Warblers (03/12)

Grasshopper Warbler - Locustella naevia

In the three year period April 1995 to May 1998 Grasshopper Warbler was an annual breeding species with myself having 22 records involving 26 birds during this period. I have even gone to bed listening to reeling Grasshopper Warbler until I have fallen asleep. Then in May 1998, the open casting began and I have not had one positive record since (passage birds do still occur though and Neil Thacker had two birds singing on the evening of 20/04/2008 and a singing bird was occasionally showing on 19/04/2009 -C.M. and J.A.S.). The following year three Grasshopper Warblers set up territory and at least two was reeling from early June and in 2011 at least three males were singing, suggesting that this species was making a comeback.

Savi's Warbler - Locustella luscinioides

In the twenty-five years I have been birding this is probably the rarest single thing I have ever found and frustratingly, it was not worth submitting to the relevant authorities because neither the B.B.R.C. or the B.O.U.R.C. accept audible only records.

My teenage son was going through one of his occasional bouts of interest in the 'old mans' hobby of birding and we had gone over the marsh (21/05/1995) to teach him the difference between Reed and Sedge Warbler. As we were listening there were two brief two second bursts of an unfamiliar bird warming up, then 20 seconds of continuous monotonous, mechanical reeling that I instantly recognised from previous experience as Savi's Warbler. Even Chris realised that it was not the 'free-wheeling pushbike' song of the local Grasshopper Warblers.

The Savi's was reeling from the opposite side of the perimeter hedge that overhangs the western boundary ditch and it took a couple of minutes to run to the nearest crossing point and retrace my steps on the opposite side but the bird could not be found. I raced home and got some interested neighbours and some birders over and we scoured the hedge line but to no avail. A brief moment of glory for the site that sadly would go forever unrecognised.

Sedge Warbler - Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
Another apparent victim of the open casting. Up until 1999 Sedge Warbler was an annual passage migrant and occasional breeding species. Since then it became an occasional species that sometimes attempted to breed (as far as I am aware unsuccessfully) but usually just passed through on its way to breed elsewhere. Arrival is usually around the third week of April with an earliest date of 22/04 and a latest record of 28/08.
In recent years however, it has rallied and seems to be on its way to becoming an annual species on the Marsh.

Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus

Despite the absence of Common Reed from the site, surprisingly Reed Warbler is still a breeding species at Clayhanger, apparently displaying from the Typha beds and breeding within the dense Sedges that are prevalent. The earliest record is the 21st. of April but arrival usually takes place in the first week of May. The latest record so far is the 21st of September but departure has usually occurred by the second week of September, and often as early as late August.

Lesser Whitethroat - Sylvia curruca

I consider this to be something of a site speciality and Clayhanger was often the first local site to record Lesser Whitethroat. It was not unusual for three or four pairs of this attractive little warbler to breed locally, with arrival occurring as early as the third week of April and birds being recorded into August. Unfortunately this species has gone through a national decline which Clayhanger seemed to buck for many years. However 2011 saw only one bird singing on one occasion which suggests that this species may be going the way of Turtle Dove and Corn bunting?

Learning the distinctive little song is a sure-fire way of finding Lesser Whitethroat, particularly as they spend a lot of their time skulking in and around Bramble clumps locally.

Common Whitethroat - Sylvia communis

Another fabulous looking little Warbler that is far more obliging and easy to see than its 'Lesser' counterpart. Whitethroat have a dynamic display flight and familiar scolding call that make them one of the easiest of this group to connect with. Recorded locally from the end of April to the first week of September (current latest record is 9th. September). In contrast to Lesser Whitethroat, this species seems to be increasing in abundance with 2010 and 2011 showing dramatic increases in population density.

Garden Warbler - Sylvia borin

Of all the common species of Warbler that breed in the local area, this is one of the toughest to connect with at Clayhanger. As far as I am aware there are no breeding records with only occasional passage birds being recorded (even though Garden warbler must go through every year).

Between 1995 and 2003 I encountered this species only five times with no records since. In 2007 however, I had anecdotal reports of Garden Warbler being recorded in mid May and at the end of July (I.P.) and this seemed to be confirmed in 2008 with a specimen being on territory and singing loudly for much of the spring from the old railway line. 2011 saw birds occurring on the periphery of the site from early May and then two birds displaying at the north end of the site from 13/05/11. One of these birds was still singing until at least 02/06/11.

Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
Blackcap is one of our commonest warblers and one that occurs locally every year. It is not always easy to connect with though at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere, probably due to a shortage of decent breeding habitat? Blackcap occasionally over-winter and I have had them in my garden at the end of December. Arrival of migrants though, takes place from the beginning of April.

Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita
The commonest warbler to be recorded with migrants arriving in March and lingering until September. Occasionally birds overwinter at several local sites, Clayhanger hosting records as follows: 28/12/2006 - 22/01/2011 - 14/01/13.

Willow Warbler - Phylloscopus trochilus
The real herald of spring with its beautiful descending song. Willow Warblers usually arrive in early April and depart in August with odd birds passing through during September locally. Specimens have however occasionally been recorded in late March such as one on 27/03/2012 (C.M.-Y.M.-P.M.)

Wood Warbler - Phylloscopus sibilatrix

One of the rarer regular migrants with local breeding restricted to favoured areas of Cannock Chase. Passage birds do occur as I have encountered two on Brownhills Common on different occasions in the 1980s. There have been no actual recorded occurrences on the Marsh or Mere, however a near-miss occurred in 2008 when Tony Stackhouse encountered a singing bird just south of the site along the railway line at Pelsall (in all probability it would have passed over the site unobserved).


Goldcrest - Regulus regulus

The smallest bird in Britain and a very common species, more prevalent on the marsh in Autumn and Winter and rarely occurring from mid- April to early September.

Firecrest - Regulus ignacapilus

Although now a recognised breeding species in Britain, this fantastically beautiful and unmistakable little warbler remains an outright rarity locally.

On a very windy Saturday (08/01/2005), the last thing I expected to find along the Ford Brook was a stunning Firecrest and I would have dismissed the 'buzzy'-sounding' Goldcrest call had the bird not popped into view before flying low into cover further along the sheltered brook.

Although it was not subsequently relocated on the marsh, there was an epilogue to this sighting. Just over a week later our next-door neighbour knocked on our door to let me know that they had been watching a Firecrest in their garden, but it had eventually flown off -

INTO OUR GARDEN - AARRGH!!!