Welcome to the third newsletter of 2019. While it’s a relatively quiet time for the club, since the last issue in April we have run a successful club trip to Rutland Water and staged a springtime walk at the reservoir searching for warblers. And, as you can see below, we will, as usual, be getting our indoor season of talks underway in September as well as staging a further club trip – this time to Burton Mere in Cheshire.
I hope you feel you are getting enough interest and activity for your subscription, which has remained the same for more than 15 years. As well as a programme of seven talks over the winter, and the opportunity to attend trips and walks, we also maintain the website, circulate these newsletters and send to members’ homes the annual report, which is recognised as a comprehensive summary of excellent bird recording at the reservoir together with other club activity.
If you think there are more things we could be doing, or there’s something we could do better, please let us know. Better still, if you want to help out with events or admin, you’d be more than welcome as we’re a small committee with limited time to do the tasks that need doing as well as generating fresh ideas and approaches.
One area that seems to have stagnated a little is the website. Is it something you as an individual member of the club uses? If not, why not? … and, if so, how do you use it? The feeling is it could be fresher with more news and views, and not just a repository for records, newsletters and monthly bird notes. If you’ve any views on this, please contact any of the committee – or our webmaster Richard Pittam (at email@example.com) who is always interested in any ideas for improvement.
Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy reading this issue – and hope to see you at either the next club trip, or some of the upcoming meetings – or both!
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
Marking your card for the next few months, we have now arranged all talks for the first half of our 2019-20 indoor season, and a further club trip is also planned this autumn, to the RSPB’s Burton Mere reserve on the Wirral. Get the dates below in your diaries!
** TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17 ** – Well-travelled Tony Davison is back to talk to us about the wildlife encountered during a trip to north-east Russia, and in particular his search for the severely endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper
** SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29 ** – Our next club trip is to the ever-productive RSPB reserve at Burton Mere (postcode CH64 5SF). Aim to meet there around 10.30am. If you intend to come along – particularly if you need a lift – do please let Chris Lamb know either by phone on 01629 820890 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
** TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15 ** – Another of our regular speakers, Ian Newton, returns to talk about the amazing wildlife experience he enjoyed at the famous Masai Mara reserve in Kenya
** TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19 ** – We can expect a police presence at this meeting … but very much by invitation as PC Karl Webster speaks to us about wildlife crime in Derbyshire
** TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17 ** – New Zealand’s birdlife will be the topic when the club’s own Chris Lamb and Gary Atkins compare notes – and images – from recent holidays to the ‘land of the long white cloud’
DIVER’S FLIGHT NORTH LEAVES BREEDING FRENZY BEHIND
As ever, it’s been a busy spring and early summer, with breeding getting underway in earnest both on the water and in the trees and bushes around the reservoir’s perimeter. And presumably ‘our’ Great Northern Diver performed its procreation duties many hundreds of miles north after leaving Carsington on 7 May following its usual long winter’s stay.
An increasing number of broods of ducklings have been seen in recent weeks, with more than 20 Mallard pairs successfully raising young, along with sizeable Tufted broods (see website picture!) and no fewer than six Gadwalls families, just three years after this species first bred at the reservoir. There have been between five and ten Canada and Greylag Goose broods, young Barnacles have been nice to see, Coot and Moorhen young have been a common sight and two Little and four Great Crested Grebe families have been raised despite the high water levels threatening to wash some nests away.
Smaller birds that successfully bred – proven either by adults carrying food or the fledglings themselves – included Blue, Long-tailed and Willow Tits, summer visitors such as Whitethroat, Redstart, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Sedge and Reed Warblers, plus Grey Wagtails, a Kingfisher and, particularly pleasing, Tree Sparrows. After efforts to build the latter’s numbers at Carsington, via new nest boxes and improved feeding stations, as many as 18 young Tree Sparrows have been counted in one location (and 42 in total at the WLC in late July).
Young Tawny Owls were also noted, but only one cygnet survived the single Mute Swan brood, despite this species having believed to have broken the site record on 27 July when 67 individuals were counted.
A lot more species will have successfully raised young, particularly bearing in mind the sheer volume of birds counted during a circular walk in May that logged 107 Wrens, 89 Blackbirds, 62 Blackcaps, 58 Chiffchatts, 34 Song Thrushes, 26 Garden Warblers, 18 Willow Warblers and several dozen tits of various types, plus two dozen Chaffinches and Bullfinches. One bird seen around the same time that was unlikely to have bred was a beautiful sky blue Budgerigar, which disappeared (presumably in a huff at the lack of partners) in late spring.
Four young Swallows were spotted near the overflow grill at Millfields in June when House Martins also seemed interested in a nest at the Visitor Centre, but there’s certainly been no wholesale breeding by hirundines at Carsington (nor by Swifts, despite the new nest boxes, with associated calls, installed under the tallest eaves). As a feeding base, the reservoir remains popular with all these species, however, and 120 Swallows were counted on 7 May with 700 Sand Martins and 200 House Martins noted two days later, when over 60 Swifts were also in the air.
Two site-scarce species were the Green Woodpecker noted on 25 May and a Cuckoo that was heard between the Wildlife Centre and Shiningford Creek on 18 June. Raptor interest was raised in recent weeks with Ospreys seen on three dates in July, the first carrying a fish on the 14th, two Red Kite sightings, a cream crown Marsh Harrier on 25 May and Hobbys spotted in each of the last three months, albeit rather less regularly than the resident Buzzards, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Peregrines.
Waders have also kept our recorders on their toes with Greenshank, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Curlew, Knot, Turnstone, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers and Green and Common Sandpiper all joining the more readily anticipated Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Lapwings. Little Egret numbers have begun to grow, too, with as many as six recorded in July.
Tern movement in May included three Black and 25 Arctics on the 9th and a site-scarce Little Tern the following day. Gulls have been fewer and farther between but 152 Black-headed were counted on 16 June, a sizeable group of 18 Great Black-backs were noted exactly a month earlier, and other species to drop in included a Mediterranean Gull on 30 June, a Caspian type gull on 21 July and a sub-adult Yellow-legged seen on a number of dates in July.
FULL DAY’S CARSINGTON “BIG SIT” LOGS 81 SPECIES
The ‘big sit’ is a novel recording method I think began in the United States. The premise is that you essentially stay put in one place for a period of time and just see what birds turn up. As most of my own birding activity at Carsington is in the morning, I’ve often wondered what I miss by not being there later in the day. Occasionally I find out, when someone pops a record onto the CBC sightings page and I’m left thinking ‘If only I’d been there’.
Earlier this year I had the idea of doing a long day in the spring to try to answer the question. While no single day is guaranteed to be the day when everything happens, it had to be worth a try. I floated the idea to some of the other Carsington regulars, who said they were willing to be involved, so then it came to identifying a date. Ideally we would have waited and picked a day when weather conditions looked favourable – meaning not a nice sunny day with clear skies but rather an overcast one with showers, the sort of conditions that can bring waders and terns to inland waters when they are on the move!
However, considering everyone’s prior commitments we were left with just four possible dates in May, so we opted for Monday 20th, a week or two later than ideal but not too late for birds still to be flying through.
So it was that Roger Carrington and I got to Carsington just before 5am that day, Roger heading to Millfields and me to Stones Island. Our intention was that someone would be on Stones throughout the day, whilst other areas were checked on a more ad hoc basis. Roger quickly picked up a couple of species that can by no means be relied upon to show – Red-legged Partridge (heard only, in fact) and a pair of Mandarin – whilst I soon spotted a Grey Plover in almost full summer plumage on Watersports island. A promising start!
By 6am I had noted 47 species around Stones island, 7am it was 50, and with Roger’s Millfields additions we reached 63 by 8am. There had been no more surprises but it was good to have recorded some of birds that couldn’t be guaranteed, such as Greenfinch – rather scarce at Carsington – and Pink-footed Goose, doubtless the bird which turns up more regularly here and elsewhere in winter. Aerial sightings of House Martin, Common Buzzard and Grey Heron took us to 66 by 9am.
It looked like we were now going to have to work a bit harder for new species, so when we were joined by Alan Stewardson, Roger took over the Stones island watchpoint while Alan and I went further afield: I went north to check the Hopton end and Hall and Middle woods, while Alan walked the western side from Hopton back to Stones. By covering more ground and different habitats we hoped to find a few birds that we were unlikely to see on Stones island, and the woods in particular yielded results in the form of Goldcrest, Mistle Thrush, Redstart, Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Sparrowhawk and Spotted Flycatcher. By midday our total had moved on to 74 species.
In the meantime, Roger’s efforts from Stones Island had produced nothing new. One of our aims had been to see what might fly through the site during the day and it appeared that the answer, on a day with fine weather conditions, was going to be very little. Perhaps more surprisingly, we failed to spot any raptors other than the resident Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard – no hoped-for Peregrine or Red Kite that day.
The afternoon proved very slow, though we managed to plug a few gaps: surprisingly, it was mid-afternoon before we recorded Tree Sparrow, while a Curlew dropping in for a bathe and a preen was a bonus. At 6pm, with our total standing at 78. John Bradley joined us – perhaps a fresh pair of eyes would help! We still had a couple of elusive targets we knew were on site, so I went to Sheepwash to try to find the Lesser Whitethroat heard singing between there and Lane End the previous day, but which had eluded Alan in the morning, while he and John stayed on Stones.
After a bit of effort the Lesser Whitethroat did finally sing, while John and Alan picked up a Collared Dove – another scarcity here – and a Common Gull, certainly not something you can bank on after early spring. This took our total, by 8pm, to 81 and despite constant scanning and checking the few roosting gulls during the final hour, we could add nothing more.
Inevitably we missed one or two birds: no sign of the Common Sandpiper or Bar-tailed Godwit which had been there the previous day, and we couldn’t find a Rook – not easy here at this time of year. It was a little disappointing that no more surprises popped up, but the weather was not conducive. We did, though, feel it was well worth doing something we may repeat later in the year and certainly again next spring, hopefully on a day with conditions that might produce a few terns and waders, and who knows what else?
THE ARRIVAL OF SPRING TAKES US OUT AND ABOUT
With the arrival of better weather we leave the sanctuary of the indoor meetings season behind, but that doesn’t mean the club abandons its events schedule, and there have been two activities during the spring that attracted a good turn-out by CBC members – a brilliant trip to Rutland Water in late April and a Warbler Walk back on home turf the following month.
At Rutland, we had barely parked up when the distant ‘yaffle’ of a Green Woodpecker provided the first bird on our list that eventually numbered a very healthy 69 species. Several common species were featured on the feeders in front of the Visitor Centre, but once we set off down the paths we were soon picking out the songs of summer visitors including Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers and, a little harder on the memory, Blackcaps, Garden, Reed and Sedge Warblers.
We were then treated to a glorious concert by possibly the most famous songster of all, a Nightingale, which true to form remained firmly hidden in the bushes, but was unmistakable. A second one performed later but also escaped detection.
From the Dunlin hide, overlooking Lagoon 4, we added several species of wildfowl to our rapidly growing list, including a few Wigeon, yet to depart for their breeding grounds, a solitary Little Ringed Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit, along with much larger numbers of Oystercatchers, Lapwings and Redshanks.
Returning to the Visitor Centre to enjoy our packed lunches overlooking Lagoon 1, we were rewarded with good views of an Osprey soaring over the water, followed by a Red Kite chased by a number of corvids. Perhaps surprisingly, three Pink-footed Geese lingered in the fields, while large numbers of Sand Martins, well outnumbering Swallows, hawked insects over the water and flew to and from their specially erected nest bank. Walking off our lunches, we also added several more nice species including Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Bunting, Linnet and Lesser Whitethroat.
A couple of weeks later, around a dozen new and existing Club members enjoyed a Warbler Walk, under the expert eye of Simon Roddis. Aiming to see and hear several warbler species found at Carsington in the spring, the group began by ambling around Stones Island and – with a bit of perseverance – located five of the target species: Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Garden, Sedge and Willow Warblers. The songs of all of them are pretty distinctive, although there can be overlap between Garden Warbler and Blackcap; as it happened, all the birds that we found performed as per the text book! After being a bit secretive for a few minutes, a Sedge Warbler performed its song flight and settled in view – if a bit obscured – in a patch of bushes. Sedge Warblers seem to be having a good year at Carsington, with several singing birds on Stones and another near the Wildlife Centre. A little surprisingly, we failed to find a Common Whitethroat on Stones Island although they have been there this spring – perhaps they are just in a quiet spell.
After Stones Island we made our way towards the Wildlife Centre and to the top of the creek. We heard more Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers but surprisingly not the anticipated Common and Lesser Whitethroats or Reed Warbler, all of which had been seen and heard in the area during previous days and weeks. Just one of those days!
We didn’t just look at warblers, of course, and in total saw or heard 35 species, including a Willow Tit singing on Stones Island, Oystercatchers, Redshanks, our three breeding geese species – Canada, Barnacle and Greylag – and the Mute Swan still sitting on her nest on Horseshoe Island.
The full details of CBC’’s events programme for the coming months – incorporating a trip and the first half of our indoor season – are listed on the front page of this newsletter, but as ever there are some regular and specific events also run on site by Severn Trent Water or Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, as listed below.
Some incur a charge or require booking, so it’s always worth checking with the host organisation for more details (via STW on 0330 678 0701 or DWT on 01773 881188):
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/Sunday – Wildlife Centre volunteers on parade Wildlife Centre (10am-3pm)
Last Saturday monthly – Sheepwash Spinners (wool-craft) Information at Visitor Centre
11 August – Hen Harrier Day (an event to raise awareness Noon-5pm of the plight of these iconic endangered birds featuring Chris Packam and Iolo Williams).
19 August – Nature Tots (charge applies but free parking) 10.30am-12.15pm; contact DWT.
28 August – Wild Wednesday Bat Walk (charges apply). Meet 7.30-8pm; contact DWT
7 September – Water Aid Cycle Ride (to get involved visit www.active.com and search Severn Trent cycle ride.