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Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Fall of the Acrocephalus ! (Updated)

WOW! What about that for an opening gambit eh? 'The Fall of the Acrocephalus
Bigging my act-up or what?

I had a hunch that today would be the day and for once I was right. I crossed the tin bridge and my eye was immediately caught by a stonking male Northern Wheatear feeding around the horse poo on the second paddock. This one really was 'The Mutt's Nuts' and in about the most pristine state of breeding plumage you could imagine, straight off the pages of a field guide.

Northern Wheatear - Not todays bird!
Being a person with a sharing nature I spent a few minutes enjoying the bird with one of the local dog walkers before attending to the business of the day proper.

Even as I walked back toward the mineral line I could hear my first Reed Warbler of the year and I used a bit of birding technique to get myself good views. There is a widely held belief that birds can't actually count, they don't seem to need the concept. This being the case, if three people walk towards a bird and two walk away, the theory is that the bird will assume they have all gone. Accurate or not it seems to work.

Today by chance a party of pony trekkers was coming across the wooden bridge so I walked just in front of them, stopped and let them carry on past. Now I don't know if it was proof of the theory or not, but within a couple of minutes I was standing enjoying full views of a Reed Warbler, clutching a stem and singing its heart out for me, as good as it gets.

I am watching and enjoying this bird when I suddenly become aware of a movement below it and unbelievably, there is the streakiest looking Sedge Warbler I have ever seen (if it had been autumn I would have got really excited), it was only on view for a couple of seconds, not really long enough to take in all the features but good enough to go on the year list.

No, not this one either but similar!
In the end I had confirmed a minimum of three Reed Warbler present, two singing male birds and a probable female that flew across from the north-east side to pay attention to a singing male (before flying back, obviously dissatisfied by his singing voice)?

I returned via the mineral line across the set-aside but no sound from the Grasshopper Warblers today.

Anyway, what a good Sunday morning. We are only awaiting a Garden Warbler now and all the summer suspects will have been recorded.

This afternoon Sindy Weals was over with her son and saw a Cormorant on the Mere and Ray Fellows reported a Common Sandpiper on the Mere as well ( A good record for this point in the season and a bird that was particularly scarce last summer locally, although some of you may have been to see the overwintering bird that has been at Belvide for some time)?

Have a good week all - Chaz

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Sometimes a little bit of effort reaps its reward.

You have probably gathered that I was determined to connect with the Grasshopper Warblers. Why? Because its a unique experience for bird watchers.

Only in late April and early May can you stand at Dawn or Dusk and listen to the continuous insect-like reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. Its one of those memories that stays with you in October and November, on those cold days when all of our summer visitors are far away in Africa. Memories of days that were lengthening instead of shortening. Ah well, you will empathise with that or you wont. Someone once said that I spent too much time inside my own head, but that's how I feel about it anyway.

There was no way I was going to miss Doctor Who, but that fell in line with my plan anyway. As I said in my earlier posting, they are not really very active except at Dawn and Dusk. This being the case I arrived on site about 20.20 and was immediately greeted by the song I was hoping for. Despite sounding a long way away I knew that the species is ventriloquial (it song gets softer or louder depending on which way it is facing) so it was no surprise when the song suddenly intensified and increased in volume.

This time there was no problem, it took me just a couple of minutes to find the clump of Bramble it was singing from and after a bit of careful stalking, I was rewarded with some of the best views of the species that I have had for a long time. At one point it even left the Bramble and perched on a tree, reeling in full view for at least three minutes.

The biggest surprise though came as I was leaving the site as the calls of my bird were met with another singing male from a clump of Bramble a hundred yards away. This could mean only one thing, there were two singing males on site! Brilliant news and a totally unexpected turn of events.

Lets hope that they stay to breed this year and we can then look forward to hearing their charismatic song for a few weeks to come - Chaz

Two for the price of one! (well almost again)

Sitting at home working on the computer late morning, too nice to go over the Marsh, lets face it, high pressure does not bode well for drop-in migrants. Just after mid-day I received a text from Anita "Grasshopper Warbler in fields behind park" (The set-aside).

So it had stayed! The last two years our only 'Groppers' have been one day birds so I was not too excited about yesterdays find, but if it was to remain...?

Within ten minutes I was over the set-aside checking all of the previous breeding areas but to no avail. I knew it was the wrong time of day (Groppers are normally crepuscular) but with it having been singing less than half an hour before I thought there may have been a chance.

While I am working my way around the sites another sound caught my attention, yet another unmistakable Warbler Song, that of the Lesser Whitethroat - another favourite of mine. This one gave no trouble, perching on the edges of trees and showing its attractive grey plumage, so at least the visit was worthwhile.

I will keep you posted on the Grasshopper Warbler, weather depending it may be worth putting in an evening visit - Chaz

Friday, 21 April 2017

Two for the price of one! (Well, almost)

Common Whitethroat are not subtle migrants are they. Yesterday there were none this morning, 'Thump' - Whitethroats everywhere! I only did a partial circuit and found at least four birds just on the set aside. They don't mess about either, they were already displaying from song perches and one pair seems determined to evict one of our breeding pairs of Linnet.

More frustrating though was the 'Well Almost' bird. I had only just got onto the site and heard the unmistakable reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. The bird was obviously distant and didn't sing again so I was unable to confirm its location although it was certainly singing from bramble along the Ford Brook. My feeling was that it was in the area between the Sewage farm and the Brook but by the time I got down there all I could find was..... a Whitethroat.

Still, at last stuff is arriving although the Whitethroats are two or three days later than their average arrival. I can't explain this as in some sites Whitethroat have been in early. Perhaps our birds take a different route or maybe the weather was just not right for that final push to the breeding sites?

Anyway - stuff happening so get over there! - Chaz

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Getting frustrated now!

I woke up this morning really confident! If I did the marsh today at least one of our regular breeding species would have arrived back and you know what, as usual I was wrong.

Still no Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Cuckoo or even Grasshopper Warbler (and today is the average arrival date for Gropper according to my records). I know that in a week or so everything will have arrived and will be singing away happily...


The only birds of note during my visit were six Common Teal (still quite a late record for this wintering species) although I bet the old Coot-Counter Kev Clements will be over this afternoon and put half a dozen birds on the site list for the year (that's how it usually happens)!

2017s Swans on the Marsh - Photo: Sindy Weals
On a different topic, Some of you will have encountered a group of local photographers on the Marsh from time to time and one of them, Sindy Weals has been kind enough to share some of her photos for me to use on the blog. Now I don't usually do 'Ahhh!' pictures, but there are so many Swan enthusiasts locally I thought I would share her photograph of this years nesting pair for your edification. Lets hope that they get them away this year without the despicable behaviour that we have seen from the local thugery in recent years.

Big thank you to Sindy and there will be another update before the weekend (I'm determined to get a few more migrants on the list) - Chaz

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A nice ride around Staffordshire

Martyn had a day off today so he, Joseph and I arranged to go and pick up a few incoming migrants (if that news has caused you alarm fear not, there were no rubber dinghies or asylum claims involved). As Mr Kite might have said, 'a splendid time was guaranteed for all'.

We started on Cannock Chase where two newbies were swiftly found, my first Cuckoo of the year and an earlyish Tree Pipit both below the Scout Huts. There were also a good number of Swallow seen there and elsewhere during the day perhaps suggesting a significant increase since the weekend?
A Tree Pipit

Next we moved into the Trent Valley. Tucklesholme failed to provide views of the Temminck's Stint that had been present earlier and we had to be satisfied with views of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover. Joseph informed me that near-by the other day an Egyptian Goose was seen with chicks, but what I want to know is, which side of the Trent did it nest? You might not think it important but it was a breeding bird of significance in either Derbyshire or Staffordshire. I can see County Recorders coming to fisticuffs!

A much better experience was at Whitmore Hay. The tractors were out ploughing the fields by the airfield and as well as providing feeding interest for a sizable group of Black Headed Gull, the newly turned earth was also of interest to at least four Wheatear (of seven reported), a Yellow Wagtail, two White Wagtail and a single Pied Wagtail (so be careful before you make any assumptions that they are all White Wags)! Unfortunately we were not able to connect with the singing Corn bunting which has recently been reported ( a few years ago it would not have been possible to contemplate a time when I would visit Whitmore Hay and not see a Corn Bunting - as I have said before, make the most of things while you have got them)!

I have to confess to great satisfaction seeing the Yellow Wagtail though. Last year for the first time in probably thirty years I didn't see a single Yellow Wag. It was an oversight on my part but one that I didn't realise until too late in the autumn to do anything about it! This being the case I had promised myself a Yellow Wagtail somewhere this spring and that promise has now been successfully put to bed.
A Yellow Wagtail - for those who can't imagine what one looks like!

Big thanks to Martyn, Stella and Joseph for what Wallace and Gromit would call 'A Grand day Out'.
Now, I had better get myself over the Marsh soonest in order to do my job.

Update tomorrow perhaps? - Chaz

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Sunday Round-up!

First a very Happy Easter to all of you. I will never understand how stuffing yourself with chocolate becomes an appropriate way to commemorate the resurrection of Christ but perhaps its a bit like the Muslim Eid Mubarak, a chance to stuff yourself after giving stuff up for lent (if you are that religious and dedicated, sadly I never have been)!

Before I begin the round-up of bird news I would like to be fair about things and report that the Riding Stables are doing something to repair the damage that their vehicle has done. It may still not look aesthetically pleasing but by reducing the size of the ruts and levelling-out the damage they should greatly reduce the amount of time it takes for the area to regenerate. So well done (especially the young guy doing it on Easter Sunday morning)!

Belated news from yesterday, the venerable Mr Clements (senior) was over the Marsh with his abacus counting everything that moves as usual and reported the following for your edification:

Black Headed Gull (c900) (I bet he had to pour water on the old abacus after counting that lot, just to cool it down)! Willow Warbler (4) - Sand Martin (3) - Tufted Duck (43) - Jay (4) - Great Crested Grebe (1) and (with the inevitability of a damp summer) 14+ Coot.
(what, 14+ Kev? That's not your normal level of accuracy! You must have been worn out counting those Black heads)!

Actually, somebody gave Kev a run for his money at Chasewater yesterday, go onto their Diary and have a look at some of the counting that was going on there and which included very early Common  Whitethroat and a Grasshopper Warbler four days ahead of our average arrival date.

Female Linnet: Photo Courtesy Keith Whitehouse
I was expecting to wake up to peeing-down rain but was pleased to find that it had not arrived so I paid an impromptu visit to the Marsh and Mere today in case we had been similarly blessed? Not to be I'm afraid, in fact not much change since my last visit with star birds being a couple of Swallow around the Mere and two Greylag Geese that dropped in mid morning, although two Teal on the Marsh were unexpected for the time of year.

Some unexpected (if not exciting to the layman) news is that as far as I can tell we have three pairs of Linnet attempting to breed on site this year. Believe it or not, I don't think that has ever happened before. Two pair are present on different areas of the set-aside and another pair is active around the boundary zone and the edge of the Mere. I should promote Linnet to star bird status today I suppose, as a species it seldom gets much in the way of appreciation and it is quite a pleasant and attractive bird really.

Anyway, that's about it for Easter Sunday. Big thanks as always to Kev for sharing his counts. I hope you all continue to enjoy Easter Sunday and please try not to make yourself sick. If there is more chocolate than you can manage do the right thing and give it to a worthy cause (ask around the village, most people know where I live) - Chaz