Friday, 26 October 2018

A Final Word.

So sad, it ends, as it began
Queen – ‘White Queen’ 1973

I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s folk in general, but as I get older I find that I am measuring my journey through life not by the things at which I have succeeded or done well, but by the regrets that I have about things not done or things at which I failed. These can be things like jobs that I have done, relationships or (the worst ones) the things that I wished I hadn’t done and would undo/do differently if I could go back.

The blog has been a part of my life for the last eleven years and for the most part has been a fun thing to have in that life. If I have any regrets about it at all it would be that I didn’t stick to my original plan and finish it at the end of the tenth year.  All the signs were there that I was not really in a state to do the job justice and as a result of that I suspect my performance as a blogger has been disappointing during the last year for many who have followed it (it would have felt better to end on a high note).

I will miss the blog, it is my window on the world of my fellow man (no I won’t say person, it is far too late in the day for me to become politically correct) as it has given me the opportunity to relate to many people, some of whom I am proud to say have become friends.

People who get to know me say; why do you call it ‘The Mind of the Antisocial Birder’? You aren’t antisocial”. But you see, they are wrong. I always try to be polite to people and believe in treating everyone with respect until they give you reason to treat them otherwise.

(The exception being the effing imbeciles who hang bags of dog pooh on trees, they should be pinned to the floor and force fed their little bags of dog excrement until they choke to death and thereby improve the gene pool).

However, I really don’t feel that I relate well to people either in work situations or life situations so I tend to choose my friends very carefully and keep other people at a distance because people are prone to be thoughtless, hurtful, judgemental and worse of all, competitive.

Although ninety-nine percent of my contacts through the blog have been with friendly and genuinely nice people, the blog has also given me a great opportunity to function with a few of those people I would normally avoid without actually having to interact with them directly. That has been a boon which I will also miss.

I am also aware that over the years I have caused offence to some local community activists and I would like to take this opportunity to say, I meant every word. Politicians and vicars are bad enough but at least they don’t make any pretence that they are not trying to manoeuvre themselves into a position of power and influence.

In my experience most people who volunteer to work at community level usually have a covert agenda for giving up their time and effort. OK that’s really cynical and to make the case clear, I do know that there are some wonderful community minded people out there (it’s just that in my opinion, they make up a very small proportion of the species). For the record, the ones I have had a go at on the blog were the ones who’s agenda was not as covert as they thought, it was just that when you put opinions in the public arena, you have to be very careful what you say (therefore on those occasions, you, the reader, perhaps never really got the whole story).

Anyway, that’s all behind me now, it’s time to take a final bow (or in birding parlance, perhaps a Swansong is a more appropriate way to put it)?

All of you who have contributed to the blog know how much I have valued your input, whether it was just one record or a hundred. It has always been that team effort which has allowed the blog to thrive for so long when many other blogs went under a long time ago, but I personally want to thank every one of you and hope that those of you who have become friends will stay in touch and still say hello occasionally?

I would like to leave you with something to ponder, the big question if you will. If the quantum physicists and cosmologists are right (and I have no reason to believe that they are not), the universe at its most basic state is made up of two components, energy and vibration (as we all know thanks to Einstein, mass and energy are interchangeable and energy cannot be destroyed, only changed). If this is the true state of things then – where does consciousness come from?

It is my genuine belief that the implications of this question are bigger than almost anything else that we can conceive. There is a simple answer, that energy is itself capable of sentience and consciousness (are not our personality, memories etc.stored as an electrical field attached to our brains by chemical bonding), but if that is the truth then the implications for all world religions and belief systems are mind-bending.

Why don’t you give it some thought (or don’t – it’s often easier and more comfortable not to think about challenging concepts) and perhaps you will come to your own conclusions? And in that vein I would like my final words to be philosophical. I have dallied with many styles of philosophy, and found some of the eastern and North American beliefs to be particularly insightful and profound.

However there is one piece of wisdom that I have previously shared and which I carry close to my heart when dealing with people and which for me puts all political, religious and social arguments into their true perspective, it is this:

“Opinions are like arseholes – everybody has one!”

And as most of you know, I have never been shy to express mine.

On that note and with genuine sincerity I wish you all – Long life, good birding and a final – Farewell!

Chaz Mason
Clayhanger Marsh Blog 26/10/2007 – 26/10/2018

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The shape of things to come?

Our winter birds are often heavily influenced by weather conditions a long way from here. Waxwings sometimes go several years without occurring only to then turn up in thousands when the berry crop fails in their normal breeding territory. Autumn gales can result in 'wrecks' of pelagic (sea) birds occurring on local reservoirs and once in a while other species can occur in surprisingly large numbers.

Last year it was an unexpected influx of Hawfinch from Southern Europe that caused excitement while more frequently it might be increases in the numbers of regularly occurring species such as Brambling, Redpoll or Siskin.

Perhaps the most exciting occurrence though is what birders call a 'Crossbill Year'. There have been just two significant ones in the forty years I have been birding, but when they happen they cause real excitement.

Most birders have to put in some effort to see the Crossbill that breed in Britain but the birds from northern and eastern Europe are often larger and more robust and often bring with them rarer related species such as Parrot Crossbill or the rare Two-Barred Crossbill (real 'Twitchers' birds).

Perhaps the most exciting thing though is the potential to add this species to local patch lists across Britain. Crossbill has never occurred (or at least been observed) on our patch and they are a rare overflying visitor to Chasewater.

So why discuss this here you may ask? Well, its too early to read too much into events but there have already been a few groups of Crossbill reported flying over sites in north Staffordshire. It may be that these are resident species moving south in a ripple migration to spend the winter or they may just be a few migrant birds coming in from the continent to spend the winter with us. But there is also the possibility (albeit small at the moment) that these birds are the heralds of something bigger and potentially a source of some excitement in the winter to come.

For the present, we will have to wait and see! - Chaz

Monday, 18 September 2017

2018 The Year So Far

April's obliging Whimbrel

January: Strong winds, rain and muddy conditions on the 4th produced a reduction in visible species but the following were still in evidence; Canada Goose - Gadwall  - Teal - Mallard - Goosander  - Wigeon (9) - Shoveler - Pochard - Tufted Duck - Cormorant - Coot - Moorhen - Grey Heron - Sparrowhawk - Buzzard - Black Headed Gull - Herring Gull - Lesser Black-Backed Gull - Wood Pigeon - Collared Dove (2) - Green Woodpecker - Meadow Pipit - Magpie - Jackdaw - Carrion Crow - Starling - Blackbird - Redwing (2) - Robin - House Sparrow - Chaffinch - Goldfinch. A visit on the 9th also added; Blue Tit, Great Tit, Jay, Dunnock, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Treecreeper, Wren, Lapwing (13), Pied Wagtail, Stock Dove and Snipe to the year list.  the 10th added GBB Gull, and Kestrel.

Seventeen Snipe and three Jacksnipe were wintering in the usual area on 10/01 and the same day saw the first record of the Willow Tit. A male Peregrine Falcon was present on the afternoon of the 15th (R.F.). A Raven dropped onto the farm fields on the 17th and a Grey Wagtail was on the Ford Brook the same day. On the 22nd, a male Tawny Owl was calling at around six a.m. Our regular returning Oystercatcher put in his first appearance of the year on the 26th (R.F.) with two birds being on site by 30/01 (C.M.).

February: Wintering birds seem to be dissipating quickly although the presence of the two Oystercatcher continued.Seven Redpoll seen on the 08/02 included the wintering Common Redpoll and ten Pochard were also present that day. A Water Rail was calling on the Marsh on the 11th and there were also five Greylag Geese and twelve Shoveler on the Mere that day. Shoveler numbers reached an impressive 24 birds on the 13th (R.F.) and Greylag numbers increased to six on the 15th (W.H.). The second half of the month showed little change and an exceptional belt of Siberian weather at the end of the month put an end to birding activity.

March: The month began with blizzards and gale force winds with Britain trapped between eastern and south western weather systems. A visit on the first produced 24 Shoveler, 18 Pochard and 8 Goosander. As the Snow began to melt, a Fieldfare was present on the third. the twelfth saw a Goldeneye present and double figures of Pochard as well as a Ring Necked Parakeet at Fordbrook Lane, Pelsall. The first summer migrant arrived on the 15th, as usual a singing Chiffchaff on the mineral line. A Male Common Scoter was discovered by R.F. on the 19th. along with two Chiffchaff. A Little Egret was present on the 20th and the 24th saw two Cormorant including one showing strong sinensis characteristics. On the 26th a Woodcock was flushed (R.F.) but no further migrants were discovered up to the months end.

April: Easter Sunday came early this year but unfortunately with unseasonably bad weather. On the third things had cleared a little and a brief spell of brighter weather produced two singing Chiffchaff although at least one bird appeared to be of the race abietinus. A Willow Tit was also present on the same day. A Little Egret was around the Mere on the 4th (R.F.). Ten Goosander were still present on the 6th with three Sand Martin appearing the same day. The tenth saw two Blackcap and a surprisingly early Reed Warbler on site. A visiting birder on the 11th had three singing Willow Warbler, several Swallows, good numbers of Chiffchaff and Sand Martin as well as a Goldeneye, Snipe, a Jacksnipe and an unidentified Dunlin-sized wader (I.P.). The 19th produced a lot of migrant activity with Wheatear, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, and an obliging Whimbrel on site while a Grasshopper Warbler was heard on the 20th and a Common Sandpiper arrived on the 28th.

May: Two Reed Warbler and a Sedge Warbler were singing from the main swag on the 4th and two Greylag seem to have taken up territory on the Mere. By the middle of the month nesting had been confirmed and four Greylag Chicks were visible on the 18th. Common Tern and a singing Sedge Warbler were also present and on the same day breeding by the Oystercatchers was confirmed with at least two chicks (R.F.). A surprise on the 24th was the presence of fledged Reed warblers and the first immature Grey Heron of the season.

June: Traditionally a quiet month of breeding young. An adult Little Gull was present on the evening of the 21st.

July: Quite a bit of second brooding at the beginning of the month with Chiffchaff being particularly vocal. On the 12th breeding was confirmed by Great Crested Grebe with an adult seen carrying three young (R.F. - W.H.) and another pair subsequently raised two young making an excellent breeding season for the species locally. The two adult Oystercatcher were present along with at least one young bird until mid month at least. Late afternoon on the 12th a single Sand Martin was seen (uncommon this year).

August: After three Garganey occurred at Stubbers Green at the end of July a single eclipse bird was present on the swag pool on the 2nd along with two Teal and an Eclipse Shoveler.
In the last hour of the 6th a Little Owl was calling and in the early hours of the 7th Barn Owl and at least three Tawny Owl were calling. Mid month was extremely quiet with a Swift on the 15th being late enough to be worth noting. Tawny Owl continued to be vocal most nights and low pressure on the 21st produced the first fall of the year. Lots of Phyloscopus warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps Swallow and a male Whinchat. Also present that day was a very vocal Redshank.

September: Started with a short burst of lingering high pressure but the 2nd was overcast which made for a quiet day with a few summer birds. A Common Sandpiper was present on the Mere and there were a number of Chiffchaff as well as a Blackcap and Whitethroat. On the other side of the equation, a Snipe was perhaps an indicator of the impending change of season? Two juvenile/female Wheatear were present on the farm land on the 6th.Sixteen House Martin over the Marsh on the evening of the 18th were noteworthy.

October: The month began with apparently everything running several weeks behind normal. A male Wheatear was present briefly on the fifth (R.F.) and the same day saw two Chiffchaff present as well as six Pochard, three Snipe and seven Shoveler. Two Cormorant dropped in during the afternoon. The first local Redwing (4) arrived on the 8th and the first Fieldfares on the 28th. The same day also saw the most unusual event of the Autumn with two Dunlin on the Mere following north and north easterly winds. The local Barn Owl was seen quartering on the evening of the 27th.

November: Hobby (!), Snipe and Goosander reported around the Mere on the 7th (R.F.)The second Cetties Warbler for the site was found on 13th (C.M.)