No.2 – May 2011
We have just completed three successful and enjoyable club walks that are now being run in conjunction with Severn Trent and, as such, are open to non-members. During the last one of these – at Coombes Valley, near Leek – we had very close views of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker feeding young at the nest hole, good views of a male Pied Flycatcher and, just as we were leaving, a Lesser Whitethroat popped up beside our cars.
Earlier that same day, Roger Carrington had picked up the 2010 club annual report from the printers and was soon busy posting it out; you should by now have received your copy. If so, you can see that once again it’s a very high standard publication. I hope you enjoy reading it and appreciate the efforts of a number of people that went into its production – particularly Roger. Another thing we can appreciate is the work undertaken by Severn Trent and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to improve the Sheepwash area for birds. This is already paying dividends with good views of waders in particular. All this has led to an exciting summer for bird club members.
This summer will also see an important national ornithological milestone with the conclusion of the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) ‘Bird Atlas 2007-2011’. This has involved volunteers visiting 2x2km ‘tetrads’ twice in winter and twice during the breeding season for a minimum of two hours. The first of the summer visits had to be completed by the end of May.
There have been an astonishing 170,406 tetrad visits undertaken so far, augmented by ‘roving records’ logged by individuals in a particular area – and there have been 3,500,684 of these. Finally there were also 4,012,441 ‘BirdTrack’ records (a study of migration reports) from 16,561 online users. The BTO can also use records from its other schemes like the WeBS survey John Bradley and I conduct for Carsington Water. Overall, a staggering 190.5 million birds recorded of 588 species (including escapees and races) have been recorded; you can see all these statistics and more on the BTO website by clicking onto Volunteer Surveys and then Atlas.
I hope this has whetted your appetite to know more as we will be welcoming Graham Appleton (BTO Director of Communications) to give a talk on ‘Four Years of Atlas Work’ at our club meeting on 18 October that we are staging jointly with the Derbyshire Ornithological Society (DOS) at Hognaston Village Hall. Mark that date in your diary – and the month before, that of our trip to Lincolnshire and a cruise on the Wash (fill in the form at the end of this newsletter to book your place!).
DIVERS AND RAPTORS – A SITE FOR SORE EYES!
Carsington Water is building a solid reputation for rarities, particularly for divers and raptors, which seem determined to visit the reservoir time and time again. Great Northern Divers have over-wintered for the last several years, and as many as four have been here at one time in 2010-11 with the last only moving off to its breeding grounds in the past couple of weeks, while a Black-throated Diver arrived just weeks ago and promises to remain over the summer (as its flight plumage is not quite in place!).
With newly-erected Osprey platforms ( see “Project Osprey” later on ), it’s not unreasonable to hope for Ospreys – and, sure enough, there have been several sightings during April and May. Exciting stuff – as is the fact that Red Kites, which are extending their range across the UK, have been seen five times over the reservoir from mid-March to mid-May, with a further sighting just a mile or two down the road.
The arrival of migrants is always an exciting time, and Chiffchaff as usual was first to its mark on 12 March, followed by Sand Martin (26/3), Redstart (28/3), Swallow a day later and Blackcap and Willow Warbler also making March debuts. Swifts waited a whole month, but in the meantime, Wheatear (2/4), Lesser Whitethroat (17/4) and Whitethroat, Sedge and Garden Warbler (19/4) had been sighted, and Reed Warblers had, encouragingly, been noted at three separate sites. A Waxwing seemed slightly out of place when spotted at 6am at Sheepwash on 1 May.
Encouragingly, as many as 28 Tree Sparrows have been noted on a single day – and on Stones Island, a multi-nest-box has witnessed as many as 10 ‘units’ being fed.
Amazingly, a Sacred Ibis was spotted in late April, but we believe it to be an escapee, which sightings of both Mandarin and Red-Crested Pochard might also be. Other ducks, though, are wild enough – with Goldeneye, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Shelduck, Common Scoter and Pintail all logged during early spring.
In among the feral Barnacle geese, a proven wild bird has made itself known, courtesy of a ring that shows it’s been around a while and is often logged on the Solway Firth . Twenty-two Whooper Swans gracefully passed through as part of a national movement in early March.
The gull roost has diminished, but as many as 900 Black-heads were noted on 28 March, with 200 Common Gulls just a couple of weeks earlier. Mediterranean Gulls have shown among this lessening group, while terns have been on the increase: Commons as early as 1 April, and as many as five Black Terns on 20 April. The only bad tern news was a Common Tern hastened into eternity by a hungry Peregrine – in front of a few shocked witnesses in Sheepwash Hide on 24 May!
NO WAGTAILS BUT WARBLERS TURN UP ON TIME
For the second successive year, the club’s Wagtail Walk in April – advertised to a potentially wider audience via Severn Trent’s events list – finished without seeing any Yellow Wagtails, and only the odd Pied turned out on cue.
The Dawn Chorus walk the following month was a little more successful with 12 people – including five non-CBC members – turning up at the 4.30am start time, led by Roger Carrington , John Bradley and Peter Gibbon and witnessing a collective total of 42 species. The visiting warblers were on good form, and there were excellent views of Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff, as well as Blackbird and Song Thrush belting out their songs from the tops of trees or bushes.
An Osprey had been seen on the two previous days, but did not stay around a further 24 hours to provide a major highlight, though views of the Gt Northern Diver compensated to a large extent.
Later that month, Pied Flycatchers and the view from just ten yards of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker feeding young were the chief star moments of the club’s only walk away from Carsington Water – at the RSPB’s delightful Coombes Valley reserve, where a wide range of woodland species were seen or heard.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE A WITNESS TO WILDLIFE CRIME?
This is not something we come across every day, but for everyone who loves wildlife it’s reassuring to know that there is an authority we can reach out to if we come across criminal activity against wildlife.
As part of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime, Derbyshire Police has a network of Wildlife Crime Officers from Glossop to Swadlincote, and Ashbourne-based PC Ian Cooper came along to a committee meeting to explain why the team is required and when and how people should contact them.
He gave some examples of such crimes – poaching, poisoning, taking protected plants, killing wild birds or taking their eggs, smuggling or illegal trading in protected species – and related some harrowing local stories of suffering to birds and other wildlife.
If you see something suspicious,” stressed PC Cooper, “please contact us so we can consider it. If possible contact us at the time of the incident, make a note of any details – the exact location, registration numbers and descriptions of vehicles and people involved. All this can be very helpful.” Add the Derbyshire Police non-emergency number to your phone contacts for just such an eventuality: it is 0345 123 3333.
Last September, when I heard of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s plan to erect Osprey posts along the Trent Valley – linking up with neighbouring Trusts in Staffordshire and Notts – it seemed to me a project the Carsington volunteer rangers would enjoy undertaking. The majority of ‘VRs’ are not birders but their response to my initial canvassing was a resounding “yes”… and this despite three unsuccessful attempts in recent years to create a Sand Martin bank, and an earlier Osprey nest site (bread trays on too-short posts!). This time, we would make sure our attempt to lure an Osprey utilised larger and more professionally built nesting/perching posts.
Site Manager Ben Young – thankfully also a keen birder – was behind the project 100 per cent and agreed to locate the two sets of posts at Penn Carr and Lane End, even generously providing some Severn Trent funding and a little help from full-time Rangers. The majority of the work was, nevertheless, undertaken by the volunteers and, as those involved will tell you, it was a very enjoyable and satisfying project for all those who were able to help.
All wood and ‘furniture’ for the nests was donated by the Derby branch of Howarth’s Timber (whose branch manager is a keen birder – and my next door neighbour!). Brian Woods and Jim Craw collected the wood within four days of agreeing “the deal”, and utilised three snow-bound weeks over Christmas to finish the platforms and perches. The poles proved more problematic, but my obliging next door neighbour found a supplier with sensible prices. Delivery, though, would have to wait until he bought in an economic load and, with Christmas and the snow causing delays; we didn’t get our poles until 21 January … after which it was non-stop!
In under three weeks, we negotiated the installation of the posts on consecutive days, finished the platforms (together with sticks and white paint to look like guano!) and attached the platforms to the posts, completing the job on 9 February. The following week we also built a dead hedge at Millfields to discourage the public from going down to the water’s edge.
As most volunteers tend to come in just once a week, the timescale achieved was very impressive. Meanwhile, I was also tasked with getting publicity for the project, and it was rewarding to achieve 35 column-inches and five photographs within the pages of the Derby Telegraph, Matlock Mercury and Ashbourne News Telegraph. Including Images magazine, which also ran the story, 100,000 copies were bought: using a Press Association readership formula that meant over 250,000 people could have read about the project. Furthermore, Radio Derby’s Andy Potter visited Carsington and recorded a conversation with me, transmitting it the same day.
A plaque has been placed in Lane End Hide to acknowledge those who supported us – also including Alex Millward of Millward’s who machined the poles, and Derbyshire Ornithological Society who gave us a retrospective £150 grant – and I am maintaining a comprehensive record of the Carsington sightings, with as much detail of times, activities, arrivals and departures that club members and the public can provide. To help with this, there is also a form at the Visitor Centre reception desk that people can complete to log Osprey sightings.
David Bennett, STW Volunteer Ranger
FLORIDA – A WARM GETAWAY AND PLENTY OF BIRDS
Florida in February was certainly a pleasant break from the damp and cold we left behind in the UK – and a great birding experience, too. It wasn’t my first time there, but there were still some ‘ticks’ – namely Limpkin and Painted Bunting – as well as the great weather.
After touching down in Miami , we travelled west to Naples and spent the first part of the holiday there, visiting the JN Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel and the Corkscrew Swamp Audubon reserve. The Ospreys here were fantastic – and everywhere. Because of the time of the year, most were building/refurbishing nests or catching fish for their young, either activity presenting great opportunities to photograph these beautiful birds.
Sanibel Island is superb and if ever you get the chance to visit, do so. The whole island is a bird sanctuary, which makes it a birder’s and photographer’s paradise. This means it can get busy, of course, but it’s worth it.
The JN “Ding” Darling NWR is very interesting in that it’s mainly a mangrove ecosystem. As the tide changes there can be hundreds of wading birds, including smaller Dunlin, Willet and Dowitcher, but also larger birds such as Snowy and Great White Egrets, along with Roseate Spoonbills. There are always predators there – Ospreys, Peregrines, Red-shouldered Hawks and the occasional Bald Eagle.
A day or two later we visited Corkscrew Swamp sanctuary, run by the USA Audubon Society , with its 2¼-mile raised boardwalk which takes visitors through four distinct environments: pine upland, wet prairie, cypress forest and marsh. There are birds everywhere and we didn’t let the drizzle dampen our enthusiasm.
From the visitor centre we were able to view [at last] the Painted Buntings, which were showing well on the feeders. With a bit of patience I was able to get a shot of a male and female, away from the feeders in a more natural environment. Despite the weather we were able to see many of the woodland birds and some woodpeckers such as the Red-bellied variety.
The second week was spent in the Everglades , with our base at Florida City/Homestead. A must-visit place is the Anhinga Trail , just inside the Everglades National Park – a haven for bird photographers. The Anhinga itself is a strange, but beautiful-looking bird, sometimes called the Snakebird – a bit like a cormorant, but swims with its head and neck above the water – hence the snake reference.
Of all the things to see here, a very busy Pileated Woodpecker (Woody Woodpecker himself!) was the biggest surprise. There were dozens more species than I’ve mentioned – and 100’s of pictures of many of them.
If you want to see these (together with some descriptions of how I ‘shot’ them) please visit my Blog at:
A BIT OF LIGHT READING
If you come across a book called ‘While Flocks Last’ by Charlie Elder, give it a go. For amateur birders, Charlie’s description of how he went about trying to see all of Britain ‘s Red-List birds – those that are reducing in numbers at an alarming rate – in just one year was a charming and amusing read despite its ominous theme. He relates to us whether the reader is a keen birdwatcher or not, because he himself is only just getting back into birding after the pressures of life kept his nose firmly to the grindstone over the previous two decades.
While his simple descriptions of why things happen in the birding world, often seeking expert advice en route (I certainly learned a lot, even basics!), the lengths he went to in his quest were at times mind-boggling. He must have had a very understanding family, and employer, considering the amount of time he was away hunting yet another elusive quarry. He used all his holiday allocation travelling to the remotest corners of Britain – from northern Scotland to The Scillies – but was also prone to dashing off all of a-twitch at a moment’s notice.
It’s written in a very light tone, and numerous times I found myself laughing out loud at his exploits. The serious underlying message bubbles away throughout and is underscored at the end when, after successfully logging his 40 th and final Red-Lister, he points out that he would have to find over 50 if he tried again the following year!
I’ve just looked it up on Amazon.com – and not only can you get a hardback copy for one penny (oh, plus £2.80 P&P), but it earned 12 out of 12 five-star ratings from those who’ve read it. It gets a solid five stars from me, too.
WHAT’S ON ?
After a busy spring programme, the CBC’s events schedule slows down rather with only one more walk planned: this will be on 21 June, meeting at Millfields at 9am and then transferring down to Hopton End for a walk of around four miles back to the Millfields car park. Recognising bird activity and holidays combine to make the latter part of the summer very quiet, we are not planning to have walks in July or August.
Walks become talks with our regular series of indoor meetings at Hognaston Village Hall, starting 20 September.
We also have a super trip planned for Saturday, 24 September, when lucky travellers will be able to combine one of the RSPB’s star sites – Frampton Marsh – and a four-hour cruise on The Wash. See the cut-off booking slip on the next page for more details, and the opportunity to ensure your name is down for this unusual excursion.
Other events taking place at Carsington over the coming months are as follows ( remember that for some of the Seven Trent events, advance booking on 01629 540696 is advisable:
First Sunday of Birdwatching for Beginners (enjoy a gentle two-hour walk led Meet Visitor Centre 10am each month by experienced STW volunteer David Bennett)
4-12 June RSPB Make your Nature Count week (survey forms from RSPB shop / Wildlife Centre)
11 June Reservoir Ramble (join a ranger on a 3-mile walk along the Dam Visitor Centre 10.30am (2 hrs) and down to Henmore Brooke to learn more about the reservoir)
15 June Optics demonstrations (guidance on binoculars/telescopes) RSPB shop ( 10am-4pm )
2 July Reservoir Ramble (see earlier entry for details)
15-16 July Optics demonstrations (see earlier entry for details)
12,19,26 August Wild Fridays (fun-packed day for families with young children in Visitor Centre ( 11am-4pm )
+ 2 September Wildlife Discovery Room with STW and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust
3 September Bat Safari (£2.50 – book; bring stout footwear and warm clothing) Millfields car park ( 8.45pm )