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?

Saturday 14 April 2012

Alvecote Springs Into Life!

An enjoyable stroll around the patch this morning produced some cracking Spring migrants. In the Mill Pool area we stumbled upon our first Common Swift of the year along with a pair of House Martin among the small groups of Swallow and Sand Martin. At least 3 Willow Warbler were in full song along with the same number of Blackcap.

Over on the Staffordshire side of the reserve the highlight was a handsome male Common Redstart feeding amongst the apple trees in the Old Orchard.  In a field nearby, a small flock of 5 Northern Wheatear were present. One of the birds (see photo below) stood out from the rest in that it was slightly stockier and had a brighter buff wash over most of it's underparts. It is possible that it could have been of the race leucorhoa, one of the true miracles of migration. It is amazing to think that these birds are more than capable of making the arduous journey from sub-Saharan Africa to their breeding grounds around the coasts of Greenland. 

Possible leucorhoa Northern Wheatear
Alvecote Pools, Staffordshire
In addition, the semi-resident drake Hooded Merganser was spotted on Pretty Pigs Pool along with the usual Mute x Whooper Swan hybrid.  Other marvels of nature included a pair of Grass Snake basking in the sunshine and a recently built Long-tailed Tit nest.... awesome!

Friday 6 April 2012

COMMON CRANE in Staffordshire

The Common Crane has become a bit of a local bogey bird for me over the years, especially as I painfully missed out of one flying over my old house in Polesworth one morning when I was brushing my teeth!  Earlier in the week my good pal Snapper Richards managed to add the species to his County list when one made a brief appearance near Cannock.  I lived in hope that it would reappear somewhere within the West Midlands region and thankfully it did.  The only issue was that Britain's first twitchable   THAYER'S GULL had been found just a few hours drive away in North Lincolnshire. It was a tricky choice!

After a few wrong turnings I finally managed to locate Radford Meadows just south-east of Stafford and after a quick stroll along the canal the target bird was soon located. Even at some distance a crane is not a bird you can miss!  The bird showed well as it grubbed around in the damp meadow but it always remained safely out in the middle of the reserve hence the poor record shots below.

Radford Meadows SWT, Staffordshire 
Radford Meadows SWT, Staffordshire
Another highlight was a pair of rather elusive Garganey. They favoured a narrow brook that was hardly visible from the towpath but luckily they chose to rest up in small reedy area that was viewable for a brief period.  Other birding highlights included the odd singing Chiffchaff and on the mammal front a Red Fox and a pair of Brown Hare.

Garganey (female & male)
Radford Meadows SWT, Staffordshire