When Graham Appleton of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) was our guest speaker at the October meeting (jointly hosted by DOS), I don’t think I’ve learned so much valuable and fascinating information in such a short space of time about the trends in bird numbers, populations, habitats and movements.
Graham is the Trust’s Communications Officer and his skilled presentation on the findings from the recently-completed four-year Breeding Birds Atlas project revealed to the 30-strong audience that there was good and bad news regarding British birds. Trends are being established from a phenomenal amount of data collected over the four years of the project. Records for 209 million birds of 571 species were drawn from 180,697 timed tetrad (2x2km squares) visits, 3.9 million ‘roving records’, and 4.4 million BirdTrack records from 17,084 online users. Around 80% of records have so far been validated, and records can still be submitted until December. Perhaps no other country in the world could organise such a complex project at a cost of just £1.5 million.
The first half of Graham’s talk included maps that compared the latest findings with the previous Breeding Atlas (1988-1991) and Winter Atlas (1981-1982). Winners emerged, such as the Buzzard which was expected, but it was the patterns of increase, decrease or even loss for each species that was so fascinating. The Curlew population, for example, had decreased severely in the west, withIreland’s population dipping from 2,000 pairs to 200 – and this westerly decline was mirrored by other ‘farmland’ species like Lapwing.
We have noted less Cuckoos, but that’s not the case in Scotland, where Willow Warblers were also increasing (yet decreasing alarmingly in south-east England). For this and many other marked examples of ‘winner’ and ‘loser’, Graham asked the rhetorical question “why?” For one bird he showed us how a severe decline was tested against global warming and habitat loss, and it was the latter that seemed more serious. Evidently, locations with the greatest species richness in winter and summer were Titchwell and Minsmere, respectively, but to the audience of nodding heads he pointed out these are also the most watched, so that could be a factor!
The second half investigated what we do with this incredible store of knowledge, due to appear in published form in 2013. Graham said he was confident such a depth of data would give the BTO the power to educate, advise and, hopefully, influence important future environmental decisions.
Evidence from the last survey was, for example, used in deciding the location ofLondon’s next airport, guiding the government on wild bird movements during the Bird Flu issue, and as authoritative evidence in many academic papers up to 2008. Information from the latest study should be even more comprehensive. While the RSPB and other organisations gave nothing to fund the study, they will be given all the data as a means of helping their conservation work.
The plight of some species, readily confirmed by this survey, has also given the BTO an agenda for future surveys. A rapid follow-up on Short-eared Owl will be launched because the BTO is not satisfied with the results for this species, and a study will soon start on chats in Wales. Indeed, the future of ornithological research will start from a base provided by the Atlas findings: as an example, Graham said that in all the years of ringing, only one ringed dead Cuckoo had been found in Africa, yet five Cuckoos fitted with trackers were “telling us” every week exactly what is happening to them on migration.
Finally, Graham warned that most of the work for the current Atlas had been done by a certain age group that would probably not be ‘available’ when the next block of Atlas work is planned for 2027 – so, are we preparing a future generation of bird enthusiasts for that task? As he was leaving and I handed him a set of our annual reports covering the Atlas period, he asked if we regularly submit them to the BTO. It is such an obvious thing to do in the future – and it would be nice to see our efforts sit side by side with new Atlas in the library of The British Ornithological Society.
THE MONTHLY RECORD BROKEN IN SEPTEMBER
After reporting the best ever July species tally in the last newsletter, records have continued to tumble with September registering the highest monthly total EVER since the reservoir was built and club records began almost 20 years ago. An amazing 124 species were logged in those 30 days, with the varied highlights including Gannet, Honey Buzzard, Osprey, Brent Goose and Arctic Skua.
The gull roost took a particular interest in the Skua (a sighting that was repeated in October). As many as 7,000 Lesser Black-backs have swollen the roost, and other gull species seen over the past couple of months have included Yellow-legged, Caspian, Little and Mediterranean. Common,Arctic and Black Terns figured in the passage in September.
It looked like the reservoir was yet again to have an overwintering Gt Northern Diver when an adult bird dropped in on 17 October, but this time it stayed hours rather than months. Maybe more will follow. Waders, meanwhile, have continued to enjoy the wide open areas of mud. Nineteen species were logged in September, and many of those hung around into October, when up to 34 Dunlin were a regular sight, along with Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Ruff, Snipe and, a little less often, Little Sting, Curlew Sandpiper and Grey and Golden Plovers. Little Egrets also showed up periodically, while 210 Lapwing was counted on 2 November.
A large number of geese have been on the move, and as many as 800Canadaand a record 395 Greylag geese were recorded on single days during October. The WeBS count in October also included just over 1,000 Coot and a good range and number of ducks: 320 Wigeon, 265 Tufted, 140 Mallard, 33 Pochard and 30 Gadwall, but also some Pintail, Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard and Ruddy Shelduck.
It’s been a good spell for raptors: As well as the Osprey and Honey Buzzard, two Hobbys were seen in September, and the following month brought a Red Kite – mobbed by two Lapwings and a Grey Heron – together with regular Peregrine, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, with a possible Merlin also noted.
Some passerines not often seen at Carsington have become more regular, with the mud quite probably a factor once again. As many as 170 Meadow Pipits were counted, with the odd Rock and Water Pipit among them, and Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Wheatears joined the wagtails (mostly Pied but a few Yellow) on and around the Dam Wall.
Plenty of summer visitors were still around late into September – Redstart, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff were all seen or heard in the last few days of the month, but most were not recorded again in October … apart from Chiffchaff, though even they were few and far between, and a very late Swallow on the 14th.
Some winter visitors have arrived in droves, not least Redwings, with flocks as large as 800 recorded. Between 30 and 40 Siskin have been logged, and October also brought, Brambling, Crossbill and Lesser Redpoll sightings.
BIRD OF THE ISSUE: HONEY BUZZARD
Carsington can always throw up a few unusual raptors, and recently Osprey, Red Kite and, possibly, Merlin have featured at the reservoir along with the more regularly seen Peregrine and Sparrowhawk, but surely the major star was a rarely-encountered Honey Buzzard – almost certainly returning to wintering sites in Africa.
Only around 60-70 pairs are thought to breed in the UK – often in deciduous woodland and parkland – though numbers do seem to be increasing, possibly because of maturing upland forests. Wherever it nests, in southern and eastern England,Wales, northern England and Scotland, there is an effort to keep the sites secret. Elsewhere, they can occur in large numbers, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of birds are seen passing through known autumn migration points in the Mediterranean such as Gibraltar in western Turkey(and 850,000 were counted during an exceptional season in Eilat,Israel).
The Honey Buzzard is not a buzzard, nor does it eat honey. They are, like the buzzard however, large, broad-winged raptors that can be distinguished by their long, slim, three-barred tails and more elongated and narrower heads which means they could at a distance be mistaken for large pigeons or even Cuckoos. But a decent view will confirm this is very much larger (with its 1.4-metre wingspan) and, like its buzzard cousins, its plumage is quite variable, though under-wing areas are often barred.
And honey? Well, this attractive raptor is a highly specialised hunter, seeking out insects, particularly wasp and bee larvae (hence its Latin name Pernis Apivorous) – so you are unlikely to see it in life-and-death action in the skies, as its only other prey is small mammals.
BOTH ENDS OF THE BINOCULARS
Our first two talks of the new indoor season homed in, directly or indirectly, on bird-watching. Club chairman Peter Gibbon started the ball rolling in September with the business end of the binoculars by giving us part two of his history of bird-watching, bringing us right up to the present day.
Then, last month, Graham Appleton focused on the object lens with his review of the Breeding Bird Atlas. This has involved summarising a mass of records and data received over four years from both dedicated and casual bird-watchers alike to unveil the evolving trends in species distribution across the UK (see ‘Chairman’s Thoughts’ for more detail on this fascinating talk).
Next on the list, in November, is a look at how Severn Trent staff are trying to attract a bird we hope to see a lot more of at Carsington reservoir in years to come – the Osprey. Volunteer ranger David Bennett will describe the project to construct two sets of platforms as part of a broader initiative along theTrentValleyto attract these beautiful and exciting birds to breed in theMidlands.
CARSINGTON’S LOW WATER LEVELS – EXPLAINED
It seems a while ago, but remember the extremely hot and dry conditions we experienced in April. That broke records both for temperature and for the lack of rainfall, which meant that we began to pump water out of the reservoir much earlier than we would usually anticipate.
The summer that followed may not have felt particularly summery as it was the coolest for 20 years, but it was extremely dry with rainfall below average for much ofEngland, including our region. The continued dry weather saw parts of theUKdeclared drought zones and meant we continued to pump water out of the reservoir.
Water from Carsington is pumped to Ogston, near Alfreton – a reservoir that supplies parts ofChesterfieldandMansfield. The prolonged dry weather combined with the increasing demand we experience year on year meant the water was extracted continuously from April.
The current low water level (the reservoir was 64.1% full in mid-October) is a result of these factors – and while all the mud may look quite stark it must be remembered that supplying water in times of shortage is exactly what the reservoir was built to do. It is certainly not a cause for concern and when the water levels on the River Derwent are high enough we can once again begin to pump water back into reservoir, just as we have in previous years.
The mud has also had a couple of positive side effects. Firstly, it has provided the pubic with a useful and graphic example of why we ask them to think about the water they use and encourage them to save water. Secondly, the exposed mud has perhaps helped attract some of the wading birds that have led to the bumper autumn migration all those visiting Carsington Water have been able to enjoy.
John Matkin, Severn Trent Water ranger
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR ‘SUDDEN OAK DEATH’
New discoveries of sudden oak death (Phytophthora ramorum) outside previously-known sites in bothWales andNorthern Ireland suggest that the disease could be more widespread than first thought. Helping to keep it in check is something all those out regularly watching wildlife can do.
About 60 Larix kaempferi (Japanese larch) were found to be infected by the fungus-like pathogen at the Bwlch Nant yr Arian visitor centre, near Aberystwyth, on the west coast ofWales. All these trees were felled. There have also been three further cases, also affecting Japanese larch trees, inCountyAntrim andCountyDown, following the diagnosis of the first known cases inNorthern Ireland at three woodland sites in Antrim in August. The Forestry Commission is also investigating areas of dying larch in south-westScotland and the Isle of Man.
Until 2009, few trees had been infected in Britainand the disease was largely confined to Rhododendron species, particularly the naturalised R. ponticum – but testing has confirmed that the disease is present on larch plantations in no fewer than 58 locations inEngland andWales. The only known treatment is to fell diseased trees in a bid to contain the spread. This has sadly resulted in nearly 2,000 hectares of forest plantation being destroyed.
Let’s make sure that this drastic action does not become necessary at Carsington. But what to look for: When inspecting larch, look for wilting fresh needle growth, dieback extending along branches from the growing tips and resinous bleeds on branches and main stem. Other symptoms include dead needles retained on the bud and excessive side shoot growth, combined with abnormally high cone production. For more detailed information, and pictures of the damage, visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pramorum and if you think you have spotted the disease, please inform one of the ranger team.
Dave Drury, Severn Trent Water ranger
The 2011-12 indoor season continues at Hognaston Village Hall, which for the final event of this year will play host to the club’s Christmas party. The full CBC events programme over the next three months is as follows:
15 November Indoor meeting: ‘The Osprey Project’ by David Bennett, STW volunteer ranger – Hognaston Vill Hall (7.30pm)
22 November CBC committee meeting – STW Visitor Centre (8pm)
20 December CBC Christmas party (includes talk from Dave Edmonds on ‘Birds inMalta’ – Hognaston Vill Hall (7.30pm)
17 January 2012Club AGM – will include a celebration of ‘CBC at 20’ to mark 20 years of the Carsington Bird Club – Hognaston Village Hall (7pm)
21 February Indoor meeting: Talk on ‘Namibia’ by Paul Bingham – Hognaston Vill Hall (7.30pm)
It is usually advisable to book for most Severn Trent Water events at Carsington Water: do so by calling the Visitor Centre reception (01629 540696). The programme for the remainder 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.
Last Saturday of each month – Sheepwash spinners (learn about traditional wool spinning, with demonstrations, from fleece to gifts and garments). Visitor Centre (11am-3pm).
16 November – Optics demonstrations (guidance on binoculars/telescopes) RSPB shop (10am-4pm)
20 November – Learn about wildlife in winter, and make a garden bird feeder at open door day in Wildlife Discovery Room. Visitor Centre (11am-4pm)
2/3 December – Optics demonstrations (see earlier entry for details)
3/4 December – Christmas at Carsington (visit Santa Claus and browse for those final gifts in the visitor centre and courtyard shops). Visitor Centre.
4 December – Xmas fun for the family in the Wildlife Discovery Room (make Christmas gifts, create recycled tree decorations, design cards). Visitor Centre.
|KNOW YOUR COMMITTEE – Here are the club officials and their contact details|
|Chairman & Treasurer||Peter Gibbon||01629 email@example.com|
|Secretary||Paul Hicking||01773 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Recorder||Roger Carrington||01629 email@example.com|
|Publicity/Newsletter editor||Gary Atkins||01335 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Outdoor trips organiser||Peter Oldfield||01629 email@example.com|
|Ex-officio||Steph Hicking||01773 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Membership secretaries||Dave and Sue Edmonds||01335 email@example.com|
|CBC Website address: www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk (maintained by: Richard Pittam firstname.lastname@example.org)|