like a Hippolais Warbler. Now I have only ever seen three species of 'Hippo' - a number of Icterine Warblers and singles of Melodious and Booted Warbler. This was obviously not any of those so if it proved to be a 'Hippo' it was a potential lifer!

We carefully made our way to the end of the quarry where the bird was actively flying from its perch to the ground to take insects and fortunately there was a break in the quarry wall where we were eventually able to get to within twenty or thirty feet of it. The closer views transformed the impressions that we had got at distance.  The darker toned upper parts resolved into a quite attractive shade of grey, the apparent dark eye stripe that had showed at distance now appeared to be a shadow-effect and the dirty looking underparts were now a not unattractive off-white with buffy edges just below the closed wing. The bird had also appeared to show a slight pale wing bar but these closer views revealed this to be some pail fringes at the tertials.  The bird continued to flick out from the branch to take insects from the ground and occasionally from the air, always returning to the branch with a very gentle 'Tick' call. This struck a chord somewhere in the back of my mind and I was already pretty sure of what I was seeing and actually told Mrs Chaz what I thought we were looking at. I tried to approach a little closer to use my camera and obtain at least a record shot of the bird but that proved too much and it flew to the opposite end of the quarry and out of sight.

A swift return to the hotel and the retrieval of my Collins from our stored baggage and with very little effort all other possibilities were eliminated! I had found myself an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler! One of those dream species that I had longed to experience in my years of active twitching.  I parked the wife in the Hotel and returned with the camera but unfortunately was unable to relocate the bird (having to satisfy myself with two species of Flycatcher, two Hoopoes, a Spectacled Warbler and a Southern Grey Shrike).

I had expected a dreary wait for our transfer home to commence but I was on a high for the whole journey. Chasing rare birds is great fun but there is nothing as satisfying as finding one for yourself and it had been quite a while since I had discovered anything of this magnitude.

The bush where it was! But sadly, no bird
A brilliant way to end a grand week on a lovely island. I am getting a bit too old to deal with the heat these days so I don't know if I will ever do it again but all of the Canaries are beautiful and exciting birding venues which I would recommend to anyone.

Anyway, back to earth with a bump and looking forward (!) to counting the usual suspects on the Marsh and Mere this weekend.

Stay safe all and enjoy your Friday - Chaz