No 3 / August 2011
As I write this, the sun has come out again after a heavy shower of rain. We keep being told it’s been a poor summer, but it certainly seems to have been pretty dry – as demonstrated by the low water levels at Carsington Water. The bonus of this has been an extended, deeper shoreline attractive to a wider than usual range of waders and Little Egrets.
A whiff of autumn is already around and the first birds are back on the reservoir in the form of Pochard and Teal. I read recently an estimated quarter of the world’s bird species migrate – and we have abundant chances of seeing this avian strategy working on the reservoir. That same article also revealed some ‘weird demises’ that came to light as a result of research through ringing: BTO recoveries included a Mute Swan killed by tigers at Chester Zoo, a Reed Warbler found dead in a spider’s web and an Osprey ringed in Strathclyde that was found in the stomach of a crocodile in the Gambia!
Nothing so dramatic at Carsington Water, hopefully, but this year sharp-eyed bird-watchers there have seen rings that unmasked a real ‘wild’ Barnacle Goose among our escapee flock and an Osprey that was a Scottish bird (explaining why it chose not to stay long, dashing our hopes of breeding on the new platforms dashed). Behind such sightings there might be an interesting story, so keep watching our site and recording what you see.
Moving on, do you know when the first non-folding telescope and tripod combination became available to birdwatchers or when the first Act of Parliament was passed fully protecting birds and their nests? If not, may I recommend that you come along to our first indoor meeting of the new season – on Tuesday 20 September – and hear about ‘The History of Birdwatching from 1939 to the Present Day’. The following month (on 18 October) the BTO’s Graham Appleton will be talking about ‘Four Years of Atlas work’, which was completed this year and details the most up-to-date information on wintering and breeding birds of theBritish Isles.
We were on tenterhooks this summer after an Osprey threatened to stay on the new platforms built to entice them to breed. It didn’t happen but it gives us hope! If you want to know more about this project come along to Hognaston Village Hall on 15 November to hear David Bennett talk about ‘The Osprey Project’.
In December, I’m hoping our Christmas party can be ‘home-grown’. I have recently been to ‘Pecha Kucha’ evenings at the Quad in Derby. This is a new worldwide phenomenon that challenges speakers to put up 20 slides and talk about each for 20 seconds: that’s a six-minute 40-second presentation. Could we interest a handful of members in doing this at our party? Let me know soonest (but certainly by November) if you’re up for it, then send me 20 pictures – on any subject of your choice – and I’ll put them on my computer, ready for a quickfire presentation though my projector. We wouldn’t stick rigidly to the time limit, though it might be fun to do so!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: TRIP CANCELLED
For anyone who booked or was planning to do so, please note that our proposed September club trip to the Wash and Frampton Marsh reserve has been cancelled. This was due to a misunderstanding with the company organising the Wash cruise. This would have been the centrepiece of the event for most people, so club officials decided it would not be sensible to rearrange it on any lesser basis.
Peter Oldfield has returned monies to those who had already booked, and notification of the cancellation appeared on the website some weeks ago – but we realise not everyone has a computer so this is to flag it up to anyone not ‘online’.
LOW WATER MEANS LOTS OF WADERS – AND IT’S A RECORD JULY
As autumn approaches, with the usual build-up of waterfowl and gull numbers, Carsington Water can look back on a productive breeding season, and unusually high species records during the summer months. The 95 species logged in June was the best for that month for several years, and 105 the following month was the best July tally ever since records began at this rich birding site in 1992.
Breeding had its ups and downs. Coot, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Gt Crested Grebe were well down on the previous year, but six Lapwing broods represented an increase, two three-strong broods of Little Ringed Plovers was excellent to see, and two Oystercatcher and three Redshank pairs also successfully bred. Black-headed Gull nests failed at Sheepwash – possibly due to fox predation – but there were 19 chicks from several nests on the tern raft andHorseshoeIsland, with further young possible onFlatIsland.
Eighteen House Martin nests were counted around the perimeter of the Visitor Centre, where Swifts were also seen feeding young. Over in the Hall Wood area, at least two Raven and two Buzzard young were raised.
The very dry conditions saw the reservoir water levels sink which was, at least, good for waders and no fewer than 20 species had been seen during August alone – including Whimbrel, Curlew, Turnstone, Dunlin, Knot, Little Stint, Ruff, Sanderling, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Common and Green Sandpipers, and Black-tailed Godwit.
Peregrines seem to be getting more and more regular, with sightings on many days and as many as three seen at any one time. Two Red Kites were viewed at the end of July, an Osprey kept up this species’ excellent 2011 attendance record with another sighting in June, while there were two Hobby sightings in late August. One or more Sparrowhawks were observed carrying prey into the same piece of woodland on several dates throughout June and July, and as many as six Buzzards were seen aloft at one time. Similar numbers of Ravens were also seen soaring on warm days.
One of the highest numbers of Yellow Wagtails seen at one time at Carsington – 19 – were noted in late August, a family group of Grey Wagtails (hard hit during the last tough winter) were singing on Stones Island in June, while as many as 91 Pied Wagtails were recorded on the same day. Redstarts have been a rare sight at Carsington in recent years, but a family group was regularly noted, often near the Wildlife Centre. Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Tit pairs bred as, for the first time, did a pair of Reed Warblers.
Little Egrets have become a more regular sight since June, and as many as four were seen together in August. Gull numbers are now on the rise, with up to 800 Lesser Black-backs counted in mid-August.
One far less welcome visitor is the predatory Yellow-legged Gull that seems to find plenty of warm-blooded food around the reservoir: already this year it has been seen to take a rodent and another Little Grebe, seemingly and sadly its favourite prey last year.
BIRD OF THE ISSUE: LITTLE EGRET
The sight of these beautiful small white herons is becoming increasingly common around the coasts and now also inland in the UK. Yet there is evidence to show that Little Egrets (Egretta Garzetta) were relatively common inBritain up to mediaeval times, even in territories much further north than Derbyshire. Overhunting and a mini ice-age saw them disappear, and for a long time they were considered a ‘continental’ bird.
They eat fish, insects, amphibians, crustaceans and reptiles – so Carsington Water is a good hunting territory for them. And with the lower water levels, widening the wading area and making some stretches of water much shallower than usual, this summer has been a good time for Little Egrets (as reported above).
They are distinctive birds of the heron family, with attractive white plumes on head, back and chest, jet black legs and yellow feet – quite different from anything other than the Great White Egret (or Heron), which is much larger, and Cattle Egret, with lighter legs and orange-buff crest and back, which is a much rarer sight in the UK.
Little Egrets have only been reappearing in theUKin good numbers for around the last 20 years, with the first pair breeding inDorsetin 1996. There are now around 150 pairs breeding in the UK, with another 1,500 overwintering, so they’re becoming a much more familiar sight as they spread around the coasts and estuaries of southern England, Devon, Cornwall, Wales and East Anglia, and gradually push further north. Long may it continue.
NEW LOOK TO CBC WEBSITE
The website has been completely re-written, for easier maintenance and to enable web postings to be pre-prepared and then scheduled to appear at specific dates and times. It will also enable a more flexible approach to editing of web content.
Despite its new look, it continues to provide all the familiar features people seem to enjoy, such as the on-line sightings board and Roger Carrington’s excellent monthly round-up of bird sightings at the reservoir. It also has the ability to allow users to catch-up on any content missed at publication time, such as newsletters or features, which are stored as ‘blog posts’ – so, if you missed a post, or would just like to look at previous postings, simply click on ‘Archives’ and review them month by month, or find them by the online search facility.
Selecting the “Categories” link on the right allows users to focus the content to a particular subject matter, such as Newsletters or News. There are over 12 categories ranging from CBC information, to special features, to details of where to stay and what to do when visiting Carsington Water.
There is also a word “tag” list down on the right-hand-side. This allows users to find a page or pages which have a particular word or phrase: for example click on “Osprey” to locate some content containing that word.
Wherever you find yourself on the website you can always return to base by either clicking the “Home” button at the top, or by clicking the “Carsington Bird Club” header text.
The website has also been written to be accessible by most Android Smartphones, Apple iPhones and iPads, and the like. The web pages automatically format themselves for the mobile you are using, so you need never be far from the information you require!
Have a look round and if you’ve any questions, please ask (via the ‘contact us’ page) – we value your feedback.
Richard Pittam – Webmaster
CLUB WALK BAGS 48 SPECIES
For the club’s June walk – a more ambitious effort than usual – leaders Roger Carrington and Peter Gibbon set a target of 50 species, but fell just tantalisingly two short. After meeting at Millfields car park, the small group was ferried up to Hopton Arm and then took three hours to meander back to their vehicles along the eastern shore of the reservoir, assembling plenty of highlights on the way.
These included a close-up and personal view of a female Sparrowhawk preening, a Willow Tit group going about their family business, an Oystercatcher on a nest, and two families of Moorhens.
The other species recorded were Gt Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Buzzard, Coot, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Gt Spotted Woodpecker, Swallow, House Martin, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Reed Warbler, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch and Reed Bunting.
There were no walks in July and August, reflecting the invariable shortage of both birds and people to spot them!
HELPING TO HALT THE MALTESE SLAUGHTER
We are lucky enough to have somewhere inMaltawhere we can work and stay, so we usually visit two or three times a year. The island is located on the central Mediterranean migration flyway betweenEuropeandAfricaand should be a great place for birding, but in fact it is notorious for the annual slaughter of thousands of birds by shooting and trapping – not for locally important economics or profit; but simply for amusement.
The sound of distant – and often not so distant – illegal gunfire signals the reality of what is happening. Walking around the hunting grounds, as they are called, with literally thousands of spent shotgun cartridges at your feet is one of the most depressing sights imaginable. As was the long-eared owl we came across when walking with friends: it had been shot and had a badly-damaged wing.
We were surprised to discover an Important Bird Area existed right in the centre of the capital, Valletta. This winter roost of white wagtails could, we read, contain as many as seven thousand overnight in the mature ficus trees by the cathedral. It was difficult to believe, so we decided to watch the next day. As we headed for the location in the late afternoon we saw birds coming in from all directions, largely unnoticed by the tourists and shoppers. The noise level grew as the trees filled with birds, and we sat until it grew dark when the calling finally subsided.
When we visited in March this year we were horrified to see that the trees had been cut back. We discovered that they had been were pruned without a permit and that the workers continued to cut the trees, even while police were asking them to stop. In November the birds were observed trying to land on what foliage was left and flying around looking for an alternative site. We have not yet been able to find out just how successful they were.
All is not bleak, though, and there are many people working to change the culture, and educate the future generations to appreciate nature, and not seek to destroy it. After all, things have not always been so good here in theUK.
There are now two wetland nature reserves, one of which is right opposite the largest tourist beach in Mellieha. This year Black-winged Stilts bred successfully there – a first forMalta. At the weekends the reserves are open to the public and we have spent many happy hours there. Dedicated volunteers work in their own time to run, maintain and, importantly, protect the reserves, which also provide a focus for education.
One of the most important tasks is taking school parties around and showing them how the birds live – and this is working. One of the volunteers told us that children are now putting pressure on their fathers and uncles to stop hunting, and that he personally knows of at least one hunter who has given up. More will follow.
It’s refreshing to see that most of the Maltese you meet in the hides are young. One day we were watching a lone drake swim slowly into view: neither of us reacted to the bird as we recognised it, but a group of teenagers in the hide exploded with excitement – yelling ‘Pochard, Pochard!’, taking pictures and calling their friends to come and see this rare bird.
It was a touching moment, and one that shows the tide is turning. We were more excited by our first, fleeting view of a Little Bittern from the same hide. The teenage wardens obviously learn fast, too, for as we spoke to one about what we’d seen he was at first very cautious about confirming the known presence of the bird.
As we chatted, he then told us about a website he and his friend were building on birding in Malta. We checked it out and were really impressed. It’s well worth a look – www.birdinginmalta.com
Meanwhile, the key organisation on the island is BirdLife Malta(www.birdlifemalta.org) which, among other things, manages the two reserves and holds spring and autumn camps to record both the migrations and the illegal activities of the hunters.
Sue and Dave Edmonds
Our Chairman Peter Gibbon will be first up during our 2011-12 indoor season, at Hognaston Village Hall, when he delivers ‘part two’ of his History of Birdwatching on Tuesday, 20 September. The full CBC events programme up to the end of the year is as follows:
20 September – Indoor meeting: ‘The history of birdwatching (1939-present day) by Peter Gibbon – Hognaston Vill Hall (7.30pm)
18 October – Indoor meeting: ‘Four years of Atlas work’ by Graham Appletonof the BTO – Hognaston Vill Hall (7.30pm)
15 November – Indoor meeting: ‘The Osprey Project’ by David Bennett, STW volunteer ranger – Hognaston Vill Hall (7.30pm)
20 December – CBC Christmas party – Hognaston Vill Hall (7.30pm)
For most Severn Trent Water events at Carsington Water, it is advisable to book through the Visitor Centre reception (01629 540696).
The programme for the rest of 2011 is as follows:
First Sunday of each month – Birdwatching for Beginners (enjoy a gentle two-hour walk led by experienced STW volunteer David Bennett) – Meet Visitor Centre 10am
2 September – Wildlife Discovery Room with STW and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust – Wild Fridays (fun-packed day for families with young children in Visitor Centre (11am-4pm)
3 September – Bat Safari (£2.50 – book; bring stout footware and warm clothing) – Millfields car park (8.45pm)
14 September – Optics demonstrations (guidance on binoculars/telescopes) – RSPB shop (10am-4pm)
8-9 October – Derbyshire Beekeepers Association annual honey show and sale – Visitor Centre (1.30-4pm)
14-15 October – Optics demonstrations (see earlier entry for details)
30 October – Halloween family fun day in Wildlife Discovery Room – Visitor Centre (evening)
16 November – Optics demonstrations (see earlier entry for details)
20 November – Learn about wildlife in winter, and make a garden bird feeder at the Open Door Day in Wildlife Discovery Room – Visitor Centre (11am-4pm)
2-3 December Optics demonstrations (see earlier entry for details)