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Raptors (Birds of Prey) (11/17)

Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
Probably the most regularly recorded bird of prey in the area with a particularly active large female that often hunts the marsh. These birds are usually seen circling high overhead and occasionally being mobbed by other birds. Sparrowhawk can be seen in any month and at any time of day, first sign is usually panic by the small passerines (perching birds) in the area.

Goshawk - Accipiter nisus
A Goshawk was seen well on three occasions during the summer of 2010, on one occasion seen carrying a Rabbit and on another, giving size comparisons with the local breeding Sparrowhawks (A.S.). A Goshawk was also reported flushing an afternoon gull roost on 03/03/2013 (G.C.)

Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
A female specimen seen by multiple observers as it over flew the Mere on 02/05/2010 was the first record, followd by a high flying female over the site on 25/03/2015 (C.M. - C.C.M. M.P.)

Hen Harrier - Circus cyaneous
One of our most critically endangered birds of prey, a female Hen Harrier was seen in flight with prey near Grange Farm on 21/01/2010 (MD - SD). These birders had seen a probable but unconfirmable specimen a few years before but on this second occasion managed to obtain the relevant features required to confirm identification.

Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
Local people are often amazed to see Buzzard overhead. They come up to me and say things like; "I'm sure I saw a Buzzard" as if I won't believe them. I can understand this as only twenty years ago I would have to go to Wales or the West Country if I wanted to guarantee seeing one of these birds.

The truth is that Buzzard is now probably the most common and widespread bird of prey in Britain. There is a certain justice in this as history tells us that as recently as the 1940's they were as widespread as they are today and that it was the artificially introduced myxomatosis epidemic of the early 1950's that drove them to the edges of their former range. Some natural justice in action then?

At Clayhanger you are most likely to see them on sunny days as they are big birds and would prefer to take advantage of thermals if they have the opportunity. Be aware though, they can get VERY high and are prone to drift away over Wyrley Common or High Heath. Two pairs are usually active in the local area and probably breed not too far away.

Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
Probably an under-recorded spring and autumn passage bird through the area, the first confirmed site record was a bird heading south and then south-east following the line of the Ford Brook on 08/04/2016 (C.M.) The bird was watched for a couple of minutes before disapearing from sight over the farmland towards high heath.

Rough Legged Buzzard - Buteo lagopus 
A pale morph juvenile specimen of this wintering bird of prey was seen on the afternoon of 12/10/2015 (G.C. - K.C.) being mobbed by corvids and associating with two common Buzzard.  A white tailed Buzzard was subsequently seen being harassed by Magpies on 28/01/16 (R.F.)
Honey Buzzard - Pernis apivorus

A local birder known to me, telephoned one evening to say that he had seen an unusual raptor over Ryders Mere (08/09/2004) and was not really sure what it was. The description given to me immediately suggested juvenile Honey Buzzard and process of elimination seemed to discount all other contenders. When I next met with him I showed a photograph of a bird in the appropriate plumage and he indicated that this appeared to be the bird he had seen.

The birder concerned was honest enough to say that he would not have identified the bird himself and could not count it with a clear conscience, therefore I have put this record is square brackets as a probable. Honey Buzzard finally became an official site bird on 11/06/2013 (G.C.) when a female was seen being mobbed by crows.

Red Kite - Milvus milvus

A species which may well have occurred in recent years, following the successful reintroduction of this species into England and Scotland. Distant views of an apparently fox-red bird of prey over the north end of Clayhanger village on 31/03/1997 were un-confirmable due to a combination of bright sunlight and heat haze. This was the closest to a local record we had until the spring of 2008 when there was a spate of records from the Chasewater and Brownhills area including a bird recorded over Brownhills Common.

Red Kite high over Ryders Mere
In January 2010 there was a report of a Kite near the sewage works but there was some doubt about the identification not least because of the local presence of a Hen Harrier. However in march it became apparent that a Kite was being seen over Goscote Valley and this bird was seen in field opposite the new estates at Clayhanger during the month by Adrian Price. This constituted the first confirmed site record. The bird was subsequently reported on a number of occasions but it quickly became evident that some of the reports were erroneous. However there is at least one Red Kite active and it was seen again in the local area on a number of occasions in 2011 and was presumably the same bird photographed over Ryders Mere by Neil Tipton on 20/04/2012 (which was seen a short while later over Wednesfield)? The following year the pattern of Spring records was to continue when a bird overflying Pelsall on 29/03/13 was seen to drift over towards the Mere (K McC) and what may have been the same bird was seen over the village and the Marsh on 11/06/13 (A.S.). Spring 2014 was an exception to the prevailing pattern with no site records although a Kite was reported from Brownhills Common during this period. Things returned to normal in 2015 with a bird seen being mobbed on march 6th (N.T.).

Osprey - Pandion haliaetus 
No confirmed site records although in recent years passage Osprey have not been uncommon locally. A probable Osprey which would have passed over the site was picked up distantly on 15/04/2012 but was too distant to be confirmed despite being of an appropriate size and having a convincing flight behaviour.

Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
For most people, this is generally the most familiar bird of prey, hovering over roadside verges and rough grassland. No surprise then that the marsh and mere supported several pairs of these attractive falcons. Unfortunately in recent years these numbers have declined although there still appears to be at least one pair active in the area.

Merlin - Falco columbarius
A more significant species locally and one that is only likely to be encountered in winter or early spring. When seen locally, this, the smallest of our regular falcons, is usually seen in flight low across the ground flushing small birds before it.

At present I have five or seven records for Clayhanger and Ryders Mere. An observation made on an unspecified date in early 1997 was probably the same bird that I saw in April of that year. Subsequently there have been records of single male birds in 1998, 2005 and 2006.

Another specimen seen by Paul Jeynes in March 2005 does not have a gender attribution but may also have been a male. Male birds are certainly more obvious and conspicuous so females are possibly being overlooked. Unfortunately views are sometimes too brief for gender and age to be confirmed, such a specimen flew through being harassed by Crows on 22/11/2008. Equally brief was a female or juvenile on 11/11/12 which was also pursued by a Rook after perching for just thirty seconds. reports of a possible Merlin in the early autumn of 2014 were confirmed when an apparent male was seen being mobbed by a magpie on November 23rd. A late winter male was seen hunting the paddocks near the Ford Brook on 15/03/2016 (C.M.)

Hobby - Falco subbuteo

This is a summer migrant to the midlands and is (in my opinion) more attractive, manoeuvrable and dynamic than it's cousin the Peregrine. Although Hobby is probably one of the least known birds of prey to non-birders, it has probably been breeding locally for many years (although the earliest authenticated marsh record I have is from Graham Evans - 01/09/1991).

Hobby may show well in late April and early May as they have just returned to Britain and are likely to feed up for a while to restore there fat levels prior to pairing and mating. After this has commenced though, they can be very elusive until mid-July when juvenile birds give evidence of successful breeding. They may then linger in the area until mid or even late September (such as a juvenile seen on 20/09/2015) before heading south for the winter.

These birds are VERY fast and easy to miss if your not looking in the right direction, so actual records probably don't reflect the true situation. I have seen them in every year since 1996 except for 2000 and 2002 (that doesn't mean they weren't there, just that I didn't connect with them and nobody else reported them).

Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
A few years ago, the thought of Peregrine being a local species would have been unimaginable, but the honest truth is that they are now increasing to the point where they are beginning to colonise our towns and city's.

It is still both noteworthy and impressive with only six definite records for the marsh that I am aware of (although I have not included records for Clayhanger village where I have had brilliant views of hunting Peregrine while standing at the bus stop on at least three occasions!)

One bird was active in the winter of 1998/99, a juvenile in October 2004, a male in October 2005 and two views of a male in May 2006. I have also had anecdotal reports of a juvenile that was seen on Ryders Mere in late summer 2007 which may have been the bird recorded on 05/01/2008. Birds from Walsall Town Centre regularly seem to spend winter in the Pelsall and Brownhills area and it may have been one such bird that was seen over Ryders Hayes on 07/02/2016? I think we can expect these birds to become an increasingly familiar sight in the area as time goes by.


Falconers are regularly active locally but should not be practising their hobby on the marsh.

I have confirmed with 'Natural England' ('English Nature' that was) that it is illegal to fly falcons on the marsh and that the current incumbents (the riding stable) do not have the right to allow this practice to take place. So if you see falcons being flown on the marsh either report it to the police or take a note of the registration of the falconers vehicles (which are normally parked at High Bridges), and pass this on to the police as soon as you can.

Despite the pride falconers take in flying and training their birds, some hawks do find the lure of the wild difficult to resist. This usually results in very perplexed birdwatchers, particularly if the bird is one of the hybrids that are regularly produced and which can show confusing characteristics.

One of the most popular and identifiable exotic birds of prey is the Harris Hawk and a specimen of this American bird was seen both perched and in flight by Graham Evans on 31/01/2006. (I still wonder if this was the bird that ended up in Lichfield later that year attacking the local residents and their pets?). I subsequently saw this (or another) bird almost two years later, on 17/11/2007.

The Lanner Falcon is a much more difficult bird to identify for the uninitiated and it has been suggested that it is a contender for genuine vagrancy to Britain. Unfortunately, the bird that was reported on 20/04/2003 was still wearing an attractive pair of falconers restraints.