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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

2011 - summary of the year

JANUARY began well with an uncommon species on the first in the shape of a GOLDENEYE and an outright site rarity (albeit of questionable origin) on the second when a BARNACLE GOOSE was discovered on the frozen Mere (this bird was also recorded briefly at Stubbers Green). On the 19th the elusive MANDARIN which had occurred at the end of 2010 put in its final appearance (avoiding me on all of them) and on the 27th a wintering CHIFFCHAFF was being very noisy down by the Sewage Farm but resisting all attempts to be seen. The following day however was to provide what was to be most peoples 'Bird of the Year' when Ray Fellows Discovered a diver on Ryders Mere which turned out to be the first BLACK THROATED DIVER for the site, what a way to end the month?

FEBRUARY was a traditionally quiet month for new species, the main thing to note being the gradual reduction in wintering species and (in a good year) the arrival of the first spring migrants. 2011 was not however a good year and the only record of note was the arrival of our first breeding OYSTERCATCHER on February 6th.

MARCH saw the arrival of the first migrant CHIFFCHAFF on the 20th and the final departure of this winters POCHARD (24/03), with WIGEON, REDWING and FIELDFARE being recorded for the final time on 26/03.

APRIL began well when Chris and Graham Weston discovered a RING OUZEL on the third which remained for much of the day, attracting many admirers. The same day saw the arrival of our first WILLOW WARBLER, BLACKCAP and SAND MARTINS of the Spring and the last record of GOOSANDER for the winter period. A PEREGRINE put in a brief appearance on 07/04 along with the first HOUSE MARTIN and the first SWALLOW was not far behind, arriving on the 8th.

But it was the ninth which gave Ray Fellows his second site-first when he discovered three fabulous looking BLACK TERN feeding over the Mere during the evening. This resulted in mad dashes by myself and Hughie King, thankfully both of which were successful.The first COMMON SANDPIPER and WHITETHROAT appeared on the 14th and the last wintering GADWALL disappeared on the 15th. A WHEATEAR was discovered by Kev McCarthy on the 16th and a GRASSHOPPER WARBLER (the first of three singing males this spring) was discovered by myself on the 17th. A CURLEW was heard flying over on 21st, the first REED WARBLER arriving the same day and quite an early first SWIFT was discovered on 22/04 the last TEAL disappearing two days later. April is obviously the month to visit if you want day-to-day action!

MAY by comparison was quite quiet this year. May can often provide significant records of overshooting migrants and outright rarities but the highlights this year were GARDEN WARBLERS on the 13th, DUNLIN and WHIMBREL on the 15th and the first HOBBY record of the summer on 22/05.

JUNE is normally the wind-down of the spring migration with little of note but this year had ominous significance with (as far as I know) the only record of LESSER WHITETHROAT for the summer? This has always been a significant species for Clayhanger and I had hoped that we had managed to avoid the national decline of the species but it appears not!

JULY saw the years first LITTLE EGRET, discovered by Steve Hill on the 14th and remaining in the area until the 18th, the same day that our breeding Oystercatchers were seen for the last time apparently having failed to raise a young one, something that had never happened since the first year that they arrived. This is almost certainly because of the lack of any management on Ryders Mere which has resulted in the islands developing breeding habitat which better suits the BLACK HEADED GULLS than the COMMON TERNS or Oystercatchers.

AUGUST was frustrating for me when I discovered a calling SPOTTED CRAKE which lured in a number of hopeful observers but ultimately proved disappointing (as is often the way with this species). The first returning TEAL arrived on 17th

SEPTEMBER saw the first GADWALL arrival on 04/09 and the first multiple record of WHINCHAT for the site with one bird on the Marsh (Anita Scott) and one bird with a late WHEATEAR on the Mere (Dave Glover and myself). A very significant and under-rated record occurred on 07/09 with the sites second ever confirmed record of ARCTIC TERN, this time not just a fly-through but a bird that remained long enough to be twitched by several of the regulars. This date also saw the last records of COMMON SANDPIPER and SAND MARTIN for the summer. A comparatively late arrival date for WIGEON was 21/09 and the build-up of this species was also somewhat slower than normal perhaps indicating a change in migration strategy from this species - global warming a trigger or just an anomalous migration?

OCTOBER saw the arrival of REDWING on 13/10, the first wintering POCHARD on 22/10 the second GOLDENEYE of the year and the first SHELDUCK of the year on 25/10 and the first returning FIELDFARE on 27/10 heralding a bumper winter for these Scandinavian migrants.

NOVEMBER saw a phenomenal late record for the site with a SWALLOW flying through on 01/11 the same day which recorded the arrival of the first of our wintering GOOSANDER. A COMMON REDPOLL (that's Mealy Redpoll to older hands) showed well briefly on 15/11 and the first WATER RAIL record for the year was on 18/11 (what has become of this species locally?).

My personal highlight of the year occurred on 22/11 when at dusk a party of six GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE flew in to the Marsh for long enough to be enjoyed by Kev Clements, Kim, Trevor and myself (I have always been a sucker for wildfowl - especially wild geese).

DECEMBER was generally quite mild with little incentive for major incursions by northern species or local movements by established wintering wildfowl. The big news was the arrival of putative AZORIAN YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS at Chasewater and Stubbers Green, an exceptionally rare species in Britain and one which has yet to be accepted by the powers that be. It was therefore pleasing for our site to make a contribution to this debate with the presence of a sub-adult or adult specimen on at least two occasions during the month. This coincided with occasional visits by an often elusive species on the mere, adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. Frustratingly I was able to point it out on both occasions to some local dog-walkers but the bird seemed reluctant to be observed by other site Lister's - never mind, another bird for another day! The 31st of December ended the year on a bit of a cliffhanger, a finch with a bright yellow bill briefly observed amongst the Linnet, will it be seen again and, if it wasn't a TWITE then what was it?

There we are then - 2011 in a nutshell, many thanks to everyone who participated. The site total (excluding species for which there is not enough detailed evidence) is 177 (three of which have been added this year) and I will be happy to send a detailed site list to anyone who requests one.

Here's to 2012! - Chaz

Friday, 2 December 2011

2010 - Summary of the year

By any ones yardstick, this has to be the star bird of the year!
Probably the most significant bird of this month was the most elusive! After photographs of a Red Kite were taken over Pelsall I finally received at least two visuals on site from experienced birders, unfortunately neither with a specific date but both in the last ten days of the month. The ninth was a day for interesting species with a Little Egret present on the Ford Brook (CM), a male Goldeneye on Ryders Mere (CM) and an adult Yellow-Legged Gull on Ryders Mere (which was seen again on 17/01). The 21st saw probably the rarest bird of the month when a ring-tailed female Hen Harrier was seen in flight carrying a large rodent across the western fields at Grange Farm (SD-MD) heading towards High Heath. Finally on the last day of the month the first record for this year of an increasingly regular species, when two Raven overflew the site.

As is normally the case, probably the quietest month of the year, highlights being the return of our first breeding Oystercatcher on the 8th and a male Stonechat on the 27th (a species which had been notable by its absence this winter!).

Spring was not to come particularly early in 2010, certainly as far as migrants were concerned. Some compensation was found however when the local Barn Owl was found to be favouring a particular roost site (CW.-GW.) it then continued to favour this site on most days until at least 18/04. The last wintering Pochard disappeared on 13/03 and the first migrants arrived on 25/03 when both Chiffchaff and Sand Martin were recorded. The same day also saw the arrival of a Redshank on Clayhanger Marsh.

On the 2nd the departure of the last Fieldfare of the winter was balanced by the arrival of Swallow and Wheatear. The last Goosander of the winter departed on the 3rd and a Peregrine was seen hunting on the 5th.

The tenth was a good day for arriving migrants with Willow Warbler, House Martin and Yellow Wagtail being seen and the following day was to see the arrival of a Green Sandpiper which remained faithful to the marsh until the 18th.

Continuing the balanced approach, the 14th saw the departure of the last Wigeon and Redwing countered by the arrival of Blackcap and a male Garganey. Another Raven was seen on 17/04 and the 18th saw the welcome return of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler on the Marsh and an (always noteworthy) Greylag Goose on the Mere. The 19th gave one observer the welcome sight of two Shelduck on the Mere (JAS.) and the 20th saw the departure of the last Teal and another visit by the Redshank.

The 24th was another bumper migrant date with the simultaneous arrival of; Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Swift. The following day finished the regular line-up when Lesser Whitethroat arrived. The 28th saw two Redshank present but any thoughts that Spring migration was over, ended on the 29th when I received a text from Anita Scott to say that she had found a Hoopoe perched on wires at the south end of the site!

Confirmation of the presence of this southern European vagrant was made and Clayhanger Marsh was to be the focus of intense birding activity until the bird was last seen on 9th (sic.). Local birders were supplemented by visitors from every part of Britain, many on their way to or returning from seeing a major rarity in Devon. I personally escorted visitors from as far away as Yorkshire and my wife found a party from Scotland wandering around Clayhanger Common on the assumption that this was the correct site. The presence of a large number of observers was to add a couple of good species to the year list and is evidence of what may be missed in an average year.

The first of the month saw the arrival of a Common Sandpiper and birders looking for the Hoopoe picked up a Pied Flycatcher and on the following day, a female Marsh Harrier flying over the site on 02/05. The seventh saw another Raven and the 9th another Greylag Goose. The last wintering Gadwall (although by now almost a summering Gadwall) departed on 22nd.

Unseasonal birds are always exciting,but I cant explain the presence of an immaculate drake Wigeon on the first of June! The bird was present for much of the day and was seen by a number of observers. It had gone the following day however and as far as I am aware was not recorded anywhere else. A very late migrant or an escaped collection bird - it is certainly at the extreme end of feasible migration? The twelfth saw yet another Greylag Goose in what was turning into a good year for seeing this species and the 20th not only saw the arrival of the first Hobby of the year but also the presence of two Black-tailed Godwit on Ryders Mere.

A typically quiet month with the last Oystercatcher on the 11th sharing the Mere with a juvenile Little Ringed Plover.

A very early return date for Teal, with two birds present on the first of the month. Six juvenile Pintail were present on the morning of the 15th (CM.) staying just long enough to be twitched by two other site regulars and a male Redstart was a very welcome sight on the 22nd. The 27th saw the most bizarre twitch of my life when a phone call from Paul Jeynes told me that an adult Gannet was flying toward the Marsh from Stubbers Green! I bolted upstairs and within two minutes had remarkably picked up the bird as it flew across the south paddocks. It soared over the site and gave good views until it banked and apparently reversed its course, last being seen powering away across the south paddocks towards Shelfield. Finally, to round of an excellent month another site rarity, a Spotted Flycatcher showed well on the 30th.

A steady flow of returning migrants was supplemented by the odd highlight including a Stonechat on the 12th, an unseasonal Rock Pipit on the 18th and a Black-tailed Godwit on the 25th which shared the day with the first returning Gadwall.

This month was solely about returning winter species with Wigeon on the 2nd, Redwing on the 8th, Fieldfare on the 17th and both Pochard and Goosander on the 27th.

Another male Goldeneye, the second in a year and very noteworthy, was present on the 7th and the 13th provided brief but good views of a Common Redpoll perched high on the perimeter hedge line. The 21st provided another Little Egret. Probably the most remarkable record of the period was a party of possibly fifteen Corn Bunting on farmland near Green Lane on the 27th which unfortunately could not be relocated the following day.

It is unusual to get a new record for the site so late in the year but the drake Mandarin which had been favouring Chasewater put in an appearance at Ryders Mere on the 4th and 12th (being photographed on the latter occasion). The last Greylag of the year was present on the 31st when remarkably a Kingfisher defied the freezing conditions to fly along the Ford Brook, the first for the year on the very last day!

A perfect end to an excellent year - Chaz