CELEBRATING 25 YEARS OF CARSINGTON WATER
Severn Trent Water staged a celebration event over the weekend of 20-21 May to mark the 25th anniversary of the formal opening of Carsington Water by HM The Queen. The reservoir had a difficult beginning, taking longer to build than anticipated and encountering technical problems during its construction, but in the succeeding quarter of a century it has established itself as not just an essential link in the chain of water provision for the East Midlands but also as an environmental and wildlife gem for visitors.
Carsington Bird Club was born on the back of the new site in 1992 and has undertaken faithful bird recording for the entire intervening period, each year producing an annual report to spotlight species and update statistical records (hope everyone now has their 2016 report!).
The reservoir, with its 8-mile perimeter has now matured as a site for wildlife (as well as tens of thousands of human visitors cycling, running or walking around the well-defined network of paths). It boasts a wide range of habitats from scrub and woodland to open meadows and reedbed – and with a foreshore that varies in size and character according to water levels, which are in turn driven by the demands of the consumers and vagaries of the weather.
Such diversity has proved attractive to a wide range of bird species and as of the end of last year, 231 species (plus two sub-species) had been recorded at the reservoir, underlining its position as one of the prime birding locations in Derbyshire.
One unlikely species that doesn’t show up on that list, but is highly-likely to have passed through is a Yellow-nosed Albatross (it was logged – and tracked across the UK – but unfortunately did not meet the stringent burden of proof required for ‘mega’ rarities). But there have been plenty of other species that have had the jaws of even seasoned birders dropping in amazement … Long may it remain so.
CARSINGTON BIRDS SET NEW SPECIES RECORDS FOR MARCH AND APRIL
The past three months have combined to make possibly the most productive quarterly spell in the history of bird recording at Carsington. The 110 species seen in March and the 124 in April both exceeded the previous records for those months since records began at the reservoir, and the 113 seen in May was only three less than the best-ever in 2012 and the third best May total. Needless to say, each month produced plentiful highlights.
It was a good period for raptors: Osprey sightings were regular, the first coming on 20 March, followed by four more in April and two in May, while each month saw Red Kite ‘ticked’ with two seen together on 17 April. In early May, a Hobby flew over the Wildlife Centre and three days later a ‘cream-crown’ Marsh Harrier was logged, but perhaps the most raptor-ous day was 25 March, when no fewer than 23 Buzzards were counted along with four Sparrowhawks and one of the Red Kites.
Migration movements and breeding activity always demand careful attention at this time of the year, and the tern passage saw Common, Arctic, Little, Black and Sandwich Terns all moving through, while the first migrants that looked like they might stick around were Sand Martins seen on 11 March – equalling the earliest record for this neat hirundine – and, a day earlier, the first Chiffchaff (though they clearly arrived en masse soon after, since 17 days later, 93 were counted!).
Wheatears began to show up in mid-March and Swallows had arrived by the end of the month, as had Blackcaps and Willow Warblers. Redstart and Yellow Wagtail were noted early in the second week of April, and later in the month, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat all showed up. Among those later arrivals, a site scarce Wood Warbler sang briefly in Hall Wood on 6 May, when 387 Swift also flew through north, and six days later a pair of Spotted Flycatchers were noted.
One warbler moving out was the Cetti’s, which had hung around for many winter weeks on Stones Island but was last heard on 15 March and another long-staying bird, a Ruff, also decided it was time to go just a day later. The Great Northern Diver stayed longer but, by now in resplendent adult plumage, finally decided that 2 May was the day to fly home,
Waders were mainly on the way in, however, and on 23 March the first Little Ringed Plovers arrived. Other wader highlights included 51 Curlew, seven Avocets and two Woodcock, all in the first half of March, Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits were noted in April and in mid May a winter-plumage Knot and a 16-strong group of Turnstone delighted observers.
Another nice wader group comprised seven Sanderling seen on 23 May, one of which had a ring fitted that told the story of some of this tiny bird’s movements. It was originally captured and ringed in the Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania in December 2012 and was last observed last August in Dublin Bay.
Whooper Swans called in late March and early April and a Black Swan (presumably on a day out from a collection) was a surprise on 3 May. As many as 18 Common Scoter were among the scarcer ducks, along with occasional visits by small numbers of Shelduck, Mandarin and Pintail, with a pair of Red-crested Pochard also appearing regularly after mid April.
Ducks led the way on the breeding front, too, with five broods of Mallard showing by early April (a number that had grown to 13 by late May). Sand Martins showed more interest in the nest bank than they had in previous years, but there was no firm evidence of occupation, House Martins were seen taking mud from the shoreline to the Visitor Centre eaves, and Swifts were also observed investigating the eaves.
By May, Greylag as well as Canada goslings were being paraded by their proud parents, a single Barnacle Goose brood was seen and there were several Coot nests noted, though on the debit side, three breeding pairs of Mute Swans had all failed by mid-May.
Great-crested Grebes began nest building, and Lapwing and Redshank broods were seen towards the Hopton end. A pair of Oystercatchers, meanwhile, sat on a nest at Millfields, was stoically ignoring the cacophony of noise on Millfields Island where a huge count of Black-headed Gull nests (240) had appeared for the second year running.
Away from the water Blue and Coal Tits were feeding young on 9 May, Chiffchaffs were seen carrying food on Stones Island, and a week later a juvenile Tree Sparrow was seen being fed. Mistle Thrush, Dunnock and Great Tit fledglings were all recorded.
Circular walks on 26 April and 22 May were highly productive, counting up to 125 Wrens, 91 Blackbirds, 65 Chiffchaff, 52 Blackcaps, 46 Willow Warblers, 22 Song Thrushes, 20 Dunnocks and 14 Garden Warblers. A ‘ton’ of Robins had also been counted in late March.
SPRING EVENTS: CLUB TRIP ATTRACTS FEW MEMBERS … BUT PLENTY OF BIRDS!
A five-strong group turned up to our latest club outing – to the RSPB’s excellent reserve at Middleton Lakes in Warwickshire – but the sparse numbers of people was more than compensated by the obliging birds as 60 species showed themselves on what was a mainly sunny (and occasionally warm) day.
We thought we had been transported back in time when we turned up in the main car park and saw families parading around in mediaeval garb, soon to discover the Sealed Knot was using nearby Middleton Hall as a stage for a Civil War re-enactment.
Things returned to the present day as we drove the short extra distance to the RSPB car park, which was also attracting a healthy number of people. This reserve has undergone a considerable facelift in the past few years and now boasts a range of habitats from reed-beds to woodland and meadows to a broad area of wetland pools and scrapes. There is an excellent ‘no-mud’ pathway all the way around, screens have been erected at several points and on the far side of the reserve, overlooking the wetland area is a large, comfortable hide.
As we wandered around, a very early surprise was a Cuckoo (my first of the year), disturbed from a tree near the path but then visible shortly after, singing in a more distant tree.
Other highlights were a small group of Avocets, including a brood of four chicks, two Mediterranean Gulls which were difficult to see as they’d located themselves right at the centre of a colony of Black-headed Gulls, and other waders including Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers and the almost inevitable Little Egret.
We also saw nine warbler species (dipping on Grasshopper Warbler) though oddly, while there were plenty of Swifts and Swallows zipping overhead, we didn’t see a single martin.
The full list was as follows: Swallow, Grey Heron, Coot, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Garden Warbler, Mallard, Woodpigeon, Robin, Cuckoo, Reed Bunting, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Gadwall, Black-headed Gull, Swift, Cetti’s Warbler, Whitethroat, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose, Common Tern, Pochard, Blackbird, Lapwing, Reed Warbler, Gt Crested Grebe, Buzzard, Cormorant, Moorhen, Wren, Sedge Warbler, Mute Swan, Carrion Crow, Avocet, Little Egret, Shelduck, Little Ringed Plover, Pheasant, Stock Dove, Greylag Goose, Herring Gull, Shoveler, Mediterranean Gull, Jackdaw, Lesser Black-back Gull, Oystercatcher, Magpie, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Song Thrush, Egyptian Goose, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Teal, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Lesser Whitethroat, Pied Wagtail, Rook and Starling.
Before this walk, there was the annual Wagtail Walk in April co-led by CBC recorders and organised by Severn Trent volunteer ranger David Bennett, who also leads the long-standing ‘birdwatching for beginners’ walks on the first Sunday of each month.
Yellow Wagtails are always the main target for those attending the wagtail walk around Stones Island – and they thankfully did make an appearance, but among an overall list of well over 30 species there was a selection of visiting warblers, an array of waders including Common Sandpiper, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher, plus the Great Northern Diver just a week before it finally decided to fly off to do whatever ‘GNDs’ do in the summer!
And before the milder weather kicked in, allowing us to enjoy both of these outdoor events, our final indoor meeting of the 2016-17 season programme took place in March when our webmaster Richard Pittam showed off some of his excellent photographs. In a talk entitled “What a year this would be!” Richard selected an eclectic mix of his favourite shots taken over several years in a range of fascinating locations, and delivered little stories and insights that lay behind many of the pictures.
Following the end of the 2016-17 indoor meetings programme, our recent club trip and April’s wagtail walk, the CBC events programme goes into limbo over the summer until the next season begins in September with Ken Smith’s talk that was postponed from January.
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)
Every Tuesday/Sunday – Wildlife Centre volunteers on parade – Wildlife Centre (10am-3pm)
Selected Wednesdays – ‘Wild Wednesday’ fun on 26 July and 2/9/ – Contact DWT for information – 16/23 August (children must be accompanied)
Third Saturday monthly – Family Forest School (charges apply) – Contact DWT to book
Last Saturday monthly – Sheepwash Spinners (wool-craft) – Information at Visitor Centre
11 June – Ellen MacArthur sponsored walk (to take part contact, Camilla Shelley on 01983 297750)- Starts 9.30am
23 June – Team Charity Bell Boat Race of 8-10 (funds for air ambulance/local group) – (£40 entry for teams For information call CarsingtonSports & Leisure (01629 540478).
3 July – Nature Tots – Butterfly Flutterby (charges apply) – Visitor Centre (10.30am-12noon)
8-16 July – Matlock Art Society exhibition – Henmore Room, Visitor Centre
16 July – Four churches family fete – Visitor Centre
2 September – Go Batty! End Wild Summer with bat walk – Meet Visitor Centre (8-10pm)