SUBS DUE!! For those yet to renew their memberships for 2015, please send a cheque for the requisite amount (£10 for family/joint, £7.50 single and £1 for junior) as soon as possible, please, to Peter Gibbon at 25 Church Street, Holloway, nr Matlock DE4 5AY. Thank you and have a happy year’s birding!
I have just finished reading ‘H is for Hawk’, winner of both the Costa and Samuel Johnson literary prizes, which must make it an emphatic candidate for best book of 2014. It was actually bought for me twice as a Christmas gift, but luckily the second giver kept it and has since said they enjoyed it very much. The book is Helen Macdonald’s autobiography describing how she seeks solace after the death of her father through training a Goshawk.
All the way through she remembers reading the book by T.H White – called Goshawk and published in 1951 – about training a hawk himself. Through the pages of her book, Helen looks back at how that man’s life and works have affected her. Well, I have thought a lot about life after reading this but only just thought how brilliant it is as a means of describing the most revealing facts about the psychology and behaviour of a bird. Even if I read any ornithological book about Goshawks, I don’t think I could learn any more.
The training of these birds apparently takes some time but also a lot of emotional and angst-ridden periods that can make you utterly exhausted and sometimes it quite simply seems easier to give up than go on trying. The wildness of the bird – a female called Mabel – is very clear all the way through and its skills in flight and killing are described in the most beautifully written prose imaginable.
Towards the end of the book she meets some people when she is out with Mabel and they share words about some roe deer they have been watching, claiming this is ‘…a real bit of old England still left’.
Helen then proceeds to write about ‘old England’, saying: “The fields where I fly Mabel back in Cambridge are farmed organically, and they are teeming with life. These are not. The big animals are there, it is true; the deer, the foxes, the rabbits; the fields look the same, and the trees, too, but look more carefully and this land is empty. There are few plants other than crops, and few bees, or butterflies, for the soil is dressed and sprayed with chemicals that kill. Ten years ago there were turtle doves on this land. Thirty years ago there were corn buntings and enormous flocks of lapwings. Seventy years ago there were red-backed shrikes, wrynecks and snipe. Two hundred years ago, ravens and black grouse. All of them are gone.”
In other words we have a best-selling book that will be read by many thousands of people, if not millions, that carries with it an important environmental message at the end. Congratulations to Helen Macdonald and of course Mabel, the hawk in question.
UPCOMING EVENTS …
March 17 Final indoor meeting with talk by Paul Bennett on the RSPB Langford Lowlands reserve (starts 7.30pm in the Henmore Room, Visitor Centre)
April 21 Wagtail walk join this annual walk around the site when we try to spot the early spring arrivals, including (if we’re lucky) Yellow Wagtails (meet outside Visitor Centre 6pm)
May 10 Club trip to Drakelow: this Derbyshire Wildlife Trust site is a haven for spring visitors and water birds all year round (meet at Carsington Visitor Centre at 8am; we plan to drive across to the reserve, which is near Burton)
DIVER TAKES OVER FROM GREBE ON RARE WINTER VISITOR ‘SHIFT’
It was a bit like one shift-worker taking over from another when our now-regular winter visitor (though still scarce in Derbyshire generally), the Great Northern Diver, arrived on 6 December – a little later than usual and just a day before the long-staying Black-necked Grebe finally left the reservoir.
December proved a good month with an above-average 91 species noted, while January (with just 82) relied on quality rather than quantity as Whooper Swans made regular appearances, with up to 15 on two dates, a Red Kite showing up on the 4th and Little Egrets again underlining their increasing presence in Derbyshire.
It’s been a good few months for raptors: along with the Red Kite, a highlight was the Goshawk on show on 6 December, while during the same month a Peregrine, up to three Kestrels and a couple of Buzzards were seen at any one time. Several Sparrowhawk displays were also observed.
There was good variety in the gull roost, too, where 400-plus Common Gulls were joined by up to 14 Great Black-backs, nine Herring Gulls, a first winter Mediterranean Gull and, on 14 December, an adult Caspian Gull. Two Yellow-legs have been reported, one of which may well be ‘Brutus’, though the Little Grebes are perhaps getting cleverer at avoiding his attentions as up to six were recorded recently.
Great-crested Grebes are faring better still, with as many as 59 counted in January and, among plentiful wildfowl, the 15 Pintails recorded on 2 December was the best count at Carsington since 1992, the reservoir’s first full year of operation. Five Common Scoter noted on 9 December represented another highlight, and Shelduck were recorded in all three months since the last newsletter.
Coot topped the WeBS poll as usual, with 1,293, followed by a very pleasing 850 Lapwings, 249 Tufted Ducks, 159 Pochard, 140 Mallard, 106 Teal, 76 Wigeon and healthy numbers of Gadwall, Goosander and Goldeneye. Twenty-five Greylags joined 134 Canada Geese in January, while the previous month up to 275 Pink-footed Geese flew through.
Snipe have been seen in very good numbers throughout the period – the maximum count being 27 – and other waders on view were regular Redshanks, Oystercatcher, Woodcock, Golden Plover, Curlew and, unusual for this time of year, a Common Sandpiper. Kingfisher also popped up to be counted.
The site-rare Yellowhammer made two appearances in late December and early January, and a Skylark was a welcome sight on New Year’s Day. Up to three Ravens have been aloft, 16 Siskin were seen between Christmas and New Year, and up to 18 Meadow Pipits were making the most of the exposed mud when water levels were at their lowest.
Circular walks are a good way of comprehensively checking passerine numbers, and one such ramble on 4 December demonstrated healthy populations of our resident species – as 104 Blackbirds, 77 Redwings, 51 Goldfinch, 48 Wrens, 41 Chaffinches, 40 Long-tailed Tits and Tree Sparrows, and between 20 and 30 Bullfinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits were recorded. Several Willow and Coal Tits, Treecreepers, Nuthatches and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers were also noted.
FANCY A VISIT TO DRAKELOW IN THE SPRING?
As you see from the events notice on the previous page, we are planning a club trip to the excellent Drakelow reserve, managed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, on Sunday, May 10.
Drakelow sits right by the River Trent and consists of gravel pits and riverside meadow, so is an important link in a chain of wetland reserves in the Trent valley. It’s hardly surprising there’s a wide range of wildfowl to be seen, together with a large colony of Cormorants, while the meadows also attract passage birds and nesting summer visitors such as Reed and Sedge Warblers. When the weather warms up, it’s also a great site for butterflies and dragonflies.
This is a much more local venue than usual, and it may prove the first of more regular trips, which have rather faded off our calendar in recent years. As part of this potential trend, we also intend to use a convoy of cars, since the coaches usually required for longer-range locations have become prohibitively expensive. If you’re interested in going along on this trip, please call or e-mail Gary Atkins (on 01335 370773 / firstname.lastname@example.org).
THOUGHTS OF SPRING BRING HOPE OF VISITING (or nesting!) OSPREYS
The first signs of spring are evident on the site and weather permitting we’ll all notice the first flowers, early insects and returning summer birds in the coming weeks.
Although we look forward to the longer days the arrival of spring means an end to the winter work we undertake around the site and there is always a last surge of activity to get the woodlands and grasslands in good shape before the bird breeding season kicks off.
Anyone who has visited the site over the last few years will be very aware that of all the spring arrivals the one which tops our wish list is the Osprey – and the nest platforms and perching poles which were erected by the fantastic volunteer rangers in 2011 are testament to this. Since then we’ve had good and bad Osprey years but the early signs have been very encouraging, with birds taking advantage of these water-side perches to rest and eat their catch.
It’s always been an ambition of ours to build a third nesting platform here on site, but the relatively narrow strip of land around the water’s edge and the lack of quiet, undisturbed locations that are accessible to the necessary machinery has made the installation seem like a pipe dream.
Those who know the site may have noticed a mature oak tree on the banks of Fishtail Creek which has slowly been undermined by erosion. The tree was once part of Lendow Wood, a narrow strip of ancient oak trees which is now divided by the water. Given the age and significance of these trees, it was felt it would be a great shame to let the tree fall.
When plans were drawn up to use arborists to scale the tree and take some of the heavier and overhanging boughs from the crown of the tree, we realised that presented the perfect opportunity and the right location to install the third Osprey platform.
An initial plan to erect the platform was hampered by the recent bad weather, but on Sunday 1 February the platform (complete with artificial nest) was winched to the top of the tree and fixed into place. This area of the site, relatively remote from the busier car parks, has been a popular spot with visiting birds and the location of this tree by the water’s edge is the ideal place for Ospreys to rest undisturbed.
Anyone wanting to view the platform can do so from the opposite side of Fishtail Creek; it is most easily observed through the rides we have cut through the Sitch Plantation. We’ll continue to encourage our visitors to report any sightings to the Carsington Bird Club and to the volunteer rangers. Given the more remote location of this platform, sightings reported by walkers and casual visitors may prove invaluable.
John Matkin, Seven Trent Water
ROWAN BERRIES ON THE MENU!
The club’s committee decided some time ago to spend a small proportion of its funds on habitat creation at Carsington Water, in an attempt to increase the number of species visiting the reservoir, particularly in the winter time.
Berry-bearing trees was the decision, since this would help as an extra food source during the potentially difficult time for birds over the winter, and would be particularly appreciated by winter thrushes and rarer visitors such as Waxwings, which do not readily call in on the otherwise brilliant birding location.
As a result, a block of rowan trees is being purchased and planted. It will take a little time for the trees to bed in and grow before producing the bright red berries that are so popular with Redwings and Fieldfares as well as our domestic ‘mavis’ species, Mistle and Song Thrush and Blackbirds … not forgetting the chance of Waxwings when we have one of our occasional explosions of this highly attractive winter visitor.