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Sunday, 20 August 2017

Its the early bird..

...that coincides with an overnight fall of migrants.  It was one of those days that 'felt-right' and even though nothing of spectacular note was found I spent  a very worthwhile couple of hours hedge-bashing this morning. The first evidence of a fall was within the first few yards of the set-aside, where one small bush contained a Chiffchaff and three Goldcrests - always a good sign.
Goldcrest - Photo: Keith Whitehouse

I want to make it quite clear that I am not at all anti-Semitic, but a word of warning to you - I didn't half have a problem with the dew this morning.

Going over early with soft summer shoes on is not recommended at the moment. By the time I got to the tin bridge my socks and shoes were already wetter than if I had gone swimming in them. Not much fun doing a circuit in soggy feet!

The mineral line was alive with birds but most were flying ahead of me. Aside from the copious number of Goldfinch there was a surprising number of Bullfinch with Common Whitethroat still the most prolific warbler on this area. I naturally spent quite a bit of time working the bushes around the pit mound but still the only entertainment was a family group of common Whitethroat and an immature Blackcap.
Juvenile Chiffchaff - Photo Keith Whitehouse
The best site today was the buffer zone and I stood for about twenty minutes just watching a continuous parade of birds fly past me. It was quite a bohemian selection with a mixture of Long Tailed, Blue and Great Tit accompanying dozens of Phyloscopus warblers. The majority were Chiffchaff but there were several juvenile Willow Warblers including one having a go at singing in preparation for the next breeding season. However, by the time I moved away at about 09.20 they had all vanished, presumably taking advantage of the current high pressure front to continue their southward migration?

While I was watching these birds I was joined by Dave Plant and together we shared the star bird of the day for me, a late Common Swift which dropped in to feed over the Mere, extending my latest date this year by sixteen days. In reciprocation for the Swift, Dave picked up an over-flying Cormorant to add to the day list.

We are starting to notice an escalation of migration so worth getting over at the moment although the next few days of high pressure won't do us any favours.

Have a good week all - Chaz

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Marsh loses a 'Tick'

Celebrating its promotion perhaps - a Common Redpoll
It may not be scheduled to happen until January but one of the most important information sites for birdwatchers has already adopted the new version of the British List that brings the United Kingdom into line with some of its European partners. This means that Lesser Redpoll (the Redpoll that occurs most frequently on the Marsh and Mere - and in Britain as a whole) has now been relegated to sub-species status with the scarce and occasional Common (Mealy) Redpoll becoming the nominate species.

The changes don't seem to affect my list particularly as the removal of Lesser Redpoll is balanced by the acceptance of Taiga and Tundra Bean Geese as separate species but as neither of those has ever been recorded on our sites it does mean that the site list drops to (by my calculation) 191 recorded species.

For other list keeping anoraks like me, it is quite frustrating that the order of species has also changed once again with Geese now taking precedence over Swans at the top of the list. 'Gordon Bennet'! I wish they would make their minds up once and for all. It is a pain in the fundament having to revise species lists every six months.

One thing that caught my attention on the new list, Red Fox Sparrow? When did one of those turn up in Britain then? It passed under my radar - Chaz

Friday, 18 August 2017

More of the same I'm afraid

Well, it was more or less a nice afternoon for it! Shame there was nowt to see. A mooch around the Pit Mound revealed a fair few Chiffchaff and a couple of Greenfinch, no returning duck on the Marsh and the highlight was probably Ian Phillips's female Kestrel hunting far and wide (but unfortunately not being harassed by a Hobby today - perhaps she knows something I don't)?
Kestrel - a bird that rarely gets star-status on the blog!
A couple of showers went through and on both occasions pushed down a southerly movement of hirundine, almost all House Martins with just a couple of Swallow thrown in for good measure.

Ah well, roll-on Autumn!

Have a nice weekend all - Chaz

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Still quiet as summer draws to an end.

It was really good to hear from one of the old Marsh regulars today as Ian Phillips put in a visit. Sadly it was not to provide any significant stuff although he did manage to connect with a species that is eluding me this year, Hobby. He also had a fly-over by a Raven, a species that seems to be less regular of the site this year after a number of years where records were increasing.


I can't remember a time when the bird life over there was less inspiring! We seem to be in the doldrums, somewhere between Summer and Autumn although passage seems to be going on apace elsewhere. We are starting to get a few more Swallow going through and in the last few days I have noted a definite fall of Goldcrests around the village. There has also been an apparent increase in calling Blackcap locally so there is some movement going through. A couple of nights ago I was in bed and was pleased to hear a regularly calling Little Owl. The old faithful from Grange Farm has not been seen this year as far as I can tell so its good to know that there are still one or two about.

As for me, all being well I will put in a dutiful visit before the weekend although to be honest I am really waiting for the kids to go back to School before really increasing the frequency of my visits. I suppose that this will have to coincide with my regular early Autumn womble to collect the various discarded items that will inevitably have been dropped all around the place during the six week break.

Anyway, Big thank you to Ian for his visit and report. Hopefully we will have the first returning wildfowl in the next few days. Usually lead by Teal but early September often produces a good number of Shoveler and Gadwall too. I will keep you posted - Chaz

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Cant get enough exotic avifauna

Another trip to Park Lime Pits today to see the Rose-Ringed (Ring-necked) Parakeets again. Three birds today , two seen and another one heard. Good to know they are still about and apparently doing well - yes?

"Wot You Looking at?" - Photo Susan Lord
These birds are causing some controversy nationally as there is no doubt that in places they are taking over nest sites suitable for other species such as Woodpeckers and Owls but personally I really can't see the conflict as anything of serious concern. Can any of you ever remember coming across this species in rural areas? Am I wrong or are the Parakeets exclusively favouring urban areas where there are plenty of bird feeders and ornamental trees to take advantage of?

Two of todays birds - Photo Susan Lord
If I am right, that leaves an awful lot of rural England in which the other species can thrive while these exotic colonists add more than a bit of colour to our Urban Avifauna?

What do you think? I ask because I suspect that inevitably battle-lines will be drawn and we will be having to decide if we support or oppose a cull on this species. We have already seen the effective genocide of the U.K. population of Ruddy Duck so the same approach to the control of feral parakeets may not be out of the question and you will then need to decide which side of the debate you support.

Just an opinion but perhaps a valid one? Until then, I suggest you go and enjoy these lovely creatures while you can. - Chaz

Lots of Birds and flutters

A lovely morning and Mrs Chaz, Susan and I did a half circuit to see what was happening today.

Lots of action although nowt to shout about from the unusual point of view, Star bird was undoubtedly a brief showing by a juvenile Lesser Whitethroat that Susan found. Most ubiquitous  bird was still Common Whitethroat, even outnumbering Chiffchaff and Blackcap, the two species that normally take the award for commonest warbler locally.

Lots of Shoreline around the Mere but despite this no waders, although at around nine o'clock I was in the garden and was convinced I heard a flight call from an over-flying Curlew, which, had I been able to confirm it would have not only been the star bird for the day but also one of the best local finds for me this year.

Butterflies today included; Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Small Copper, Common Blue, Peacock and unusually a male Holly Blue (scarce locally). Dragonflies included Brown Hawker and Black-tailed Skimmer with a few Common Blue Damselflies thrown in for good measure.

The soundtrack to the day was provided courtesy of Common Green and Meadow grasshoppers that seemed to be taking advantage of the warmth and sunlight to give us a song.

A lovely morning walk - now Sunday Dinner! Purfec! 

Enjoy your day and have a good week all - Chaz

Saturday, 12 August 2017

My opinion has been requested, so here it is



A non-birding topic for you to ignore if you want to.

I wasn’t going to say anything…but. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am a lifelong fan of Doctor Who – and I mean LIFELONG! I am a member of that disappearing generation who remember where they were the night Kennedy was assassinated and I also remember watching the first episode of Doctor Who the following day (and again the following week).

I thought that my silence on the selection of a woman to be the Doctor would speak volumes but several people have texted or emailed me and asked what I thought about it so, with calmness and after a cooling off period from the announcement I will say that in my opinion it is an indefensible and total debacle and I will no longer be watching the programme when it comes back next year (in fact I as things stand I am not going to bother watching the Christmas Special this year). 

Although you can say that it is just a television programme, it is one that I have been inordinately fond of and which has been a familiar theme throughout my life and I have seldom experienced such a strong feeling of betrayal as I felt over this announcement. Frankly I would rather they had finished the series rather than effectively piss over 53 years of its history in such a manner.

I feel really sorry for Peter Capaldi, I loved the guy from day-one but he never really had a chance with the role as the show runner (Steven Moffatt) had run out of new ideas several seasons before and for some weird reason, initially insisted on taking the focus off the main character and putting it onto a supporting character (who also outstayed her welcome by at least two series). In echoes of the Sylvester McCoy era, Capaldi was just making the character his own in this last series and could have gone on to be spectacular, but now it will never be. I have no personal dislike for the actress involved although she annoyed me the other day by saying that she hoped that fans would not feel threatened. Threatened? To the fans she is talking to, her feelings and opinions are probably perceived as nothing more than an unnecessary irrelevance in regard to this situation – this is just another acting job as far as she is concerned. I actually admire her courage for taking on the role; I just hope she appreciated how controversial it would be.

In my opinion this is just yet another politically correct innovation, put in to place in the hope that she will increase falling viewer numbers perhaps by appealing to the attention of teenage boys or by being a positive, heroic role model for gay women to admire (apparently two of the key demographics when deciding what should be on British television these days – I refer you to the awful Doctor who spin-offs ‘Torchwood’ and the more recent horrendous effort ‘Class’)

The new runner Chris Chibnal can’t lose. A place is established  in history for the maverick show-runner who decided that his views should take precedence over 53 years of loyal fan following (I will say very little about any ‘cronyism’ around the selection of the actress  concerned – watch Chibnal’s Broadchurch, and  make your own mind up).

As for me, am I a representative of the older generation opposed to change – yes if its change for change sake?

I am not closed minded, I had accepted that the character could (in principle), change gender – skin-colour etc. – in fact anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that as a white Anglo-Saxon (lapsed) protestant, I have been espousing the merits of Black actor Danny John Joules as my choice to play the character since even before Peter Capaldi’s tenure. The point is just because a woman is able to do something, doesn’t mean that she should. I don’t think that I am closed minded, just angry at the idiocy behind a really bad decision and suspicious that it is could be just a covert plan to let the show scuttle itself (not paranoia - they did a  similar thing in the eighties)

No – that is as much as I have to say, it was a programme that gave me much happiness and entertainment for many years and was one last tenuous link to my childhood that is no longer there.

I’m just seriously sick to the teeth of the increasing power of the P.C. liberal left in influencing everyone’s life these days, regardless of if it is a welcome interference or not ! I don’t think my feelings are unique? If we had a referendum on whether political correctness should be made illegal, I suspect that the outcome would cause as much surprise as Brexit! - Chaz

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Can you believe its been a year?


Its a celebration day at Oak Park Recreation Centre today, commemorating a whole year since the new leisure centre opened, They asked me not to go as they would be obliged to offer me face painting and apparently the council cant afford the scaffolding and polyfiller!

It must be an age thing but I still miss the old place having spent so many happy hours there and to be honest, the councils cost-cutting at the new place is beginning to show (the second replacement-set of hair dryers are breaking down, on Monday only one of the four showers in one section were working, the parking bollards are out of order and the four windows broken by vandals in the first week are still broken)!
I am not painting too dark a picture, despite all of its short comings the staff are excellent and hold the place together, something I suspect the council probably doesn't appreciate if my experience is anything to go by?

Anyway, its a fun-day or so I'm told, so if you are at a loose end, perhaps a good day for a visit?
What, me, will I be there? - I'm the anti-social Birder don't forget, I've put my visit off until tomorrow (of course) - Chaz

Monday, 7 August 2017

An unexpected but happy encounter

You find wildlife in the most unusual places, sometimes by accident. I was walking home from my morning swim today and in the gutter of Maybrook Road I could see a familiar flash of pink. Close inspection revealed it to be just what I thought it was a Small Elephant Hawk Moth.


I assumed it was dead as that tends to be the only way I get to see them these days but it was on its legs so I picked it up for a closer inspection and it slowly began to revive with the warmth of my hand. I expect it had been batted aside by the down-draught from a passing motor and had  sat there stunned waiting to be run over? There was a happy ending though, I left it perched on the leaf of a Rosebay Willow Herb where its bright pink colours would be less conspicuous.

Hawk Moths were always a bit of a passion of mine and my big regret was not going to see a Deaths-Head Hawk Moth that had been caught at Longstones during one trip to the Scillies. I was even assaulted by one! During a Moth Trapping exercise a disorientated Large Elephant Hawk Moth hit me in the forehead at some speed - Trust me, it stung! (although I don’t expect that impacting with my thick head did it much good either)? - Chaz

Friday, 4 August 2017

A quiet Friday, but a hint of change

Finally got up the enthusiasm to do a duty-visit today with little expectation of anything noteworthy and I'm pleased to say, I wasn't disappointed.

Still lazy August over there but with obvious indications of the changing season such as the eclipse Mallards that are starting to show signs of fresh plumage, the migration movement of Swallow and House Martin (with a single Swift - Yay!) and the number of young Whitethroats apparently feeding up for their mega-return journey. At least one Reed Warbler is also still present and calling occasionally from the north-east side of the swag pool.

The Mere was even quieter although I did hear the flight call of a Common Sandpiper that otherwise avoided detection

Star bird should have been Water Rail if I had managed to see it. The bird was in the heavy vegetated channel between the main swag and the Ford Brook and was continuously calling and very clumsy about moving the vegetation, all of which leads me to suspect a juvenile (but despite being less than six feet from the moving vegetation I was still unable to get a glimpse of the bird)!

Common Centaury
To be honest the star attraction for me today was more vegetative. The over-grazed paddocks south of the site are heavily infested with Ragwort which is notoriously poisonous to almost everything. The horses are obviously being kept away from this area and that has allowed for the best showing of Red Bartsia that I can ever remember seeing (its a semi-parasitic that does well on poor soils). In fact most of the bits that aren't yellow with Ragwort are mauve with the stuff. On top of that if you search carefully you will also find our only Gentian, Common Centaury, a genuinely delicate and beautiful flower that does not get paid the respect that it deserves!

Red Bartsia
Anyway, it looks like another wash-out of a weekend so that's probably it from me until next week. Only 27 days until Autumn and we can start looking for some more interesting stuff (I Hope)!

Have a good weekend all - Chaz

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Back from the Seaside


Yep - no marsh report this weekend, I was playing hooky at the seaside. Mrs Chaz, Chris, Susan and I spent a nice weekend in North Wales, based around Llandudno.

When I was a kid I hated Llandudno (and Colwyn Bay). Lets face it, if you knew someone who had a car in the fifties and sixties they were pretty posh and most of us plebs had to rely on coach trips. From Walsall. This usually involved the possibilities of Blackpool, Rhyl, New Brighton (Honest!) and Llandudno & Colwyn Bay. For a kid I don't think Llandudno ever had much to offer but it seems to have reinvented itself as a more adult orientated and sophisticated venue, not a stick of rock in sight these days.

On the way there I had picked up Fulmar for the year, as usual nesting on the rock faces above the A55 but I thought that would be it from a birding point of view. Sea watching may seem to be an unlikely pastime there at this time of the year, but Saturday afternoon was to provide me with a big surprise.

As we had a sea view I set the scope up in the window and was amazed to find a strong westward passage movement of seabirds including good numbers of Gannets (many plunge diving just off the Great Orme), a scattering of Common Scoters, some unidentifiable Auks (probably Guillemots) and most surprising of all a steady passage of Manx Shearwaters (about fifteen over a half hour period). I always find watching Shearwaters an exciting pastime, always a hope of something more unusual or exotic amongst them if you look hard enough.

Anyway, I haven't received any reports of anything exciting over the Marsh and Mere but I will get over and have a look in the next few days so 'watch this space' - Chaz

Friday, 28 July 2017

Just When you thought... (There was nothing to report)!

Welcome to September, sorry, the last weekend of July! But it certainly felt like September today. Overcast grey Sky's, a cool edge to the wind, browning vegetation and most of all, the silence of a deserted nursery. There may still be a handful of unfledged Black Headed Gull chicks on the Island but the Mere is strikingly quiet for the first time since late February.

The only noise at all was the irritating twittering of loads of young Goldfinch and the occasional wickering call of a Little Grebe on the Marsh.

Young birds today were limited to Coot, Moorhen and views of a recently fledged Whitethroat. It was so quiet in fact that I was struggling to compose a posting for you. And then I crossed back onto the set-aside.
Not today's bird but Spot the Gropper - Photo: Kev Clements
At first I thought I was imagining the song but then it came again, unmistakably the hesitant song of a Grasshopper Warbler apparently singing from vegetation around or within the Sewage Farm Compound. A singing adult this time of year is not impossible but the hesitant and faltering nature of the song today sounded to me like a young bird having a first attempt at singing? Could they have bred after all?

Anyway - an excellent and unexpected find on an otherwise quiet day. Still thirty four days until autumn so enjoy your summer (those of you that way inclined).

Have a good weekend all - Chaz

Monday, 24 July 2017

A bit of local birding

A nice afternoon out that provided more evidence of migration underway. My old mate Dave Glover came over to fulfil a plan we made to connect him with the local Ring Necked Parakeets for the year.

A journey down to Rushall and as soon as we arrived by the waters of Park Lime Pits we could hear a bird calling frequently. Ten minutes standing under the dead tree it was in and still no sighting of it, so a brisk walk to the opposite side of the lake finally provided excellent naked-eye views of the bird before it took flight. Also present at Park Lime Pits were a good number of Swallows and at least two Kingfishers.

We were then heading straight for Chasewater but as some of you know I am a long term sufferer of the medical condition 'Alcoholic Constipation' (I can't pass pubs) so Dave and I celebrated our success with a quick half pint in the Manor Arms before leaving (If you are interested, Ringwood Circadian 4.5). It had been at least twenty years since I last set foot in the Manor Arms and I was really pleased to see that little had changed (apart from a more extensive range of ales which you will never find me arguing about).


We finally arrived at Chasewater to find it remarkably quiet. We had hoped for a Swift or two, or a few Sand Martins flying around but for the bulk of our time there we saw just one House Martin, although toward evening we connected with three Swallows. This matches the situation elsewhere as far as I can see. Last week we had the Swifts screaming over the village every evening and then... they were gone!

A quick scan of the pool provided nothing of any significance so a change of tack was required. This involved not looking for birds but instead looking for birders. A quick scan of the shore around Target Point provided us with views of the greater-spotted Phil Ward perched over his camera (a resident species at Chasewater), so there was obviously something about to liven up the visit.

Photo Copyright All About Birds
A short phone call later and we were obtaining views of Phil's finds, a strikingly bright summer plumage Sanderling and a contrastingly dowdy looking Dunlin. Still, two proper Waders and enough to make the visit worthwhile. We sauntered along the west shore and eventually obtained even better views, this time supplemented by a couple of Oystercatchers  and two pairs of Stock Dove (which used to be a challenging tick at Chasewater)!

Anyway, big thank you to Dave, always great fun when he comes to visit and always an interesting challenge to try and stretch his year list for him.

Next visit should be the Marsh and Mere although a Sanderling there really would be a tick to shout about! - Chaz

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Wheres Wally?

I received an e-mail from my old mate Chris Altree today which made me feel a bit guilty. He was concerned that I hadnt updated the blog for a week and thought I might be unwell again? If I am absolutely honest, I don't know where the time has gone and can't believe that it has been a week since I last updated.

Th be fair, not a lot has happened to warrant a posting but I do know that some of you look in anyway so I do feel remiss about that and apologise profusely. Mrs Chaz has been on leave from work this week so we have been out and about quite a lot and the marsh has lacked personal attention as a consequence.

Ray Fellows has been doing my job for me and to be honest, even he has only had negative news to report. The sad news is that one of the Greylag chicks has apparently gone missing. I was going to call this posting 'Goose Down' but I suspected that it would have gone over the heads of some younger followers and would have been in dubious taste anyway (although that has seldom stopped me before I hear you say). The only other news from the Marsh was that the Common Tern seem to have cleared out earlier in the week. Ray also paid a visit to Park Lime Pits and had three of four Ring Necked Parakeets there. The roomers of a well established colony seem to be carrying some weight. Ray also saw a very young Green Woodpecker on Pelsall North Common this week proving local breeding again. Not huge news but always interesting to know.


I suppose the biggest news of the week came from Anita Scot who was fortunate to find a Hummingbird Hawk Moth locally. Not a major find on the south coast but the years that they get to the midlands are few and far between these days.

Anyway, I am about full now with no further room for any more humble pie so that will have to be it. I will endeavour to pay a visit or two in the next few days to salve my conscience (I just hope that there will be something worth seeing).

 Have a good Sunday all - Chaz

Saturday, 15 July 2017

'Something for the weekend sir?"

Thanks to Ray Fellows for letting me know about his visit yesterday. Only three Common Tern on the island this visit, but they did share it with a more glamorous companion in the form of a Little Egret. Ray also heard an unfamiliar bird call that sounded very interesting but I have not heard if he managed to confirm the identity of the mystery bird on this occasion?


As for me, I was considering going over first thing this morning but its so blooming miserable out there my enthusiasm has wilted a bit, the thought of the other days humidity and dodging Horse Flies does not really appeal (I still have scars from some bites I received in mid-June)!

Anyway whatever you decide to do, have a good weekend - Chaz

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Reluctantly, for me, autumn begins today

It may be a couple of days short of mid-month but I paid my first Marsh and Mere visit today, despite horrendous humidity that left me 'cream-crackered' after half a circuit. Lots for the Butterfly and wild flower enthusiast, not much for the birders.


Still a few Swift although most appeared to be passage birds on migration. my main reason  for visiting today was that Ray Fellows had indicated that the Common Tern were doing better than had previously been expected with up to seven birds (including juveniles) on show last week. Today however there was just one adult and one of this years juveniles.

A lot has changed since my last visit, most grasses and flowers are in my opinion several weeks ahead of normal with some plants going-over that would normally still be flowering in mid August.

Gatekeeper have started to replace Ringlet as the commonest butterfly species and there are a good number of Small/Essex Skippers, most of which were too fast moving to get good views of (although the ones I was able to see were all Small).

From this point on we can expect an increasing southward movement by our summer visitors and in another few weeks the first returning wildfowl of the winter, just six weeks of nuisance and litter dropping to contend with (sorry, I mean the school holidays).

Anyway - that was my first grumpy remark of the new season, got to start as you mean to go on don't you? - Chaz

Monday, 10 July 2017

Desperate for a Leake


Well, actually an East Leake (LE12 6RG)! Finally succumbed to temptation and hitched a lift to the Nottinghamshire Border Country to connect with this summers star attraction, the Bee Eaters. What a doddle! I was even able to put my award winning Photographic skills to the test by pressing my camera against the eye-piece of my telescope.


My first U.K. Bee Eaters involved an overnight drive followed by a day at work without sleep - these birds were embarrassingly easy, perching on the dead branches of a large tree in the fringes of a Gravel Quarry and with at least four birds on show at any time.

You had to feel genuinely sorry for the Bees and if you look carefully at the Photo (Top) you will see one of the birds flying back to the branch with one in its beak.

Well worth the effort if you haven't yet been and less than an hour away, mostly by main roads.

Excellent stuff and a great way to get into Autumn birding after my brief hiatus - Chaz

 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Staffordshire's Biggest Blockers - An Introduction

Staffordshires last twitchable Night Heron - Photo Chaz Mason (Honest)!
Warning: This one is an epic and is something for more serious birders, so be prepared to 'give up the will to live' if you are only casually interested in birds and birdwatching.

If you are still with me - lets begin...

As I am 'getting-on' a bit these days I am tending to lose the plot with a lot of things. Once upon a time if I heard a bird call or song I would pretty much know what it was immediately (and if I didn't know what it was, I knew that too - which was a lot more exciting). These days the information is still downloaded, it just takes a few more seconds for the software to access it than it used to. Which is very frustrating!

I find that I am also getting a lot more nostalgic about things that I was once quite pragmatic about and that includes birding. There are some things about the hobby that I miss and one of them is the special language that birders used to use which has gone out of fashion these days. I must have been doing the blog for about ten years now (?) and over that period I have introduced you to a fair few of those terms, so you should all know about; twitching, gripping-off, stringing (Don't do it!), padders, and dudes. Even this week I have exposed you to a 'Crippler' but I cant remember if we have ever talked about 'Blockers'?

A blocker is a bird that is difficult to put on a particular list, whether its a life-list, local patch list, garden list, county list etc (if you don't know by now, being an anally retentive lister is a prerequisite of serious bird watching). It is usually a bird which for some reason is rare or infrequent in occurrence or in a worst case an out and out unexpected rarity (A good example of this would be the Belted Kingfisher at Shugborough - a species so unlikely to occur in Staffordshire that it could easily be a hundred or even two or three hundred years before there is another). It must be noted that birds that have never previously occurred in a particular area are not blockers. If that were not the case then you could say that flightless Steamer Duck would be a Blocker in Staffs. No, the bird has to have occurred in a particular area at least once for it to be deemed a blocker (literally something you have been blocked from putting on your list by it failure to occur with any frequency).

These days my most important lists are my Staffordshire List and my Chasewater List. I was born in Staffordshire, in Walsall! Yes younger readers, Walsall used to be in Staffordshire! Until 1974 in fact when we were all forcibly deported into an artificial administrative area called the West Midlands County. Some people deported into 'new' counties such as Humberside and Avon have been allowed to go home but it is now doubtful that Walsall and its citizens will be allowed back (after nearly fifty years I suspect such a decision would be as divisive as brexit these days). At first sight this may not seem to be a relevant issue but it has caused a dichotomy of opinion about what constitutes Staffordshire for some birders.

When the county boundaries were changed, the body responsible for recording the counties birdlife (The West Midland Bird Club) had to make a decision. Do we opt for using the new counties or do we stick to the old vice-counties that had traditionally been used to define where wildlife occurred. They made a decision (wrong in my opinion) to go with the new counties which meant that records of species from some parts of historic Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire suddenly found themselves transferred to a county that previously didn't exist and all subsequent species records for those transferred areas were now attributed to the West Midlands.

I try to be a good lad and still use the WMBC guidelines as a yardstick to run my list by so my Staffordshire list only features birds that have been accepted as having occurred in a wild state in the county as defined in 1974. This even means that there are a number of birds that I have seen in Staffordshire which are not on my official county list because the administrative body does not accept that they were genuinely wild.

I believe that if you decide to have a framework for doing something then you work within that structure and not pick the bits you like and ignore the bits that aren't comfortable (some religions should look at that approach perhaps)? However, some renegade birders refuse to accept this level of control and run their list on their own opinions and on the basis of the pre 1974 boundary so what is a blocker for one Staffs birder is not necessarily a blocker for another.

The photo at the top of the posting was a juvenile Night Heron at Rollaston on Dove, just within the Staffordshire County boundary (31/03/2000) and (as far as I know) the last twitchable Staffordshire Bird according to the WMBC. If I were an 'Old Staffs' lister, I would now have seen at least three of these in the county because I once saw an adult at Hayhead Wood (16/04/1990) and another juvenile at Sheepwash Urban Park (08/08/2004), both places previously having been in Staffordshire (Good grief -birders seem to do everything in as complicated a way as possible don't they - what next, standing up in a hammock)?

Anyway - you should now have a good idea of what a birder means when he says that something is a blocker. When a bird that has previously been a blocker finally turns up it is deemed to have been unblocked - at last something straightforward and logical. 

Staffordshires Most Blocked?

So what are Staffordshires biggest blockers. On a personal level for me it is Honey Buzzard, the commonest species that I need for the county but this is actually a regular passage bird through the county and one that could turn up in a couple of weeks for someone fortunate enough to be there at the right time. So its not a Blocker in the true sense of the term.

No - what are the REAL blockers that effect all Staffordshire listers and not just me?

My opinion is there are just thirteen super-Blockers (originally twelve but Gareth Clements made a good case for Nutcracker to be included) most of which are unlikely to ever occur again and another four which may remain Blockers for some time but which could conceivably be pulled back. These latter birds are Marsh Sandpiper (last recorded in the county in 1974), Kentish Plover (last accepted county record 1995), Guillemot (last recorded in the county in 1920) and Two Barred Crossbill (a species that wintered on Cannock Chase in 1979/80 but which has been claimed in the county as recently as 2014).

There is no real reason why Marsh Sandpiper has not occurred in recent years, it is still a more or less annual vagrant to the U.K. and statistically it is only a matter of time before one turns up again. Kentish Plover has declined in occurrence nationally and is now more uncommon at inland counties throughout Britain than it previously was. As to the potential for Guillemot, that's a different matter. Despite pelagic birds occasionally finding their way to inland counties, the most common auk species Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin are always single figure occurrences on the lists for those counties as they depend on specific and unusual weather conditions at the right time of year in order to be significantly displaced, and those two factors only seem to come together one or twice a century.

So what are the Staffordshire Super-Blockers?

These are the species that in my opinion, you as an individual reading this today will be damn lucky to put onto your county list should you be that way inclined. I have listed the species that I deem to be the 'Super Blockers' in alphabetical order rather than to try and justify which is more or less likely to occur than another (such an approach would be subjective and very open to disagreement so why bother)?

Belted Kingfisher 2005
This was always my dream bird for Britain and when a Belted Kingfisher turned up in my favoured county on April First I took some persuading to go for it. It is still (I believe) a single figure species on the British List so the chances of a second bird finding its way to such an inland county has to be very small. Not impossible but then very little in birding ever is! However, I suspect that you would get very good odds from Ladbrookes on there being another one in our lifetimes?

Belted Kingfisher - Photo Copyright: Audobon
Cirl Bunting 1951
I don't think that this was ever an established species in Staffordshire? I know they reportedly bred on Hartlebury Common (Worcestershire) within recent history (1960/1970s ?) but I am not sure if the Staffordshire record relates to a genuine extra-limital occurrence by a British specimen or possibly a vagrant bird from Europe? Either way the decline of this species has resulted in a successful reintroduction scheme in Cornwall and I suspect that it would require an extension of such a scheme into more northern counties for this species to get on to any contemporary Staffordshire birders list?

Cory's Shearwater 1971
Chasewaters rarest ever bird? This rates alongside Auks as unlikely to occur at an inland site and again would seem to require a very infrequent set of circumstances in order to penetrate so far inland. The bird in question was picked up exhausted and nursed back to health before sadly being killed on release. Not impossible but put it this way, I have seen probably approaching a thousand Cory's Shearwaters abroad but still need to see one for my British list, and that's in coastal waters. So statistically what would you rate the chances of another one occurring on a lake or reservoir in Staffordshire?

Golden Eagle N/K
No longer breeding anywhere in England and suffering continuing persecution in Scotland. I don't know anything about this record. It is certainly not impossible for a vagrant bird from Scotland or even Europe to occur but it is still highly unlikely. Having said that this is one that could eventually unblock for some lucky birder.

Great Snipe 1954
To the delight of 'Old Staffs' listers this one is on their lists thanks to a highly unlikely but well watched bird at Sandwell Valley a few years ago (22/08/1995). This one could get onto the Staffordshire lists if more birders were prepared to learn the species and apply what they have learned to the large numbers of wintering Snipe that occur in Britain. I suspect that Great Snipe is a much under-recorded vagrant but how many of you reading this would be prepared to put their reputations on the block and claim one if you believed you have found one. That's the destructive effect of competitive birding for you!

Gyr Falcon 1844
HA! I wish! Unless you are affluent enough to go to the Scottish Islands or are in a position to twitch the odd coastal vagrant that sometimes occurs, this is a very difficult bird to get on your list. Any legitimate bird occurring in Staffordshire these days would have to run the gauntlet of the rarities committees to decide if it was genuine or a falconers escape or even a hybrid? Good luck with getting this one on your staffs list.

Little Bittern 1906
Please, please, please!  This is my personal Bogey Bird, if you have one of these anywhere come and get me - I genuinely am coming to believe that I will never see one of these, I have even missed seeing them at sites abroad (the little buggers keep dodging me)! From a county point of view though, this does have some potential for breaking the block. Little Bittern may not have occurred for over a hundred years in the county but in recent years there have been a number of breeding records in Britain. If this trend continues there has to be hope of a Little Bittern eventually crossing into Staffordshire airspace (if one does, COME AND GET ME - PLEASE)!

Little Bustard 1891
Never going to happen. Despite being highly migratory, this species has undergone such a dramatic decline in its favoured breeding areas the potential for vagrancy to such an inland county in the UK has to be very small verging on impossible in my opinion. When the next one turns up on the south coast go and chase it, I suspect that's the closest that this species will ever get to Staffordshire again!

A Little Bustard. Never again? photo copyright: Animalia
Nutcracker 1991
A species that historicaly has undergone eruptive movements from Siberia into western Europe - but not recently. The only Staffordshire Record was a very popular specimen at Cocknage Woods that was ridiculously obliging and which remained in the area for several weeks. Since this bird was recorded though, there have been only a handful of specimens claimed nationally so it is currently not just a tough bird to get on your Staffs list but also onto your U.K. list. This could all change with any future winter movements, but at present it does look unlikely to happen and until it does, I suspect that this species is worthy of 'Super-Blocker' status.

Pallas's Sandgrouse 1908
For what is now such a rare species, it is hardly possible to believe that it was once a regular irruptive migrant with huge falls of birds being recorded in the 19th century. These days such things must be consigned to history and even if this bird were to occur, it is far more likely to be on a distant Scottish island rather than anywhere in Staffordshire. This is one of the few species on my 'dream list' so I would like to hope, but I don't really think its ever likely to happen again, do you?

Sooty Tern 1852
Its not very often that a legend is totally true but the story of the Staffordshire Sooty Tern is! The bird was seen on the River Trent near Burton and a local landowner paid a local boy with a catapult to bring the bird down - which he did with one shot! The bird was subsequently collected, stuffed and then put on Display (Does Yoxall Hall sound right?) where its existence was a matter of record for many years. Unfortunately at some point the specimen was lost but there is no doubt of its existence and the story is recounted in a very rare book called; "The Birds of Staffordshire" (McAldowie 1893).

Fortunately if you are interested in knowing more, a copy of this fascinating book is in possession of the Local Studies Room at Essex Street in Walsall. Not sure how accessible it is these days but I once sat and read it cover to cover one afternoon.

White Tailed Eagle 1905
What do I need to say about this species. The successful return of this magnificent birds to British Skies is a matter of common knowledge. Surely at some point one of these reintroduced birds or even perhaps a genuine vagrant from Norway must one day grace the sky over Staffordshire. However this would probably have been much more likely had the proposal to reintroduce White Tailed Eagle to East Anglia been allowed to go ahead. Sadly not to be though, so its a case of wait, hope and twitch!

Photo copyright: Alan Saunders
White throated Needletail 1991
A much envied bird from within my lifetime, and a totally unexpected vagrant to the UK let alone Staffordshire! The possibility of one of these occurring anywhere must be quite small and I suspect it is a bird that the current and future generations of Staffordshire listers will have to continue to envy those lucky enough to have found it? - Likelihood of another? In my opinion astronomical!

There you are then - something for you to ponder on. It is now three hours since I started to write this and I haven't had my breakfast yet. Sorry for those who may have found it boring but sometimes I want to write stuff that interests me and which I hope will be of interest to like-minded birders.

I am sure that not everyone will agree with my analysis and that's fine, I have told you before opinion's are like Ar**holes (everybody has one) but as I do this blog and presumably you choose to read it, you have to put up with mine. If anyone wants to give any relevant feedback or alternative opinions I will be happy to report them. Its much easier to make up your mind about something if you have more than one viewpoint to consider, so if your views differ to mine let me know - it would be interesting!

If you made it this far - thanks for persevering, I hope you found it worthwhile - Chaz