After two weeks ‘down under’ in April, I had an experience that was new to me. I was holidaying in Australia with my brother-in-law and his family, who live 200 miles south of Perth, and it was obviously their autumn. That meant a totally new avifauna for me and a totally different season from what I had left behind in the UK. Birds had bred and some were in eclipse plumage including the aptly-named Splendid Fairy-wren, which is a vivid metallic blue when breeding.
The coastal wader passage had not started and there was a lull that we, too, experience in late summer. It was still spectacular, though, with much to marvel at. I am nearly always away at Easter but either in this country or Europe so the birds and the seasonal changes are not that different when I return home, but this time it was totally different. While I was at the other end of the world, things were changing here in Derbyshire; so much so, that when I came back to green grass, leaves on trees, bluebells in bloom and reports of Osprey and other passage delights at Carsington, it all seemed spectacularly ‘NEW’.
This, of course, happens every year but when I’m around it’s a gradual process – whereas this was literally like a different world in a way I had not imagined it to be. It all seemed lovelier than ever with Dippers feeding fledged young at Lea Bridge and Grey Wagtails feeding at the nest at Cromford Canal. I saw hardly any butterflies in Australia and yet within a week had seen several species in Holloway. Candles on Horse Chestnut and blossom on Hawthorn, frogspawn and newts busy in ponds, a dawn chorus of liquid notes rather than being woken by the ridiculously incomparable noise of the Kookaburra – and it had all come so suddenly … or so it appeared to me after my holiday.
It sometimes takes such a dramatic change to make you realise that what we take for granted in our spring is so wonderful and to be experienced as fully as possible while it lasts. So my decision has been to do just that and get out more than ever and see what is happening.
MIGRATION AND SUMMER ARRIVALS PRODUCE THE UNUSUAL – AS USUAL!
Since the last issue, it’s been that exciting time of year when our summer visitors arrive and breed, and passage rarities drop in to swell our annual numbers.
Rare records over the past couple of months included the Great Grey Shrike spotted atop bushes at Shiningford on 4 April and the Cattle Egret that briefly dropped onto Stones Island five days later. Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl and Green Woodpecker were unusual species (for Carsington Water, at least) gracing the site during May.
April’s total of 119 species was the second best ever since records began in 1992, and included an Osprey that generated many sightings over three days from the 6th and then two birds were seen on the 8th before flying off north together on the 9th. Two more Ospreys drifted through in mid-May and early June, and other raptor highlights included three Red Kite sightings, as many as seven Buzzards and three Peregrines aloft at any one time, while a Hobby staged two evening hunting missions in early May.
Chiffchaff sightings started on 1 March with a single bird, but this had swelled to 50 during a single walk around the reservoir in May, when the same number of Blackcaps was also counted. Sand Martins arrived on cue on 21 March, and two days later the first Swallow passed through – equalling the earliest site record for this hirundine species. Before March was out, Willow Warblers were being heard and seen.
As April dawned, the arrivals came thick and fast with Wheatear (1st), Yellow Wagtail (7th), House Martin and Redstart (11th), Lesser Whitethroat (14th), Garden and Sedge Warblers (21st), Whitethroat (22nd), and Reed Warbler (23rd). Always last, the Spotted Flycatcher finally joined the party on 16 May. Breeding is now well under way with the young of more than a dozen passerine species noted.
Waders fared less well, with only single Lapwing and Redshank broods and deluge of rain washing away one of three Oystercatcher nests. Thirty-eight Black-headed Gull nests were counted on Millfield Island, with a further nine observed on the raft in Wildlife Centre Bay. Thirteen Mallard broods have been counted so far – but since waterfowl breeding is still evolving, we’ll bring you up to date on breeding success in the next newsletter.
The wader passage was busy enough, though, as Bar- and Black-tailed Godwit were recorded, along with Golden Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Greenshank, Whimbrel and Common Sandpiper, and one day small groups of Dunlin totalled 36 birds. Up to 38 Curlew were counted on passage, while exactly the same number of Common Snipe were noted keeping a low profile on the site. Meanwhile, an unusually brash Jack Snipe put on a show for observers from 30 March to 8 April.
Caspian Gulls were a surprising addition to the gull roost a number of times in March and April, and Kittiwakes showed up in both March and May. Little Gulls were spotted no fewer than four times during April, one staying two days, the others moving through with terns. The tern passage began with a single Sandwich Tern on 2 April, but quickly grew in regularity and size with flocks of up to 55 Arctic Terns and 10 Common Terns.
SAVING SWIFT NEST SITES
I know a number of our members are also members of Derbyshire Ornithological Society (DOS), of which I serve as representative for Carsington Water, so I’d like to tell you a little about an initiative to reduce the vulnerability of nesting Swifts in the UK.
These iconic birds are at risk through the loss of nest sites as buildings are refurbished, but advice is available to protect them during such developments. We would like all DOS members to record Swift sightings, so that we can track important nesting areas, and encourage developers and contractors to install Swift nesting boxes as part of their building plans.
Critically, we need the addresses of buildings where Swifts are seen entering (a sure sign of nesting) or the name of streets and towns where ‘screaming parties’ are seen below roof-height (indicating nest sites are close by). If you could add these details to Swift records sent in to DOS, we can use them to further their conservation.
We are also keen to hear from members interested in acting as ‘Swift Champions’ to look after the Swift nest sites in their local area, working in conjunction with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT). Champions can help in a number of ways such as identifying precise nest sites, promoting how local people can help Swifts and alerting DWT of any risks to Swift nest sites. More information can be sent to you on request.
For more information contact Richard Winspear by e-mail (at email@example.com) or phone/text 07943 399781 (but be aware this phone can rarely be answered during working hours).
BEMPTON PROVIDES ITS USUAL THRILLS AND SPILLS
Sandwiched between two distinctly damp weeks, outdoor trips organiser Peter Oldfield had managed to pick a wonderfully warm and bright weekend for the club’s day trip to Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire.
It was sunshine all the way as 13 members turned up in four cars and unloaded their rucksacks, packed lunches, scopes and binoculars to enjoy the delights of this RSPB reserve with its astonishing array of sea birds packed precariously on narrow nest platforms on the high white cliffs. Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars, along with flocks of Rock Doves and the odd Herring Gull are the main occupants of this well-established breeding colony, which is thought to contain 200,000 birds at the height of the nesting season.
There are five excellent viewing platforms, plus numerous other good vantage points of the birds as they gather nesting material and food and prepare for the arrival of their young. There’s constant activity, noise – and smell!
It’s not all about the sea birds, though, as quieter paths lead into farmland where an interesting selection of passerines can be found. In fact my two birds of the day were Corn Buntings (which I see regularly abroad but rarely in the UK) whose ‘jangling keys’ call is diagnostic, and a Grasshopper Warbler that suddenly jumped onto a piece of low vegetation close to the path and starting its reeling call, which went on for several minutes, making it easy for me to pick it up in the binoculars. Six species of butterfly and a Roe Deer completed my tally.
I can’t be sure of the CBC group’s collective total but I managed to log 31 bird species on the day. As well as those already mentioned, I saw Goldfinch, Linnet, Greenfinch, Tree Sparrow, Blackbird, Whitethroat, Jackdaw, Skylark, Woodpigeon, Swift, Stock Dove, Meadow Pipit, Carrion Crow, Swallow, House Martin, Reed Bunting, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Lapwing … and three partridges which I saw so briefly I couldn’t identify but was told were likely Grey (though I suspect they were actually Red-Legged!).
SANCTUARY SAVED – NOW LET’S HELP RETURN IT TO THE BIRDS FOR GOOD
It doesn’t take long for nature to resume where human interference left off – and already since March, 46 bird species have been logged at The Sanctuary, the local nature reserve (LNR) right in the middle of Derby, a sizeable section of which was under threat of development to make way for a planned cycle track. A concerted campaign earlier this year by the wildlife lobby – spearheaded by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust – led to Derby City Council withdrawing its planning application. Things now are, slowly, returning to normal.
CBC was part of the wildlife ‘coalition’ that lobbied to save the reserve, and as many birdwatchers as possible are now being encouraged to visit, watch the birds from the limited vantage points at the perimeter of the reserve and submit any records to DOS (Derbyshire Ornithological Society) – or to thesanctuaryLNR@gmail.com – in order to prove the genuine interest the public at large has in the reserve and its wildlife.
And that should be no hardship. This spring, among the returning regulars were Little Ringed Plover, Sand Martin, Skylarks and Lapwings. Migrants dropping in have included Ring Ouzel, Yellow Wagtail, a succession of Wheatears, a Reed Warbler singing from the reedbed, plus a male Redstart, a first for the reserve.
Things are far from perfect, though, as the boundary fence is regularly broken down by poachers, and there is a mass of litter around the perimeter. Moreover, the next challenge is to find a means of getting the council to reinstate the ‘skylark grassland’ at the north end of the site, where the track was being prepared and which remains as mounds of bulldozed topsoil and rubble.
This area is, unsurprisingly, devoid of bird life, and DOS chair Bryan Barnacle recently wrote to the leadership of the City Council and the two main opposition groups, expressing the coalition’s desire to begin discussions on helping them restore and manage the LNR in future.
Among other coalition plans and ideas are a birdwatch and litter-pick, and more significantly, a longer-term goal is to form a ‘Friends Group’ to support the reserve.
Meanwhile, people wishing to visit the LNR can get a good view of the lake and Sand Martin bank from the old park and ride car park, which is now part of the velodrome building site but can be accessed by asking the gateman who will happily sign you in (note this is only during the working week: Monday-Saturday morning).
At the far end of the old car park there is a ramped viewing platform overlooking the southern end of the reserve. Do approach with caution, however, as the Little Ringed Plover is nesting around here and, as a Schedule One bird, should be subject the minimal disturbance during the breeding season.
SPRING PROVES A BUSY TIME FOR STW RANGER TEAM
This spring we’ve enjoyed largely warm sunshine with the occasional shower: it’s been, dare I say, spring-like! The incredibly wet weather experienced last winter is now a distant memory, evident only in the water levels, which have remained much higher than usual at this time of year.
The wet weather hampered lots of site work we are usually able to do in the winter and, as a result, a few things have taken longer than expected. One example of this is the pond at the Wildlife Centre, which, despite being dry for many years, has gathered water each and every time we have pond work scheduled.
Those of you who have watched the site for some time may recall the days when this pond was completely full, surrounded by thick vegetation and was a great place to get close views of Water Voles. In recent years a hole in the pond lining meant the water remained lower, drying up completely in hot weather. Our Volunteer Rangers have been working hard on plans for the pond: They met with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to discuss the creation of a Water Vole bank and are looking at lining the pond with clay to ensure it remains both water tight and allows plants to colonise below the waterline.
You may also have noticed work under way to rebuild the screen at the entrance to the Wildlife Centre. While the lack of screening was popular with visitors (and allowed fantastic views of April’s very obliging Jack Snipe!), the proximity to Horseshoe Island means something is needed to ensure species like Lapwing can nest free from disturbance. It is hoped a new extended screen should balance the need for undisturbed nesting sites with the demand for wildlife watching opportunities.
Another project we’ve been busy working on – less evident to the visitor – is the introduction of our social media accounts. You can now find us on both Facebook at www.facebook.com/stwcarsington and Twitter at www.twitter.com/stwcarsington. Managed by the ranger team, these not only provide more ways for visitors to contact us, give feedback and ask questions, but also allow us to broadcast more site news, events and information about facilities at Carsington. Initial feedback has been really positive and we’ve enjoyed reaching a new audience. As a team we’ve particularly enjoyed having the opportunity to talk about the site, what we do and the work of our excellent volunteers.
As you might expect wildlife news and sightings are always popular. While continuing to direct sightings to the Bird Club website, we are also able to share wildlife news, advice, photos and blog links – so do please feel free to send us your efforts and ‘follow’ or ‘like’ us to find out more about what’s going on at Carsington Water.
John Matkin, STW Ranger
RICHARD PRODUCES VERY OWN COFFEE-TABLE BOOK
Club Webmaster Richard Pittam is a very fine photographer who has some of his images reproduced on public/commercial websites as well as his own personal site, but the vast majority sit around hidden on hard disks. Like most of us, he’s often wondered what to do with them … but unlike most of us, he actually did something about it by publishing a one-off coffee table book containing the best of his images taken in 2013.
“Most of us don’t print our images anymore,” says Richard, “but I was chatting about the subject to a friend and fellow photographer, who suggested the book, adding that he did one every year for all his images. I was concerned about quality, but he pointed me at www.blurb.co.uk which is a brilliant website describing how to self-publish, what type of book to choose and all the tips and tricks of the trade.”
Richard downloaded the ‘Booksmart’ application software to his PC and got stuck into what became an all-consuming pastime – time-consuming but very interesting as it meant he had to revisit all those ‘forgotten’ images. “First I had to choose a book size and, since no-one else was going to buy it, I went for a 13”x11” hardback coffee-table style, with dust cover. The system was easy to use: basically, I chose the layout for each page, sized the images accordingly, added text here and there to break it up a bit, and finally added a contents page, dedication page and front and back page images.”
While working through the process, though, warns Richard, be careful to back up your work regularly, and take advantage of the book preview options, before you commit to print.
“For a hardback 13×11, an e-book and high-resolution PDF, the total cost was £76,” adds Richard. “Not cheap, but it is brilliant quality and looks really nice – and it was fun to do!” So, if you don’t know what to do with YOUR hundreds of unloved images and are interested in seeing how it can turn out, take a look at Richard’s book at http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/4999908-travel-images-from-2013.
ANNUAL REPORT – A CORRECTION
As club members, you should all now have your 2013 annual report – and some may have noticed we mistakenly included the 2012 ‘Treasurer’s Report’. To put that right, here is the 2013 report from John Follett …
We had a very positive 2013, where the club's financial position improved to its strongest for some years. From a balance of £4934.50, carried forward from 2012, the year-end balance sheet showed £5670.96 – an asset increase of £736.46, the result of surplus income over expenditure. As in previous years, membership income fell, with 2013's receipts of £714.50 disappointingly 22% down on 2012. However, a ‘one-off’ fund-raising quiz, organised by John Bland and Sue Jones, produced a most sizeable and welcome contribution of £666.00 to club income, and a generous grant of £140 towards bird food by Derbyshire Ornithological Society was an increase of £20 on 2012.
The one field trip in 2013 – to Paxton Pits, Cambridgeshire – received a subsidy of £39.50 (income £318.00; costs £357.50) as the bus departed with two empty seats. Indoor meetings, despite income being £51.72 less than 2012, at £254.40, were only subsidised by £31.26 (£278.19 in 2012) due to reduced cost – the most significant being a £252 saving following the move to the Carsington Visitor Centre from Hognaston Village Hall. The costs of speakers, (£222.00) and refreshments (£63.66) resulted in a combined saving of £47.65 on the previous year.
Despite continued upward pressure on the cost of bird food, savings were achieved by product change and Roger Carrington's determination to avoid giving the local Pheasant population a free dinner. Costs associated with the yearly report were again contained and showed a slight reduction at £265.00. The other most important factor in our reduced 2013 expenditure was that the previous year's accounts had a non-repeated cost of £470.98 associated with equipment purchased to promote the club at Severn Trent Water’s Open Day.
Finally, the Committee decided in February 2013 to spend £500 on planting specialist berry-bearing trees for winter visiting birds. This work is to be undertaken as soon as the right conditions present themselves, but this was not possible before the year end. Therefore, the 2013 accounts do not include this cost and as such the £736.46 surplus, mentioned above, does not reflect this expenditure.
The Bird Club’s 2014-15 indoor season will begin again in September.
The first three illustrated talks (all beginning at 7.30pm in the Henmore Room at Carsington Water Visitor Centre) are as follows:
September 16 'Svalbard – Land of the Polar Bear’ by Carol Taylor
October 21 ‘Trinidad and Tobago’ by Ian Newton (our joint meeting with DOS)
November 18 ‘The Gambia’ by Chris Ward
Severn Trent Water events, including regular activities, are as follows (often advisable to book on 01629 540696):
First Sunday each month – Birdwatching for Beginners (enjoy a gentle two-hour stroll led by experienced STW volunteer ranger, David Bennett) – Visitor Centre 10am-noon
Tues/Sundays Spotting wildlife (join STW volunteers in the Wildlife Centre) 10.30am-3.30pm
15 June Carsington Cycle Challenge Visitor Centre 10am-4pm
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)