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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Well if this carries on I'm giving up on blogging wildlife!

My recent non-birding postings about beer have received some quite positive feedback from some like minded followers (a number of whom I have to confess, I know occasionally check the blog and share my interest in both subjects), but despite the flattering but silly suggestion that I should also do a beer blog  (which ain't gonna happen), there has been no real intention on my part to develop that side of things further than an occasional post.

Mind you, an event today could change all that. There was a knock on the door from my neighbour to say that something had been left for me while I was out. If you cast your mind back a month or so you may recall a recent visit to Middleton Hall wherein I sang the praises of a particular bottled beer that was on sale there? Well a couple of my regulars (who I wont name to save embarrassment) had been over there and totally unexpectedly brought me another bottle back - what a lovely thing to do!

Ten years of blogging Wildlife and not even a duck, three or four postings about beer and a lovely bottle of Fruit Porter to add to my Christmas cellar! I have really been going about this the wrong way I can tell, so next week I intend to start a series of postings about single Malt Whiskies from defunct Scottish distilleries if anyone is interested?

(If that works I may go on to express an interest in vintage Aston Martin Marques)!

Seriously though, to the two people involved a genuine thank you for your kind thought and generosity, really unexpected and genuinely appreciated.

Those who recall the previous posting may also remember a small element of criticism on my part about the fact that the shop concerned was apparently selling things that were out of date? Well if you have a look at the Photo (Below) you will be pleased to see that they have taken serious steps to address that particular issue!

Never mind, it is bottle conditioned and will probably still be drinkable for another two or three years (and improving all the time)!

Update when the wind drops! - Chaz

Saturday, 18 November 2017

'Well I'll be Jiggered'

Before anyone kicks-off, it's been weeks since I last wrote anything about beer, if you aren't interested you know what to do. Anyway this posting is in response to enquiries I have had from a couple of regulars asking what I thought of Brownhills first Micro pub (for some reason assuming I would have already been in on the first day of opening - which I wasn't)!

The 'Jiggers Whistle' is Brownhills first micro pub - if you don't count 'Chesters' for those of you old enough to remember the 1980s. It opened yesterday on the site of the old photography shop and thankfully they decided not to reference that history in their choice of name (although I bet it would have made the local Camra branch happy - ha! See what I did there?)

I apparently dodged a bullet not going yesterday as it appears to have been heaving with first day visitors, and being notoriously anti-social I held off until this lunchtime for a more relaxing first visit.

So, what do I think (as if it mattered)?

First impressions are very good, a really friendly welcome and some nice folk running the show, five minutes in and I was feeling at home which is always a good sign. The decor is nice, and the whole place is clean and open with lots of places for people to sit and have a chat and more importantly, four ales on tap.

The range of ales may not have been that exciting yet, but it's early days and everything I tried was in excellent condition. I avoided the Wye Valley 'Butty Bach' as I have drank so many pints of that over the years its hard to get up any enthusiasm for it, but it was really nice to see Brownhills own 'Backyard' Brewery represented. Today it was the lovely porter appropriately named 'Jigger'. However, for those who appreciate fine beer, the lovely Victorian recipe 4.9 dark mild is due to go on in the next day or two and I suspect that may lure me back up at some point as I love the stuff (Nice one Austin).

The two other beers were from Walsall newest brewery AJ's. which have been brewing for two or three years now. I am a Walsall lad and I would love to be able to sing the praises of AJ's beers - but with the best will in the world, I can't. I have never had a bad drink or even a badly kept drink of the stuff. It is good bog-standard beer that does what it says on the pull - but its just not exciting.

I met the brewer at Walsall Beer Festival and he comes across as genuinely passionate about his job but that never seems to translate into beers that you crave or desire (its as if something is holding him back from expressing his love of the art as he is obviously competent at what he does). If you think I'm being partisan, I'm not - my regular drinking crew  ('The Grumpy Old Men') feel exactly the same about it, if A.J.'s do something new we try it - usually just once and then say "OK, what else is on".

Just to prove I did have the AJ's !
Having said that, the special birthday edition of AJ's Gold which is on sale at the 'Jigger's Whistle' today is actually one of the nicest pints of it that I have had - and all credit to the cellerman, - in lovely form (not sure if the brewer has changed the malt as it was slightly sweeter than I remember)?

In summary, Nice Venue, Nice people, well-kept 'Pop' and something new in Brownhills that isn't a charity shop - could things finally be looking up? Bottom line is that I will probably be an occasional daytime visitor, particularly if the range of ales becomes more adventurous, I have already agreed to go in and do my best to drink as much 'Bad Santa' as I can if they get it on.

Note: Backyard Bad Santa - a genuine, traditional and proper Christmas beer, not (like too many these days) a bloody ordinary bitter with a picture of a Snowman on it !!!

Anyway all that is left to do is to say well done all and to give my very best wishes to the enterprise, I hope it gets the following it deserves and becomes a popular feature on Brownhills High Street

That's it for beer for now, those who aren't interested can start checking out the blog again. Next birdy update early next week all being well - enjoy the weekend all - Chaz

PS. Interesting note. I rarely go on the Chasewater web-site these days but for some reason I did so today and was very interested to see that on Monday the 13th there were apparently two Hawfinch seen in Pool Road. With the the group that passed through the Mere on the same day it seems as if there was an ongoing movement of the species, lets hope for more as winter progresses.

Friday, 17 November 2017

That Tina Turner! Shes never around when you need her.

Yep, I don't expect it will take you too long to work out what today's star bird was, always noteworthy on the Mere and my first for this winter, a beautifully marked female Goldeneye. Yes I know that, being a 'shallow birder' I will probably hardly glance at any more of them until January, but none the less a lovely addition to the days tally.

It started well, I bumped into a couple of lads from Chasewater and had five minutes nattering about the ups and downs of Chasewater birding and apart from the Goldeneye that was probably the highlight of the day, although I was pleased to see Ray Fellows's seven (or was it nine today?) Cormorant still stripping the Mere of any fish.

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (20) - Goosander (1M) - Fieldfare (2) - Willow Tit (1)

Ryders Mere

Cormorant (7-9) - Shoveler (2) - Pochard (1) - Goldeneye (1F) - Goosander (2F) - Snipe (1)

As you can see, a pretty average late autumn variety.

Rain tomorrow I believe but have a nice weekend anyway - Chaz

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Two weeks to winter - Official

Good grief! It feels like five-minutes since I was giving you a count-down to the beginning of Autumn. my favourite time of year and its already over. I have not had a lot of news from the Marsh although Ray Fellows has informed me that our number of feeding Cormorant had increased to seven today.

To support that number of feeding birds as well as the wintering Goosander there have to be a reasonable amount of fish present and the only way that they are likely to get there is if they are deliberately introduced. Do the fishermen not get it? Its like the road situation, analysts have proven that the more roads you build the more traffic will increase to fill it and the more fish you put in the Mere the more attractive it will become to fish eating birds! Quad erat demonstrandum!

Weather permitting I will have another walk around at some point tomorrow although I suspect that I will be giving the mineral line a miss as it is in an awful state at the moment.

Enjoy your Friday all - just 37 days to Christmas! - Chaz

Monday, 13 November 2017

*** Scarce Species Alert ***


There can be no doubt that the biggest event of the Autumn 2017 has been the previously mentioned Hawfinch invasion and I have to confess to feeling very guilty not to have put in a few early mornings on the pit mound doing visible migration watches. The number of Hawfinch incidents has decreased over the last few weeks so I had given up hope of adding the Marsh or Mere to the invasion story. That was until 14.21 today! As you will see from the notes below, the day had been pretty uneventful and I was already deciding if I should lead with the eventual arrival of five Wigeon on Ryders Mere or the definite influx of Chaffinch along the mineral line.

Photo: Courtesy of Derek Lees
I was starting my return journey along the edge of the buffer zone when out of the corner of my eye I became aware of a party of five birds coming toward me from across the Marsh not far above tree-top height, three of them coming over my head and showing the unmistakable chunky structure, short tail and huge wing crescents of Hawfinch. The other two birds passed over a little to my right and although I was not able to confirm any plumage detail they had the same chunky structure and undulating flight as the others and they all eventually flew toward Ryders Hayes together so I am prepared to stick my neck out and say that all five were Hawfinch.

Hawfinch are one of those bird that unless you are actively birding you are unlikely to come across every year and these birds occurred exactly fifty weeks since my last encounter with the species at Upper Longdon. Of course it is brilliant to find them for yourself and even better when they are a year tick (for those of us who keep such lists), but the real pay-off is getting the site involved in the bit of birding history that this invasion has signified, just when it seemed that all hope was gone!
Nothing to say about today that will top this event so the other species seen today were as follows:

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (1) - Goosander (1M 1F) - Cormorant (1) - Willow Tit (1) - Redwing (3) - Fieldfare (3)

Ryders Mere

Teal (1) - Shoveler (2) - Wigeon (5) - Cormorant (3) - Hawfinch (5)

Great satisfaction writing that last one! Have a good week all - Chaz

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

A more subtle invasion?

Those of you who are not really serious birders are probably unaware of the current birding excitement, a significant influx of one of our more uncommon species, the Hawfinch. Some years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a researcher hired by the R.S.P.B. to study the behaviour of Hawfinches in Britain. At the time it was quite early into the study and he had already ascertained that at least seventy per-cent of our wintering birds are migrants from Europe.

One of the recent Hawfinch - Photo Copyright Bucks Bird Club
Normally though, these birds trickle into the country in small numbers but this year there has been an eruptive movement with birds turning up at many sites where they have previously gone unrecorded (including Chasewater).

A couple of regulars have asked if there have been any records on site so far and the answer is sadly no (although it would not be a new site species as Tony Stackhouse had one along the railway line some years ago). To be honest, twenty years ago I would have been up at Chasewater myself, probably standing around for hours in the hope that one would fly through (I did actually do that, unsuccessfully, during one of the rare Crossbill invasion years - sad eh?), but these days the spirit is willing but the body has a bit more sense.

With everyone looking for Hawfinches, I suspect a much commoner species has snuck in under the radar as yesterday and today I have noted Mistle Thrush everywhere I have been. Yesterday there was a party along the canal at Brownhills, today they were on the Maybrook, at Oak Park, in Clayhanger Village and over the marsh. Mistle Thrush are a local breeding species but most of the year they are something seen occasionally, noted and dismissed but the numbers I am seeing at the moment seem to suggest that there has also been an influx of this species locally?

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (26) - Shoveler (2) - Gadwall (3) - Willow Tit (1) - Grey Wagtail (1) - Yellowhammer (1) - Redwing (1) - Fieldfare (3)

Ryders Mere

Cormorant (4) - Pochard (3) - AND STILL NO WIGEON!

I am not sure if the recent increase in interest by fisherman is the result of a deliberate introduction of fish to the Mere but I wouldn't be surprised as I have not seen such a regular influx of Cormorant for a long time. See, a pointless exercise and the Goosander numbers have not yet even begun to increase.

A final note of good news, the impending return of one of the old Marsh regulars as Glen is relocating his place of work again and hopefully this will mean a return to his occasional and usually beneficial lunchtime visits in the next few months. Perhaps Chat Hedge will once again become a centre of attention for local birders. 

Anyroad, you can stick a fork in me, I'm done. Time to retire to the settee and put my feet up.

Enjoy the rest of your week folks - Chaz

Friday, 3 November 2017

Getting ahead of things

Probably the first time in ten years a Dunnock Photo has graced the blog?
That's both me (getting ahead of tomorrows rain) and also the ambitious male Dunnock who was singing his heart out from the boundary zone, obviously convinced that it was spring and not autumn (well to be fair the day length is about the same as early March).

Lots of bird activity today and I suspect there may actually be a few late migrants going through as well as the incoming winter stuff. A frustrating observation was a distant call that I am pretty sure was a Whooper Swan but the only Swan I was able to find was a juvenile mute! Still worth being alert if you are at any of the local waters today though.

For the first time this winter my Fieldfare count exceeded my Redwing count , but it shows that the stuff is coming in - except for... Blooming Wigeon!

Come on guys, you can't tell me I'm wrong! It is early November and there should be parties of Wigeon everywhere. By this time of year there would normally be around 20+ on the Mere and Marsh (possibly more) but today - NOT ONE!

Either the pool has lost its attraction for the species or something else is going on. I cant believe that our regular birds are still lingering in Eastern Europe. Perhaps the low countries are currently straining under the weight of Wigeon too idle to make the final push across the north sea (I really don't know, but it is an unusual situation in my opinion and I miss their whistling)?

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (15) - Redwing (5) - Fieldfare (16) - Willow Tit (1)

Ryders Mere

Cormorant (2) Gadwall (1M) - Shoveler (10) - Goosander (3)

Anyway, job-done and hopefully I can keep my waterproofs dry for another rainy day. Fifty-two days to Christmas so get your respective fingers out if you haven't already?

Have a nice weekend all - Chaz

Thursday, 2 November 2017

See, it wasnt my imagination!

A big thank you to Carol, who got in touch today to say that she too had heard the big explosion the other night

Hi there I mentioned on Brownhills Bob's site that I love nature and was recommended I take a look at your website. It is quite interesting and I would like to say that I heard that explosion I was In bed trying to sleep and I can tell you that there was a couple of them. Did you ever find out what it was all about?

Sadly I have had to respond in the negative but I promise that it really seemed far too loud a bang to be a firework, even the 'Beirut-simulating' ones that cause such havoc every November.

The only news so far this week was from Ray Fellows today to say that there were still six Goosander on the Mere.

Finally - a big welcome back to blog-follower and all-round grand-chap Jim Miles. As well as being a local birder, Jim is also a fellow 'Oak Park Zombie' (its what the kids call those of us swimming in the slow lane) and due to some quite serious health issues he has been out of the loop for much of this year. Great to have you back mate!

I have applied for an enthusiasm transfusion, so hopefully will be doing the Marsh either tomorrow or Saturday if the weather is reasonable. The predicted cold snap this weekend could move a bit of stuff about.

Enjoy your Friday all - Chaz

Sunday, 29 October 2017

More site abuse and some unwanted attention

As it was quite a nice morning and having had a bi-annual lie-in I visited the marsh today with hopes of a little bit more winter. And I was not to be disappointed about that.

What I was disappointed about was more deterioration and threats to the site.

Firstly I would advise anyone visiting to give the mineral line a wide berth, the wet surface has been pounded by the horses and currently has a consistency similar to runny porridge in places. There are also some quite deep areas for the unwary to put their feet into so give it a miss at least until it dries out a bit.

Secondly the perimeter fence between the Mere and the Marsh has been cut down allowing access for Motorcycles etc. (I assume that was why it was done as there is obvious evidence of recent motorcycle activity).

Thirdly - two Fisherman on the Mere again. I am not anti-fishermen as such, but there are so many fishable waters around here it would not hurt them to leave just one water as a refuge for wildfowl without the nuisance of discarded line and rubbish which is a constant threat to our geese and swans.

Permitting fishing on the Mere will bring fishermen into conflict with some of our most important wintering birds (which ironically also arrived today) as well as inevitably causing conflict with visiting Cormorant and occasional specialities such as the Great Northern Diver that occurred a few years ago. Between November and March I suspect that bird consumed a huge proportion of the illicitly introduced fish in the Mere. Give the wildlife a break guys, you do it for fun, its life and death for our wintering birds - do the right thing and leave the Mere alone.

And you wonder why I get tired of doing this stuff! I sometimes don't think that local people deserve such beautiful habitats as all they seem to see is somewhere else to abuse. I'm afraid that my 37 years of  living in the area (I'm a 'towny' from Walsall originally) would suggest that it has always been the way with the majority of Brownhills people, it seems that nobody ever gives a damn about anywhere until the bulldozers are coming up the road.

The future view from Clayhanger village?
If  the S.S.S.I loses its value ecological value (which could result in it losing its protection) local residents should be aware that the mineral extraction rights for the shallow coal reserves around the village were granted many years ago.

It might be wicked but it would be quite entertaining to see all the 'For Sale' signs going up as the diggers moved in behind the west end of the village and house values drop through the floor, but I'm afraid that's what it will take for some people to take notice.

Anyway - to nicer things.

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (7) - Gadwall (2) - Redwing (14) - Fieldfare (28)

Ryders Mere

Teal (1) - Shoveler (4) - Goosander (7)

Local residents - start to care and take an interest please, there are people who would give a lot to have access to the beautiful wildlife that you have and I won't always be around to give you a (metaphorical) kick up the a*se!

Have a nice week all -  (a very world-weary) Chaz

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Things that go BANG! - In the night

No - its not a Halloween posting, what the heck was that explosion?

I was late to bed last night and had been asleep for a couple of hours when I was awakened by the biggest bang I have ever heard locally. It was like the loudest thunder-crack or a piece of artillery firing, and seemed to come from over the Marsh.

I awaited the sound of approaching sirens but there was nothing and amazingly, it hadn't even woken Mrs Chaz!

If it was a firework it must have been a bloody expensive one, it would not surprise me to find a crater from an unexploded bomb over the Marsh today. Surprisingly though, it didn't disturb the birds, no skeins of Canada Geese or Ducks, it was just followed by silence.

If anyone else in the village heard this I would like to know, particularly if you have any idea what the heck it was? - Chaz

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Where the heck are the wildfowl?

Something is definitely wrong at the moment. I have done a walk around the Marsh and Mere today and the wildfowl numbers are about what you would expect for the end of August rather than the end of October.

Those of you who have followed the blog for a few years will remember that at about this time I am usually bemoaning the steady build up of wildfowl as they would normally be likely to be dispersed by next weeks bonfire festivities. Mallard and Tufted Duck numbers are quite low, there were no Wigeon at all today and I saw only a couple of Teal (there are often forty or fifty in by now). Is this a local phenomenon or are other local sites noting the same situation?

This weekend should see the first serious weather front coming in from the north so lets hope the sky is blackened  by skeins of duck and wild geese moving south, just in time for the Clocks to 'Fall Back'!

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (1) - Gadwall (4) - Shoveler (1) - Water Rail (2 Heard) - Redwing (5)

Ryders Mere

Teal (1) - Shoveler (4)

Happy Birthday Posting

As far as my age-enfeebled brain can recall it was on the 26th of October 2007 that I set up the Blog and posted Clayhanger news for the first time. That means (if I am correct) that today is actually the blogs tenth birthday - YAY! (any Cakes, Beer etc, gratefully accepted).

A lot of people have become friends and followers over that ten years including a few that I have sadly had to write obituaries for in that time. There is no-way on Earth that the blog would have survived this long solely on my efforts so I would like to thank everyone who has ever made a contribution as well as those sad and bored enough to look in regularly to see what the hairy idiot is writing about this week.

Sadly the second law of thermodynamics has been influencing a lot of my bloging over the last few years and I know that some of you have commented that my once regular updates are no longer as frequent as they once were. I will confess what a few of you know that I have considered finally drawing a line under the blog several times in the last year but family have persuaded me to keep it going as a focus and a reason for me to do some healthy activity.

I intend to carry on for a little while longer but it is unlikely in the extreme that the blog will see a twentieth birthday (at the moment the eleventh looks questionable) so if anyone out there is interested in taking on the role I will be happy to pass on all of my information and step down in favour of a younger fitter and more enthusiastic idiot!

Anyway - that's in the future for now. Have a good Friday everyone, weather permitting I may show my face at the weekend and do an update then. - Chaz

Friday, 20 October 2017

Another quiet day - but with a bonus!

After seeing a party of wintering Redwing flying over Shire Oak on Wednesday I was not too surprised to find seven birds happily feeding in the trees along the mineral line today. I have to confess that I expected that to be the Star Species of the day and I was almost right.

Aside from those Scandinavian visitors the only other bird of note on the Marsh was a Goldcrest although there were briefly two Shoveler which decamped to the Mere as soon as I put my glasses up.

The Mere held another three Shoveler (that's five in total - just so nobody has to take a sock off) and five Wigeon slouched at various points around the shoreline. I expected that to be that, another  typical slow autumn day!

However as I headed back along the edge of the buffer zone my attention was caught by a piercing and clear single note call. This was followed by another and to my surprise a very dark-looking Rock Pipit came flying in from the north before dropping into cover near the east end of the Mere.

A Rock Pipit - gorgeous eh? (!)
To be blunt, Rock Pipit are a sod to claim on the Marsh and Mere due to possible confusion with Water Pipit and also, because the steep sides of the Mere prevent birds being stalked (as soon as you pop your head over to identify a pipit they are off at high speed). However on this occasion I am quite comfortable with the I.D. as the bird was obviously more heavily structured than a Meadow Pipit and was also quite drab below (Water Pipit tend to have quite bright underparts). Despite which I have seen so many of them over the years that sometimes, you sort-of just know!

Not a mega-rarity in the big scheme of things and one that probably occurs more often than records would suggest, but it made my visit worth while today. In all probability it will be a bird of the  Scandinavian subspecies as they are a regular winter visitor to Britain, in particular any birds found at inland sites are more likely to be Scandinavian rather than the resident sub-species.

Anyway, a busy weekend ahead for me, despite which the anticipated strong winds and rain make the idea of another visit more than a little unattractive. Still, I hope you all have a good weekend. If you get fed-up with the rain, don't forget that you can get wet on the inside too as the Black Country Arms is holding its annual beer festival until Sunday.

Stay safe you lot! - Chaz

Monday, 16 October 2017

Time to look for locusts, Ostriches and Vultures?

Forget what I said about pelagic birds, perhaps we should be looking for desert species instead?

Have you noticed the sickly yellow skies and pinkish sun attempting to break through today? Well apparently its literally a side-effect of our close miss with Hurricane Ophelia which has apparently carried a huge amount of Saharan sand with it! The fires in Spain have also pushed huge amounts of ash into the atmosphere as well which has added to the weird sky effects. I have tried to capture a photograph from the garden but I'm afraid it comes across as more pink-toned than yellowish.

Sadly it probably wont mean any unexpected species really (just teasing) but I suspect that some of you might need to wash your cars tomorrow? - Chaz

Friday, 13 October 2017

What do I mean by quiet?

While swimming yesterday my friend Nick asked what was happening on the Mere? "Its pretty quiet at the moment" I replied. "What do you mean by quiet" was the response?

If Nick had been with me today he would have understood without the need for an explanation. Today was really quiet. I did explain that at this time of year all but a handful of summer migrants have gone and that the regular winter species had yet to arrive in any numbers and that this created an interregnum between the seasons from a birdwatchers point of view. I suspect that most birders would agree that there is a similar period in March/April when the winter visitors fly off to nest in northern and eastern Europe and our summer birds are still on migration toward Britain.

Today was 'creepy quiet'. I was actually pleased to see a few Teal as I am seriously concerned that numbers are so low (there are normally thirty or forty about at this time of year). No sign of the Common Sandpipers today although they can be elusive when they are present and star bird was once again the juvenile Stonechat that saved the day for me by popping up on the gorse between the buffer zone and the Mere.

Clayhanger Marsh

Teal (3) - Goldcrest (2) - Stonechat (1 Juv.)

Ryders Mere

Teal (2) - Shoveler (7)

There you go Nick! That constitutes a quiet day in my opinion. Had it not been for the Stonechat it would probably not been worth doing a posting.

Anyway - hope everyone has a nice weekend, tie everything down for Monday if you can, it looks like we might be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the great storm in some style if current predictions are correct? - Chaz

Interesting days ahead?

Well we can look forward to a close pass by Tropical Storm Ophelia on Monday, so on alert for the first Grey Phalarope for the Mere perhaps (or at least a Kittewake, Gannet, Sabines Gull etc.)?

The only interest at the moment is a couple of lingering Common Sandpiper that were observed by Ray Fellows on Tuesday and Thursday. These may be the same two birds that I have seen over the last couple of weeks or they may be two totally different birds. They may even be a pair of American Spotted Sandpiper as nobody has checked them out as far as I can tell. My views were very brief on the shore and otherwise just birds in flight, a situation which does not really support good identification. (They are obviously going to be Common Sandpiper, I am just making the point that if you never look you never find).

My Usual Warning!

'Oh Deer'! Yep the annual Red Deer rut is in full swing at the moment (although I don't think any of the Deer are 'swingers') and I am being regaled with tales of bellowing Males being heard and lots of activity on the farm land and adjacent areas.

I know that most of the Dog Walkers have common sense (apart from the blithering imbeciles who hang bags of dog pooh on bushes) but over the last ten years there have been a number of incidents of dogs being injured because their owners allow them to approach the Red Deer at this time of year. The males would normally run away but at this time of year they are so charged with testosterone that they will stand their ground (if they are brave enough to charge another large stag they are not going to be intimidated by your dog are they?).

Even the females are dangerous and a few years ago we apparently had an incident where a Doe kicked someones dog into the air instead of running away.

Walk your dogs by all means but if you see a deer or are in an area where deer are likely to be, PLEASE put your dog on a lead. You need to be doing this from mid September until the end of November every year to be safe.

If you do see the Deer keep an eye open for the one wearing jewellery.  Apparently one of the Stags is looking very dapper with a life-ring hooked over his antlers, don't know where he got that from but at least if he falls in the canal he has a good chance of surviving!

Have a good weekend all - Chaz

Sunday, 8 October 2017

A beery bulletin from the W.K.B.A.*

As you will have read in the previous posting, today involved a visit to Middleton Lakes R.S.P.B. where, after a long and tiring walk around the site, we withdrew to the Middleton Hall Courtyard where there are a number of shops and a cafe that does a particularly good (if a bit pricey) cup of tea.

While in the Courtyard I could not help noticing a pleasant little shop called; "The Cheese and Ale Barn" and as someone who does not like Cheese in any form, I will leave it to you to guess where my attention was focused?

Inside there was an impressive array of unusual Bottled beers, many from local and regionally significant breweries and all at around the £3.00 per-bottle mark. Despite the fact that there were a number that I had not tried I decided to have a go at the one apparently unique offering on sale. This was an exclusive 'Fruity Porter' produced by Grendon House Farm in Warwickshire which any W.K.B.A. will tell you is the home of a very interesting small independent brewery called Merry Miner.

Now the bottle purchased was from batch 2305 with a best before date of June 2017 (Naughty) but as the beer was bottle conditioned I was not too concerned by this as the yeast would certainly be capable of sustaining fermentation beyond that date (its a bit like the well known mineral water that takes 4000 years to filter through the rocks of the Alps but which has a best before date of April)!

Chris and I both tried this beer this evening and I have to confess that I was impressed as there were certainly some familiar nuances that reminded me of the wonderful fruit beers produced by Belgian breweries such as Liefmans (for those who don't know much about Fruit Beers trust me, to make such a comparison is actually a significant compliment).

The first impression on removing the top was an acrid and slightly unpleasant over-fermented fruit aroma but in the mouth the beer became wonderfully complex with a very intense plum-fruitiness and an effervescent sherbet flavour that tingled across the tongue. The yeast in the bottle seemed to be quite firm and did not make pouring too difficult and so the beer was bright, reddish and very attractive (if you are into just looking at beer)?

In summary, a really interesting beer well worth trying if you find yourself birding at Middleton Lakes in the near future. It might even be worth checking the sell-by date as you may be able to negotiate a discount by bringing this to the attention of the shop holder? (wish I'd noticed, I would have brought-up all the stock at half-price).

If you strike a good deal as a result of this posting, I hope in the spirit of Davenports, you will remember to leave a bottle on my doorstep. - Chaz

*Well Known Beer Arse

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

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Staffordshire's Biggest Blockers - An Introduction

Staffordshires last twitchable Night Heron - Photo Chaz Mason (Honest)!
Warning: This one is an epic and is something for more serious birders, so be prepared to 'give up the will to live' if you are only casually interested in birds and birdwatching.

If you are still with me - lets begin...

As I am 'getting-on' a bit these days I am tending to lose the plot with a lot of things. Once upon a time if I heard a bird call or song I would pretty much know what it was immediately (and if I didn't know what it was, I knew that too - which was a lot more exciting). These days the information is still downloaded, it just takes a few more seconds for the software to access it than it used to. Which is very frustrating!

I find that I am also getting a lot more nostalgic about things that I was once quite pragmatic about and that includes birding. There are some things about the hobby that I miss and one of them is the special language that birders used to use which has gone out of fashion these days. I must have been doing the blog for about ten years now (?) and over that period I have introduced you to a fair few of those terms, so you should all know about; twitching, gripping-off, stringing (Don't do it!), padders, and dudes. Even this week I have exposed you to a 'Crippler' but I cant remember if we have ever talked about 'Blockers'?

A blocker is a bird that is difficult to put on a particular list, whether its a life-list, local patch list, garden list, county list etc (if you don't know by now, being an anally retentive lister is a prerequisite of serious bird watching). It is usually a bird which for some reason is rare or infrequent in occurrence or in a worst case an out and out unexpected rarity (A good example of this would be the Belted Kingfisher at Shugborough - a species so unlikely to occur in Staffordshire that it could easily be a hundred or even two or three hundred years before there is another). It must be noted that birds that have never previously occurred in a particular area are not blockers. If that were not the case then you could say that flightless Steamer Duck would be a Blocker in Staffs. No, the bird has to have occurred in a particular area at least once for it to be deemed a blocker (literally something you have been blocked from putting on your list by it failure to occur with any frequency).

These days my most important lists are my Staffordshire List and my Chasewater List. I was born in Staffordshire, in Walsall! Yes younger readers, Walsall used to be in Staffordshire! Until 1974 in fact when we were all forcibly deported into an artificial administrative area called the West Midlands County. Some people deported into 'new' counties such as Humberside and Avon have been allowed to go home but it is now doubtful that Walsall and its citizens will be allowed back (after nearly fifty years I suspect such a decision would be as divisive as brexit these days). At first sight this may not seem to be a relevant issue but it has caused a dichotomy of opinion about what constitutes Staffordshire for some birders.

When the county boundaries were changed, the body responsible for recording the counties birdlife (The West Midland Bird Club) had to make a decision. Do we opt for using the new counties or do we stick to the old vice-counties that had traditionally been used to define where wildlife occurred. They made a decision (wrong in my opinion) to go with the new counties which meant that records of species from some parts of historic Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire suddenly found themselves transferred to a county that previously didn't exist and all subsequent species records for those transferred areas were now attributed to the West Midlands.

I try to be a good lad and still use the WMBC guidelines as a yardstick to run my list by so my Staffordshire list only features birds that have been accepted as having occurred in a wild state in the county as defined in 1974. This even means that there are a number of birds that I have seen in Staffordshire which are not on my official county list because the administrative body does not accept that they were genuinely wild.

I believe that if you decide to have a framework for doing something then you work within that structure and not pick the bits you like and ignore the bits that aren't comfortable (some religions should look at that approach perhaps)? However, some renegade birders refuse to accept this level of control and run their list on their own opinions and on the basis of the pre 1974 boundary so what is a blocker for one Staffs birder is not necessarily a blocker for another.

The photo at the top of the posting was a juvenile Night Heron at Rollaston on Dove, just within the Staffordshire County boundary (31/03/2000) and (as far as I know) the last twitchable Staffordshire Bird according to the WMBC. If I were an 'Old Staffs' lister, I would now have seen at least three of these in the county because I once saw an adult at Hayhead Wood (16/04/1990) and another juvenile at Sheepwash Urban Park (08/08/2004), both places previously having been in Staffordshire (Good grief -birders seem to do everything in as complicated a way as possible don't they - what next, standing up in a hammock)?

Anyway - you should now have a good idea of what a birder means when he says that something is a blocker. When a bird that has previously been a blocker finally turns up it is deemed to have been unblocked - at last something straightforward and logical. 

Staffordshires Most Blocked?

So what are Staffordshires biggest blockers. On a personal level for me it is Honey Buzzard, the commonest species that I need for the county but this is actually a regular passage bird through the county and one that could turn up in a couple of weeks for someone fortunate enough to be there at the right time. So its not a Blocker in the true sense of the term.

No - what are the REAL blockers that effect all Staffordshire listers and not just me?

My opinion is there are just thirteen super-Blockers (originally twelve but Gareth Clements made a good case for Nutcracker to be included) most of which are unlikely to ever occur again and another four which may remain Blockers for some time but which could conceivably be pulled back. These latter birds are Marsh Sandpiper (last recorded in the county in 1974), Kentish Plover (last accepted county record 1995), Guillemot (last recorded in the county in 1920) and Two Barred Crossbill (a species that wintered on Cannock Chase in 1979/80 but which has been claimed in the county as recently as 2014).

There is no real reason why Marsh Sandpiper has not occurred in recent years, it is still a more or less annual vagrant to the U.K. and statistically it is only a matter of time before one turns up again. Kentish Plover has declined in occurrence nationally and is now more uncommon at inland counties throughout Britain than it previously was. As to the potential for Guillemot, that's a different matter. Despite pelagic birds occasionally finding their way to inland counties, the most common auk species Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin are always single figure occurrences on the lists for those counties as they depend on specific and unusual weather conditions at the right time of year in order to be significantly displaced, and those two factors only seem to come together one or twice a century.

So what are the Staffordshire Super-Blockers?

These are the species that in my opinion, you as an individual reading this today will be damn lucky to put onto your county list should you be that way inclined. I have listed the species that I deem to be the 'Super Blockers' in alphabetical order rather than to try and justify which is more or less likely to occur than another (such an approach would be subjective and very open to disagreement so why bother)?

Belted Kingfisher 2005
This was always my dream bird for Britain and when a Belted Kingfisher turned up in my favoured county on April First I took some persuading to go for it. It is still (I believe) a single figure species on the British List so the chances of a second bird finding its way to such an inland county has to be very small. Not impossible but then very little in birding ever is! However, I suspect that you would get very good odds from Ladbrookes on there being another one in our lifetimes?

Belted Kingfisher - Photo Copyright: Audobon
Cirl Bunting 1951
I don't think that this was ever an established species in Staffordshire? I know they reportedly bred on Hartlebury Common (Worcestershire) within recent history (1960/1970s ?) but I am not sure if the Staffordshire record relates to a genuine extra-limital occurrence by a British specimen or possibly a vagrant bird from Europe? Either way the decline of this species has resulted in a successful reintroduction scheme in Cornwall and I suspect that it would require an extension of such a scheme into more northern counties for this species to get on to any contemporary Staffordshire birders list?

Cory's Shearwater 1971
Chasewaters rarest ever bird? This rates alongside Auks as unlikely to occur at an inland site and again would seem to require a very infrequent set of circumstances in order to penetrate so far inland. The bird in question was picked up exhausted and nursed back to health before sadly being killed on release. Not impossible but put it this way, I have seen probably approaching a thousand Cory's Shearwaters abroad but still need to see one for my British list, and that's in coastal waters. So statistically what would you rate the chances of another one occurring on a lake or reservoir in Staffordshire?

Golden Eagle N/K
No longer breeding anywhere in England and suffering continuing persecution in Scotland. I don't know anything about this record. It is certainly not impossible for a vagrant bird from Scotland or even Europe to occur but it is still highly unlikely. Having said that this is one that could eventually unblock for some lucky birder.

Great Snipe 1954
To the delight of 'Old Staffs' listers this one is on their lists thanks to a highly unlikely but well watched bird at Sandwell Valley a few years ago (22/08/1995). This one could get onto the Staffordshire lists if more birders were prepared to learn the species and apply what they have learned to the large numbers of wintering Snipe that occur in Britain. I suspect that Great Snipe is a much under-recorded vagrant but how many of you reading this would be prepared to put their reputations on the block and claim one if you believed you have found one. That's the destructive effect of competitive birding for you!

Gyr Falcon 1844
HA! I wish! Unless you are affluent enough to go to the Scottish Islands or are in a position to twitch the odd coastal vagrant that sometimes occurs, this is a very difficult bird to get on your list. Any legitimate bird occurring in Staffordshire these days would have to run the gauntlet of the rarities committees to decide if it was genuine or a falconers escape or even a hybrid? Good luck with getting this one on your staffs list.

Little Bittern 1906
Please, please, please!  This is my personal Bogey Bird, if you have one of these anywhere come and get me - I genuinely am coming to believe that I will never see one of these, I have even missed seeing them at sites abroad (the little buggers keep dodging me)! From a county point of view though, this does have some potential for breaking the block. Little Bittern may not have occurred for over a hundred years in the county but in recent years there have been a number of breeding records in Britain. If this trend continues there has to be hope of a Little Bittern eventually crossing into Staffordshire airspace (if one does, COME AND GET ME - PLEASE)!

Little Bustard 1891
Never going to happen. Despite being highly migratory, this species has undergone such a dramatic decline in its favoured breeding areas the potential for vagrancy to such an inland county in the UK has to be very small verging on impossible in my opinion. When the next one turns up on the south coast go and chase it, I suspect that's the closest that this species will ever get to Staffordshire again!

A Little Bustard. Never again? photo copyright: Animalia
Nutcracker 1991
A species that historicaly has undergone eruptive movements from Siberia into western Europe - but not recently. The only Staffordshire Record was a very popular specimen at Cocknage Woods that was ridiculously obliging and which remained in the area for several weeks. Since this bird was recorded though, there have been only a handful of specimens claimed nationally so it is currently not just a tough bird to get on your Staffs list but also onto your U.K. list. This could all change with any future winter movements, but at present it does look unlikely to happen and until it does, I suspect that this species is worthy of 'Super-Blocker' status.

Pallas's Sandgrouse 1908
For what is now such a rare species, it is hardly possible to believe that it was once a regular irruptive migrant with huge falls of birds being recorded in the 19th century. These days such things must be consigned to history and even if this bird were to occur, it is far more likely to be on a distant Scottish island rather than anywhere in Staffordshire. This is one of the few species on my 'dream list' so I would like to hope, but I don't really think its ever likely to happen again, do you?

Sooty Tern 1852
Its not very often that a legend is totally true but the story of the Staffordshire Sooty Tern is! The bird was seen on the River Trent near Burton and a local landowner paid a local boy with a catapult to bring the bird down - which he did with one shot! The bird was subsequently collected, stuffed and then put on Display (Does Yoxall Hall sound right?) where its existence was a matter of record for many years. Unfortunately at some point the specimen was lost but there is no doubt of its existence and the story is recounted in a very rare book called; "The Birds of Staffordshire" (McAldowie 1893).

Fortunately if you are interested in knowing more, a copy of this fascinating book is in possession of the Local Studies Room at Essex Street in Walsall. Not sure how accessible it is these days but I once sat and read it cover to cover one afternoon.

White Tailed Eagle 1905
What do I need to say about this species. The successful return of this magnificent birds to British Skies is a matter of common knowledge. Surely at some point one of these reintroduced birds or even perhaps a genuine vagrant from Norway must one day grace the sky over Staffordshire. However this would probably have been much more likely had the proposal to reintroduce White Tailed Eagle to East Anglia been allowed to go ahead. Sadly not to be though, so its a case of wait, hope and twitch!

Photo copyright: Alan Saunders
White throated Needletail 1991
A much envied bird from within my lifetime, and a totally unexpected vagrant to the UK let alone Staffordshire! The possibility of one of these occurring anywhere must be quite small and I suspect it is a bird that the current and future generations of Staffordshire listers will have to continue to envy those lucky enough to have found it? - Likelihood of another? In my opinion astronomical!

There you are then - something for you to ponder on. It is now three hours since I started to write this and I haven't had my breakfast yet. Sorry for those who may have found it boring but sometimes I want to write stuff that interests me and which I hope will be of interest to like-minded birders.

I am sure that not everyone will agree with my analysis and that's fine, I have told you before opinion's are like Ar**holes (everybody has one) but as I do this blog and presumably you choose to read it, you have to put up with mine. If anyone wants to give any relevant feedback or alternative opinions I will be happy to report them. Its much easier to make up your mind about something if you have more than one viewpoint to consider, so if your views differ to mine let me know - it would be interesting!

If you made it this far - thanks for persevering, I hope you found it worthwhile - Chaz