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Sunday, 1 January 2012

2012 - Summary of the year

A County First at Clayhanger
Photo: Hughie King
 After the fierce conditions in 2010/11, 2012 began with strikingly mild weather systems. Despite this the large numbers of winter thrushes continued to be a feature until quite late into January. Large flocks of finches and Buntings continued to be encountered with striking numbers of the declining Yellowhammer being seen (seventeen reported on one occasion and twelve on another) this was mirrored by good numbers of the same species at Chasewater and excellent numbers of Bullfinch suggesting that 2011's breeding season was a particularly good one.

January: The traditional New Years Day visit produced around fifty species with a surprise in the form of a Woodcock along a field margin at Grange Farm. Unfortunately the probable Twite could not be relocated amongst the groups of Linnet which favoured both sites until mid-month. Equally as frustrating was a reliable but unconfirmed record of a Water Pipit on Ryders Mere on the third (YM.-PM.).

The discovery of a Brambling amongst a party of feeding Finches at Bullows Road (AS.) went unreported until another (or possibly the same?) specimen was located with a Chaffinch near Green Lane two days later (CM.). A wintering Chiffchaff was reported (JAS) on an unspecified date.

The 22nd saw the first of the now regular encounters with Raven as two birds flew south across the set-aside mid-morning, but more surprising was the arrival of a returning Oystercatcher to Ryders Mere on the same day (only five days outside of the all-time earliest record). Five days later saw an ephemeral encounter with the sites first Redshank of 2012, when a bird flew over in the pre-dawn, heading west just before 07.00 and calling four times. Finally on the 28th the probable Water Pipit was seen again (RF.) a nice if frustrating end to the month.


February: The first week was the hardest of the winter so far with minus temperatures and the marsh (and much of the Mere) frozen. More views of the putative Water Pipit were obtained briefly on the first but still nothing was noted to clinch the bird at description level.

A surprise on the third was the presence of two Dunlin (R.F. - J.A.S.), not a species that you would normally expect in February and certainly not in freezing conditions. More seasonal was a probable Jacksnipe flushed on the fifth (RF.) and two Mealy Redpoll seen on 09/02/12 by Tony Stackhouse.

Less unexpected but still rare was an adult Caspian Gull that stood on the frozen Mere preening for about ten minutes on 11/02/12 (C.M. - K.S. - T.S.). A brief appearance by an adult Yellow Legged Gull was the last bird of note in a better than average February.


March: St Davids Day provided the first traditional sign of spring in the form of a Green Sandpiper (J.A.S.) which remained in the area for two weeks and heralded a good run of passage waders for the site. A Chiffchaff was reported on 10/03 (CW - GW) and these observers also found a juvenile Black Tailed Godwit which was twitched by several regulars and remained until the evening of the following day. The same observers also reported an amazingly early Common Sandpiper on 10/03. A Redshank was keeping company with the Green Sandpiper on 15/03 and remained for several days while the first definite migrant (rather than possibly overwintering birds) arrived on the 16/03 when a Chiffchaff was discovered on the mineral line (R.F.). The run of good waders continued on 18/03 with an early morning Curlew calling as it passed through the site (C.M.). A warm spell at the end of the month brought through some early migration with a passage Willow Warbler singing along the Ford Brook on 27/03 a male Wheatear on the farmland on the same date and a female Wheatear on the marsh on 30/03 (R.F.). Finally, the Barn Owl was active around the recreation ground in the last half-hour of the month

The final Pochard of the winter were seen on 06/03 and the final Shoveler records were on the 10/03


April: The wettest April in over a hundred years (since records began)! Produced an initially slow migration this year with low pressure in the North Sea creating unfavourable conditions for migration movements. This resulted in later than average arrival by several species although the month as a whole was exceptionally busy as is normal for April. The last Wigeon was recorded on 10/04, (the highest count of the winter being 114 on 15/11), the last Goosander were present on 14/04 and the last wintering Teal on the 19/04.

A female Wheatear was on the Paddocks on the morning of the first and the Oystercatchers were later seen mating at the edge of a small pool. The first Willow Warbler to display arrived on 02/04 and was still singing the following weekend. The Green Sandpiper was still present until the7th at least with the same or another seen on 19/04. A Little Ringed Plover was on the Eastern island of the Mere on the 6th and remained until early afternoon of the following day (R.F.-C.M.-S.H.) when it was seen to fly toward Chasewater calling loudly. Despite this, it (or another?) returned to the Marsh two days later (09/04) and showed well on the shoreline (R.F.) being joined by a second bird and apparently showing an interest in breeding the following day.

The first Sand Martin (2) were found on the ninth of April and a Peregrine Falcon put in an appearance on the same day (R.F.). A singing Blackcap had taken up territory by the Sewage Farm (14/04) and the same day saw a small fall of five Wheatear at various points around the sites.Three of these Wheatear (or possibly a different three?) were present the following day (two males and a female) along with a full breeding plumage male Redstart and a first-summer Black-Tailed Godwit (K.S.-T.S.-C.M.) which was still in the area until the months end. In the late afternoon of the 15/04 distant views of a probable Osprey were obtained (C.M.) although this bird heading north was sadly too far distant to confirm (the flight behaviour of deep wing beats followed by prolonged glides was very distinctive).

At least eight Fieldfare were present on 16/04 with several still present on the following day while the first House Martins were also seen flying over on the sixteenth. The Mere hosted its first Common Sandpiper on the 18th. The following day saw the arrival of the most significant birds of the year, a pair of Black Winged Stilt which remained until the evening and which also constituted a first record for the West Midlands County! Later the same day birders looking for the Stilts discovered the first Common Terns of the year on Ryders Mere, one of which was still present the following day along with a Common Sandpiper. One fortunate birder (Neil Tipton) looking for the Stilts on 20/04 saw and photographed (Below) a Red Kite over the Mere. on the 21st three Greylag Geese were present (I.P.)

Red Kite over the Mere
The following week saw a movement of Common Tern and Common Sandpiper, but more noteworthy was an Arctic Tern on the Marsh on 27/04 (R.F.) which constituted a third site record. The month ended with Grasshopper Warbler - Yellow Wagtail (2) - Wheatear (8M 2F) and the first Swifts for the site while a drake Gadwall showed well on the swag pool (30/04). No sign of Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler or Sedge Warbler though, species which should have arrived ten days ago - a worrying development probably arising from the prevailing weather conditions?


May: Not actually on the Marsh but torrential rain during the morning of the first produced a surprising record of a Lesser Whitethroat at the junction of Bridge Street and Church Street in Clayhanger Village, singing and showing well for a few seconds before flying to the local allotments. This may well have been the same bird present along the Ford Brook the following day?

The second saw the arrival of the first Common Whitethroats, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler on the Marsh and three Wheatear were also still present on the rough grazing between the Marsh and the Mere. Common Tern numbers increased to nineteen birds by the evening and at least five singing male Blackcap were on the site on the same day. Amazingly, the first summer Black Tailed Godwit was also relocated on the second, now favouring a subsidence swag in front of the pit mound and looking exceptionally fine.

The fourth of May provide a singing Lesser Whitethroat on Clayhanger Common and a second reeling Grasshopper Warbler on site while a call from Anita had me making a late evening dash to view my first on-site Barn Owl for nearly two years. this bird performed well for several nights with probably two birds carrying food on 06/05 and two seen again on 15/05 (K.McC).

A pair of  Common Teal on the eighth were unseasonal and a calling female Tawny Owl on the afternoon of 12/05 was certainly unusual. The same day saw the first Hobby of the year recorded (C and G.W.), an overflying Raven (C.M.) and a calling Cuckoo at Railswood. A Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling on the 14th and the Lesser Whitethroat was on territory between the set-aside and the recreation ground. The following day provided several excellent views of the hunting Hobby again and it became apparent that another Lesser Whitethroat was still in the village and displaying regularly from the allotment area (as well as another bird on Clayhanger Common). The Grasshopper Warbler was still present on the 16th and on the twentieth there was a Yellow Wagtail (R.F.). On the 21st a drake Garganey (C.M.) was present and showed well for several observers and on the evening of the 24th a Curlew flew in (A.S.). The Grasshopper Warbler was still singing on 28/05 and on the same evening a calling Quail was heard and seen briefly in flight (P.W.-A.S.-C.M.). This bird was still present two days later when it was observed briefly in flight (A.S.).


June: The Barn Owl continued to show regularly and seemed to be making serious inroads into its favourite food, Short Tailed Field Vole! Unfortunately, the young birds were not heard calling after the eighth and may have succumbed that weekend which had atrocious weather conditions. The Hobby also continued to put in appearances despite a very cool bank holiday weekend. The 04/06 produced a Redshank and the first Garden Warbler of the year, singing and showing well from the set-aside. In addition to this all of the regular warblers were in song again, including at least one Grasshopper Warbler and local breeding by Long Tailed Tit and Pied Wagtail was confirmed. The breeding island on Ryders Mere seemed to have a record number of Black Headed Gull chicks and both adult Oystercatcher were seen with two well advanced chicks. These subsequently fledged and there were four very active birds present mid month.

The thirteenth found three Little Ringed Plover on the Mere, possibly displaced by rising water levels at Chasewater? On the same evening the singing GrasshopperWarbler was seen in company with another, possibly female bird. The 17/06 saw two Grasshopper Warbler reeling and a return to song for the elusive Garden Warbler. The same day saw an unseasonable female Gadwall on the Marsh and keeping company with several Mallard, all of which appeared to be moulting into eclipse plumage. On the same evening the Barn Owl was again seen keeping company with a smaller Barn owl, suggesting that at least one of the locally bred young has survived? Unfortunately the following day the Police had to be notified that idiots with guns were seen near to the Sewage Farm! The 22/06 provided some surprising news with a report that the Quail was again heard calling (A.S.).


July: The month began quietly but with a strong showing of juvenile Black Headed Gulls once again. A Red Kite was seen over Pelsall on the fourth (G.C.) heading toward the Marsh and the following day was seen again, this time over the Marsh (L.R.M.) Most of the month was traditionally quiet. A Water Rail was reported from the pools at Pelsall Road on the 22nd and three Raven over on the 25th were noteworthy but Common Tern numbers declined quite early although there were still several birds present until the 28th.with Oystercatcher still present on the same day. Also on the 28th a Hobby was seen (K.C.) and a singing Lesser Whitethroat was something of a surprise. A returning creche of Lapwing numbered up to ninety birds (K.C.).


August: A very quiet start to the month with a small passage of Swift on the first, along with four Common Tern, at least two Reed Warbler and a few nearly fledged Black Headed Gull on the Mere. Swift were over the village on the evening of the 9th but more spectacular was the return of the Red Kite on the evening of the 10th (J.J.H.). On the same day there was a report of a record THREE Common Redstart in the hedge line near the Ford Brook (Lorna Hodgkins).

The first conspicuous returning wildfowl were two Shoveler on the 12/08 and the breeding Common Tern had apparently departed by this date although there were still at least three Reed Warbler present and a Cormorant flew through (scarce locally this year). The following day saw the arrival of the first Teal for the winter, accompanied by a more exotic visitor in the shape of a breeding plumage Little Egret (S.H. - C.M. - R.F.). On the same day one Reed Warbler was still present. There had also been a passage fall of Willow Warbler which had not been apparent the previous day. The Hobby showed well on the 20/08 and yet another Redstart was seen in flight on the same day.

The following day the Egret had gone but while looking for it, another Reed Warbler, a Sedge Warbler, A Common Tern and two Redstart (a female and a juvenile) were found (C.M.). The Little Grebe on the Mere had two chicks on the 18/08 and the following day there were three Cormorant present. Surprisingly there were still two Common tern active on the 21/08 and on the same day I received a report of an exotic escaped cage bird at Pelsall (a Java Sparrow) which had apparently taken up with the local House Sparrows?


September: A Hobby was reported several times on the first, hunting House Martins over the set- aside (A.S.). Warblers were passing through during the first ten days or so but nothing else of particular note on the bird front. The big news during this period was confirmation of the presence of Roesell's Bush Crickets with up to four being seen on several occasions. By the eleventh The Bush Crickets had been photographed and the birding was improving. Teal numbers were approaching double figures, a female Shoveler was present along with three Gadwall and the first returning Wigeon of the winter. The 15th saw the return of a Grey Wagtail and an increase in Wigeon to two! There was an Oystercatcher reported on the Mere on 16/09 (Y.M.) while the 18th produced a flurry of five Sand Martin and a Willow Warbler (R.F.). By the 25th Wigeon had increased to twenty. On the same day a drake Shoveler had arrived, Swallow, House Martin and Chiffchaff were still passing through  and a Kingfisher was again present. The end of the month also showed a notably significant increase in Mallard, presumably of Continental origin? Throughout this period the most noticeable birds were the 250 - 300 Canada  Geese that shared their time between the Mere, the farm land and Chasewater. The 28th saw a strong movement of Chiffchaff, a single Swallow, a Snipe and a juvenile Arctic Tern which hawked over the water mid afternoon (C.M. - R.F. - J.A.S.). The Tern was still present the following day (R.F.) and on the 30/09 (C.M. - J.A.S.). The last day of the month produced a couple of Chiffchaff, a strong passage of House Martin and a probable Sand Martin. More frustrating however were brief views of a wading bird in flight that was almost certainly a Ruff!


October: A quiet start to the month with a very slow build up of Wigeon and Teal. A probable Peregrine was seen flying off the Marsh at Speed and passing over the village on the 6th, two Rook on the seventh were notable on site and two Shoveler on the same date were also noteworthy. The first local Redwing of the winter overflew the village before heading west across the Marsh at 07.50 on 08/10 and three were on the mineral line on the 7th. The last House Martins were over the recreation ground on 10/10 and a Woodcock was reported flushed from near the Mineral Line on 11/10(L.H). The 13th confirmed the presence of a (albeit distant) Peregrine, three over flying Cormorant, four Shoveler, Kingfisher, Lesser Redpoll and Willow Tit (Willow Tit have become more frequent during the Autumn and Kingfisher has also been a regular if elusive visitor since September). There was also a consistent movement of Meadow Pipit and Skylark going over which seemed to continue for several days with a single-note Pipit being seen flying west on 15/10. This was probably a Rock Pipit but was very clean and white on the underparts preventing Water pipit from being eliminated. In the same week a possible Long Eared Owl was discovered on the set-aside, showing for fifteen minutes on the 20th. The first Fieldfare were reported on the 27th along with a Brambling (K McC) and the 28th produced a pair of Pochard, two Goosander and big numbers of wintering thrushes.

November: Good numbers of wintering thrushes by the beginning of November and a Greylag Goose was associated with the Canada Geese on 04/11 (C.M.) and again on the 10th (R.F.) and 25th (C.M.). A female Merlin was seen well for about thirty seconds on the 11/11 (C.M.) and two Brambling were reported on the same date (A.S.). A period of wet weather mid month reduced the number of winter Thrushes although a local scarcity turned up on the 25th in the form of a male Pintail (R.F.).

December: The Greylag Goose was again with the Canada Goose flock on 03/12 and things were quiet until the 08/12 when two observers managed to connect with a first for the site in the form of a Great White Egret (A.S. - ) which had been touring the Staffordshire wetland sites during the morning. An over-flying Rock Pipit on the 13th showed quite well in flight for a change and a Woodcock did an excellent fly-past on the same day. Toward the months end Gadwall numbers increased as did Goosander with 36 birds roosting on Christmas Eve and 20+ present most day to the months end. Also from mid-month the Greylag count increased by 100% with two birds occasionally present amongst a flock of up to 300 Canada Geese. at least one Greylag was with the Canada flock until the years end and two Raven were reported over on the 27th (A.S.).