Friday 22 January 2016

The HOOPOE in the West Midlands region

"That beautiful stranger, the hoopoe, has found its way upon several occasions into different parts of our district; I once saw one myself near the Dove whilst fishing there.

Sir Oswald Moseley, 2nd Baronet of Ancoats - 'The Natural History of Tutbury' (1863)

Hoopoe - Wall Heath.  Photo by Vince Garvey.

On the 25 November 2015, news emerged that a Hoopoe had been spotted the day before on the outskirts of Kingswinford. A quick search of a recently landscaped quarry at Wall Heath, on the Staffordshire and West Midlands border then confirmed its presence. As I write, this wonderful bird is about to make its two month anniversary at the location and becomes one of the longest stayers of this species to our region. 

Although a scarce visitor to Britain, this species is widespread throughout central Europe, Asia and North Africa. The nominate race epops, breeds throughout the upper middle to lower latitudes of Europe through to south-central Russia and north-west China and south to north-west India. This race can also be found in north-west Africa and the Canary Islands. Despite being a bird of warm boreal, temperate, steppe, Mediterranean and subtropical zones, there are over thirty breeding records for Britain. The last confirmed attempts were in 1977, when four pairs nested in southern England but failed to fledge any young and in 1996 when a pair successfully fledged three young in Montgomery, Wales.

Hoopoe - Wall Heath.  Photo by Craig Reed.

Before the onset of winter this race migrates south to spend the season in small numbers in North Africa and around the Mediterranean basin. It is thought that most birds however spend the winter in Africa, south of the Sahara. It is therefore most unusual to find a Hoopoe spending the winter as far north as the West Midlands of England.

Despite the unlikelihood of finding this species in our region during the colder winter months, we do have other records from this time of year (since 1960) as follows:

1995 - Warwickshire - Wood End, Fillongley - 3rd to 27th December.
1991 - Worcestershire - Honeybourne area - 16th November only.
1989 - Worcestershire - Offenham Cross - 29th to 31st January.
1985 - Worcestershire - Droitwich - 11th November.  Upton Warren - 13th to 25th November. 
1984 - West Midlands - Kings Norton, Birmingham - 28th February and the 14th March.
1983 - Warwickshire - Honington area - 23rd November 1983 to late May 1984.
1974 - Warwickshire - Stratford-upon-Avon - 16th February only.
1967 - Staffordshire - Cannock Chase Reservoir (now Chasewater) - 18th November only. 

As you can see from the above, the only other record to rival the stay of the Wall Heath bird is the one from Warwickshire during winter 1983/84. The Warwickshire record from 1995 runs a close third.

Hoopoe - Wall Heath.  Photo by Craig Reed.

The first accepted record of this species for our region was way back in 1830, this was followed by 22 records up until 1933. Strangely, there is then a thirty year gap before a further 58 records between 1947 and 1978, of which 44 occurred after 1957. Since this time sightings then diminished with only 36 birds being recorded between 1979 and 2000. On a more positive note though, there have been a slight increase again with a further 37 records since 2001.

All sightings since the turn of century are listed below. Please note that sightings from 2013 onward are pending formal acceptance by the relevant County Recorder:

2016 - Worcestershire - Romsley - 21st to 24th April.
2015 - Staffordshire/West Midlands - Wall Heath - 24th November to 31st March 2016.
2015 - Warwickshire - Stratford Town FC, Stratford-upon-Avon - 7th May only.
2015 - Worcestershire - Camp Lane Pits, Grimley - 15th April only.
2015 - Worcestershire - Cloverleaf Interchange, Redditch - 4th April only.
2014 - Worcestershire - Westwood Pool - 26th May only.
2014 - Warwickshire - Priors Marston - 14th to 17th April.
2013 - Worcestershire - Stourport-on-Severn - 17th to 18th October.
2013 - Staffordshire - Kingsley, Cheadle - 22nd April only.
2012 - Worcestershire - Coney Meadow wetland, near Salwarpe - 15th April only.
2011 - Worcestershire - Upper Bittell Reservoir - 23rd July only.
2011 - Worcestershire - Baxter College, Kidderminster - 17th and 21st July.
2011 - West Midlands - Solihull - 13th July only (possibly the same as Earlswood).
2011 - West Midlands - Manor Farm, Earlswood - 4th July only.
2011 - Worcestershire - Rous Lench - 15th May only.
2011 - Worcestershire - Upton Warren - 9th April only.
2010 - Warwickshire - Long Lawford - 5th June only.
2010 - Staffordshire - Chesterton, Newcastle-under-Lyme - 4th to 5th June.
2010 - West Midlands - Clayhanger Marsh, Brownhills - 29th April to 9th May.
2010 - Warwickshire - Salford Priors Pits (singing male) - 25th April only.
2010 - Worcestershire - Lower Moors - 10th to 13th April.
2009 - West Midlands - Rowley Regis - 9th May only.
2008 - Staffordshire - Berry Hill Fields, Stoke-on-Trent - 30th May only.
2007 - Staffordshire - Whiston - 10th May only.
2007 - Worcestershire - Upton Warren - 1st May only.
2006 - West Midlands - Reedswood Park, Walsall - 28th September to 9th October.
2006 - Worcestershire - Ryden Farm, near Charlton - 5th May only.
2006 - Staffordshire - Heathcroft, Ingestre - 5th May only.
2006 - Warwickshire - Montilo Farm, Harborough Magna - 29th April only.
2005 - Warwickshire - Moat Farm, Ullenhall - 17th April only.
2005 - Worcestershire - Winyates Green - 13th April only.
2004 - Staffordshire - Bishops Wood - 31st May to 1st June.
2004 - Warwickshire - Woodloes Park estate, Warwick - 14th May only.
2004 - Warwickshire - Sweet Knowle, Preston-on-Stour (pair) - May (no date).
2003 - Staffordshire - Croxhall Lakes - 12th May only.
2003 - Worcestershire - Hunnington - 25th March to 30th April.
2002 - Warwickshire - Meadow Farm, Harbury - 17th to 18th October.
2002 - West Midlands - Marsh Lane NR - 17th to 19th April.

I make this a total of 154 records (8 pending acceptance) of Hoopoe for the whole of the West Midlands region for the 185 years spanning 1830 to 2015. 

Hoopoe - Wall Heath.  Photo by Matt Lissimore.

As you can see from the sample above, the vast majority of sightings for the region, and indeed for the rest of Britain occur during spring. This is wholly expected for a sub-Saharan migrant. If you  combine this perhaps with a southerly airflow and cloudy conditions it is not surprising that some birds overshoot their intended breeding destinations. 

There seems to be a shallow decrease in British Hoopoe sightings in recent decades despite more observer coverage. During 1968 to 1998, 124 were seen per year on average but the five highest year totals were all before 1989. This reflects the decline and range and contraction that has been evident in Europe for more than a century and especially since the mid-1950's. 

With the species becoming harder to connect with year on year in Britain, it is always worth a trip out to see one of these fantastic birds, especially if it is relatively local. Nadia and I visited the site on a miserable, cold day between Christmas and New Year. Despite the cool and wet conditions, the bird seemed to be feeding well and looked to be in pretty good condition. I wonder if this individual will repeat the feat of the Warwickshire bird of the mid-1980's and hang around until spring?

Many thanks to all those who offered me the use their photographs for this blog. Thanks also to those who provide updates regarding the bird's status on a regular basis.