December 2010 News

Wednesday 1st December [Continuing cold, the temp didn't rise above freezing all day, with a biting NE wind]

I poked my head over the dam wall first thing this morning and saw an adult winter Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa and Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos feeding with Eurasian Teal Anas crecca at Cheddar Water. I told Mervyn Pearce, who saw the sandpiper this afternoon at the dam and 6 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and 9 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea in Butcombe Bay until they were disturbed by dog walkers.

Thursday 2nd December [Still bitterly cold with a max temp just above zero and a light dusting of snow]

No bird news from the lake to report today. The water level has remained steady during the last week and the current 48% compares with 84% at the same time last year (per Bristol Water website).

Friday 3rd December [Bitingly cold but there appears to be change a-comin']

I paid two brief visits today, on the way to and from work, and was amazed to see that there was probably 80-90% ice cover, with open water only at the dam end. As I pulled up in the half-light 2 Goosanders Mergus merganser flew off west over the dam and as I drove towards Chew there were flights of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo heading west towards Blagdon, so it was hardly any surprise this afternoon to see the spectacle that was the 'cormorant-fest' when I got there. I only had time to make one count and got a total of 282 with over 70 in one feeding flock and most of the rest were lined up along the shore at Never Never Land (between North Shore and The Island). There were almost certainly over 300 birds present because aside from those that I missed that were underwater, there were also a handful at Top End along the feeder stream that I hadn't counted. The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was feeding with the flock of Aythya's off Spinney Point and I remembered Mervyn Pearce telling me about the Little Egrets Egretta garzetta in Butcombe Bay a couple of days ago, so scanned with my scope and just about made out 4 hunched up against the white snowy background. There were also at least 7 feeding Goosanders, of which I saw a 1st-winter female, an adult female, four other redheads (one of which may have been a 1st-winter drake) and an adult drake. A small flock of Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina were scratching around in the weeds that have grown up on the exposed shore at the Cheddar Water corner of the dam giving Chris Klee and I excellent close views.

As I drove down Cheddar Gorge and past the entrance to Cox's Cave a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis suddenly appeared in front of my bonnet and sped along in front of the car for a hundred metres or so before rising up and away.

Saturday 4th December [It's warmed above freezing point and steady light rain fell most of the day]

There was a fair covering of ice at the Top End this afternoon, but the thaw was well under way and a large flock of Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope was feeding up the bank at Indian Country. Counting them, and the few others scattered about, I got a total of 227, which I believe is the highest count since 2001. 5 Goosanders Mergus merganser were fishing at Top End near the feeder stream and there were several flocks of Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata swirling around feeding from the surface film (I really ought to count them because there's quite a few). Unfortunately, as I made my way back from Ubley a mist rolled out from the water's edge across the lake and prevented me going through the gulls and Aythya ducks at the Dam end, so no news on the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila, I'm afraid. Most of the Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo seem to have cleared off back to Chew, unless they were hiding in the mist!

Sunday 5th December [A beautiful sunny day without a breath of wind, but it's going to be cold tonight]

More ice formed on the lake again last night and the roads that remained in shadow all day were treacherous (including parts of the road along the south shore). The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was feeding of Spinney Point again at lunchtime and there were 8 Goosanders Mergus merganser patrolling around as well as 2 drake Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula diving close in to the dam wall.

Adult Goosanders Mergus merganser © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

I decided to count the Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata, as suggested yesterday, and totalled 310 by the time I got to the Top End hide. There were 36 Dunlin Calidris alpina feeding at Top End on the ice free mud with small numbers of dabbling ducks. There were 201 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope feeding along the Indian Country bank opposite Top End hide and others in scattered locations suggesting to me that more had arrived overnight bringing the total to over 250. Other counts included a single Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Ash Trees, a drake Northern Pintail Anas acuta in Pipe Bay, 8 Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus, 19 Gadwall Anas strepera, 17 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis and 417 Canada Geese Branta canadensis (plus 2 hybrids). The Rooks Corvus frugilegus were back in Home Bay Point Rookery making lots of noise and a search of the rarely visited hide, as suggested by Rich Andrews in an email, produced just a single hibernating Peacock Inachis io butterfly (too many cobwebs, I fear).

I received a call to have a look at Heron's Green Bay (whisper it, at Chew Valley Lake) from friends Alan Bone and Roger Palmer this afternoon where we saw a Dunlin, a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus and the adult drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris off Moreton Point.

Monday 6th December [Foggy and sub-zero temperatures all day]

I had a quick look at dawn, but the fog was down and the ice appeared to have spread some more. I just saw a pair of Little Grebes Tachybaptus ruficollis in a little patch of open water and a few Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus poking about on the ice. No news from anyone else.

Tuesday 7th December [Continuing fog blocking the sun and resulting sub-zero temperatures all day]

I couldn't face going down to the lake before work to see how the birds were getting on this morning. It was really cold at -5 Celsius with hoar frost on all the trees and bushes, so I just spent the few minutes I had putting out more food in the garden for the regular visitors. One tree outside the back door was white and 'illuminated' with at least 5 Common Blackbirds Turdus merula calling at me and waiting for the raisins that I usually put down for them.

At work at Somerdale, Keynsham I watched a couple of crows having a half-hearted go at an unseen bird on a ledge of the building that was obviously a Peregrine Falco peregrinus judging by the calls it was making. We often get one or both birds of a pair roosting on site. More bizarrely I was told by a workmate that I hadn't seen for a few days that he had come across a Little Owl Athene noctua inside our powerhouse about 3 weeks ago which he had managed to persuade to leave! They used to breed at Somerdale quite a few years ago but I haven't seen one there for a while.

Thursday 9th December [The temp rose above freezing point this morning and it was sunny most of the day]

I had a look over the dam this morning and saw two areas of open water crowded with Aythya ducks and at least one female Goosander Mergus merganser among the Tufties and Pochards. Another smaller area of open water nearer the middle had a few gulls and 14 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula in it. I spotted a single Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Butcombe Bay all hunched up and looking thoroughly fed up with life - I'm not sure if it was waiting for its turn to fish while a Grey Heron Ardea cinerea took a turn in the feeder stream, or, it had already had a go. There was another Grey Heron prowling around on the dam wall but I can't imagine what it was looking for there. They must be having a real tough time with at least 95% of the lake frozen over. You've got to wonder why they hang on at the lake in such adverse conditions?

Paul Marshall visited later in the day and saw the Greater Scaup Aythya marila and 3 Goosanders (per Steve Hale at BOC).

Friday 10th December [Milder today with periods of sunshine]

The ice cover was still 90% or so this afternoon but the areas of open water were spreading and giving the diving ducks and grebes access to new areas to feed. I couldn't find the Greater Scaup Aythya marila, but there were 8 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula (4 adult drakes) out in the middle, 5 Dunlin Calidris alpina with lots of Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata in Pipe Bay, good numbers of Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope at the Lodge, a flyover Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, as well as a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus feeding at Burmah Road with Eurasian Teal Anas crecca.

I met Mervyn Pearce briefly this afternoon and he told me he had seen 3 Eurasian Bitterns Botaurus stellaris and the family of Bewicks Swans Cygnus columbianus at Chew Valley Lake.

Saturday 11th December [Mild again, but rather grey and dismal most of the day]

Once again I couldn't find the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila, so must assume that he has probably moved on. There is still quite a large area of ice cover, probably more than 50%, though melt water is lying on it. This causes some fun for landing wildfowl and produced some lovely photographic opportunites that, sadly, I wasn't able to take. Gulls that appeared to be standing on water and geese mirrored on the surface were particularly photogenic.

There has been an influx of Dunlin Calidris alpina today with 35 at Top End and a singleton at Pipe Bay. The Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus had moved to the opposite bank and was feeding along the stretch known as Indian Country, opposite Bell's Bush. As suspected last Sunday, the Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope count was up again and I counted 273. They are clearly finding plenty of tender plants to eat on the exposed banks. A Little Egret Egretta garzetta was standing motionless on The Island, 12 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus flew out of the Alders Alnus glutinosa at Hellfire Corner and a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis zipped past me down the stream at Ubley Hatchery.

Further to my comments about fish damage a while back, I noticed today in the low clear water of the feeder stream, that a few of the trout had flesh wounds around their tails, but it wasn't spawning damage. There have been very few Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo at the lake since the freeze and you would think that flesh wounds on one flank are likely to be the result of a stab by a Grey Heron Ardea cinerea rather than being grabbed by a Cormorant or an Otter Lutra lutra.

Sunday 12th December [A lovely sunny winter afternoon]

Well, despite the temperature remaining above freezing point since yesterday, there has been a spread of ice again and you would have to suspect the 80% cover will be significantly more tomorrow morning, as the temperature dropped sharply when the sun dipped behind the Mendips at 1530 hrs. I did manage to spot the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the North Shore car park and there were at least half a dozen Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus feeding by the Lodge. Careful scanning of the reduced number of wildfowl didn't turn up anything new, but there was an increase in the Dunlin Calidris alpina count to 38 off Bell's Bush, though I can't see them hanging around for too long as things start to freeze up again.

Tuesday 14th December [Cool but dry with some sunny periods]

I went for a look over the dam this morning and was confronted with shore-to-shore ice. I could just about make out some birds in an open patch of water way out, but was unable to make the species out with the naked eye. No-one else has contacted me with any news I'm afraid.

We have the WeBS count to do on Saturday but I wonder if there will be anything left at the lake to count?

I drove through West Harptree this morning and there was a Little Owl Athene noctua sitting on a telegraph pole by the new housing development on the east end of the village. I haven't seen one there for quite some time.

This evening I was able to update the Fungi List with the results of the NSBFG Foray held on 7th November at the Pumping Station with Patric Bulmer of Bristol Water. It seems 55 new species were added on this one visit, which begs the question as to just how many are there to add in future? There is a plan to visit the SSSI meadows to look for grassland species which I look forward to.

Wednesday 15th December [Milder and still]

I saw 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta looking a bit fed up with life on Spinney Point this afternoon and there was quite a bit of open water with a few diving ducks but no sign of the Greater Scaup Aythya marila.

Friday 17th December [Snow overnight with more flurries during the day]

I walked from Ubley Hatchery back home this afternoon through the snow, looking to see what birds were still present on a lake that was iced over in the bays and at Top End. However, the main body of the lake was open water and was attracting Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo from Chew to fish and over 1000 Common Gulls Larus canus from nearby fields to bathe and rest. A few Anas dabbling ducks were still sifting out food from wet mud around the points where streams run into the lake and the 2 adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor were feeding at Rainbow Point. I saw a drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila (or just possibly a hybrid) feeding off the north shore, 12+ Goosanders Mergus merganser diving alongside the dam wall and counted 143 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in Home Bay sheltering from the cold wind. Just after I'd counted the Lapwings the snow started again and aside from a quick chat with Fisheries Manager Alan Dymock it was a brisk walk home up the sunken and, therefore, sheltered Dark Lane where a few Common Blackbirds Turdus merula and European Robins Erithacus rubecula were scratching about for a few last morsels before dark.

Saturday 18th December [More snow overnight but a beautiful still and sunny day]

I did the WeBS Count on my own today as it wasn't sensible to expect the Bath team to drive over with road conditions as they are. The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was still present, albeit asleep, but the biggest surprise was finding 7 Eurasian Curlews Numenius arquataresting on the ice at Top End. They eventually flew off west at 1357 hrs. I also heard a Skylark Alauda arvensis flying over but sadly didn't see it. There were also about 45 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus in the Alder trees at Hellfire Corner. The wildfowl and gull counts are given on the WeBS Page. There has been a clear out of Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus with just 6 left but an influx of Goosanders Mergus merganser with 14 redheads fishing together off the dam.

Here are some pix taken today:

Looking across Pipe Bay from Dark Lane © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Pumping Station © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Bell's Bush Barrier © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Sunday 19th December [Cold with an overnight temperature of -7 Celsius and a still cloudy day]

The sub-zero temperature over the last 24 hours combined with little or no wind has led to the lake icing over again and at lunchtime there was at least 80% cover. I didn't see the adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila, but I did find a new 1st-winter drake which I think was a good bird rather than one of the many Aythya hybrids hereabouts. There were 14 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta mainly standing around at The Island and Never Never Land under exposed tree roots with a lone adult drake Goosander Mergus merganser sleeping just off the bank. At least 2 Skylarks Alauda arvensis flew over calling while I was looking over the dam. I guess they must be making a short migration or relocating flight forced on them by the snow covering their food. I didn't count them all, but there were 158 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Top End and about another 30 or so at Long Bay giving much the same total as yesterdays 186.

Monday 20th December [The big freeze continues with a low temperature of -8.7 Celsius last night]

We woke up to snow falling again and a temperature of -5 Celsius still at 0900 hrs. It will probably be a day of garden bird watching today as they crowd in to find food. The roads are looking treacherous and a visit to the lake doesn't look sensible unless there's a dramatic change. Surely most birds will have departed for the coast by now anyway?

View down Station Road © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Tuesday 21st December [The temp crept over freezing point today for just over 3 hours but it remained calm]

No visit again, though as Rich Andrews observed about Chew on CVL Birding yesterday, "the place was more like an arctic wasteland than a lake." So it was at Blagdon today as I looked down from the house and drove along the A368 towards Ubley. It did look like there was an open patch in the middle of the lake towards Rainbow Point, but I couldn't see if there were any wildfowl keeping it open. The ice had been covered by snow making the lake look white.

Celia and I have been putting out lots of sunflower hearts and raisins in the garden over the last few days, feeding every couple of hours or so, and this morning the back garden was black with Common Blackbirds Turdus merula feeding on raisins put down before dusk yesterday afternoon. I have noticed that they will feed together in extreme conditions on previous occasions. The weather has brought Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus, Redwing Turdus iliacus, Fieldfare Turdus pilaris and Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarellii into the garden to join the hoardes of European Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis and Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs. I hope lots of you are feeding the birds as well. The freeze is set to continue for a few days yet.

Wednesday 22nd December [Remaining cold with the temperature hovering around freezing point]

I managed a look over the dam today and was heartened to see quite a large area of open water with birds feeding, including what looked like the pair of Mute Swans Cygnus olor in front of the Lodge. It is very unusual for Mute Swans to overwinter in conditions like those we're experiencing at present.

The garden remains full of birds and when I put a crushed fat ball out this afternoon it immediately attracted a pair of Blackcaps Sylvia atricapella which I hadn't seen up to now. I counted at least 15 Common Blackbirds Turdus merula in or around the garden at one point today. Chris Klee rang from up the hill and said the fallen apples in his garden have attracted lots of winter thrushes as have those at Ubley Hatchery. I hope to be able to get out and photograph them soon.

Thursday 23rd December [Cold with a rising NNE breeze and a few sunny intervals]

The ice cover was probably 75-80% again today and among those birds noted from the dam were singles of Grey Heron Ardea cinerea and Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, 4 Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus, 4 Mute Swans Cygnus olor (2 adults and 2 juveniles) and small numbers of Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Common Coot Fulica atra, Common Pochard Aythya ferina and Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula.

It was with great sadness that I received news today of the passing of friend and photographer Andy Callow after a long illness. Andy helped Christine Billinghurst with the management of the Somerset Wildlife Reserve Long Wood just above Blagdon on the Mendips (the site notable for hosting a singing Brambling Fringilla montifringilla this spring). Andy was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS) and a Distinctions Panel member of the Nature Group specializing in invertebrate photography. We spent many happy hours together in the field trying to record the local creepy crawlies on film and digitally. I recommend having a look at the high quality of his work at:

I have put some more information into the Species Accounts > Warblers to Buntings today, which will be added to over coming weeks and months as I continue to dig information out of my Blagdon Database and find the time to research the species and write them up.

There has been another update from Bristol Water on their website about water levels. Blagdon is holding steady at 49% but we could sure do with some rain to help restore the level before next summer:

Friday 24th December, Christmas Eve [Still and cold again with sunny intervals]

The ice cover was probably between 60-70% today but there were few birds about. A Carrion Crow Corvus corone was picking over the corpse of some unfortunate bird on the ice near the dam. It looked like it might have been another Carrion Crow judging by the tail feathers. Once again there was no sign of any Greater Scaup just a few Common Pochards Aythya ferina, Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula and about a dozen Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula accounting for the diving ducks. I counted 6 Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus in Butcombe Bay, where there were also a few Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and Mallards Anas Platyrhynchos. A few Common Gulls Larus canus were bathing and standing around on the ice late in the afternoon.

View of Top End from Rainbow Point on Christmas Eve © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

On farmland nearby there was a sizeable flock of Canada Geese Branta canadensis (no unusual visitors with them unfortunately) and 13 Brown Hares Lepus europaeus together - a wonderful sight.

Saturday 25th December, Christmas Day [Ne'er a cloud in the sky and jolly cold]

It was -7.1 Celsius this morning at 0900 hrs! A Brambling Fringilla coelebs joined the throng in the garden as did the male Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla and the increasingly hungry winter thrushes have become much more evident around the village gardens - I even noted a Redwing Turdus iliacus eating sunflower hearts put on the ground for finches.

I didn't visit the lake until the middle of the afternoon and was saddened to see a couple walking along the water's edge on the north shore with a large dog running around off the lead and another couple with a small dog on the lead at the water's edge of Cheddar Water despite all the signs about trespassing and dogs. It is hard enough for wildlife in the current conditions without it having to put up with this kind of thoughtless behaviour in what is supposed to be a nature reserve and refuge. No doubt, if experience is anything to go by, it will be a free-for-all around the lake tomorrow as people walk off their Christmas Day excesses. I think I'll give it a miss.

The ice cover was 99% today with just a couple of really small holes open sustaining a few wildfowl hanging on at the lake. I suspect tonight is going to be extremely cold and all open water will surely be iced over by the morning (it is -5.2 Celsius at 1745 hrs already). The long range forecast which hinted at a break with the cold and heavy rain on Monday, has now changed to sleet and continuing cold.

Monday 27th December [The thaw is on and the temp has remained above zero since lunchtime yesterday]

Despite the rising temperature, the ice cover was still 99% at lunchtime and there were few wildfowl save for 200+ Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and a few Eurasian Teal Anas crecca at Top End. The counts I made included, 217 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, 52 Common Coots Fulica atra, 6 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea, 2 Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus, 2 Common Goldeneyes (a pair) Bucephala clangula and singles of Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata and Ruddy Duck (drake) Oxyura jamaicensis. I counted 48 species during my walk and was especially pleased to see a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus at Top End, a Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris and several Goldcrests Regulus regulus, after the cold spell.

I got home just in time to see March of the Penguins this afternoon - what stunning photography! Highlight of the TV schedule so far this holiday.

Tuesday 28th December [A balmy 10.7 Celsius, the highest temperature the month, on a dull grey day]

Despite the thaw and sight of green fields again, the ice cover was still >95% and probably nearer 98%. Nevertheless, there were 4 Dunlins Calidris alpina, 2 Green Sandpipers Tringa ochropus and 8 Northern Pintails Anas acuta (6 drakes) at Top End alongside the regulars. The snow melt has raised the level of the feeder stream at the Ubley End and trout were running again.

Surprisingly there were 3 adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor in Rugmoor Bay. The only other small hole in the ice, apart from some melting fringes, was on the east side of Tiny's Shallow in front of the Lodge. The pair of Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula were still present, as were singles of Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus and drake Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis among the handful of usual ducks.

Wednesday 29th December [Mild but dull grey with occasional drizzle]

On the way home through Cheddar this afternoon at 1510 hrs a GREAT WHITE EGRET Ardea alba flew east over the B3151 in front of our car between Hythe Bridge and the Sewage Works and appeared to land beside the Cheddar Yeo behind the Business Park.

A late visit to the lake this afternoon produced 3 Tundra (Bewick's) Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Flower Corner, 6 Dunlins Calidris alpina and 2 Green Sandpipers Tringa ochropus at Top End and 2 Mute Swans Cygnus olor back in front of the Lodge. Ice cover appeared to be over 80% still, but mist covered the dam end by the time I got there so I couldn't be sure.

Yesterday, I spotted a tiny yellow ear of fungus on a fallen branch (about 2 mm across) but had no glasses with me, so I had another look today (still no glasses) and lifted the branch and low and behold there was a huge yellow lump of what may be Yellow Brain aka Witches' Butter Tremella mesenterica. I'll try and photograph it tomorrow for verification - I might even take my glasses with me! If proven, it will be the first lake record with the nearest record on the NBN Gateway appearing to be at Churchill about 5 miles away.

Thursday 30th December [Mild but misty and dull]

What a remarkable afternoon, most of the ice at the dam has gone and although there are very few birds, there were a number of surprises. First, a Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris (7th record for the lake) flew in front of me whilst I was standing at the southern corner of the dam scanning the open water at 1545 hrs. It flew along the Cheddar Water bank over the dam and into the Pumping Station grounds (but out of sight) at tree-top height (30-50 feet) and almost overhead. I wonder if it was a Chew bird relocating, or, a bird noted earlier this year on 5th January that has come back? Little Egrets Egretta garzetta where noted by locals feeding on the stream at Rickford during the cold spell earlier in the year and maybe the Bittern was flying there or to a local pond? Second, there were 24 Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay (5 adult drakes), that were feeding and cavorting about displaying to one another, also the drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid that spent the early part of the year at the lake was present with what looked like a female Greater Scaup Aythya marila, though it was difficult to be sure it was a good bird at the distance I was observing from. I'll check again tomorrow.

At Top End I counted 11 Dunlins Calidris alpina, a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus, 3 Tundra (Bewick's) Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Bell's Bush resting on the ice, 65 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 19 Gadwall Anas strepera, 8 Northern Pintails Anas acuta (6 drakes) and 2 adult Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus.

The fungus I first noted on 28th, does appear to be Yellow Brain Tremella mesenterica, but I will send a few pix to NSBFG for verification, along with some other pix I've taken today and over the years. The shot below shows very young growths and the link in the Fungus List shows a mature specimen.

Yellow Brain Tremella mesenterica, Top End © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

I received an email from Chris Klee to say that he found Otter Lutra lutra tracks in the snow at the lake in recent days - proof positive that they are still present. I've also been looking but failed to find positive evidence, so it was great to get Chris's news.

On the fish front, I've seen Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss apparently egg-laying, but they appear to have attracted a number of Mallards Anas platyrhynchos which are probably feeding on the eggs that are being released! I might try and get some pictures tomorrow if time and weather permit.

Friday 31st December [A bit colder and dull again]

It was an interesting day poking around beside the lake on my own today. Most of the ice has gone and new birds are beginning to arrive but lightning didn't strike twice on the Bittern front. I was told today that Bristol Water staff spotted a Eurasian Bittern at the lake a few days ago as well, but despite waiting on the dam from 1515 - 1630 hrs this afternoon it didn't fly over again, although a Little Egret Egretta garzetta did.

I counted 28 Goosanders Mergus merganser at the dam end and the Scaup-a-like drake plus the other bird were both present but asleep, so I'm still not sure the other one is a good bird rather than an another Aythya hybrid. Perhaps tomorrow? Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus have been arriving back and I counted 8 of them as well as spotting a Northern Raven Corvus corax soaring over Butcombe Bank.

At Top End, the Dunlin Calidris alpina flock had swollen to 33 and the Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus was feeding nearby. 3 Tundra (Bewick's) Swans Cygnus columbianus were feeding at Burmah Road but as I left, 2 more flew in from the east (Chew?) and joined them bringing the total to five. After a brief facing up and flapping of wings at one another they settled down to feed with the occasional nodding of heads. I watched them for a while but couldn't see any rings on legs, though I suspect one of the pair that flew in was probably 'Blagdon'. Other counts included 44 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 11 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea, 5 Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus (at Ubley Hatchery), a flyover Stock Dove Columba oenas and male Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. Of particular interest was a flock of 101 Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina in a couple of Top End bushes - proof, if it were needed, that the margins provide lots of food when the water level is low.

The Goosanders were too far away for decent photographs this morning, but the Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss were offering opportunities:

Hen Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Hen Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss cutting a spawning redd © Nigel Milbourne, 2010