BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

August 2017 News


Tuesday 1st August [Sunny intervals]

I spent the morning working in the Chew Valley again, and had planned to go to Dorset to photograph invertebrates afterwards. However, in the end I spent the afternoon at Blagdon with my sister looking at invertebrates instead. We had an amazing time, and actually found not one, but two of Britain's largest hoverfly, Volucella zonaria, the first site record. We also saw a Brown Hawker Aeshna grandis at Cheddar Water/Park Lane, the second site record, I believe. I'm still working through all the other photos to see what else I can identify. While there, we checked out the birds but could only see a single Little Egret Egretta garzetta.

Other invertebrates recorded (so far):

Wednesday 2nd August [Wet and windy]

It was bat box check day at Chew Valley Lake, so my whole day was taken up with dodging showers and checking boxes with Ken Anstey, sister Harriet, Hannah Bates, Dani Smith and Stephanie Bentham-Green. Consequently, I had no opportunity to check Blagdon Lake. Of note at Chew, we found a Nathusius' Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii in a box for the first time (see Bat News), and an Old Lady Mormo maura moth in Moreton bird hide.

Friday 4th August [Sunshine & showers]

I didn't get down to the lake until this evening to run a bat trapping session, and two Robinson moth traps. Mark Hynam arrived before me and reported seeing 2 Common Kingfishers Alcedo atthis, 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, 6 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca, a Little Egret Egretta garzetta, and 2 (adult & juv.) Peregrines Falco peregrinus.

The bats weren't playing ball this evening (see Bat News), and similarly the moth catch wasn't exactly up to expectations either. Thanks to Phillip Delve for his work running the two Robinson traps and providing me with a list of his records on the night, supplemented with those that I've subsequently determined as follows:

I visited Chew Valley Lake earlier this afternoon and John Harris showed me a reptile that had been found alive and well by a BW engineer on the spillway that was one of the caiman/crocodile/alligator group! I suppose it's likely to be a Dwarf Caiman, or similar, that has been released into the wild by someone... Could give you a nasty nip though. The pet trade has a lot to answer for.

Turns out that the reptile was a Spectacled Caiman Caiman crocodilus, which grow to around 2 metres in length, and it has been taken into care.

Saturday 5th August [Mainly sunny & breezy]

After a bit of a lie-in having not got into bed until 0430 hrs, I had a brief look at the lake and saw just a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos of note, on the dam.

Later, we went bat trapping at Shapwick Heath NNR with permission from NE (see Bat News). While we were waiting for the first bats to come out, we were treated to the sight of an adult Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax flying towards the Decoy Hide. Could it have been one of the Westhay NNR breeding pair? I've notified Brian Gibbs the Somerset Bird Recorder.

Sunday 6th August [Sunny spells]

I didn't go to the lake today, but Mike O'Connor sent me news of a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis on the dam.

Monday 7th August [Overcast & mainly dry]

During an evening visit I saw a Sandpiper sp. on the dam. It was probably a sleeping Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, although it had quite a dark back. I didn't see any other waders around the shoreline and nothing unusual in a perusal of the ducks. One of the Canada Geese Branta canadensis was wearing a neck collar orange 'JX' which was fitted at Cotswold Water Park and only seen once by me at Blagdon on 10th Sep. 2016.

Surprising news today that German scientists working on Grass Snakes have split them into Common or Eastern Grass Snake Natrix natrix and Barred Grass Snake Natrix helvetica. The Common Grass Snake is olive green with barely noticeable dark barring along its length and a bright yellow collar, while the Barred Grass Snake is grey with dark barring along its length and a dull yellow collar. The two new species were formerly thought to be sub-species. Time to start looking at those old photographs to see which have been recorded around here - both are likely to occur. See BBC website news.

Tuesday 8th August

I didn't visit the lake today, having spent it at Wytham Wood in Oxfordshire bat working with Dr Dani Linton, Ken Anstey and Nick Tomlinson.

Wednesday 9th August [Wet early, then slowly drying out.]

I was at the lake from mid-morning until tea time, before going over to Chew Valley Lake until dusk, checking bat boxes with Ken Anstey (see Bat News).

At Blagdon we saw a Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Rugmoor Bay, a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis fly past us at Long Bay, and a Peregrine Falco peregrinus high over the lake being given a hard time by a gull. There were also 6 Common Swifts Apus apus still over the lake among the martins and swallows. There was also a Pygmy Shrew Sorex minutus in Home Bay Point hide that we saw several times.

Then, at Chew we saw a Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus flying around calling for some time at dusk.

Thursday 10th August [Dry with sunny spells]

A visit this evening turned up 7 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Top End, our first real autumn influx. With 3 Great White Egrets currently at Chew, I suppose it's likely we'll see numbers of both at the lake as the days start to shorten. The Canada Goose Branta canadensis with neck collar orange 'JX' was still among the growing flock on Holt Farm.

Friday 11th August [Dry, bright morning, then clouding over with rain later.]

I spent a couple of hours this morning having a look through the birds on the lake but, disappointingly, there were no shorebirds. I counted 6, possibly 7 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, and saw 4 each of Common Swift Apus apus and Sand Martin Riparia riparia, the first (juvenile) Common Gull Larus canus of the autumn, and the Canada Goose Branta canadensis with neck collar orange 'JX'. The water level is getting interesting now, with Tiny's Shallow appearing in front of the Lodge as an island where gulls spend time loafing as they moult; so, perhaps an opportunity to find some of Pete Rocks ringed urban breeders, or, birds from further afield.

Tomorrow evening we will be bat trapping at Chew Valley Lake again.

Saturday 12th August [Dry and changeable]

News from Mark Hynam today, who saw 2 Green Sandpipers Tringa ochropus in Long Bay and 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta.

Later, we had a super bat trapping session at Chew Valley Lake (see Bat News), where we also saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos working the north shore of Villice Bay, and enjoyed a fantastic display by the Perseid meteor shower throughout the night thanks to a near-cloudless sky.

Sunday 13th August [Mild]

I did not visit the lake today, but we will be carrying out the monthly WeBS count tomorrow morning.

Monday 14th August [A few sunny spells]

The WeBS team carried out the count this morning (see WeBS Page for full details). There were 6 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, and at least 7, probably 8, Little Egrets Egretta garzetta present. We saw 3 Common Swifts Apus apus and a number of Sand Martins Riparia riparia at the dam end, and I saw a Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus at Lodge Copse on the way back home. Warwick White texted me from Blagdon to tell me he'd heard and seen 2 Eurasian Curlews Numenius arquata in flight high over the village while we were counting, but none of us heard them down at the lake, unfortunately.

This evening I met Mark Hynam to check some bat boxes at Chew Valley Lake, before we drove over to Herriott's for a last look at dusk. There were 4 Great White Egrets Ardea alba roosting at the back of the pond, and a Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, 2 Green Sandpipers Tringa ochropus, 5 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and a Common Sandpiper there as well.

Tuesday 15th August [Warm and sunny]

I spent most of the day at DWT Fontmell Down Nature Reserve looking at invertebrates, and saw 3 Red Kites Milvus milvus together in the air overhead at lunchtime. I didn't see any of those 20 years or so ago when I last visited the reserve. I also feel there has been a significant reduction in the grassland which seems to have been invaded by more scrub, but memory is a fickle thing!

Back at Blagdon this evening, I saw an adult Dunlin Calidris alpina (partial summer plumage), 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, and a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus. The water level is dropping quickly, so I guess it's being pumped again. Perhaps, it might provide the opportunity to spot a passage Spotted Crake - it's been a long 21 years since the last, and only, accepted records.

Wednesday 16th August [High cloud with sunny spells]

I only had time for a brief look around today and saw 8 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and 10 (including 4 juvenile) Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus.

Thursday 17th August [Mainly sunny]

The Little Egret Egretta garzetta count continues to rise with 9 present this morning.

Friday 18th August [Changeable with heavy rain showers & breezy]

I spotted a ♂ Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope during my visit mid-morning. It may have been present since the WeBS count. Other than that, there were just 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta worthy of mention. There have been lots of boats out for the last two days practising for a national angling competition that is being held over the weekend (both days). Most are fishing near the dam, and the majority of wildfowl are at the Top End as a result. It also means that any waders dropping in overnight onto the dam or the island in front of the Lodge are also likely to be disturbed as the boats go out - so if you're coming birding, do so early in the morning. The changeable weather, so often good for bringing migrants down, hasn't done so when I've visited over the last few days.

Ken Hall pointed me to the recent article in Nature magazine about a potential new species of Grass Snake that was alluded to on the BBC website (see 7th August blog). Having read it, my take is that there is a proposal by German workers, based on DNA analysis of animals taken from two zones of hybridization in Europe, for a new species of Grass Snake. Their work suggests three Grass Snake clades exist across Europe, and that the one in Germany and much of NW Europe contains several sub-species including the one native to Britain Natrix natrix helvetica. If their proposal for this clade to be accorded specific status is accepted, then our Grass Snake will become a sub-species of the new species viz. Natrix helvetica helvetica. During the course of the analyses, they tested a fair number of snakes from Britain and found one example from Surrey that had a DNA sequence which they attribute to one of their 'Eastern' clade of sub-species with a likely origin in, I think I'm right in saying, Northern Italy or the Balkans. This would be morphologically different to the native species, as suggested in the BBC website article, but is most likely to be an introduction. It hardly means we have two species of Grass Snake in Britain, although there is the possibility that an introduction could become more widespread. I'm sure British herpetologists will be investigating the situation going forward. Meantimes, it's as you were.

It's a busy weekend of bat work ahead, with a trapping session tonight at Shapwick NNR, tomorrow a Bioblitz at Newport Wetlands, and a swarming survey in Wiltshire on Sunday.

Saturday 19th August [Changeable & breezy]

I met Mark Hynam late afternoon at the lake. He told me he'd seen very little of interest and I only noted 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and a Sand Martin Riparia riparia. We then went over to South Wales to join friends bat trapping at RSPB Newport Wetlands (see Bat News).

Rain stopped play last night, as it inevitably would, but we managed 2-3hours of bat trapping at Shapwick NNR (again, see Bat News).

Sunday 20th August [Continuing changeable]

I was in bed for much of the morning and due to family commitments couldn't get to the lake until early evening, when I saw 2 adult (Common) Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula on Tiny's Shallow in front of the Lodge, several Sand Martins Riparia riparia, 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, the ♂ Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, and a Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis among the large Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock.

The evenings bat work in Wiltshire was cancelled due to the forecast of rain.

Monday 21st August [Dismal & drizzly early. Sun in the afternoon.]

Late news from Sean Davies of sightings made mid-morning yesterday that included 10 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus at Burmah Road where I saw one on 15th, and 2 young Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo being fed. Cheers Sean.

A mid-morning trip to the lake revealed 2 adult Common Terns Sterna hirundo in front of the Lodge, 4 mobile Little Egrets, and the ♂ Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope at Top End. While in the Top End hide, my heart skipped a beat when I turned my scope onto a sleeping ♂ Aythya with a grey back, but it was a Lesser Scaup-like hybrid, and presumably the bird that has visited the lake for the last few autumns. The back was grey rather than barred, and the bill pattern wasn't right. The Eurasian Hobbies were still present too.

Mid-afternoon, when the sun came out, I went back to the lakeside with my bat detector and headphones to listen to the cacophony of sound produced by Grasshoppers and Crickets in the meadows and hedgerows. Unfortunately, I'm unable to hear most Orthoptera unless I'm really close to them, so using a bat detector makes their stridulations and wing-rubbing sounds more accessible. It was fascinating to listen, and hear the absolute wall of sound coming from the hay meadows, while the hedgerows were much quieter with just a few bush-crickets. What was especially noticeable was that as soon as I walked into woodland or along the road away from the hay meadows the noise stopped almost in its entirety. I wasn't able to add any new species to the site list, but I just wanted to try out the methodolgy as a means for trying to find new species that might be present such as Long-winged Conehead and Roesel's Bush-Cricket.

Among the noise, I picked out:

Mark Hynam told me some time later that he'd visited the lake at dusk and seen 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and watched a Barn Owl Tyto alba hunting.

Tuesday 22nd August [Mainly overcast, warm & humid]

Yay! A Great White Egret Ardea alba finally made it to Top End today. Also noted this evening were 9 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos.

Wednesday 23rd August [Warm & mainly sunny]

I had a look at the dam and in front of the Lodge at 0900hrs before going to Barrow Tanks, but there wasn't much there because the boats were already out.

Ken Anstey and I checked the bat boxes at Barrow and didn't even find a dropping in a box, much less a bat! I think the time has come for a rethink there. Move the boxes elsewhere, move some of the boxes away and leave some elsewhere on site, or leave them all in situ for a while longer. Having refurbished most of them in winter 2014/15, and added some new ones, we have yet to find any indication of use except by birds and Hymenoptera. We cleared 9 bird nests from 23 boxes, so if we do move the bat boxes, we ought to replace at least some of them with bird boxes.

This evening, there were 5 adult Common Terns Sterna hirundo in front of the Lodge among the gulls, just a single Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Flower Corner, and 2 more that flew in from Chew and off to the west at dusk.

Thursday 24th August [Warm & sunny]

Let's start with the bird news. There were 11 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa feeding long the Burmah Road bank this afternoon, a Garganey Anas querquedula, 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta were spread around Top End, the ♂ Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope was on Rugmoor Point, Sand Martins Riparia riparia were still present, and a Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis was with the Canada Geese Branta canadensis.

I decided to search for Roesel's Bush-Cricket Metrioptera roeselii on the North Shore using my bat detector and hadn't walked 5 metres before I heard the 'electric buzzing' of a ♂ advertising. I managed to spot it and got this photograph of what I believe to be the first site record:

♂ Roesel's Bush-Cricket Metrioptera roeselii, North Shore © Nigel Milbourne, 2017

Not content with the Roesel's, I could hear lots of Coneheads advertising too, so decided to grab a few shots of them. Here's a Long-winged Conehead Conocephalus discolor (note the straight ovipositor):

♀ Long-winged Conehead Conocephalus discolor, North Shore © Nigel Milbourne, 2017

Having previously found Short-winged Conehead in 2006, I suppose I ought to try and get pictures of them and the other grasshoppers and crickets I've recorded on site and put some species pages up online this coming winter.

Friday 25th August [Warm & mainly sunny]

I didn't manage to get down to the lake until this evening, before we started a bat trapping session. I saw some Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa at Burmah Road and counted 12 birds flying off. A little while later Mark Hynam saw some Black-wits and 3 Common Redshanks Tringa totanus in front of the Lodge, which I'd already checked. So, there were 3 Redshanks and either 9 or 12 Black-wits. As happened Wednesday night, I saw 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta fly through west at dusk.

We had a good evening trapping, and there was exciting news from Patty Briggs of a Nathusius' they caught at Stocker's Lake, Rickmansworth, last night too (see Bat News). We also saw a young Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus foraging under one of our traps during the evening.

Saturday 26th August [Warm & still]

There were at least 32 (possibly 36) Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa at Burmah Road today, but they are extemely difficult to view due to the cover and distance, and I also saw 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta dotted about.

Sunday 27th August [Sunny & warm]

The Black-wits have moved on and been replaced by 16 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus that have chosen Wookey Point to rest on. There were 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus, 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and 2 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis among the rest of the birds. I may be wrong, but it seems like there may have been a clear-out of Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula overnight too. In August in recent years it hasn't been unusual for us to have 5-7000 waterbirds on the lake but, like last year, the numbers are significantly down this year at less than 2000, the majority of which are Common Coots Fulica atra. If the water level drops a few more inches then Top End will, hopefully, become increasingly attractive to dabbling ducks and, perhaps, passing waders. I can wish!

With the weather set fair, we will be bat trapping at Litton Reservoirs this evening. See Bat News for results.

Monday 28th August [Hot & sunny]

A visit this evening resulted in my seeing a new species for the year at the lake viz. 2 adult Sandwich Terns Sterna sandvicensis on Wookey Point at 2000 hrs until dusk when they flew off west with the loafing Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus. There were 2 (adult and juvenile) Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula on the point too and Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Hellfire Corner and Holt Bay.

Tuesday 29th August [Overcast with sunny intervals]

I've a busy day ahead, so paid a quick visit to the lake this morning and saw 6 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa at Burmah Road, the 2 (adult & juvenile) Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula on Wookey Point, and 4 mobile Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. Aside from the Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus and a few Lesser Black-backeds Larus fuscus, there were no fewer than 15 (10 adult & 6 juvenile) Great Black-backeds Larus marinus.

This evening a huge black cloud came over when I had time to go back down to the lake, but I did manage to add 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos that were on Tiny's Shallow in front of the Lodge.

Wednesday 30th August [Some periods of steady rain]

Early this morning there were 3 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa at Burmah Road, a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago in the open on Wookey Point, and a single Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Rugmoor Bay. I sat in the hide for an hour pondering the lack of birds at the lake, and before I left, both the Snipe and Black-wits had departed. The grey-backed Aythya hybrid was still at Top End though.

In the evening four of us ran a short bat trapping session along Butcombe Bank (see Bat News).

Thursday 31st August [Mainly sunny & warm]

I enjoyed a walk with friends this morning, before family arrived to stay. I didn't have time to visit the lake.