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Monday, 25 September 2017

Just filling a gap

Not been too well over the weekend so I intended to do the Marsh and Mere today - but as you are doubtless aware, we are currently suffering under a bit of low pressure and I suspect that all I would see on a very wet visit would be the same ducks as last time so I am hoping to visit tomorrow instead.

Just to fill a gap and ease my conscience I am doing just one more posting about beer. My last one received a very positive response from a couple of you (thanks Chris and Geoff) so if the rest of you don't find the subject interesting I will say cheerio and welcome you back for a wildlife focused update next time.

Abbey Beer in Britain

As someone who enthuses about beer you would expect me to have a favourite style and you would be right. Since I first tried it in 1981 I have been passionate about Trappist Beers (the beers produced in various monasteries, usually high in strength and character, although some working Monasteries also produce beers for the monks at a much lower strength, Petite Orval and Chimay Doree are two such examples).

There are only ten genuine Trappist Beers available in the world although there are dozens of Trappist style (or Abbaye) beers which are produced to similar recipes and strengths, some of which stand up very well against the authentic item. In Britain Abbey Beers are rarely produced and when they are, they are often one-off novelty beers that never go into sustained production.

However there are two regularly brewed and genuine British Abbey beers which you can obtain with a little effort.

The first of these appeared in 2012 and was produced for Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire. The beer is described as a Benedictine-style beer and is attributed to a seventeenth century recipe. After the reformation, the monks from this abbey were forced to take refuge in Catholic France and
they apparently took the original recipe for their ale with them.

The Abbey assert that this was in fact the first 'English-Style' Ale to be brewed in France .

Some of you who may have attended the Cannock Beer Festival last weekend will have had the opportunity to try this beer for yourself at £3.00 per bottle (not at all bad for a Bottle Conditioned 7% Beer). I brought one home and gave it a couple of days to settle before trying it. It is as malty as is described in the Abbeys publicity but I found the mouth-character a little bit thin for an Abbey Beer (which actually makes it a more dangerous drink as its strength is deceptively underplayed). It is actually brewed by the Little Valley Brewery at Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire and can be obtained from the Abbey shop or if you prefer, by the case over the internet.

The second regularly produced Abbey Beer is brewed by Goddards Brewery on the Isle of Wight for Quarr Abbey near Ryde. The Abbey was founded in 1132 by the Benedictine order and although there is no evidence that I am aware of for a history of on-site brewing, I suspect that it must have happened as beer was a staple in the diet of anyone in the middle ages.

This beer was originally (2014) only available from the Abbey Farm Shop but more recently has started to appear in more outlets around the island (try the shop next to the Newport Ale House in the islands capital for example). Although the Abbey has no actual involvement in the brewing
of the beer, there is a connection in as much as the herbs used to fortify it
(Coriander and Sweet Gale) are produced in the Abbey Gardens.

Of the two, this is the one I prefer. It is fractionally weaker at 6.5% but is a more authentic example of the style as it somehow captures the richer texture associated with this type of beer. For those who like me are afraid of ingesting anything green or healthy, you will be pleased to know that the herbal content of the Ale is not easily apparent in the flavour although I suspect that it contributes to the spiciness of the flavour at some level?

If this posting has made any of you want to explore Trappist and Abbey Beers further I recommend that you pay a visit to either 'BeerBhom' in Lichfield (which has the best range of Abbey and Trappist beers anywhere in the local area) or alternatively, my favourite pub the 'Black Country Arms' which has the best range anywhere in the Walsall area including at least four of the ten genuine Trappist beers as well as several examples of Abbey Styles (just tell Kim that Chaz sent you).

Anyway, for those of you who thought I was just being too idle to go to the Marsh, I hope that this brief sharing of my passion has provided some entertainment?

Hopefully Update tomorrow - Chaz

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Winter coming in early? (UPDATED)

Big surprise record today - three Fieldfare seen by Ray Fellows at the Concrete Bridge this afternoon. Not a totally unlikely event but quite an early record, particularly as Fieldfare are normally preceded by Redwing, and I haven’t heard any of those yet.

Perhaps the berry crop up north has not been too good this year? If that’s the case, we might be able to expect another southerly foray by Waxwings later in the winter perhaps? - Chaz

PS. Following this posting, Dave Saunders at Sandwell Valley got in touch to let me know that they had  Redwing on site on the 19th Thanks to both for their records. The season has turned quite quickly it seems?

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Loocal extinction averted - for now!

Day 263 of the year and against all hope, a calling Willow Tit seen on the Mineral Line this afternoon. This is the longest I have ever gone into a year without seeing a specimen and I have to be honest, I had given up hope that it was going to survive at Clayhanger. Even the specimens being reported at Chasewater had eluded me so you can imagine that I was very happy to have this as the first species of the day.
Still hanging on then? But by a thread!
I stood for a while with Tony Stackhouse and together we were able to put another bird on the day list with the arrival of the first Wigeon of the winter. Tony also tells me that a couple of weeks ago, he also heard a Curlew going through although he couldn't give me a precise date.

Ryders Mere

The only birds of note were three Shoveler. Noticeable by their absence were any hirundine today.

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (6) - Gadwall (6) - Wigeon (1M) and the Little Grebe still present. Along the mineral line there was also a calling juvenile Willow Warbler (the only summer species noted today).

This may be my last update until the weekend. Tomorrow looks as if we might suffer some precipitation and I have a social engagement on Friday (the detectives amongst you will no doubt have worked out what that is from previous postings)?

Anyway, enjoy Thursday and Friday and update at the weekend - Chaz

Monday, 18 September 2017

One for fellow Beer Lovers

As some of you know, the legendary blogger 'Brownhills Bob' has a tendency to refer to me as 'That well known Beer Arse' so I thought I would put my 'Beer-Arse' hat on (whatever the heck that would look like?) for a change, to share some information with the more enlightened amongst you who see decent beer as one of the few genuine pleasures in life.

My recent trip to southern Europe provided a couple of surprises that impressed me greatly. We all drink soapy southern lagers when in that part of the world as the climate compliments it (I myself am quite partial for a Mahou grandee in a pre-chilled glass when the temperature is c35 degrees) and lets face it, there is rarely any choice - But that may be changing!

Our nearest supplier of Bottled Water was a mini-market with a chiller at the back for tinned and bottled beer and it was in this that I found two real treasures and a sign that hopefully Spain will soon cease to be a desert for those who appreciate a quality beer?

The first is a 5.7% BOTTLE CONDITIONED (yes, you read correctly but I will still repeat - Bottle Conditioned) lager from Dorada Brewery called Dorad Especial: Seleccion De Trigo.

Now for those not familiar with the complexities of proper beer, Bottle Conditioned means that a beer is properly brewed, NOT pasteurised and then is bottled with a small amount of yeast which allows it to continue to convert any sugars in suspension into alcohol - effectively the beer will increase in strength and develops interesting and sometimes complex flavours. The problem in Spain however is that these bottles will almost certainly be stored in chillers which prevent the activity from taking place (although given the climate, a couple of days standing out of the chiller may quickly reactivate the yeast). This was a rich fruity flavoured lager which I would happily have brought home by the case-load if I could.

The second bottle is from a more obscure Spanish Brewery which has apparently only been brewing since 1906 (and I don't mean nearly ten past seven)! To my shame, I have to confess that Huos de Reveira is a brewery that had previously escaped my attentions but having tried this lager, brewed to a Barley Wine strength of 6.5% I will now be far more aware of their products.

The 1906 Reserva Especial is pasteurised but still has an astonishingly rich palate for a southern European beer, providing real Barley-Wine characteristics but with an unmistakable Lager flavour. If some U.K. Brewers could manage something of this quality we might get a few of the sad and often overcharged British Lager Drinkers on board to enjoy proper beer!

Prior to this discovery the only Beer from the region that commanded any respect from me was the Cerveza Branca produced by the Beer House on Madeira, but hopefully enough people will value these valiant efforts from the Spanish Brewers to signal a change of attitude and hopefully a lot more happy holidays for beer enthusiasts visiting that part of the world?

Finally - don't forget, this weekend is the annual Cannock Beer Festival at the Prince of Wales Theatre. I believe that this is the fourth (I have attended them all but am getting on a bit) and if it is anywhere near as good as the previous three it is certainly something to put in your diaries.

Any road-up, that's Chaz's Beery-Bulletin for this week, so I will take my 'Beer Arse' hat off and you purist Birders can start paying attention again if you want? - Chaz

Sunday, 17 September 2017

A lot of people moan about them but.... (UPDATED)

Every time I put up a posting about the Ring-Necked Parakeets I get more feedback than almost anything else (unless its one of those weeks when I have ranted and got someones back-up) So far its been four e-mails this time!

Firstly, Dave Saunders at Sandwell Valley got in touch with some interesting (and impressive) information:

Hi Chaz
We had a party of 60 birds going to roost in August but up to 75 birds have been reported.

I asked Dave if anyone has ever gone through them to see if any of the birds were showing characteristics of Alexandrine Parakeet as I believe that there are some around Manchester and I am certain that some of the stock that these birds are descended from must have included a few escaped Alexandrine birds?

Secondly Derek Lees has been in touch and with his usual generosity, has let me have some copies of photographs he has taken of the Park Lime Pits birds. I expect that you will find them more pleasing to the eye than my efforts?

Anyway, enjoy! - Chaz

P.S. Dave got back to me to say that an Alexandrine Parakeet was reported in May this year, so if you find a Parakeet, have a good look at it (if it was about in May it probably wont have gone far). 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

News from somewhere else (Updated)

Ray Fellows obviously couldn't sleep this morning as at 07.00 he was watching FIFTEEN Ring-Necked Parakeets at Sandwell Valley today - that must be some kind of local record but a long way from the three thousand that reportedly used to roost at a Rugby Club at Sunbury on Thames.

Still, its a noble effort, perhaps we should plant a few Palm Trees around the Mere, Pelsall could do with a bit more exotica don't you think?

Since my initial posting I have received a couple of update, the first from Richard Collins is as follows:

Hi Chaz

Hope that your well, just thought you might be interested to know there’s a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets that have taken up residence at Darlaston, they are seen most days in the trees opposite the Police Station, got to say better than seeing just Pigeons. I’m sure they will make it to the Mere at some point as I believe that there’s a healthy group of them at the Park Lime Pits?

And finally, I received some criticism from one blog follower (who shall be nameless)  who thought that as an ex-Train Driver, I should be more enthusiastic about the fact that (while Bird watching) they saw a certain railway locomotive this morning (my response was - "OK") - So this is just for you, enjoy!

As for the rest of you, enjoy your Sunday all - Chaz

Friday, 15 September 2017

A Wakl around the Pool - but not Barefood, I promise!

For anyone who didn't believe - a flock of Stone Curlew! (Zoom In to see)
Three days ago I was in shorts and a vest hiding from 35 degree+ temperatures. Today I went around the Marsh and Mere - in North Face Boots, a tee shirt, fleece, body-warmer and waterproof coat! Talk about culture shock!

It was worth the effort though as for once an outsider came in for me. I did the Mere first in the unlikely hope that Tony Stackhouse's juvenile Arctic Tern might hang-in for a third day and you know what? It did. Sometimes you have to be careful with juvenile terns but the broad white forehead, all dark bill and absence of any significant grey on the forewing all seemed to point conclusively toward this being a juvenile Arctic Tern.

Not much else on the Mere although still good numbers of House Martin and Swallow feeding over the water.

The Marsh was a different matter. I had the pleasure of Ray Fellows company and together we managed to put Teal, immature male Gadwall and two Shoveler on the list for the day, a sure sign that things are now progressing toward winter birding.

More of a surprise though was a fly-over from a Little Egret, probably one of the Chasewater birds given the direction from which it originated?

And finally, as we stood talking we were serenaded by a juvenile Willow Warbler as it called from the bushes along the mineral line. I was telling Ray that while I was away I chased a beautiful bright canary yellow warbler around a quarry, convinced it was going to be something exotic and sure enough, it was a Willow Warbler (but to be fair, an unusually bright and yellow one).

You don't want to know what the bloke at the bottom is prohibited from doing!
Anyway, stuff to see but you must promise to be careful and if you do decide to wakl around the pool, DON'T DO IT BAREFOOD!

Have a nice weekend all - Chaz