These last few days I have been doing a massive sort out of papers and such like at home. One thing I decided to send for re-cycling were my early diaries containing bird notes. They were all around 30 years old and their contents surprised me. Firstly all raptor records involved just two species, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. But on Tuesday 5th June I wrote: “Went to warden the Peregrine. A terrible night – lashing rain and windy. Never saw birds but heard them frequently. Saw Wheatear, Pipit and Skylark on top and heard Curlew and Cuckoo.”
This was in 1984 and was all about going to Alport Castle, up from Howden Dam, and related to the first pair of Peregrines to breed in Derbyshire in modern times. It was a long and steep climb to an edge, where a warden was constantly present, living in a small caravan on site. Now I can guarantee seeing a pair just half an hour’s walk from my house, or go to Belper Mill or Derby Cathedral or even most quarries around the area.
What a change – and it’s a similar story with the Buzzard. I had a curt sentence in my diary that year stating there were rumours that one had been seen nearby. This was exciting in those days because as Roy Frost and Steve Shaw state in their book there were only five records of this bird in 1985, with nine in 1989. That’s hard to believe as I look out of my sitting room and see one in Holloway or take my dog for a walk in Dethick and see five in the air together.
Four Little Egrets have been recorded in the last two weeks at Carsington: exciting for us today, but could we in future look back and say it’s hard to believe that this event was so rare. In the UK this summer there have been records of breeding Glossy Ibis and Bee-eater and, who knows, 30 years from now they may become a common sight around Carsington. On the other hand, during a visit to Carsington on 6th May 1982 I noted seeing four Grey Partridges and two Yellowhammers. It would be nice to write such records today.
CHANGES TO OUR COMMITTEE
We have unfortunately to state that there are some important changes being made to the CBC Committee. Our joint Membership Secretaries Sue and Dave Edmonds have to give up their jobs immediately; they will be sorely missed. They have been great supporters of the work and aims of our club because they are devoted to bird conservation – as their long-standing voluntary work in Malta has shown. We will miss their work greatly and wish them well in the future.
Also soon to leave his position as the club’s Recorder is Roger Carrington. When he began telling people of his unavoidable decision, site manager Dan Taberner said: “On behalf of Severn Trent Water and from the team at Carsington, I would like to thank you for all the hard work you have put into this over the last 10 years. Your recording and monthly updates have been incredibly important to us.” And Bryan Barnacle (Chair of DOS) stated: “Your efforts have benefited the site and the county permanent record enormously and it is good to know that your will continue birding at the reservoir.”
These comments are well deserved as over the last decade Roger has been the lynchpin that kept the recording and conservation aims of our club working really effectively. As Dan’s words indicate, his liaison with STW on-site management has been crucial and well respected, and our authoritative records, detailed exhaustively in our annual report, are down to his many hours of dedication and management.
We are lucky to have had his attributes and skills at our disposal. His management skills were clearly shown when he succeeded in persuading Dave Newcombe and Clive Ashton to take over the recording role right away; we are pleased to have them doing the job and joining the committee. Finally, I must also thank Gary Atkins for taking on the management of the annual report from January.
BREEDING GOOD YEAR FOR YOUNG BIRDS AT CARSINGTON!
This year has seen an upturn in breeding success around the reservoir, following a largely poor year in 2013. Most water birds had more or larger-sized broods, with only Tufted Duck significantly down. There was some predation, notably of a couple of well-advanced young Oystercatchers … and the return of Brutus, the voracious Yellow-legged Gull has probably done no good for the smaller water birds; at least one young Moorhen certainly fell victim to his cannibalistic tendencies!
More than 60 Black-headed Gull chicks were counted at the Wildlife Centre and on Millfield Island and, among raptors, Sparrowhawk certainly bred successfully.
Observed adult behaviour indicated that Kingfisher and Tawny Owls almost certainly reared young, along with Reed and Sedge Warblers, while alert birders also noted the fledged young of Swallow, Swift, Grey and Pied Wagtails, Redstart, Goldfinch, Nuthatch, Lesser Whitethroat, and most tits including Willow and Long-tails.
Red Kites are becoming monthly regulars at Carsington, and over the summer so were Hobbys – recorded in June, July and August. Ospreys showed up twice in June, Peregrines were spotted on several occasions, and the most common raptor of all, Buzzard, was often spied soaring on thermals above the woodland with as many as five seen on the same day.
The northerly spread of certain species means we see Little Egrets patrolling the shallow portions of inland waters more and more often – and, sure enough, up to four were counted among Carsington’s creeks in early August. And one of its bigger cousins, the Great White Egret, dropped in on 8 July; this bird was ringed as a nestling in France last year and, before arriving in Derbyshire, was recorded in the Netherlands.
Two Great Skuas – or Bonxies – gave Carsington a cursory glance during a circuit lasting just seven minutes, spotted by a sharp-eyed early-morning birder on 26 August. Meanwhile, the tern passage saw as many as 55 Common through on the same day, while single Arctic and Black terns also made appearances in late July and August.
Escapees caused a little excitement – not to mention confusion – among observers until more seasoned birders recognised a pair of Australian Wood Ducks and a single white and three blue Snow Geese, all likely to be from collections. Up to 12 Common Scoter were seen on several days in July, seven Red-crested Pochard were counted on 19 August, and various low numbers of Goosander, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mandarin were recorded, plus a single Scaup in late June.
Maximum waterfowl counts were growing as autumn approached: on 27 August, 988 Coot were counted, along with 618 Canada Geese and 453 Tufted Ducks. Earlier maximums included 338 Mallard, 42 Cormorant and 53 Great Crested Grebe – and it was gratifying to see a fair number of Little Grebe had returned. Top wader was Lapwing with up to 113, joined by smaller numbers of Greenshank, Redshank, Curlew, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Common and Green Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwit … and a single Ruff!
During a summer that saw a record site monthly species tally for June (99) followed by July’s healthy 102 species, it’s not surprising that individual walks around the reservoir resulted in high numbers of passerines. Up to 61 Wrens, 39 Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, 35 Blackbirds, 33 Blackcaps and 26 Robins were counted. As many as 80 Tree Sparrows were recorded in the vicinity of the Wildlife Centre, and charms of up to 70 Goldfinches were noted, with smaller flocks of Linnets and Meadow Pipits regularly showing up.
The dam wall continues to be a place where birds on the move drop down for a rest – and Whinchat, pipits, Yellow Wagtails and Wheatear have all been among recent sightings there.
BIRD OF THE ISSUE: LITTLE EGRET
It was hard to choose this issue’s top bird, not least because the Great White Egret is a more uncommon sight still, but Little Egrets are one of the examples of how a steadily changing climate attracts a northerly flow of ‘exotic’ birds … and Little Egrets, with their pure white plumage, black bill and legs and yellow feet are certainly exotic.
Standing around two feet tall, Egretta garzetta hunts fish, amphibians, crustaceans and reptiles in shallow water, sometimes standing stock still to ambush its prey, or kicking its feet or spreading its wings out to disturb creatures living in the silt.
It lives in colonies, often with other heron/egret species on loose platforms of twigs and branches. Pairs defend a small breeding territory and generally produce between three and five eggs.
Preferring warm temperate wetlands, Little Egrets are widespread across Africa, Asia and Europe and have even begun to colonise North America and the Caribbean. History tells us that Little Egrets were once common in Britain (and a bird of the table), but over-hunting and a cooler climate during the ‘Little Ice Age’ of the late medieval period saw them disappear from our landscape.
Interestingly, it was one of the species that prompted the formation of the RSPB in 1889, when the ‘Plumage League’ (as the society was originally called) was formed by a group of women objecting to the trade in hats made of exotic feathers. At that time egrets, along with other species, were farmed – or hunted – for this purpose.
Today, as the global climate slowly warms, Little Egrets have spread north from their Mediterranean strongholds – and in just a quarter of a century they have re-established a sizeable population in the UK and Ireland. As recently as 1989, birders were excited by the increasing volume of UK sightings, chiefly on the south coast but on inland waters, too. Since then the spread north has accelerated quickly and they have become a regular British breeding bird.
In 1996 they bred in Dorset – on Brownsea Island – and there are now dozens of proven breeding sites which are home to around 750 pairs. After the breeding season, a population of around 4,500 can be expected, and this swells further during spring and autumn migrations.
WILDLIFE CENTRE POND RECEIVES MUCH NEEDED FACELIFT
Over the past eight months our volunteer rangers have been working hard to redevelop the pond and viewing screen at the Wildlife Centre. The pond had been in place for many years but it had become obvious that the liner was failing and it was struggling to hold water.
This was not only disappointing from the point of view of our visitors, but was also having a detrimental effect on the wildlife in and around the pond. There were several, less desirable species of plants that had taken over, crowding out the more beneficial ones; and these, in turn, were having an impact on the diversity of insects and birds present. It was also noticed that water voles, which used to be fairly regular visitors to the pond, were much less visible.
The STW Rangers and volunteer team decided to take on the project to refurbish the pond area and to try to make it a more natural environment, similar to the pond out on Stones Island in the outdoor education classroom.
We removed the old synthetic pond liner and replaced it with a traditional and more natural puddling clay liner. As a result, the pond will now behave much more like a naturally formed pond: In periods of dry weather the water will evaporate and the levels will be low. It is hoped that the pond will then recover over wetter months. While this fluctuation in water level is to be expected and natural, it may appear more extreme during the first couple of years until the clay base settles and forms a seal.
The next task will be to populate the surrounding area with plant life both by planting and allowing nature to bloom. We look forward to seeing the pond and its wildlife develop as each season goes by.
While working in that location we also decided to try to improve the space available for viewing birds out on the island and the water in front of the Wildlife Centre. The old viewing area directly outside the door was very cramped, making it awkward for birdwatchers and visitors alike. By cutting back the vegetation outside the door and creating a much larger screen and viewing space it is hoped that it will now be a much more comfortable experience for all visitors to that area.
Dave Drury – Severn Trent Water Ranger
The autumn/winter series of indoor meetings is upon us (where did the summer go?!), and we kick off with a very icy offering from Carol Taylor who is going to tell us about a visit to Svalbard and show us some of the brilliant pictures she took there. The full CBC programme of events up to Christmas is as follows – and do remember that meetings are held in the Henmore Room of the Visitor Centre, starting at 7.30pm:
16 September ‘Land of the Polar Bear’ by Carol Taylor
21 October ‘Trinidad and Tobago’ by Ian Newton (our joint meeting with Derbyshire Ornithological Society)
18 November ‘The Gambia’ by Chris Ward
16 December ‘Eastern Europe – Hungary and Bulgaria’ by Richard Pittam (our very own webmaster is guest speaker at our Christmas party event)
Forthcoming Severn Trent Water events, including regular activities, are as follows (there is often a small charge, and, for some events, it’s recommended 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
20 September Learn wildlife and in-flight photography (this is a paid-for course) – Visitor Centre 10.30am-4pm
6 October Nature Tots: Tree-mendous – Visitor Centre 10-11.30am
11 October Introduction to fungi (classroom, then foraging) – Visitor Centre 10am-4pm
29 October Halloween family fun: making lanterns – Visitor Centre 1-3.30pm
followed by lantern-lit trail round Stones Island – 4.30-6pm
31 October Mammal challenge – making bat boxes – Visitor Centre 11am-2pm
3 November Nature Tots: Creatures of the Night – Visitor Centre 10-11.30am
29 November Willow wreath workshop, just in time for Christmas – Visitor Centre 10am-noon
|KNOW YOUR COMMITTEE – Here are the club officials and their contact details……..|
|Committee Post||Name||Telephone||Email Address|
|Chairman/Indoor Meetings||Peter Gibbon||01629 email@example.com|
|Secretary||Paul Hicking||01773 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Treasurer||John Follett||01332 email@example.com|
|Recorder||Dave Newcombe and Clive Ashton||(TBA)||(TBA)|
|Newsletter Editor||Gary Atkins||01335 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Outdoor Trips||Peter Oldfieldemail@example.com|
|Ex-officio||Jon Bradley||01773 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|…..and the website address – http://www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk|
|Webmaster||Richard Pittam||Contact Richard via the website|