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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

Update

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