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Woodpeckers, Larks and Hirundine (11/17)

 Hoopoe - Upupa epops
 A single record of a bird found on wires near to the sewage farm on 29/04/2010 (A.S.) subsequently stayed in the area for ten days. During this period a major rarity in Cornwall meant that many birders passing through the Midlands dropped in to share in Clayhanger's good fortune (as only a handful of Hoopoes occurred in Britain that spring).

The star turn remains and continues to show well
Photo - P.J.Ward

Wryneck - Jynx torquilla

It is now a long time since this species was a widespread and regularly breeding British bird. These days, Wryneck is principally an annual autumn migrant and semi-rarity with only occasional inland records.

On the 13/09/1995, local regular Pete Newman was fortunate enough to find an obliging Wryneck on the old mineral Railway track along the west side of the marsh. The bird remained all afternoon until flushed by two children at around 17:00 (just as I was arriving!). It was not seen again and my only views were of a grey flash as what was presumably the bird flew across the track onto the set aside at Ryders Hayes. Frustratingly not clinchable for me!

Many people did get to see it however and photographer Keith Stone managed to get some decent photographs.

Green Woodpecker - Picus viridis

Yes folks, its the woodpecker off the cider bottle and it is certainly the commonest species locally with at least three or four breeding pairs. Greyer headed juveniles are often seen in the autumn and are often inexperienced enough to be quite approachable. Green Woodpecker, despite their name, are more likely to be flushed from the ground where they feed on ants and small insects. If you think you have seen one but are not sure, look for the undulating flight and yellow rump and listen for the maniacal laughing call as the bird flies away.

Great-Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major

This is the woodpecker you are likely to see on your garden bird-feeders, mainly black and white with varying amounts of red on the plumage and about the size of a thrush. Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker (that up to yet has not occurred at either site) is a tiny bird that would fit easily into your hand, so no excuse for mistakes. It probably occurs daily at the marsh but is often inconspicuous and so rarely recorded.

Lesser- Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos minor

Considering that this is a native breeding species, there are many serious rarities that I have seen as many times or more times than Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and locally it is incredibly difficult to connect with even if you have a regularly favoured site.

At the breeding season it is sedentary, so I can not explain the presence of a drumming specimen at Clayhanger on 08/06/2008. I awoke one Sunday morning to be greeted with the rapid staccato drumming of a 'Lesser Spot' from somewhere around the perimeter of the recreation ground. It drummed on at least three occasions but I was not able to identify from exactly where and the bird was not seen (although the pitch and timbre of the drumming is diagnostic once it has been heard). The following year (February 25th 2009) One of my neighbours saw a Woodpecker "The size of a Starling" hammering on one of the Telegraph Poles on the set-aside by the recreation ground so perhaps my record was not the isolated occurrence I believed it to be. There were no other local records until September 2011 when a single specimen was reported on Brownhills Common.

On 29/05/13 a Lesser Spot was found frequenting the Railway Line at the north of the site (G.C.) and some lucky people in Pelsall saw and photographed the bird as it attended their bird feeders for six weeks during the winter of 2013-14. What may have been the same bid was showing again at the boundary with Ryders Hayes on  02/01/2014 (N.T.) and then was reported again in the same area on 02/04/2015 (N.T.) establishing an apparent pattern of behaviour.

Woodlark - Lullula arborea

A bird that has successfully increased in numbers in the last ten years or so. I had the pleasure of discovering a Woodlark on the recently planted community woodland site at Clayhanger on the first day of 1997. When I reported it to birders busy year-listing at Chasewater, it was greeted by most with disbelief but at least a few locals trusted me enough to check it out and confirm its presence. It remained loyal to the area for several weeks and was last seen by me on 26/01/1997.

During its stay it was occasionally watched flying off to land on the horse paddocks east of the pit-mound there bye becoming a legitimate Clayhanger Marsh species.

I have subsequently had one other Woodlark in the local area, but this bird was initially heard calling and then seen overflying Clayhanger Common (the 'Spot') one spring morning as it headed away north-east.

Skylark - Alauda arvensis

Presently a common breeding species locally, with its distinctive vertical display flight and song that has inspired poets. Wintering birds can often be found around the fringes of local farmland, often in quite large flocks. Beware though, the plantations that have been planted to landscape the Mere will eventually make the habitat unsuitable for Skylark and it may once again become a noteworthy local species.

This is where I annoy any experienced birders as I intend to give a 'Micky-Mouse' guide to identifying hirundines (swallows and allies). my reason for doing this is that although with a little practice they are quite easy, they do seem to baffle some of the local dog walkers and some of my neighbours who use the marsh. So here it is (Skip this bit if you want to!):

Sand Martin - Ripparia ripparia

Often one of the first migrant species to return to Britain with occasional birds having the bad judgement to arrive as early as late February! According to my records, this species is arriving, on average, two weeks earlier than it did in the 1980s and despite the destruction of some key local breeding habitat in recent years, Sand Martin are still relatively common and can be encountered over the Marsh and Mere at any time between March and early September.

Look for the small, brown, swallow-like bird with a brown breast band and chittering call and you will have found yourself a Sand Martin.

Swallow - Hirundo rustica

These days we are supposed to call them Barn Swallows but the name doesn't make them any less an iconic symbol of summer. I have been under the impression that Swallows have been arriving earlier each year, but analysis of twenty years of my arrival date records has proven me wrong as the average variance is only about two days either way. As for latest records, this currently stands at one on 01/11/2011(C.M.) This is the rich blue one, usually with long tail streamers and a red face, oh and no white rump! - Got it?

House Martin - Delchion urbicum

Arriving in late April and often hanging around to the end of September, this is the one which is blue above and white below with a white rump patch. It is also the one that tends to make a mess of your front wall, often using mud it has collected from puddles and muddy channels at Clayhanger Marsh. I would almost Kill to have these nesting on our house and I cant believe that people actually get sticks and push the nests of House Martins off their walls! The current latest date recorded is 12/10/2011 (R.F.) which beat the previous record by almost a week!

If you want to identify this species on call, someone once described them as 'Farting-Martins' as there single chirrup call could be suggestive of minor flatulence (sorry for those of you with delicate sensibilities)

There we are then, I have risked the wrath of many experienced birders to give you these tips so no excuse next spring!