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Monday, 22 May 2017

A Breeding First for the Marsh and Mere

The happy Mom (or more likely Dad) - Photo Courtesy of Sindy Weals
Thanks to Anita Scott and Ray Fellows for confirming that the two Greylag Geese that have been spending so much time on the Mere have had a secret agenda! The result is the sites first locally bred Greylag Goslings (six of them in fact). A lot of birders may not find this particularly exciting news, but I do! Its a little bit of Marsh and Mere history so go and have a look if you get the time - Chaz

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A disapointing trip to Chasewater

A nice day for a visit to the Pool but with an agenda. I found out early morning that the Whimbrel that had been present on three previous days in the week was still there yesterday. Of course there was no sign today, just a Little Ringed Plover, three Common Tern and a pair of Canada Geese with chicks.

I actually have heard Whimbrel flying through the pool but never seen one there and so far this week there have been four chances to see one that I have apparently missed. This really seems to underline a change in the attitude of birders, not just at Chasewater but at other local patches. Back in the eighties if something noteworthy occurred we would yomp up to Whitehorse Road to use the public telephone to spread the news. These days the prevailing attitude seems to be 'its not my job to put the word out, if they wanted to see it they should have been here'.

It makes me sad more than angry as birdwatching seems to have become a very selfish and uncaring pastime, something very different from my early experiences of it. The regular Clayhanger birders (those who have chosen to give me their numbers at least) know that if I find anything noteworthy I am straight onto my phone to share it with them and give them a chance to get over and see it. Yes, there are a few people who treat me with the same consideration (I wont embarrass them by naming, they know who they are and that I am grateful for their support) but they are certainly in a minority these days.

The upshot is that this attitude then becomes contagious. 'He never bothered to phone me about that so I wont bother to phone him about this' - It may sound childish but I have heard the actual statement made on a number of occasions, I have even known people suppress a bird rather than draw attention to it and compromise their own enjoyment - selfish and sad! If something spreads pleasure around then why deny people that pleasure?

Anyway, on a lighter note, I did notice something today that I had never seen before and in case I offend anyone I intend to try and get a photo of it.

On the way to Chasewater we paused briefly in traffic at the tin miner island and I saw something that drew a smile. Since the statue was erected, the trees planted around it have become quite large and at certain angles, the Minor appears to be leaping up from behind the bush like a 'flasher' Honest, it really does (or is it just my mind)?

Anyway, I will be out and about in the next few days so until then, have a good week all. - Chaz

Friday, 19 May 2017

Happy Friday

Well you may have noted a shortage of bird related updates this week and assumed that I was away? For once you would be wrong. My youngest is over for a week from Canada and I am spending as much time as possible with him. Having said this, I have not had any significant news from anyone else to report so I suspect that things are pretty well over on the migration front!

Ray Fellows has been in touch a couple of times with some information on breeding species but to be honest I will keep that quiet until young birds are fledged and on their way. Nothing of huge significance but there are a few vulnerable species locally and discretion is the better part etc.

Anyway - if I hear anything I will let you know, if I don't, have a nice weekend - Chaz

Sunday, 14 May 2017

If I told you...

...that I was over the Marsh from 23.30 to 00.30 this morning you would probably think I was daft. So I won't tell you!

Anyway, I have it on good authority that someone was over the Marsh in the early hours looking for Barn Owl (unsuccessfully as it happens). Only one male Tawny Owl was heard BUT there were more active Bats of various species than I have ever seen, they were even flying through torchlight while walking through the woods. If anyone from any of the bat groups is interested, I suspect that it would be well worth paying a visit to see exactly what species we have locally ! - Chaz

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Star bird flies through, unseen!

A nice afternoon walk with Susan and (wait for it) Mrs Chaz! But all three of us missed the Star bird, a fly-through by a Common Redshank, heard calling as we headed up the mineral line. As far as I know that is a first site record this year (unless you know different)?

Only one Common Tern and two Greylag on the Mere, still two Gadwall on the Marsh and as Kev said yesterday, both Oystercatchers feeding on the paddocks. Several Reed Warbler were singing and there was at least one Sedge Warbler, singing from the main Swag.

Not a lot else, still waiting for the Phalarope or similar end of season treat (he said hopefully).

Have a nice Sunday all - Chaz

Friday, 12 May 2017

Friday - and passage continues.

Some good evidence of continuing passage today with Ray Fellows finding another two Black Tern early afternoon. These had passed through by the evening (Possibly the same two birds that arrived at Chasewater mid-afternoon?) but during the afternoon the number of Common Tern increased from three to seven birds (R.F. - K.C.). Kev also detected a significant increase in Tufted Duck numbers with 41 birds ( significantly more than yesterdays count).

Other birds seen by Kev this evening included: our two Oystercatcher unfortunately both present and feeding (suggestive of failed breeding?) and a drake Gadwall. Kev also noted an increase in singing Willow Warbler, again suggesting failed breeding or (if you want to be optimistic) second brooding?

The weather seems a bit up and down at the moment and I am not feeling too sharp (my traditional back problems have been complicated by stomach ulcerations caused by analgesics at the moment - so thinks ain't that good) but I will try to get over at some point this weekend.

Have a good weekend all - Chaz

Dit-dit-didi-dit- No More

You may not have noticed but today was the beginning of the end for a little bit of Birdwatching history as Vodaphone, the last producers of pagers announced that they are no longer going to make them? Whats the big deal you may say?

Well for some of us pagers were for many years our life-line for finding and seeing (or missing) rare birds in the U.K.

It all started with a lovely little Cafe in Cley-Next-The Sea, Norfolk. I am probably from the last generation to have experienced the legendary 'Nancys Cafe' (run would you believe by Nancy Gull - Honest)! And well remember my first visit when I was asked if I wanted my tea in a cup or a mug, not being a lady, I of course asked for a Mug and received a huge steaming mug of tea and a piece of home-made butter cream sponge cake (bigger than my closed hand) for...50P! Nancy's was the beating heart of the bird information network for many years, with people from all around Britain phoning in their rarities while groups of lingering twitchers sat waiting for the phone to ring, drinking gallons of tea and reducing huge quantities of cake to crumbs.

This all came to an end in the mid-1980s when sadly Nancy retired, but a group of birders from Norfolk then had the idea of a premium rate phone line that you could call from any phone box in Britain to find out the hottest bird news. It was a brilliant idea for a time when nobody had a mobile phone and made the guys who thought it up a fortune.

Then someone had the bright idea of telling people what they wanted to see without having to keep stopping and finding change for the phone and Rare Bird Alert was born and for the next ten or fifteen years, the pager would be king! A simple beep would notify you of recent news but what everyone wanted to hear was the dynamic concerto of a Maga-Alert, to say that something rare and splendid had turned up somewhere in the country.

I well remember my first solo trip to the Scillies. I was on board the Scillonian and already past the outermost islands when the ship erupted in noise. You have to realise that apart from a handful of day-trippers the whole ships contingent was made up of serious birders, 100 to 120 people, fifty percent of which had a pager! It was uproar. "What is it, what is it?" were the only words you could hear. It was a rarity and... it was on Scilly - a Paddyfield Warbler near the medical centre, just ten minutes yomp from the harbour. Wow we hadn't even arrived and it was all happening.

In those days it was not unusual for a mega-alert to be followed by a repeat of the message for anyone outside of transmission range for the first one, so nobody was surprised when the mega went of for a second time a couple of minutes later. Now everyone was pretty cool about taking out their pagers, after all, they knew what was happening - didn't they?

But it wasn't a repeat message, it was for Scilly but it wasn't a Paddyfield Warbler. This time it was a Rose Breasted Grosbeak on St Martins Island and everyone was suddenly in a panic. What do we do when we dock, run for the Paddyfield or jump on the boat for St Martins. I chose the Paddyfield and got fantastic close views (including it flying between the legs of one birder) but if I had gone to St Martins I would have been £10.00 better off and RB Grosbeak would now be on my life list, as two subsequent visits to the islands failed to produce the very desirable yank!

Obviously Mobile Phone technology has gradually replaced the need for pagers but I am glad to have been there when pagers were king and it is with a little bit of sadness that I hear they will soon be no more.

I am sure that a few reading this may well feel much the same? - Chaz

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Kev, how could I misjudge you?

Pass me the sackcloth and scourge, I must make penance for such a profoundly unjust assumption. Our esteemed county recorder has put me to shame tonight, and counted the Coot! Yes folks a thorough count revealed no less than twenty birds present on site, with two birds having broods of two chicks.We will all sleep better for knowing that (probably before you get to the end of th.... 'Snore').

Well done Kev, I was concerned that your enthusiasm for old Fulica atra had deserted you, I may not share your passion mate, but totally respect it.

Having done the important job, Kev was also able to record the presence of; Common Sandpiper (1), Common Tern (8), Great Crested Grebe (4), Tufted Duck (24), Oystercatcher (2), and two drake Gadwall on  the Marsh.

Kev also assessed the breeding success of our Canada Geese and five different broods appear to have produced no less than twenty-one young (no wonder they are taking over the world).

Big thanks to Kev for his counts (and also for being such a good sport about the leg-pulling) - Chaz

Some of us are so cool...

...we can lie in bed at 08.00 and listen to Grasshopper Warbler! Alright, it doesn't happen very often, but it did today. By eight o'clock most of the dawn chorus stuff had quietened down (apart from my bloody resident Starlings) and one of the birds on the set-aside had obviously moved across a bit closer to the recreation zone (possibly one that has failed to find a mate or lost a brood)?

Other news from Mr Clements yesterday confirmed the arrival of one of our last regulars with a Hobby hawking over Ryders Mere last night. By my reckoning that means that the gangs all here?

Kev also had seven Common Tern, three Gadwall, three Lapwing, two Teal (Still!) but apparently all the Coots must have migrated off to somewhere else? (Otherwise Mr Clements would certainly have counted them? I suspect he did really but is trying to change his image and so kept the counts to himself).

Alright Kev - I get the message, if you want to be like that!!! - Chaz

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A nostalgic return to Chat Hedge

Today saw the welcome return of a Marsh regular some of you will know and remember. Those who have been using the blog for some time will remember a number of good birds (usually Chats and Wheatears) that were credited to Glen? Unfortunately Glen's work took him away from the area and his regular lunchtime visits came to an end, leaving the farmland and south side of the Mere much under watched.

Well today he came back for a full circuit and a lovely day he chose to do it. We didn't find anything of great significance but a good number of species were enjoyed. The marsh held a really fine looking Gadwall, a couple of Common Tern, at least two Reed Warbler and an obliging Sedge Warbler while the Pelsall Road pools held another four Reed Warbler, one of which was doing a lot of loud mimicry including Sedge Warbler and a striking impersonation of Swallow flight call which impressed both of us.

The Mere held the two usual Greylags and the Grey Wagtail was present on the Ford Brook. we even had Swift over the farm for the second consecutive day.

Nowt spectacular but a bit of proper laid-back birding for both of us.

Great to see you today Glen, hope we see you over again soon (sorry I couldn't find you a Whimbrel)! - Chaz

Some Sad news for Walsall Drinkers

Not so much for the birders but I know that many of my followers share my passion for good ale.

Many of you will know that my local for many years was The Victoria (Katz) in Lower Rushall Street. These days it is run by a smashing chap called Jason who keeps excellent ales, but for many of us it will be remembered as a venue run by a grand chap called Bob Billingham.

Bob was forced to retire from active duty some years ago due to adverse health conditions and sadly finally succumbed to these problems yesterday, leaving many of us with happy memories of times spent in his company. Another great character gone from our lives.

I am sure that all who remember him would like to pass on their condolences to his wife Glenda, if anyone is interested in attending the funeral I should hopefully be getting that information as soon as it becomes available.

'Sic transit gloria mundi' - Rest in peace old friend - Chaz

Monday, 8 May 2017

The last of our regulars arrives (Updated)

A plain species but pretty in its own way
Kev Clements was over early today and managed to find a Garden Warbler in the Buffer Zone so that completes our usual warbler suspects. All in all a good showing by warblers this spring but a poor showing from all the other migrants. No Cuckoo, no Tree Pipit, just one Redstart (bucking the trend of recent springs) and only the male Garganey to raise the site profile a bit. I suspect it is either that or the single Black Tern that are the seasons star birds although for me it has to be the encounter with Bar Tailed Godwits last week (so far).

Kev did also have a Common Sandpiper on the Mere but spring migration has certainly peaked and is on the downward trend now, just Hobby to look out for unless we are to be blessed with something unpredictable and more significant (see, despite my natural ambiance I do try to be optimistic).

I sort of hoped that we might get a local Turtle Dove this spring, it has been a long time since we had any in this area (the nearest being on Cannock Chase). Next year will be the twentieth anniversary of the last time that they bred at Clayhanger. A sad loss of a lovely and charismatic species.

Ah well, now I have depressed you all I will leave you to enjoy the rest of your Monday - Chaz


Not big news maybe, but it pleased me - my first local Swift was over the Marsh and the village early afternoon  (yes, I know they will be screaming all around the place in a few days, but the first one always seems special to me).

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Sunday Morning Update

While Kev Clements was over yesterday he reported increased acrocephalus warbler activity with both Reed and Sedge Warbler present, this was backed up this morning with at least two singing Sedge Warbler showing well on the Marsh and up to four Reed Warbler singing (including one on the Ford Brook). Three Common Tern were active over the site and there was a single Greylag on Ryders Mere.

Breeding news is that Coot have now joined Canada Goose in successfully breeding on site this year, several scruffy headed chicks staying close to mom on the main Swag (that should please Kev Clements - more boring Coot to count come the autumn)!

I have also had a call to say that there is a pair of Garganey at Chasewater, always a good tick at that site and a chance for those who missed the Marsh bird a chance to catch up.

Have a good week all - Chaz

Saturday, 6 May 2017

A Busy Day

Not for me, I am a bit under the weather at the moment so haven’t left the house, but there has been an awful lot of interesting stuff going through the Midlands today, Greenshanks, Grey Plovers, Sanderlings, Red Throated Divers and even a leucistic Swift at Chasewater.

I may not have been up to visiting today but thankfully Kev Clements was, and he had our contribution to events with a Whimbrel (one of my favourite waders). The bird was heard calling four times as it flew over Grange Farm - nice one indeed Kev! Kevin remained on site until late evening and also discovered several Snipe and an exceptionally late Jack Snipe present.

Anyway, if I am feeling better I will be paying a visit tomorrow (in which case things will probably have returned to normal 'More life in a Tramps Vest' conditions) - Chaz

Thursday, 4 May 2017

No respect for breeding wildlife!

Just taken a call from Tony Stackhouse to say that there were three people kite-surfing on Ryders Mere this lunchtime - despite the obvious presence of dozens of pairs of breeding birds.

How do you contend with such a level of selfish imbecility? How many nests have been deserted as a result of their actions, how many eggs have been lost and chicks predated.

And you wonder why I have so little patience with people! - Chaz

A Chasewater Thursday

My new years resolution was to try and rekindle my enthusiasm for visiting Chasewater by greatly increasing the number of visits I make, going up at least once a week. So far I have failed abysmally in that ambition.

Today I was having a few hours birding with Steve ('The Godwits') Hill and as there was nothing particular happening in Staffs I suggested a local visit to Norton Pool. There had been a good run of birds recently and I thought that there might be the chance of another Black Tern, a passage Whimbrel or even (given the time of year) that most desirable dream bird for Chasewater, a passage Osprey! What I didn't count on was high pressure.

Lots of common stuff was seen but a search of the main lake produced only five Common Tern to represent the summer bird season. We made our way around to the heathland and while sitting and having a rest there I said to Steve; "I was hoping for a Swift today, but given the weather conditions there is no chance". As I said this I lifted my binoculars to go through a group of soaring gulls over the lake and there above them were three Common Swift, a year tick for Steve and for me and the only bird worth talking about for our mornings work.

Which says something really about the accuracy of my regular conjecture and predictions, I sometimes wonder why anyone reads the drivel I write, I certainly wouldn't ask me for any lottery numbers! - Chaz

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

More Feedback on Blockers

I have had another suggestion for a species that is worthy of consideration as a Staffordshire County Blocker. John Holian has suggested that Kentish Plover should be added to the list on the grounds that there has not been an accepted record in the county for over twenty years (1995) and more importantly, because its occurrence as an overshooting migrant to Britain as a whole has decreased significantly in the intervening years.

It has to be admitted that, despite its abundance in southern Europe, the occurrence of Kentish Plover is noticeably less than it was, in fact I have only seen one bird in the U.K. in 35+ years (an overwintering bird at Fleetwood that turned up at the same site for two consecutive winters).

When I started birding many years ago, I suppose I expected to see a Kentish Plover without too much effort and regularly checked through every group of Ringed Plover that I came across, but that was certainly a false assumption.

Certainly not a Super-Blocker but a challenging enough bird in my opinion to be mentioned in dispatches, so I will add it to the list. - Chaz

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Tuesday Visit

A quick walk around this afternoon with Susan. despite the company it was a bit of a disappointing hour after the last few days. There was at least one Common Tern flying around the Mere and what appeared to be a dead one on the shoreline of the island (!!). The only other birds of note were an obliging Lesser Whitethroat in the railway embankment and a duck surprise in the form of two male Gadwall on the Marsh (unusual for this time of year).

Still no Swifts for me but any day now I should think? - Chaz

Monday, 1 May 2017

** Scarce Species Alert *** - AGAIN!

"He who dares wins Rodney"  (but by the skin of your teeth Mr Clements!)

I make a lot of brave predictions on this blog and usually they amount to nothing. Today if you glance back to the previous posting, you will see such a prediction. And for once I was right!

I arrived on site at about ten-twenty to find Steve Hill and his good lady already on site and watching a group of wading birds on the second Paddock east of the Ford Brook. Steve was in the process of calling me to confirm the identification, but it was easily done as I found myself looking at a group of six large waders, three in rich Chestnut breeding plumage and three scaly brown females, Steve had managed to find the first group of Bar Tailed Godwit to occur since 2010.

The word was duly put out to the 'usual suspects' including a certain County Recorder who at the time was birding in the Smestow Valley, Wolverhampton. It would take at least half an hour to get up to the marsh but total respect, he decided to go for it! So started a stressful hour of babysitting.

The birds remained feeding for over an hour and I owe a thank you to Dave Plant and his good lady for diverting their dog walking so as not to disturb the birds.

An hour after calling Kev he still had not arrived so I texted him to say that the birds were still present and received a reply to say that he was in the process of walking down from the Pelsall Road. At which point the birds took flight!

Steve maintained visuals on the birds while I desperately called Kev on his mobile, two things worked in his favour. Firstly the birds decided to do a couple of circuits of the site before flying out and secondly, he is a damn sight quicker than I am on his feet and he was able to get to the top of the pit-mound in time to watch them do one final circuit before flying high north and being lost to sight.

Unfortunately, Anita was not so lucky, she arrived while the birds were still distantly in sight but too small for her to get onto. What a stressful (but exciting) mornings birding. Also present today were at least seven Lesser Whitethroat, a singing Grasshopper Warbler and a Common Snipe flushed on the set aside.

Kev also had a 30+ Tufted Duck, along with a Common Sandpiper on the Mere, a fly-through by one then another three Common Tern, a Snipe, a singing Reed Warbler near the pit mound and what would on another day be a star bird, a Wheatear below Grange Farm (by the Bee Hives). Needless to say he also counted eighteen Coot on the Mere (therapy required there mate I'm afraid!).

If you click on my photo (you will have to guess which one that is) and zoom-in you should be able to make out the waders believe it or not that's the best image I could find out of about thirty shots (to be fair we didn't get closer because we didn't want to risk flushing the birds).

Big thanks to Steve and Kev for a bit of excitement and some gorgeous birds and commiserations to Anita. We have all been there, and had those 'you should have been here a minute ago' moments but I don't expect that it helps to know that? - Chaz

Bank Holiday Monday

09.30 and I haven't left the house - but there are Black Tern all over the place today, being reported from multiple sites in Staffs and the West Midlands, waders going through including a Wood Sandpiper at Sandwell Valley and a Bar-Tailed Godwit at Whitmore Hay so something must surely come through the Marsh and Mere today?

If I hear I will let you know! - Chaz

Sunday, 30 April 2017

*** Scarce Species Alert ***

Why is it always when I'm eating? 
I have said this before and it happened again today. just got my face 'in the trough' for afternoon Tea when with a bleep, I have to drop everything and head for the Mere.

Gareth Clements with a very welcome text to say that there was a Black Tern on Ryders Mere. Within a minute my phone rang and this time it was Kev Clements with the same information. A ten minute yomp and there it is, performing beautifully between the islands. We always seem to get full breeding plumage birds here, always looking stunning. You tend to forget how good these birds look when you see a scruffy juvenile or a late summer bird. Today's specimen was grey above, jet black below with a well defined black trailing edge to the primaries.

A similar bird to today's specimen - but not so well marked : Photo Copyright All about birds
Also present today, a Common Sandpiper and two Greylag Geese on the Mere and a singing Lesser Whitethroat on the set-aside field (clearly audible from the recreation ground).

On another issue, after due consideration I have decided to go along with Gareth and add Nutcracker to the 'Biggest Blocker' list (see earlier posts). The only other feedback was from Martin (not sure which one - let me know and I will amend) who suggested that Two Barred Crossbill also deserves a place on the list?

In this case I am pretty sure how to call this as although there hasn't been another recorded Staffordshire bird since the one in 1979/80, there have been claims (as recently as 2014 if memory serves?) and this is a species that most probably has occurred in one of the Crossbill Invasion years that have occurred since. So unless there is a reasoned argument I am happy to compromise and add this to the 'maybe one day' part of the list with Marsh Sandpiper and Guillemot as there is no reason to believe that there wont be another twitchable one found sooner or later.

Anyway - that's it for April - Beltane begins at midnight tonight so if you are a pagan, have a good one. For the rest of you, have a good bank holiday Monday - Chaz

Friday, 28 April 2017

Friday evening update

Thanks to Kev Clements who visited this evening. For those of you wondering about what to do on  Saturday morning, this is what he saw:

Common Tern (2 - the first for the site this year), a Common Sandpiper, Tufted Duck (38) Reed Warbler (two on Marsh, one at Pelsall Road Pools)- and sixteen Coot!

Both Kev and Ray Fellows have heard Grasshopper Warbler on the set-aside today so good to know that they are still present.

I am off to check out a new pub from an Isle of Man brewery in Wolverhampton tomorrow so the next input from me will probably be on Sunday, so enjoy your Bank Holiday weekend all - Chaz

Friday Morning on the Chase

A nice walk around Seven Springs today with Steve Hill, loads of activity going on as you would expect at the time of year but nothing of huge significance.

We checked out some of the older sites on the Chase for Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler but nothing in at any of them yet. Star birds were probably an obliging Garden Warbler at Seven Springs and a good showing by singing Tree Pipits there.

Lots of common stuff about although I am concerned about Redstart Numbers. Normally that part of the Chase is alive with them but today we heard one, perhaps two birds but didn't see any.

Big thanks to Steve for a nice morning though, some days you get the birds and some days ... - Chaz

Biggest Blockers - First feedback

Well I am glad that someone is reading yesterdays introductory posting about Staffordshire blockers, but I have to confess that my first response has given me something of a quandary!

Late last night I received a one word text message from Gareth Clements:


No, he wasn't being abusive or discussing the height of the stiles on Ryders Mere, he was suggesting that perhaps this species would be an appropriate addition to the Staffs Blocker list. I really can understand where he is coming from with that.
The Staffs Nutcracker

In October 1991 a Nutcracker was discovered in a North Staffordshire Woodland and remained for several weeks being enjoyed on multiple occasions by myself and many other birders.

And perhaps this is the problem, the bird was so obliging and is from a species that is allegedly supposed to undergo large scale migrations to western Europe when conditions are right, so surely it has potential to occur in Staffs again?

On the other hand, although there have been a couple of claims of Nutcracker in the intervening years, none of them seem to have amounted to anything as far as I can remember so that means it has been over twenty-five years since a genuinely twitchable bird has occurred so how long before another one in Staffs?

I have to agree with Gareth that Nutcracker probably does deserve to be on the Staffs blocker list but the question is where? My initial feeling is that rather then increase the twelve to thirteen, Nutcracker possibly deserves to be with Marsh Sandpiper and Guillemot as a species that could occur in Staffs again eventually. On the other hand, I look at the recent occurrences of the bird and think, perhaps it will never happen again?

Anyone have an opinion? - 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


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Tuesday Evening

Kev Clements was over late afternoon and was unable to locate the Garganey although he did find a Common Sandpiper on the edges of Ryders Mere. Kev also heard the Grasshopper Warbler singing on the set-aside field.

Chris and Susan were visiting tonight so at dusk we set out to find the Groppers for ourselves. Unfortunately the wind was quite sharp and I suspect that the majority of the territorial reeling had already been done before we arrived. We did hear one bird briefly on the set-aside field but more interestingly, I am convinced I also heard a very distant bird reeling somewhere in the region of the Sewage Farm (possibly within the actual compound).

The only other news today is that the House Martin appear to have returned to their favoured nesting areas in the village. One bird was hawking around the houses near the Coop this morning and late afternoon there were at least three birds over Church Street.

Right! Bring on the Swifts - Chaz

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

There is a well know saying often applied to Bird Watching.

"Absence of Evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence"

Having seen this bird at its most elusive yesterday, I secretly harboured hopes that Kev Clements not seeing it at lunchtime did not necessarily mean that the Garganey had definitely gone, but with my old mate Dave Glover making one of his occasional birding visits and with a pretty poor weather prognosis, instead of putting time in on the off-chance of relocating the Garganey, we decided instead to chase a fall of migrants at Chasewater.

A report from lunchtime indicated that there were five Common Swift, several Common Tern and a Black Tern up the pool but by late afternoon the Black Tern and Swift had apparently moved on. Three Common Tern were still present however and provided a year-tick for both Dave and myself.
The wind across Chasewater was particularly blustery and our original plan was to move on to Park Lime Pits to hopefully get Dave a view of the parakeets there but then I received a text.

Jim and Sue Miles had just got home from a visit to the marsh where they had managed to get views of the Garganey, still present on the main swag. I immediately texted Kev Clements with the good news. Kev himself was apparently not convinced that the bird had gone and already intended to pay another visit late afternoon to make sure, so the text confirmed both his plans and ours.

Kev, Dave and I must all have arrived on the Marsh around the same time,just in time in fact to shelter from a deluge of hail and sleet! We managed to meet up once this had passed over at the top of the mineral line.

Our outward walk from the Ford Brook provided no sign of the elusive duck but it did not take Kev very long to locate it this time, initially breaking cover to fly down to the east end of the swag (the duck that is, not Kev).

Despite being a gorgeously marked bird the Garganey is demonstrating an impressive ability to conceal itself in the emergent Marestail at the fringes of the swag pool. That was where I relocated it yesterday and where Kev relocated it today so perhaps a good place to start looking if you go in search of the bird tomorrow.

A final treat for Dave and I was a singing Grasshopper Warbler on the set aside which briefly showed itself as it flew from one clump of Bramble to another - an unexpected bonus for us both.

The only other birds of interest were a single Snipe which flew into cover and a single House Martin with Swallow on Ryders Mere.

If you want to see the Garganey, my money would be on it still being present tomorrow although clear sky's tonight could possibly scupper that. I have found that it never pays to make predictions in bird watching, so if you do go tomorrow and don't find it, its not my fault, OK? - Chaz

Tuesday Update

Juvenile Cormorant on Mere 23-04-2017 Photo: Sindy Weals
First the biggish one - regrettably no sign of the Garganey today. I suspect it may have flown out before the weather set-in last night but as the species goes it was a particularly flighty example.

Big thanks to Mr Clements who wins the award of being the first person (as far as I know) to have all three hirundine on site this year (50+ Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin). He did have a very late Jack Snipe along with five Common Snipe, two Little Grebe, and a Cormorant (the photo is last Sundays bird courtesy of Sindy).

I hope to be out birding later, in which case I may well do another update tonight - Chaz

More Garganey Photos

I don't know if it's still going to be present today? It was a clear night last night so it may have gone out but I did wake-up to SNOW on the lawn this morning and I am pretty sure if I was a migratory duck I would not want to fly through that so perhaps there is hope.

Regardless of this, Derek has sent me another couple of shots of yesterday's bird which was (in birding parlance) a 'Crippler'! So I thought that I had to share them with you. For the best effect I would suggest that you click on the photo and zoom-in. You will then get the benefit of all the vermiculation on the birds flanks - Beautiful! - Chaz


Monday, 24 April 2017

*** Scarce Species Alert ***

Today's gorgeous specimen! - Photo courtesy of Derek Lees
Ray Fellows was over this afternoon and at about 14.15 discovered a drake Garganey on the Marsh. Unusually this bird was apparently unpaired.

The bird was in a fabulous state of plumage and was still present at 16.20 being well photographed by Derek Lees and his friend Jud Foster. Unfortunately the bird is keeping company with two very nervous Common Teal which seem to take flight at the sight of  anyone on the mineral line, inevitably, closely followed by the equally nervous Garganey!

So far though the birds seem reluctant to leave the swag completely and given today's weather and the weather predicted for the next few days there has to be a chance that it will stay around to be enjoyed.

For the record, Ray also confirmed audibles of at least one of the Grasshopper Warblers on the set-aside field.

Big thank you to Derek for permission to use his brilliant photograph of an equally brilliant specimen of Garganey. Always a good 'Tick' and this one is particularly splendid and worth a go if you get the chance - Chaz

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Fall of the Acrocephalus ! (Updated)

WOW! What about that for an opening gambit eh? 'The Fall of the Acrocephalus
Bigging my act-up or what?

I had a hunch that today would be the day and for once I was right. I crossed the tin bridge and my eye was immediately caught by a stonking male Northern Wheatear feeding around the horse poo on the second paddock. This one really was 'The Mutt's Nuts' and in about the most pristine state of breeding plumage you could imagine, straight off the pages of a field guide.

Northern Wheatear - Not todays bird!
Being a person with a sharing nature I spent a few minutes enjoying the bird with one of the local dog walkers before attending to the business of the day proper.

Even as I walked back toward the mineral line I could hear my first Reed Warbler of the year and I used a bit of birding technique to get myself good views. There is a widely held belief that birds can't actually count, they don't seem to need the concept. This being the case, if three people walk towards a bird and two walk away, the theory is that the bird will assume they have all gone. Accurate or not it seems to work.

Today by chance a party of pony trekkers was coming across the wooden bridge so I walked just in front of them, stopped and let them carry on past. Now I don't know if it was proof of the theory or not, but within a couple of minutes I was standing enjoying full views of a Reed Warbler, clutching a stem and singing its heart out for me, as good as it gets.

I am watching and enjoying this bird when I suddenly become aware of a movement below it and unbelievably, there is the streakiest looking Sedge Warbler I have ever seen (if it had been autumn I would have got really excited), it was only on view for a couple of seconds, not really long enough to take in all the features but good enough to go on the year list.

No, not this one either but similar!
In the end I had confirmed a minimum of three Reed Warbler present, two singing male birds and a probable female that flew across from the north-east side to pay attention to a singing male (before flying back, obviously dissatisfied by his singing voice)?

I returned via the mineral line across the set-aside but no sound from the Grasshopper Warblers today.

Anyway, what a good Sunday morning. We are only awaiting a Garden Warbler now and all the summer suspects will have been recorded.

This afternoon Sindy Weals was over with her son and saw a Cormorant on the Mere and Ray Fellows reported a Common Sandpiper on the Mere as well ( A good record for this point in the season and a bird that was particularly scarce last summer locally, although some of you may have been to see the overwintering bird that has been at Belvide for some time)?

Have a good week all - Chaz

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Sometimes a little bit of effort reaps its reward.

You have probably gathered that I was determined to connect with the Grasshopper Warblers. Why? Because its a unique experience for bird watchers.

Only in late April and early May can you stand at Dawn or Dusk and listen to the continuous insect-like reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. Its one of those memories that stays with you in October and November, on those cold days when all of our summer visitors are far away in Africa. Memories of days that were lengthening instead of shortening. Ah well, you will empathise with that or you wont. Someone once said that I spent too much time inside my own head, but that's how I feel about it anyway.

There was no way I was going to miss Doctor Who, but that fell in line with my plan anyway. As I said in my earlier posting, they are not really very active except at Dawn and Dusk. This being the case I arrived on site about 20.20 and was immediately greeted by the song I was hoping for. Despite sounding a long way away I knew that the species is ventriloquial (it song gets softer or louder depending on which way it is facing) so it was no surprise when the song suddenly intensified and increased in volume.

This time there was no problem, it took me just a couple of minutes to find the clump of Bramble it was singing from and after a bit of careful stalking, I was rewarded with some of the best views of the species that I have had for a long time. At one point it even left the Bramble and perched on a tree, reeling in full view for at least three minutes.

The biggest surprise though came as I was leaving the site as the calls of my bird were met with another singing male from a clump of Bramble a hundred yards away. This could mean only one thing, there were two singing males on site! Brilliant news and a totally unexpected turn of events.

Lets hope that they stay to breed this year and we can then look forward to hearing their charismatic song for a few weeks to come - Chaz

Two for the price of one! (well almost again)

Sitting at home working on the computer late morning, too nice to go over the Marsh, lets face it, high pressure does not bode well for drop-in migrants. Just after mid-day I received a text from Anita "Grasshopper Warbler in fields behind park" (The set-aside).

So it had stayed! The last two years our only 'Groppers' have been one day birds so I was not too excited about yesterdays find, but if it was to remain...?

Within ten minutes I was over the set-aside checking all of the previous breeding areas but to no avail. I knew it was the wrong time of day (Groppers are normally crepuscular) but with it having been singing less than half an hour before I thought there may have been a chance.

While I am working my way around the sites another sound caught my attention, yet another unmistakable Warbler Song, that of the Lesser Whitethroat - another favourite of mine. This one gave no trouble, perching on the edges of trees and showing its attractive grey plumage, so at least the visit was worthwhile.

I will keep you posted on the Grasshopper Warbler, weather depending it may be worth putting in an evening visit - Chaz

Friday, 21 April 2017

Two for the price of one! (Well, almost)

Common Whitethroat are not subtle migrants are they. Yesterday there were none this morning, 'Thump' - Whitethroats everywhere! I only did a partial circuit and found at least four birds just on the set aside. They don't mess about either, they were already displaying from song perches and one pair seems determined to evict one of our breeding pairs of Linnet.

More frustrating though was the 'Well Almost' bird. I had only just got onto the site and heard the unmistakable reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. The bird was obviously distant and didn't sing again so I was unable to confirm its location although it was certainly singing from bramble along the Ford Brook. My feeling was that it was in the area between the Sewage farm and the Brook but by the time I got down there all I could find was..... a Whitethroat.

Still, at last stuff is arriving although the Whitethroats are two or three days later than their average arrival. I can't explain this as in some sites Whitethroat have been in early. Perhaps our birds take a different route or maybe the weather was just not right for that final push to the breeding sites?

Anyway - stuff happening so get over there! - Chaz