On the Wing with Gary Atkins

There’s something special about Carsington Water – or, at least, that seems to be the case for Great Northern Divers, the largest diver found in British waters.

Since 2005 what had until then been a very occasional and brief visit during our coldest months seems now an annual winter event, as this impressive but relatively rare species (mostly easily mistaken for a Great Crested Grebe – but one on steroids!) spends months at a stretch fishing the reservoir’s rich bounty.

‘GNDs’ mostly breed in Icelandic waters but some spend the remaining summer months around northern UK shorelines. Often solitary, a number drift further south to overwinter on inland waters across Britain.

As many as four have set their satnav for Carsington Water in previous years, and two – an adult and juvenile – have found their way here this year. If you’re heading down to take a look, they are usually found well offshore in the deeper waters.

Carsington is also presently host to a cousin of the resident Great Crested Grebes – the elegant Slavonian Grebe, which in summer sports a beautiful plumage of orangey red and black with splendid yellow ear tufts, but at this time of year loses most of its extravagant colour in favour of a still-striking black and white coat.

The ‘Slav’ grebe prefers shallower waters, so better views are often available as it hugs the shoreline. This specimen has been here since 27 November, so it may be in for a long stay, but make sure you see it!

Summer might have the best conditions for bird-watching, but winter – particularly at reservoir sites like Carsington – can often throw up good numbers and variety of our avian friends. This autumn and early winter has produced some relatively rare sightings such as a Great White Egret (only the second Carsington record in 20 years), an Arctic Skua and some exciting raptors, notably Red Kite, Marsh Harrier and Ospreys, the latter returning to Africa.

Huge flocks of gulls roost at the reservoir but to see those numbers you have to be there at dusk or dawn before they drift into the surrounding meadows, and a tight formation of up to 1,700 Starlings has been noted.

The last migrant leaving the site was a Wheatear in late October, but some species considered summer visitors are known to overwinter as our climate warms (really?!) – and one of these warblers, a Chiffchaff, was spotted near the wildlife centre earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the influx of winter visitors features not just Redwing and Fieldfare, our regular winter thrushes, but also larger than usual numbers of Waxwing. Worth checking what’s pecking at your berries: it might just be a small flock of these beautiful birds.