No4 / November 2008
I imagine many of you feel, like me, that the year has once more flown by, and the weather as I write is decidedly wintry – but there are plenty of compensations in the bird world.
I have read on our website that Great Northern Divers are back again (read the reservoir report below for a lot more highlights over the autumn). It’s also great to see flocks of winter passerines moving in – like Redwings, Fieldfare, Siskin and Redpolls – and there are signs that it may prove to be another Waxwing year, which would be fantastic. Does anyone recall the large Waxwing flock opposite the Whitworth Institute in Darley Dale some years ago, the same year, I think, when I went on to Carsington to see the long-staying Great Grey Shrike.
There is also Cromford’s Hawfinch bonanza, which gives it national status, and there definitely seem enough large flocks of Starlings for another Kirk Ireton-like show this year! And finally, with the clocks going back, I have been able to combine dog walking with Barn Owl watching around 5pm; on one evening an owl fly just ten feet above my entranced dog … definitely one of the benefits of the shortening days!
After such cheer I will come down to earth and mention our own continuing credit crunch. I have never been good at creative accounting but I have had one revenue-raising idea (that my fellow committee members usually pass off with a laugh or two), which I am bringing up now – during the pantomime season! I am serious, though, when I say I’d like to see a CBC team on the TV quiz show, ‘Eggheads’? I’ve not watched it that often, but there’s always one of the resident ‘experts’ whose face carries a smirk I’d love to wipe off! And on the rare occasions the challengers are successful, they do walk off with thousands of pounds.
It would seem appropriate for a club of birdwatchers to take on the ‘Eggheads’, so would any members fancy joining me in assembling a team to see if we can put some additional finance back into our coffers? ! If I can find another four members who would like to give it a go, I can investigate what’s involved. And even if we didn’t win, it would give the club some great publicity.
Finally, I hope to see you at our Christmas Party night on 16 December, which will feature Nick Brown (an officer with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust) talking about the Derby Cathedral Peregrines. But if I don’t see you then, may I wish you all a happy Christmas and good New Year on behalf of all the committee.
SUMMER VISITORS DEPART, WHILE OTHERS (DIVERS INCLUDED) START WINTER HOLIDAY
The best September species total for several years included a Honey Buzzard flying over Sheepwash car park – part of a large movement throughEnglandaround that time – a Grey Phalarope which touched down briefly and a pair of juvenile Shags that stayed around for 2-3 weeks.
A single bird made it three months in a row for Black Tern, and 41 Pink-footed Geese were seen flying north-east on 23 September. The highest count of Coot reached 1,292 on the 14th.
Another bird displaying large movements from the continent is Waxwings, and while only one has been noted at Carsington – on 16 November – we can hope for a treat if they increase their numbers in Derbyshire.
Among long-staying migrants, the prize goes to two Chiffchaffs on 21 October, though House Martins, Swallows and Wheatear were all noted earlier that month, and two Willow Warblers were recorded as late as 19 September. The autumn/winter movements brought both Yellow and White Wagtails to their favoured spot – the dam wall – along with Rock Pipit, Lesser Redpoll, Brambling, Linnet and Siskin, while the flocks of roosting Starlings are steadily growing in size (recalling memories of the massive roost at Kirk Ireton two years ago).
Great Northern Divers seem to pop up at Carsington most years, and they duly returned in October. They often stay around a fair while, too, and between two and four were noted at various times right through to late November. A juvenile Gannet – not recorded since 2000 – flew through on 29 October, and winter visiting ducks have so far included Common Scoter (up to eight in early November), Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser, while Gadwall, Pintail and Shoveler are recorded regularly among a good variety of waterfowl.
Waders seen during this period included Ruff, Curlew, Knot, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Redshank and, during October, both Golden and Ringed Plovers. The sizeable gull roost (up to 3,000 Lesser Black-backed and 1,200 Black-headed) has included some rarities, including an adult Ring-billed Gull on several evenings in November, when five Yellow-Legs were also recorded and a Mediterranean Gull twice reprised a single appearance in October.
After an excellent raptor month in September – when Merlin, Osprey and Hobby joined the more regular Kestrels and Buzzards – October was quieter, though Peregrines were often seen and are joining the ‘regular’ band.
CLUB MEMBERS ‘TRAVEL’ THE WORLD TO SEE FANTASTIC BIRDS!
Club events have seen both real and virtual journeys around some of the most interesting birding territories. The real one was just a few days ago – to the Wildlife and Wetland Trust’s Welney site in The Fens, when 20 members were rewarded after enduring six hours on the road and a bitterly cold day with 48 species including one of Welney’s stars, the Whooper Swan, plus two glimpses of a more unexpected visitor, a Hen Harrier.
The virtual trips to more exotic locations were made during the first three indoor meetings of the year. Firstly, Paul Bingham took us toSouth Africain September, and then Andrew Sherwin came along to Hognaston Village Hall in October to describe – and show – the wide diversity of bird life on show inGoaonIndia’s west coast. And earlier this month, Susan and Allan Parker displayed their considerable photographic talents with a thorough look at the birds encountered on the nearer-to-home (and slightly less exotic) northNorfolkcoast.
Further south inNorfolkis where to find Welney. Snow had fallen overnight on 23 November when the travellers set off, but not enough to affect the trip, which turned out to be something of a ‘curate’s egg’. While it was disappointing that three of the main hides were out of commission due to flooding (including one at the far end of the reserve, the area where Bewick Swans were most likely to be found), there were some interesting wetland (and other) birds on show – including Black-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover, Pintail, Pochard, Goosander, and Stonechat, not forgetting the harrier and swans in good numbers. And the day was topped off with the sight of a collection of ducks and swans in a feeding frenzy at dusk in front of the main observation hide.
CLOSE DOS LINK BOOSTS WINTER FEEDING FOR BIRDS
Derbyshire Ornithological Society (DOS) are the county bird club and are one of the organisations with which we work closely. Many CBC members are also members of DOS and, likewise, several DOS committee members have been CBC members since the club’s earliest days. As well as holding an annual joint meeting, we have a nominee (Paul Hicking) on the DOS Committee and both clubs are represented on the Carsington Water User Liaison Committee.
In 2006, DOS allocated some funds to a winter feeding programme and ran a successful pilot scheme at Hilton Nature Reserve (a Derbyshire Wildlife Trust site). Last winter, they extended the pilot to include similar arrangements at Carr Vale, Drakelow and here at Carsington Water. We utilised their grant of £75 towards our feeding station adjacent to the Paul Stanley hide.
In the present economic situation, any and all funding is most welcome and we are delighted that DOS would again like to assist us during the coming winter. CBC and DOS share the view that conservation bodies stand a much greater chance of making a difference for wildlife and wild places by working together – and this is a good example of the benefit of such collaboration.
SLEEP WELL, HEDGEHOGS!
With a duty of care to wildlife around the site – and hedgehogs now officially listed as a species needing greater protection and conservation – Severn Trent Water’s ranger team has launched enthusiastically into a programme to provide houses in which these endearing mammals can successfully hibernate and breed.
The work began at the suggestion of Rose Day who, after a ‘hog’ sighting on StonesIsland, co-opted the help of volunteer rangers to fill the gap in the hedgehog housing market by building some starter homes for the delightful creatures that do so much good as natural pest controllers. However, starter homes were not good enough either for Carsington Water’s Erinaceus europaeus population or for the volunteers.
Instead, they believed what was needed was a design for an up-market, insulated, air conditioned home, of wooden construction, suitable for hibernation and family life that would attract even the most particular of potential occupants! This was Rose’s cue to trawl the worldwide web for best-practice advice: each box (she read on expert websites) should be positioned ideally facing south or south-east, to avoid cold winter winds, and sitting on roofing felt to stop rising damp. It should be provided with newspaper, straw and leaves inside for insulation and comfort and finally covered with straw and leaves topped with a layer of felt to keep it dry.
The result was a high-quality solution, well in advance of the original starter-home concept. And five of these boxes have now been made and placed in various ‘hidden’ locations around Carsington Water to encourage safe sleeping for hedgehogs wintering on site.
If you happen to see any hedgehogs while visiting Carsington Water please report sightings, either to Rose Day via reception in the visitor centre, or by calling 0121 702 5040.
Hog Log: What you need to know…
There are about a dozen species of hedgehog spread through China, south-east Asia (including New Zealand where it was introduced), Africa and Europe. The hedgehog we see in Britain is the European species which, like its cousins, is part of an ancient family going back perhaps as much as 15 million years.
An adult hedgehog is between 20-30cms long and weighs up to 650g. Their surprisingly long legs (about 10cm) allow them to run as fast as we can walk, and their defining feature is, of course, the spines – actually modified hairs around 3cm long – of which they have between 5,000 and 7,000!
They are mostly nocturnal and eyesight is poor, so they rely on excellent senses of smell and hearing during night-time sorties of up to 3km searching for beetles, caterpillars and earthworms (though slugs, snails, insects and even birds eggs feature in a broad diet). During exceptionally bad weather humans can supplement a hedgehog’s diet with cat or dog food and fresh water – but, remember, never cow’s milk.
Apart from the mating season, hedgehogs lead solitary lives and the female has to raise her 2-6 hoglets by herself from May to September; when they are about six weeks old they leave the nest and go their own way. Life expectancy is around 4-5 years but they may grow as old as 10.
Winter conditions and the increasing lack of food triggers hedgehog hibernation (anytime from November to April) when they breathe only once every few minutes, their heart rate drops from about 190 to just 20 beats per minute and body temperature plummets from a normal 35ºC down to 10ºC – clearly the most dangerous time for hedgehogs.
Anyone wanting further expert information or advice, or details on making your own hedgehog box, should contact The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (Hedgehog House, Dhustone, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 3PL … Tel: 01584 890801)
WHAT’S ON …?
Carsington Bird Club’s programme of indoor meetings programmes at Hognaston village hall will continue with our Christmas party on 16 December, when a buffet is being provided and guest speaker will be Nick Brown of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, describing Derby Cathedral’s nesting Peregrine Falcons. The club’s AGM (followed by a talk) follows in January, with a very varied programme of illustrated talks then continuing through to the spring. The full programme (all at Hognaston village hall, starting at7.30pm, unless otherwise stated) is as follows:
16 December Christmas party (Inc buffet and talk by Nick Brown – entry £2.50)
20 January ‘09 CBC Annual General Meeting (followed by talk on the birds Hognaston Village Hall (7pm)
of Poland by Peter Gibbon)
27 January Committee Meeting Visitor Centre (8pm)
17 February Talk by Phil Straton (Severn Trent’s fishery officer at Carsington)
on ‘Life Under The Surface’
17th March Talk by Danny Green (2007 International Bird Photographer of
the Year): ‘Going North’ – a Journey fromScotlandto theArctic’
Booking often proves essential (c/o 01629 540696) for Severn Trent Water’s busy schedule, which is as follows:
Every Tuesday Aren’t birds brilliant! at Carsington Water: Learn about the site’s Wildlife Centre (10.30-15.30)
and Sunday exciting wildlife; just turn up and use the scopes/bins provided
29 Nov-24 Dec Christmas lunch is served! (call 01629 540363 for more details) Mainsail Restaurant
6-7 December Christmas at Carsington (family fun: watch out for Santa, along Visitor Centre
with Sheepwash Spinners, festive food, crafts + more – charge)
7 December Birdwatching for Beginners (free guided tour; first come, first Visitor Centre (10am-noon)
served; bring boots, suitable clothing, binoculars + notebook)
4 January ’09 Birdwatching for Beginners (see entry above for more details)
17/18 January RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (join in this national project – free) Wildlife Centre (10.30-15.30)
1 & 15 February Birdwatching for Beginners (see entries above for more details)
8 February Trees without leaves (free guided walk to identify trees in winter) Sheepwash car park (10.30)
15 February National nest box weekend (make your own nestbox – drop-in Visitor Centre (11.00-15.30)
workshops, various charges)
ABB! UPDATE: GOOD LUCK, AMANDA – AND WELCOME, CHRIS
RSPB Aren’t Birds Brilliant! project officer Amanda Lynnes recently left to have a baby – and her replacement, Chris Johnstone, is now getting his feet wet (often literally) in this challenging role. Here are his initial thoughts …
It’s true what the rangers told me: The sunlight reflected off the water does make you smile each morning – even if you are heading to work! I’ve been the ABB project officer barely a month, but I’m already getting hooked.
As a youngster, I set up nature trails in my (modest sized) back garden and would show neighbouring kids of about my age around, pointing out worms and beetles, moths and spiders’ webs I’d previously noted the locations of. Telling my visitors interesting facts I’d gleaned from books and magazines gave me real pleasure. (that, and the income I made from a 5p entry fee!). Now, part of my job is to show people wildlife and to inspire them about the partnership between the RSPB and Severn Trent Water at Carsington. A stroke of luck if you ask me!
With an extensive number of species to show visitors, it is difficult to find yourself without something to talk about during an ABB event. What’s more, local birders bring a wealth of knowledge that I’m just beginning to tap into. Carsington Water seems to have a definite air of magic and rarely disappoints, no matter what the weather.
What makes this fantastic occupation so rewarding is my genuine belief of the value in working in conservation. Describing the RSPB’s campaigns and associated conservation work never gets boring; I’ve never had a job in which I have believed so strongly in the topics and issues at hand – both locally and globally. Local environments depend on thousands, if not millions of tiny interacting factors. These, in turn, link into global environments and it quickly becomes apparent that working to save a species in a far-off country is something to care about.
In the meantime, I intend to be humbled by the ever-changing wildlife and the work carried out at Carsington Water and the input from volunteers and local groups. I must thank Amanda, of course, from whom I’ve inherited a strong foundation and partnership ethos. Her team of award-winning volunteers have ensured the ABB! project here at Carsington has moved from strength to strength. I know how much time she dedicated to her work and how lucky the project is to have so many active volunteers and supporters. It’s my aim to maintain this momentum and to increase awareness of this fabulous site and its wildlife.
DID YOU KNOW?
The club website, administered so ably by Richard Pittam continues to make great strides, with ‘hits’ during the three months from August to October totalling more than 14,000 – up 17 per cent since the same period last year. Most popular is the current sightings board, which rose 26 per cent to reach 5,404 – people really want to know what’s around before they trek to the reservoir itself – and the other highest percentage increases were the newsletter (up 56 per cent, and now being accessed online by members and non-members alike) and the definitive bird list – up a massive 72 per cent (due, Richard believes, to increased awareness of the page and links provided to bird descriptions).
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At this hungry time for birds, one of our members is recommending Johnson-Ladygrove Ltd of Two Dales, near Matlock as an outlet from which to buy bird food economically (and even more so with the 10 per cent discount available to CBC members). Peanuts, fat balls, sunflower hearts and a range of seeds are available, we are told, at prices up to 50 per cent cheaper than most on-line stores. To enquire, call 01629 733342.
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And away from Carsington, national papers reported a concern by experts at St Andrews University that songbirds living in cities may die out because they are having to compete with deafening noise, or opting to sing after dark when they become more ready prey to predators: singing (too loudly or at night), it seems, can damage your health … if you’re a Robin, that is! Meanwhile, a female Goshawk is going against the grain and saving birds’ lives: a very lifelike robot UAV (or unmanned air vehicle) with a six-foot wingspan is proving successful in scaring birds away at airports, thereby saving any birds that may get sucked into aircraft engines – and, more importantly, improving safety for the travelling public, too!