No1 / February 2009
Maybe a bit late – but a happy new year to everybody. I hope 2009 is your best year ever for birds and I’m sure many of you are already well under way with lists of birds seen inDerbyshire,UKor worldwide. If so, can I remind you of the value in sharing your knowledge by publicly recording what you’ve seen, no matter how ‘routine’ you might think it is. The RSPB’s national Big Garden Bird Watch, for example, with 900,000 entries in 2008, is a valuable repository of records. Many other organisations, like Derbyshire Ornithological Society and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, need raw data – as does Carsington Bird Club itself. There are log books in the hides and, if you forget to use those, there’s nothing easier than doing so when you get home, on the club’s wonderful website, run so ably by Richard Pittam. Expanding our records is a very worthwhile new year’s resolution – give it a go!
Our AGM in January reported an impressive list of achievements for such a small club – including two trips, speakers for six indoor meetings and five outdoor walks led by committee members, together with regular bird feeding, consistent recording, plus our annual report and four newsletters. Our stock of bird boxes increases and our relationship with Severn Trent remains strong and mutually beneficial.
Not so positive is our own credit crunch, with a steady decline in members and a smaller-than-ideal committee. My hope for 2009 is extra resources – more members and funds and a few extra committee volunteers! Please renew your subscription as early as possible (a renewal slip was enclosed with the last newsletter, but there are still many yet to renew) and try to encourage friends and relations to join up.
My next writing task will be the 2008 Chairman’s review for our annual report – a useful and impressive document, I’m sure you’d agree, which is widely recognised for its valuable content and polished appearance.
As it won’t be out for a while yet, I’d like to pre-empt my review by mentioning those who put so much into our club. Roger Carrington’s recording expertise is well known, but his survey work, bird feeding activity and his important liaison work with ST are also crucial. Paul and Steph Hicking not only keep our meetings in order but liaise with other organisations on our behalf; they led what is becoming an annual nightjar hunt for members around Clumber Park, and Paul has also instituted an impressive bird box scheme. Gary Atkins efficiently edits and distributes our quarterly newsletters, and looks for opportunities to promote CBC. This quartet also provides the arrangements whereby people can enjoy the rich experience of the Dawn Chorus walk each May.
Peter Oldfield, despite a hip operation, organised two trips (it would have been three but for lack of demand). All of the club’s trips offer the chance of seeing birds in a variety of habitats (see application form for the next trip – to Bempton Cliffs in June). Richard Pittam ensures the website gets better each year, while membership is efficiently administered by Maria Harwood, and Pat and Brian Wain. Thanks to all of you.
DIVERS MAKE IT A LONG STAY – AND WATERFOWL, GULL NUMBERS SWELL
Winter visitors have included up to four Great Northern Divers, a record number for the site, while Scaup and Common Scoter have also been regular between November and February. A Great White Egret was noted in December, and its cousin the Grey Heron surprised onlookers the following month by swallowing a rat whole!
There have been sizeable flocks of water birds, waders and gulls keeping the counters busy. Up to 545 Lapwings in January was gratifyingly higher than in the same month last year, while maximum counts of ducks include 844 Tufted, 406 Wigeon, 308 Pochard, 152 Mallard and more than 50 Teal and Gadwall, with Pintail, Shelduck, Red-breasted Merganser and good numbers of Goosander and Goldeneye also on show. Over 60 Cormorants and Great-crested Grebe were recorded in November, and a month later Little Grebes totalled 105. Coots, meanwhile, were numerous once again, reaching a maximum of 2,175 on 16 November.
Cold weather and the use of hawks at a nearby refuse tip drove down the numbers of large gulls, but there was still an impressive roost on 13 January, when 3,000 Black-headed, 600 Common and 500 Lesser Black-backs were seen along with 30 Herring, three Greater Black-backed and two Yellow-legs. Caspian, Ring-billed,Mediterraneanand Glaucous Gulls have also been noted over the winter so far.
Raptors were less prolific, but Buzzards and Peregrines are regular, with November highlights including a Merlin and a Red Kite noted in late January. An impromptu path is being beaten to the door of a pair of Tawny Owls but as this threatens a traditional breeding sight, please try to resist the temptation and stick to the main path! Up to 80 Redwings and 50 Fieldfares were recorded, with Siskin, Long-tail Tits and Lesser Redpoll seen in smaller flocks. Kingfishers delight observers most days, while four Blackcaps and a single Chiffchaff over-wintered.
VISITING DARWIN’S TREASURE TROVE IS JUST MAGICAL
Last October, my wife Lilian and I enjoyed the trip of a lifetime to mainland Ecuadorand the Galapagos Islands. Putting the experience into words isn’t easy, but the current media focus on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin – and the recent receipt of a 45-page report from the trip leader, with comprehensive lists and photographs – have encouraged me to attempt a brief summary.
Galapagos wildlife is truly magical and its total indifference to humans allows leisurely observation at amazingly close quarters. Be reassured, though, strict rules exist to ensure the animals are not disturbed. Visitors can only arrive by boats on specified routes and timescales, on specific islands, accompanied by an official guide, walking restricted paths for an allotted period of time, and there are vast areas where no access is allowed.
I stress these restrictions since media coverage suggests tourism is damaging the island environment – and while the local population increase to service tourism is having an impact, the funds earned are improving human lives and financing scientific research. That said, the animals dictate the pace and, with a sea lion giving birth on the path in front of you, a detour is the only option! Sea lions and penguins seem to enjoy swimming around these very clumsy humans, shoals of very colourful fish seem to laugh at our ineptitude, and flat-footed Boobies manage to perch on narrow branches while flipper-wearing people find it difficult even to stand up.
The “tameness” of the birdlife was exhilarating and we had magnificent views of over 70 species, missing just two of the rarerDarwinfinches. Frigate Birds were ever-present over, and on, our 16-berth boat, and petrel species were a constant identification challenge in varied weather conditions. Dolphins led the way, bow-riding on several occasions, and pilot whales also escorted us. Apparently both species enjoy our high-pitched sounds of excitement as we hang over the bow to improve our view of their gymnastics.
Having been fascinated by iguanas as a schoolboy, I was thrilled to see them in such close proximity and the giant tortoises lived up to their name. Turtles could clearly be heard breathing among the atmospheric mangrove swamps, where sharks and rays were also seen but the birds were always the focus of attention.
Where Galapagos lived up to, and exceeded, our expectations, our 11 days in mainlandEcuadorwas an experience we simply had not anticipated. Over 300 bird species presented themselves in glorious, fabulous and, at times, unreal colour: Unimaginable, even with the time spent on research before the trip.
At 12,000 feet above sea level – so, walking very slowly – we saw two Andean Condors and two rare Black-faced Ibis. Between there and the Amazon basin we saw 50 hummingbird species, one with a bill longer than its body, another with a tail twice its body length. Among many surreal moments, one dawn walk took us to the only street-lamp in the area to witness the influx of birds feeding on an accumulation of moths and insects while local buses and trucks gathered to take people to work. The ‘Cock-of-the Rock’ lek was spectacular but almost eclipsed by a forest trek with our guide calling out the normally shy and elusive Antpittas (Yellow-breasted, Giant and Moustached) by pet-names and many endearments – with the added help of some worms!
In the Amazon, we stayed at the Napo Wildlife Centre, owned and run with understandable pride by the local population. Access requires a five-hour journey by motorised, then paddled canoes, but the location is idyllic – so remote yet so comfortable, with wildlife never far away. “Gunshots” heard in the night proved to be territorial tail-slapping on the water by a giant fish, while the loss of the fresh water supply one day was caused by a Cayman chewing through the supply pipe.
A scary but satisfying morning on a small platform above the rainforest canopy yielded a procession of colourful parrots, vultures, hawks, numerous small songsters and rather noisier Howler Monkeys. A silent canoe trip at dusk revealed Caymans, Fishing-bats, Night-monkeys, large flying insects and moths. Two huge snakes dangling from a tree resulted in rapid reverse paddling, and an increasing frog chorus and illumination by glow-worms lent further magic to the experience. Sadly, we missed out on Giant Otters and saw only the tracks of Tapirs.
Be warned, airports are boring places, insects bite, sun burns and wildlife identification is tricky with no European counterpart – but for a truly exciting experience and 400 bird species in three weeks, this would be hard to beat!
Roger & Lilian Carrington
ATTENTION ALL HOT SHOTS!
The diversity of Carsington Water in spring and summer time is the focus of a photographic competition being organised by the RSPB and Severn Trent with support from several sponsors, including the Bird Club, offering three memberships and a Collins field guide as prizes. Entries must be created and submitted between 1 May and 30 June, and in one or more of five categories – Birds and Wildlife, Flora, Landscapes, Water and under-16s.
An overall winner will be drawn from the category winners. There is a fee of £2 per entrant, and the panel of judges will sit to select their winners on 17 July. For queries or more information, contact the RSPB’s ABB representative at Carsington, Chris Johnstone (firstname.lastname@example.org).
NEST BOX SCHEME EXTENDED TO CARSINGTON CHURCHYARD
For the past 12 years CBC and Severn Trent have recorded and added to the nest box scheme around the reservoir, during which time we have been able to record some important species such as Redstart, Nuthatch and our signature bird, Tree Sparrow. Happily, we have now been able to expand our recording area by taking up Carsington village’s offer of setting up a new nest box scheme (which is dedicated to the memory of one of our members, Betty Walker) within the churchyard.
On8 February 2009 the first seven new boxes were placed within the grounds at the rear of the church – an exciting area as its sits against the mature woodland on the hillside; it will be interesting to see which species takes advantage of the new boxes.
WORK UNDER WAY TO MAKE A BETTER HABITAT FOR ‘RATTY’
Water voles are one of Carsington Water’s wildlife highlights. This delightful creature – which lovers of literature as well as wildlife know, courtesy of ‘Ratty’ from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows – is relatively rare these days, but can be found living along the banks of Carsington Water and at ponds and streams around the site, where tall grasses or emergent vegetation, such as sedges and rushes, provide cover and much needed sources of food and nesting material.
With increased tree growth along watercourse banks, however, the quality of water vole habitat has declined. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s (DWT) water vole project, which is funded by the SITA Trust, has highlighted the importance of Carsington Water for the species and DWT staff has been working with Severn Trent Water ranger and volunteer ranger teams to enhance water vole habitat at the site. In February, a number of trees along the Henmore Brook and around the settlement ponds were coppiced to let in more light, which in turn will encourage the growth of vegetation along banks.
Fencing on adjacent farmland along the brook is in a poor state of repair and the Trust’s project will also fund replacement fencing which will protect water vole habitat from grazing livestock. Some additional new ponds are also planned to create further water vole habitat.
Water vole populations along the Henmore Brook and at Carsington Water are some of the last remaining populations in the Dove catchment. Protecting these populations is essential for water vole recovery in this
catchment. If you do see a water vole at Carsington Water please inform one of the rangers. Records can also be sent to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust via their website www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk.
Helen Perkins, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust
DID YOU KNOW?
A possible future option for members with computers is to receive the newsletter by e-mail, which would reduce the club’s postage bill and may be a preferable way of storing it. Can you inform editor Gary Atkins (see contact box below) if you would prefer to receive it ‘electronically’ or if have any thoughts on the proposal.
The wildlife centre has a new high-resolution camera/CCTV to make wildlife sightings that little bit easier and clearer for visitors to Carsington Water. This camera – with its ‘punk’ hairdo of long spikes to keep larger birds from roosting on it – can be operated by joystick from the centre. High-resolution colour cameras fitted to bird boxes feed live nesting-time images to visitors to the visitor centre restaurant.
The well-regarded CBC website was ever more popular in 2008, with 64,710 ‘hits’ – 13,635 (or 22 per cent) more than 2007. Virtually every area was visited more often, the biggest gain being the definitive bird list up 176 per cent. Over a third of the hits were for the online sightings board, and a box of chocolates went to Margaret and Ray Perry for the most sightings (49) posted (apart from the collective efforts of RSPB/ABB volunteers).