It’s August, with migrating birds now flying back to warmer places – and Carsington is playing host to some of these travellers. Sometimes we see birds we may not immediately recognise or get confused with others. During the July WeBS count I saw a female duck immediately in front of the Wildlife Centre Hide. After some quick thoughts I recognised it as a Garganey, which is not even a yearly record with us. Last year’s report describes it as a ’scarce passage visitor’ and it only had a single record. When recorded, it’s usually a male and in May, so this was unusual.
If you do doubt the evidence of your own eyes, you can write a note or draw a picture or even take a photo, which I tried to do with my very small and not very efficient camera. So, it’s good practice to have a notepad and pencil/pen handy or, even better, a good and appropriate camera.
The bird’s plumage might firstly alert you and, in my case, the duck I was looking at was very different from three other species of dabbling duck close by, so size and behaviour may also give you some clues. It was dwarfed by female Mallards and two female Shovelers but similar in size and quite happy beside a pair of Teal. You can also eliminate other unusual species which might be about like Mandarin if you have seen one of them before.
Another worthwhile action is to get somebody else to verify it for you … though for me, of course, there was nobody about! It wasn’t there the next day either when checked out by others and they only usually stay for a short time. What next? Well, it’s always best to have an identification guide, either in book form or as an ‘app’ on your phone, like I have. When you finally get home check it out again in books, on the computer and even see if it’s been reported by someone else or if there have been records anywhere else that day (there had actually been a report of a single Garganey in South Yorkshire).
I also turned to another source – my membership of the BTO – for more help. Their website hosts 59 short videos (each around six minutes long) on identifying certain species. They are just brilliant and you don’t have to be a member to use them. In fact, they had one on ‘Female Dabbling Ducks’!
But there were plenty more to help Carsington birdwatchers: How about the one on Winter Divers or another on Winter Grebes for anybody coming to our reservoir at that time of year. For springtime, the video on Yellow-coloured Wagtails might be useful, while the one on Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers is excellent. All are brilliant and a free-to-use resource for anyone with tricky ID problems.
This year at Carsington we have had the first records of breeding Gadwall and perhaps you have seen them but thought they were Mallard broods. Well, the above-mentioned video on female dabbling ducks is worth looking at to sort out these two species when only females are around with their broods. However, I waited for Garganey to turn up in this video and believe it or not it stated at the end that this would be on a future video in the making. The fact it wasn’t included just shows how scarce this bird is.
BREEDING SUCCESS ON, AROUND AND AWAY FROM THE WATER
There have been pockets of breeding success around the reservoir this year, including the first ever record of Gadwall broods, as two pairs succeeded in bringing new life onto Carsington Water. By early August, 26 Mallard and 16 Tufted Duck broods were noted, four Barnacle broods were dotted among countless Canada goslings, a single Mute Swan pair had produced a brood of cygnets, while Little and Great Crested Grebes had each produced three broods.
No fewer than 183 young Black-headed Gulls have been noted at one time, the large majority on Millfields Island, which local birders have begun to dub ‘Bass Rock’! Waders have had a fair year, too, with broods for four Oystercatcher pairs and for three Redshank and Lapwing pairs.
But it wasn’t just water birds that have done well. Both Swallows and House Martins have produced young on site; one day maybe that other hirundine, the Sand Martin, will take an interest in the nest bank. Warblers and other summer visitors – including Redstart, Garden, Reed and Sedge Warblers and Common and Lesser Whitethroats – have produced numerous broods of youngsters, as have our diverse spread of residents, comprising all the tit species (including Willow), Pied Wagtail, Reed Bunting, Tree and House Sparrows, and Bullfinch among others.
A juvenile Kingfisher spotted on 2 July seemed to indicate breeding success again for this iconic species. Meanwhile, a pair of Kestrels occupying a nest-box produced four young, one of which was predated by a Buzzard, and there was a further sad note struck when a dog-walker found a dead young Tawny Owl.
Though overall numbers of species were close to the norm from June to August, as ever there have been a few highlights including Ospreys observed in each of the last three months, including two at the same time on 21 June; the latest observer on 18 August had the pleasure of seeing this expert hunter catch a fish. Red Kite was seen once again, in June, while apart from regularly seen Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks, Hobbys have been recorded fairly often, too, once in June, three times in July and once again in August.
Little Egrets – as we’ve noted before – seem to be arriving more regularly and in greater numbers at the reservoir, and a site record six were noted on 31 July. Meanwhile, another site record was the 19 Common Sandpipers seen on 12 July. As many as six Grey Herons have been keeping their end up against the egrets, and Green Sandpiper has been logged regularly in Brownale Bay. Other notable waders have been Ruff, Greenshank, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit all observed during July.
A female Garganey showed up at an unusual time of year on 25 July, and other interesting ducks included drake and female Mandarin in early June, three Red-crested Pochard on 7 July, and groups of 11, then 17 Common Scoter in late June/early July. With autumn just around the corner, Coot numbers have begun to swell, reaching 443 during the late-August WeBS count.
A group of seven Crossbills were first heard then seen above Blackwall Plantation at the end of June, and a site-scarce Yellowhammer was heard singing at Shiningford Farm on 28 June.
Finally, the 2015 annual report noted a number of species awaiting the results of formal evidential submissions to DOS (Derbyshire Ornithological Society): two of these – Black Kite and Yellow-browed Warbler – were recently accepted so in future will be appearing on our site species list without asterisks!
… AND THANKS TO THE RECORDERS
It’s worth pausing to consider that the above report would not be possible without the sterling efforts of a dedicated band of observers who visit the reservoir regularly – many almost daily at certain times of the year – and take the trouble to record what they see.
People like Clive Ashton who took over as our official Recorder last year, and his predecessor Roger Carrington who still visits the reservoir regularly and brings his expertise to bear. Then there are Peter Gibbon and Jon Bradley who spend hours scouring the site to undertake the monthly WeBS counts, whatever the weather!
Your editor (who also puts in the odd record from time to time) was amazed to discover how many species another regular birder, Simon Roddis, can see in a day. He’s logged up to 80 species in a single visit, and as recently as 18 August noted 72 including three Kingfishers, Yellow Wagtail, Hobby, Greenshank and Green Sandpiper, Little Gull, Little Egret and his first Meadow Pipit of the autumn.
Simon usually visits the main ‘hot spots’ around Millfields, the Stones Island/Wildlife Centre area, Sheepwash and Brownale Bay and the Hopton end with its developing reedbed … and, importantly, is always fastidious in adding each visit’s highlights to the ‘latest sightings’ page of the bird club website.
There are many, many more people who put in records, of course, and apologies to those I’ve not mentioned by name, but our grateful thanks go to everyone who visits Carsington Water, enjoys the excellent birding the site offers and then takes the trouble to share their enjoyment by letting others know what they’ve seen.
Our Chairman’s thoughts in this issue (see page 1) underlines the value of maintaining records, and gives a few hints as to how, even if you’re not sure what you’re seeing, you can use various sources to help identify birds.
‘NO SWIMMING’ POLICY IS COMMON SENSE – FOR WILDLIFE AND FOR PEOPLE
Anyone who has visited Carsington Water during the school summer holidays knows what a busy place the site can be – and the Severn Trent Water team of rangers are always busy looking after our visitors and keeping the facilities ticking over. An added problem for us as the temperature rises is people looking to escape the heat and have some fun with a dip in the reservoir.
We can’t argue with the fact that a swim can seem an inviting prospect; however, you only have to watch the news during the summer months to see that inexperienced swimmers attempting to swim in unsuitable or unmonitored waters can have tragic consequences.
Each summer we do our best to educate our visitors about the dangers of swimming here: the deep mud, hidden currents, the depth and temperature of the water all add to the risk and, quite simply, if you do run into trouble there may be no-one able to get to you in time.
In recent years as outdoor swimming and triathlon competitions have grown in popularity (and our Olympics success will have raised the profile of such ‘extreme’ sports even more in recent weeks), we’re also seeing more people trying to swim here early in the morning or late in the evening, presumably around their own working times and to avoid detection.
Of course these individuals may see themselves as more experienced swimmers than the youths and children who take a dip in the heat of summer, but they face the same dangers and unpredictable conditions. Furthermore, they’re often swimming at times of the day when no-one would ever see them get into trouble, let alone be able to offer help.
Safety aside, these swimmers cause big problems for our birdlife, especially during the winter months when the site is an important refuge for wildfowl and waders, and many of you may have witnessed the sad sight of hundreds of birds being flushed from the islands and designated conservation areas we manage for them.
The police are keen to help but in order to act they need evidence to help them understand who is swimming and at what times, something we can record and pass on. Therefore, if you’re out on site at any time of the day and you spot people swimming please make a note of the time, locations and any additional details and pass them to the rangers on site or in the visitor centre at the earliest opportunity. However disheartening and infuriating the disturbance to our wildlife is we’d nevertheless always ask that you avoid confrontation.
As well as working with the police we’re working towards the implementation of byelaws to help us protect our conservation areas and the birds that rely on them. We also regularly review our policy towards swimming here and at our other reservoirs to explore solutions and resolve conflict.
Whatever your view on our no swimming policy, we wouldn’t tolerate visitors practising a new sport in our terrestrial conservation areas so neither can we permit it in the water. Our aim is to operate a site that’s great for wildlife and safe for people.
John Matkin, Severn Trent Water
THE MOOR THE MERRIER!
Carsington Bird Club has joined a consortium of 11 organisations, led by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, attempting to improve the lot of wildlife living on two sizeable estates in northern Derbyshire – Hope Woodlands and Park Hall Estates. The National Trust, which owns these estates, while recently revoking the grouse-shooting licences of the tenants managing these areas, has indicated its intention to renew the shooting tenancies when the current licences expire.
The consortium is promoting a petition asking nature lovers both to praise the National Trust for revoking licences on estates not being managed appropriately, and to call on them not to renew the shooting tenancies. This is, however, not a call for a ban on shooting. Rather it is urging the National Trust to seize a rare opportunity to create one fair-sized area within the Peak District where land and habitat management is not driven by the needs of maximising grouse production at the expense of most other wildlife – notably top predators such as Peregrine Falcons and Hen Harriers.
If you agree with this goal, and feel strongly enough about it, you can use your search engine to access the link below (which is also on our website) and either sign the petition online or, better still, print one off, and obtain as many signatures as you can before sending it off the to address provided …
Our winter season programme of illustrated talks, which runs through to next March is about to get under way next month with the return of an old favourite Paul Hobson as he unveils some of the more secretive and spectacular wildlife in Scotland. The full list of talks up to the end of the year is given below. Please note that the Christmas meeting is, unusually, the second Tuesday of the month – and remember that all of our talks will be held in the Visitor Centre’s Henmore Room, starting at 7.30pm:
20 September – ‘Scotland – the very best of UK wildlife, Speyside, Shetland, Mull and the Uists’ by Paul Hobson
18 October – ‘A Year of Birds at Old Moor’ by Matthew Capper (this is our joint meeting with DOS)
15 November – ‘Iceland’ by Ian Newton
13 December – ‘Winter Birding in New Jersey’ by Tony Davison
Severn Trent Water, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and RSPB also stage both regular and one-off activities on site. For STW events, it’s worth checking the Visitor Centre reception, on 01629 540696, to see if events need booking and, if they do, get your name down. The programme in the coming weeks and months is as follows:
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)
Third Saturday of month Family Forest School for youngsters; chargeable Contact DWT (01773 881188) for more information and to book
Last Saturday of month Sheepwash Spinners Visitor Centre (10am-3pm)
Every Monday(after 12 September) – Nature Tots: different wildlife theme each week Contact DWT (01773 881188) to book.
24 September – Wild Play for Adults: learn forest skills; charge applies – 10.30am-1.30pm; book with DWT.
26 October – Wild Wednesday gets batty: learn about bats Contact DWT to book and build your own bat boxes