On 5th August I was lucky enough to witness what David Attenborough called one of ‘The Twelve Wildlife Wonders of the World’. A birthday present from my wife made it possible. She bought me a ticket to visit Bass Rock which is a large volcanic plug just two and a half miles from North Berwick and just one mile off the coast.
Small as islands go, it is nevertheless home to the biggest collection of Northern Gannets in the world; its 50,000 pairs represent 10 per cent of the world’s population. Very few people are allowed on this private place, and six of us, along with our guide, were taken there by a small fishing boat – and after a somewhat perilous landing we spent three hours amongst the gannets.
They breed from March to October and, with another 20,000 non-breeding birds among them, Bass Rock is home to an estimated 150,000 birds including young. From a distance the rock shines bright white in sunlight purely and simply because of the number of birds that completely cover it. It was an awesome wonder to see up so close, with birds looking after young of all sizes and even one sitting on a single egg. Obviously it’s pretty noisy, and soiled in many places, but not overwhelmingly so. It is also a very successful colony.
A day later with a mind still full of this spectacular natural history spectacle, I bought the Scotsman newspaper and found a story about the plight of Puffins on the Farne Islands. They are a species that have had great problems in recent decades, especially with their food supply disappearing. This year, a new problem in the form of flooded nesting holes has hit them even harder.
While few people visit Bass Rock – making it feel like a place we can only see by watching television programmes – many more visit the Farnes, which are easier and less costly to access and, consequently, are more affected by human presence.
One of our speakers, Eddie Hallam, once talked to us about his time on St Kilda and then went on to make a slightly controversial statement about precious ornithological areas being first and foremost places for birds. For the first time, when on Bass Rock, I could see what Eddie was getting at. Then again, now that I’ve been, I could be accused of being selfish if I said to others, don’t go and just leave it to the Gannets!
DECENT BREEDING YEAR – AND OSPREYS SHOW UP … BUT DON’T STAY
As it often the case, the summer has seen mixed fortunes for breeding at Carsington. Early season poor weather seems to have affected tit families, which have been fewer and farther between this year, while visitors such as Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Whitethroat and Sedge and Garden Warblers all seem to have produced plentiful young.
House Martins and Swallows bred in all the usual places, and Swift families flying around the Visitor Centre eaves seem to indicate breeding in that area for the first time for a couple of years. Four Grey Wagtail juveniles were seen at Millfields and, nearer the water, two Oystercatcher and two Lapwing broods were noted.
Waterfowl seem to have fared quite well with the reservoir staying quite full during most of the breeding season. There were 12 Great Crested Grebe broods counted in 2015, against just seven last year, and other species increasing brood numbers this year included Mallard 26 (22 in 2014), Tufted Duck 19 (13) and Moorhen which have seemed to be largely absent in recent times but two broods of six young boosted the local population. As ever, there were plenty of goslings attached to an unknown number of Canada broods, while Barnacle Geese also bred.
Roger Carrington secured an amazing picture of young Tufted Ducks during mid-summer: but he needed to get his ‘panorama’ setting into use to show a posse of 30 very young ducklings following a single mother. It was highly unlikely to be a single brood; Roger believes several nests were all in the same area and when the only ‘mum’ around took off, the chicks from all the nests followed suit!
Little Egrets have been prominent throughout the second half of the summer: the first appeared on 19 July, since when up to four individuals have been seen on a number of occasions. As many as six Grey Herons and seven Redshank have been recorded at one ‘sitting’, while Greekshank were noted in late July and early August.
This year marked first ever June sighting of a Grey Plover at Carsington, and other waders on site in the last quarter included Common Sandpiper, Lesser Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Whimbrel, Ruff and Dunlin, while as many as 100 Lapwings were seen.
Coot numbers are building: 979 were logged during the latest WeBS count, when it was good to witness 12 Little Grebe. As many as 446 Canada Geese have been seen but there were fewer during this WeBS count, when the most numerous water bird apart from Coot was Tufted Duck with 392 individuals. Scarcer ducks spotted during this period included Scaup, Common Scoter, Pintail, Red-crested Pochard and as many as seven Goosander. The first few Wigeon were seen in late August.
There were several Osprey sightings, spread across all three months, but once again all ignored the nest platforms! Peregrines have been regular fast-flying visitors to site, with a Hobby also seen – carrying prey – on 21 July. Almost daily Kestrel sightings around Stones and Horseshoe Island, including vole-catching activity noted from the Wildlife Centre, indicate successful breeding. As many as three Buzzards have been viewed at one time, and Tawny Owls were recorded on 21 and 28 July.
Gull numbers have been low, though 38 Black-headed young were counted at Millfields in July. A Great Black-back was a more unusual species among the Herring, Common and Lesser Black-backs, and Yellow-legs have also been spotted – though thankfully not ‘Brutus’, the cannibal, which is probably reflected in the decent number of Little Grebes currently around!
Tern movement has been sparse, with only six Common and six Arctic passing through representing the maximum counts, but the return migrations of some birds is well under way, as two Yellow Wagtails were logged on 20 July and another on 6 August. Meanwhile, among the quiet period for passerines, it was a pleasure to see a party of Crossbills in early July.
SMART MANAGEMENT BRINGS HEALTHY GRASSLAND TO CARSINGTON
If you’ve been out and about on the paths at Carsington you may have noticed the grasslands which always look at their best and buzz with invertebrate life during the summer months. For much of the year they can be easily overlooked, particularly after a late hay-cut or during winter grazing but at this time of year they are transformed.
Some of you may remember how the land looked over 25 years ago when it was first purchased by Severn Trent Water. For anyone else you only have to look at the neighbouring farmland to see just how far some of our grasslands have come.
Initial surveys by various environmental consultants steered our earliest management practices. Seed was taken from the more species-rich areas of the site and spread over those which lacked the same diversity. More recently HLS stewardship schemes have helped guide our management.
Various management practices are employed depending upon the designation of the land and where on the site it is found. So you will notice the dam, car parks, the sheep pastures around tail bay, the restoration meadows, wet pastures, islands and woodland rides and glades are all managed differently for the benefit of different plant communities.
So many different pockets of land, all with varying management needs present us with a real challenge and prioritising can be tricky with HLS deadlines, health and safety considerations, the logistics of getting grass cutting equipment on to the islands, and the great British weather to contend with.
A common theme in all of these practices is reducing the productivity of the grasslands around the site. Many of them were farmed for years to maximise production so the challenge is to reduce the sward height, prevent the colonisation of a single species or plant groups, and reduce the productivity of the soil.
Parasitic species such as Yellow Rattle play an important part in this process but constant cutting and mowing is most effective and during the summer months you may well see the Volunteer Rangers or other groups such as the Parkwood Conservation Volunteers or Derbyshire Community Payback carrying out the hard work of hay raking.
The Volunteer Rangers have also been busy this summer carrying out surveys of the grasslands to better understand how we’re doing. A dedicated team has been recording the presence of a range of indicator species as well as recording some of the other grassland species that now occur here. The early results are incredibly promising and the indicators suggest we now have some of the best examples of lowland grassland in the area.
As well as flora there are other markers of grassland health: you can spot good numbers of bees and butterflies, the latter also monitored by volunteers conducting formal recording transects. The Derbyshire Mammal Group has recorded healthy small mammal populations and in some parts of the site harvest mice have been recorded. The rich invertebrate life provides food for young birds in the spring and seed for roaming flocks of goldfinches in the autumn.
Unfortunately the areas of grassland on site are relatively small and can’t sustain populations of the farmland bird species that were once more common in the area such as Skylarks and Grey Partridges. That said, with so much time and effort spent keeping our existing grasslands in such good shape the land we manage keeps us very busy!
If you’re out and about on site over the coming weeks be sure to spend a bit of time enjoying the meadows whilst they’re looking at their best. We’ll also be sharing some of the results from the Volunteer Rangers survey work via social media and look out for the team working on our grasslands over the coming weeks.
John Matkin, Severn Trent
A BOOK TO HELP US ENJOY THE FLORA ALONG WITH THE BIRDLIFE
In the spring of 2014, we were acclaiming the publication of The Birds of Derbyshire and acknowledging the many excellent reviews of the book. This year comes a counterweight for the other end of the bookshelf in the form of The Flora of Derbyshire.
Based on 840,000 plant records, it is the culmination of some 20 years of research and fieldwork. It gives details of all 1,919 species of wildflowers, grasses, trees and ferns that have ever been recorded in the county with over 1,100 mapped in colour and more than 100 coloured photographs.
It is instantly impressive both visually and in terms of the detail covered. Introductory chapters describe the various landscapes and vegetation of our county, the history of Derbyshire field botany and the story of local plant conservation. There is also a chapter entitled “Where to See Plants in Derbyshire” which describes over 50 easily accessible and botanically rich sites, as well as some of the plants that one might expect to find at each. It is the first county flora publication to appear since 1969 and covers a 400 year historical period running to 458 pages in large format. It is in full colour throughout.
The authors, Alan Willmot and Nick Moyes, are to be warmly congratulated on a magnificent achievement, although they generously share the credit with the many who have assisted the recording efforts that they have coordinated. The book seems set to become an outstanding reference for students and botanists and is highly recommended. We feel sure that it will appear in local bookshops soon and even if you have to pay the full price of £38.50, we think it good value for money. Further details can also be obtained from the publishers at www.naturebureau.co.uk/bookshop/
Bryan & Kate Barnacle
The Bird Club’s autumn and winter programme of indoor talks is just about to get under way with an early cold blast from Ian Newton, who will be talking about wildlife in Alaska. Our full list of talks leading up to Christmas is below – and don’t forget, they are held in the Visitor Centre’s Henmore Room and start at 7.30pm:
15 September ‘Alaska’ by Ian Newton
20 October ‘Bird Flight’ by Jeff Blincow (this is our joint meeting with DOS)
17 November ‘Bird Migration’ by Nigel Slater
15 December ‘A New Challenge’ by Paul Bennett
Severn Trent Water, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and RSPB also stage one-off or regular activities. For STW events, it’s always worth checking the visitor centre reception, on 01629 540696, to see if events need booking and, if they do, get your name down. The programme in the coming weeks and months is as follows:
First Sunday of month – Birdwatching for Beginners – Meet Visitor Centre (10am-12 noon)
First weekend of month – Optics demonstrations – RSPB shop, Visitor Centre (10am-4pm)
Every Tuesday/Sunday – Wildlife Centre volunteers on parade – Wildlife Centre (10am-3pm)
14 September – Nature Tots: Dragon Day (charge applies) – Contact DWT to book (01773 881188)
27 September – Carsington Food Fair – Around the Visitor Centre (all day)
|KNOW YOUR COMMITTEE – Here are the club officials and their contact details……..|
|Committee Post||Name||Telephone||Email Address|
|Chairman / Indoor Meetings / Membership||Peter Gibbon||01629 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Secretary||Paul Hicking||01773 email@example.com|
|Treasurer||John Follett||01332 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Recorders||Dave Newcombe / Clive Ashton||Not email@example.com|
|Publicity / Annual Report||Gary Atkins||01335 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Outdoor Trips||Peter Oldfield||01629 email@example.com|
|…..and the website address – http://www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk|
|Webmaster||Richard Pittam||Contact Richard via the website|