Gamebirds - Grebes - Herons and allies (07/14)

GAME BIRDS

Red-Legged Partridge - Alectoris rufa

In the early nineteen eighties this was not an uncommon bird locally and I can remember seeing them at the edges of the farm fields at Ryders Hayes Farm. When this land went into disuse they seemed to find the habitat less attractive and despite the alleged release of large numbers of captive bred birds onto Wyrley Common for shooting over the years, they have become an outright site rarity. To put this into context, in the last twelve years there have been absolutely no records of any kind!

This may be a common bird in a national and even a regional context, but at Clayhanger it's currently a 'Mega-tick'.
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Grey Partridge - Perdix perdix

This was probably the biggest single victim of the open casting at Ryders Hayes. It was always quite a common breeding bird, regularly audible and visible between March and May, with its 'Knife Sharpening' call a characteristic sound of early evening at Clayhanger.

In 1998 The open casting took place and a few displaced birds lingered on the spoil heaps into September and October of that year, then - nothing!

My next record was a single bird calling in 2002 after which Grey Partridge was presumed to be extinct locally. Then in 2006 Pete Newman found a small covey of birds lingering at the edge of the site. Whether these had re-colonised or been overlooked is not certain, they bred successfully in 2010, raising at least eight birds however in 2011 there was no evidence of breeding on site and only peripheral records from the High Heath area. There have been no subsequent records.
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Quail - Coturnix coturnix
LISTEN TO ME! You can hear Quail on passage and they call regularly. It may not be in your field guides but its an absolute fact, I know, I've heard dozens of them.

Back in the early eighties I was quite new to birding (I actually took it up in my mid twenties thanks to redundancy), and lived in the middle of Brownhills. One night I was coming back from the pub at about 02:00 am (The door had got stuck and they had a hell of a job opening it - O.K.!) and I stood discussing with a mate what a terrible evening we had had when I heard a bubbly sounding 'wet-my-lips' call from overhead! Then a few minutes later another, then another! I retired to bed and the following morning phoned the bird club bird line to report the event only to find that Quail were everywhere!

I had intended to burn some garden rubbish anyway, so that night I set up a bonfire and lit it just after dark. The night was clear and about twenty minutes latter, there it was, the first calling Quail (see, you thought I was drunk!), then, sure enough another and another. I of course started telling people this but nobody believed it until, one evening at Blithfield I was in the process of being derided when a much respected birder called Johan (sadly long passed away), came to my rescue and confirmed that he'd heard them overflying many times.

My first bird at Clayhanger was similar, a calling bird overflying at 03:23 on 04/05/1997. The next followed on from a tremendous midnight thunderstorm. I awoke at 03:11 on 16/06/98 to hear it calling from the set-aside and it continued to do so for half an hour my long-suffering wife perplexed at me dangling out of the bedroom window in the early hours gibbering;
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"Can you hear that, can you hear it, that's a quail, that is!".

The bird seemed to linger in the set-aside and next day I walked through and heard a familiar bubbling growl but the bird refused to be flushed. Interestingly a bird was heard 'bubbling' on July 5th. that year so it may have attempted breeding? In 2006 there were a number of claims of probable Quail in the fields around Grange Farm but unfortunately the field was burned by vandals before this could be confirmed. There has been one subsequent record, a calling bird seen briefly in flight on 28/05/2012 (P.W.-A.S.-C.M.) which was flushed again by a dog walker on 30/05/12 (A.S.) and was again heard calling on 22/06 (A.S.).
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Common Pheasant - Phasianus colchicus

Unsurprisingly, this is the game bird that you are most likely to encounter at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere, particularly if you are there early morning or evening. But even this well known species is not as numerous as it was and its days locally may also be numbered!
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GREBES and DIVERS

O.K., so far there have only been three species of grebe recorded. But isn't that an incentive to get down to Ryders Mere and find the others? There are also at least two more species of Diver likely to occur at some point too!

It must be only a matter of time before Slavonian and Red-Necked Grebe occur?
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Black-Throated Diver - Gavia arctica

Always an uncommon species inland, a small specimen of Black Throated Diver, was discovered by Ray Fellows on 28/01/2011. It showed until dusk and was enjoyed by the handful of birders who managed to get over to see it on the afternoon constituting a first record for the site. It was still present and showed well for all comers the following day.
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Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis

The hysterical laughing call of the Little Grebe can regularly be heard at both sites with birds often being obliging and showing well on Ryders Mere where winter Assembly's can reach well into double figures. They are a bit more elusive at Clayhanger Marsh mainly due to this site being it's principle breeding area locally.
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Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus

I remember when this was a site mega! In February 1998 I discovered one on the heavily overflowing pools near high bridges and was pleased that it remained until the May of that year.

To the best of my knowledge it had not been recorded before and was not subsequently recorded until 2003 by which time Ryders Mere was becoming a well established habitat.

Since that time, Great Crested Grebe has become a regular feature and can be encountered in multiples most months with several pairs attempting to breed in some years.
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Black Necked Grebe - Podiceps nigricollis

Isn't it typical, you visit a site, day in, day out for weeks and see nothing special. The first day you don't go, a 'crippling' bird like this turns up. Fair play to Tony Stackhouse though, he was there and I wasn't. His reward, a fantastic breeding plumage Black Necked Grebe and a site first. Quite a few birders got down to see it but unfortunately it had gone the next day. The good news is that Graham Evans was able to get some brilliant photo's and has allowed me to use one to alleviate the boredom of my text (thanks Gray!). The next record was not until 28/05/2013 when no less than three birds were found on the Mere by Gareth Clements.
 
Black Necked Grebe - Ryders Mere 16/04/2007
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Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus
Common at the coast but exceptionally rare inland. There have remarkably been two known record of this species, a Juvenile bird seen by Phil Ward and subsequently photographed before it was flushed and flew out west (23/10/2008) and a sub-adult type that was picked up in flight over the set aside a few minutes after being reported at Stubbers Green (P.J./C.M. - 27/08/2010)
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Common Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo

Once a rare bird inland, Cormorant is now a common species at most inland waters. I am sure that more get missed than seen at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere as I have often stood at the bus stop in the village early morning and seen birds distantly flying over. Even so I would still call it noteworthy as my records usually show only ten to fifteen recorded occurrences as a yearly average. Look out for European sinensis birds too - one was reliably reported in February 2008 and a fine specimen was present on 31/12/2010 (C.M.).
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[Common Bittern - Botaurus stellaris]

Despite it's current nationally endangered status, this was once a common species locally with birds regularly being shot at Norton Bog (now Chasewater) in the nineteenth century.I am not sure if this bird is deserving of legitimate Clayhanger status however I am certain that a specimen was claimed at the marsh in the 1980's (because I was most vexed to have missed it!).

My only evidence for this is therefore anecdotal but if anyone wants to let me know who claimed it, I will be delighted to amend my notes and give them credit. In the meantime, Bittern numbers continue to recover nationally and it is to be hoped that it will one day return to its previous status as a relatively common species.
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Little Egret - Egretta garzetta

Given the massive expansion in range of this species over the last twenty years, it was only a matter of time before they arrived in the midlands. Even so it was anxiously anticipated at Clayhanger and the first probable record was frustratingly unconfirmed (I had a glimpse of a bright white bird in front of the reeds on Pelsall Road pools from a moving bus! in 2000).

The first confirmed record was made by myself in August 2003 (unless someone knows different?) when a bird flew in from the south-west over Grange Farm on 23/08/2003. This bird led a couple of birders a merry chase that afternoon but it did eventually show for them.

Since then, a bird appeared frequently from April to September 2006 and a bird was discovered by Phil Ward at the end of July 2007. No birds were recorded in 2008 but first one, then three birds were present on the Ford Brook on 26/10 and 27/10/09. One of these apparently remained in the area unrecorded, appearing again on the Ford Brook on 09/01/2010 giving excellent views in the frozen, snowy conditions (CM). The following winter again produced a Little Egret, this time a single bird which flew from Ryders Mere and across the Marsh on 21/11/2010. In 2011 Little Egret first occurred in July (A specimen found by Steve Hill on 09/07/2011 remained in the area for over a week) but there were no further records until 13/08/2012 when an adult with plumes was found (again by Steve Hill). The following year an early spring record occurred when a bird was discovered on 13/04/13 (K McC - CM - GC) and which was seen again 0n 19/04. An unexpected bird arrived on 16/06/13 (G.C.) which was the last for over a year, the next bird being part of an influx to the midlands on 14/07/2014 (R.F.).
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So, still noteworthy and if you see one, you have done well.
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Great Egret - Casmerodius albus

A Great White Egret was found at Belvide on the morning of 08/12/12 and was seen to fly out. It subsequently headed east to Gailey Lakes and then flew East again mid-morning. Late morning a birder on the Marsh reported a White Egret which at first had been taken for a Swan in flight and which was too large to be a Little Egret. This was subsequently searched for by A.S. who saw a bird being mobbed on the ground, when it took flight it was a large white heron-like bird.
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Glossy Ibis - Plegadis falcinellus

A Glossy Ibis found in the Goscote Valley (17/12/2013 - P.N.) was seen to fly toward Clayhanger where roosting was suspected. This was confirmed when the bird was relocated on the Marsh the following morning before flying out at 08.20 across the Mere to spend the day feeding in the fields at Goscote. It did not roost the following night however but was seen again flying through on the morning of 19/12 (K.C.) and 20/12 (K.C. - C.M.). Early in 2014 the same bird was relocated at Engine Lane, Brownhills where it favoured the horse paddocks for several months, roosting each night at Chasewater. During this period it was occasionally seen to fly toward Clayhanger but it was never possible to validate any further occurrence's on site.
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Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea

As you would expect, the commonest species locally, occurring every day and something you are almost certain to see on a visit to either site. Numbers increase in late summer when adults bring in juvenile birds to teach them how to feed.