BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

December 2011 News


Thursday 1st December [Cloudy]

Today, I saw the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis feeding at the entrance to Holt Bay, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina on both sides of Rainbow Point, 7 Dunlins Calidris alpina, a Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa and 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Bell's Bush, and 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta on the shore at Indian Country. I also heard a Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita calling at Bell's Bush barrier.

I couldn't find the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis or Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis, though I didn't really cover the lake in my usual thorough way today. I believe a female Greater Scaup Aythya marila was reported at Top End this morning but I couldn't find that either.

Friday 2nd December [Cloudy]

I made a short visit to the lake this morning and saw the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina in the mouth of Holt Bay and the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis over at Rugmoor Bay. The 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were at Bell's Bush, a single Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis was at Cheddar Water and 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta were in Butcombe Bay. I didn't catch up with the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis.

After popping down to the lake, I went over to Longwell Green with some birding friends to see The Big Year, a new film about three American birders who were trying to get the biggest year list. I had previously read the book, which I enjoyed, but found the film didn't really bring out the sense of competition as well as the book and although there were a few chuckles, in what is billed as a comedy, I think it'd only really appeal to a birders audience., I dare say I'd be happy to watch it again when, and if, it gets shown on TV. The winner saw, or heard, 755 species in the year, which makes my US list of just over 500 look a bit sick!

I received the following email from Paul Oaten, Supervisor at the RSPCA  Wildlife Centre:

"The Mute Swan you saw at Blagdon Lake (PZ9) on the 23rd November 2011 was a bird that was brought into the RSPCA Wildlife Centre at West Hatch nr Taunton on 7th January 2008.  It was picked up by South Wales Swan Rescue from Cosmeston Lakes, Glamorgan and then transferred down to us. It was a juvenile from the previous year and was a little weak and lethargic on arrival and suffering from enteritis.  It was put onto a course of antibiotics and responded well.  After a period of rehabilitation at the centre, it was released at Chew Valley Lake on 25th February 2008. There was a sighting of it at Chew Valley Lake on the 25th February 2010. Now your sighting at Blagdon Lake would suggest it has settled in this area since release. Thank you for reporting your sighting.  Sightings such as this help us to build up a picture of their survival and movements and help us to improve our rehabilitation techniques."

Saturday 3rd December [Sunny most of the day]

A very interesting day started with a visit to Ubley Hatchery, courtesy of the Bristol Water fisheries team, to see how they raise 100,000 trout a year that are used to stock the reservoirs and local rivers. It was my third visit, the first being in the mid-1960s on a school trip, and I'm tempted to say little has changed in that time. However, to be fair, things have changed fairly significantly since the 1920s when Loch Leven Brown Trout Salmo trutta were brought down and bred with local fish to form the nucleus of stock that were used to stock Blagdon, and that were sent as far afield as New Zealand. Today, the main focus is on rearing triploid Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss which grow so rapidly that they can be stocked at the age of 15 to 16 months weighing 2lbs. Thanks Alan and the rest of the guys for giving up your time, I hope you get the new hatchery soon.

Alan Dymock, Ubley Hatchery © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss alevins & fry, Ubley Hatchery © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

I popped home with the intention of birding Blagdon Lake afterward but received a call from Chris Stone who told me the Sharpie was in front of Stratford Hide at Chew Valley Lake. We had some great views in the telescope but to be honest it was still a long way off for photography though Rich Andrews and I gave it a go. Here are some of my shots:

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata, Stratford Bay, Chew Valley Lake © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

In the afternoon I checked Blagdon and found pretty much the same as yesterday. The 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were at Top End, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina was in Holt Bay and the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis over at Orchard Bay. The single Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis was in front of the Lodge, 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta were scattered about and the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was feeding fairly close in to the dam. It is clearly still moulting through from juvenile to 1st-winter and is getting brighter and more contrasty as the days pass.

1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis, Dam © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Sunday 4th December [Rain and cloud]

I didn't spend too much time at the lake today, but was pleased to see we've had an influx of 23 Dunlins Calidris alpina and a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago that were feeding at Bell's Bush. All the regulars were still present and I saw 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina in Holt Bay and the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis at Peg's Point. I met Sean Davies at long last and he told me he had seen the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis at the dam, 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis off Green Lawn. I spotted an adult female Goosander Mergus merganser at the dam when I also met Paul Williams another of my regular correspondents. Nice to meet you both.

Paul Williams emailed me this evening to say that the 2 juvenile LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS Limnodromus scolopaceus were back at Bell's Bush this afternoon at 1530 hrs.

Paul also told me that he'd found a lens cap in the Top End hide. If it's still there tomorrow, I'll pick it up and arrange to keep it pending someone claiming it.

Monday 5th December [Sunshine and showers with a biting wind]

The 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was feeding off Rainbow Point today with the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina nearby in Holt Bay. I didn't spend any time looking for the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis, preferring to go to Bell's Bush and look through the waders. I counted 24 Dunlins Calidris alpina and 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa alongside the 10 slumbering Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii, then I went over to Herriott's Bridge at Chew Valley Lake where I saw the Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius in the lakeside channel together with a confiding Water Rail Rallus aquaticus. Sadly the light wasn't good enough for photography.

Bristol Water were cutting the sedges in front of Top End hide at Blagdon today.

Tuesday 6th December [More sunshine and showers. Still cold.]

I had a great slice of luck this morning when I spotted the 2 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS Limnodromus scolopaceus feeding in Pipe Bay when scanning from the Lodge. I ran along with my camera and spent half an hour getting some shots of them from over the gate at Pipe Bay. Looking at the photos it would be appropriate to age them as 1st-winters now, I can't see any dark-centred, rufous edged upperparts.

1st-winter Long-billed Dowitchers Limnodromus scolopaceus, Pipe Bay © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

I saw the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina in Holt Bay, a small group of Dunlins Calidris alpina and 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa at Bell's Bush and the 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii feeding at Top End. I didn't see the Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis, Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis or Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis but wasn't looking too hard for them.

1st-winter Long-billed Dowitchers Limnodromus scolopaceus, Pipe Bay © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Wednesday 7th December [Sunny but very, very windy]

The 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was in front of the Lodge at lunchtime and I also scoped a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis working its way along Butcombe Bank from there as well. The long-staying drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina was in Holt Bay feeding on weed as usual. There were 4 Dunlins Calidris alpina at Wood Bay Point, which subsequently flew to Bell's Bush, where I saw a single Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa and our 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii upending in the brick red, churned up, water. David Northover kindly emailed later to say he'd seen the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis along the North Shore at about 1000 hrs.

I filled all the feeders again today, at the Lodge and Ubley Hatchery, and had great views of Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major, a good selection of titmice and a female / juvenile Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla feeding on apples.

Rain during the last few days has had a small effect on the water level and it appears to have inched upward a little, but looking at the latest Bristol Water briefing, we are still desperate for rain. The last three months Mendip rainfall (the reservoir catchment area) was 90% in Sept., 64% in Oct. and 75% in Nov. of expected averages (per Bristol Water website). The estates team are still mowing all the rushes and cover at Top End, which may have an impact on invertebrates, but which will provide an interesting wet margin for wildfowl and waders if the the water level gets back up into it again this winter. It's probably going to rule out me getting Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris on the list this year though!

Thursday 8th December [Dismal, grey and windy)

I saw the 2 1st-winter LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS Limnodromus scolopaceus at Bell's Bush late morning but they were flushed with most of the other waders by a (probable female) Peregrine Falco peregrinus. Later, I refound them with Sean Davies at Polish Water by the Fishing Lodge where it might have been nice to have had another pop at photographing them - if it wasn't for the rain and rubbish light! Also present there were 7 Dunlins Calidris alpina. Other birds noted during my visit were the drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina, the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis, 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii, 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa, 3 adult female Goosanders Mergus merganser, 10 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis and 271 Canada Geese Branta canadensis. I didn't pick out the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis today though.

1st-winter Long-billed Dowitchers Limnodromus scolopaceus, Pipe Bay © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Friday 9th December [Sunny but cool]

I had a day out in Weymouth with Andy Davis, Andy Leggatt and Keith Vinicombe today, but rang them last night while the wind was blowing to ask if we could put off our departure until we'd had a quick check of the lakes at first light. Boy, was I glad I did because I found my first (Black-legged) Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla at Blagdon, an adult winter, in front of the Lodge. This, so far as I can tell, is the first record for 19 years. On my quick whip through I also saw the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina in Holt Bay and 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Bell's Bush. If anyone visited Blagdon and can add anything else I'd be pleased to hear from you. We saw the Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius in the channel at Herrriott's Bridge, Chew Valley Lake before we left too.

Our trip to Weymouth didn't go so badly either, as we caught up with Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus humei (a British tick) at Wyke Regis, a Black Brant Branta bernicla nigricans off Littlesea (where Keith also counted 321 Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus on the clicker), 2 Grey Phalaropes Phalaropus fulicarius in Chesil Cove and another 80+ Mediterranean Gulls at RSPB Radipole Lake together with a supporting cast of the usual wintering species. What a marvellous day!

Saturday 10th December [Sunny spells and cold]

This autumn just gets better and better! While I was checking and counting the Canada Branta canadensis and Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis this lunchtime, 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus flew in from the west and landed on Holt Farm fields. It looked like they may be a family party, with two showing barring on the flanks and two not. The two that didn't have any barring also seemed to show some pink marks in the black base to the bill. The last record related to a probable escape / feral bird that appeared on 31st May and stayed until 9th June 2002. There are two previous accepted records in 1986 and 1999 that probably relate to wild birds and I saw 5 fly over high to the west, calling, on 18th November 2001 that I didn't submit. I managed to grab some shots today, but the geese were very wary and looked as if they might fly at any time. Interestingly, we have had another arrival, an adult, giving us 11 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End. Perhaps these are cold weather movements linked to the clear skies and near-full moon last night?

Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus, Holt Farm © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus adult and juvenile, Holt Farm © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

There was a lovely flock of 36 Dunlins Calidris alpina and a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago in front of the Lodge with the bulk of the 499 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus also there. A Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis was at Cheddar Water, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina was in Holt Bay, the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis was on the north shore at Paradise, 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa were on Wood Bay Point from where the drake Red-crested Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid was also on view. Andy Davis heard a Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita at Green Lawn while we were watching the geese and Phil Quinn emailed me later to say he had seen the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis in Holt Bay at the east end of Green Lawn this afternoon.

Sunday 11th December [Grey and overcast with occasional drizzle]

What happened to the persistent rain that was forecast for today? I cancelled a trip to WWT Slimbridge due to the promised bad weather!

Chris Stone rang this morning and asked me to let him know if the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were still present, which they were, so we ended up birding together over the lunchtime period and what a fantastic selection of birds we had. There were 2 adult female Goosanders Mergus merganser feeding up against the dam wall, 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucosis at Cheddar Water, 63 Dunlins Calidris alpina (42 at the Lodge and 21 at Bell's Bush), the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis in Holt Bay with the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina, the adult Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis was over at Peg's Point on the north shore, the 2 1st-winter LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS Limnodromus scolopaceus were at Bell's Bush with 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa and 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were feeding at Top End. Sadly the 11th bird appears to have moved on without me getting the chance to photograph it for identification purposes.

I spent a while, before Chris arrived, looking hard at the Dunlins at the Lodge because there were 9 very large individuals among them. My initial thought was that they might be Curlew Sandpipers Calidris ferruginea standing apart in the water and preening, but when the flock were spooked with the Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus I could see that they didn't have white rumps. They appeared long-billed, long-legged and considerably larger than the remainder of the flock and I really should have taken some photographs to show the comparison. Three races normally occur in Britain C.a. artica that winters mainly in Africa, C.a. schinzii that winters primarily in southern Europe and Africa, passing mostly through Ireland, and C.a. alpina that winters mostly in western Europe, especially on the Waddensee (Birdguides). The first two races are both small and the majority of the birds in my flock may refer to C.a. schinzii, I suppose, though its perhaps a bit late in the year. However, C.a. alpina are larger and C.a sakhalina and the Nearctic races are larger still (Vol. 3, BWP). C.a. alpina often move west into Britain to winter and the larger birds may refer to that race, or just possibly, one of the Nearctic races? I'll see if I can get some shots tomorrow if they're still present.

Monday 12th December [Early sun then showers]

We were graced with a return visit by the juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER Calidris acuminata and the 2, 1st-winter, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS Limnodromus scolopaceus in front of the Fishing Lodge this morning. They were showing really well, in nice light, when I arrived at the same time as Jean and Roger Staples. However, the waders were really flighty and kept moving between Polish Water and Pipe Bay.

You can play spot the shorebird.... there's a Sharpie, 2 Long-billed Dowitchers and lots of Dunlins © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

I got some close-up shots over the gate at Pipe Bay, but sadly only when it was raining, so the quality was disappointing. Eventually they all flew back to Bell's Bush and were feeding along the Burmah Road stretch when I left at lunchtime. There were 51 Dunlins Calidris alpina in front of the Lodge when I arrived and the usual 500, or so, Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. Jean and Roger saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis in Long Bay. Richard Mielcarek and I noted the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus grazing on Holt Farm fields near the farmhouse, on their own for much of the time. The adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina was, you guessed it, in Holt Bay and the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was, rather surprisingly, way down the lake at Wood Bay Point. None of us connected with the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis, but the water was a bit choppy and rather coloured on the north shore, so it may have moved. The 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were asleep at Bell's Bush. I didn't see any of the larger Dunlins. Here are some pictures taken today:

Juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata, Pipe Bay © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Tuesday 13th December [Sunny spells then wintry showers of sleet]

The juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER Calidris acuminata and the 2, 1st-winter, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS Limnodromus scolopaceus were still in front of the Fishing Lodge with 49 Dunlins Calidris alpina and a host of Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, dabbling (daffy) ducks and gulls, including an adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus. I spent most of the morning looking over the roadside gate at Pipe Bay hoping to get some more pictures of the waders in good light, but after two hours had to get in the car for a warm up. I saw the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus grazing on Holt Farm fields near the farmhouse again, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina and the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis in Holt Bay and the 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Bell's Bush. Owing to my standing behind a camera lens most of the day, until the skies darkened and sleet started to fall, I didn't spot anything new in a brief look.

Juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata and 1st-winter Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus, Pipe Bay © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Wednesday 14th December [Snow and wintry showers]

I didn't visit the lake before going walking with friends this morning because we had an hour and a half of sleet that turned to snow. However, I did manage an hour or so late this afternoon and saw quite a few shorebirds. The juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER Calidris acuminata was in Pipe Bay with 49 Dunlins Calidris alpina - surely it can't think it's in Australia today? I didn't see the 2, 1st-winter, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS Limnodromus scolopaceus anywhere though. With the water level rising, many of the birds are relocating around the lake and even the 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa which I first saw in Holt Bay, were at Pipe Bay later. I spotted 8 Dunlins Calidris alpina at Burmah Road feeding with lots of Eurasian Teal Anas crecca and Wigeon Anas penelope up the bank on the wet marginal mud. We saw 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Cheddar Water while out on our walk and this afternoon I saw the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Holt Farm fields, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina in Holt Bay and 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End.

According to Bristol Waters website yesterday, Blagdon Lake rose 5% to 48% full (49% Dec 2010) during the last week.

Thursday 15th December [Wintry showers]

The juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER Calidris acuminata appeared in Pipe Bay again this morning according to birders I met at the Lodge. Keith Vinicombe and I'd counted 33 Dunlins Calidris alpina there earlier and we also saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucosis at Cheddar Water, 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Holt Farm fields, the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis in Holt Bay, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina off Rainbow Point, 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa in Wood Bay and 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End, while looking for the Sharpie. But, when we got back to the Lodge the shorebirds had all flushed just before we arrived.

I went back down to the lake early in the afternoon and eventually caught up with the Sharpie in front of the Fishing Lodge with 14 Dunlins until 1510 hrs when I went home again. While I was watching it this afternoon, I was struck by how much more prominent the two greyish Vs over the mantle and scapulars were than when it first arrived in mid-November.

Friday 16th December [Mainly sunny]

This morning the juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER Calidris acuminata was in front of the Fishing Lodge with 29 Dunlins Calidris alpina and a few of us watched it in good light, but the waders flushed just before 1100 hrs and flew around for five minutes or so before a Peregrine Falco peregrinus appeared low over the water chasing a lone Dunlin separated from the flock, which it missed. While I was watching the chase, the rest of the flock disappeared. I was at the lake until 1230 hrs but didn't see them again. There was a Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres which joined the flock in flight and that came back with the lone Dunlin that escaped the Peregrine. Has the Sharpie finally gone? Steve Preddy texted me at 1355 hrs to say he hadn't seen it either. I met with two ladies and they joined me on a quick check around the rest of the lake. We saw the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis off Burmah Road, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina off Rainbow Point, 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa on Wood Bay Point and 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End. Afterwards I filled the bird feeders and saw the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus fly in and land in Holt Bay and the 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucosis back at Cheddar Water.

Tomorrow is WeBS Count Day. I think dabbling duck numbers are starting to drop now that the water level is rising fast. We'll see.

Saturday 17th December [Mainly sunny with a biting wind]

There was no sign of the juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER Calidris acuminata at the lake this morning while we were doing the WeBS Count. Highlights included 8 Goosanders Mergus merganser (2 drakes and 6 redheads, all adults) in Butcombe Bay, 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Holt Farm fields, the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis in Holt Bay, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina off Rainbow Point, the adult Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis in Rugmoor Bay, a Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa at Bell's Bush and 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End. The rest of the count is on the WeBS Counts page.

Sunday 18th December [Lovely and sunny but a chilly wind]

I met a birding group, Paul Williams and Ian White lakeside today. The group reported a dog walker flushing birds at Top End so I drove down to investigate and spoke to a guy who shouldn't have been there. I saw 6 adult-type Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Bell's Bush, but no sign of 'Saruni', 'Sarune' and their youngsters but I found out later that they were at Chew this morning. So, we would appear to have two new birds which I shall check out tomorrow, if it isn't raining too hard.

Ian White was using the feeders to try and get some photos of the visiting birds and sent me this beautiful portrait of a European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis. You can see more of Ians excellent work at Ian White's Photostream.

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, Lodge © Ian White, 2011

I saw the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus in Wood Bay, the adult drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina off Rainbow Point, 16 Dunlins Calidris alpina at the Lodge and no fewer than 8 Goosanders Mergus merganser, though quite possibly 11 or more. The few gulls in front of the Lodge included an adult-type Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis, the first this month. Note the adult colour of the mantle and wings of this species is very similar to Common Gull, darker than Black-headed and Herring Gulls, but clearly paler than the accompanying Lesser Black-backed Gull. I had another check for a Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus that has got a white or yellow darvic ring that I've seen twice but not been able to read either time. I didn't see it today.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis, Lodge © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

The other birders reported seeing the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis, the adult Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis and a single Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa, none of which I saw.

Monday 19th December [Dismal, grey with steady rain]

There are 12 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End with 'Saruni' and her family back from Chew. I don't recognise the two new adults and they don't appear to be ringed, so if it stops raining tomorrow I will try to get some pictures. It was just too wet to stand around today. I saw the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis in Holt Bay but no sign of the drake Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were on the east side of Holt Farm, and a field on the west side (adjacent to Park Lane) contained the majority of the Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus flock and no less than 9 Common Buzzards Buteo buteo, presumably drawn in to hunt for worms brought to the surface by the rain. There were 24 Dunlins Calidris alpina at the Lodge, but no sign of the Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa or Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucosis. Likewise, although I did spend some time in the rain scoping the north side of the lake, I didn't see the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis either.

New birds included 6 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clagula (3 adult drakes and 3 brownheads) over on the north shore and a Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Long Bay. I also saw a Green Woodpecker Picus viridis at Wood Bay, an unusual spot for any woodpecker.

Tuesday 20th December [Grey with 'spits and spots' of rain - don't you just hate that phrase?]

The water level is still rising and sadly the birds are gradually clearing out. The 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was in Holt Bay again today and there were 16 Dunlins Calidris alpina at Polish Water by the Lodge. There appeared to be fewer Canada Geese Branta canadensis on Holt Farm fields today and I couldn't see the Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus anywhere. Only 8 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii remain at Top End; 'Saruni', 'Sarune' and their 4 juveniles plus 'Morton' and an unidentified individual. I can't see them hanging around long enough to help boost the New Years Day list at this rate. The only other notables were some Goosanders Mergus merganser at the head of Butcome Bay. I saw 2 adult drakes from the dam but didn't scope the bay to count redheads. I also saw a Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Top End that flew to Long Bay later.

Chris Vines emailed to say he'd walked from the dam to Wood Bay and back this morning and had seen the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Holt Farm first thing, but not thereafter. He also reported good numbers of Eurasian Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula.

Paul Williams emailed to tell me he'd had a quick look around Butcombe Bay at lunchtime and seen a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucosis, a pair of Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula and what seems to be the same 8 Goosanders Mergus merganser we spotted on Saturday during the WeBS Count (2 adult males and 6 adult females).

Finally, Julia Newth emailed from WWT Slimbridge to say that 'Winkey' (and presumably 'Winker') were back for Christmas, which explains why we're missing some Bewick's Swans today at Blagdon. Thanks to all my correspondents for their news.

Wednesday 21st December [Mainly overcast but milder]

I saw 14 Dunlins Calidris alpina at Polish Water by the Lodge today and while I was checking through the gulls the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis flew around Green Lawn and into Long Bay. While I was scanning the Top End from Rainbow Point the Canada / Barnacle Goose flock flew into Wood Bay from the fields on the east side of Holt Farm. A little while later I noticed that the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus had joined them although they kept well away from me on Wood Bay Point! I counted 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End ('Winkey' and 'Winker' were missing) and managed to get some distant shots of the 'pair' that I haven't managed to identify, when they flew up to Wood Bay. They definitely have no rings on their legs so we may never know their identity, unless my pictures are good enough to allow Julia Newth or Steve Heaven (WWT) to identify them. Julia emailed back to say they are 'Jonitor' and 'Willows' and arrived on 20th at WWT Slimbridge - as I saw them at Blagdon today, they must be commuting.

Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii 'Jonitor' & 'Willows', Wood Bay © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

New in today were a pair of adult Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna that were feeding along the shoreline at Bell's Bush and I heard and saw no less than 5 Northern Ravens Corvus corax in flight over the lake and adjacent farmland.

The Grey Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis, bless 'em, have seen off the sunflower heart feeder at the Lodge already, but because it is attracting lots of birds I will replace it and put the nut feeder up that Mike Gillet made especially for the purpose.

The fisheries guys found a dead "parrot" in front of the Lodge at the beginning of the month and jokingly popped it into a tree for me to 'find'. Sadly, as bright as it was, I missed it! Anyway, I saw a wing and a few red feathers a few days back thanks to a couple of visiting birders who thought it may have been an escaped Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius. I suggested this to John Harris who looked it up on Google and he agreed that it probably was.

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight in Lodge Copse (10 Celsius, 2015 - 0800 hrs) and caught the following:

Thursday 22nd December [Breezy but mild and cloudy] WINTER EQUINOX

The 14 Dunlins Calidris alpina were still at Polish Water by the Lodge at lunchtime. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were feeding alone in a clover field east of Holt Farm when I arrived at the lake but had moved to Holt Bay later. I didn't see the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis, but she has become quite efficient at avoiding my gaze recently! I expect she's still around. I counted 8 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii asleep at Bell's Bush and an email from Julia Newth while writing this, tells me that 'Morton' has gone back to WWT Slimbridge today (presumably with its friend the unidentified swan). So I reckon we're left with 'Saruni', 'Sarune' and family, plus 'Jonitor' and 'Willows'.

An adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis was with some other large gulls on the shore at Burmah Road and I saw a single female Goosander Mergus merganser diving off Spinney Point.

The water level continues to rise and has almost reached the tangle of trees at Top End. Bristol Water must be quietly relieved that the reservoirs are starting to fill and according to their website today, Blagdon Lake rose 6% to 54% full (49% Dec 2010) during the last week. There's a long way to go yet though.

I collected the Heath Trap I ran overnight at Lodge Copse and have posted the results below - you always record moths on the date the trap was set, in this case the 21st. The December Moth Poecilocampa populi was a new site record.

December Moth Poecilocampa populi, Lodge Copse © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Friday 23rd December [Rain swept in at lunchtime on a strong breeze]

A RED LETTER DAY; A WHOOPER SWAN PAYS A BRIEF VISIT - THE FIRST ACCEPTABLE SIGHTING SINCE 1965

I received a text from Keith Vinicombe saying Rupert Higgins had found a Whooper Swan at Chew Valley Lake this morning. That put me on high alert, so I sank deeper into the bath foam after my cycle ride and kept reading my book! Then, just as I was drifting off, Rich Mielcarek rang at 1317 hrs to say 6 Bewick's and the Whooper Swan had flown and were possibly heading towards Blagdon. That made me sit up. So a few minutes later I was out of the bath and ready to drive down to the lake. When I got there I drove along to Rainbow Point and had a quick scan with my bins and was disappointed to see hardly any white blobs at Top End. Then, 5 swans appeared in my field of view flying low over the water towards me. I jumped out of the car in time to see 4 adult Bewicks Cygnus columbianus bewickii and an adult Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus fly over my head, gain height and drift SW over Blagdon village and away at 1350 hrs. The 2 other Bewicks Swans that had flown from Chew were still at Top End on Wookey Point when I got there and at least one was a regular that has been around for a while. I guess the other birds must have landed there briefly but decided to move on due to the high water level. 'Saruni' and her family have gone too. Zippity-doo-dah, what a wonderful day!

The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were on the east side of Holt Farm alongside the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock, the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was diving in the entrance to Holt Bay and the Dunlin Calidris alpina flock had swollen to 17 in front of the Fishing Lodge. There was also a, probable juvenile, female Peregrine Falco peregrinus flying about over Rainbow Point and would have given me some excellent flight shots had it not been for the rain. She even made some playful passes at a 1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus, but certainly had Eurasian Teal Anas crecca in her sights by the looks of it, making several low-level attacks on birds feeding along the water's edge.

Sunday 25th December [Cloudy and mild] CHRISTMAS DAY

I went down to change and fill the bird feeders at lunchtime and saw an adult winter-plumaged Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus in front of the Fishing Lodge, the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis at the entrance to Holt Bay and 8 Bewick's Swnas Cygnus columbianus bewickii (Saruni, Sarune and family, plus Willows and Jonitor). There was no sign of the Pinkfeet Anser brachyrhynchus but there were fewer Canada Geese Branta canadensis so they may have been out of sight on the farm, or, over at Chew perhaps? There was still a pair of Northern Pintails Anas acuta at Top End.

In this crazy mixed-up season, I saw two Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria plants in flower today at the Fishing Lodge entrance gate.

Monday 26th December [Cloudy and mild] BOXING DAY

The 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was as difficult as ever today, but I eventually located her off Rainbow Point when checking there for the second time. There were 8 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End, presumably the same group as yesterday, 11 Dunlins Calidris alpina on Tiny's Shallow, right out on the point, 2 redhead Goosanders Mergus merganser off the Spillway and at least 9 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, including 3 adult drakes that were displaying wildly as the group came together to roost at dusk. It took so long trying to find the Long-tailed Duck that I ran out of time to check the gulls in the small roost. Again, there was no sign of the Pinkfeet Anser brachyrhynchus with the Canada Geese Branta canadensis, but 2 feral Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis were with them, as they were yesterday.

Tuesday 27th December [Grey and mild]

There were 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucosis at Cheddar Water, where there were also 2 Goosanders Mergus merganser (an adult drake and female), 6 Dunlins Calidris alpina at the Fishing Lodge, the 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis at the entrance to Holt Bay, the adult Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis in Rugmoor Bay, 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on the east side of Holt Farm in the clover field, 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End ('Jonitor' and 'Willows') and 19 mobile Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis.

Wednesday 28th December [Cloudy with showers]

No news from the lake today.

I was thinking yesterday that for those of you who may wish to see the Long-tailed Duck and / or the Slavonian Grebe, the best vantage point would probably be Rugmoor gate (to the north shore - remember there is no access along this side in the winter). The Slav has been favouring the bay and shore in front of the gate (looking towards the dam) and the Long-tail is usually somewhere around Rainbow Point (the one opposite with the Poplar trees on it) or slightly to the right in Holt Bay (the one with the wooden pilings along the bank). This would save a lengthy walk from either end of the lake. With the water level back up it may also be worth a check from Top End hide and a careful scan from behind the Fishing Lodge (you will flush everything if you walk out in front).

As December draws to a close, it's probably safe to say that we have never had a year like 2011. The autumn period was especially good at the Bristol reservoirs, chiefly Chew it must be said, but I can't complain about Blagdon, even though the variety of shorebirds wasn't all that it might have been given the low water conditions. Nevertheless, we did have SEVEN new additions to the Blagdon Bird List, if you include the two obvious escapes and pending Cackler. Given that birds have been recorded at the lake since the turn of last century that's remarkable by any standard:

I also managed to rack up an additional four new species for my list, three of which have not occurred for a very long time at the lake:

All in all, I've got records for 148 species in 2011 (144 spp. 2010) so far. Obvious omissions include Yellow Wagtail, Cetti's Warbler and Eurasian Stonechat, while the rapidly declining Common Cuckoo only just made it onto the list.

It's tempting to try and guess what might be the next species to make it onto the list, but so much is dependent on water level. Northern Fulmar, Night Heron, Glossy Ibis, Spotted Sandpiper, Caspian Gull and perhaps Yellow-browed Warbler all ought to be on the list before too long and the American 'peeps' are poorly represented, though we'd probably need Chew to be full to get one of them to drop in!

Thanks to everyone who sent me records and rang me up to tell me there are birds flying towards the lake from Chew etc. I've enjoyed meeting lots of interesting people at the lake in 2011, including many old friends, among whom I'd particularly like to wish Mervyn Pearce and Sue Caola better health in the coming year. I would like to get the Moth List up over 400 in 2012, continue with invertebrate recording and possibly start looking at the aquatic life in a bit more detail. So, watch this space!

Thursday 29th December

No news from the lake today.

Friday 30th December [Grey, dismal and wet]

Sean Davies emailed me the following news, following a visit this morning:

The 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was in Holt Bay, the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were with the Canada Geese Branta canadensis and 19 feral Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis on Holt Farm fields, the adult Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis was off Rugmoor Point and 2 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were at Top End still. He also spotted the 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucosis, a Goosander Mergus merganser, 8 Dunlins Calidris alpina, 9 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula and 2 Northern Pintails Anas acuta. Thanks Sean.

There were very few gulls late in the afternoon, but I did count 12 Dunlins in front of the Fishing Lodge and saw one of the Common Sandpipers at Cheddar Water by the south corner of the dam.

Saturday 31st December [Cloudy, breezy and mild]

Well, I didn't manage to add any new species this morning during my visit, so it looks like 148 is going to be the total for 2011. The 1st-winter female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was off Holt Bay and the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis was in Rugmoor Bay towards Peg's Point. So, both would be easily visible to year-listers trawling around for those extra species tomorrow, by viewing with a scope from Rugmoor entrance gate at ST524595 (no permit or long walk required). There were 10 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End, including the usual family party, 5 Dunlins Calidris alpina in front of the Lodge where there were also 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis loafing with the other gulls. I saw an adult drake Goosander Mergus merganser through my scope at the far end of Butcombe Bay from the dam and an adult female in Home Bay. If you want to get Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea on your day list tomorrow as well, then the feeder at Ubley Hatchery is very reliable and there were two visiting within a few minutes of my re-filling it. I didn't connect with the Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus this morning, but I will be checking very thoroughly tomorrow morning, bright and early, in an attempt to try and eclipse my 56 spp. noted at the lake on New Year's Day this year.

As an illustration of how mild it is, there was a Wasp Vespula sp. flying around in the Top End hide this morning. Amazing!