No.2 – May/June 2010
One of our normal highlights in May, the Dawn Chorus walk, was a wet and windy affair this year. Despite the weather, the birds sang well for those that did turn up – though the only two members who did were outnumbered by the three pre-arranged walk leaders, Roger Carrington, John Bradley and myself.
One of the hardy souls who braved the unseasonable weather was John Matkin, on whose property four Buzzards were found dead after eating poisoned bait (see item later in this newsletter). His sadness and anger were obvious and the tale he told was particularly poignant to anyone who loves birds. Let’s hope that events such as he witnessed do not happen again.
During the dawn walk we did see the remaining Great Northern Diver, albeit it at some distance. How wonderfully elegant a bird can be with just white, black and grey feathers. Equally stunning with such plumage colours is one of our latest summer migrants, the Pied Flycatcher, which we can all hope will stay and breed this year at Carsington.
That is the excitement of this time of year. It is also a time to examine what effect the hard winter had on the numbers of birds left to breed. We have heard from some national surveys like the Great Garden Birdwatch that there could be some decline with certain species. That is why we continue to do breeding surveys for Hall and Middle Woods and that the trends we will see from the Bird Atlas will be so valuable. Already, however, it looks like a bumper year for Oystercatcher with young already seen.
We must thank Severn Trent Water for opening up the final part to a track that now goes all the way round the reservoir without having to cross the road. The safety factor was paramount, of course, but now it’s also easier to observe wildlife along that stretch of the water; with Big Island and its diverse breeding population (including Oystercatcher) so close, binoculars may become superfluous.
STW has asked us to monitor the effects on bird life close to this path and we have volunteered to do so, though at this point, and over the winter when it was being built, there seems to have been little or no impact.
I am sure all these trends will be part and parcel of the 2010 annual report, which brings me to our latest report, which you should all now have received. I’d like to thank everybody who took part in creating and distributing (several months earlier than last year) the 2009 issue, which I hope you agree was as comprehensive and informative as ever.
RAPTOR HEAVEN … RAPTOR HELL!
Those enchanted by birds of prey encountered highs and lows during the period March-May. While there were plenty of raptors around, there was also the discovery of six dead Buzzards, believed poisoned, within a short distance of Carsington Water (see following report).
On a more positive note, however, the stately Osprey was seen twice at the reservoir – and on each occasion, in March and May, was viewed either catching or eating fish. The first incoming Hobby was seen 2 May, the same day that a Red Kite was spotted, Peregrines were seen each month, and up to four Sparrowhawks were seen on the same day. Buzzards, too, had their high points with up to 14 seen aloft on the same day; though there is no evidence yet of breeding Buzzards.
A Raven nest seems to have yielded three young, however, and on the water’s edge waders have been busy, with five Mallard broods, three broods of Lapwing noted, and a pair of Redshank with two young. Twelve Oystercatchers have paired up, but only one brood of three has so far been recorded. More disappointingly – though we all hope it’s because of the late arrival of spring – there were no grebe, Coot, Moorhen or Barnacle Goose broods by the end of May.
Spring and early summer visitors kicked off with four Sand Martins noted on 18 March, but by the following day Chiffchaff, Wheatear and Rock Pipit had been noted. Before the end of March, up to 500 Swallows had arrived, and in the first week of April Yellow and White Wagtails dropped in.
It was later in the month before some of the others made their debuts, with Swifts on the 19 th , and the 24 th being a particularly busy day as Redstart, Tree Pipit, Sedge and Reed Warblers Warblers were recorded (the latter the earliest on record at Carsington). A Pied Flycatcher was heard singing on 29 April, but it was almost three weeks before its ‘Spotted’ cousin turned up. One sure signal of spring, the call of the Cuckoo, was heard on 19 May.
The long-staying adult Great Northern Diver, having developed its full summer plumage, finally ended its winter holiday on 8 May. A juvenile was also at the reservoir until 5 March, while a Red-throated Diver called in briefly on the 22 nd of that month.
Up to 350 Tufted Duck have been on the water, and among the more unusual ducks, Common Scoter and Scaup have figured, and a very early Garganey was noted on 2 March, five days before a few lucky observers recorded 24 Whooper Swans that dropped onto the middle of the reservoir.
Passage waders included up to 15 Whimbrel, Bar- and Black-tailed Godwits, Sanderling, Dunlin, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers and Turnstone. Terns were also on the move with Sandwich and Common moving through in April, and Arctic and Black recorded in May. Up to four Common Terns have been seen, and one pair seems to have settled on Flat Island – since, as usual, the Black-headed Gulls have commandeered the raft in front of the wildlife centre, with potential parents jostling on no fewer than eight nests.
Other gull highlights include Mediterranean recorded twice during March, and as many as six Little Gulls in a day in April. A maximum of 242 Common Gulls were counted among the ever-thinning gull roost.
BIRD OF THE MONTH: SWIFT
It’s not a particularly big or colourful bird, but it still manages to inspire awe and many birders count it as their favourite bird: the Swift is something of a miracle. In the UK we see chiefly the Common Swift, but around the world there is a sizeable family that includes larger species such as the Alpine Swift, often seen elsewhere in Europe, or, farther afield, needletails and a number of smaller swiftlets and tree swifts.
They appear similar to swallows and martins as they, too, feed off the plentiful summer stock of airborne insects, but in fact the swifts’ most closely related genus is the hummingbird.
The reason it is so admired is that it is such a master of the air – some would say THE master. Once born it is continually in flight, even sleeping and mating on the wing, and will only leave the air briefly to raise their young. They fly 200,000km per year – around five times around the world. They never perch on wires like swallows or Martins.
The UK gets around 85,000 breeding pairs of Common Swifts: they arrive from their African wintering grounds around late April/early May and stay until August, taking advantage of the mass of airborne insects on which they exclusively feed. They often fly very high in search of prey, particularly on fine days, but they are more noticeable when heard screaming their high-pitched calls as they career madly around rooftops and houses – yet the flight itself is silent, even if they seem to fly quite close to you. Actually sooty brown, they look like black scimitars sweeping through the air.
If you ever find a swift on the ground, it will die unless it gets help as its short stiff wings and short legs will not enable it to take off unaided. If it seems otherwise fit and well it can be released from an upstairs window, after first moving your hand up and down to get the feel of air under its wings. If all’s well, instinct will take over and it will take to the air … and quite simply remain there until it returns to breed the following year.
LET’S HELP ERADICATE WANTON POISONING OF WILDLIFE!
One of the club’s newer members, John Matkin, was shocked to discover the farm at which he lives, near Kirk Ireton, was used to lay poisoned bait that caused the death of four Buzzards. Derbyshire Police were brought in to investigate after a total of six Buzzards – these four plus two others on a farm at nearby Idridgehay – were found near the carcasses of a Pheasant and a Hare, which were poisoned bait. The Police are working their enquiries with the help of the RSPB and Natural England.
John says: “I live on the farm upon which the dead birds were found, so I felt it was important to make all lovers of wildlife, particularly Carsington Bird Club members, aware of the incident which took place at Callow Moor Farm – directly above Fishtail Creek – in a field very close to the reservoir boundary.”
John says he has seen Buzzards over the farm since the incident and, with 44,000 breeding pairs, the Buzzard is one of the great recent wildlife success stories. Buzzards are, nevertheless, a protected species. Poisoning needs to be stamped out and anyone caught harming or killing them could face a £5,000 fine or up to six months in prison.
John adds: “If any CBC members do spot any dead birds of prey or corvids or pheasants in the area I would urge them firstly not to handle them and secondly to contact either Derbyshire Police or the RSPB.”
CREATING THE RIGHT SORT OF BANK FOR ‘RATTY’
Most bird lovers have an inherent general interest in the natural world, and creatures like Water Voles are part of this broader panorama. These charming rodents have become something of a success story at Carsington Water, and now, to further boost their numbers, three new ponds have been created at the north end of the reservoir, with funding assistance from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.
Conservation practice shows that there are some key principles behind a good habitat for Water Voles. Carsington Water ticks some of those boxes, and where it doesn’t we can create the other required features.
Water voles need sites where there is water all year round, where there are stepped, well vegetated banks to provide refuge areas when water levels rise, and where the water is of a sufficient depth immediately in front of the bank to allow them to escape quickly and enter burrows unseen.
Bank faces need to be stable comprising soils that are friable and loam-rich, as Water Voles won’t use sites where the substrate is too stony or difficult to dig into.
It is hoped the new ponds will also benefit water shrews, and that the margins will attract birds such as Water Rail. There are now three stages of pond succession: the reed bed ponds are now seven years old; the pond on the other side of the track is four years old; and now we have the three new ponds. Each pond area is at a different stage of development, meaning each is suitable for a range of different species, which boosts our potential gains in Biodiversity.
A new stone island has also been created at the north end. Its primary aim is to take out the wave action on the reed bed, allowing it to extend further out in to the reservoir. It is also hoped over time that the island will be used for breeding waders such as Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher and, if we are lucky, Little Ringed Plovers.
Ben Young , Carsington Water Site Manager, STW
THE MAGIC OF LESVOS IN THE SPRING
The brochure read: ‘For Spring birdwatching in beautiful surroundings, Lesvos is hard to beat …’ and it was right! Despite volcanic ash and Greek strike scares we made it there and back on schedule – on Thomson flights that seemed 75 per cent full of birdwatchers and the rest walkers. I saw over 150 species with 12 new ones for me – or 14 if you believe in splitting species up into western and eastern races.
Lesvos is the third biggest Greek island, just five miles off the Turkish coast. We stayed in a hotel frequented by birders: it has a log at reception to fill in what has been seen where, which is fed daily into a website by Steve Dudley, author of the most comprehensive guide to the island.
Having never been to the Scilly Isles in autumn or whisked off to a ‘mega-twitch’, the experience of seeing so many birdwatchers all together in one place was new to me. We were almost tripping over each other!
Near the hotel, we found great areas of wet marsh and salt pans (before they dry up) where we were sometimes almost within touching distance of Glossy Ibis and Whiskered Tern. Here, too I saw my first new bird with stunning Ruddy Shelduck standing side by side with its ‘common’ cousin. Flocks of White-winged Black Terns and some Gull-billed Terns were seen, along with all herons. Squacco was most common and Great White Egret outnumbered Little; meanwhile, there were large numbers of Flamingo and good numbers of Black Storks yet only one White Stork. Among the many waders, there were big numbers of Avocet, while a few Pratincoles were watched by Red-footed Falcons on telegraph wires. In a small lake nearby both Baillon’s and Little Crake obliged onlookers by posing together in the open on a partly submerged tree trunk. Identification heaven for our two leaders, Bernie and Neil!
We watched Kruper’s Nuthatch feeding young in a tree trunk and at one stage male and female posed together for the many photographers, though a male Masked Shrike tried to steal the limelight by sitting on top of a nearby tree. Buntings were everywhere: Most common was the stunning Black-headed, joined by the nostalgic Corn, smart-looking Cretzschmar’s and Cirl and the totally unspectacular but rare and localised Cinereous. The latter was found around the beautiful Ypsilou monastery where we saw three wheatears – the Northern upstaged by the spectacular display of Isabelline and then the stunning Black-eared Wheatear that could possibly be the most ubiquitous bird on the island.
But then I’m forgetting the skulking Olivaceous Warbler that also seems to be everywhere though it’s more often heard than seen, as are the many Nightingales. Apparently one of the hardest birds to see is the Olive Tree Warbler, and after waiting some time at one site (and berating two selfish birders who’d crossed a fence to see them), we got good views of one and felt very pleased to see such a drab bird. It would be a ‘little brown job’ if it wasn’t such a big warbler! More often seen, and more startling, were Orphean and Subalpine Warblers, yet even these were eclipsed by Ruppell’s Warbler, which is just about as dashing as a warbler can get, particularly in such a beautiful setting overlooking the stunning Aegean sea.
In the hills allowed we watched Rock Sparrow, Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martin and, passing on to the coast, added Rock Nuthatch and Lesser Kestrel. Nearby, among olive groves and fig trees we were thrilled to see flycatchers, black and blue headed wagtails, Golden Oriole, Cuckoo and Icterine Warbler. A dung heap was the stage chosen by a Spur-winged Plover, which we watched excitedly until one of the leaders said turn round and, in a bush, was one of my main targets – a very smart Lesser Grey Shrike.
With Long-legged Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles and Eleonora’s Falcon fairly common, it’s easy to see how wonderful Lesvos is – yet special memories tend to come from those unexpected moments like the time we stopped to view an ancient and fragile bridge and I found a nesting Sombre Tit while somebody else in our party found a nesting Middle Spotted Woodpecker. In the same groves were Turtle Dove and Hoopoe. Even our experienced leaders showed their excitement at viewing a Purple Heron twisting its neck to keep its beady eyes on a Marsh Harrier flying above it. And while viewing a reasonably common Little Bittern a snipe was spotted. Big deal? Well, yes – this was a Great Snipe … All part of the ‘Magic of Lesvos’!
PLENTY OF BIRDS – BUT FEW PEOPLE AT DAWN CHORUS
After the final talk of the winter season – Neil Glenn’s ‘Valley Parade: Wildlife of the Lower Rio Grande ‘ – and a disappointing ‘wagtail walk’ on 20 April, which produced only Pied and no Yellow or Blue-headed Wagtails this year, we arrived at one of the club’s better-attended events of the year, the Dawn Chorus Walk.
Well, usually well-attended! This year the weather was atrocious, and most people must have taken one look out of their bedroom windows at 4am and, after a quick look at the rain and windswept landscape, decided to give it a miss. In the event, two members turned up and were led around the usual route from the Wildlife Centre by no fewer than three expert birders – club recorder Roger Carrington, John Bradley, and chairman Peter Gibbon. Most of the usual birds were either seen or heard, so the conditions did not keep them away!
Next on the agenda – and another new departure – was a short trip to the Coombes Valley reserve, near Leek, which is run by the RSPB. This is a specialist woodland site, nestling low between the lush folds of Staffordshire countryside. The dozen members who came along on a beautiful evening in mid May were rewarded with good views of Pied Flycatcher – including a pair on their final feeding foray of the day, when the male offered a juicy fly as a gift before leaving his mate to adjourn to other duties in the nest box.
Redstarts were elusive, but one did pop obligingly onto the top of a hawthorn bush, and Roger Carrington took advantage of the proximity of a Blackcap and Garden Warbler, to point out the subtle differences in their song. Among summer visitors, there were also plenty of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, and a couple of Whitethroats, plus typical woodland species including Goldcrest, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatch, Song Thrush and Greater Spotted Woodpecker.
Few raptors were seen, just one Buzzard getting onto the list, but the distant ‘kronk’ of a Raven was heard and, looking up, several of the group saw a soaring black bird with a tell-tale wedge-shaped tail.
The next walk is from Millfields on 15 June – and it’s yet another attempt to make our 2010 events programme a little different, as it’s a morning walk starting at 9am . We appreciate it may be difficult for some, but do try to get there as it’s traditionally our ‘warbler walk’ where many of the reservoir’s summer visitors are spotted or heard.