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Saturday, 22 September 2018

My first Saturday away for months and what happens?

Pale Morph Arctic Skua: Photo Moss Taylor
Something good turns up at Chasewater! Never mind it was a Grey Phalarope, always a good tick but thankfully not one that I needed for Chasewater so missing it doesn't really sting.

Martyn, Joseph and I payed our annual autumn pilgrimage to Spurn today. As you might expect given the direction of this weeks winds there was not very much going on although sea watching in the morning provided a diverse range of interesting stuff including crippling views of a Great Skua close in-shore, Black Throated and Red Throated Divers, a smattering of auks and Gannet and for some people a few Manx Shearwater going through. I was also able to connect with one or two summer migrants that I had missed.

This afternoon sea watching was slower but thanks to Joseph we were all able to connect with a pale morph Arctic Skua (my first since 2007 believe it or not)! The bird was first seen chasing a gull before settling on the sea and eventually flying off south. A distant bird but satisfying none the less.

Altogether a satisfying day of 'proper' birding so a big thank you to Martyn and Joseph for their company as always - Chaz

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Just a quickie

Had cause to go down the garden this evening at about 18.45 and was blessed to hear a sound that I was already missing as sixteen House Martin flew over the garden and away across the Marsh.

Its the romantic side of my nature I suppose but I cant help wondering where those birds have spent the summer to be passing over us now. Scandinavia, Northern Europe, Scotland or even perhaps Cannock? You can never tell but I suspect that they are actually from somewhere up north as my experience has been that most local birds cleared out about two weeks ago?

Anyway, just thought I would share - migration goes on! - Chaz

Sunday, 16 September 2018

A Beery Blog Post for a change

You know the rules by now, this particular posting is for those who share my other passion - Beer. So if that don't float your boat, I will say cheerio and perhaps see you next time.

For anyone else read on.

Been a good week or two for beer from my point of view. An excellent Beer Festival at the 'Bitter Suite' pub in Lichfield, some interesting beer experiences and a forthcoming beer festival at Cannock next weekend.

Firstly I will start with 'Tynt Meadow' - the attractively presented beer you can see above. This should be the highlight of the year, the U.K.s first home-brewed Trappist beer from a Monastery in Leicestershire.

Long have I awaited someone in this country having the initiative to recommence the lost tradition of Trappist Beer brewing in England. Now it has finally happened and... I am really disappointed. I so want to love this beer and thumb my nose at the world proclaiming the superiority of our home grown Trappist Beer. But I cant!

It is a 7.4% beer (quite tame by Trappist standards) and when you crack the cap off there is an initial huge complex nose of coffee and malt and some fruity tones and you think "good grief it smells like a Quadruple". And the first taste supports this as you warm the beer in the mouth, and then - nothing.

The flavours and the nose quickly dissipate and you are drinking what effectively tastes like a reasonable English Porter. Whats worse is that it actually doesn't taste its weight and after a few mouthfuls you could persuade yourself that you were actually drinking something about 5% rather than 7.4 - this beer just doesn't have the legs, unlike the products from Europe that seem able to sustain the flavour and nose to the last sip.

I appreciate that the brothers who brewed this were trying to put a distinctly British spin on the style and they have actually achieved that - its just not very good. Sorry guys - please be forgiving and keep at it (I am waiting to sing your praises when you do - Honest).

If you want to make your own mind up, I believe there is still a stock of this ale available at 'Beerbhom' in Lichfield although if you drive over to the monastery to obtain a case you will pay half as much as any supplier I have found in the free trade.

In contrast I will next talk about Broken Dream from Siren Brewery, a beer that has already achieved some serious accolades. Its actually a Breakfast Stout (yes such a thing exists but drinking it at that time is not mandatory).

It is no secret that I am a reasonably regular user of the swimming facilities at Oak Park where I am pleased to say I have made some excellent friends over the years. One of which is an splendid chap called Nick.

Nick is one of those fit buggers who swims, walks, rides a bicycle and only has one fault that I am aware of (sadly, he also plays Golf - 'Sigh!).

He is actually also a very kind and thoughtful bloke who you may recall responded in a very positive way to my request for help in getting hold of a particular Christmas beer last year?

Well not being someone who does things by halves, Nick apparently got hold of a case of this excellent 6.5% brew and shared them with all his walking mates and then carried the spare bottle around for several weeks until our path's crossed again. Now that's a proper mate for you!

For those old enough to remember I can assure you that the beer owes nothing to Python Lee Jackson (1973) but actually has more of the character of an Abbaye or Trappist beer
than that which was previously mentioned (despite being lower in gravity and not having such pretencions).

This is a proper Russian Stout, complex in flavour, heavy, oily in texture rich on the nose and the pallet and glides down the throat like silk. I can easily understand why it has warranted such approval from the beer drinking aficionados. It apparently occasionally turns up on draught in some venues and when I come across that I suspect I will be forced to indulge in a pint or two (or three).

If 'Tynt Meadow' was the ghost of Christmas past and 'Broken Dream' is the Ghost of Christmas present I will now talk about the ghost of Christmas yet to come - as its a beer I have not yet had the chance to try!

My old mate John Holian has a son also called (Little) John (by those of us who remember him as he was in the early eighties and despite the fact that these days he is bigger than his dad). Little John has an interesting business initiative, retailing exclusive and unusual craft beers. Occasionally he deals in something that falls within my remit and today was just such a day.
Knowing me well, J.J.H. assessed that a 12.6% Russian Stout  called 'Neutron Star' (From Atom Brewery) might just be something that would appeal to me and after phoning me to let me know, was even kind enough to deliver it to the door tonight. Unfortunately as a bottle conditioned beer I need to let it rest as such things can be very volatile after being disturbed but if promise is anything to go by - this should be a good-un!

The label is very subtle and the cap is actually sealed in bright blue wax in a style familiar to anyone who has imbibed 'Makers Mark' Bourbon. The real attraction though is the amount of fermentable carbohydrate involved in producing a beer of this magnitude - it should be rich to the point of chewiness and intensely warming - just what you want to drink on a rainy autumn night.

Also worthy of mention in dispatches is a seasonal stout from Wadworth to commemorate Autumn and Halloween. Its called 'Treacle Treat' and is remarkably cheap and currently available from Aldi in Brownhills. Rich Caramel flavours redolent of treacle toffee - it does what it says on the label - excellent properly brewed beer at a reasonable price - excellent value.

Big thank yous to John, to Nick and also to the brave Brothers in Leicestershire who I am confident will go on to do wonderful things for British Trappist beer.

That's it - if I have left you feeling thirsty I will have done a good posting.

Have a good week all - Chaz

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Never in a pickle when you go to Branston!

 OH come on! 

Eleven years done and on exit strategy! If I can't be excused a Branston Pickle reference now when can I (its like that last week in a job when nobody is sure if you are going to leave quietly or get all the stuff off your chest that has been building up)?

Anyway, a visit from my good old mate Dave Glover today. Not a lot happening but Branston Gravel Pits had probably the best selection of birds earlier in the week so what the heck - we would give it a go.

Branston GPs have always been a good site for birding but in the past were sometimes a bit of a bu**er to get to. These days they can be accessed much more easily all-be-it with distant scope views of the birds.

Wader numbers had certainly decreased since Tuesday but there was still a good cross-section of stuff to track down and enjoy. Lots of duck though and given the poor showing so far on the Marsh I was able to connect with my first Wigeon of the winter and also found my star bird of the evening in the form of a female Pintail.

I know - but I rarely get to see Pintail these days and when I first started birding in the eighties, I sometimes had difficulty in sorting females out. So these days I still get a sense of achievement when I can instantly recognise one even when (like tonight) it was upending and all you could see was the tail. Its just one of those species that reminds you how far you have travelled on the birding journey (like sorting Common and Arctic Tern on jizz rather than analysing plumage details).

A Little Egret was patrolling the edges of the scrapes and Waders seen included; Lapwing, Dunlin (1), Green Sandpiper (1), Ringed Plover (2), Ruff (1) and a single Greenshank (the bird we had hoped would still be hanging around).

Also of interest was an audible Grey Partridge that seemed to be calling from one of the farm fields behind us?

Altogether a good hour doing some proper birding with a good mate - it doesn't get better. I have to wait in for a technician tomorrow but if he turns up early enough I may try to get over the Marsh and Mere but you will have to wait and see.

Happy Friday all. - Chaz

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Quiet is not the word for it!

It must be the doldrums - I'm even counting Tufties!
A pleasant Sunday Morning, cooler and overcast so I thought there might be a chance of some passage migrants dropping in. Sad to say, I was to be disappointed. The only summer birds remaining were six Chiffchaff calling or singing around the site. Not a single hirundine to be seen and I believe that the village breeding birds have also cleared out this week.

As for winter, the only evidence of seasonal change was an occasional incoming Meadow Pipit and a Goldcrest keeping company with a flock of Long Tailed Tit along the Ford Brook (also a Chiffchaff in that flock).

The recent rain and inflow from Wyrley Common has brought the water level on the Marsh a little closer to normal but perhaps too late in the season for us to benefit from our traditional influx of moulting Shoveler. Also no sign of any early Wigeon yet, so things seem to be running a bit late this autumn?

The Mere was so quiet I even counted the ducks that I don't usually bother including; eleven Mallard, nineteen Tufted Duck (careful - two showing prominent loral patches similar to Scaup) , eleven Canada Geese, four juvenile Great Crested Grebe and two Lesser Black Backed Gull.

Still time for some movements of interest and I expect that despite my experience today, there are a few more summer birds going to be passing through over the next few weeks and I suspect that we can start to expect the first incoming Redwing over the next few weeks too.

That will do for now though, enjoy your Sunday and have a good week all - Chaz

Thursday, 6 September 2018

All good things (and a few naff ones too)...

Firstly a bit of belated news from yesterday, I received a text (origin unknown - I suspect its one of the regulars who has changed his/her Mobile number?) two female or juvenile Wheatear were on the field by the concrete bridge demonstrating that there is still some migration going on! sorry not to get the news out earlier.

On to other things though. This October will see the eleventh anniversary of the blog. I am personally more amazed than anyone else that it has received enough continuous support to warrant such a period of activity monitoring and non-stop moaning from yours-truly.

Anyone who has followed the blog throughout this period cant help but notice that the frequency of reports has decreased significantly in the last couple of years and as a result of that, the number of hits on the blog have also decreased significantly. Mostly this is down to me and my saga of ongoing health issues which I wont bore you with so I am content in all fairness, to accept the majority of the blame for this.

However it has to be noted that I have also lost many of my regular informants who helped sustain the blog when I was not able to. In many cases this has been due to changes in their employment patterns which has moved them away from the local area, or working other local patches that required support and I suspect for some,a variety of other reasons best known to themselves. Obviously this has thrown a lot more of the responsibility for recording wildlife onto my shoulders at a time when they are no longer broad enough to deal with the load and to be honest, at a point where entropy has resulted in me being far less sharp than I once was.

In addition to this, I am aware that technology and peoples expectations have also changed in the last few years, with blogs and pod casts these days using far more sophisticated stuff than I am able to deal with which at best makes my blog look a bit quaint and old fashioned in comparison. I also realise that birders now obtain most of their information immediately from social networking sources rather than from occasional updates on blogs like this (and as you all know, I can't compete with that, I am nothing if not, the anti-social birder).

I think you can see where this is heading so I am giving notice that this is the last season that the blog will be running. I intend to continue through the autumn but by October or November at the latest I will have made a final posting and in the new year will actually take the blog down. I am deliberately giving notice in the vain hope that someone else out there may want to take on the mantle of local patch blogger for Clayhanger and I will willingly support and give consent to anyone using the information currently available in the blog pages to that end if it helps.

Some of you may recall that a few years ago I finished with the blog but at that time was persuaded to recommence it after several months. This time though, I have given a lot of thought to the decision and this time it will be final.

At this point I am not going to take any time to thank all the people who have shown me such support over the last eleven years (perhaps that is more appropriate further down the line) but you can take it as read that I am doing this with mixed feelings as I have had some interesting times writing this nonsense and will I'm sure, miss my window on the world of you sociable people.

For now though, have a good weekend all - Chaz

Sunday, 2 September 2018

A quiet Sunday morning, but summer lingers

As promised I did a half circuit this morning and the overcast conditions seemed to have kept a number of passage summer migrants down. The marsh had a number of Willow Warbler, at least one Blackcap and a Whitethroat in the buffer zone. Star bird though was a Common Sandpiper on the Mere which was showing well until everything was flushed from the point by an inconsiderate dog walker!

Common Sandpiper - always a happy find in early autumn
Raptors seem to be very active with two Kestrel and a huge female Sparrowhawk seen. The juvenile Buzzard is also still around and repeatedly making its plaintive call in the hope that its parents will come back and feed it.

The marsh itself is still low on water which seems to have put off the selection of moulting duck that we usually get at this time of the year but at least the first Snipe of the season was present.

Two waders - that's almost a purple patch this year!

Have a good week all - Chaz