Welcome to the Carsington Bird Club website, containing information about the club, Carsington Water, latest bird sightings and much more!

Mar 032013


I have recently written a yearly report for our AGM and I am now in the midst of writing reports for the club's Annual Report along with all the other contributors. Amazingly, the total number of contributors numbered over 160 for the last report. That may surprise those of you who think the report is the result of the efforts of a small handful of people – but actually page 68 of the last report explains all: on there you'll find the names of all the people that contributed to the year's records. Without these, there would be no core substance to our admirable annual production, which now sits proudly, among other places, in the library of the British Trust for Ornithology. On behalf of the committee I thank all contributors for their efforts.
But I also believe we can do even more recording – and I definitely include myself in that. As outgoing treasurer (we now have John Follett voted into that post following last month's AGM), I looked at receipts received this year from Roger Carrington and realised how cheap but how invaluable the diaries for each hide are. One can only wonder at what goes unrecorded each year which could be simply written down in a few moments. Don't think recording is just about rarities; we need records of the commoner birds together with other wildlife occurrences. While we do have a wonderful website – run so brilliantly by Richard Pittam – where recording is so straightforward, I realise that not everybody has ready access to log sightings this way or likes to use this technology. That's where the the diaries become even more useful and important. 
So any time you visit the reservoir, no matter how long for or how much you see (or are disappointed not seeing!) you could still leave a note of the birds you have seen. It will be much appreciated and all the more satisfying if younger people are involved. Most importantly please leave your name as well and then we could add your initials beside the records in the next annual report … which reminds me – I must get back to that task right away!
Peter Gibbon
This is a new location for a Carsington Bird Club trip, but with the prospect of seeing (or hearing) Nightingales, Turtle Doves and a cast list of several possible raptors, it promises to be a fascinating place to try out.  
Paxton Pits is a Local Nature Reserve managed by volunteers under a volunteer wardening scheme. It is near the A1 just north of St Neots, and runs alongside the River Great Ouse between the villages of Little Paxton and Great Paxton in Cambridgeshire. It boasts a number of habitats within a couple of former quarry sites. Established as an SSSI in 1986, it formally became a nature reserve in 1989 and has matured and expanded since then.
We're proposing to take a CBC group there on Sunday, 19 May, and details of how to register interest are given below … but first of all let's look at Paxton Pits' highlights from the past couple of years in May. Raptors have included several Ospreys, Red Kite, Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Common Buzzard, Short-eared Owl and, in 2011, a Red-footed Falcon. Grasshopper Warblers are among a strong cast of summer-visiting songsters, but arguably the stars of the show are the Nightingales that turn up faithfully each spring. Add some late migrants moving north, together with other relative UK rarities like Turtle Dove, and we could be looking forward confidently to a feast of birding.
If you want to come along, then contact our trips organiser Peter Oldfield – either by telephone on 01629 540510 or e-mail at peter.oldfield2011@gmail.com – to register your interest. We will then see how many want to go and what sort of transport needs to be arranged. Peter can let you know what the cost will be but expect it to be between £10 and £15.
Snow and ice during December kept the species count down but did add one (Jack Snipe) to the list of birds seen at Carsington in 2012, raising the grand total to 158 which was a little below average for a year that had begun with water levels in the reservoir very low before recovering steadily to reach 93 per cent at the end of the year.
January's 89 species compared favourably to all but three years over the past decade, and included some site scarce species including Red Kite, Brent Goose, Little Gull, Great Northern Diver (though not as surprising as it would have been several years ago), and both Bewick's and Whooper Swans.
Up to four 'GNDs', comprising adults and juveniles, were with us throughout the period since the last newsletter, but we lost the Slavonian Grebe which stayed around for a month, leaving in December. Still with grebes, at either end of the population spectrum, Great-Cresteds are thriving with a maximum count of 51 earlier this month, while the Little Grebe total is invariably one – courtesy of our cannibal Yellow-legged Gull.
WeBS counts have brought variety, but individual species totals are generally down. Up to 784 Coots (in December) sounds good but we've had over 2,000 on past occasions at this time of year. Pochard were up around 228, which was excellent, but were back in double-figures at the last count; 251 Tufted Ducks were logged in January, the highest number of Wigeon was only 73, while Goldeneye numbers have been relatively good, with 28 recorded on a single day in December.
A site record 1,010 Common Gulls were in the roost on 3 January, and 1,600 Black-headeds were counted in February, with an adult Mediterranean Gull in amongst them. An adult Caspian Gull and four Great Black-backs turned up on 30 December, while up to two Yellow-legs have been around regularly.
Other water birds included up to 300 Lapwing on 4 January, and by earlier this month seven Oystercatchers had returned. Among the waders visiting Carsington, Golden Plover, Redshank and Curlew figured, while more unusually Sanderling, Woodcock and that single Jack Snipe were reported.
Raptors have been thin on the ground – a Red Kite, six Buzzard, two Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine being the best records – but owls have been showing up more regularly. Tawny Owls were logged at several locations, a Barn Owl was seen hunting at Sheepwash on 17 and 20 January, and a Little Owl was heard calling a few days earlier in Fishtail Creek. Corvids have also been plentiful, with maximum counts of up to 150 Jackdaws, 40 Carrion Crows and five Ravens.
Small groups of Skylarks moving through earlier this month brought a sense of spring around the corner (though not sure if the weather agrees!). Two circular walks in January highlighted three notable absentees – Goldcrest, Linnet and Grey Wagtail (though one was seen in February). By contrast, impressive species maximums logged during a single circuit included 74 Blackbirds, 67 Robins, 47 Tree Sparrows, 39 Great Tits and 31 Blue Tits, along with 10 Willow Tits. On separate occasions, up to 60 Siskin, 18 Lesser Redpoll and 14 Brambling were on display.
As we move into early March, our summer migrants will very soon begin to appear – so here is a handy guide to the earliest arrival (and latest departure) dates logged for these visitors over the two decades of records at Carsington Water:
Garganey – 2 March (22 Nov) Common Sandpiper – 3 March (27 Oct) Chiffchaff – 11 March (over-winter?)
Wheatear – 11 March (24 Oct) Sand Martin – 11 March (20 Sept) Little Ringed Plover – 17 March (28 Sept)
Blackcap – 22 March (over-winter?) Swallow – 23 March (19 Oct) Willow Warbler – 23 March (3 Oct)
Osprey – 26 March (2 Oct) House Martin – 28 March (17 Oct) Redstart – 28 March (2 Oct)
Tree Pipit – 30 March (12 Sept) Yellow Wagtail – 1 April (4 Oct) Common Tern – 1 April (1 Oct)
Swift – 8 April (24 Sept) Garden Warbler – 11 April (25 Sept) Whitethroat – 13 April (29 Sept)
Arctic Tern – 14 April (7 Oct) Sedge Warbler – 15 April (25 Sept) Black Tern – 17 April (8 Oct)
Whinchat – 17 April (28 Sept) Lsr Whitethroat – 17 April (8 Oct) Wood Warbler – 18 April (12 June) 
Hobby – 19 April (5 Oct) Grasshopper Warbler – 20 April (18 Aug) Pied Flycatcher – 20 April (24 July)
Cuckoo – 20 April (18 Aug) Reed Warbler – 24 April (18 Aug) Spotted Flycatcher – 5 May (30 Sept) 
Like its larger cousins, the Jack Snipe is remarkably well camouflaged and difficult to see in its natural environment – reedbeds and wet grassland. It is a winter visitor to the UK, when as many as 100,000 migrate from their breeding grounds in northern Europe and Asia. Only a small proportion are seen regularly as in winter they tend to be very silent and stealthy, keeping a very low profile as they probe mud for their favoured diet of worms, snails and other insects. Their characteristic bobbing and tail-flicking does, however, sometimes give them away.
Jack Snipe is distinguished from its larger 'Common' namesake by its size. It is about 30-40 per cent smaller, and has a shorter bill. Identification can still prove difficult without birds standing side by side, so another difference lies in the head markings: the Common Snipe had a central stripe, where the Jack Snipe has two pale buff stripes either side of the head, separated from the supercilium by a small dark area.
During the breeding season they come out of their shell, and the male undertakes a rather impressive aerial courtship display that like the Common Snipe could be described as 'drumming' (the noise generated by its outer tail feathers), though the Jack Snipe's sound has been likened to galloping horses!
The club's webmaster Richard Pittam, who tragically lost his wife Frances late last year, is grateful to all those people – including CBC members – who donated funds for the British Heart Foundation. The contributions to this worthy charity, collected at Frances' funeral, totalled £923.
The main topic of conversation with visitors recently has continued to revolve around the water levels which have risen slowly and consistently over the past twelve months and replenished the site after a very dry 2011. We have used this as an opportunity to engage with our visitors about water usage and the importance of saving water. It’s something to which we dedicate a lot of time and energy and we are well placed to do this – a half empty reservoir makes a useful teaching aid!
Some of you may also have noticed the work taking place to continue improving the site for wildlife. This is often behind the scenes but is no less important to us and our visitors. One example is an ongoing woodland management scheme which has taken various forms at locations across the site, most notably among the dense blocks of young trees that were planted around the time the site opened and among the mature trees at the northern end of Hall Wood.
It may seem drastic with several chainsaws whirring away, felling mature and seemingly healthy trees, but it's all part of a 50-year management plan designed to maintain our mature woodland, improve degraded or non-native woodland and transform the many acres of young trees into established woodlands.
Those familiar with the site may remember that when Severn Trent Water purchased Hall Wood in 1995, it contained a high proportion of Larch and Scots Pine and a thick blanket of rhododendron smothering the woodland floor that provided good cover for game but was of limited value for wildlife. Over time many pine trees were felled and the rhododendron battle has almost been won – encouraging bluebells and a developing shrub layer to flourish. This ongoing process, now focused on Hall Wood's northern sectors, has seen much felling and, in the coming weeks we will be helping speed up the recovery process by planting a mixture of native tree and shrub species. 
Elsewhere we have been thinning the overcrowded blocks of 20-year-old plantation, the current density of which stifles the growth of all the trees, preventing light from reaching the woodland floor for much of the year. Thinning will promote growth of the remaining trees and encourage more plant life beneath the trees. Some trees have also been coppiced to encourage thicker growth and more variation in the canopy. All cuttings are heaped or left in situ to improve the habitat for invertebrates, small mammals and nesting birds. 
This work cannot all be completed in one winter, of course, and is undertaken in blocks, so regrowth will occur in stages, ensuring a range of woodland habitats across the site. Where work was done in previous years, there are already signs of new plant growth and the numbers of Willow Tits, warblers and Woodcocks prove our woodlands are in pretty good shape.
All of this work couldn’t be completed by STW alone; we receive lots of help from external volunteer groups, the Derbyshire Community Payback Scheme, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and, of course, our unstoppable team of Volunteer Rangers.
If you’re out and about on site please have a look at what we’re doing. Hopefully we can enjoy watching our woodlands improve and develop together in the coming years, providing a suitable habitat for woodland species struggling elsewhere.
John Matkin, STW Ranger
One of the most thought-provoking club talks of recent times came from local artist, sculptor and passionate conservationist Eddie Hallam, who has spent a lifetime watching and studying wildlife.  
These days Eddie earns his living by sculpting accurate, detailed wildlife subjects, cast in bronze, but his colourful past, after graduating with a biology degree half a century ago, also includes spells as a zoo and wildlife park curator. During these times he led conservation programmes, notably one at Riber Castle for the rare Spanish Lynx, and today he still manages a local nature reserve – but always for the animals, never people (few of whom even know where the reserve is). 
And that was the theme of his talk in February: has conservation become big business? Many organisations involved with wildlife, he argues, are making conservation an industry – something that's more about signing people up as members, meeting their needs and keeping them happy rather than actually addressing the challenges that birds, animals and other wildlife face. Though that sounds downbeat, Eddie's matter-of-fact about his subject and very entertaining with it (even without using any slides or pictures), peppering his talks with a wealth of humorous anecdotes.
The previous month, after the briskly-concluded business of the club's AGM, long-time CBC members Paul and Steph Hicking delivered a wonderful, often detailed review of their highlights after many years of visiting the Scilly Isles.  
They are not alone in visiting this fascinating tiny group of islands during bird migration; for many it's an annual pilgrimage. But if they wanted people to stay away and keep some breathing space for themselves, they did a poor job, because their vividly-recounted experiences only served to fuel others' (including your editor's) ambitions to get along to this unique birding spot themselves one year!
Earlier, we had held our Christmas party in the Henmore Room of the Visitor Centre for the first time, which felt rather different. Alongside the food and drink, the entertainment came from Glyn Sellors who gave us an eclectic view of 'Birding around the UK' courtesy of some splendid photographs.
The CBC's final indoor meeting of the 2012-13 season – which as usual will take place in the Henmore Room at the Visitor Centre – is on 19 March and will feature a talk on the challenges of countryside management in the Dark Peak by Simon Wright, Countryside Manager of the National Trust for North Derbyshire.
Severn Trent's programme of events for the next few months is as follows (remembering that some activities need booking, so it's always worth checking with the Visitor Centre on 01629 540696):
First Sunday Birdwatching for beginners (enjoy a gentle two-hour walk led by Visitor Centre 10am-noon
of each month experienced STW volunteer ranger David Bennett)
Tuesdays/Sundays Spotting wildlife (STW volunteers man the wildlife centre) Wildlife Centre 10.30-3.30pm
Last Saturday Sheepwash Spinners (learn about traditional wool spinning, with Visitor Centre 11am-3pm
of each month demonstrations, from fleece to gifts to garments)
10 March Mother's Day drop-in (explore flora & fauna and make mum a gift) Wildlife Discovery Room 11-4pm
30 March-15 April Easter Egg Hunt (collect map, solve clues and claim your prize!) Visitor Centre 10am-5pm daily
31 March/10 April Who stole the Easter eggs? ('Who-dunnit' family trail and activities) Wildlife Discovery Room 11-4pm
16 April Wagtail Wander (join STW volunteer ranger and Carsington Bird Club Meet Visitor Centre (6-7.30pm)
  to find summer migrants, including wagtails)
26 April Bat Safari (join STW rangers to learn more about the world of bats) Meet Visitor Centre (8.45pm)
11 May Learn to photograph wildlife (charge levied – info from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust – 01629 540672)
29 May Owls at Carsington (charge: get up close and learn about our owls) Wildlife Discov'ry Rm 10am-12.30
KNOW YOUR COMMITTEE – Here are the club officials and their contact details ……
Chairman/ Indoor mtgs Peter Gibbon 01629 534173 peter.gibbon@w3z.co.uk 
Secretary Paul Hicking 01773 827727 paulandsteph@hicking.plus.com
Treasurer John Follett 01332 834778 john@jlf.demon.co.uk
Recorder Roger Carrington 01629 583816 rcarrington_matlock@yahoo.co.uk 
Newsletter editor Gary Atkins 01335 370773 garysatkins@aol.com 
Outdoor trips Peter Oldfield 01629 540510 peter-oldfield2011@hotmail.co.uk
Membership Dave & Sue Edmonds 01335 342919 sue@axgb.com
Ex-officio Jon Bradley 01773 852526 jonathan.bradley4@btinternet.com
… and the website address: www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk
(website maintained by: Richard Pittam richard.pittam@ntlworld.com)

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