No.1 – February 2011
I would like to wish all members a Happy New Year even though it was almost two months ago! I won’t mention the improving weather because that is tempting fate, but I hope everybody is well into their new bird watching year: maybe Waxwing has been ticked or, at least, Smew and Great Northern Diver from trips to the reservoir.
The 2010 annual report is well on the way to being finished as we enter our 20 th year as a club. We remain a strong group with a valuable role to play in Carsington Water’s future – especially in light of the demise of the local partnership between Severn Trent and the RSPB.
To maintain and build our strength and vitality, however, we need to consolidate membership numbers, so if you have not already renewed please do so as soon as possible. There is a renewal form included with this newsletter that you can fill in and post back to our membership secretaries. Also, why not encourage other people – friends and relations – to join up and join in our programme of indoor meetings and regular walks. We need more support at the meetings to be able to afford the top photographers and experts that guarantee a memorable night; so if anyone has any thoughts about speakers or topics, I’d love to hear from you. The walks – not all now in the evenings, and not even all at Carsington – are a simple way for you see and learn more about birds.
Our trips have been a bit thin on the ground, but we have a fantastic one organised for later this year – ending in a boat trip on the Wash ( see cut-off slip for details and a chance to get your booking in early)!
You really don’t need to do much to be practically involved. First of all, every record is important, so add your observations to the logs kept in the hides – or on the sightings board on the website. Some of you may not even be aware of this site ( www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk ): if not, log on and see what an excellent job our webmaster Richard Pittam has made of it. There’s a mass of useful information and pointers there for you to browse. It regularly figures around the 270 mark in the 1,000-strong list of most used bird-watching websites.
I hope you also took part in the world’s biggest collective bird watching experience – the RSPB’s big garden birdwatch. This summer sees the conclusion of an even bigger recording endeavour: the Bird Atlas is run by the BTO, SOC and Bird Watch Ireland ; starting in 2007, it will prove the most comprehensive survey – over a longer period than ever before – of bird life anywhere in the world. Every part of the British Isles has been split up into 10 km squares, within which are 2x2km tetrads that undergo two-hour visits twice in winter and twice in summer.
A massive number of volunteers have been involved and summer 2011 is the last period to be done, after which the Atlas of British wintering and breeding birds will be assembled. Provisional results already show losses and gains in our birdlife – yet some gaps remain and the organisers are happy to receive ‘roving records’ from anyone who notes birds during their regular outings. In particular, they are keen to get evidence of breeding, such as parents carrying food to nest and sightings of fledglings. If you have such records – from 2007 to the present day – then submit them, or let me know the details and I can do it for you. The more birding you do, the better, so have a great 2011!
SNOW BUNTING – THEN JUST THE SNOW!
The Carsington Water bird species total reached 222 when a Snow Bunting dropped in on 25 November. This seemed appropriate as just a week or two later a very large amount of snow dropped onto the area – two feet at its deepest – and plummeting temperatures as low as -17C saw the reservoir gradually ice over until all but five per cent was frozen. December was an understandably quiet month, with the lowest number of species logged since 2005. In January the volumes away from the water were down as some birds drifted south in search of milder conditions and easier-to-find food.
Nevertheless, our now regular group of visiting Great Northern Divers have dropped in: the first arrived in early November, a fellow juvenile arrived the following month, then a third joined the party on 29 January. Meanwhile, the site’s first Slavonian Grebe since 2005 spent 11 days at Carsington in December, affording excellent views for excited observers.
The reservoir saw a little of this winter’s influx of Waxwings when, after several fly-overs, a group of five was finally spotted with landing gear down stripping a hedge of its berries on 21 January. Siskin have showed well this winter, with flocks as large as 50 noted, Kingfishers were seen on three occasions during December and January, as many as eight Willow Tits were recorded in a single day, and two Mealy Redpolls were spotted in January, only the second record for Carsington.
Away from the water, maximum daily counts included 180 Jackdaws and four Ravens, 75 Redwings, 23 Fieldfares, 16 Blackbirds and six Song Thrushes. While five Skylarks in the air in mid-February signalled that spring is maybe not too far around the corner, raptor traffic has been very light. Peregrines were noted on several occasions – including one mobbed by a pair of Ravens on 15 December – but Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel made only occasional appearances. A Little Owl was seen in January, and a Barn Owl gave excellent views quartering the ground near Sheepwash hide as dusk approached on 11 February.
Another long-staying water bird this winter is a female Smew which first arrived a week before Christmas, seemed to have gone but then, a week or so later, was spotted again and has remained ever since.
Duck species have been around in good numbers, with counts registering 70 Gadwall, 41 Goldeneye, 210 Mallard and 110 Teal, and smaller numbers of Shoveler, Mandarin, Pochard, Pintail and Goosander. On 21 December, the highest counts were recorded for Tufted Duck (728) and Wigeon (325) as well as Coot (1,783), and two days later the largest ever count – of 95 – was noted for Great Crested Grebe.
Meanwhile Little Grebe numbers have been relatively low – partly due to the predatory activities of a certain Yellow-legged Gull. The gull roost has been up to around 3,000 birds, the majority being Black-heads with a maximum count of 2,500, and up to 350 Commons and 200 Lesser Black-backs. A possible third winter Caspian Gull was noted on 11 February.
Other recent rarities have included dark-bellied Brent Geese on 8 February and, two days later, two Egyptian Geese. Pink-footed Geese have also been seen, 240 overflying in December, when six Whooper Swans also flew over without touching down.
Waders have been thin on the ground, with only Redshank and Lapwing seen regularly, but encouragingly flocks of up to 350 Lapwings have been counted. Knot was recorded twice in December, and Dunlin and Snipe were seen, while Curlew were, unusually, seen several times during December and January, their presence perhaps signalling a search for food and a safe roost during the ice and snow.
BIRD OF THE ISSUE: SMEW
Carsington Water has been graced with a single Smew for much of the deepest winter period. The visitor this year is a female ‘redhead’ which has a chestnut crown extending below the eye, which has the potential to confuse with Ruddy Duck or winter plumage Slavonian Grebe. The male is a spectacular black and white bird that has a ‘cracked ice’ appearance at rest, but with more black in evidence when flying.
Smew – as its Latin name Mergus Albellus suggests – is most closely related to the Mergansers and its delicate bill does have the same serrated ‘sawbill’ that helps it catch fish when diving. It also eats larvae and other insects.
They are scarce winter visitors to the UK , generally seen between December and March on fish-rich inland freshwater lakes and reservoirs, often singly. Only around 400 are thought to visit in a typical winter, many more favouring Netherlands winters, with reasonable numbers also found in Eastern France and Switzerland .
They nest in northern Europe and Asia , usually finding holes in trees such as discarded woodpecker nests, and laying between six and nine cream coloured eggs in May.
See link to RSPB website – click here
OSPREYS OFFERED A NEW HOME
From one beautiful black and white bird to another – the Osprey. An exciting development at Carsington Water sees Severn Trent Water trying to attract this iconic raptor by building nesting platforms at two locations around the reservoir’s perimeter. This in turn is the first step in a broader project by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to erect Osprey platforms around the region and particularly in the Trent Valley .
Encouraged by the success of the Osprey breeding programme at Rutland Water – and the increasingly regular site of this stately bird passing through the Trent Valley on its way to other breeding grounds – Severn Trent’s volunteer rangers have used generous sponsorship and volunteer funds for the project that aims to coax Ospreys to stop off at Carsington Water.
One platform has been erected in front of the brick tower between Sheepwash and Lane End, with the second stationed at Penn Carr on the opposite side of the reservoir. Both are in the water near the shore, and each incorporates two poles, one supporting a nest platform, the other with a perch. They have been prepared well in advance of the birds’ return from their winter home in South Africa – and with brown trout on the menu, Carsington will hopefully prove irresistible to Ospreys looking for new breeding grounds as numbers increase at Rutland Water.
Ospreys have been spotted catching and eating fish there in 2009 and 2010 – and last year’s nine sightings gave Carsington the highest Osprey count in Derbyshire. Notices will be placed in hides to encourage visitors to report any sightings of this magnificent bird.
David Bennett, STW Volunteer Ranger
COLD WEATHER HITS EVENTS PROGRAMME
Our recent programme began with wildlife photographer Paul Hobson’s talk on farming in November, and would have continued with the Christmas party but for having to cancel it due to the freezing conditions that threatened to continue. We were able to inform most likely attendees – via website, emails and phone calls – but chairman Peter Gibbon took the ultimate ‘hit’ by turning up to inform anyone else who had not caught the news.
Peter returned to the limelight in January when, immediately after chairing the AGM, he moved behind a projector to show off the brilliant birdlife found on the island of Lesvos – the third largest Greek island which lies just a few miles off the coast of Turkey . Its population of 90,000 is swelled for much of the year by holidaymakers, including a fair number of birders who go for the huge variety, particularly (but not exclusively) during periods of migration. His slide show whetted members’ appetites both for sunshine and some wonderful and rare birds.
Earlier this month, another local top photographer, John Gardner, was our guest and gave us a look at some of his images and an insight into how he captured them. Our indoor season ends in March, and then the big outdoors beckons (see ‘What’s On’ below).
LOW WATER LEVELS EXPLAINED
The question I have been asked most of all over the last six months is why is the water level so low?
Well, there are a number of reasons, some more complex than others. Firstly, we have had a very dry year and, as a storage reservoir, Carsington Water comes into its own when other reservoirs are struggling to maintain water supplies. In these circumstances, STW sends water down 11 kilometres of pipes from Carsington into the River Derwent for abstraction or directly into Ogston treatment works.
In an average year, Carsington Water will capture 10 per cent of its catchment from the various streams and brooks that enter the reservoir, but to fill it, water has to be pumped back up the pipes from the Derwent, which in turn has to be full enough for the Environment Agency to allow us to abstract this water.
In what’s been a very dry winter, Carsington Water has naturally filled up only one per cent, which isn’t much considering all the snow that fell. The dry ground soaks up what little rain we have had, and the trend seems to be towards quick heavy downfalls rather than prolonged showers: this washes all the ‘nasties’ from the roads, farms and industry into the water, making it almost untreatable; this simply adds further pressure to the water treatment and supply process. Heavy rain also brings an increased risk of flooding, while being much harder to catch as it drains through the catchment very quickly; and ice and frost of the ultra-cold period this winter caused ground movement, which burst water mains and increased leakage.
A growing population means we are using more and more water – but there are simple measures we can all take to save water and help protect the environment. Here are a few ideas for you to consider:
• Turn off taps when you brush your teeth, only use your washing machine for full loads, and only fill/boil your kettle with the quantity of water needed for your drink
• Water your garden from a water butt, from your sink bowl – or even capture the water when you wait for your tap to run hot, try not to waste good drinking water
• Water plants once and heavily, not little and often
• Dripping taps are wasteful – and annoying: fix it and save several litres a day
• After washing out paint brushes, do not poor the paint, stains, and oils down the drain as they could pollute your local water source since drains are not always connected to the sewage system
• For more ideas, visit the Severn Trent Water website ( www.stwater.co.uk ), where you will be able to find out everything from receiving a free water-saving kit to reporting leaks in the road (or call 0800 783 4444)
Ben Young , STW site manager, Carsington Water