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Owls, Swift and Kingfisher (11/17)

Barn Owl - Tyto alba

In the mid-eighties I was wardening a project on Brownhills Common and occasionally received information about a white owl that was being seen over 'Jockey Meadows' near Shelfield. I visited on several occasions from 1986 but was never successful. I also heard from a reliable source that a bird had been videoed at Clayhanger in the early 1990s (but I never even got to see the video).

Barn Owl has also been reliably reported in the Grange Farm area in recent years and although it has been seen by many reliable observers, I did not get good views of a bird until the spring of 2008, just twenty-two years after first hearing about them! The following year I despaired of seeing Barn Owl again as its favoured hunting area had gone back under the plough but I managed to hear the early in the year and amazingly got flight views of a bird hunting over the gardens in Clayhanger on June 22nd! During the following years Barn Owl often showed well providing regular views at roost in 2010 and setting up a hunting territory near the Sewage farm in 2012. 2013 was a quiet year but in 2014 they managed to raise three young at a protected breeding site. In 2015 the first sighting involved a hunting bird on 17/02.

Little Owl - Athene noctua

The commonest owl of the area, regularly heard and occasionally seen. Be aware that the Little Owl has quite a repertoire of different calls (it has had me going a time or two!) so listen carefully before assuming that you have something else!

Tawny Owl - Strix aluco

IF this is really the commonest species of owl in Britain, why do I struggle every single year to see one? I even know where they breed locally and I can't find them! Hearing Tawny Owl, no problem. They even come and sit in the trees at the bottom of the garden in the early hours and wake me up (I even managed to see one fly over in 2008!) There is at least one local breeding pair and I can confirm that they successfully raised young as in 2007 (it obviously wasn't me that saw it, but a chick was reliably reported) and there were calling young birds in 2008 with occasional calling in most subsequent years.

Long-Eared Owl - Asio otus

The rarest owl locally although in recent years they have successfully bred as near as Pelsall. Long-Eared Owl has occurred at least once at Clayhanger in the 1980s. It was found by three observers known to me as it roosted in a hedge-line. They occur infrequently at a near-by site so it is not unlikely that there will be more records in future although there has been a general decline in the number of birds wintering (that previously were known to establish roosts at favoured sites). A probable Long Eared Owl was seen on 20/10/12 hunting the set aside and another unidentified owl seen on 12/02/2013 in the same area was believed to be this species. A probable Long-Eared Owl was reported on 30/03/13 apparently hunting the same area as the October bird (Per. A.S.) and on 17/04/13 the same observer (G.C.) as the February bird confirmed the presence of this species.

Short-Eared Owl - Asio flammeus

Prior to the landscaping of Ryders Mere, Short-Eared Owls could occasionally be watched quartering the fields at Ryders Hayes Farm. It was thought that the open cast would put an end to that forever, but amazingly in 2002 and 20003 at least four birds wintered. There were then no confirmed records on site for over ten years when a high flying bird with pale face and dark primaries was seen on 19/10/14 (C.M. - D.P.) a little over a year later,the winter of 2015/16 saw a good showing by this species in the midlands and a bird was inevitably reported to be present on 02/02/2016.

Short Eared Owl now has to be considered at best an irregular visitor as it appears that the heathland at Cuckoo Bank is now more attractive to this species as it seems to be the focus for any local wintering birds that may occur.

Indian Eagle Owl - Bubo bengalensis

This is a species regularly kept and flown by falconers and one which occasionally escapes. A prime specimen was found in a Clayhanger garden in October 2011 and disappeared the following day. It may have discovered the Marsh on its travels? Even if it didn't I feel that it was close enough to be worthy of a mention.

Common Swift - Apus apus

A regular summer visitor and local breeding species. In recent years they seem to have shown a tendency to return and depart a little earlier. Swift can usually be encountered from the third week of April until early August with occasional late passage birds into early September.

Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis

An occasional and infrequent visitor to the marsh and mere with ten records in ten years involving eleven specimens. Most encounters are at the turn of the year between December and February although there have been a couple of September records and an unexpected June record involving two birds in 2007. This last record is quite significant as there has been no previous evidence that Kingfishers local status was anything other than that of a wintering and occasional post-breeding species. The hard winters of 2009  and 2010 took their toll on Kingfishers nationally which caused concern but a couple of mild winters seemed to help and in August 2015 there were at least three birds active on the marsh and Mere, all of which were present on at least one occasion on the pool by Clayhanger Common. Could this be indicative of local breeding?.