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Swans and Geese (11/17)

So it begins, the long job of trying to put twenty-odd years of records into some kind of perspective. I will be updating the blog every time I visit the site, but between these events I will be trying to get through the species profiles so that anyone visiting the site will know what to expect and , perhaps more importantly, what is significant and unusual.

At least I get an easy group to begin with!


Mute Swan - Cygnus olor

A regularly recorded species and occasional breeding bird both at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere
(although the latter site is more often used as a post-breeding refuge). Common in spring and summer but surprisingly less frequent in winter in my experience.

Birds carrying 'Darvic' colour rings are often present but I'm ashamed to say that these days I rarely pay them a lot of attention (Bert Coleman - 'The Swan Man' - would be ashamed of me after all the time I spent on Swan and Goose round-ups in the 1980s!)

For any swan enthusiasts, birds with yellow, orange and blue darvics have occurred and where I have bothered to take the numbers they are as follows:

Blue - YUJ - 7DTN

Yellow - LPV - Y3L - 46J - JSC - JYH - V9R -V5N - 8NC

Orange - S21

Bewick's (Tundra) Swan - Cygnus columbianus

A rare species at this site with the only definite known records are from 1996 when six birds occurred at Ryders Hayes Farm for several days before relocating to Gailey. Distant views of three probable Bewicks were obtained as they overflew the site in January 2005 by Tony Stackhouse but they were too distant to be confirmed. This is a serious site 'blocker' for me as due to a misunderstanding, I was under the impression that the1996 birds had only been present for one afternoon. By the time I realised they had remained on site it was too late! Perhaps this winter...?

Whooper Swan - Cygnus cygnus

A party of twelve birds was present on Ryders Mere early on an unspecified date in March 2003 and would probably have gone unrecorded had Paul Jeynes not decided to walk across the site on his way to work. They had apparently gone by the time anyone else got there and had presumably dropped in to roost on the previous evening. The first twitchable Whooper was found by C.M. early on the afternoon of 22/11/2008 (See Photo) and remained to be observed by a number of birdwatchers. The bird showed well and was also heard calling on a number of occasions (Photo Hughie King). The following year a family party of two adults followed by two juveniles did a brief fly through on 08/11/2009 (CM) calling loudly as they headed north. It was three years until the next record, this time a fly through by six birds on 14/01/13 (G.C.). A group of three birds were discovered on 13/10/14 (R.F. - J.A.S.) but only remained until mid-afternoon and similarly a record group of sixteen birds on the 20/10/2016 did not remain for long.

Pink Footed Goose - Anser brachyrhynchus

Another good site tick although the four birds that arrived in 2005 stayed in the area for about two weeks and became a popular attraction for local birders. Tony Stackhouse was first to pick these up as they flew in to land on the Mere in a winter storm (28/02/2005). They subsequently relocated to the fields of Grange Farm for much of the rest of their stay (although they managed to disappear on at least two occasions before I was able to connect with them). As far as I know they moved on in the second week of March. It was to be almost ten years before the next record and that was to be a fleeting one, when a party of eight birds which may have been grazing on the farm land around the Mere flew out north west toward the Trent valley mid-morning (29/10/2014 - C.M.).

White-Fronted Goose - Anser albifrons

A very difficult species to get to grips with in built up areas, only rarely recorded locally. The late Autumn of 2011 however, provided a number of birds in the local area including a mixed party of six adult and juvenile birds that flew in from the west and circled the Marsh several times before flying off north-east (C.M. - K.C.).

A few minutes later they were picked up flying over Chasewater (G.E.) where the photograph (Above) was taken and where they were watched until they disappeared from sight over Heath Hayes.

Greylag Goose - Anser anser

All records that I am aware of relate to feral specimens, but even these were rare before the completion of Ryders Mere. The occurrence of this species is sporadic and usually short lived. Three birds arrived amongst a flock of Canadas in August 2002 although April seems to be the best month for Greylag with one in 2003, two in 2005 and two in 2006. A single bird was also reported in September 2006, I had anecdotal reports that a bird was seen in the spring of 2007 and at the beginning of 2008 a part of five birds flew through with another three at the end of March and a single bird on the 21st of April conforming to the established pattern. In 2009 birds were recorded in the spring on 18/02/09 (2), 13/03/09 (1) and 20/03/09 (3) and this trend for increasing frequency continued in 2010-11 with an average of three or four records during most subsequent years. From December 2012 a single Greylag became a regular visitor occurring throughout the following spring, occasionally being joined by a second bird. An unprecedented eight birds however were seen on 28/04/13 (Y.M.) and two birds wintered with the Canada Goose flock throughout 2013/2014. In 2016 Greylag became a more frequent sight on the Mere and a pair settled to breed succesfully during 2017 with at least six chicks hatched.

The domesticated 'Emden' goose has occurred in August 2006 and the occurrence of 'Dodgy' geese is likely to continue as we now seem to be a refuge site for the increasingly diverse flock of waterfowl at Chasewater.

Canada Goose - Branta canadensis

OK. some people go to alcoholics anonymous, stand up and say; "My names Fred and I'm an alcoholic" - others live a secret alternative lifestyle before eventually coming out of the closet and saying; "I'm Joe and I'm Gay". Well, here we go, "I'm Chaz and I like Canada Geese".

This is not a big surprise to most local birders who think my interest is an aberration, but to anyone who doesn't know me it may come as something of a surprise as Canada Goose is almost universally disregarded as what our American cousins would call a 'Trash Bird'.

I find them fascinating, and on a quiet day, like nothing more than working through a flock of feral Canada's looking for examples from the more obscure sub-species (I even lie awake at night wondering if there really are eleven sub-species or just eight and three forms?). If you want to know more about the taxonomy of the Canada Geese here is an aide-memoir which might help:

Taxonomy of the Canada Goose

The Canada is a lovely bird to put you through your paces
It has eleven different form
s (though some of them are races)
he Species have been 'Split' as well there's 'Cackling' and there's 'Greater'
But deciding on which ones are wild has been deferred til later (Blooming BOURC)
Canadensis is the form that most of you will see, while Fulva is a Western race (which has eluded me)
Hutchinsii (or Richardsons) turn up against the odds, Interior can occur at times (these days they call them Todds')
Leucoparia are Aleution Birds Which nearly are extinct and Maxima were once thought gone (but came back from the brink)
Minima are small and cute and sometimes can be found Moffettii (Great Basin Birds) though, never do the rounds!

So check your Canadas each time you visit Marsh or Mere
But beware of hybrid/intergrades Which are about I fear
And though theses geese my mates disdain
(they have no sense of fun!) 

I promise if you find me one You might just see me run...!

Anyway, you can think I'm crazy if you like but I'll bet I have seen more specimens of Todds Canada Goose than most birders and am probably better than many at identifying and separating hybrids. Not much of an epitaph for my tombstone but it adds some spice to a quiet day on my local patch.

Most birders are aware that the majority of feral Canada Geese belong to the nominate race Canadensis, and this is the race most frequently recorded locally. However my efforts over the last ten years have revealed  parvipes birds at Doxey Marsh and at Clayhanger (2007) and at least two of the closely related Cackling Geese (See Below),a Minima bird at Chasewater, and a taverners bird at Clayhanger (see Cackling Goose) in 1999.

The weird thing is that the taverners, the minima and the parvipes all showed well and were either photographed or had a full description taken before disappearing the following day never to be seen again! Actually that's probably not totally true as about ten days after finding and recording the parvipes at Clayhanger, I had the pleasure of rediscovering it (surely not a different bird?) amongst a flock of feral Barnacle Geese at Blithfield.

So there we are - my despicable secret revealed to all!

Cackling Goose - Branta hutchinsii

The Cackling Geese are four sub-species, previously forms of Canada Goose that are now regarded as a separate species in their own right (B.h.hutchinsii - B.h.tavernerii - B.h.minima - B.h.leucoparia). True wild examples do occur in Britain but usually at extreme or coastal locations. The likelihood of any of these birds occurring in the Midlands as genuine vagrants is very small but escaped specimens are possible.

A specimen of Taverners Cackling Goose (B.h.tavernerii) of unknown origin was present at Clayhanger (05/05/1999). The main features noted were; Darker plumage than Canada goose, short slate-grey bill which formed a continuous line from crown to bill-tip, white face panel (chin-strap) interrupted by a fine black line below the chin and which became thinner and indented behind the eye, 25-30% smaller and darker backed than two Canada geese present with dark vermiculation across the mantle, buffer-toned underparts, extensively barred flanks, dirty-white under tail coverts, Dark primaries and a thinner neck kinked into a distinct 'S' shape with a pale basal collar (broader at the front) where the neck met the chest, Altogether a very different and obvious bird.

Barnacle Goose - Branta leucopsis

A beautiful and all too uncommon species locally. The single bird in 1998 did a grand tour of the local area along with a Bar-Headed Goose and was obviously an 'over-the-wall' job. The three birds in May 2002 were less obviously feral, particularly given the late breeding of the species and the timidity of these birds. A single specimen on 02/01/2011 (C.M. - S.H. et-al) arrived at a time when the Mere was predominantly frozen and did not linger.I am not going down the road of making a case for wild origin, particularly as since 2006 even feral birds have joint category A/C status. But I do think that in the past, too many genuine wild birds have been slung out like the proverbial 'Baby with the bath water'. The 2011 birds behaviour and time of appearance are certainly plausible for a genuine migrant. The next bird was a single specimen which arrived on the Merer and kept company with Canada Geese on 25/11/2015 (K.C. - C.M. - R.F.) If you ever see one of these on the site, you have had a good tick!

Egyptian Goose - Alopochen aegyptiaca

Most midland birders will be aware of the flock of eight Egyptian Geese that passed through Aqualate and Belvide before settling at Chasewater in the spring of 2007. After disappearing, two of the birds returned and took up residence for most of the summer and early autumn. I was crossing everything and hoping that they would make a dash for the county boundary and come down to Clayhanger but to no avail. Until, on September 29th. just as I had given up hope, there they were.
They had accompanied a flock of about 170 Canada Geese that had been disturbed enough to move away from Chasewater, and remained throughout the day allowing at least one birder of my acquaintance to tick them for the West Midlands County (No names, no pack drill eh Pete... OOPS!).

It was to be eight years before this species returned, this time an impressive flock of fourteen birds that turned up unexpectedly on 02/02/2015 and which showed well for all comers on the eastern island of the Mere.
(Photo: Egyptian Geese at Chasewater 2007)

Ruddy Shelduck - Tadorna ferruginea

This is a controversial species on the British List as apparently they haven't occurred as a wild bird for over fifty years and the feral ones apparently have no status. Keith Vinicombe made (in my opinion) a very strong case as to why they should at least be afforded category A or C status but to no avail. The powers that be have decided to bury their collective heads in the sand and let someone else sort it out.

I don't care, anyone who does not think they are beautiful and amazing looking birds obviously requires laser surgery. In one of those weird quirks of coincidence both records for Clayhanger were made by the same observer and on exactly the same date, albeit two years apart.

Paul Jeynes had two birds circling the mere on the 15/10/2004 but they did not settle. Two years later Paul again found two birds but these at least had the courtesy to land on one of the islands and sit tight long enough to be twitched by Tony Stackhouse and myself.

Common Shelduck - Tadorna tadorna

Always noteworthy at the site and nowhere near as common as you might expect but perhaps their frequency is increasing?

As far as I know, this species was not recorded until the mere was formed and the credit for the first record in 2002 goes to the late Steve Tonkinson, a Clayhanger/Ryders regular who is greatly missed. Two more birds were seen in February 2003, another in April of that year, while another two overflew in February 2005. I saw my first pair in April 2005 and at least five birds were seen on three dates in 2006. A juvenile occurred in July 2007, a single bird was present on 18/02/2008 and another was present until at least 09.15 on 25/10/2011 (K.McC.). Two adults turned up on 15/04/2013 (R.F. - C.M.) and showed well in the afternoon. Mild weather during the winter of 2015 may have been responsible for the arrival of seven birds on the Mere on December 29th 2015? The first record of 2016 was a single bird on the Merer on 20/03/2016 (C.M.)


Apart from the embden and occasional visits from the Chasewater Canada x Swan Goose Hybrids, the only genuine exotic in this category is the already mentioned Bar-Headed Goose that was seen on several occasions in 1998. It also has the dubious pleasure of being on my garden list as it flew behind a flock of Canada Goose squeaking its weird call one evening. A Black Swan was reported flying over Clayhanger Marsh on 09/10/2013