This week I have had a big clear out of old paperwork, among which were two green A4 sheets entitled ‘Common Birds in Derbyshire – No2 Little Grebe’, which were sent with reports from DOS. The article started with a chart showing this species’ maximum monthly counts (MMC) from January 2006 to December 2007, and went on to say it ‘…illustrates the dominance of Carsington Water as the principal water …’, and this site now holds the MMC records for ten months of the year, all since 2003.
The reservoir was actually opened in 1992, when the MMC was only 11, the third lowest between 1960 and 2007. A count of 105 there during December 2005 (and repeated in January 2006) exceeded the British threshold of 78, which represents 1% of the Little Grebe population in Britain. This threshold figure was surpassed at Carsington Water in four months during 2007, including a new county record of 107 in December. I had totally forgotten how important our reservoir has been not only just in county terms but also nationally – with a mention in the bi-annual Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) book.
This green paper also informed, however, that the highest counts for the summer months came from Cromford and Chesterfield Canals, since Little Grebes prefer breeding on linear waters. So how does 2013 compare with these records? Well, I have walked along the Cromford Canal this week and between the Wharf and High Peak Junction there were just two families with a single chick. As for Carsington, only one family has been found and the most counted recently have been four adults, and sometimes you are struggling to see a single bird.
The monthly WeBS counts we perform have illustrated this decline for Carsington very clearly, whereas counts for the stretch of Cromford Canal show much less of a change. The 2010/2011 WeBS report suggested the reason for a national decline in Little Grebes as cold winter conditions on traditional sites. But for us the decline continued beyond 2011 – so I await the 2012/13 report, plus information from the new Atlas due out this autumn, to see why this is the case.
Yet on the plus side, we have seen increases during the same period in Great Crested Grebe and, more recently, for Reed Warbler. We can also claim Redstarts have returned to Carsington to breed this summer, which only goes to show how the ecology is constantly changing and how our records are an important way of monitoring this change.
OSPREYS DISPLAY THEIR FISHING SKILLS WHILE MARSH WARBLER IS SITE ‘FIRST’
A Marsh Warbler, a new species for Carsington Water, and only the sixth Derbyshire record, was found skulking in bushes behind the Visitor Centre toilet block on 10 June. As it remained most of the day, local birders were able to take a rare opportunity for a close-up look at a true rarity, maybe even adding a ‘lifer’ tick to their personal records.
Other recent highlights included fishing Ospreys in June and July, 16 Common Scoters that turned up on 13 July while a irruption of Crossbills through the east coast saw both ‘Common’ and ‘Two-barred’ sub-species turn up at Carsington.
Breeding got off to a very slow start with the cold and wet weather of spring, but by June the now-regular warm and sunny conditions had arrived and proved much more conducive to raising young. By the end of July seven Great-Crested Grebe broods were counted, along with two Moorhen, nine Coot, 18 Mallard and 24 Tufted Duck families. Barnacle and Canada Geese and Mute Swans also added to the reservoir’s bird population.
Oystercatchers, Lapwings and Redshank eventually produced similar numbers of broods to normal, and Black-headed Gulls extended their breeding range onto Millfields Island with a site total of 38 young ‘Black-heads’ counted in late July. Terns were relatively few and far between,but six Black and an Arctic passed through in late August.
While hirundines never did quite recover, with only one Swallow and one House Martin family noted, other small birds seemed to be breeding well. Redstarts have traditionally proved scarce on site, but as many as five Redstart broods were logged this year, along with a number of Spotted Flycatcher and Reed and Sedge Warbler young. Tit families included two Willow, two Blue and three Great Tits, with Nuthatch also seen feeding young in a box in Shiningford Creek in June. Meanwhile, House and Tree Sparrow numbers seem to have ballooned around the Visitor and Wildlife Centres.
A walk round the reservoir in early June recorded good numbers of warblers and other passerines – including 59 Blackbirds, 49 Blackcaps, 47 Chiffchaffs, 45 Chaffinches, 38 Wrens, 35 Willow Warblers, 32 Robins, 24 Whitethroat, 23 Song Thrushes and 11 Garden Warblers. Eighty Jackdaws were counted over Sheepwash in July, while a flock of 40 Goldfinch was spotted on Stones Island, also in July.
Little Egrets are no longer a rarity, but they are always a bit of a surprise – and two were seen 28-29 July, with another noted on 10 August. Grey Herons upped their numbers from late July, with 11 counted in early August. A Green Sandpiper spotted on 30 June was the first for Carsington since 2011, and several Whimbrel and Greenshank sightings during August may have signalled the start of the autumn wader movement.
Little Grebe numbers have been very low, but as many as 11 were logged in late August. It is to be hoped that the sight of a recently-returned Yellow-legged Gull eating a dead pike indicates that this carnivorous species has changed its menu since last year!
Raptors have been few and far between, but a Hobby was seen hunting on 24/26 June and Peregrines became more regular visitors during late July and August. Both Ospreys seen in the last quarter were keen to show off their hunting prowess: one seen on the Lane End post on 10 June had a fish, while the 28 July record impressed observers as he/she was seen in the act of catching its supper.
BIRD OF THE ISSUE: MARSH WARBLER
Keen birders flocked to Carsington Water in early June to catch sight (quite probably their first ever) of the Marsh Warbler. It is ‘red status’ rarity in the UK, with only 3-10 pairs reckoned to breed in Britain each year.
It is not surprising, then, that this sighting, in typically dense scrub behind the Visitor Centre, was greeted with such enthusiasm and surprise. And yet Marsh Warblers are actually as close to the typical ‘LBJ’ as you can get – with uninspiring plumage, and looking rather like a Reed Warbler, though slightly lighter in colour below and with pale legs.
It is its voice for which the Marsh Warbler is particularly renowned: this Mike Yarwood (remember him!) of the bird world is an amazing mimic and throws any number of other birds’ phrases in among its own – and not only the songs and calls of other passerines but waders, pigeons and even the more exotic birds encountered in its winter quarters. Identification by voice, therefore, can be tricky.
Like many of its cousins, the Marsh Warbler is insectivorous and seeks is food among dense scrub and grassland. It tends not to spend much time in reedbeds alongside its closest lookalike.
While the British population has diminished to virtually nil, in its breeding grounds in temperate Europe and western Asia, the Marsh Warbler is doing well, with an estimated global population of between 10 and 25 million. Like many warblers, it overwinters in western Africa.
NEW DISPLAYS AT WILDLIFE CENTRE AIM TO EDUCATE AND INSPIRE
As most of you will realise, we are currently in the middle of our peak visitor season. The country lanes are bustling and local campsites are booked out. It’s good to see the popularity of Carsington Water continue to grow – but extra people means our fixtures and fittings can look a bit worse for wear come the end of the school holidays.
A good example of this is the Wildlife Centre. The building itself is nearly 20 years old and generally in pretty good shape though you may have noticed the interior is looking a bit shabby as exhibition units and displays show their age. The exhibition inside the building no longer catches the eye of our visitors, particularly the young people they were most particularly designed to entertain and educate.
So, it’s time for a change – and for the last few months we have been working on plans to remove the tired units and the clutter of signs and posters and replace them with a brand new exhibition at the rear of the building.
This new display will continue to teach our visitors about the fantastic wildlife Severn Trent Water reservoirs give access to but also the importance of our fast-disappearing wetland habitats across the UK.
Through a mix of information and games, visitors of all ages can learn all about how the water we use is a precious and shared resource, how wasting water can have a detrimental effect on our wildlife, and how we all need to get better at managing water resources, particularly in the face of the increasingly extreme weather conditions experienced in the UK.
Rising and falling water levels at Carsington make the reservoir an incredible teaching aid and the Wildlife Centre with its proximity to the water and staff of volunteers is a great place to communicate these messages to the public and really get them thinking about the consequences of their water use.
The new layout will open up the Wildlife Centre, making it feel much more spacious and, by decluttering, we hope visitors will appreciate the beauty of the building itself. The new exhibition will also feature a central table topped by a large map of Carsington Water. This will direct visitors to developing habitats like the reed beds, to our ongoing conservation projects such as the Osprey nesting platforms, to our overlooked wildlife spectacles like the gull roost and to the best places to spot the flagship species of the reservoir, such as Water Voles, Great Northern Divers and Bluebells.
Work should begin on the Wildlife Centre once the summer holidays are behind us and, when the new exhibition is installed, we will move ahead with plans to clear up interpretation panels/noticeboards and renovate the pond behind the Centre.
So, don’t be alarmed if you see changes taking place in the Wildlife Centre over the coming weeks. It’s all in a good cause. I hope our thousands of visitors will learn all about our water and our wildlife. And, as you’re looking out for migrating waders and returning winter wildfowl this autumn, I hope you will also take time to have a look at the changes and enjoy what we’ve done with the place.
John Matkin, Severn Trent Water Ranger
TRUE SUMMER BRINGS A BUTTERFLY BONANZA
It’s been quite a year for butterflies – not just at Carsington Water, where they are monitored courtesy of regular surveys, or ‘transects’, but just about everywhere. After such a sparse start, when the wet, cool spring seemed to point to a repeat of the previous two very poor years, it’s difficult to understand quite how so many butterflies hatched out when the warmer weather arrived.
But hatch out they did – and in record numbers in many places. In the main we have to thank a rare ‘real’ summer that this year brought not just higher temperatures but, just as importantly, a sustained and consistent spell of sunshine, which meant good growing conditions for the food stocks on which the butterflies rely.
As summer has worn on, it would seem other insects have also seen a resurgence in their numbers: my own casual observations suggest there have been a reasonable number of dragonflies around and, most encouragingly of all, bumble bees seem to be everywhere, which is great news for all-important pollination.
The two Carsington butterfly transects are ‘Sheepwash’ and ‘Shiningtord’; they represent an almost continuous circuit from the edge of the main car park to Lane End Hide. Each is sub-divided into ten sections and is walked each week by one of a group of volunteer monitors between April and September – a total of 26 surveys per route, or 52 transects in total. In 2011, the grand total was only 688 butterflies and last year it was worse still with just 461 (an average of less than ten per transect walked).
But what a difference a warmer and relatively dry summer makes. This year, individual transects are yielding well over 150 butterflies. My personal best of 161 around the Shiningford transect on 14 August comprised nine species in total including 61 Peacocks alone. Elsewhere in the county, I’ve done ‘WCBS’ surveys where I’ve reported 750+ in a single two-hour walk, during which in parts the butterflies were simply just too numerous to count accurately.
It’s amazing how quickly species can turn their fortunes around. The 2013 Carsington total will, without doubt, run into thousands, and the number of species may also prove to be expanding. All this goes to show just how important evolving ecological and climatic conditions are to our wildlife.
BIRDWATCHING FOR BEGINNERS
There may not be many readers of this newsletter who’d regard themselves as beginners, but if you’ve got friends or relations who are interested in getting started – or simply in having a pleasant short stroll around a segment of the reservoir and being shown what’s around – then it’s worth remembering that experienced Severn Trent Volunteer Ranger David Bennett leads a monthly walk for the less experienced birder.
In truth, some of the ‘beginners’ have been coming for years, and simply enjoy the company of fellow birders and the chance to see something unusual. The walk is invariably on the first Sunday of the month, starts at 10am and takes in Stones Island, a feeding station at the Ranger Base, the wildlife centre and all points in between. It usually finishes around noon.
It has been running for several years and, in that time, has only been cancelled by the weather on a couple of occasions, so if you get your (or your friends’/relatives’) name down at the Visitor Centre reception in good time, it’s a virtually guaranteed morning out.
David, who mixes a generous helping of humour in with his considerable knowledge, is often close to his maximum sized group of 25. On those occasions he’s glad of some support from one or two other experienced birders (usually including a CBC representative).
After our phenomenal late summer weather, we now have to watch the nights draw in as autumn approaches. We might, therefore, appreciate, the a bit of comfort indoors as the Bird Club’s autumn/winter illustrated talks and meetings resume in the Visitor Centre’s Henmore Room. Our programme to Christmas is below. Usual start time is 7.30pm, and there is a small charge (£2 members / £2.50 non-members). We look forward to seeing you there.
All at the Visitor Centre – Henmore Room commencing at 7.30pm
17 September Woodland Wildlife by Paul Hobson
15 October Birds of Morocco: from Marrakesh to Massa by Chris Ward (joint meeting with DOS)
19 November Bird Conservation in Turkey by Tristan Reid (aka ‘The Inked Naturalist’)
17 December Ornithological Fraud by Peter Gibbon – followed by the Bird Club Xmas party
Severn Trent Water and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust also stage a number of regular and one-off events, some of which require booking – so it's always worth checking with the Visitor Centre on 01629 540696 before going along. Included among this programme over the coming months are:
First Sunday each month – Birdwatching for beginners (enjoy a gentle two-hour walk led by experienced STW volunteer ranger David Bennett – Visitor Centre 10am-noon
Tues/Sundays Spotting wildlife (STW volunteers man the Wildlife Centre) – 10.30am-3.30pm
Last Saturday each month – Sheepwash Spinners (learn about traditional wool spinning with demonstrations, from fleece to gifts to garments) – Visitor Centre 11am-3pm
8/15 Sept’ber Landscape and Wildlife Digital Photography courses (learn to master your camera – £35 per course) Wildlife Discovery Room – 10.30am-4pm
29 September Discovering Rocks and Soil (£2.50 per person) – Sheepwash CP 1.30-3.30pm
5/6 October Derbyshire Beekeepers Assoc’n annual show & honey sale – Visitor Centre 10am-4pm
12 October Introduction to Fungi (charge applies) – Visitor Centre 10am-noon
19 October RSPB Optics Demonstration Day – RSPB shop 10.30am-4pm
26 October – 4 November – Halloween Half-term Quiz (keep the family entertained and pick up a quiz sheet from reception or wildlife centre) – Visitor Centre 10am-4pm
31 October Halloween Spiders! (hunt for and learn about these misunderstood creatures) – Wildlife Discovery Room – 10.30-noon & 1.30-3.30pm
KNOW YOUR COMMITTEE – Here are the club officials and their contact details ……
Chairman/ Indoor mtgs Peter Gibbon 01629 534173 firstname.lastname@example.org
Secretary Paul Hicking 01773 827727 email@example.com
Treasurer John Follett 01332 834778 firstname.lastname@example.org
Recorder Roger Carrington 01629 583816 email@example.com
Newsletter editor Gary Atkins 01335 370773 firstname.lastname@example.org
Outdoor trips Peter Oldfield 01629 540510 email@example.com
Membership Dave & Sue Edmonds 01335 342919 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ex-officio Jon Bradley 01773 852526 email@example.com
and the website address: www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk
(website maintained by: Richard Pittam )