ANNUAL SUBS NOW DUE!! Could those of you yet to renew your membership for 2016, please send a cheque for the requisite amount (£10 for family/joint, £7.50 single and £1 for junior) as soon as possible to Peter Gibbon at 25 Church Street, Holloway, nr Matlock DE4 5AY. Thank you and have a very happy year’s birding!
I have nearly finished reading a book called ‘INGLORIOUS’ by Mark Avery, who was Conservation Director of the RSPB for 13 years. The title is really a challenge to the ‘Glorious’ 12th of August, the day each year when grouse shooting begins, with flocks of Red Grouse driven by lines of beaters so that they fly over lines of ‘guns’ that shoot the fast-flying birds. It is a peculiarly British field sport and one that is deeply rooted in the class system. It is a multi-million pound industry that dominates the hills of the north of England and throughout Scotland. The book is a considered review of the whole business and after many years of experience and ‘soul-searching’ Mark comes out in favour of an outright ban.
In many instances this field sport has led to the illegal killing of wildlife such as Buzzards, Golden Eagles and, most egregiously of all, Hen Harriers. He says that it is, in the view of many conservationists, wrecking the ecology of the hills. He admits that it is economically important in rural areas and remains a longstanding British tradition. The book recognises this and the author talks to people on both sides of the debate. It also recounts his campaign alongside Chris Packham to publicise the effects of grouse shooting, which culminated in ‘Hen Harrier Day’, a celebration of harriers and other upland birds that was timed to coincide with the ‘Glorious’ 12th. I am writing this to coincide with information posted on the Derbyshire Police site on 3rd February headlined ‘Reward offered as more birds of prey are illegally killed in the Peak District National Park’. There is a £1,000 reward for information about the killing last September of an Osprey that had both its legs broken, consistent with being caught in a spring trap. At the end of the same month a Buzzard was found shot dead not far away from where the Osprey was discovered – both in the Glossop area. When RSPB published its annual Birdcrime list for 2014 it revealed Derbyshire as one of the worst places in the UK for bird of prey persecution. In that year the RSPB received 16 reports of incidents in the county including Buzzard and Sparrowhawk shootings, and an illegally trapped Goshawk. The posting also urges us to phone Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 if we have any information on such incidents. Both the book and the Derbyshire police report show how difficult it is to stop. While there’s no doubt that many birds of prey are shot on grouse moors, it is hard to prove when people close ranks. In 2007 the infamous case of two Hen Harriers seen being shot on the Royal estate of Sandringham, when no bodies were recovered, hit the national headlines. I think Mark Avery has written a superb, persuasive book and it deserves a wide audience.
CLUB TRIP TO THE DWT’S WILLINGTON RESERVE – 15 MAY (meet 9.30am)
Continuing our theme of visiting relatively local birding spots, we plan to see what we can find at the ever-reliable Willington reserve on the banks of the River Trent between Burton and Derby. This excellent reserve, which contains several viewpoints and viewing platforms, can usually boast plentiful waterfowl and waders, but in springtime is attractive to a good range of warblers (one star species being resident Cetti’s) and other visiting migrants.
Please make your own way to the reserve, park where you can, and assemble at around 9.30am at the entry lane just off the B5008 (Repton Road).
LAPWING FLOCKS DELIGHT, BUT IT’S GULLS FOR REALLY LARGE COUNTS
As we await our first spring visitor, usually a Chiffchaff, one of that species has already been spotted around the reservoir – in early January – showing the increasing likelihood of birds stopping over in Britain during the generally milder winters. We ended 2015 with one new species, a Ring Ouzel, and two more awaiting ratification. If confirmed, the year’s Carsington Water total would be 162 (and the site’s overall total 228). A regular winter highlight arrived back in November, as Great Northern Divers drifted in for their usual long stay. As many as six individuals have been noted, but the usual number often seen in any one day is three. Other wildfowl maximum counts have been rather higher, including 925 Coot, 276 Teal, 269 Tufted Duck, 184 Mallard, 88 Pochard and 79 Wigeon. A single Brent Goose contrasted sharply with its cousins as 110 Pink-feet were counted in December and up to 180 Canadas in January.
In many cases these are lower numbers than usual, but variety has been good with smaller numbers of Pintail, Shelduck, Shoveler, Goosander and Goldeneye seen regularly, while two Scaup turned up on 17 December. Lapwing flocks in the hundreds have been regular, with a peak count of 800 on 3 January. Snipe have been seen in good numbers, up to 39 in a single day, with a single creamy-coloured leucistic bird often (and rather easily) spotted. Up to three Jack Snipe have been seen, usually at Hopton End, where the reed bed has also seen a pair of Water Rails. Other waders have included small numbers of Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin and Woodcock, while three Oystercatchers returned at the end of January.
For truly large counts, it’s gulls that have taken the prize this quarter. Special efforts (involving early mornings and late evenings!) by a handful of dedicated souls made to record these birds – and up to 10,000 Black-headed Gulls are estimated to have roosted, along with 1,000 Common and Lesser Black-backs. Easier to count have been the much smaller numbers of Great Black-backed, Yellow-legged and Herring Gulls, along with two Kittiwakes that showed on 26 January (and another on 9 February), an adult Caspian Gull on 3 December and a summer plumage Mediterranean Gull on 21 February.
By comparison, raptors have been rather scarcer, though up to five Buzzards have been seen aloft at any one time, Peregrines have been reported each month, Kestrels are seen routinely over Stones Island, and Sparrowhawks are fairly regular sightings – including the one that was mobbed by a Great Spotted Woodpecker on 2 February. Meanwhile, two Tawny Owls were heard calling on 28 December, and another flew across the road near Sheepwash on 21 January. Over 700 Jackdaws were recorded in a single viewing at the end of December, Redwings have numbered up to 270, flocks of up to 60 Siskin have been seen, and 34 Stock Doves were counted just before Christmas. Overflying Skylarks and Yellowhammers are a relative rarity, though seen more commonly not far from Carsington, and the exposed mud through low water levels have been an attraction for small groups of Meadow Pipits.
Several Brambling sightings were logged in December/January, and good numbers of Lesser Redpoll (augmented by a single ‘Mealy’ variety) have been seen, often around Stones Island.
The poem below was written by CBC member John Bland, who found the verse forming in his mind as he visited the reservoir and saw our most famous winter visitor – the Great Northern Diver….
Seen today from Sheepwash
And from Lane End hide,
Spotted from the dam wall
And from Millfields side.
Great Crested Grebes a-plenty,
It wasn’t one of those.
Distinctive dive of Cormorant
Red-Throated’s beak points upwards,
Black-Throated’s flank is white.
Neither of them showing.
I’m sure that I’m right.
It’s big and long and heavy,
At this range it looks black.
It’s fair to say, at Carsington,
Great Northern Diver’s back.
WATER, WATER … NEARLY EVERYWHERE!
It’s been a winter of unprecedented rainfall and unseasonably mild temperatures which have had a big impact on the site and its wildlife.
Few of us can recall a wetter winter and the continuous rain has left the ground saturated, making getting out on site to carry out winter work more challenging than usual, especially if the work involves taking the vehicles off the tracks. The heavier downpours have further complicated things by causing erosion and potholes on the tracks around the site. With unprecedented rainfall and floods throughout the north of England it’s perhaps no surprise that we’ve spent much of this winter explaining why our water levels are down and reassuring visitors that we haven’t sprung a leak. Those of you on site in December may have seen the reservoir as low as 72.6% in the middle of the month, draining the bays around the Visitor Centre and leaving many metres of exposed mud. The reason for the falling levels is connected to our role in the water supply network. Carsington is a storage reservoir and typically we supply water at times of high demand and low rainfall, though we can also provide water when supply reservoirs are out of action. This was the case this winter as work took place at Ogston Reservoir meaning Carsington was called upon to supply parts of north Derbyshire. Due to our high elevation and limited natural catchment, our water levels fell despite the downpours and, while visitors to Carsington had rarely seen it so low in winter, few visitors to Ogston had seen those levels so high! Since the maintenance work at Ogston was completed our levels have slowly crept up, with the various streams and brooks around the site topping us up by around 1% per week. At the time of writing this article, in mid-February, Carsington is over 80% full and rising.
The mild, wet weather appears to have had a big impact on the site’s birdlife. Certainly the winter began with promise and an impressive count of Great Northern Divers but the mild conditions seem to have kept wildfowl counts down compared to previous years, good news for the birds themselves if not for birders.
On the bright side the lower water levels seem to have benefitted some species with hundreds of Lapwing on site and some good counts of Common Snipe. Many of those counts are no doubt by birders hoping to spot the long-staying leucistic bird! The recent water levels demonstrate that while water may be abundant in certain regions and at certain times of the year the amount we can store to carry us through the drier times is limited and I have no doubt that we’ll find our levels going down again in the coming months.
Never one to miss an opportunity, over the last few weeks Severn Trent has handed out a surprising amount of free water saving gadgets and gizmos to the public – often doing so as they sheltered from the rain in the Visitor Centre!
John Matkin, Severn Trent Water
ENTERTAINING TALKS – AND A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS!
Our Christmas talk last year was a first for the club when we had the same speaker for the second time in a year. Having earlier told us about RSPB Langford Lowfields, a new reserve established on a sand and gravel pit close to the River Trent, it was fascinating then to listen to Paul Bennett talk about his work at the RSPB’s very different Coombes Valley reserve, a long established woodland valley.
Paul highlighted the different sets of challenges presented by two such contrasting eco systems and it was clear that RSPB wardens have to be adaptable and have a broad range of capabilities for whichever reserve they are asked to work in. Among his challenges at Coombes Valley he said was the takeover of large areas by Holly trees, which seemed very appropriate for the time of year!
Finding a solution wasn’t easy as he found putting work out to tender was going to be very expensive. The restoration of or demolition of hides, the upkeep of access for the public, sustaining agreements and goodwill with surrounding land owners and most importantly the healthy state of the river that runs through the reserve are just a few of his new priorities. Christmas would also not be the same without a good ghost story and he gave us a ‘cracker’ about the haunted house in the middle of the reserve. If you’ve passed by when walking through Coombes Valley, you may have thought what a beautiful place to live … but Paul made it very clear why you wouldn’t want to! After the January AGM I spoke about Gannets after an inspiring day trip I enjoyed on Bass Rock, which contains the largest Gannet colony in the world and is described by David Attenborough as one of nature’s greatest spectacles. I found the experience staggering but even more so when I read the facts and figures about this incredible species: Its unique biology – an exceedingly long neck with strengthened vertebrae and a skull that’s nearly twice as wide as a heron’s – enabling it to dive from heights of 25m and at speeds that may reach 100kms per hour. Underwater photos also showed how superbly adapted they are for catching fish. Figures show that its breeding behaviour is currently working well in practically all its colonies. At Bempton, for example, 3,940 breeding pairs in 2003/4 had increased to 11,061 pairs by 2012, while at Bass Rock itself, 49,098 pairs in 2003/4 had become 75,259 by 2014! Three hours spent photographing this sight was truly unforgettable.
Though the world population of our Atlantic Gannet has been steadily increasing, it is still ‘Amber’ listed so it has to be carefully monitored. I ended my talk with an example of why its future is not assured. There are plans to build a huge wind farm at the mouth of the Firth of Forth and, while it was initially considered Gannets would not be affected as they fly low over water, but scientists then had second thoughts, realising the species actually fishes and scouts from higher up and could be in danger of hitting the blades. So such developments need careful watching. I enjoyed telling our audience was a fantastic place Bass Rock is: If you ever go to that part of Scotland, do take a look.
Our winter programme of talks is drawing to a close and the final one of the season is taking place on 15th March. See below for details, and for a couple of other events the club is staging – a ‘wagtail walk’ in collaboration with Severn Trent in April and, the following month, a trip to Willington Gravel Pits …
15 March? – Talk on ‘Bats’ by Bob Croxton of Sorby Mammal and?Henmore Rm, Visitor Centre (7.30pm)
26 April? – Wagtail walk (looking for elusive Yellow Wags)?Visitor Centre (6pm)
15 May? – Club trip to Willington Gravel Pits?Meet at reserve (approx 9.30am)?
On site at Carsington, Severn Trent Water and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust host a broader range of activities – some regular slots, some one-off events – and the programme below shows what’s coming up in the next three months. Remember, some activities need booking, so always worth checking with the visitor centre reception, on 01629 540696, and if necessary get your name on the list:
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)
Third Saturday monthly?Family Forest School (charges apply)?Contact DWT to book (01773 881188)
7 March ?Nature Tots: Mad March Hares (charges apply)?Contact DWT to book (01773 881188)
9 April?Plant Hunters Fair?Visitor Centre (10am-4pm)
8 May?Sponsored walk for Ellen McArthur Trust
9 May?Nature Tots – another outdoor session?Visitor Centre (10.30am-12noon)
27 May?Wildlife Gardening Workshop – Bees (10.30-?Contact DWT to book (01773 881188)
?1pm … £10)
KNOW YOUR COMMITTEE
Here are the club officials and their contact details……..
Chairman / Indoor Meetings / Membership
Dave Newcombe / Clive Ashton
Publicity / Annual Report
Jon Bradley – 01773 852526 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger Carrington – 01629 583816 – email@example.com
…..and the website address – http://www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk
Webmaster – Richard Pittam – Contact Richard via the website