Hello, fellow members – and a warm welcome to the final newsletter of 2019 after a very damp autumn that’s hardly been great for those of us wanting to get out and watch birds on a regular basis. Let’s hope the winter brings drier, brighter and crisper conditions.
In the articles that follow you can read the regular ‘reservoir report’ which outlines the more exciting sightings around Carsington Water, including a Manx Shearwater, Long-tailed Skua, Arctic Skuas, a long-staying Slavonian Grebe and the now-traditional arrival of a Great Northern Diver (albeit a juvenile, so maybe we’ll have two overwintering this time).
We also review the highlights of our recent events programme – the initial illustrated talks that have, as usual, been excellent – and our most recent club trip, to Burton Mere in Cheshire. And, as we move towards Christmas, with its upturn in festive activities, we’ve included in ‘What’s On’ not just the main CBC dates, but also a few of those events being staged by Severn Trent Water, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and New Leaf Catering that may tempt you out over the winter.
It’s encouraging to report that our membership is still holding fairly steady and we have, in fact, had a number of new members in recent months, so can I please welcome June Hatton, Dave Horsley, Leslie Beeston and Mr & Mrs Donald Shadbolt to the CBC fold. Enjoy!
SCARCE SEABIRDS VISIT, A SLAVONIAN DELIGHTS AND A DIFFERENT DIVER RETURNS
The chief species highlights of this autumn have centred on long-haul seabirds, possibly the most surprising being the first ever Carsington record of a Long-tailed Skua, though the Manx Shearwater found on the morning of 21 October – only the fifth record for the site – came a close second. This particular individual was lucky to escape the attentions of a predatory Peregrine later in the day.
The skua was spotted on 7 October in very poor conditions and was, at first, considered to be an Arctic (two of which had been seen the previous month) but closer examination of photographs showed it to be a Long-tailed Skua – reward for the perseverance of hardy observers who go out in all weather states.
Just three days earlier a most obliging Slavonian Grebe had arrived and remained for more than three weeks, affording plenty of very close views to visiting birders. Then we had the traditional early arrival of the Great Northern Diver on 2 November – though this one was a juvenile; it has been mobile around the reservoir and is still around at the time of going to press.
The 73 Mute Swans seen in August was a site record, as was the 47 Ravens – all but one in a huge single flock – counted on 5 October. Seventy-six Cormorants during August was one of the bigger counts of this species. Meanwhile, 40 Whooper Swans joined the shearwater on 21 October.
Winter ducks have been arriving in good numbers and variety, including Goosander, Goldeneye and, in September, a scarce visit by a female Red-breasted Merganser. Pochard seem to be having a good year, with 299 counted on 15 November. Coot numbers have risen to 750, and 65 Teal and 50 Wigeon were recorded on 22 October.
Among the autumn movement, which included 150 Pink-footed Geese flying east on 6 November, was a huge passage of 1,400 Meadow Pipits through at the end of September. There were also plenty of terns speeding through, including Sandwich, Black, Arctic and Common varieties.
… perhaps a few weeks early, but …
¯¯A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OUR READERS! ¯¯
On site, the gull roost is building, too, as 4,500 Lesser Black-backs flew off on the morning of 10 September, and 5,000 Black-headed gulls were noted exactly a month later. There have been counts of more than 100 Common Gulls, and other autumn gull records were Mediterranean, Caspian, Yellow-legged and Great Black-backed.
The site is regularly visited by Little Egrets, but Great Egret numbers are also on the rise with this elegant bird noted on both 23 September and 24 October. With the reservoir so full and muddy edges more limited, wader numbers have been very thin, but a Grey Phalarope on 4 October was only the ninth Carsington record. Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Greenshank were recorded, though, along with several Common Sandpipers and up to 30 Snipe.
Ospreys were plentiful (though most just passed through), with records on 10 dates in August and five in September. Three Red Kites were over Millfields on 3 August, and that month was a good one for Hobby sightings, while a Merlin added to the raptor tally on 7 September. As is becoming the norm, Peregrine records were frequent, and the maximum count of another regular – Buzzard – was 10 at any one time.
As ever autumn saw the departure of visitors, notably warblers and hirundines. The last House Martins were 13 on 2 October, two Swallows were recorded on the 15th of that month, and the only two warblers to stay beyond September were Blackcap, which departed on the 15th, and Chiffchaff, the last of which was seen on the 21 October (just five weeks after 60 were counted around the site!). These two warblers often over-winter, however, so more might yet be seen or heard in the coming months.
The first Corn Bunting to visit Carsington since 1995 was seen on 10 August, Whinchat and Stonechat were other passerine highlights as were Tree Pipits which, unusually, were around Wildlife Centre fields for several days in August/September, and the latest ever individual was noted on 18 September.
MEMBERS ENJOY BURTON MERE … AND TRAVEL THE WORLD BY PROXY
An intrepid group of seven CBC members braved a very gloomy weather forecast and headed off north- west in a small convoy of cars in late September for the club’s latest outing, to the Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB Reserve on the Wirral.
On arrival there was an unseemly dash for the hot drinks machine, but soon we were settling down in the comfort of the modern and roomy Visitor Centre, which is beautifully positioned overlooking the reserve pools and, further out, much of the Dee estuary marshland. The nearby pools contained a generous numbers of ducks, including Shoveler, Teal, Mallard and Tufted Duck, while waders were also present in moderate numbers, mostly Black-tailed Godwit and Lapwing, but the sharper-eyed observers were soon picking up a handful of Ruff and Dunlin that were probing the mud edges.
Someone then spotted a Kingfisher, initially perched in the reeds and difficult to see, but the flash of bright colours was more obvious as it launched itself low over the water. Still from the Visitor Centre, a Sparrowhawk rather obligingly perched on top of a bush for several minutes right in front of us, enabling some half-decent photographs (see website report).
Walking along the trail to the first of two hides, a number of common woodland birds were seen or heard, including Chiffchaff (still in full voice even in late September), Wren, Robin, Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Goldcrest. At least one Cetti’s Warbler announced its presence in the reeds, but true to form remained hidden from view! Reaching Inner Marsh Farm Hide at the far end of the reserve, the promised rain did fall, but this didn’t prevent us from enjoying more ducks and waders out over the water.
We quickly added Shelduck and Gadwall to the growing list, along with 3-4 Snipe, including one which seemed to be swimming as it waded across deep water! A Water Rail was briefly seen scuttling across a gap between two reed beds but, despite determined observation, didn’t show itself again, but any disappointment evaporated as a Hobby flashed past, mobbed by a pair of Lapwings. Two Spoonbills which had been noted earlier by the reserve staff reappeared, giving us good views, and that other increasingly common sighting – a Great White Egret – was spotted in a distant field.
Moving back to the Visitor Centre towards the end of the day, and warmed by another well-earned hot drink, we boosted our raptor species count to five as we enjoyed good views of a Marsh Harrier, Peregrine and Kestrel! In total, 55 species were recorded collectively by our group on an enjoyable day (and we didn’t get too wet, despite the dire weather forecast, voting Burton Mere a great success).
The full list of sightings were: Teal, Moorhen, Coot, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Shoveler, Mallard, Ruff, Dunlin, Kingfisher, Carrion Crow, Sparrowhawk, Pheasant, Tufted Duck, Woodpigeon, Gt Black-backed Gull, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Little Grebe, Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Starling, Goldfinch, Wren, Chiffchaff, Gt Spotted Woodpecker, Robin, Goldcrest, Sand Martin, Shelduck, Cetti’s Warbler, Gadwall, Water Rail, Hobby, Spoonbill, Snipe, Dunnock, Swallow, Gt White Egret, Redshank, Jackdaw, Jay, Magpie, Long-tailed Tit, Black-headed Gull, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine and Kestrel.
Closer to home (though in spirit much farther away), the first two talks of our indoor season at Carsington Visitor Centre took us to places most of us have never been! Tony Davison’s September return thrilled us with brilliant photos showing his trip to north-east Russia, with all the amazing wildlife he witnessed there – and culminating in a rare view of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the scarcest waders on the planet.
The speaker originally booked for our joint meeting with DOS in October was unable to make it due to injury, so we managed to get Steve Williams, lead of Chesterfield’s RSPB group, along at short notice – and were very glad we did. This award-winning photographer took us first of all to various locations in northern Britain. His photos weren’t simply technically good, but they showed the character and behaviour of subjects. The title of his talk had added “beyond”, which turned out to be Mexico, and some amazing underwater shots of whale sharks and other marine life interacting with human swimmers.
With winter just around the corner, we are now well into our indoor season of wildlife talks. Details of the full remaining programme of speakers and topics are listed below; note that the February date will begin half-an-hour earlier than usual (at 7pm), the talk preceded by the club’s annual general meeting.
19 November Talk: Derbyshire wildlife crime by PC Karl Webster – Henmore Rm, Visitor Centre (7.30pm)
17 December Talk by Michael Leach: Owls of the World (as above)
21 January Talk by Dave Hollis: Birds of Prey (as above)
18 February Talk by Chris Lamb/Gary Atkins: Birds of New Zealand (as above, but preceded by club AGM at 7pm)
17 March Talk by Chris Ward: Our Changing Wildlife (as above; begins 7.30pm)
As usual, there are also a range of regular and one-off activities organised by Severn Trent Water or Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and, at this time of year, numerous eating / entertainment events provided by New Leaf Catering. Charges and/or booking are sometimes required for these events, so it’s often worth checking with the host organisation for more details (via STW on 0330 678 0701, DWT on 01773 881188 or New Leaf on 01629 540363):
First Sunday of month Birdwatching for Beginners – Meet Visitor Centre (10am-12 noon)
First weekend of month Optics demonstrations RSPB shop, Visitor Centre (10am-4pm)
Every Tuesday/Thursday/ Join the knowledgeable volunteers in the Wildlife Centre (10am-3pm)
Sunday Wildlife Centre to learn about the site’s wildlife
Last Saturday monthly Sheepwash Spinners (wool-craft) Information at Visitor Centre
4/10/17 December Christmas three-course Lunch and Carol Concert (£24.95) – Book via New Leaf
14 December Family Forest School (two 90-minute sessions – for youngsters aged 4+ and 7+; charges apply) – Contact DWT for timings/details
16 December Nature Tots (charge applies but free parking) 10.30am-12.15pm; contact DWT
19 December Christmas three-course lunch with Jazz (£24.95) Book via New Leaf
18 January Family Forest School (see above for details)
20 January Nature Tots (details as above)
3/17 February Nature Tots (details as above)
8 February Family Forest School (see above for details)