December 2012 News

Site Updates; I am currently uploading some of my database information in the Bird Info section particularly the dates of rare species. David Cottle, John Aldridge and Andy Davis have been providing some clarification for points raised in the species accounts for which I am most grateful. If you can help with any of the outstanding issues raised please contact me. I would dearly love to put the definitive account of the birds of Blagdon lake together on this site for future reference. I will list outstanding questions in the next few days.

I've finished putting a selection of wildlife photos taken in the Seychelles, including birds, on my photographic website now. If you're any good at Sandplover identification, I'd be interested to hear what you think about the identity of the birds I've included. The same goes for the female Frigatebirds!

Updated 20 December, 2012

Recent Rarity Highlights; Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitchers (2), Ring-necked Duck, Ferruginous Duck, Lesser Scaup, Squacco Heron, Richardson's Cackling Goose, Great White Egret.

Updated 20 December, 2012

Saturday 1st December

SEYCHELLES DIARY: Today, I visited the Vallee de Mai, a World Heritage Site, and home to the endemic Coco de Mer Lodoicea maldivica palm tree with its gigantic fan-shaped leaves which can grow to 14 metres in length, and its very feminine-shaped nut, formed inside the largest seed in the world that can be up to 20 kg in weight. The ravine is home to 5 of the 6 endemic Seychelles palms and 3 of the 4 endemic pandans or screwpines. The pandanus fruit is a particular favourite of the Seychelles Fruit Bat Pteropus seychellensis. Nearly all the endemic palms grow long spines on the lower stems of young leaves, apparently an adaptation to discourage browsing by Giant Land Tortoises which evolved alongside them on the remnants of Gondwanaland, but which no longer roam the forests of Praslin. Introduced plants growing in the vallee, include Jackfruit Artocarpus heterophyllus and Vanilla Vanilla planifolia but it was, nevertheless, a riot of palm trees and epiphytes very reminescent of an era, millions of years ago, when palms predominated in the primaeval landscape.

At the entrance I saw a Tenrec Tenrec ecaudatus, an introduced species from Madagascar, that looks a bit like a hedgehog, but which was unfortunately frightened off by a rather noisy group of tourists. The vallee is also an excellent site to see the Seychelles Black Parrot Coracopsis nigra barklyi, of which I saw no fewer than 3 during the walk with my fantastic guide Juliet. I've uploaded some more photos from the visit, though apologise in advance for the less than perfect quality of some, due to the low light and lack of a flash gun under the forest canopy. My sister Ruth and her husband Samir, who are travelling with me, had their Canon fail while on Bird Island, so they've bought a point-and-shoot camera which they have used to provide me with some fill-in scenery shots (each acknowledged in its caption).

The north-west monsoon seems to be late this year and the whole place is really dry, consequently invertebrates are very scarce, as is the little tree frog that I'd hoped to see.

Monday 3rd December

SEYCHELLES DIARY: I made the return trip to Cousin this morning but there were 33 other visitors as well, who were split into two groups with English and French speaking guides. Unfortunately, I had a number of Russian tourists in my group who were a bit of nightmare, to put it mildly. We saw most of the same species that we had on Aride though the opportunities for photography were virtually non-existant this time, with the group we had. One of the women asked if she could have her picture taken sitting on 'George', said to be the world's oldest Giant Land Tortoise (circa 150 years old)! Another collected a skirt full of shells having already been told it was not permitted because Hermit Crabs cannot find suitable living quarters without them. So she put the shells down when asked to, then hung around at the back of the group and furtively collected more, which she slipped into her husbands bag - it almost defied belief. As you can probably tell, my tour wasn't the most uplifting wildlife experience... I felt sorry for the guide, who did his best, but who was probably less than enthralled by the lack of respect shown by some of the people he had to show around.

On the positive side, the work being done there by the conservation team, despite the tourists, is undoubtedly helping the wildlife and the landing fee of 500 Seychelles Rupees (about £25) per person must go some way to funding the conservation effort. However, like so many eco-tourism projects, there is a delicate balance to be struck between showing tourists the place and disturbing the wildlife. Cousin held the last remaining population of Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis and was made a nature reserve in 1968 having been bought by BirdLife International with the aim of saving the species. It also has the highest density of lizards per hectare in the world. The island was a coconut plantation, so that was cleared and the original vegetation restored. Today, it is managed by Nature Seychelles, a not-for-profit association founded in 1998 with the primary objective of improving the conservation of local biodiversity and employing Seychellois staff. We did see the warbler but nowhere as well as I had on Aride.

The only new thing for me today were the large Bonefish swimming around our boat over the reef while we waited for the island crew to come out and pick us up. Some were over a metre in length and would have excited the angling fraternity (especially Malcolm), but of course, they are in protected waters so close to the island.

Wednesday 4th December

SEYCHELLES DIARY: It was my last full day on Praslin today and I'd hoped to spend the afternoon photographing Seychelles Fruit Bats from a high vantage point I'd found in the hills, but the long-awaited rains came and put pay to that idea, unfortunately. I had to be content with some more Black Parrot sightings around the Coco de Mer hotel at Consolation and a Bridled Tern off the beach, none of which showed well enough for decent pictures except a Black Parrot I saw yesterday morning when I wasn't carrying my long lens!

Juliet, who showed us around the Vallee de Mai, had told us that the Coco de Mer channels rain water down the huge leaves to the trunk which then flows to the ground around the roots. While I sheltered from one of the downpours that fell while I was out on the hill, I sheltered under a Coco de Mer and was able to watch this rain capturing system in action, with water gushing down the trunk, while I kept perfectly dry.

There's no news from the lake to report.

Friday 7th December [Sun early, clouding over in the afternoon]

Nice to be back and great to be able to report that I found an adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis off Hellfire Corner at around midday. It wasn't in the easiest position to see well, but I eventually got good enough views around 1250 hrs and rang the news out to Rare Bird Alert. Richard Mielcarek came over from Chew to see it and told me the Chew bird had been seen for the last time on the 16th November. I checked Blagdon until the 20th November, when I went away, but it hadn't arrived by then. So, assuming it is the same bird, we don't know where it's been in between the two sightings. However, a word of warning, there is a drake Aythya hybrid Tufted x Pochard in the same general area that is about the same size as a Common Pochard Aythya ferina and has an extensive black-tipped bill, unlike the genuine bird which has a black nail only.

I also saw an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis during my visit and counted 7 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, 13 (introduced) Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock which still contained the neck-collared bird 'DL'. There was also a flock of about 20 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus in the Alders at Hellfire Corner while Rich and I were watching the Lesser Scaup.

Saturday 8th December [Cold and sunny]

I met another birder who asked if the Black-necked Grebe was still present and told him it had gone a while ago. I went around the corner at Long Bay and what should be there but a Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis. It looks like a different bird, probably a juvenile. The adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis was feeding off Hellfire Corner trees again, as was the drake Aythya hybrid. It should be visible, but distant, from the gate at Rugmoor if you haven't got a permit. If you have, look from Bell's Bush.

52 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flew up off the north end of the dam and I saw one, or two, calling Lesser Redpolls Carduelis cabaret in flight at Wood Bay and Bell's Bush. There were small flocks of winter thrushes on Holt Farm with Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris and a couple of Eurasian Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus paying them some attention. Neck-collared Canada Goose Branta canadensis 'DL' from Cotswold Water Park was still present in the flock and I saw the Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula with blue nasal saddle '34' from France, off Indian Country too.

A large black and white dog came flying across the fields from Grove Farm, Nempnett Thrubwell, at lunchtime in hot pursuit of a young male Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus. I watched them run over 300 metres, come through the hedge onto BW land and disappear into the wood at Indian Country. I guess the outcome probably wasn't all that good for the deer. I didn't see anyone with the dog, so I suppose its just another 'out of control animal' rather than deliberate poaching, but if you see anything suspicious like this, please report it to the Police.

The gulls were spread well down the lake from the dam in the roost this evening making viewing a bit distant. I didn't pick out anything unusual and felt that the number of large gulls has dropped a bit since I went away, though I didn't count them.

Sunday 9th December [Cloudy and slightly milder]

The adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis was still off Hellfire Corner with the large Aythya flock at lunchtime, as was the adultAythya hybrid. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis had relocated to Pipe Bay where it was showing close to the bank, viewed from over the roadside hedge. There are some Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus visiting the Alders, but a notable lack of small passerines in the hedges and copses. There were hardly any Canadas Branta canadensis at the lake today and the neck-collared bird was not among the small group present, but I did spot the adult Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula with blue nasal saddle '34' off Indian Country again.

I reported seeing an unseasonal Cowslip Primula veris in flower at Wood Bay on 18th October and it was still in flower today! Bizarre, or what?

Monday 10th December [Bright and sunny]

There was barely a cloud in the sky all morning, so I took my 600mm telephoto lens down to the lake hoping to get some decent shots of the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis and Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis. Both were still present, the Lesser Scaup viewable from Bell's Bush and the grebe in Pipe Bay, though the latter was feeding and working its way towards the Lodge when I left at 1130 hrs. Frustratingly from a photgraphic point of view, both birds were too far out for any frame-fillers. The adultAythya hybrid was feeding close to the Lesser Scaup and the neck-collared Canada Goose Branta canadensis 'DL' was back on the lake again.

Black-necked Grebe and Lesser Scaup record shots © Nigel Milbourne, 2012

Paul Williams emailed late this afternoon to say the Black-necked Grebe was in Long Bay again at 1400 hrs and a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis flew past the Lodge towards the dam.

Tuesday 11th December [Bright then foggy]

I didn't get to the lake until late afternoon when it was too foggy to look for the Lesser Scaup. There was some evidence of ice in the more sheltered bays, though a breeze had sprung up by dusk and is likely to prevent formation in the main body of the lake tonight. Paul Williams and I each saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Long Bay during the day and Paul reported that a Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major was 'defending' the Lodge feeders, though he did see a couple of Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus visiting when they got the chance, along with the 'usual fare', as he put it.

Wednesday 12th December [Sunny all day]

Paul Williams and I went to look for the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis at lunchtime and found it in the usual place off Hellfire Corner, viewed from Bell's Bush (look to the left). The adultAythya hybrid was further over towards Rugmoor Point and the Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula with blue nasal band '34' was off Rugmoor Point too. On the way back to the Lodge I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Long Bay, though I haven't had a chance to see what I managed to capture yet. There were a lot of gulls gathering for the roost early in the afternoon, including good numbers of Herring Gulls Larus argentatus.

Thursday 13th December [Cold and grey]

The adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis was still off Bell's Bush / Hellfire Corner late this afternoon and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Long Bay. I checked through the large gull roost at dusk but couldn't see any 'white-wingers' or 'yellow-legs'. There were lots of big gulls and many Common Gulls Larus canus appeared to have settled here rather than flying off Chew as they usually seem to. I'll have to get the clickers out and have a count over the weekend - it is WeBS time anyway.

I walked with some friends from Shepton Mallet to Chantry for 7 miles along the East Mendip Way today and was really pleased to see a pair of Marsh Tits Poecile palustris in Asham Wood (ST7046) and a Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola flushed from the roadside by a passing car at Waterlip (ST6544). I don't recall seeing either species on Mendip this year, until today.

Friday 14th December [Much milder with rain all day]

The adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis had moved slightly west along the Burmah Road stretch this morning and wasn't so readily visible from Bell's Bush. The adultAythya hybrid was feeding with the Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula over towards Rugmoor Point and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Long Bay as usual.

I saw quite a few winter thrushes flying around, mainly moving north-east, and there were at least 35 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca in Long Bay, though they flushed when I pulled up in my vehicle! I counted about 30 Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo fishing together and ranging around the lake from the dam to Rugmoor. A flock of 65 flew in when I was at the lake on Wednesday, but I didn't see from which direction. Many of them have their white breeding plumage thigh patches already and are probably of the continental race P.c. sinensis.

Saturday 15th December [Mild with sunny spells]

It was WeBS day and Roy Curber, Terry Doman, Lucy Delve and I enjoyed an interesting count, though we missed Phil Delve who was unwell. Highlights were the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis (and adultAythya hybrid for comparison), the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis and an adult winter Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus. Common Coot Fulica atra and Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula counts were still quite high for the time of year. We didn't see any Little Grebes Tachybaptus ruficollis and very few Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, so unless they've moved on, we'll have to assume they remained hidden from view. I didn't count the gulls and will do a roost count tomorrow. Full details on the WeBS Counts page.

Sunday 16th December [Sunshine and showers]

I made a quick visit at lunchtime and saw both the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis and adultAythya hybrid from Burmah Road, while the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was feeding in Long Bay where it seems to have settled for the last few days. The adult Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula with blue nasal saddle '34' was off Rugmoor Point but the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock seems to have moved away to Chew Valley Lake, where Keith Vinicombe told me he saw over 200 last Thursday. It'd be interesting to hear if anyone sees the bird with the orange neck collar 'DL' among them.

The gull roost wasn't especially large this evening, perhaps because it's milder, and I counted 768 Black-headed Chroicocephalus ridibundus, 57 Herring Larus argentatus and 20 Lesser Black-backed Larus fuscus and a lone Common Gull Larus canus. The usual 3 Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus were undoubtedly around too. The roost contained at least two or three times the number, especially Herring Gulls, when the weather was very cold at the beginning of last week. Yesterday, we had a fall of Common Gulls, probably over 500, at Top End from the Mendip fields to bathe around lunchtime and it was with them that the reported Mediterranean Gull arrived, as is so often the case.

Monday 17th December [Sunny spells and showers with a cold wind by the water]

There was a bitter wind blowing by the lake and having seen the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Long Bay and taken quite a while to locate the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis off Hellfire Corner I wasn't minded to stand around trying to find the Aythya hybrid too. I counted 45 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope which is more representative than the 18 we managed to see on Saturdays count. I also found 3 Little Grebes Tachybaptus ruficollis which I knew to be present but which also kept hidden on Saturday. I just missed the Common Gulls Larus canus coming in to wash at Top End, there were large numbers spiralling away from the lake towards Ubley village.

Tuesday 18th December [A beautiful sunny day]

The adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis was off Hellfire Corner late this afternoon on a mirror calm lake and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was feeding in Long Bay. I didn't see anything else unusual, including in the gull roost where I counted 71 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus.

Wednesday 19th December [Drizzle on an easterly breeze]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Long Bay and the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis off Hellfire Corner as usual. I also spotted the adult Aythya hybrid over towards Rugmoor Point too. There is quite a large flock of Fieldfares Turdus pilaris, Redwings Turdus iliacus and Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris roaming around the fields of Holt Farm with a sizeable flock (circa 200) of Common Woodpigeons Columba palumbus feeding at the west end of the farm and flying to the lakeside trees to roost.

Thursday 20th December [Persistent rain and drizzle]

The fields are completely waterlogged and running off onto the roads causing localised flooding. Top End is coloured up thanks to the red soil being brought in by the Yeo but aside from some of the dabbling ducks which have relocated most of the diving ducks and Common Coots Fulica atra are still spread all over. The most notable thing on todays visit was the 1500 or so Common Gulls Larus canus feeding on Holt Farm fields and periodically flying onto the lake to bathe. I spent an hour or so 'grilling' them but couldn't find anything unusual among them. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Long Bay and the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis still off Hellfire Corner, with the adult Aythya hybrid off Burmah Road.

Paul Williams reported seeing a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the north end of the dam today.

Friday 21st December [Rain then overcast]

I don't apologise for being repetitive, it's nice to have some good birds on the lake, so I'm happy to report that the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis was feeding off Hellfire Corner with the adult Aythya hybrid asleep not far away and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was actively feeding in Long Bay again late this afternoon. While I was checking the gulls I had the pleasure of meeting Bill English once more, with whom I finished off the day enjoying great views of a hunting Barn Owl Tyto alba on the south side of the lake. A lovely way to end a rather dismal day indoors, out of the rain, researching the Pied-billed Grebe species account for the Bird Info section of the website.

Saturday 22nd December [Persistent, steady, rain all day. Mild.]

It wasn't a day for birdwatching at Blagdon today! With no suitable viewing from hides and the access closed I'm not surprised I didn't meet anyone. The adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis was off Hellfire Corner and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was feeding on the west side of Long Bay in the clearer water, rather than the highly coloured water on the east side (by the road) where it usually feeds. Having found them and had a cursory look around I headed home to dry out. This year has certainly been one of extremes - near drought conditions for the first three months and monsoon conditions ever since!

Sunday 23rd December [Dry]

The adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis was close to the bank at Bell's Bush late this afternoon and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in the same place as yesterday. There were 30 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope feeding at the dam and, unusually, 2 Common Buzzards Buteo buteo on the dam too.

I've received a reply from the BTO about the headless Mute Swan Cygnus olor that I found on 15th April 2012 and it turns out that it was ringed by the RSPCA as age at least 2 years, sex unknown on 24th December 2002 at St Georges Park, Bristol.

Monday 24th December [Showers]

I'd hoped to get some shots of the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis today when the cloud lifted and rain stopped early this afternoon but, unfortunately, it was back in it's usual spot off Hellfire Corner and just a dot hidden behind the focusing point in the viewfinder! There were 2 adult Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna at Top End and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was still feeding on the west side of Long Bay.

Tuesday 25th December Christmas Day

Male Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis, St Lawrence Island, Alaska © Nigel Milbourne, 2012

I managed a quick whizz around this morning and filled the bird feeders, during which time I saw the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis off Hellfire Corner and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Long Bay.

Wednesday 26th December

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Long Bay today (pers. comm., Phil Smith).

Saturday 29th December

I wasn't able to visit the lake again today, but I read that the 'Lesser Scaup' reported at Cheddar is a hybrid (probably the Blagdon bird, which I hadn't seen for a few days before Christmas). I will visit tomorrow and bring you up-to-date with the news as the year draws to a close.

Sunday 30th December [Mainly dry, with some wintery showers]

The adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis was off Hellfire Corner again today but there was no sign of the Aythya hybrid. Likewise, I couldn't find the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis either, despite a careful search of Long, Home and Pipe Bays. It's possible that it has relocated somewhere else at the lake, though Phil Smith told me he'd seen it on Boxing Day in Long Bay when we met this morning. Aside from the Lesser Scaup, there isn't much else of note on the lake despite the good numbers of wildfowl present. Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus were calling at Lodge Copse.

Monday 31st December [Showers]

Well, good news for all the New Year's Day listers, the adult LESSER SCAUP Aythya affinis is still present today off Hellfire Corner, although a little further out than usual (probably due to the coloured water). Again, no sign of the Black-necked Grebe but I plan to have a blitz in the morning to list as many species as I can, so if it's still around I'll put the word out. For those of you without permits and who are flying around listing, the best place to get a quick view will be from the Rugmoor entrance gate. Look south (directly across the lake) towards the far bank and search the area between Bell's Bush and Rainbow Point. As far as I can tell, it's the only Tufty-like duck with a grey back on the lake at present, but do check to see that the bird you're looking for hasn't got a bill that looks like it's been dipped in ink! If you have got a permit and the time, walk in 0.5 mile from the Ubley entrance to Bell's Bush and view from there. It's usually off to the left and about 100-200 metres from the bank. Good luck!