On the outskirts of Bolsover, at the bottom of the hill topped by its imposing castle, lays one of Derbyshire’s best nature reserves. Carr Vale is managed by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. It is ranked among the top five sites for bird watching in the county. I visit regularly, parking in the Stockley Trail car park and beginning a loop to either the left or right that eventually brings you back round to the car park again. Its 12 hectares encompass a great variety of habitats and the trails that criss-cross the site mean that you can explore it with ease. Many of these trails are also part of larger routes that start from or pass through Carr Vale, making it a perfect place to visit on a long walk or cycle.
These are great areas to keep an eye out for many warbler species that make Carr Vale their residence during the summer, with Autumn being the last time to spot them before they disappear for the winter. However, it is the water landscape that gives Carr Vale not only its special reputation but also its name. ‘Carr’ is a word derived from the Old Norse ‘kjarr’” and is used to describe an area of flooded woodland. While there is some of this terrain to be found, it is the reedbeds, ponds, rivers and scrapes that are the more dominant aquatic features. The ponds and scrapes play host to large numbers of waterfowl in the winter but autumn provides a great chance to see any waders that might be stopping in for a quick refuel. Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Little Ringed Plover and Golden Plover, among many others, are all possible at this time of year. The only slight drawback of Carr Vale is that the best viewing platform to see these waders is still quite far away from the water body itself, making a scope or high powered binoculars essential.
As we enter September, thousands of Swallows gather to roost in the reedbed each night, swarming together for safety before beginning their arduous journey south. Gatherings of this magnitude rarely go unnoticed by predators and it is here that you stand a chance of seeing one of Britain’s best. To catch something like a Swallow takes a bird of extraordinary speed, agility and precision. The Hobby combines all of these traits into a falcon of astonishing aerial prowess and beguiling beauty.
If its more famous cousin the Peregrine can be compared to a missile, the Hobby is a samurai sword. Smaller and slimmer, able to turn on a half-breath with an air-cleaving scythe of its blade-like wings. Its black hood looks like an aviator’s cap as it blisters through the sky, looking as though its spitting fire from its afterburners due to its orange leg feathers. They are Britain’s only migrant falcon and will soon be following the Swallows to Africa for the winter. To stand the best chance of seeing them engage in their balletic, life and death dogfight, position yourself with a view of the reedbeds as dusk draws in, hold your breath and don’t blink.