First of all, best wishes to everyone. I hope you’re keeping well and safe in the continuing difficult conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
We might reasonably have hoped that by now we would be returning to some form of ‘normality’, but from a slightly easier position mid-year, we are now once again enduring a national lockdown, though perhaps not quite as stringent as we encountered in March/April. One silver lining around the massing clouds is that Severn Trent have decided to keep the site open – enabling people to exercise and, of course, witness the reservoir’s wildlife.
There are some important changes, however, while the month-long lockdown continues. The Visitor Centre, together with its restaurant, cafes and shops are closed, as is the Wildlife Centre along with all other viewing hides. The car parks, paths and toilets do remain open, however, but visitors should be vigilant in maintaining social distancing and any other restrictions required.
The Covid situation has hit our planned events programme, though we did manage to link up with DOS for our annual joint ‘meeting’, which took the form of an online Zoom presentation – centring on a brilliant talk by Tony Davison on his hunt for Snow Leopard (and quite a lot of birds!) in Mongolia. But more of that later.
We had already recognised that the Henmore Room was not going to meet our indoor meeting needs when set against the general Covid restrictions; social distancing would have meant not being able to accommodate anything like our usual numbers. Meanwhile, we had negotiated with New Leaf Catering to use the wide open spaces of the centre’s restaurant but the imposition of the ‘rule of six’ put paid to that idea, too. We may be able to return to this alternative location later … and, in time, to our original home. Developing circumstances around controlling the pandemic will dictate as and when.
As a result of all this, like September, our November meeting has been cancelled, but we are planning to join another Zoom talk by members John and Louise Sykes on 9 December (see below).
We had also hoped for an autumn club trip and had settled on a couple of potential locations – and a November date – but that is now also ruled out for the time being. Outside exercise has generally been encouraged, so with luck we’ll be able to restore that trip to our programme soon. Keep a watch on the club website for any upcoming trips and talks as and when the current situation changes for the better.
Unsurprisingly, news is a bit thin on the ground, but almost-daily recording has continued as strongly as ever and this newsletter contains a fulsome reservoir report. Most months have seen high species counts, including more records, and there have been plenty of interesting birds about. There was also an ‘all-day watch’ by a team of regular recorders and they noted 92 species in a 24-hour period. This impressive achievement is reported below as well.
If the latest lockdown serves its purpose, there’s a chance we can enjoy Christmas with loved ones, so, with fingers firmly crossed, I wish you all the best for the festive season. Meanwhile, please read on for our latest news …
WE ARE JOINING LOCAL RSPB GROUPS TO ENJOY A ‘ZOOM’ TALK ON ‘TANZANIA’ BY JOHN AND LOUISE SYKES ON WEDNESDAY, 9TH DECEMBER … KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR E-MAIL INBOX NEARER THE TIME AS WE WILL BE SENDING YOU DETAILS OF HOW TO LINK TO THIS PRESENTATION
AUTUMN BRINGS ANOTHER MONTHLY RECORD – AND IMPRESSIVE MIGRATION FLY-BYS
Following two record months for species counts over the summer, another was achieved during the autumn as 119 were recorded in September, beating 2002’s previous record by just one. Among birds boosting that total were three records of Great Egret (two of which were also seen in late August) and a juvenile Garganey that was sighted on several dates spreading into October.
As well as the departure of many summer visitors, the autumn as ever delivered increasing duck, geese and gull numbers and impressive migration movements overhead as well as the arrival of a few species likely to spend their winter at the reservoir – though as of mid-month the Great Northern Diver was yet to turn up!
More than 500 Canada and Greylag Geese were often counted, and Coot numbers had risen to 1,270 by the last week of September and remain at a similar level. Teal and Wigeon both topped 350 by the second half of October, along with 300-plus Pochard and Tufted Duck, 166 Mallard and 79 Gadwall.
Smaller numbers of Pintail, Red-crested Pochard, Goosander and, most recently, Red-breasted Merganser freshened up the wildfowl list, as did a couple of non-counters – a Black Swan that seems to have formed an attachment to the reservoir, and two Nene (Hawaiian) Geese spotted among a group of 40 Barnacles.
Gulls have predictably been massing in recent weeks, and peaked at 10,000 Black-headed and 4,000 Lesser Black-backed Gulls leaving the roost at dawn on 28 October, with 520 Common Gulls counted three days later. Up to four Yellow-legged Gulls are regularly seen, as are three Great Black-backs including ‘One-foot’ whose deficiency doesn’t seem to affect this ability to catch a breakfast feast of crayfish. Two Caspian Gulls were identified on 17 October, and a Kittiwake was noted a week later, while the highlight of a relatively sparse tern passage was a juvenile and three adult Sandwich Terns.
Fifteen wader species were listed during September, including a nap hand of plovers as Grey and Golden joined the Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers that have been evident over the summer, plus the sizeable groups of Lapwings seen daily.
Knot and Little Stint were more unusual arrivals, while a Jack Snipe was identified among a group of its ‘Common’ cousins on 21 October, and early the following month 50 Common Snipe were flushed from the dam wall during foggy conditions. Meanwhile, Water Rail was fairly regularly heard more often than seen, but was spotted in the reeds at Hopton end on 8 November.
A few Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap were still being recorded in November, so they are probably planning on a winter at Carsington, but the amazingly late Swift seen on 22 October – a full 28 days later than the previous latest ever Carsington record for this species – was very definitely getting a move on, heading south.
Among those many departing summer visitors, the final Swallow was logged on 15 October while, a little earlier, the last recorded Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Reed and Sedge Warblers and Lesser Whitethroat all set off to warmer climes between 10 and 23 September.
Within a few days, the first Redwings had arrived, and by early-mid October were arriving in droves, with 1,678 Redwings and 286 Fieldfares counted moving through on the 11th. The absolute highlight of the large autumn migration, however, must have been the phenomenal 43,200 Woodpigeons counted flying through in waves, heading south, during a three and a half hour ‘visimig’ from Stones Island in early November.
Up to 1,000 Jackdaws, 160-plus Rooks and healthy numbers of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits also filled the skies above the reservoir in October, and 30 Brambling were also noted on the wing.
But the most noteworthy passerines of late were in October, when a Yellow-browed Warbler was seen near the Wildlife Centre in poor weather conditions, and a Lapland Bunting – the first at Carsington for more than 10 years – on the 18th. Others included a handful of Crossbills occasionally heard and less often seen, and a Hawfinch that flew north over the site on 8 November.
Red Kites have spearheaded the raptor sightings over this period, with three on 20 August, two at the same time on 2 September, four on 17 September, two more singles in October and one in November. A juvenile Marsh Harrier flew low over the reservoir on 7 September, while a handful of Ospreys inevitably passed through on five dates in August and two in September. Most recent raptor highlight was a Merlin that was spotted perched on a fence post during one of the recent foggy days.
“ALL DAY WATCH” NETS IMPRESSIVE 92 SPECIES
Last year some of the regular Carsington birders had the bright idea of spending a whole day – well, dawn to dusk – at the site just to see what we might spot. We did this twice: on 21 May we recorded 81 species and the same number again on 10 September. For obvious reasons we were unable to repeat the exercise this spring but five observers – Roger Carrington, Alan Stewardson, Neil Moulden, Andy Butler and myself – did muster in September, with at least one of us present from 05:45 to 20:00hrs.
The first areas that we covered were Hopton reedbed and Brown Ale Bay, which yielded Hobby, Reed Warbler and five Tawny Owls but disappointingly few wildfowl. At Millfields, three Yellow Wagtails were among the Pieds on the dam wall, a Kingfisher put in an appearance, while fly-over Crossbill and Siskins were useful additions.
With the total mounting to 60, I joined Roger on Stones island, Neil arriving shortly afterwards and promptly finding a Common Scoter out on the water, while Andy had walked the dam wall and seen single Wheatear and Skylark. The weather went a little bit downhill at this point, as low cloud and heavy drizzle descended, but the total nonetheless rose to 73.
New birds kept appearing and a pair of Shelduck spotted by Neil took us to 76, while it was the appearance of two Red Kites that took us beyond last year’s total, still with much of the day remaining. Just after midday the probable highlight of the day, a juvenile Marsh Harrier, flew the length of the reservoir, raising the tally to 85 species.
At least one of us remained on Stones Island at all times while others checked other discrete areas of the reservoir. Constant scanning and listening yielded Swift, a single flying Red-crested Pochard, a Willow Warbler, a surprise flock of four Lesser Redpoll that dropped into Wildlife Centre creek and then, to take us to the 90 mark, a distant Pheasant – something of an anticlimax to reach that milestone but hey, birders can’t be choosers!
It was inevitable that further additions would be slow to come, but a Common Gull appeared in the early evening, the only one of the day. Just two of us remained to watch dusk fall and count the incoming Lesser Black-backed Gulls (2,300 in total by the time we left). But finally, just as we were about to finish for the day, a Great White Egret flew over Stones island and headed north-east across the reservoir. This was certainly a quality end to a very enjoyable day – and hoisted our day’s total species list to 92.
TOP TALK: HUNT FOR THE ‘GHOST CAT’ … AND A BRUSH WITH COVID
As mentioned earlier, it’s not been our greatest year for events, with the September and November talks cancelled (or, hopefully, only postponed) and any thoughts of an autumn trip disappearing into the distance as the second Covid lockdown bit.
We did, though, have the most amazing presentation in October – our joint ‘meeting’ with Derbyshire Ornithological Society (DOS), via Zoom – when Tony Davison told us the awesome (and at the same time tense) story of his two visits to Mongolia in search of the “ghost cat” or Snow Leopard. Admitting his treks were something of an obsession, Tony told us of his disappointment in failing to catch up with this magnificent Asian big cat first time around, but still managed to pepper his presentation with some fantastic photos of a variety of other wildlife, notably birds such as the iconic Lammergeier.
That initial journey was in 2019, but his appetite was truly whetted by that ‘dip’ and he quickly organised a second trip to the remote regions of Mongolia with hope ever in his heart of finally getting shots of the Snow Leopard.
He gave us an insight into the travelling and living conditions while there which were, to say the least, basic, but said he was with a very good and knowledgeable local team that eventually delivered on their promise … and the photos we all saw on our screens via Zoom were truly memorable.
That was not the end of Tony’s story, though, because while he was hunting the ghost cat, the Mongolian authorities were hunting him! He’d nothing wrong – except on his inward flight to sit next to a Frenchman who, it turned out, had brought Covid-19 into Mongolia … and Tony was the last person on the flight they had yet to trace.
He had been out of mobile phone range for several days because of their remote location, and it wasn’t until he hit an area with signal that he picked up the messages indicating he was well and truly wanted! Ultimately, he had to stay an extra two or three weeks in Mongolia, much of it in isolation, until cleared to leave the country and catch virtually the last flight out of Japan home to the UK.