December 2009 News

Tuesday 1st December [Frost at dawn, clear with a cold south-east breeze & light rain at dusk]

There was a Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus on the dam at dawn this morning. Then as the golden sunrise broke at the eastern end of the lake a fabulous swathe of Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris flew towards me and away to the west over the dam - another missed opportunity with the camera! There were easily 2000, maybe 5000.

The lake level rose from 62% to 84% full during November and had a significant effect on the distribution and number of species of wildfowl.

Wednesday 2nd December [Light south-easterly breeze with scattered clouds & showers]

I watched the Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris roost leaving the lake this morning. I didn't see anything else of note while I was waiting other than the dissipation of the gull roost just beforehand.

Thursday 3rd December [Strong westerly breeze & scattered clouds]

No visit and no news from the lake today I'm afraid.

Friday 4th December [West to south light breeze, with sun turning to light rain]

I only had time to check the lake from the dam today owing to work commitments, however, I did spot the drake 1st-winter Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid over against the North Shore and an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis in the roost.

Saturday 5th December [Clear then clouding over with light rain on a light south south-west breeze later]

The adult drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris has returned to the lake and was feeding in Holt Bay. The 1st-winter drake Gretaer Scaup Aythya marila was also still visible from the dam as was the very smart drake Aythya hybrid.

Also noted were 30 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, 60+ Teal Anas crecca, 19 feral Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, 172 Canada Geese Branta canadensis and a singing male Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti in front of the Top end hide.

At lunchtime there were at least 500 Common Gulls Larus canus in for a wash with many Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus but luckily for them no sign of the immature Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus that remains at Chew Valley Lake today.

Sunday 6th December [Scattered clouds on a light south-westerly breeze]

I popped over to Chew to see the Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus this morning from Stratford Hide (thanks for putting me on it Rich). I was dismayed to see that the drainage hasn't improved any during the last 15 years and had to drive through something of a lake at the bottom of the lane. It didn't matter too much to me in my Freelander, but I wouldn't have liked to have got to the bottom of the lane in a saloon and have to drive through it to turn around - surely BW &/or the local highway authority can sort this out can't they?

Back on the ranch, it was much the same as yesterday with the adult drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris feeding in Holt Bay. The 1-st winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was visible from the dam with the very smart drake Aythya hybrid. While leading a walk for Somerset Wildife Trust during the late afternoon we were treated to superb views of the Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris roost massing before dropping in to the reeds at Home and Pipe Bays. I spotted a raptor chasing the Starlings, rather too briefly for an i.d., but others saw it again later and thought it was probably a Merlin Falco columbarius. If anyone who was on the walk has a photo or video of the Starlings they'd like to share on the website please get in touch at the email address on the home page. 150+ Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flew high over the lake during the walk.

Monday 7th & Tuesday 8th December

No visits were made by me, nor were any reports received from others. The lake is now 90% full (per Bristol Water website).

Wednesday 9th December [Scattered clouds on a very light south-south west breeze]

I was just about able to see the 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila from the dam in the half light before dawn this morning.

Thursday 10th December [Westerly breeze & clear skies]

Nothing unusual noted from the dam this morning.

Friday 11th December [Fog and cold east north-east breeze]

The 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was seen by someone from the dam today (per Rare Bird Alert), though I didn't see it myself late in the afternoon. The Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris came streaming in, but dropped straight into the reeds rather than gathering in a huge flock. I saw what looked like a Merlin Falco columbarius make a half-hearted attempt at a straggler but lost it from view very quickly again. It may also have been a tiercel (tercel) Falco peregrinus. Hopefully I'll get another look at it on a better evening. I couldn't find the Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris either when I had a quick peek at Holt Bay, but I didn't get to the lake until rather too late to be honest. Perhaps a long overdue Smew Mergellus albellus may arrive over the weekend in this weather - that would be a nice Christmas present! Let's hope the fog clears in the morning.

Saturday 12th December [Mostly cloudy with a brisk & cold north-easterly breeze]

No sign of the Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris or the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila today, though the drake Aythya hybrid was still feeding a couple of hundred metres off the dam this morning. There was an adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus in the large congregation of bathing gulls (mostly Common and Black-headed) early afternoon.

Adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus © Nigel Milbourne, 2009

Other birds included a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus calling in Pipe Bay reeds and 2 in Home Bay reeds, a minimum of 67 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, at least 12 Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, pairs each of Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata and Gadwall Anas strepera, at least 15 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca, a Eurasian Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, 3 Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, 2 adult Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus and quite a few very bright Eurasian Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula in the south side hedges.

The dwindling Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris roost attracted a Peregrine Falco peregrinus and Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus.

Common Blackbird Turdus merula outside the back door © Nigel Milbourne, 2009

A drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK Aythya nyroca and 4 Red-crested Pochards Netta rufina were reported by Roger Halsey at Cheddar Reservoir today (per SOS Website message board).

Sunday 13th December [Benign day with scattered clouds]

I saw the drake 1st-winter Greater Scaup Aythya marila and Aythya hybrid side-by-side off the dam in the flat calm first thing this morning but there was still no sign of the Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris in the better viewing conditions. I also saw 12 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata, 126 Canada Geese Branta canadensis and just 6 adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor remain now that the water level has put their food out of reach.

During the afternoon I went to visit friend and fellow photographer Robin Williams, getting over a recent operation, and we took our cameras to Catcott Lows. However, the light went almost as soon as we got there! I did get shots of the Glossy Ibises flying off towards Canada Farm / Noahs Lake and was amazed to see that I'd caught the ring details of one of the birds. It appears to have been ringed in the Camargue, France in 2009.

Saturday 19th December

The WeBS Count was carried out this morning, apparently without anything exciting being found. Count details are on the WeBS Counts page. Ce and I went on a Sunbird tour to China led by Paul Holt, who we had previously birded with in Goa and Northern India.

Sunday 20th December

No news from the lake today.

We arrived in Shanghai, China, and went birding in the Zoological Gardens where I was very pleased to see one of the eastern populations of Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus, having already seen the western population on the Algarve in Portugal.

Monday 21st December

A Goosander Mergus merganser redhead was reported by Harry Bowden in front of The Lodge at 1630 hrs today.

We had moved on to Fujian Province, China, last night where I had the brilliant good fortune to spend most of today trying to photograph one of the most sought-after waders in the world, the Spoon-billed Sandiper Calidris pygmaeus. The world population has crashed and may be down to as few as 300 breeding pairs. I reckon there were probably as many as 9 individuals on the Minjiang Estuary from Shanyutan Island where we were birding today. It was a very special day. There is a very interesting series of up-to-date papers about 'Spooners' on Scroll down to open the articles.

Tuesday 22nd December

No news from the lake.

We birded at Changle near Fuzhou today, where there were plenty of wintering Daurian Redstarts Phoenicurus auroreus.

Wednesday 23rd December

No news from the lake today.

After a flight to Hangzhou we birded in the Botanical Gardens and I captured this shot of a Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus.

Thursday 24th December

No news from the lake today.

We had travelled on to Wu Yuan in Jiangxi Province where we went looking for a bird I'd long wanted to see, the Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus. this is yet another bird in serious trouble and is classed as Endangered by BirdLife International in 2004. We birded along the Le An river and caught up with a few mergs, Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus and Mandarin Duck Aix galariculata.

Christmas Day, Friday 25th December

No news from Blagdon.

I usually check Blagdon Lake on Christmas Day, when I'm at home, but today we spent a full day in the field in Jiangxi Province, China. Having previously missed it on the 23rd, we went back to the historic village of XiaoQi for Pied Falconet Microhierax melanoleucos and were eventually treated to stunning views of three in a tree together. What a Christmas present!

Boxing Day, Saturday 26th December

No reports from the lake today.

In China we moved on to Poyang Hu NNR and were greeted with a waterbird spectacular. The day got off to an astonishing start as I looked up after getting off the bus and saw the first of many Critically Endangered Siberian Cranes Grus leucogeranus flying overhead. We reckoned we saw no fewer than 620, or about 20%, of a decreasing world population of 3200 during the day. The numbers of other species were incredible e.g. 6410 Tundra Swans Cygnus columbarius, 3150 Swan Geese Anser cygnoides, 1500 Falcated Duck Anas falcata, 5180 Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia and 2075 Oriental Storks Ciconia boyciana. On the way back we saw a couple of the world's only freshwater porpoise the Yangtze Finless Porpoise Neophocaena phocaeniodes. It is categorised by the IUCN as Endangered. Another truly memorable days birding.

Sunday 27th December

Another visit to Poyang Hu NNR but after a couple of hours in sleet that subsequently turned to snow, counting Tundra Swans Cygnus columbarius became too difficult! Paul counted 2700 in our visual range. The weather drove us back to our hotel.

Monday 28th December

Fog meant that the authorities closed the Expressway we had planned to travel on this morning, so no Baer's Pochard Aythya baeri for me. We went back to Wucheng but there were very few birds to see, so we moved on to Nanchang airport for our flight back to Shanghai and subsequent drive over the spectacular Sutong Bridge to Nantong.

Tuesday 29th December

Today we birded at Yancheng NNR, saw Red-crowned Cranes Grus japonensis and more surprisingly found 2 Sandhill Cranes Grus canadensis. We also saw the IUCN 2009, Near-Threatened, Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei.

Wednesday 30th December

Sean Davies found a Great Northern Diver Gavia immer off Holt Copse this morning. A super find as this is a surprisingly uncommon occurrence at Blagdon given their regularity at Chew and Cheddar Reservoirs. He also noted the 1st-winter drake Scaup Aythya marila and the drake Aythya hybrid off the dam. Thanks for the news.

A second day at a freezing Yancheng NNR. Todays photo is of Eastern (Chinese) Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha. Another one to add to my wildfowl collection. Y-ee-ess! The waterbird spectacular continued with 1090 Falcated Duck Anas falcata, 1150 Common Mergansers Mergus merganser, 32 Smew Mergus albellus, 400 Common Cranes Grus grus and 850 Pied Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta to name but a few.

Thursday 31st December

Phil Baber reported (per Bristol Wildlife) that the adult Great Northern Diver Gavia immer was still present and viewable from Rugmoor entrance gate today.

In China we rounded off the year with a drive south along the Yellow Sea coast to Nantong, birding along the way. Best find was an empty fish pond with 285 of one of the worlds rarest gulls on it, Saunders's Gull Saundersilaris saundersi. This species is classified by the IUCN 2009 as Vulnerable with a world population estimated at 7100 - 9600.