No 2 / May 2009
As I write this in early May, a Great Northern Diver was still popping up around the reservoir. It will already have seen
many summer migrants arrive and by now will probably have made its own exit. This period of comings and goings – when
changeable weather can send some unusual migrants our way – is possibly the most exciting period for birdwatching at
Carsington. Sightings come thick and fast, but don’t assume that everyone else makes the effort to record them, so you
don’t need to … please keep recording what you see!
It is also the time when members tend to go on holiday most regularly and with the credit crunch, maybe we’re beginning
to see a trend towards more holidays taken in the UK and less abroad. Passenger numbers at the three major London
airports are down, and the recession does seems to be taking effect. Personally, I’ve experienced the disappointment of
trying to book a birdwatching trip to the Arctic with two companies that ultimately had to conclude they simply didn’t have
enough clients to run them economically.
These are probably two of the best known and most important carriers, one stating the trip was their ‘Blue Riband’ holiday
that had previously run consistently for 17 years. So perhaps the scene is set for more birdwatching ‘within these shores’
– yet nowhere in the world can offer more opportunities, and more guides to help you find the birds. There is a plethora of
books detailing ‘Where to watch …’ and ‘Best Birdwatching Sites’, local ornithological logs (our own excellent annual report
included) and information leaflets from reserves covering widely differing birding habitats.
Add to this the latest ‘what’s about?’ information on the internet (or even pagers) and nowhere on the planet can it be
easier to find birds than here on our own doorsteps. This, of course, also means more visitors to Derbyshire in general
and Carsington in particular so we in turn can help those strangers to our area. All we need is good weather (and I believe
this summer’s long-range forecast is favourable) to make the most of birding in the UK …. so much so, in fact, that I’ve
convinced myself and my family to pull out of a holiday to the Algarve and book a week in Scotland and another in Devon!
Two different ends of our fantastic country – and, with luck, two good lists!
SUMMER ARRIVALS SWARM INTO CARSINGTON
It’s that exciting time of year when early spring weather may blow in just about anything as birds begin their migration
journeys, and when the date-stamp comes out to log the earliest arrivals of those birds choosing this area as their summer
retreat and, hopefully, breeding ground.
First across this imaginary finish line were Sand Martins on 12 March, the same day the first Chiffchaff was heard (though
up to five were singing just three days later). A Wheatear arrived on the 22nd, followed by the first Swallow a day later, and
a Blackcap on the 30th.
A Swift lived up to its name by turning up 8 April, a week earlier than the species had ever been logged before at
Carsington Water, and beating House Martins to the site by three days. Other April arrivals included Common and Lesser
Whitethroats, both recorded on the 19th, a Pied Flycatcher that was heard singing in Hall Wood on the 20th, and a Garden
Warbler noted the following day.
Both Rock and Water Pipits were recorded in March on the dam wall, a favourite with White Wagtails, though they also
took a liking to Stones Island. A maximum of only eight Yellow Wagtails were seen this year. One of the latest migrants
logged was a Cuckoo, noted on 18 May.
By contrast, two Hobbys had turned up earlier than usual on their migration, on April 15, but a Honey Buzzard was
perhaps the star raptor turn that month, making only a fleeting visit before being escorted away by two Common Buzzards.
Common by name and nature, up to 13 Buzzards were seen in the air at the same time a month earlier, when a pair of
Peregrines was also spotted over Hall Wood. Meanwhile, Red Kites – an increasingly regular sight at Carsington – were
seen four times during May.
April’s wader passage was poor, but a total of six Avocets made up for the lack of variety – though Black-tailed Godwits
were seen in both March and April, their Bar-tailed cousin cropped up in April, and a Woodcock was flushed near Paul
Stanley Hide in March, when the largest Curlew flock seen numbered 44.
By May, easterly winds brought in Turnstone, Sanderling and Ringed Plover, but this month also saw the final departure of
the long-staying Great Northern Divers – by this time in their summer plumage. Two months earlier, they had been joined
by a single Red-throated cousin (divers must be giving Carsington a good travel report!) which gave little chance of views
as it stayed just 50 minutes.
May highlights also included the arrival of Spotted Flycatchers and a Mandarin seen regularly at Penn Carr. After a good
tern passage, with Common, Arctic, Black and Sandwich varieties all logged, a determined Common Tern remained on
the Watersports pontoon having had to watch Black-headed Gulls take over the tern raft. Nevertheless, it again looked
unlikely Carsington would be able to claim any tern chicks.
By mid-May breeding was under way elsewhere, however, with five broods of Mallard, two of Moorhen, one, maybe two
Oystercatcher broods and one successful Redshank nest all being monitored, along with active nest boxes containing
apparently successful Great and Willow Tits.
BIRD IN FOCUS: RED KITE
Milvus Milvus – or Red Kite – was seen several times at Carsington in May, which is a reflection of an astounding
conservation success story that brought this beautiful bird of prey back from the brink of extinction in Britain. In the Middle
Ages it was one of the commonest birds in towns and villages, and protected by Royal Decree for its value as a
scavenger, the refuse collector of its day. Ironically, it is today once again protected by law and, thankfully, seems to be
thriving with what’s reckoned to be over 1,000 breeding pairs in the UK.
Wales remains this graceful species’ main stronghold, but there are growing populations in England – notably in the
Chilterns, Yorkshire and Oxfordshire – and in Scotland, mainly in Dumfries and Galloway. Non-breeding kites, though,
could be seen just about anywhere – including reservoirs in Derbyshire!
It’s been a long road back following a Europe-wide wave of persecution, especially in the late 19th century, as landowners
wrongly viewed kites as game-hunting vermin: this saw its extinction in England and Scotland, with just a few pairs
remaining in the ancient oakwoods of mid-Wales. Active protection to redress the decline began in 1903 but progress was
painfully slow for various reasons.
Apart from persecution (usually poisoning) by gamekeepers, as kites became rarer they became a target for egg collectors
and taxidermists. Also, the specific area inhabited by the sparse remaining population had relatively poor food availability
– particularly during and after the myxomatosis outbreak that devastated the rabbit population – which in turn resulted in
limited breeding success.
Furthermore, genetics were playing a part as it was later proven (by DNA analysis!) that the entire Welsh population was
descended from a single female! Consequently, the population did not exceed 20 pairs until the 1960s, but as they spread
to new territories at lower altitudes it became clear more productive habitats were behind their accelerated success – and
re-introduction programmes began in England and Scotland.
Anyone who has seen this majestic bird in flight will agree that the programme has enriched our natural environment …
those that have not should head for Wales, or the M40 that runs through the Chilterns, or Yorkshire’s Harewood estate, or
the Galloway Kite Trail in Scotland. It would be well worth it!
DANNY ANSWERS ARCTIC CALL … BUT BIRDS KINDLY STAY PUT AT CARSINGTON!
Prizewinning photographer Danny Green should have given the last indoor talk in March but at the last minute had to step
in for a business partner as guide for a trip to the Arctic. Apologies to those who turned up especially to see him, but it
could not be helped. Instead, CBC Chairman Peter Gibbon stepped into the breach with a talk on a trip to Shetland/Fair
Isle. Some of the audience had been there and one couple had a son living on the most northerly Shetland isle, so there
was plenty of interest in the striking scenery and huge birding interest of this remote corner of Britain. When the indoor
meetings begin again in September, the subject will take us even further, to the most famous wildlife islands of all, the
So to the big outdoors nearer to home – and those attending the first summer walk on 21 April had fresh, dry conditions
and found there was more insect life than birds on display on and around Stones Island – though two of the long-staying
Great Northern Divers were seen clearly along with a single Shelduck. Yellow Wagtails are often a feature of this walk,
but only Pied showed themselves this time, while summer migrants included House and Sand Martins and Swallows in
good numbers. Little Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew were also on view, and a Snipe and Common
Tern were seen by some.
The Dawn Chorus walk, braved by 16 club members prepared to rise in the middle of the night to make a 4.30am start,
brought the usual early spring arrivals – including Chiffchaff, Garden and Willow Warblers, Blackcap and Whitethroat –
plus an excellent view of an early-morning fox trying his luck on the shore just opposite the Wildlife Centre. Whimbrel and
Dunlin were among the waders spotted over breakfast in the centre.
May’s walk, from Millfields, is commonly called the ‘warbler walk’ and it lived up to its name though again it was another
species that was the real star when a Tawny Owl was spotted being mobbed by four smaller birds – a Blackbird, Wren,
Long-tail Tit and Willow Tit.
FINAL MONTH TO SUBMIT THOSE PRIZE-WINNING PHOTOS!
May heralded the start of ‘Compose Carsington’ – a nature photography competition to highlight the beauty of the reservoir
and its wildlife. As we enter June any competitors have only a few weeks left to submit their entries.
The competition is open to amateurs as well as professionals so don’t waste any time getting out and about to find those
winning shots. Knowledge of the area will definitely be a huge advantage to entrants who know where to find the most
popular spots for wildlife.
There are a number of exciting prizes being awarded in several categories, and judging will take place soon after the
competition closes on 30 June. Our star judge, Ben Osborne, will be casting his eye over the entrants to help pick the
best of the best. His spellbinding shot that won the 2007 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award was a rich mixture of
movement and abstract composition so bear this in mind for the water category.
Project assistant Michaela Hancock and I are also planning some photographic tuition workshops to complement the
competition. Keep an eye out for these in order to pick up some tips for any late entries to the competition. I’d one again
like to thank the Carsington Bird Club for their generous donations to the prize-list and wish any entrants the best of luck.
All the details are on www.rspb.org.uk/composecarsington.
Chris Johnstone – Aren’t Birds Brilliant! Project Officer
VOLUNTEERING PROVIDES TWO-WAY BENEFITS
Severn Trent Water’s band of volunteers do, we hope, get fulfilment from the activities they are able to undertake for us at
Carsington, and certainly it’s a two-way street for us as the volunteer rangers play an invaluable role in helping to maintain
and develop all of our public access sites. In 2008, 649 duties (totalling 3,205 hours) were performed by STW volunteers
at our sister Derbyshire reservoirs – Carsington Water and Ogston.
In July 2008 we began recording and compiling data to assess the financial savings that volunteer rangers help Severn
Trent Water to achieve, and in the succeeding six months the volunteer rangers’ time amounted to an equivalent value of
£10,941. That’s almost £ 2,000 per month, or £60 every day – valuable in every sense.
Rangers carry out a number of important tasks at our sites including conservation work and site maintenance/
improvements to assisting at special events and open days. Conservation takes in the widest range of activity – from
woodland and island work, and grassland management to collecting seeds and building objects as varied as bird feeders,
hedgehog boxes and dry-stone-walls. Volunteers are involved in vital maintenance tasks such as erosion control,
vegetation control and dead hedging, and maintaining the miles of track around the site.
As well as helping out with open days, and serving as well-informed guides on wildlife walks (not forgetting the twiceweekly
duties alongside the RSPB project officers managing the Aren’t Birds Brilliant! initiative), volunteers even found time to raise some charity cash themselves – by staging a car wash in aid of Children in Need. Yes, variety truly is the spice of life for the Carsington volunteer ranger.
Rose Day, STW Ranger
WELCOME TO NEW MEMBERS
The club has had a number of new members over the last several months. We hope they are enjoying the outdoor
activities at such an excellent ‘home’ venue, will join some of the club’s forthcoming coach trips and will enjoy the fabulous
insight into the natural world we get from local speakers during our winter indoor season.
Those new members for 2008/09 include: Kay Billings, Quarndon; S Daffin and S Mason, Chesterfield; Roger Jaques of
Somercotes; David and Sue Edmonds, Ashbourne; Don Newing, Belper; Bill Samson, Matlock; Ed Whiting of Cheddleton
in Staffs; Peter Wright, Darley Dale and S Wright of Mansfield … Welcome one and all!