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Pipits, Wagtails and Waxwing (11/17)

Pipits - the ultimate little brown-job! As a 'Serious' birder I'm supposed to wax lyrical about them as they are 'birders birds'. But to be honest, I don't find them particularly interesting, they are all mostly a variation on the same theme (thank goodness that most of the rare ones can be sorted out on call)! I have just outraged at least three birders I can think of - fun eh?

Tree Pipit - Anthus trivalis

This is a common enough species on Cannock Chase and one that is quite easy to identify even in flight by its high pitched call. Surely Tree Pipits must overfly the marsh and mere every spring and autumn? Maybe so, but connecting with one seems to be disproportionately difficult.

A Tree Pipit was singing from trees on the railway embankment one spring (03/05/1998) and two birds were seen well on 16/04/2015 (K.C. - G.C.). There have been six subsequent autumn records (10/09/2006 - 01/09/2007 - 01/08/2011 - 17/08/2015 - 05/09/2015 - 13/09/2015). But that is it!

Meadow Pipit - Anthus pratensis

This is the one to learn. Get used to its plumage variations and recognise the call and anything different will probably be quite apparent. Fortunately, good numbers of 'mipits' breed around both sites and their 'parachute display' flight is a common feature every spring and summer.

Large flocks of passage birds occur every spring and autumn and a reasonable number of birds can winter, so no problem for anyone who wants to learn this species.

Water Pipit - Anthus spinoletta

The rarest of the common pipits (if you know what I mean) and also the most attractive in its colourful spring plumage. Water Pipit may have occurred several times. I have one anecdotal record from an unspecified date in the 1980s from Paul Jeynes who informs me that a Water Pipit was positively identified working the edge of the Ford Brook on one occasion.

The only recent reports are: March 2008 when Kev Clements got many of the required features on a Rock/Water Pipit at Ryders Mere but was unable to confirm it beyond any doubt, a claim of a bird on 16/05/2009 by Ian Phillips and a very probable one in flight and briefly on one of the islands in Ryders Mere by Yvonne Moore (02/01/2012) and Ray Fellows (29/01/2012).

Rock Pipit - Anthus petrosus

Another species that is probably under recorded locally,with two distinct races being recorded.
A bird of indeterminate race was flushed from the horse paddock on 26/03/1999 and an unusual wintering specimen was seen on several occasions between September and December 2003. A Rock/Water Pipit was heard and seen in poor conditions (26/10/2007) and despite the presence of several Water Pipits in the region at the same time my 'gut-instinct' was that I was watching a Rock Pipit. An easier bird showed well as it overflew calling on 13/12/12 (C.M. - S.L. - C.C.M.). Another Rock Pipit was seen briefly on the ground at Ryders Mere on 14/10/14 (C.M.) before flying across Clayhanger Marsh toward the Paddocks. That would be the last record until 2017 when a calling Rock Pipit was picked-up in flight and watched as it dropped into vegetation near to Ryders Mere on 20/10/2017 (C.M.).

[Scandinavian Rock Pipit - Anthus (p) littoralis]

Regarded by some birders as potentially a separate species, I found an obvious Scandinavian Bird feeding around the subsidence swag pool at the south end of the horse paddock (10/04/1998). This bird showed well in flight, including the buff-toned outer-tail feathers that help to separate it from the very similar (in winter) Water Pipit. The bird was still present the following day and was seen by at least another two birders.

Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla flava

A regular spring and autumn passage bird through the region with breeding occasionally taking place locally. Several variations on the normal form occur, the commonest of which is probably Blue-Headed Wagtail, but this has yet to be recorded at either site. A bird belonging to the putative form "Channel Wagtail" (believed to be the result of hybridisation between Yellow and Blue-Headed Wagtail) was recorded at Clayhanger on 08/05/2008 (C.M. - T.S.)

My existing records suggest that the period extending from the second week of April and the third week of May is the best time to look for this species. Typical arrival dates are around 16/04 and usually involve single birds, often males. Multiples can occur though such as the four birds seen on 21/04/2008. There must have been many other specimens that have slipped through the net over the years though? Breeding now seems to be more or less non-existant locally although a juvenile at Ryders mere on 30/06/2015 has to give a slim ray of hope.

Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea

A resident and probable breeding species in the area, favouring the Ford Brook but occasionally venturing onto the marsh and mere. Grey Wagtail is most frequently recorded in the winter and I have never seen more than two birds together, suggesting that only one pair is active.

Pied Wagtail - Motacilla (a) yarellii

The familiar long-tailed black and white bird of urban areas, present in the area most days, with occasional passage movements involving larger numbers of Wagtails, sometimes taking place.

[White Wagtail - Motacilla alba]

The European version and nominate race of Pied Wagtail occasionally occurs as a spring-passage migrant. The earliest record I have is 24/04/1998, when a bird was seen by Bernard Smith but this form had probably gone unrecorded on many occasions prior to this date.

However, it is certainly noteworthy and I had only encountered White Wagtail at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere on several  occasions (records involving five specimens) with ten distinct records up until 2010. In 2008 the species had a bumper year with an early record of a single specimen on 02/04/08 followed by multiple records of up to four birds between 11/04/08 and 23/04/08 (C.M. - I.P. - K.C.). A single bird was keeping company with a Yellow Wagtail on 21/04/13.

Waxwing - Bombacilla garrulus

This is my blog and I refuse to call these birds BOHEMIAN! Stuff your pipits, this REALLY is a birders bird. Most experienced birders will have seen hundreds or possibly thousands of Waxwing but they will still leap into a car and drive miles for a glimpse of another!

Waxwing are often subject to irruptive movements from their breeding areas and this will sometimes result in the U.K. being favoured by their presence. 2005 was one such year and credit for the first record has to go to Paul Jeynes who had a flock of 34 birds active around the sewage farm area on 05/02/2005. I was well gutted to have missed these birds, but just as most of the birds were heading north and I had given up hope, a flock of 23 birds flew west, parallel with the railway embankment before disappearing across Ryders Mere towards Pelsall (17/04/2005) - On the first of April 2009 I played an April Fool trick on the Blog but came unstuck when I subsequently had to phone around to report a party of 21 Waxwing that overflew Clayhanger Village and the Marsh toward Rushall (where they remained on show for severel days)