No.4 – November 2010
As Autumn Watch winds up and Britain is apparently being invaded by Waxwings, the first Great Northern Diver of the winter has arrived back at Carsington. That reminds me this is the last communiqué of 2010 and urges me to reflect on the past year – one of extreme weather (which currently sees the reservoir at as low a level as one can remember for some time) but also one of some success for birds and for our club.
It was a good breeding season for most birds, and late on, two new birds – Wryneck and Bearded Tit – were added to Carsington’s growing definitive list. Our presence at the September ‘Derbyshire Day’, run by BBC Radio Derby and attended by a range of wildlife organisations, gave a strong reassurance of the crucial importance and vitality of Carsington Bird Club as the body providing nearly all the recording and much of the conservation work for the birds of the area. Take a look at our website to see how much we as a club take part in and achieve – all of which should make next year’s report a pleasure to compile.
On the other hand, we still struggle in terms of members’ engagement. We just hosted a truly excellent speaker – Paul Hobson, one of Britain ‘s top wildlife photographers – at our November meeting, yet had only 20 in the audience. Among them was one non-member who took the trouble to log an observation on the web pages asking how we could possibly run such high-quality meetings with such a small audience and such a modest entrance fee?
Well, the fact is for another year we have, but the truth is we were lucky: two talks were undertaken by friends of mine, who wanted no fee, two merely asked for small donations to their society or reserve, and only one charged ‘the going rate’ plus expenses. But the longer-term future of this core club activity, running from September to March, will depend on a higher attendance at the indoor meetings. Only then will we be sure to fund both the hire of the hall and the best speakers. I must also thank the Derbyshire Ornithological Society for paying the hall-hire fee at the October meeting. So with subjects like the islands of St Kilda and Lesvos on the agenda, and speakers like the fantastic bird photographer John Gardner to look forward to, we expect the 2011 programme to contain plenty of pleasure and entertainment. Come along and see!
I spoke in October on ‘The Birds of Carsington Water’ to an audience of 40 Staffordshire Wildlife Trust members, most of whom I’m glad to say had visited Carsington at least once. The talk was held at the ‘Rambler’s Retreat’ cafe/restaurant – a lovely place in an idyllic setting, with great food if the fridge containing various tempting puddings was anything to go by! The wooded river valley runs down to Alton (of ‘Towers’ fame) and in the restaurant gardens Pied Flycatchers nest in boxes, and evidently are easy to photograph. So, if you’re looking to combine a beautiful walk with good food and drink, this could be the place for you.
And finally, talking of food and drink – don’t forget our Christmas party on 21December, when a buffet will be available and the theme of the evening will be “Twitchers”, the entertainment including a rare view of this extreme end of the bird-watching community!
FORMER CLUB TREASURER, PAM LEVERS, PASSES AWAY
Pam Levers, a long-time member of Carsington Bird Club, who worked a number of years on the committee as club treasurer, passed away in hospital on 4 November. She was 66.
Pam learned earlier this year that she had cancer and had recently also suffered a stroke. She was cheerful in the face of these illnesses, however, and was still attending club events as recently as late September when she joined family members at the first meeting of the club’s indoor season. Pam will be sadly missed by her many friends in CBC and other wildlife organisations of which she was a member including the Ogston Bird Club, the Mid-Derbyshire Badger Group and the Chesterfield branch of the RSPB.
Her funeral took place on 15 November at St John’s Church , Walton Back Lane , Chesterfield , and our thoughts go out to those Pam leaves behind – husband Richard, also a long-time CBC member, son Tim and daughter Christina, and two grandchildren.
LOW WATER – HIGH NUMBERS!
Despite the very low water level over autumn – or perhaps because of it – the number of bird species seen at Carsington has been near record levels. InSeptember, 116 species were seen, while the following month it was 109 – equaling the best October total since records began in 1992.
Two new species were also added to the reservoir’s definitive list during this rich period. A Wryneck, only the 40 th county record in more than half a century, turned up on 13 September and stayed for two days when it was seemingly happy to be a media star (the CBC Gallery has some lovely images of it, including one taking a drink of water off a leaf).
The second ‘first’ was a Bearded Tit (see ‘Bird of the Issue’ below) that stayed around just long enough on 1 November to allow several birders to dash to the scene for an unexpected Derbyshire ‘tick’.
Other highlights since the last newsletter included two unusual buntings – a Snow Bunting found on Stones Island on 25 November (at the time of going to press it’s not certain whether this could be another Carsington debut) and Lapland Buntings seen on 22 and 30 September. A Black Redstart has been in residence since 18 November and a Great Northern Diver turned up in early November, disappeared for a week but was then seen several times. This is the fourth consecutive winter we have had these handsome birds visiting Carsington.
The volume of some species has been quite high, too. In the gull roost, there have been up to 4,000 Black-headeds and 3,500 Lesser Black-backs, and as many as 282 Common Gulls. Mediterranean, Little and Herring Gulls were also recorded, along with a consistent compliment of Yellow-legs – including one particularly voracious bird that is often witnessed taking waterfowl for its meals.
The WeBS count in November logged 1,330 Coot, 578 Tufted Duck and more than 200 each of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Lapwing. Four Common Scoters were spotted at the end of September, and in recent weeks Goldeneye have returned, along with Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard and Shelduck.
The wader passage was impressive with Ruff, Knot, Dunlin, Little Stint, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank and its ‘Spotted’ cousin, Greenshank, Common and Curlew Sandpiper, Ringed and Golden Plover and Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits all featuring along the wider-than-usual mud fringes. Meanwhile, overhead 130 Pink-footed Geese flew by on 18 November.
An encouragingly wide range of raptors have been recorded during the autumn: Ospreys visited in both September and October, a Red Kite called in on 19 October, three days after a Goshawk was spotted in the wood in Tail Bay . Merlins were viewed twice in October, Hobbys three times in September, and Peregrines and Sparrowhawks were seen regularly. A Barn Owl perched within three feet of a lucky observer in the Sheepwash hide after quartering rough terrain nearby.
Late-staying summer visitors included up to four Chiffchaffs seen and heard on 6 October and, much more surprisingly, two Swallows on 18 October.
Among passerines, the highlights included Bramblings on Stones Island and around Sheepwash feeders, a Firecrest – only the third record of this tiny bird for Carsington – on 14 October, and a Great Grey Shrike that stayed a matter of hours, unlike the last visitor of this species that stayed five months in 2005. Kingfishers were another regular sighting, while the winter visitors have included flocks of up to 50 Redwings and smaller groups of Fieldfares. No waxwings, however … We can but hope!
BIRD OF THE ISSUE: BEARDED TIT
A Bearded Tit sighted (Panurus biarmicus) in the small reedbed to the left of Sheepwash hide on 1 November was a first for Carsington Water. These attractive and elusive birds are rarely seen in Derbyshire with the 500-plus breeding pairs in the UK being mainly found in the reedbeds of eastern and southern England, though a few are also found in Lancashire.
Elsewhere in Europe larger numbers – up to half a million – are known to breed.
They have a long tail and are generally tawny in appearance, though the male has a blue-grey head and striking black ‘moustaches’ rather than ‘beards’.
In summer they eat spiders, insects and are particularly partial to aphids, while in the winter they rely on seeds – and they have a digestive system that actively changes to suit the seasonal diet.
They are sociable, but not always easy to see among the reeds – and often the first clue to their presence is their “ping” calls. If they are spotted, it will often be their undulating flight just above the reeds.
They are principally a resident bird, and vulnerable to cold winters, and certainly their population has declined in recent years, placing them on the Amber List.
They may move away from breeding areas in the winter – which was good for us, as they became the 221st species at Carsington.
ON ALERT FOR THE ‘KILLER SHRIMP’
Severn Trent Water staff at Carsington are keeping a closer focus than ever on the water in the reservoir for evidence of Dikerogammarus Villosus – an invasive species of shrimp, fast becoming known as the ‘killer shrimp’, that had never been found in Britain until two keen-eyed anglers spotted it at Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire in September.
It is not known how it arrived, though one possibility is the most natural way of all – via birds. In this case it could theoretically turn up anywhere that water birds thrive, and affect the habitat there as its voracious nature means that it predates native shrimp species and other water-borne species such as water boatmen, damselflies, insect larvae – even small fish – that both wildlife that birds eat and birds themselves feed upon.
In short, it could quickly alter ecosystems, which is why STW’s manager at Carsington, Ben Young, and his staff are keeping such a close monitor. So, if you happen to see a freshwater shrimp that’s much bigger than you’ve seen before (the ‘killer’ species is 30mm long), has large mandibles or appears striped, report it to Ben or one of the Ranger team.
Dikerogammarus Villosus could equally have arrived via watersports hulls, angling or fish stocking (though Carsington is not stocked from the same source as Grafham). Anglers in particular have been warned to be on the look-out, and are being asked to keep kit and boats clean, drain bilge water from boats, disinfect kit and make sure no water or bait is transferred between bodies of water.
The unwelcome visitor naturally inhabits the Black and Caspian Seas , but has in the last ten years spread across most of Europe . At Grafham Water, the Environment Agency worked with local managing authority Anglian Water to put precautionary measures in place, and to check out other local lakes and the River Great Ouse.
TALKS FOCUS ON HADDON ESTATE, WILDLIFE ART AND FARMING
The indoor programme of events at Hognaston village hall began in September with an illustrated talk by Warren Slaney of the Haddon Estate, who ended a 150-year tradition of fish farming in favour of an award-winning scheme to create self-perpetuating wild fish stocks, which touched many other elements of the natural environment at Haddon.
Chairman Peter Gibbon stepped into the breach himself in October to give a passionate talk on the life of wildlife artist Charles Tunnicliffe. Then it was the turn of Paul Hobson, one of the UK ‘s top wildlife photographers. Paul showed a wide selection of his own work around the theme of farming, how it has shaped Britain ‘s natural development and the wildlife therein, and the radical changes this industry has undergone since World War II.
GET YOUR NAMES DOWN FOR THE WAGTAIL AND DAWN CHORUS WALKS
Before detailing the next few months’ events, we need to alert CBC members to two events a little further out that this year may require advance booking.
Severn Trent Water are including two of our annual walks as part of its 2011 events at Carsington Water, so, should there be a heavy response, we are keen to ensure our own members get first bite at securing their places on the Wagtail Walk (6pm on Tuesday, 19 April) and the Dawn Chorus Walk (4.30am on Saturday, 7 May). For both the meeting point will be outside the Visitor Centre.
If you are particularly keen to ensure being on these walks, register your interest with the Visitor Centre reception (01629 540696).