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Friday, 6 December 2013

2014 - Summary of the year

Photo: Derek Lees
January: Despite a series of horrendous weather fronts, on the Marsh and Mere it was very quiet with little change from December. Things continued to be slow throughout the month due to it being a mild but very wet month. In the first week the only birds of note were an over-flying Raven and the semi-resident Greylag amongst the Canada Goose flock. The first real bird of interest was an apparent leucistic Goldfinch amongst a flock of 35-40 Redpoll on the fringes of the Mere on 04/01.
A single Snipe was flushed from a frozen Marsh on 14/01 and a Raven again flew over calling the same day.On the 19th a count of 31 Pochard (R.F.) must constitute a site record. The local Glossy Ibis was active in Engine Lane through most of the month and occasionally appeared to make forays south toward the Marsh but actual appearances on site could not be verified. On the 22nd I received news (N.T.) that for two days a Lesser SpottedWoodpecker had been showing at the edge of the site. A possible Mealy Redpoll was reported by R.F. and an unexpected Kingfisher made a brief appearance at the months end (31/01)

February: Still good numbers of Fieldfare about during the first week of the month and a wintering Chiffchaff was found amongst the Long Tailed Tit flock on 10/02 (R.F.). Otherwise this was the most uneventful period that I can remember with the only records relating to fluctuating duck numbers. It is quite probable that some of the more interesting gulls from the Chasewater roost may have put in an appearance but the weather and site conditions were so bad it is not surprising that nobody was there to see them!

March: A month that once again started quietly with high pressure moving in during the second week. Still Redwing and Fieldfare about on the eighth and a couple of Lesser Redpoll cleaving to the Goldfinch flock. Teal and Wigeon numbers started to drop slowly and Black Headed Gulls began to take up breeding sites on the Mere. The Oystercatchers seem to be favouring the western island and Yellowhammer began to show an increased presence with three seen on 08/03 which included a singing bird at Grange Farm. The first noteworthy bird was a Stonechat around the pit mounds on 10/03 (C.W. - G.W.). The first migrant Chiffchaff arrived on the 14th by which time duck numbers had fallen drastically. Chiffchaff continued to build up numbers over the following couple of weeks and the first Redshank of the year was heard calling on 24/03 (K.McC). By the 27th Chiffchaff were well into double figures but no other migrants had been reported although an exceptional record on the same day was a Tern SP. (Most likely a Common Tern) seen flying over the road at High Bridges from a birder heading east (J.J.H.). A further incursion of migrants took place on 29/03 with two Wheatear present on the paddocks near the Ford Brook. The first Sand Martin of the year (3) finally arrived on the last evening of the month (K.C.).
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April: A Wheatear was present on the first, three Curlew and a Ruddy Duck (which did not linger) on the second and Blackcaps were on site on the 4th. Also on the 4th Raven over-flew and a Shelduck was present on the Mere (K.C.). Two Greylag and a Cormorant flew through on the 05/04 and my first two Swallows of the year were performing the same day. also of note on the fifth were four Lapwing and the remaining female Goosander. The first Blackcap and Willow Warbler records for the site were on 10/04 while a Goldcrest on the 12th was noteworthy this year. The 15th saw the arrival of the first Whitethroat and House Martin, and the 19th saw the first record of Common Sandpiper for the year. On the 21st a Lesser Whitethroat was heard and the following day several Common Tern and five Arctic Tern were seen on the Mere, a Redshank turned up on the island, a Cuckoo was distantly heard and  Reed Warbler was singing from Pelsall Road (K.C.). The Cuckoo was still present on the 23rd and Whitethroat arrived overnight on the 24th with a Sedge and two Reed Warbler also present that morning. On the 27th there were at least two Cuckoo in the area and a Grasshopper Warbler reeled briefly early morning. On the same date there were an unseasonal couple of Gadwall (both males) on the Mere. The 29th produced a Curlew and the Cuckoo was till calling but proving elusive. On the last day of the month a splendid Yellow Wagtail appeared on the farmland.
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May: Low pressure forced down the first Swift of the year and the Cuckoo was still present until at least the fifteenth. The 5th had a report of singing Grasshopper Warbler from the set-aside and a Gadwall (Male) was an unseasonal visitor on the 10th. Swifts had returned to Clayhanger Village by the 13th and at least six Common Tern appeared to be holding territory on the Mere on the 15th. The remainder of the month was quiet with nothing of note encountered. Warblers continued to display and declare territory to the months end and several broods of Canada Geese were hatched.
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June: The second of June saw successful breeding confirmed by the Oystercatchers with two chicks on show (R.F.) and the Cuckoo was still calling on the morning of 03/06. On the fifth a Little Grebe was seen with recently fledged chicks and Great Crested Grebe were nesting. By the twelfth there were recently fledged Goldfinch, a juvenile Grey Heron and several clutches of Mallard chicks. On the Mere the Black Headed Gulls had produced at least thirteen chicks. The big news on the twelfth was the first record of Willow Tit for the year. Up to this point it had been assumed that the species was now locally extinct but the tentative call of the bird heard sounded like a young/juvenile specimen rather than an adult so perhaps covert breeding had occurred? Interestingly another Willow Tit was heard a few days later on Clayhanger Common, so hopefully the species is still hanging on (Just!)
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July: High pressure at the beginning of the month gave some warm conditions for a change. A Grasshopper Warbler was reported singing from the Set-aside on 03/07 (A.S.) and an Oystercatcher was noisily flying around on the eighth. A Green Sandpiper was flushed by Ray Fellows (Date unspecified - W/C 07/07), Little Egret was present on the 14th (R.F.) and on the 17th there were still Swift passing over the site, displaying Reed Warbler and good numbers of recently fledged birds including Common Tern and Tufted Ducks. A Willow Tit was also heard on this date but remained elusive. Amongst the large number of Small Skippers was a good proportion of Essex Skipper butterflies and the first Roesell's Bush Crickets were heard on the 17th. On the nineteenth there were still at least eleven Common Tern present and a Hobby was seen (R.F.). By the beginning of the fourth week of July most of the breeding Swift had left the local area and during the final week the few breeding Common Tern seem to have cleared out from the Mere.
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August: The first of august was still quite hot but more overcast than had been July. Ryders Mere was eerily quiet with no Terns and only a handful of Black Headed Gulls remaining (including three or four fledged juveniles). Swift were becoming very elusive although at least one passed over the village and south-west across the set-aside during the morning. The afternoon saw plenty of raptor activity with Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Hobby present, the latter giving excellent views as it tore apart an unfortunate dragonfly over the set-aside. The Hobby was seen again on 09/08 hunting a House Martin over the Recreation ground while other raptors that day included three Buzzard and a male Sparrowhawk. Also on the ninth a female Shoveler was seen on the swag, a Water Rail was heard calling and a recently fledged group of Moorhen chicks suggested a second brood. Amongst the migrant Warblers was a juvenile/female Blackcap. On Ryders Mere it was apparent that the Great crested grebes had raised three young. The 16th of August saw a significant amount of migration movement with good numbers of calling warblers, all three hirundines, several Swift and a juvenile Redstart in the bushes below the pit-mound. Star bird on this occasion however, was a juvenile Common Cuckoo which was in small trees at the north end of the main swag. This birds behaviour was consistent with a recently fledged locally bred bird, perhaps originating from one of our breeding Reed Warbler nests? By the24th the migration movement seemed to have increased with all three hirundine and a significant component of young Willow Warblers, many of which were feeding amongst a large mixed flock which included Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Long Tailed Tits. A Whitethroat was also seen and a Yellow Wagtail overflew calling. The following week saw the first evidence of the winter to come with ten Teal and four Shoveler present on the Marsh on 28/08. A flock of around three hundred Canada Geese on Ryders Mere also included our semi-resident Greylag Goose for the first time since the spring. Summer birds were still moving through however and an unprecedented two Spotted Flycatcher on the trees around the pit mound were undoubtedly star birds of the day. Apart from these Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and all three hirundine were seen and the Hobby was still disputing the air space over the set aside with the local kestrel. during the afternoon two Whinchat were also found (J.A.S.). The following day two Redstart and a Whitethroat were in the bushes near the pit mound and a very welcome Lesser Whitethroat (only my second site record this year) was seen in bushes near the Ford Brook (29/08).
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September: The first began with exciting views of a hunting Hobby over the village, following and flying below a large flock of House Martin before pursuing one unfortunate bird across the roof tops. The fourth of September found the marsh much quieter than of late with less apparent migration although another survey of the isolated bushes south of the pit mound revealed two juvenile Whitethroat, two juvenile Blackcap and another two Whinchat. On the Swag there were at least five Teal and a single Gadwall. A surprise on Ryders Mere on the fourth were the first Wigeon of the season, three obvious passage birds that had flown out by 09.10. Two Gadwall were also present and the semi-regular Greylag flew in like squadron leader ahead of a large flock of Canada geese coming in from the farm land. On the 5th another Spotted Flycatcher was found (R.F.) the Hobby was reported to be hunting and at least two Snipe were on the Mere. A Snipe was also seen on the marsh on September 9th and the same day also produced a calling Water Rail and the first views of Grey Wagtail since the Spring. Migrants seen included Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Swallow and House Martin and a Blackcap was tacking from the bushes on the northern perimeter. The Goldfinch flock also contained a number of Linnet including juvenile birds. On the Mere, the Greylag was again present with the Canada Goose flock. On the 15th a Stonechat was reported from Ryders Mere and on the 17th Ray Fellows found; Hobby, Willow Warbler, and Blackcap still passing through. On the nineteenth at least four Snipe were seen around the Mere along with an unidentified sandpiper-type wader (R.F.).Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Willow Warbler were still active on site on the 21st and little Grebe numbers on the mere seemed to be on the increase with five birds present. a solitary Swallow went through on the same day. There were still a few House Martins over the village on the 29th bringing an end to the first tird of Autumn
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October: After the warmest September since records began, October heralded a gentle shift toward proper autumn weather and some long overdue rainfall. Chiffchaff could still be heard singing on the 2nd around the recreation Ground and a family party of three Stonechat turned up the following day (R.F.) near the Sewage Farm. Several House Martin and a couple of Swallow were over the village during the afternoon of the fifth. The first proper arctic visitors arrived on 13/10 in the form of three Whooper Swan (R.F. - J.A.S.) but only remained until mid-afternoon. On the 14th a first-winter male Goldeneye was discovered on Ryders Mere and as the light was fading a Rock Pipit was seen briefly at the edge of the Mere before flying off toward the Marsh. A Jack Snipe was flushed on the16th (R.F.) as well as a number of Common Snipe (which seem to be coming in in better than average numbers this autumn). The 19th saw the arrival of the first Redwings and Siskin of the winter as well as an appearance by a Short-eared Owl (C.M. - D.P.). Two Water Rail were simultaneously calling, confirming multiple birds on site. A big influx of Redwing was occuring in the last few days of the month and a party of eight Pink Footed Geese flew low across the set-aside on the 29th being the second site record and the first since February/march 2005. A Raven flew over on the 30th and a Chiffchaff was present amongst the Long Tailed Tit flock.
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November: the first Fieldfare of the winter flew over the set-aside on the second and two Greylag were again with the Canada flock on the same day. On the fourth there were five Goosander on the Marsh, a Water Rail was heard and a female Stonechat was on the Gorse behind Ryders mere. Following a week of Guy Fawkes disturbance, waterfowl numbers began to increase and on the 12/11 a juvenile female Goldeneye, the second of the autumn, was present on the Mere mid-afternoon. A Barn Owl was reported to have been seen perched on a fence post near Mountain Ash road, Clayhanger on the evening of 14/11. A male Tawny Owl was heard calling around the recreation ground at 23.30 on the 20th and our third Goldeneye of the Autumn appeared on the 21st (R.F.). A reliable report of the Merlin was made on the 23rd, the bird apparently is a male and was seen being harrased by a Magpie.
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December: The month began with high pressure and the onset of the first cold-snap of the winter. Little change on the marsh altghough Gadwall numbers increased to reach a maximum for the year of twenty birds. The Greylag were again present with the Canada Goose flock and the 16th saw thw arrival of a new species for the site in the form of a Great Northern Diver that had relocated from Chasewater. The 16th also saw a remarkable eleven Great Crested Grebe on the Mere, one of the most significant counts ever recorded. The Diver remained into 2015 and attracted many admirers.
A pair of Stonechat were also relocated on 30/12.