Thursday 19 April 2012

BLACK-WINGED STILTS in the West Midlands

Whilst sat scouring over some dull scientific paper regarding the Herring Gull and the theory disproving it as being a 'ring species' a sudden text message woke me from my dribbling coma. It was no other than Jules Allen and he was messaging me via the medium of SMS, it had to be important and it was.... not one but two BLACK-WINGED STILTS at Clayhanger!

Since 1987 this is a species that had taunted me to the point of madness. A very mobile pair of birds had turned up at my patch, Alvecote Pools at the end of May of that year and were soon witnessed mating. They then relocated just a short distance away to a couple of flooded fields where their presence was kept secret just in case they stuck around to breed. Unfortunately I was too busy levering Volkswagen badges off cars and getting out of my spotty, teenage face on Thunderbirds around this period of the 1980's. By the time I heard about them from my old science teacher, they had long disappeared.

So despite me seeing several of these gangly freaks in Britain before, I had never connected with a single one within the entire West Midlands region.  After negotiating my way out of Birmingham City centre then across to Seckington to collect my scope and then back over to Walsall it was nearly 6.00pm. During all this time I was paranoid that some dog-walker or chavvy teenager might saunter through this heavily disturbed area and flush the rarities before I arrived. Luckily though the constant heavy showers over the past few days had probably deterred most members of the public from taking an early evening stroll. As I picked my way along the muddy track towards the swag I caught a glimpse of a stilt in the distance, quickly followed by the second bird.

Clayhanger Marsh, West Midlands.
All photos courtesy of Mark Rayment

Both birds then continued to show well as they fed hungrily around the pools, often calling and making short flights to alternative feeding areas. Also in the same area was a handsome Black-tailed Godwit, a mobile Oystercatcher and a pair of Lapwing, not bad for a site wedged into a heavily built-up urban area.  After a while a few familiar faces started to turn up. Snapper Richards arrived straight from work without any optical equipment whatsoever. Luckily for him I had brought along Nadia's pair of girly Leicas for him to use as a temporary measure (see photo below).  Jules Allen and Tom Perrins then followed up the rear just in the nick of time. As they extended their respective tripod legs both birds called, took flight and headed off high in a south-westerly direction.

Clayhanger Marsh, West Midlands.
Clayhanger Marsh, West Midlands.

We all then converged on the Mere to see if they had gone to roost on one of the islands there. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Continental duo but whilst I was checking I did manage to pick up my first pair of Common Tern for the year.  Other birds of interest included a trio of unseasonal Goosander, a pair of Swallow and a singing Willow Warbler.

Adrian Edmondson adds a new species to his
Staffordshire list!
Former MP Robin Cook & the Rt Hon. Ed Miliband
just about made it before the birds flew!

The BLACK-WINGED STILT in the West Midlands

The Clayhanger pair become the first ever record for the West Midlands County however there have been a fair few sightings in 'Staffordshire proper' over the years. A full list of sightings for the entire wider region is as follows:

1968 - Belvide, Staffordshire - one bird from 11th to 16th June.
1986 - Larford, Worcestershire - one first summer bird from 14th to 16th June.
1987 - Alvecote Pools area, Warwickshire - an immature pair from 28th May to 4th June.
1987 - Belvide, Staffordshire - two juveniles from 1st to 7th September.
1991 - Croxall Pits, Staffordshire - adult male from 28th April to 13th May.
1995 - Blithfield, Staffordshire - two adults on 11th May.
2006 - Upton Warren, Worcestershire - one bird on 21st to 22nd May.
2012 - Clayhanger Marsh, West Midlands - on 19th April.

The Clayhanger birds are now present 120 miles north of Pelsall at Leighton Moss RSPB in Lancashire (as at 20th April 2012).  Will they settle down to attempt breeding or will they move again?

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