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Finches (12/17)

Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs

Chaffinch is probably one of the commonest birds in Britain, but although it does usually breed on the marsh, it is not always present and at best can be described as an irregular species. Usually only one or two specimens are present and the site maximum is five birds on any day. Occasionally birds that appear to belong to the nominate European race Coelebs may occur in winter. One such flock was present in 1999 composed of 21 females (coelebs birds tend to separate into flocks composed totally of males/females, British birds usually form flocks equally divided between males and females) while a single brightly coloured male that was ground-feeding with Fieldfare on 17/01/2008 was probably of this race. A party of five females keeping company with a Mealy Redpoll (13/11/2010) were also quite probably continental in origin.

Brambling - Fringilla montifringilla

The slightly more handsome northern European cousin of the Chaffinch, Brambling occur somewhere in the midlands most winters, but rarely in large numbers. There have been two confirmed marsh records. A bird was found amongst a flock of Chaffinch at Ryders Hayes on 23/11/2003 by the late Steve Tonkinson and was subsequently relocated at Clayhanger Marsh by Pete Newman. It was over eight years before the next site records, a bird amongst a mixed flock of finches and buntings on 13/01/2012 (AS.) and a single bird on the fields adjacent to Green Lane on 15/01/2012 (CM.). A bird was reported from near the Sewage Farm at the end of October 2012 and two birds were discovered on the mineral line a few days later on 11/11 (A.S.)

Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris

A common breeding species locally often seen on or over flying both sites and increasing in frequency. (See notes on Trichomonosis at bottom of page)

Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis

The 'Seven-Coloured Linnet' of Black Country fame. A common and regularly observed species locally. Post breeding season flocks can be impressively large. Personally, I find that their cheerful twittering little song doesn't half get on my nerves! During the winter of 2013/14 a striking leucistic specimen with white head and strong white wing-bars was seen on several occasions and strangely kept company with the Lesser Redpoll flock (C.M. - R.F.).

Siskin - Carduelis spinus

Although this is quite a common species in local pine woodland such as Cannock Chase and also one that is regularly supplemented by European migrants in the winter, it was exceptionally uncommon at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere with at one point, only four records in twelve years. A turn around came in the winter of 2007/08 with an overwintering specimen that was occasionally joined by a small flock. This trend continued the following autumn with a number of birds being recorded in the early autumn. These days Siskin are a regular winter species but usually in low numbers. The autumn of 2015 was however an exception with a constant movement of small parties seen flying through the sites for over a week.

Linnet - Carduelis cannabina

A local breeding species that is often seen in the winter and spring but scarcer and territorial in summer and less obvious locally in autumn. Some wintering flocks used to consist of up to 150 birds but they are now increasingly uncommon and difficult to find with breeding pairs probably into single figures.

Twite - Carduelis flavirostris

The 1997 edition of "Where to watch birds in the West Midlands" records the occurrence of this rare and declining little finch at Clayhanger. Several birds were then noted by me in a large flock of Linnet (30/12/1998) that were favouring the site to feed on the large number of weeds that had sprung up around the opencast. Another birder subsequently had four of these Twite that had separated from this flock and perched on the wires of the perimeter fencing 03/01/1999. There have been no subsequent records although a finch with a yellow bill seen briefly with a party of Linnet 31/12/11 was almost certainly this species.

Common Redpoll - Carduelis flammea

Any Redpoll at these sites are noteworthy, although I have had occasional reports of parties of Redpoll sp. in the young trees around Ryders Mere.

Common Redpoll is the Northern species and is usually larger, whiter below, greyer -toned above and often more strongly streaked than the familiar Lesser Redpoll usually with white streaks on the back and stronger pale wing bars. The three birds that were present on 22/01/2004 took me completely by surprise as they fed on old Willowherb along the Ford Brook. They were very settled and approachable with strikingly bright red caps and could have been birds that had been glimpsed in flight on 05/12/2003. There was quite a gap until the next sighting, a bird with continental race Chaffinches on 13/11/2010. Strangely the very next record came almost exactly a year later (15/11/2011) when I found a very pale and obvious specimen keeping company with six contrasting Mahogany-toned Lesser Redpoll in the Goldfinch flock. The following year, Scandinavian and Siberian conditions provided two specimens on 09/02/2012 (J.A.S.) and almost exactly a year later three birds were seen amongst a flock of Lesser Redpoll (G.C.). There was a gap in records until 2016 when at least one Mealy Redpoll was amongst a small party of three birds seen on 16/01/16 (C.M. - M.P. - J.P.). A period of hard weather in late autumn 2017 (24/11/2017) produced an apparent pair feeding and showing well at the edge of the Mere (C.M.) at least one of these birds being relocated amongst the Goldfinch flock on 12/12 (R.F.).

Lesser Redpoll - Carduelis cabaret

As already mentioned, a locally scarce species with only four records between 1995 and 2006 involving13 birds. Verbal accounts of larger flocks at Ryders Mere were neither detailed or substantiated until 2007 when it became apparent that small parties of wintering birds were often present and sometimes supplemented by larger flocks from elsewhere in the vicinity(though the habitat always looked fine and I am confident that they were under-recorded).

Bullfinch - Pyrrhula pyrrhula

We birders often look at field guides full of exotic birds we would like to see and dream of having the chance to encounter American Warblers or exotic eastern rarities. The Bullfinch though can match any of them for beauty and we rarely give them a second glance. At Clayhanger they are a species of winter and early spring which don't appear to breed at either site (although I am certain that they do breed at Brownhills Common and Wyrley Common).

Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes

Always rare and noteworthy in the midlands, a specimen of Hawfinch was picked out in a mixed flock of finches on the western perimeter of the site by Tony Stackhouse on an unspecified date one spring. It has been estimated that 75% of the wintering birds in Britain are migrants and this was probably the origin of the Ryders Hayes specimen. Autumn 2017 would go down in history for the numbers of hawfinch entering the country with many sites recording the species for the first time. At 14.21 on the afternoon of 13/11 a party of five Hawfinch flew across Clayhanger marsh from the North  before veering south west across Ryders Mere in the direction of Ryders Hayes. Three of the birds showed the bulky appearance, short tail and brilliant white underwing flashes of the species while the other two which were more distant showed the same structure and undulating flight (C.M.).


An escaped specimen of domestic Canary was reported near Ryders Hayes on 23/10/2008 (P.J.W.)

Trichomonosis Alert

Some of you may be aware that there is a very nasty parasitic disease affecting our resident finches, particularly Greenfinch and Chaffinch (although it originated in Pigeons and Doves and can also effect them).

The symptoms of this are lethargy an inability to swallow food and often a dark discharge around the bill.  When you suspect an outbreak has occurred the best thing to do is to suspend feeding in your garden as this will bring birds into proximity with each other, there bye spreading the disease. It is apparently most prolific in August and September so hopefully the birds that survive an epidemic will be safe but if you are noticing lethargic birds in your garden or even finding dead ones, temporarily stop feeding and give all of your feeders and bird baths a good disinfecting. I believe that the RSPB would also like to be notified as they are attempting to plot the spread of the disease. - Chaz