The first record of a Mandarin was a drake found asleep on the ice of Ryders Mere on 04/12/2010 (A.S.) This bird had previously been on the swag pool at Chasewater until earlier that week. During an exceptionally hard winter, the bird was subsequently relocated and photographed on 20/12/2010 (AS - RF) and recorded again on 19/01/2011 (K.McC.).
European Wigeon - Anas penelope
A species that was hugely effected by the creation of Ryders Mere. Prior to the 21st century this was a rare species on Clayhanger Marsh, sometimes with zero records in a calender year.
In 1996 there was one record of two birds in March. The following year the same two to four birds were recorded from February 23rd until at least March 11th. Ten years later the current site maxima of 302 birds was counted by Tony Stackhouse (J.A.S.) on 26/01/2006. The average arrival for returning birds is mid to late September with most birds having cleared out by early April. Anomalies have been recorded such as an over-summering bird seen in partial eclipse plumage on July 5th 2003 or the birds in 2006 that lingered into early May.
Clayhanger originally poached the wintering Wigeon from Chasewater but these days it is a wintering site in its own right, with arguably one of the strongest concentrations of wintering birds in the West Midlands County. Surely a major factor when considering the need for some level of status to be afforded? Annual Maxima (subject to revision) are as follows:
2001 4 22/09 (C.M.) 2011 125 02/01 (C.M.)
2002 No Records 2012 170 11/02 (C.M.)
2003 28 22/03 (C.M.) 2013 66 03/02 (C.M.)
2004 117 11/12 (C.M.) 2014 60 04/01 (C.M.)
2005 240 31/12 (C.M.) 2015
2006 302 26/01 (J.A.S.) 2016
2007 250 17/12 (C.M.) 2017
2008 213 02/02 (C.M.) 2018
2009 217 13/01 (C.M.) 2019
2010 217 31/12 (C.M.) 2020
From these figures its obvious that this species has peaked and is now in decline probably due to changes in the vegetation and cover on the site that results from th absence of a management strategy.
Gadwall - Anas strepera
Another bird species that has increased in occurrence during recent years. In 1997 there were just four spring records involving between one and four birds. In 2007 birds were present and observed on most days between January and April with at least one drake over-summering.
The number of species involved has not increased greatly but the site has certainly become a more regular venue for Gadwall and it is a species you could expect to see on any visit between September and April.
Common Teal - Anas crecca
Always a common species from late summer to spring but usually absent from April to late August when the first returning birds drop in and numbers gradually increase until they reach about seventy birds at the winter peak (although the site maximum is currently 106).
A word of advice, there are always far more Teal than you can see. For several days recently I was counting the Teal on my visits and was regularly averaging eight to twelve birds. Then, having comfortably noted my eight for the day, one of the local Buzzards decided to do a low pass over the Typha and suddenly I had a flock of about forty birds wheeling over my head.
Incidentally BE WARNED - if anyone comes down here and finds a Green-Winged Teal before I do, keep it to yourself if you don't want someone to put a contract out on you! I have looked at every bloody Teal that has been there for the last twenty years hoping to find one of those!
Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
What can I say to make this interesting. Own up, you would have frankly been amazed if this wasn't the commonest duck species wouldn't you? Even when the marsh and mere are frozen these birds seldom move further than the Ford Brook and even then will be seen flying overhead.
We don't get too many domestic-types or hybrids either, which I suspect is down to the dedication of the bread-feeders up at Chasewater (where there are dozens!). Keep it up folks, we don't want em!
Northern Pintail -Anas acuta
From the ridiculous to the sublime! This species is certainly more regularly recorded in the midlands than it was when I started birding and this is reflected by the local records. However, it is always noteworthy at Clayhanger so please report any observations.
Although Pintail must have occurred, if only as a fly-over, there are not even any anecdotal records from the twentieth century. The first unsubstantiated record was a male that was reported on the marsh on an unspecified day in the winter of 2002-2003.
Certainly on New Years day 2003, two pair flew from the mere and across the marsh toward Chasewater. Since then there have been several definite records that I am aware of; a female on the 27/12/2004 and a male on the 06/03/2005 (the latter bird may have been present on several days around this time but only seemed to roost before flying out elsewhere). A possible Pintail was observed by Kevin Clements on 07/11/2007 but could not be confirmed. This was followed by an almost three year gap in records which was broken by a party of six apparent juveniles that were present on the morning of 15/08/2010 (establishing a new site record). Over two more years until the next sighting, this time a male specimen found on the Mere on 25/11/12 (R.F.)
Garganey - Anas querquedula
April, May and September seem to be the times to look for passage Garganey at Clayhanger with pristine passage birds and partial eclipse birds occurring. Although it would be wrong to describe the occurrence of this species as anything other than irregular and unpredictable, Clayhanger has the right habitat and birds that occur usually become quite settled and comfortable, allowing local birders to often get good views.
Birds recorded are usually pairs or single males (perhaps single females get overlooked when they do occur). Between 1997 and spring 2012 there have been eight records involving ten birds, with a pair in 2005 that remained loyal to the site for almost a week.
I have fond memories of my very first Garganey which were present in April 1987. Julien Allen and I climbed the pit mound early one morning having heard that they were present the night before. This is another species that seems to have become more frequent since I have been birding, these days they seem to be accessible every year if you want one and are prepared to travel, this did not seem to be the case in the early eighties.
Shoveler - Anas clypeata
My original notes on this species describe it as an unpredictable winter visitor usually occurring between January and March, this is no longer the case. Although Shoveler are almost totally absent from April to late August they can be found in any other months. In recent years the largest numbers seem to occur in early September with some birds appearing to moult into eclipse very late, not acquiring full plumage until early October.
[Red-crested Pochard - Netta rufina]
Once a rare vagrant, in the last twenty years the numbers of this species have been supplemented by an increasing number of feral birds and Red-Crested Pochard has acquired joint category A/C status on the British List.
In the winter of 1998 there were a number of Red-Crested Pochard at various sites around the midlands. I received a report that a male was on the marsh on December 19th. and made my way over at the earliest opportunity. I was unable to relocate this bird and although the observer was very confident of his identification he was quite inexperienced. As it was a single-observer record and knowing the ability of the observer concerned (at that time) I am veering to the cautious and including this as a probable rather than a confirmed record. I am sure that it won't be too long before a more cooperative specimen occurs.
Common Pochard - Aythya ferina
Although this is quite a common species at most local sites during the winter, it remains noteworthy at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere.
I have only four records from the twentieth century, the first being a historic record from Graham Evans of a male that was present on the 18/04/1974. I personally saw single females in 1996 and 1998 and a male in 1999.
Although occurrence has increased since Ryders Mere was formed, it is still not excessive, with one record from 2000, no records from 2001 and 2002, one record from 2003, none from 2004. A lingering male in March 2005, three birds present for a day in December of that year and a record-breaking seven birds lingering for a few days in December 2006. There were three records for the beginning of 2007, a drake was present early in November of that year and two immature males occurred toward the end of the same month. December 2007 saw a party of birds on the mere during a spell of hard weather. The late winter provided only a single group present between 15/02 and 20/02/08 (with maximums of 5 Male and 3 female). In 2009, an unseasonal female was present on 02/08, with wintering birds seen on 08/11 (2M), and 23/12 (10M 2F). The new year started well with 3M and 2F present on 01/01/2010 which was a precursor of a good year for the species locally (I encountered Pochard on another 15 days). 2011 however was a different matter with only six encounters in the late winter which seemed to reflect the apparent decline of the species nationally.
The up-shot is, if you see a Pochard at Clayhanger or Ryders Mere, you are having a good day!
Tufted Duck - Aythya fuligula
Another common species that occurs in varying numbers throughout the year. It has certainly increased by a significant factor since the mere was formed, but what is more important is that breeding frequency has increased and it is not unusual for several broods to be raised by pairs at both sites during the summer. Don't be surprised to find some of these.
Bufflehead - Bucephala albeola
Yes, you read it correctly, if you don't believe me check with the British Birds Rarity Committee and the B.O.U.R.C.! This male bird did a tour of England in the spring of 2004, taking in Greater Manchester, Yorkshire (where I travelled to see it!), Staffordshire (where I travelled to see it!) and Clayhanger (where it was found by someone else while I was on Cannock Chase! - story of my life).
My most remarkable memory of this is taking my wife to see it one evening in mid-June. The Bufflehead was probably the rarest bird in the country at the time and we stood totally alone, watching it on the mere where it was the only bird in sight.
I don't know if it was a trick of the light but to me, it seemed to have begun to show signs of moulting. Unfortunately I wasn't able to confirm this as it had gone the next day.
Goldeneye - Bucephala clangula
A tough bird to tick at either site with only ten records to my knowledge, three possibly involving the same specimen. The first record involved a female at Ryders Mere observed by Tony Stackhouse in December 2003 which did not hang around to be ticked by anyone else. Fortunately, what was possibly the same bird returned the following November for a day (13/11/2004) and put in another appearance at the end of December (27/12/2004). Three more females were present on 25/02/2008 which set a site record for this species.The first drake was a bird coming out of moult that was present on 04/11/2007. Only one record in the next two years was a female on 08/11/2009 (CM) but later in the same winter a male was seen briefly in flight across the marsh in horrendous conditions (09/01/2010 - CM). The following winter an early male was discovered on Ryders Mere (07/11/10 - CM) which had probably been displaced by fireworks disturbance the previous evening while the same cause might also be responsible for the presence of a female on 01/01/2011 (CM). An adult male showing some remaining evidence of moult was an unexpected find on the morning of 25/10/2011 (C.M.). There were no records in 2012 however a female put in an early appearance on 14/01/13 (G.C.) and another female was present at the other end of the year (11/12/13 - I.P.). No further specimens were seen until 14/10/14 when a first-winter male (lacking the facial spot) was discovered on the Mere (Glenn - R.F. - J.A.S. - C.M.) quickly followed by a juvenile female on 12/11/14 (C.M.).
Smew - Mergellus albellus
AT LAST! Something that I can take some credit for. The first (and so far only) record for the site was a female that I discovered lurking along the distant shoreline of Ryders Mere (27/12/2005). I put the news out and within ten minutes or so it was being enjoyed by Paul Jeynes and Julien Allen, both of whom had come down from Chasewater to see it. I think the attraction was not so much that it was a Smew, but that it was a female (or red-head) as there were quite a few males but hardly any females in the country at that time.The bird lingered for a couple of days allowing several birders to see it, but to the disappointment of many year listers decided to spend it's new year celebrations somewhere else! O.K. - time to bring on the stunning male please!
Goosander - Mergus merganser
Another of those species that has seriously benefited from the landscaping of Ryders Mere. Up until the end of the 20th century there were but a handful of records, now mid-winter can produce thirty-plus birds on a good day. I have even had them over the garden a few times, usually late afternoon when they fly in to roost. Unseasonal records occur such as two birds seen on the Mere on 14/05/2013.This is another of those species that underlines the regional significance that Ryders Mere has achieved in about ten years.
Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis
I refuse to go there! I left the R.S.P.B. over this species which has been scheduled for slaughter in Britain on a basis of contradictory and dubious evidence in what can only be regarded as a political gesture (to show that we are keeping our own house in order).
Can I propose a moments silence for all of the waterfowl that has been shot, both on purpose and in error by gun toting buffoons over the last few years (oh, and poor-show West Midlands Bird Club for changing your logo!).
This species has been a regular at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere for many years but numbers have been so reduced by Natural England's officially sanctioned genocide that they have become noteworthy and often elusive locally. If they did breed I wouldn't tell you, and if you see one there in the breeding season, I suggest that you keep it to yourself too.