Waders (10/14)

If you want to make a name for yourself by finding a new species for the marsh, this is your best chance. Although there is usually a good passage of wading birds in spring and autumn, there are still a number of quite common species that to the best of my knowledge have never been recorded. That is to say nothing of the potential of the site to pick up occasional semi-rarities such as Grey and Red-Necked Phalarope.


Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus
If Clayhanger were to have a logo bird, this species probably has the strongest claim as although it is a rare breeding bird inland, Oystercatchers have managed to raise young in the local area for several years and are regularly seen feeding on the marsh or resting up on one of the islands on the mere.

Prior to the turn of the century this was a strikingly noteworthy species, my first records involving an overflying specimen at 05:25 on the 17/09/1996 and a one day bird that was present a year later (24/04/1998).

I had no further records until 2003, since when it has become a regular visitor often involving multiples of birds that share time between the Mere, the Marsh, Stubbers Green and Chasewater. Returning birds can arrive as early as mid-January and can be encountered with some regularity until mid-July. despite this, the status of Oystercatcher as a breeding bird must be regarded as vulnerable unless management of it's breeding island is undertaken. In 2011 these birds failed to raise any young for the first time, primarily due to competition from the breeding Black Headed Gulls. 2012 was more successful with at least two young being fledged and this success was repeated in 2013 and 2014.
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Black Winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
A pair of these incredibly rare and exotic waders were discovered on Clayhanger Marsh (J.A.S. - S.H. - C.M.) on the morning of 19/04/2012 and were present during the afternoon, being twitched and photographed by a number of birders. These constituted a first record for the West Midlands County (Photo: Steve Nuttall). The birds lingered until dusk but the following morning had disappeared. It later became apparent that they had flown 120 kilometres overnight to arrive in Cumbria at the Leighton Moss Reserve.
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Little Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius
A surprisingly frequent species at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere despite its 'Schedule 1' Breeding status. In fact it has almost certainly bred on the mere on one occasion as photographer Phil Ward and I once observed two adults with a very recently fledged juvenile that obviously could not have flown any significant distance (05/07/2003). Overflying birds have occasionally been heard at night such as a bird that went over calling at 23:30 one May evening. In fact, March to May are the most likely months for this species to be found although July and August records can also been made. It is equally likely to be recorded along the edges of the islands on the mere, the muddy shoreline or the turf and channels around the edge of the marsh and is often picked up in flight.
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Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula
Although this is statistically a much commoner species than Little Plover, Ringed Plover is always noteworthy with only eight records (involving eleven birds) known to me between 1997 and 2011. The median average of records indicates that May is the most likely month to encounter Ringed Plover but all currently known records relate to the period April to July.
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Golden Plover - Pluvialis apricaria
 This species used to be a regular spring species on the farmland around Clayhanger often in large numbers and I recall waves of Golden Plover amounting to 200+ birds flying in late one afternoon (12/03/1995). Golden Plover could often be seen on the ground at Grange Farm and I have occasionally heard them calling in the early hours of the morning.

This situation changed dramatically with the landscaping of the Mere and I did not see or hear Golden Plover on either area until a party of 32 flew east toward the toll road on 04/01/2008.
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Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola
Tough bird for the site list with only one record so far, a single bird seen by Graham Evans on 11/03/2005. Grey Plover seem to be less frequent in the midlands these days so it could become something of a 'blocker'!
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Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus
The most likely species of wader to be encountered locally, with breeding attempted every year.
The most significant records are made in the post-breeding period when birds tend to creche and in mid-winter when flocks of over 100 birds have occasionally been observed. It is always worth going through these flocks for other waders such as Golden Plover and Ruff.
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Knot - Calidris canutus
I have had one report that a small party of Knot were present on the Marsh on an unspecified date in the spring of 2006 (A.S.).
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Sanderling - Calidris alba
A bird present during a major migration movement on 15/05/13 was a first for the site (K.C. - G.C.).
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Dunlin - Calidris alpina
A species that probably occurs every year but which often gets missed (due to the small number of birders who actually work the site). I have site records made by myself and several other birders but these only amount to seven records involving 11 birds between 1996 and 2007. On the 15/05/2007 three birds were on the edge of one of the mere islands, one of these was an apparent British race bird in full breeding plumage. The other two were strikingly different, only just beginning to moult into breeding finery and showing contrastingly down-curved bills suggesting the nominate northern sub-species alpina. Spring records occured in 2011 with one on 01/05 (A.J.S.) and another on 15/05 (CM.) and an unseasonal two birds were present on 03/02/2012 (RF.).Equally unseasonal was a single bird seen on the partially frozen Mere on 17/01/13 (G.C.) and actually photographed through the lens of a pair of binoculars! Two birds were present on the Mere on 04/05 and seven birds on 15/05/13 was a new site record. The following month, a single bird was seen on 14/06/13.
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Ruff - Philomachus pugnax

Quite a common wader with strikingly different breeding and non-breeding plumage. Despite this being a common bird regionally, there have so far only been two records for the site. The first was a bird located by Paul Jeynes on 28/03/2005; the second was a bird located by myself as it flew amongst a flock of Lapwing on 21/07/2007. There must be more to come including perhaps one day, a stunning breeding-plumage male?
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Jacksnipe - Lymnocryptes minimus

A rare bird on the marsh and the mere with no confirmed records during a period of more than ten years (although I should mention an anecdotal record from a dog walker in March 2006). Credit for the first record goes to Graham Evans who had a bird at Clayhanger as long ago as 18/04/1974.

I personally had one bird on two dates in late September 1995, another in March 1996 and one bird in February 1997. No birds were then recorded until a single bird was flushed from the south end of the site on 22/02/2008 (C.M.) This was then followed by another Jacksnipe record, with a single bird being flushed by Kevin Clements at the end of December. The beginning of the following winter produced two birds at the west end of the Mere on 09/01/09 (CM). No birds were recorded during the next two years but a probable Jacksnipe was flushed from cover on 05/02/2012 (R.F..). A period of hard weather in January 2013 produced a record on the15/01 (G.C.) and another bird was seen in the early winter of 2014 (16/10 - R.F.).
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Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago
Once a common and significant breeding species with drumming birds frequently encountered on spring evenings. Snipe seemed to go into decline from 1997 (when the open-casting commenced) and became quite noteworthy. In the last few years however they seem to once again be increasing in frequency both in spring and winter. Good news for a species that has great significance to the protected status of the site.
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Woodcock - Scolopax rusticola

A significant and uncommon species that probably occurs most winters and may occasionally be encountered in the breeding season. Tony Stackhouse has occasionally found these birds at the western side of the site, I personally have only encountered Woodcock three times. The first was a bird that flew over my garden heading toward Grange Farm on 02/03/2002; the second was a bird flushed from a drainage ditch near Grange Farm on 09/12/2006. The local farmer occasionally comes across Woodcock on his land and a specimen was flushed from waste ground near the riding stables (08/05/2008 - I.W. - P.J.) so it is probably more common locally than records would indicate?

Winter is the best time to find a specimen though and Woodcock are probably annual. Subsequent records include one at the southern edge of Ryders Mere on an unspecified date in December 2008 and another on the Marsh 17/12/2009. I subsequently flushed a specimen in Coppice Woods which had apparently been driven in after a particularly stormy night and a bird flushed from a ditch near Grange Farm (01/01/12) was a welcome addition to a new year list and was followed much later in the year by a record from the mineral line on 11/10/12 (L.H.). A really good fly-past of a bird on 13/12/12 eventually resulted in the bird dropping from sight into the Sewage Farm after being disturbed by a dog walker (C.M. - S.L.).
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Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa

An occasional passage species that seems to be increasing in frequency. I recall being dragged out of bed to answer the phone on the morning of 17/04/2004. Tony Stackhouse had found a flock of Godwit on the eastern island of the mere. I raced over and counted 42 birds, a count that was confirmed a few minutes later when the flock took flight for no apparent reason, circled the mere twice and then flew off south-west.

Since then there have been at least five records, two from 2006,one from 2007 a juvenile bird in March 2012 and a first-summer individual (perhaps the same bird?) found in April 2012, which remained in the area until early May. A wintery plumaged bird was present for several hours on 17/05/13 (P.J.W.) and was well photographed and proved to be the only one of the spring. Fortunately another autumn specimen was present on 03/09/13 (S.H. - K.C. - C.M.)
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Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa japponica

I found the first Bar-tailed Godwit for the site OR SO I THOUGHT! I discovered a full breeding plumage bird late on a Sunday evening (29/04/2007) and despite the bird apparently flying-off, was quite pleased with myself. Unfortunately, a few days later I received an e-mail from Steve Cage to say that he had seen it at 08:00 on Saturday 28th (Drat-it!) Never mind, that one's down to you Steve and at least it stayed for several days to please other observers and have its photo taken four hundred times by Phil Ward!
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Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus
A regular passage species and one that is all too infrequent at Clayhanger and Ryders mere. My first site record was an overflying bird at Clayhanger on 29/04/2000 while Tony Stackhouse can claim the first bird at Ryders mere on 16/04/2004. More recently another overflying bird was seen at Clayhanger by Phil Ward on 01/05/2007 and another heard going through on 15/05/11 (C.M.). No records were received in 2012 but a bird dropped into the Mere for a few minutes on 14/05/13 (G.C.) and another flew through on the 15/05/13 (G.C.). I am sure that a good long vigil between mid-April and mid- May would greatly increase the number of site records.
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Curlew - Numenius arquata

A regular passage bird usually picked up on it's diagnostic call. Despite the fact that this is a common British species it is always noteworthy at both sites. The first record was another historic from Graham Evans (21/07/1977) with only two confirmed records in the twentieth century (well under-recorded?). Four birds flying through on 05/08/2009 (PN) seems a typical migration movement but with only nine or ten records in the first ten years of the twenty-first century, we must assume that Curlews are still being missed?

2011 saw just one audible record (21/04/2011) and a calling bird was also heard on 18/03/2012 both apparently relating to fly through specimens as neither could subsequently be relocated. A single bird flew in on the 24/05/2012 (A.S.), a bird was heard over-flying on 17/04/13 (G.C.) and another was heard but not seen on 29/04/2014 (R.F.).
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Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
Quite a frequently recorded species locally and one that has bred on the site (raising two young) on at least one occasion (a significant West Midland breeding record). The birds returned the following two years but seemed to be unsuccessful (probably because of disturbance). after a break of several years, two birds were again recorded in the March of 2012, providing a vain hope that breeding might be attempted again? A pair of Redshank were present on 19/04/13 and almost exactly a year later, a bird was present on the Mere on 22/034/14 (K.C.).
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Spotted Redshank - Tringa erythropus
A highly uncommon species in the West Midlands at any time, the first recorded specimen was found by Kevin Clements on 08/05/2008 and was subsequently seen by several birders. At first sight the bird appeared to be an adult female, however closer inspection suggested that it was a male just beginning to moult into breeding plumage (although pale, it was not as grey as full winter plumage birds and was showing some evidence of moult in progress).
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Greenshank - tringa nebularia
Another regular passage species and one that probably occurs in most years. For me Greenshank has the credit for being the first noteworthy species that I ever saw on the (then) recently landscaped Ryders Mere when the lake was still little more than a puddle. Once again though, credit for the earliest record goes to Graham Evans who saw two birds at Clayhanger between the 15th and 18th of August 1972 (I was still at School!).

Since 2000 there have been at least eleven records with the Autumn of 2009 being noteworthy for a glut of records between 16/08 and 12/09 which involved at least two birds (a juvenile and an adult). A party of Greenshank were discovered in the spring of 2011 (S.H. - T.S.) which I unfortunately missed!
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Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus

A gorgeous but infrequently recorded species that is usually difficult to approach and calls loudly as you watch it fly away for ever (so if you have that experience you can make a good guess at what you have flushed!).

Up to six birds were recorded in August 1972 during a period when the Ford Brook was being cleaned (inevitably another historic record from Mr Evans). There have been seven records involving at least seven specimens since 2003 (to my knowledge). One of these involved a multiple of three birds (18/04/2008) which flew in from Goscote Valley; while a single bird was observed displaying over the Marsh on 21/04/2008. The following year continued to provide occasional records, the first being on 30/08 with at least two birds being recorded by multiple observers from the 14-27/10. A bird briefly seen being chased off by Common Snipe on 09/01/2010 was also probably this species and was the precursor of a comparatively long-staying specimen present from 11/04 - 18/04.

2011 produced an early specimen on 24/03 and another lingering bird in April that was in the area from 03/04 to at least 19/04. March 2012 produced a single bird that remained in the area for the best part of two weeks. A bird present on 14/05/2013 was noteworthy.
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Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos
A common and regularly recorded species that can be encountered at any time between April and August. Frequency has certainly increased since Ryders Mere was formed with 28 specimens encountered on 21 occasions just by myself between 1997 and 2007. I have even heard birds flying over in the dark such as a specimen in the early hours of 25/09/14. It continues to be a regular spring and autumn passage migrant in varying numbers but possibly occurring less frequently than it once did.
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Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
A single present on 15/05/13 was a first for the site (G.C. - K.C. - A.J.S. - R.F.) Amazingly the second record occurred the following day when a different bird was discovered by Kev Clements.
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Well there we are, still looking for , Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, and Wood Sandpiper as well as any Phalarope and a whole field guide full of rarities. A whole new frontier to be explored by anyone looking for a worthwhile local patch