Welcome to the latest Bird Club newsletter. Hopefully, the recent (mainly) good weather has given you plenty of opportunities to get out and watch our breeding birds during the busiest part of the year. With much of the feverish bonding, nest building and territory defending behind them, most species are now quietly gathering food and raising their broods which, together with the explosion of greenery now covering trees, gardens and hedgerows, means the birds will from now on be a little harder to see – so getting acquainted with their songs and calls is a helpful addition to the birder’s armoury.
We have now heard from most existing members, the majority of whom have renewed their memberships – and the good news is we’ve had new members join up, too. A net increase of six, in fact, so for the first time in a several years, we can report a rise in membership numbers. We aim to keep the activities rolling along in order to maintain the interest levels for those who like to get out and about.
In this issue we report on some of those activities, including a productive trip to Carr Vale and ‘warbler walk’ at Carsington; also, as ever, we summarise the key sightings over the last three months at the reservoir. Note also that we have a further trip planned for the autumn, details of which are given below.
POOR EARLY SPRING WEATHER DELAYS MANY ARRIVALS – BUT NOT FLYCATCHERS
It’s that time of year when we say cheerio to our winter visitors and hello to our summer arrivals, which were in the main delayed this year because of the freezing cold of March and poor weather in April. May has been a different story, of course, and the usual species have made a late dash in … except for the Great Northern Diver which made its exit, also a tiny bit later than usual and resplendent in full summer plumage, on 13 May.
Chiffchaff (11 March), Sand Martin (28 March), Swallow and House Martin (both 3 April) and Blackcap (4 April) were the only arrivals able to exchange pleasantries with the departing winter thrushes, which were last seen in mid-April, but it didn’t take long for the other summer visitors to stake their claims around the reservoir. Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Sedge, Garden and Reed Warblers, Redstart and Swift were all noted for the first time during the third week of April.
Bucking the late-arrival trend were both species of Flycatcher, with Pied seen on 16 April and Spotted on 4 May – both dates being the earliest ever recorded at Carsington. Other passerine highlights were the Stonechat seen on 6 March, a single Rock Pipit five days later then, in May, a single Whinchat, while the 73 Skylark flying over in early March was a site record.
Advance notice of trip: It has been decided to stage another club outing in the autumn – this time a little farther afield, to the invariably very productive RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire. So, get Sunday, 30 September in your diaries. Chris Lamb expects a convoy to be the best plan, so let him know early if you want to go, as a driver or passenger.
Privacy Notice: As the new General Data Protection Regulations came into effect at the end of May, we want to assure all members that any data we hold on you is purely for administrative purposes (such as sending you reports/newsletters, updates on events and other information and membership renewals) and will not be divulged to any third party. We are presently reviewing our written policy (as appears on the website), but do not anticipate any significant changes to current practices. Meanwhile, if you have any concerns, please alert one of the committee.
Auditor appeal: Long-time CBC auditor, David Bennett, has signalled his ‘retirement’ and is doing his last audit of our accounts this year – so we are now looking for a new auditor from the membership. John Follett assures it’s not an onerous task, so, any volunteers? Please let John know if you can help.
A jaw-dropping sight for the regular birders was 240 Arctic Terns that passed through together on 2 May along with 10 Common Terns. Later in the month, smaller numbers of Sandwich and Black Terns were also spotted. Gulls have produced some variety, with Caspian and Mediterranean both recorded and Kittiwakes counted on two dates, while there were, 4,500 Black-headed, 1,300 Common and 160 Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the roost on 6 March. Great Black-backed Gull numbers, meanwhile, seem to be ever higher with 39 counted on 5 April.
A fair proportion of the Black-headed Gulls began setting up a breeding colony on Millfields Island, but they abandoned their nests and moved to Sailing Club and Horseshoe Islands, thought to be because of the presence of predatory mammals. The 400 nests on Sailing Club Island were then abandoned, too, probably for the same reason, so it’s not been a good year for this species, though some young were raised around the Wildlife Centre. We can give a better summary of all species’ breeding in the next newsletter.
It’s been a good ‘quarter’ for raptors, with six Red Kite sightings through April and May, Osprey noted on three days in April, a Marsh Harrier on 9 May, two Merlins together in March and Peregrine popping up regularly, though not as often as Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, 20 of which were counted together on 25 March.
Barn Owls produced a good-news/bad-news story as one was found dead near the Wildlife Centre in March, but three other sightings were made during March and April. Occasional records of Tawny Owl were further rewarded when a fledged youngster was spotted on 26 May.
Waders have also been recorded in good variety and decent numbers, with 55 Curlew roosting together in March, when up to 16 Oystercatchers and smaller numbers of Little Ringed Plovers also arrived back on site. Since then, Golden Plover, Common and Jack Snipe, Ruff, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Greenshank, Green and Common Sandpiper have all joined the more familiar and regularly-seen Redshank and Lapwing.
Other water birds making a splash were a herd of 59 Whooper Swans that visited the site between 3 and 5 March, a summer-plumage Black-necked Grebe which graced us with a visit on 5 April and a lone Little Egret that arrived on 12 May.
SPRING IS SPRUNG WITH A TRIP AND RESERVOIR WALKS
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s Carr Vale reserve, near Bolsover, was the destination for the club’s latest members’ trip in late April and it got off to a slow start as dogs and horses outnumbered the birds at first. But before long the small group was picking up the distinctive songs of visiting Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, as well as resident Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Dunnocks, Wrens and Robins.
The distant but unmistakable ‘yaffle’ of a Green Woodpecker was noted but not heard again, while arriving at the group of lakes, ducks and geese were added to the growing list, a Grey Heron flew over – the only one of the day – and a Great Crested Grebe was seen expertly catching fish.
The raised mound proved a very good place to scan the lakes and a single Oystercatcher was seen in a distant field, while a couple of Common Terns and handful of Lapwing were dotted among a sizeable flock of Black-headed Gulls circling above the water.
Closer to, a Reed Warbler was heard singing but, as is so often the case with this secretive species, remained unseen. By contrast, great close-up views were had at the feeding tables on the fringe of the observation platform, which attracted two pairs of Bullfinches, with the males looking particularly resplendent, a pair of Reed Buntings, a male Yellowhammer that dropped in briefly and a Willow Tit.
A passing fellow birder had earlier reported hearing a Lesser Whitethroat at this location and the group picked up its distant song. Moving further round the reserve, a Skylark was picked out singing high in the sky, followed by at least two or three singing Blackcaps which did offer fleeting views as they flew across the path.
It was, ultimately, a decent morning’s walk: the weather stayed fine, after an uncertain start, and the CBC travellers logged a total of 39 species seen or heard.
Back at Carsington, the first planned walk of the spring period proved something of a damp squib as the joint Severn Trent/CBC Wagtail Walk on the evening of 24 April followed a day of unremitting rain. It did ease off and around 12 people joined David Bennett, Roger Carrington and Jon Bradley on the brisk circumnavigation of Stones Island, but apart from one Pied Wagtail together with a few breeding waders and, at the Wildlife Centre, a drake Mandarin there was not a lot seen.
Later the following month, a Warbler Walk was reintroduced to the club’s programme of events and was again led by Roger Carrington. His ears, well attuned to the songs and calls of both resident birds and summer visitors, was probably more important than the ten pairs of eyes that strained to see movement among the increasingly luxuriant vegetation.
Setting off from the Visitor Centre towards Stones Island the group soon encountered the scratchy song of a Whitethroat, which offered good views as it flew across the path on its song flight and perched obligingly at the top of a bush. Further on we heard a distinctive descending trill that signalled a content Willow Warbler which was soon found high up in a spindly willow.
A trickier challenge was differentiating between Garden Warbler and Blackcap songs – but eventually, the bird helped out by showing itself to be a Garden Warbler. The same song was heard on several occasions as the group moved around Stones Island, while the song of a Sedge Warbler was identified, faintly, on the edge of Sailing Club Island.
It wasn’t just about warblers of course and more common species including Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock, Robin and Willow Tit were glimpsed and heard.
Two Turnstones had been spotted earlier on Sailing Club Island, but sadly had seemingly moved on, though the group did watch a number of Mallard families with young ducklings, as well as Gadwall and Tufted Duck, and pairs of Great-Crested Grebes performing their hypnotic mating display.
Moving off Stones Island and down Wildlife Centre Creek hopes were high for the sight or sound of Spotted Flycatcher or Lesser Whitethroat, both of which had been seen or heard earlier, but it was mainly silence (except for a Blackcap and the first Chiffchaff of the morning) that greeted the group. The Wildlife Centre was the final port of call, where a Greylag Goose, Lapwings and a distant Little Grebe boosted the collective total of species seen (or heard) to 37.
Those who attended were thankful to Roger not just for his help in identifying the dizzying variety of warbler songs and calls, but also for his tips on where to find various species around the site.
HOLIDAY REPORT: PORTUGAL – PART TWO!
If this feels a bit like ‘deja vu’, that’s understandable as I visited southern Portugal two years ago and wrote a report then. But my latest holiday to the area was rather different as it took in not just the salt pans and wetlands around Tavira, where we’d stayed before and spent a week again this time, but also several days at Alcoutim and Mertola in the Alentejo region around 100 kilometres north, which has a different topography and, so, a different range of birds to hunt for.
And those attributes also resulted in other differences – firstly I saw more species (104) than I’d ever before seen during a holiday on mainland Europe, including several ‘lifers’, and secondly, I was delighted to break the usual cycle of seeing hardly any birds of prey, this time watching in awe a total of nine raptor species.
Tavira is a great base in the eastern Algarve. Not only is it an attractive town with plenty of restaurants and places to stay, it’s also at the heart of the Ria Formosa coastal reserve which stretches for miles and contains some brilliant birding sites such as Olhao and Castro Marim virtually on the doorstep, and other excellent locations just the other side of the main town Faro and its airport.
Most old favourites were once again evident in the ‘salinas’ (salt marshes), just a few hundred yards from our apartment – Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, and Ringed and Grey Plovers.
More generally, Crested Larks, Corn Buntings, Hoopoes and Serin were everywhere, Fan-tailed Warblers pinged above our heads, and Nightingales regaled us with their beautiful flutey songs from countless fresh water refuges, though they were tricky to see, often buried deep in reeds. And it seems to be true that they sing all day long: I woke up one night at 3.30am and heard one singing!
My wife Meryl, sister Corinne (a fellow birder!) and I stayed at a beautiful hotel in Alcoutim, on the banks of the Guardiana River that forms the boundary with Spain for much of its lower length. Here, we heard Golden Oriole joining the morning chorus, while it was quite a sight to see 40-50 Bee-eaters swarming over the exact same fields we’d seen them during a day-trip to the town two years earlier.
A regional specialist is the attractive Azure-winged Magpie, ironically one of the most common birds, along with House and Spanish Sparrows and Collared Doves.
Another daily sighting was White Storks, equally impressive whether soaring high in the sky, when they can be mistaken at a glance for raptors, or conducting their complex bonding routines on the countless nests they built in all sorts of precarious positions, though often on poles provided for the purpose.
Quality rather than quantity was the order of the day as Corinne and I spent two mornings scouring the rolling, green and often sparsely vegetated plains of the Alentejo. Among this area’s big birding prizes are Great and Little Bustards, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra Larks, Spanish Imperial Eagles and Rollers – none of which we’d seen before our final full day, but all of which we’d notched by the end of it.
Our earlier sortie a couple of days before had included Black and Egyptian Vultures, Black Kite, Lesser Kestrel and Montagu’s Harriers, which offered superb close views as they quartered farmland just yards from the road we were travelling along. Along with a Short-toed Eagle and Buzzards and Common Kestrels seen early in the holiday, this late rush boosted our list of raptors.
In Mertola, a quick stroll to the castle revealed Blue Rock Thrush and occasional short-lived views of Lesser Kestrel, together with smaller birds such as Blue and Great Tits, which are much scarcer in southern Portugal.
Gosney’s guide to this area was a useful aid to finding the best sites (we’d never have found the Bustards, for example, without going to one of his more out-of-the-way suggestions), and it’s always worth reading up other people’s birding reports from similar times of the year. Another informative place was the headquarters of the LPN – Portugal’s organisation for protecting nature that maintains a number of large reserves in the area – which is situated a few miles north of Castro Verde (but beware, is tricky to find!).
As we hit summer, our indoor talks programme is not so far away, and below are the talks we have on offer during the ‘first-half’ (2018). We are also hopeful of staging another club trip in the autumn; details are yet to be finalised, so we’ll be in touch – but keep your eye on the website for more information.
18 September ‘Coast and Island’ talk by Paul Hobson Henmore Rm, Visitor Centre (7.30pm)
30 September Club outing to Frampton Marsh Arrangements c/o Chris Lamb
16 October TBD (DOS to arrange speaker for our joint mtg) Henmore Room (7.30pm)
20 November ‘Birding debut in Australia’ by Chris Lamb Henmore Room (7.30pm)
18 December ‘British Wildlife through the seasons’ by Andy Parkinson Henmore Room (7.30pm)
Meanwhile, the regular events at Carsington continue courtesy of either Severn Trent or Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, together with the occasional special event. Below are those events scheduled over the summer months. Some attract a charge or are subject to booking, so it’s always worth checking for further details (to do so, call Severn Trent on 01629 540696 or Derbyshire Wildlife Trust on 01773 881188):
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)
First Mondays of month (but not August) – Nature Tots: playgroup with a difference; Contact DWT for booking/info outdoor learning (booking essential)
Every Tuesday/Sunday Wildlife Centre volunteers on parade – Wildlife Centre (10am-3pm)
Selected Wednesdays ‘Wild Wednesday’ fun during the school holidays in late July/August (accompanied children only) – Contact DWT for information
Third Saturday monthly Family Forest School (charges apply) – Contact DWT to book
1 July – Collie chaos: dog show and fun day – Visitor Centre (10am-7pm) – (£5 family donation to Little Buds)
22 July – Family Fun Day, including donkey rides – Amphitheatre behind Visitor Centre – (10am-3pm)
11 August – Plant Hunters Fair – Visitor Centre courtyard (10am-4pm)
2 Septembe – Rescue Day: meet the rescue and emergency services demonstrating how they save lives – Visitor Centre (10am-4pm)