As I watched the first episode of Planet Earth II, I once again realised how wonderful modern technology has improved our experience when watching the world’s wildlife. Nine million of us tuned in and that was more than viewed the ‘X Factor’! During the 50 minutes before the final section (showing how perilous it was to film the Chinstrap Penguins) there was 20 minutes devoted to avian life. Admittedly the point was made that only birds can reach some of the islands shown but that’s still a good chunk of a programme featuring birds.
The poor three-toed pygmy sloth sequence, the awesome Komodo dragons fighting and the absolutely enchanting Lemurs of Madagascar were all brilliant, and the baby iquanas pursued by lightening fast snakes was incredible. A further scene, on an island taken over by crabs that in turn have now found a new enemy in the form of an ant, was then really upstaged by the soaring and nesting Buller’s Albatross, which breeds on the same Snare’s Island as Shearwaters and Snare’s Penguin. What a place this island off the south coast of New Zealand must be if you are there in summer.
The programme then transported us to the Seychelles – somewhere I’ve always wanted to go to see birdlife and my wife would like to go to sunbathe and relax! My favourite bird, the Fairy Tern, lives there and was the immediate focus of the camera people. I think they are as pretty as any bird can be, and am always left wondering why so many white, or even black and white, birds are so striking. It showed the precarious nest site and, after one egg was partially eaten by another bird, it then showed a chick, suggesting the same bird laid again and was successful the second time. I once went to Buxton to hear Bill Oddie speak and he, too, mentioned that this was his favourite bird.
Unfortunately Noddys on the island didn’t fare so well with sticky seeds on the ground getting round young birds’ feathers, sometimes causing death. The finale featured a remote active volcanic island in Antarctica, where Chinstrap Penguins, in the largest such colony in the world, choose to live because the warm land means it can nest earlier. But as the programme showed, getting on and off the island to fish for food is a hazardous gamble. Fantastic photography from a brave camera crew is what we expect from this programme and I am sure birds will play a prominent part in future episodes. If you missed it, catch up on BBC iPlayer as soon as you can.
Finally, I am sorry to say this will be my very last newsletter offering. After nine years as Chairman as well as other committee roles, I have to give up all posts forthwith due to ill health. I thank everybody in the club for your help and assistance throughout those years and especially members of the committee, who have worked so hard to keep this club going in the last 25 years. I will sincerely miss you all and the progress we have made.
HELP! – MEMBERS’ ASSISTANCE REQUIRED
As we, and the wider wildlife-loving community, wish Peter Gibbon all the very best in battling his ill health in the coming weeks and months, his sad news brings along with it something of a crisis for Carsington Bird Club.
Peter has been the mainstay of the club for several years. Not only has he held the Chairman’s post for nine years, he’s also been undertaking the Membership Secretary and Indoor Meetings Organiser’s duties for some years after the holders of these posts left and appeals to the membership to fill these roles fell on deaf ears.
And as if this wasn’t bad enough, Secretary Paul Hicking is also soon to leave us, as he and wife Steph expect to move out of the area. The net result of all this is that we now have four important committee roles unfilled – and even the danger of no quorum at future committee meetings if we can’t increase the number of participants.
While Treasurer John Follett and Publicity Officer Gary Atkins have agreed – for the time being – to manage the membership and indoor meeting activities, respectively, we should not expect individuals to handle two or three separate roles permanently. So, for the long-term we need members to come forward to fill some of these roles – although in the short-term any offers of help or provisional attendance at committee meetings will help. Please contact us (details on the website www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk) if you think YOU can help.
THREE ‘FIRSTS’ TOP THE CHARTS DURING CARSINGTON’S BUSY AUTUMN
It’s been a busy autumn at the reservoir with huge movements of more common birds often darkening the skies in late October/early November, and three Carsington ‘firsts’ turning up. These were a White-winged Black Tern (also only the seventh county record) among a 50-strong flock, also including Arctic, Common and Black terns, that flew through on 12 September; a Richard’s Pipit that was spotted among a group of Meadow Pipits; and a Cetti’s Warbler that took a liking to Stones Island and was heard calling and singing regularly after its ‘debut on 19 November.
Other highlights included a Yellow-browed Warbler – a species not seen at Carsington until last year; this specific bird was likely to be one of a large number that spread inland following an influx on the east coast. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Blackwall Plantation was the first on site for five years, and a Reed Warbler last seen at Hopton End on 20 October was the latest on site by a clear month and was only a couple of days short of the county record.
Among other summer species departing, one of the latest was Swallow, last recorded on 16 October. Meanwhile, the usual influx of winter birds has included up to 420 Redwing and 610 Fieldfare noted earlier this month, but prize for the largest flock goes to the humble Woodpigeon, 6,710 of which flew over on 2 November, when 515 Starlings were also counted in a mini murmuration.
A site record 33 Brambling flew through in late October, when a flock of 100 Siskin were also noted at Sheepwash, and a pair of Stonechat first appeared in Wildlife Centre creek and were also seen regularly during November. A site-scarce Whinchat, meanwhile, was spotted on thistles on 15 September.
Wildfowl numbers have predictably been on the rise in recent weeks. November’s WeBS count on the 13th included 837 Coot, 180+ Tufted Duck and Pochard, 140 Mallard, 121 Wigeon, 104 Teal and smaller numbers of Gadwall and Goldeneye. Two Common Scoters were also logged that day and were still around on the 19th. Little Grebes continued their comeback (after the welcome disappearance of ‘Brutus’, the carnivorous Yellow-legged Gull!) and 21 were counted this month, while one of its Black-necked cousins was seen in October.
Maximum counts of geese include 420 Pink-feet on 20 October, 391 Canadas the previous month, an unusually high 154 Greylags on 17 October, and the 25 or so Barnacles that seem to regard Carsington as their home. Two White-fronted Geese were also spotted in early October.
Nearly 300 Lapwing were among the November WeBS count, but the following day their number had risen to 480. Jack Snipe was noted in both October and November, and Common Snipe, Dunlin and Redshank were regularly seen. Other waders logged occasionally in smaller numbers included Turnstone, Greenshank, Green and Common Sandpipers, Grey and Ringed Plovers, Ruff and, on 9 November, a single Knot.
It’s been a quiet time for raptors, although the steady flow of Ospreys this year continued with a single bird through on 5 September. Two Merlin sightings were logged, in September and October, while a single sighting of two Hobbys was made on 17 September. Buzzard records were regular, and Peregrines were noted on several dates. Particularly pleasing was the sound of up to 10 Tawny Owls calling at various points around the reservoir at dawn on 30 October.
CHILLY PHOTOS WARM OUR HEARTS AT AUTUMN INDOOR MEETINGS
Regular attendees of the club’s indoor meetings have in the last three months been transported to Iceland, the islands and more remote mainland sites of Scotland and, reminding us that good birding is always available closer to home, the Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire.
We were delighted to welcome back an old favourite, Paul Hobson, for our very first meeting of the year in September. As ever, excellent photos of birds, other fauna and flora and fascinating landscapes were assured as Paul demonstrated the distinct delights of Scotland – from Mull to Shetland, and the Uists to Speyside.
If some of Paul’s shots showed chilly conditions in the far north of the UK, the same applied to most of those displayed by another returning speaker, Ian Newton, whose talk in November focused on Iceland.
Even though he travelled at a relatively hospitable time of year, the inherent cold of this country – which sits just below the Arctic Circle – was apparent in the bleak but beautiful landscape that was sometimes the main feature and sometimes the backdrop to astounding wildlife in his photographs. While for us, the colourful Red-necked Phalarope, Harlequin Duck and Red-throated Diver were a particular delight; it was amazing to see how beautiful Redshank and Whimbrel are in fine close-up detail.
Sandwiched between these two photo-fests, was the annual joint meeting with DOS in October – which drew a record number of attendees (38 – but don’t tell our hosts!), and when Matthew Capper was our guest speaker. Matthew, who used to be the RSPB’s representative at Carsington during the early days of ‘Aren’t Birds Brilliant’, now manages the Old Moor reserve plus the development of other burgeoning wildlife sites along the Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire.
In an eloquent, detailed and well-illustrated talk, Matthew outlined how the site became a reserve, what improvements are being done today, and gave us a few hints of some exciting potential future developments that would reflect the Society’s desire to develop more extensive areas for wildlife along the valley.
CARSINGTON’S COUSIN – OGSTON RESERVOIR – WELL WORTH A VISIT
As many of you will know Severn Trent Water operates not just Carsington Water but a number of other reservoirs across our region, some vast estates like the Upper Derwent Valley in the north of the county and Lake Vyrnwy in Wales, and others much smaller local reservoirs such as Thornton Reservoir in Leicestershire or Shustoke in Warwickshire.
The management of the smaller sites often falls to the teams of rangers based at larger sites. Carsington is no exception, and we also look after Ogston Reservoir in the Amber Valley, on the other side of Matlock.
Ogston’s connection with Carsington runs much deeper than just the management of its habitats and facilities. It is also linked by an aqueduct and via Ogston Reservoir the water from Carsington is treated and then distributed. This is why Ogston’s water levels can often appear to go up as our own go down.
Ogston is also a renowned birding spot within the county with an impressive number and variety of species recorded here. The site draws in passage migrants, gulls flock to roost here in the winter, there’s a heronry and in recent summers Ospreys have lingered here – occasionally popping over to Carsington to catch fish but avoiding going anywhere near our nesting platforms!
Ogston Reservoir is considerably smaller than Carsington and has an active bird club, a popular sailing club and is fished by the Derbyshire County Angling Club. This means it’s a busy place and just as at Carsington balancing the rights and requests of the sites’ user groups with the sites’ role in the water network groups takes patience, compromise and generosity from all involved.
The impressive bird counts and the variety of bird species at Ogston have seen the site designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This means we work closely with Natural England who help guide the management practices we employ at the site and monitor the work we do. With a mosaic of woodlands and grasslands not dissimilar to Carsington we’ll be replicating much of the much we do here at Ogston.
For visitors to Carsington who haven’t ventured to many of our other sites, a trip to Ogston is highly recommended. There are three car parks around the reservoir and the water can be viewed from various points. There are hides for the use of Ogston Bird Club members but also a public hide at the main car park.
For those more familiar with Ogston look out for the Carsington team as they’re on site and hopefully enjoy the benefits of some of the work we’re carrying out.
USER LIAISON GROUP LEARNS OF LATEST DEVELOPMENTS
Our hosts at Carsington Water, Severn Trent, do an amazing job of balancing their primary role with supporting the goals of various local organisations that utilise the many benefits of the reservoir – and they periodically update these groups (which include the sailing club, fishermen and local community as well as CBC) on latest developments.
At a recent meeting of this Carsington Water User Liaison Group, good news for the birding community was that a former volunteer ranger had bequeathed a legacy, which is to be used to provide an additional hide or viewing platform on Stones Island, affording one of the best open views across the reservoir.
Conservation activity during the coming winter will focus on clearing excess willow around the other hides, completing work in the woodlands and a variety of maintenance tasks associated with the High-Level Stewardship scheme. And various methods were being investigated to reduce the disruption to wildlife caused by such things as dogs let off the lead, unauthorised swimming (often very early or late by triathletes in training!) and the growing popularity of drones.
We were also informed that visitor numbers were up 11 per cent this year, and the Visitor Centre’s retail units were now all let following the arrival of the Air Ambulance. And, thankfully, despite the constant pressure on employment levels, the ranger team has been maintained at six – though the staff will now have additional duties at Ogston and Linacre reservoirs.
Severn Trent also reminded everyone that 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the reservoir – and associated celebrations would aim to involve schools. STW invited the user groups to participate in a special event provisionally planned around the weekend of 20-21 May.
CBC’s winter programme of talks continues at the Visitor Centre’s Henmore Room either side of Christmas, though we still have to secure speakers for our February and March meetings.
There have been very healthy numbers attending recent meetings, so it will be good if that trend continues – and remember our January talk will be preceded by our Annual General Meeting, which is particularly important this year as a recasting of the club’s officers will prove essential following the enforced retirements of long-serving committee members, Peter Gibbon and Paul Hicking (as described on the front page of this newsletter) – plus Peter Oldfield’s recent decision to stand down as outdoor trips organiser.
Please get along if you can: the AGM begins at 7pm – half-an-hour earlier than our regular meetings – and will be followed by a talk by Ken Smith.
20 December ‘Winter Birding in New Jersey’ by Tony Davison
17 January AGM followed by a talk on ‘wildlife near and far’ from Ken Smith
21 February TBA
21 March TBA
Severn Trent Water, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB and New Leaf Catering also organise a range of activities. To check if events need booking, call either 01629 540696 (STW), 01773 881188 (DWT) or 01629 540363 (New Leaf). The programme for the next three months is as follows:
Every dayAnima – Antics Trail (trail pack £1) Visitor Centre (10am-5pm)
First Sunday of month – Birdwatching for Beginners with STW ranger Meet Visitor Centre (10am-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 of month – ‘Family Forest School’ (three sessions daily) – Millfields car park (contact DWT)
2 December – Make your own herbal Christmas present – 10.30am-1pm (contact DWT) (Charge applies)
5 December – Nature Tots: Winter Wander (charge applies) – 10.30am-noon or pm (contact DWT)
16 December – Jazz Evening (tickets available to book) – From 7pm (contact New Leaf)
9 January 2017 – Nature Tots: Snow Tots (charge applies) – 10.30am-noon or pm (contact DWT)
6 February – Nature Tots: Muddy Puddle Tots (charge applies) – 10.30am-noon or pm (contact DWT)