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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