No 4 / November 2009
I would like to start by reporting a successful response to our plea in the last newsletter for support for our club’s
committee activities. We have now acquired a new joint membership partnership – Dave and Sue Edmonds – to take over
from the existing triumvirate of Maria Harwood, and Pat and Brian Wain. Firstly may I congratulate Maria, Pat and Brian
for the impeccable service they have given to the club over a number of years; their organisation invariably worked like
clockwork, and helped me enormously in my role as treasurer. By way of thanks, I intend to pass on a token of our
gratitude at our next committee meeting.
On taking over their new duties, Dave and Sue have told me how easy the transition has been due to the previous good
practice and high standards. I now look forward to working closely with Dave and Sue, and must thank them for
volunteering to help.
Less positively, Peter Oldfield’s efforts to drum up enough interest in the planned coach trip to Slimbridge in mid-
November fell on stony ground, and we had to cancel the event. Can we apologise to those regular travellers who had
booked up again for this trip, but the economics simply did not make sense. In fact, the last two trips were also on a knifeedge
in terms of numbers, but Peter managed to salvage those visits by making last-minute rearrangements with bus
companies. This time there were simply too few applying to go.
Peter is now quite rightly questioning the feasibility of running full-day trips and we are having to consider their future. If
anybody has any views on this subject, please feel free to forward them on to me. One member has already suggested
shorter trips closer to home; meanwhile, our well-established programme of summer walks may also benefit from a little
variety in terms of locations and timings.
The number of members joining our indoor meetings at Hognaston Village Hall has also been dwindling in the last year or
two. The 30 that attended the November meeting was our best for a while – which might sound surprising. Certainly the
figure of 21 people at our October evening was especially disappointing as it was our joint meeting with Derbyshire
Ornithological Society. Those that did turn up enjoyed an expert talk on the history of bird-ringing, which is marking its
100th anniversary this year.
After the talk, Bryan Barnacle (Chair of DOS) and I compared notes on the problems in attracting more people to our
respective and collective evenings. I think I convinced him that our joint venture was worth continuing – and I have
already booked the speaker for next October (the Secretary of the Charles Tunnicliffe Society formed in 2005 to celebrate
the life of one of the great bird and natural world artists). I have also managed to fill all other speaker slots for 2010, so we
have a full programme for members to enjoy; please make an effort to get along to one or two during the coming year.
WILDFOWL AND GULL NUMBERS RISE AS AUTUMN TAKES A GRIP
Since the last newsletter, the summer birds have departed, and the autumn migration has, as usual, produced the
unusual. Rounding off 2009 breeding, the disappointing year for grebes was offset to some extent by two late Great-
Crested broods in August, and two even later Little Grebe broods in September.
The latest records for our summer visitors included a Wheatear on 2 October, a House Martin two days later, and both
Blackcap and Chiffchaff recorded as late as 7 October.
Meanwhile, wildfowl numbers rose steadily as autumn’s influence strengthened with maximum counts of 1,008 Tufted
Duck and 170 Mallard in September, and 1,770 Coot, 590 Wigeon, 148 Pochard, 123 Teal and 39 Gadwall in October,
when 12 Red-crested Pochard, 10 Goldeneye, 5 Common Scoter and 5 Pintail were also noted. A picture taken of a firstwinter
Garganey – a good sighting in itself – was later found also to contain a Green-winged Teal. This was only the third
record for Carsington, and the first since 2006.
Arctic and Black Terns flew through as part of the autumn movement, while a Gannet was recorded on two consecutive
days, so probably roosted with the gulls. Roost numbers have also been climbing, with up to 3,600
Lesser Black-backs recorded in September, and a number of rarities spotted within the throng – among them
Mediterranean, Greater Black-back, Yellow-Leg and Herring Gulls, plus Kittiwake.
Also on show was a Ring-billed Gull, which is believed to be visiting for its ninth consecutive year. Other regular winter
travellers returning to Carsington are the increasingly regular Great Northern Divers, three of which noted in November
were believed to be separate individuals.
The wader passage has been poor, but did include up to 160 Lapwings, plus much smaller numbers of Dunlin, Curlew,
Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Snipe, Green and Common Sandpiper, and Grey and Golden Plover. Two Little Egrets and
three Whooper Swans made very brief visits, but a Black Redstart stayed long enough to delight a few local birdwatchers
in November – the first sighting of this species for 13 years.
It’s been heaven, too, for raptor lovers with no fewer than eight species noted since early August. Ospreys migrating
south to warmer winter climes passed through Carsington on four occasions in August, three in September and another in
October. Marsh Harriers were seen on two separate occasions, while a Red Kite was mobbed by another of our local
raptor regulars, a Buzzard. Several sightings of Hobbys were recorded in August and early September, while their bulkier
cousins – Peregrines – were noted regularly every month, as were Sparrowhawks and Kestrels.
Another delightful species has been putting on an excellent show all around the reservoir: up to four Kingfishers are
believed to be responsible for the rash of sightings, with fine views from the hides. On one occasion, a lucky onlooker
witnessed six fish caught in a single session from a rock island close to the Paul Stanley Hide.
STAY IN BRITAIN – AND LET THE SKUAS AND DIVERS COME TO US!
On my recent trip to the Arctic our group was rewarded with sightings of three varieties of Skua – Great, Arctic and Long-
Tailed. But there’s just no satisfying some people: a Yorkshire man with very long bird lists for both the UK and Europe
was desperate to see three particular birds, one of which was another Stercorarid – the Pomarine Skua. It became a bit of
a joke within the group when neither his efforts nor our guides’ knowledge came to anything, though our Finnish guide
admitted it would have been a ‘long shot’, anyway.
I thought nothing more about this failure until I was sitting on a beach at Dornoch on the Black Isle in northern Scotland in
August with my wife and dog (obviously not a dedicated birding holiday) when two Pomarine Skuas (one dark phase and
one light phase) drifted by, bathed in sunlight and flying so close to the beach that identification – notably by the ‘spoons’
on their tales – was simple. I suppose I should have felt just a bit sorry for our Yorkshire friend!
In the Arctic I also saw three types of diver including 21 white-billed/yellow-billed ones, all in top breeding plumage, which
surprised even our Finnish guide. We spent some time beside a huge lake looking for the fourth diver species that had
been reported but eluded our party. Ironically, this was the Great Northern Diver, so frequent at Carsington Water in
recent years – and, lo and behold, a specimen of which turned up yet again this autumn, still in summer plumage. To
have seen all four divers in their finest attire isn’t bad going for one summer!
I hope you don’t get the impression I’m always travelling … but I was also lucky enough in 2009 to manage a week in
Tuscany though expected nothing exceptional by way of bird life, knowing that food, wine and culture would make up for
that. Yet each morning just after dawn at the place we were staying, I heard the sound of Bee-eaters as between 250 and
300 swarmed above our heads moving up the valley before coming back to roost later on. What could be better to see as
you watched sunrise over Siena!
RINGING ENDORSEMENT FOR NEW SEASON OF INDOOR TALKS
One of the early talks in our 2009-10 indoor season was an excellent and lively review of the history of bird ringing, which
is marking its 100th anniversary this year, by the British Trust for Ornithology’s ringing officer Mark Grantham in October.
Mark was keen to stress the benefits that ringing has brought to ornithology over the last century by way of scientific
knowledge and analysis – boosting our understanding of birds’ habits and habitats, migration patterns and life spans.
Among numerous illustrations, he showed one picture of a Fulmar ringed and recorded several times in its life, proving it to
be around 50 years old and a parent several times over.
A month earlier, regular presenter Paul Bingham talked about the stunning wildlife of the Galapagos Islands – a highlight
for a number of members who themselves had visited this unique location off South America’s west coast, with its high
proportion of endemic species found nowhere else in the world.
Then, in November, it was Ian Dainsley’s turn to show some of his excellent studies of nature to be found much closer to
home – in and around his home village of Bonsall. Ian told us that he’d spent many years as a keen amateur, but
eventually gave up his ‘day job’ some years ago to concentrate on professional photography … clearly to very good effect.
CARSINGTON – IDEAL VENUE FOR A ‘DATE WITH NATURE’
During 2009, the Aren’t Birds Brilliant! initiative morphed into a ‘Date with nature’, though the name change does not affect
the basic principle of creating events to introduce these natural feathered wonders to the general public. As we approach
the end of the year, the incoming winter wildfowl are providing the injection of interest and colour to help keep people
excited about what they can see right in front of them at Carsington Water. It is good that our hosts Severn Trent Water,
supported by the enthusiasm of both the RSPB and Carsington Bird Club, are able to create and maintain such an ideal
As winter draws in, large numbers of Wigeon, Gadwall and other ducks have flown in to provide good views close to the
Wildlife Centre. Many of our Date with nature visitors are familiar with bird-watching, but not all are ready for the
astounding diversity of species on and around the reservoir.
On a wider stage, the RSPB supports and promotes any number of campaigns, key messages and national events – the
Big Garden Bird Watch and Feed the Birds Day being two of the biggest. Working in partnership with Severn Trent also
means integrating their messages, too, and all this hype can sometimes deflect us from the essential ingredients that are
right there in front of us all. After all, if it wasn’t for thousands of migrating ducks visiting the reservoir at this time of year –
or the bird populations changing with each season – there wouldn’t be anything to get hyped up about.
The RSPB’s long-running and popular Bird of Prey campaign is set to finish at the end of the year and in its place will be
‘Letter to the Future’. This will probably be familiar to those RSPB members among you, but it’s worth underlining its
simple message – enjoy nature and protect it. How this can be applied to specific species or habitats is an additional layer.
What’s fundamental is that there is so much to be gained from enjoying familiar wildlife – what we often see in front of us.
Perhaps this is often overlooked, but nowhere is it more obviously the case than the reservoir, where it is accessible to
Chris Johnstone, RSPB/STW Date with nature Project Officer
VOLUNTEERS TAKE A SCIENTIFIC APPROACH
Following hard on the heels of last spring’s successful Soil & Earthworm Survey run in partnership with the Natural History
Museum and Nottingham University, Severn Trent Water Volunteer Rangers were keen to continue their scientific studies
by taking part in the Air Survey being conducted under the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) initiative of the Natural History
Museum. The STW group is being joined by volunteers from the Carsington Bird Club, all of whom will take part after
The aim of this latest survey is to discover more about the way the natural environment is affected by air pollution and its
impact on local areas as well as helping to build up a national picture of the distribution and abundance of lichens and
fungi that can be affected by pollution.
These species will be used as environmental indicators of air quality. The Carsington volunteers will survey trees around
the reservoir for lichen species that are tolerant and intolerant to nitrogen in the air and also count the fungal ‘tar spots’
found on sycamore leaves. Dr Amy Rogers, OPAL community scientist came to give several volunteers a training
workshop on 20 October enthusing all to go and hug/survey trees for results, so the survey will commence shortly!
For more info on the study, go to www.OPALexplorenature.org on your internet and click on Surveys. Anyone interested
in getting involved can get advice from STW Ranger Rose Day, or contact CBC committee officials.
Meanwhile, a milestone arrived at the ‘Bird-watching for Beginners’ walk on 6 September, which was the 50th occasion of
this increasingly popular monthly event. Led by Volunteer Ranger David Bennett, 25 ‘customers’ enjoyed not just the
three-hour walk – to Sheepwash, visiting all 4 hides in between – but also a free draw to mark the milestone. Prizes were
generously donated by Carsington Clothing, Water Rail; RSPB Shop; Severn Trent Water, and the RSPB/Severn Trent
Water Date with nature team. Anyone not winning one of the main prizes received one of the popular RSPB pin badges.
David Bennett was presented with a commemorative shield by Head Ranger Dan Taberner.
The Bird Club is now into its winter programme (when all events take place at Hognaston Village Hall, beginning at
7.30pm). This series of talks continues until March, after which we switch to outdoor events. Below is a full list of
upcoming CBC events:
15 December Christmas party, including talk by club secretary Paul Hicking Hognaston Village Hall
19 January 2010 Annual General Meeting, followed by talk by club chairman Hognaston Village Hall
Peter Gibbon: ‘Arctic Wonderland’
25 January Committee meeting Visitor Centre (8pm)
16 February Talk by Eddie Hallam: ‘My life with nature’ Hognaston Village Hall
16 March Talk by Neil Glenn: ‘Valley Parade – the Wildlife of the Lower Hognaston Village Hall
With the Christmas/New Year holiday, Severn Trent Water can expect a busy time as visitors try to reduce their
waistlines after the seasonal excesses … What better place for some exercise! Watch, too, for the start of the Compose
Carsington’ photographic competition, due to get under way in March (shots from 1 July 2009 are eligible). Here’s a full
list of organised events – and be aware that booking is often essential (c/o 01629 540696):
Mon-Sat to Three-course Christmas lunches are available at the Mainsail Visitor Centre
24 December Restaurant (call New Leaf Catering, 01629 540363, for details)
First Sunday Bird-watching for Beginners (min age 13+, bring boots, binoculars Visitor Centre (10am-noon)
each month notebook and suitable clothing … booking advisable)
Each Tuesday RSPB/STW ‘Date with nature’ (access for all, free … learn about Wildlife Centre
and weekend wildlife at Carsington Water; use scopes/binoculars provided) (10.30am-3.30pm)
5-6 December Christmas at Carsington (festive activities for all the family) Visitor Centre
23-24 January RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch weekend (join the world’s biggest Wildlife and Visitor Centres
bird survey, quiz plus crafts for children … donations welcome) (10.30am-3.30pm)