A belated Happy New Year to everybody. I am sure all of you will know about (and have experienced) the record rainfall since our last newsletter and I suspect the same might be said for temperatures. The effects of this weather on our birdlife is not yet clear but one presumes there will losers, while those species that have gained an early spring breeding could be well under way by the time you read this.
Certainly birdsong has been evident for some weeks now. For a handful of birds, like Tawny Owl, Mistle Thrush and Dipper, nesting may have begun in February, but numbers of these three early breeders are falling rapidly according to the BTO Bird Trends report (13 Feb 2014). Data from the BTO Nest Record Scheme provides strong evidence of shifts towards earlier laying in a range of species, linked to climatic change. They have now identified 42 species that, on average, are laying between one and 31 days earlier than in the mid 1960s, while only six species exhibit significant trends towards later laying.
For some species, however, this shift towards earlier laying may be insufficient to match seasonal advances in the peaks of food availability. Lower level organisms, on which birds feed, are thought to respond quicker to climatic change than higher level ones like birds. This could cause shortages of food, possibly leading to the aforementioned population declines. February also saw BTO nestbox week (7th to 14th), so if you haven’t already cleaned out old ones or put up new ones, it’s time to do so!
Soon after mentioning two seminal books in the last newsletter, I received the first of these in the post – the totally brilliant ‘Bird Atlas 2007-11’ from the BTO. It measures 34 x 24 x 4 cms and weighs in at 3 kgs – so many thanks to my postman! Chris Packham neatly sums up its significance: “Nowhere else on earth is as well known in terms of bird distribution and populations thanks to the astonishing effort of accomplished volunteers and the BTO". At £69.99 (that’s less than a penny for each of its 720 pages!) it is a remarkable bargain and the most wonderful source of information on British and Irish birds.
And if that was not enough, this month I received the second book, also well worth waiting for. The Birds of Derbyshire’, edited by Roy Frost and Steve Shaw of Derbyshire Ornithological Society, is the match of the first book in terms of its professional appearance – and is purely about those birds on our patch. It is the culmination of over 17 years' work by a dedicated team of local experts, photographers and artists and represents the most important project ever carried out by DOS (and, I suspect, any county society) to date. It contains 376 pages (and, for the record, is 30 x 22.5 x 3.5 cms, weighs 2 kg and costs £45), including 319 accounts of species that have been reliably recorded in the county – with distribution maps of almost all breeding species – and sections on the history of Derbyshire ornithology and DOS itself, plus detailed accounts of the natural areas of Derbyshire.
I sincerely congratulate everybody on its production and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone considering buying it. If the weather doesn’t improve either book could be the ideal thing for ‘indoor ornithology’ – and details of how to purchase them can be found on the BTO and DOS websites, respectively.
Finally, can I remind you firstly that it’s time to renew your membership, so if you’ve not yet paid your 2014 ‘subs’, Dave and Sue Edmonds look forward to hearing from you, and secondly to watch out for our club trip in June.
FAR FROM QUIET WINTER IS QUIET TIME FOR BIRDS
Damaging winds and record rainfall has had its effect on wildlife and both December and January saw only 82 bird species recorded on site, the lowest for those corresponding months in around a decade. There have been some highlights, nonetheless, including the return of one – and, for a short period, a second – Great Northern Diver.
GANNETS, GUILLEMOTS AND PUFFINS GALORE!! ….. Join the club trip to old favourite Bempton Cliffs planned for Sunday, 1 June. See below for more details and how to book
The first arrived on 9 November and was still around in late February, but the second stayed just a month. A period which has been very thin for raptors was more productive for gulls, with up to 3,000 Black-headed, 1,000 Common and 600 Lesser Black-backed Gulls among the roost. Three Mediterranean Gulls were noted in the roost on 10 February, and a week later a Little Gull spent some time around Hopton End, with a Kittiwake making a brief appearance a few days later.
Coot numbers hovered just under the 1,000 mark in December and January but were down to 391 when the February WeBS count was undertaken. The number of ducks was also down this month, following over 500 Pochard and almost that number of Tufteds being counted in January. Scaup were seen regularly throughout the winter period, along with up to 18 Goldeneye and several Goosander.
Only two or three Little Grebes have been counted on any given day (despite the over-wintering Yellow-legged Gull not being seen since 19 January!), but Great-crested numbers are on the rise with up to 40 counted in February. After a visit by 21 Whooper Swans flying over the reservoir on 12 January, the sight of 67 dropping onto the reservoir in late February was even more spectacular.
Wader sightings have included Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Woodcock, while Snipe have been seen in large numbers – up to 77 along Wildlife Centre Creek – but most pleasing of all has been the large flock of Lapwings circling the skies over Carsington, with as many as 945 individuals counted at one time.
Two Chiffchaffs, clearly deciding it was mild enough to stay put, were recorded at Lane End in December, and more typical winter visitors have included Fieldfare, Redwing, Siskin, Redpoll and Brambling, while other passerines regularly noted – particularly around the feeders – have been Goldfinch, Linnet, Willow Tit, Tree Sparrow and Reed Bunting.
Meanwhile, for sheer profusion, it was hard to beat the 1,050 Woodpigeons that flew through in a 45-minute period on 4 December.
BIRD OF THE ISSUE: KITTIWAKE
The RSPB begins its description of this medium-sized gull as “strictly coastal”, which goes to illustrate why Kittiwakes are a relatively irregular sight at Carsington. They are, though, long-distance fliers as they spend much of the winter at sea after breeding, so do spend a fair bit of time on the wing en route to or from nesting sites.
With a name that reflects their call, Kittiwakes can be identified by their relatively small size, yellow bill, dark eye. black legs and solid black wing tips, unlike other gulls. They look neat with grey wings and pure white belly.
They feed on shrimps, fish, and marine worms such as sand eels. With an estimated UK breeding population of 380,000, Kittiwake numbers are actually declining – possibly due to the increasing scarcity of some food sources.
They live in large noisy colonies, and will nest on virtually any ledge where they can build a nest (and, indeed, will be one of the birds on offer at Bempton Cliffs when the club visits in June!). They often use old buildings but even have a liking for modern architecture: In Newcastle upon Tyne, the roads and pavements below the Tyne Bridge and the Sage Centre need to be regularly cleaned of Kittiwake ‘guano’.
BATTLE FOR SANCTUARY CONTINUES AFTER HIGH COURT RULING
It’s been a dramatic few months for The Sanctuary local nature reserve on Pride Park in the centre of Derby, but after seemingly destined to become a shadow of its former self – after the City Council gave the go-ahead to build a cycle track through the middle of it – a legal order lodged by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has for the time being stopped work on the development, pending a judicial review.
It is ironic that the LNR – containing valuable open mosaic grassland habitat used by ground-nesting and rare migrant birds such as sand martins, skylarks, snipe, stonechats, pipits, lapwings and various wildfowl (and even a Dartford Warbler has popped up there!) – was originally created by the Council that is now seeking to damage it by building on a large proportion of the reserve.
After an outcry by local wildlife enthusiasts on hearing of the Council’s plans, a remarkable campaign involving 16 local environmental groups – including Carsington Bird Club and spearheaded by DWT – was waged that ultimately led to the legal challenge. Far more people objected than supported the plans, but their concerns were overlooked as the scheme was voted in; approved by the closest of votes by the Council’s planning committee in January.
However, concerned both for fate of The Sanctuary and the precedent the situation set more widely, DWT lodged an injunction to stop the development (work on clearing the site had begun with indecent haste the day after the council’s vote) and on 24 February a hearing in the High Court confirmed an earlier interim ruling that work should be suspended. A full judicial review will now be held within the next three months.
Mrs Justice Lang, announcing her ruling, said she believed a serious issue is being tried in this case – with, she added, the risk of permanent environmental harm to an area of county-level significance.
LOCAL OWLS DESERVE HELPING HAND TO ARREST RECENT DECLINES
The return of summer sunshine last year after a run of cool, grey and sometimes damp summers led to a good spell for British wildlife, with hard-hit species like bees and butterflies able to bounce back. As the year went on, it was easy to forget the awful March we endured, bringing some of the deepest snow drifts in living memory.
Returning migrant birds suffered and the delayed spring affected aphid-dependant birds such as blue tits. Locally, owls were hit particularly hard by a March that was far colder than the preceding ‘winter’ months – and sadly dead tawny owls were noted around the site.
Little owls and barn owls were already struggling and the lack of reported sightings on site in 2013 is perhaps an indication of the effect the extreme weather had on these birds. Just how the site’s tawny owls have fared in the last 12 months is more difficult to assess as their nocturnal habits mean they are often underreported. A few pairs were heard calling during autumn and winter, but we can assume that for our owls 2013 was a year of replacing losses rather than booming numbers.
Year on year habitat management reflects natural changes around the site as the plantation woodland has matured, resulting in less ground cover, but the extremes of weather we seem to experience more frequently combined with changes in the wider countryside are likely responsible for population fluctuations and declines.
And with this winter’s record rainfall and high winds taking a toll of several mature trees, the situation for Carsington’s owls has become potentially more difficult still – but, while we can’t change the weather, there are some things we can do to make life a bit easier for them.
In 2014 we’re hoping to erect several tawny owl boxes around the site and we’re working with the Carsington Bird Club to find the best places to position these within existing tawny territories. These will hopefully provide safe nest sites and sheltered roost sites for our owls in places where standing dead wood and mature trees are at a premium.
Through our partnership with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust we also ran a ‘Barmy about Barn Owls’ family day during the February half-term holidays. The event was fully booked and gave young visitors the chance to learn more about these intriguing birds through owl crafts and by dissecting owl pellets. They were even able to meet a live Barn Owl and learn more about their decline here and elsewhere.
With our ever-fluctuating water levels and changing weather we’re all familiar with how much of an effect the weather has on us and our wildlife, just as we educate our visitors about the things we can do to save water we’re also keen to teach people about our wildlife and the problems some of our species face.
Whilst winter is not yet over here’s hoping for a pleasant 2014 and hopefully one that’s a bit kinder to our wildlife, particularly those owls.
John Matkin, Severn Trent Water Ranger
Carsington Bird Club’s 2013-14 indoor season concludes on Tuesday 18 March, when old favourite John Gardner returns to the Visitor Centre with an enigmatically-titled talk on ‘Batting for Yorkshire’.
During the early summer, we are also planning a trip – to RSPB Bempton in Yorkshire – so don’t forget that one (details/booking form are on the next page). Meanwhile, the club has also arranged all the remaining illustrated talks for 2014; listed below, they all start at 7.30pm in the Henmore Room of the Visitor Centre:
16 September ‘Svalbard – high Arctic wildlife’ by Carol Taylor
21 October ‘Trinidad and Tobago’ by Ian Newton
18 November ‘The Gambia’ by Chris Ward
16 December Club’s Xmas party – with talk on ‘Eastern Europe’ by Richard Pittam
KNOW YOUR COMMITTEE – Here are the club officials and their contact details ……
Chairman/ Indoor mtgs Peter Gibbon 01629 534173 firstname.lastname@example.org
Secretary Paul Hicking 01773 827727 email@example.com
Treasurer John Follett 01332 834778 firstname.lastname@example.org
Recorder Roger Carrington 01629 583816 email@example.com
Newsletter editor Gary Atkins 01335 370773 firstname.lastname@example.org
Outdoor trips Peter Oldfield 01629 540510 email@example.com
Membership Dave & Sue Edmonds 01335 342919 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ex-officio Jon Bradley 01773 852526 email@example.com
… and the website address: www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk
(website maintained by: Richard Pittam firstname.lastname@example.org)
___________________________________ xxxx ___________________________________
CLUB TRIP: BEMPTON CLIFFS – SUNDAY, 1 JUNE 2014
In late spring, this RSPB site on the Yorkshire coast is one of the most exciting, busy, noisy – and smelly – birding sites imaginable. It is particularly noted for up to 200,000 cliff-dwelling birds that call those precipitous ledges home for a few months each year. Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Gannets and Puffins are virtually guaranteed, along with a range of gulls and other sea-going species such as Cormorant.
Raptors are sometimes in evidence, with Peregrine using the cliffs as a useful larder, Red Kite sightings on the increase, and a Short-eared Owl regularly seen patrolling the flat farmland back from the cliffs, where a range of summer visitors are also to be found. On the club’s last trip to Bempton five years ago, Whitethroat, Linnet, Sedge Warbler and Corn Bunting joined resident Tree Sparrows, Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks among the ploughed fields, scrub and hedgerows.
As well as several cliff-top viewpoints, there is a visitor centre with feeding stations that attract the usual seed and nut eaters including various tits, sparrows and finches. While most visitors are content with these viewing stations, the more energetic souls may fancy walking down to Flamborough Head … and don’t worry, we won’t forget you!
Transport will leave from Carsington Water Visitor Centre at 7.45am.
The cost is expected to be around £15-20 (under-16s £10). Please send a £10 deposit per person, along with the booking form, to secure your place.
I/we would like to attend this trip. Please reserve the following number of seats:
Adults ………………… Children ………………
Name ……………………………… Address .…………………………………………………………………………….
Tel No ……………………………… e-mail ……………………………………………………………………………… I enclose a cheque (payable to Carsington Bird Club) / postal order for £ ……………
Please return the slip/deposits by 30 April to:
Peter Oldfield, Owslow Farm, Carsington, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 4DD.
If you have any further queries on this trip call Peter on 01629 540510 or e-mail him at email@example.com.