Welcome to our August newsletter, which contains updates on planned club activities during the next three months. There’s a summary of the wildlife seen at the reservoir over late spring/ summer, and Severn Trent’s site manager John Matkin informs us of plans for a major upgrade of the Sheepwash hide.
The easing of Covid rules has allowed the Wildlife Centre and two other hides – Lane End and Paul Stanley – to reopen, though common sense measures are expected when visiting them. From a personal point of view, it has been hugely refreshing to be able to get out and about again, not just in Derbyshire but beyond the county borders. Let’s hope the recent improvements, facilitated by the successful vaccination programme, can continue and edge us closer still to the way we wish to live our lives.
See the ‘Dates for Your Diary’ box below, which outlines upcoming events including a club trip scheduled for Sunday, 3 October, to RSPB Frampton Marsh. This site generally produces an excellent list, often including a rarity or two among the autumn migration. We also hope to resume indoor talks – in person. The Zoom talks in 2020-21 were a good standby out of necessity, reminding us of the amazing wildlife elsewhere in the world, but it will be good also to meet up and chat over tea and coffee.
We feel that our traditional home, the ‘cosy’ Henmore Room, is still not the ideal venue in the Covid age because of its limited space, so we have negotiated with New Leaf Catering to use the restaurant for our 2021-22 talks.
Despite losing a few members this year we have, encouragingly, gained a number of new ones and retained some of the more recent recruits despite the quiet times imposed by Covid. Another less enjoyable ‘status quo’ is the situation of the club’s committee, which remains with lowest number of people it can have in order to represent a ‘quorum’ (excuse the sudden infusion of Latin!) and to undertake the various tasks that have to be done. See a further note about this on page two.
The main area of concern is recording: we really cannot undertake the depth and scope of recording traditionally achieved by the club without someone to maintain an effective database. Without a new recorder, the ethos of the club may change; they would not have to be hugely knowledgeable about birdlife – we have a number of expert birders around who regularly log their sightings and can advise on the efficacy of others’ records – but they would need to be keen and computer (mainly Excel)-literate.
DO please come forward if you can help. The very nature and ethos of the club will have to change if we don’t pick up the slack on recording very soon.
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
Below are the dates of upcoming events; all indoor meetings are on Tuesday at the Visitor Centre and begin at 7.30pm, except for September’s which will incorporate our belated AGM, scheduled for 7pm (please attend if you can):
** TUESDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER ** – Talk: A welcome return by Paul Bingham, who is kicking off our latest indoor season with a talk on the wildlife and wonders of Sri Lanka
** SUNDAY, 3 OCTOBER ** – Outing: our autumn offering is a trip to an old favourite – Frampton Marsh, in Lincolnshire, which never fails to produce a good day’s birding and the occasional surprise. Meet 10.30am in the reserve car park; bring own refreshments. If you intend to join us, please inform Chris Lamb (phone 01629 820890 or by e-mail at email@example.com).
** TUESDAY, 19 OCTOBER ** – Talk: Our annual joint meeting with DOS will show us the wildlife mysteries of the Forest of Dean, in the capable hands of Nick Martin.
** TUESDAY, 16 NOVEMBER ** – We have Ian Newton travelling north from his home patch to tell us about the wildlife highlights of Lesvos, the Greek island that is a true birding haven.
As the bird club has now reached a critical time regarding its continued and effective management, the committee makes no apologies for underlining the current situation and appealing once again for help from the membership.
Currently we still have no Chair (a light workload but providing a focal point and co-ordination role), no Secretary (to arrange meetings/venues, take minutes, and check follow-up actions) and, as mentioned earlier, no Recorder (to maintain a comprehensive database that is the foundation of records and how they are used for published data in, for example, the annual report and bird notes).
Furthermore, the club’s Constitution and Rules state that the Committee must have four to be a quorum, able to start meetings and make decisions. As we have for some time now had just four Committee members, club management stops should one of these be indisposed!
At the Club’s AGM, on 21 September (ahead of the first indoor meeting), members will be asked to consider and discuss its future. Can it realistically continue without more volunteers to join the committee and share in undertaking some of the roles either currently vacant or covered by existing officers? And, if so, what should it look like, and should the goals/Constitution be revised?
FIRST ‘PIED FLY’ BREEDING FEATURES AMONG 2021 SUCCESSES
It has proved a busy time since the last newsletter in May, when first of all a Spoonbill dropped in but graced the site for only 20 minutes on the 11th, the long-staying ‘winter resident’ Great Northern Diver finally flew north the following day in resplendent summer plumage and then a Cetti’s Warbler made itself known in Fishtail Creek, remaining throughout May and June.
Meanwhile, in May hirundine numbers jumped with a maximum of 200 Swallows on the 4th and 5th and 300 Sand Martins on the 6th, though House Martin totals were noticeably lower. There have been plenty of elegant flyers over the reservoir, with up to 330 Swifts through on one day, a dozen sightings of up to three Common Terns from May through July, together with half a dozen Arctic Tern records in the same period, which also contained no fewer than seven Red Kite records.
June witnessed some excellent observations, including the first three Kingfisher records since January, which was repeated in July. A breeding ‘first’ was registered when a female Pied Flycatcher was witnessed carrying food on 19 June in Hall Wood, where a pair of Spotted Flycatchers also raised a brood of three.
Breeding was, as usual, a mixed affair. Three pairs of Mute Swans raised two broods but all failed, though Grey Herons which bred for the first time last year were successful again with four young from three nests, and another relatively new breeding species, Gadwall, had produced at least seven broods by early July.
A pair of Barnacle Geese with four goslings was reported on 28 May, around 200 Black-headed Gull young were around by the end of June and around 12 Great Crested Grebe broods were recorded. Away from the water, three fledged Swallows were seen at Millfields, adult Treecreepers with food were spotted in Hall Wood and there was plenty of evidence of Redstart and Chiffchaff families. Adult Sedge Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats were regularly seen carrying food on Stones Island, and the highest count of House Sparrows – 100 at the Visitor Centre, the highest for many years – was likely to have been boosted by some young birds.
A number of the growing collection of nest boxes around the site were also known to have hosted families this year: these records are summarised in a separate short article below.
Other passerine highlights included records of up to nine Reed Warblers – a species that seems to be expanding its territory from Hopton End to Brown Ale Bay and the Wildlife Centre reedbed – and the impressive sight of 205 Pied Wagtails (along with eight Grey and one Yellow Wagtail and 80 Swallows) on the dam wall on 11 August.
August also heralded in some egret activity, with up to three Little Egrets noted on a few days, and a Great Egret dropping in on the 11th, initially flying by Stones Island but then mobile for the next hour settling on Watersports Island and Shiningford Creek before departing over Millfields.
Other raptor sightings worthy of note were the increasing number of Hobbys (nine sightings of a total of 12 birds during this period), including a pair talon-grappling, and a Peregrine seen taking a Jackdaw over the Wildlife Centre fields in mid-June.
Back on the water, Red-breasted Merganser and Goosander were star ducks along with groups of Common Scoter, one in May and three in July, with up to eight including five drakes. Two Ruddy Shelducks were also a novelty attraction throughout June and July, generally seen among the sizeable flock of Canada Geese in front of Sheepwash car park.
Over the summer, there were six sightings of up to five Little Ringed Plovers, though there was no sign of breeding this year. Other waders included Black-tailed Godwit, up to four Whimbrel on three occasions, a Greenshank on 9 July, Turnstones logged on consecutive days in May with Common Sandpipers seen each month and 110 of another regular, Lapwing, counted in late July.
Yellow-legged Gulls were regularly being seen in ones and twos, though a Caspian Gull in June and two Mediterraneans on 5 July were more likely to pique the interest of gull fans.
NEST BOX ACTIVITY
It’s not easy to be sure during the breeding season quite how many of the numerous nest boxes around the site are used to raise broods, but a careful log is nevertheless made of activity where seen or proven – and in 2021 observers noted wildlife movements at more than 35 boxes, although three of these were reckoned to contain bee nests!
The occupied boxes were spread across the site, from Stones Island to Hall Wood, Sheepwash car park, Wildlife Centre and its associated creek, Shiningford Creek, Lane End and various patches of woodland.
Of those with likely avian families, 19 were Blue Tits, 11 Great Tits, 2 Tree Sparrows and a single Nuthatch nest, with one seeing possible Pied Flycatcher occupancy. Most sightings were of adult birds taking food, though there was excitement for one observer who saw a stoat being mobbed by both Great and Blue Tits!
PLANS EMERGE FOR NEW SHEEPWASH HIDE
The Sheepwash hide closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020 and due to the issues around controlling visitor numbers in the hides we took the decision to keep this, and our other outlying hides, closed.
During the time it has been closed, this hide has sadly been targeted by vandals on a number of occasions, and we’ve carried out repairs each time this has happened. Meanwhile, the consistently high water levels mean the legs of the hide have also stood in water or very damp ground for a prolonged period. These factors, combined with the age of the hide led to a decision to have a structural report carried out before COVID-19 measures were relaxed and reopening was permitted.
The completed report showed that the hide had far exceeded its expected life span and would require a substantial amount of repair to safely reopen it. Even with repairs its life expectancy would only be extended by a handful of years, the report further recommending that it was only reopened with limited numbers permitted and was closed in high wind and heavy snow – all of which would prove quite challenging to manage.
At present we’ve taken the decision to keep the hide closed, and are speaking to a couple of companies to obtain quotes to replace the Sheepwash hide entirely. If this is feasible we would look to carry out this work after the busy summer months, and while water levels are relatively low. We are keen to explore options but would ideally like to replace it with something similar. We hope to share more updates in due course as plans firm up.
John Matkin, Severn Trent
RESUMPTION OF CLUB TRIPS BEGINS AT MIDDLETON LAKES
Taking advantage of the easing of Covid restrictions, an enthusiastic group of six CBC members headed to the Middleton Lakes RSPB Reserve on 30th May, keen to enjoy the opportunity of being able to visit a reserve and go birding together once again. This is always a popular destination, which we have visited before, and offers a variety of habitats including woodland, reedbeds, scrapes and lakes.
We were not disappointed with the variety of birds seen and heard either, with more than 50 species recorded collectively by the group. On a bright sunny morning we were treated to the sights and sounds of many of our summer visitors, including Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Reed Warbler. As expected, ducks and geese were well represented, but the small numbers of Shelduck and Shoveler also present were welcome additions to our list. Among the large numbers of breeding Black-headed Gulls were small numbers of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, along with a single Great Black-backed Gull and four Common Terns.
Common woodland species, such as Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Blackbird and Dunnock, were all seen in good numbers and we were able to watch an adult Great Spotted Woodpecker returning to its nest hole with food for its young, which judging by the noise they were making were very demanding! The highlight of the day perhaps was the excellent views we had of two Hobbys, both in their aerial pursuit of prey and obligingly perching in nearby trees.
Hopefully if the Covid situation continues to show positive signs of improvement, we can continue looking forward to maintaining our programme of walks and trips.