BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

December 2015 News

A blog of sightings and up-to-date news from the lakeside


Tuesday 1st December [Mainly overcast but at least the wind had dropped]

Yaay! I found 2, possibly 3, Water Pipits Anthus spinoletta at Top End today. These are only my second record at Blagdon. The 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were off Ash Tree (view from Rainbow Point), and just 3 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were still present (ByBrook, Keynell and their cygnet). I counted 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, but there may have been more present, 18 Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis at the Lodge, and at least 160 Common Pochards Aythya ferina. Also present was the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid in Wood Bay.

The water level is given as 62% on the Bristol Water website for today.

Wednesday 2nd December [Quite a pleasant day by recent standards]

I didn't spot the Water Pipits again today, but they could have been present among a lot of passerines along the Burmah Road shore which wasn't easily visible at close range. There were 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis still present at the lake, as I'd suspected, and the 3 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were also at Top End. Less expected was a Great White Egret Ardea alba ranging around the various bays, and at least 4 very mobile Little Egrets Egretta garzetta that made it hard to decide just how many were present. The adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid remains in Wood Bay.

As might have been expected, the colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa that was present from 27th-31st October was ringed in Iceland. Now I'm waiting for its life-history details to be sent.

Thursday 3rd December [Another breezy overcast day]

I had a walk to Top End and back during which I saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba, 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, a single Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, and the family of 3 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii (which may have flown off around 1500 hrs). The adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid was in Wood Bay, and pair of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus in Butcombe Bay. Of most excitment for me though, was seeing a ♂ Brambling Fringilla montifringilla among the large flock of Chaffinches in the roadside trees just north of the dam.

On the subject of the ringed Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit present at Blagdon from 27th-31st October, did anyone else write down the ring combinations or take any pictures of it? It seems that a bird with a similar ring combination reported by me and Paul Williams was seen in the West of Ireland on 25th October and 1st November. Curious!

Friday 4th December [Sunny spells]

I only visited the lake this morning to put bird food out for the finch flock, but didn't stay as I went to the Exe estuary with Robin Williams. However, Paul Williams had a look around the dam end at lunchtime, and reported 2 pairs of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus. I don't have any other news from the lake today. Tomorrow morning, I'm leading a walk for Bath RSPB group so will report back afterwards.

Here are some shots of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa taken at Bowling Green Marsh this morning:

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa bathing, RSPB Bowling Green Marsh © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa, RSPB Bowling Green Marsh © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa with bling, RSPB Bowling Green Marsh © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Saturday 5th December [Dry, grey and blustery.]

I led a lovely group from Bath RSPB today and we spent 4.5 hours lakeside amassing a list of 62 spp. (excluding the Bullfinch I didn' see). Pick of the bunch were 5 adult (3♂, 2♀) Goosanders Mergus merganser, 4 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis (we didn't look for the other bird), a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, and a flock of about 15 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus (at Hellfire Corner). I have entered the list on BirdTrack.

Sunday 6th December [Mild with rain in the morning. Drying later.]

I visited late afternoon, and scanning from Rainbow Point I saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba and 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, plus a grey-backed Aythya that I couldn't get a good enough view of at 1615 hrs - it was too dark. It's either the regular wintering ♂ Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid new in, or the Lesser Scaup over from Chew. The ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard was still in Wood Bay, and I saw a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser from the Lodge and 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta scattered around the shore.

Monday 7th December [Sunny and mild]

This morning I had another look for the grey-backed Aythya, it was much closer in Wood Bay, and established that it was an adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid, which is what I expected from the limited view I had yesterday. Almost alongside it was the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid! There were 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis off Wood Bay Point again, but I couldn't spot the other bird along North Shore. Also present, was a sleeping ♀-type Red Crested Pochard Netta rufina off Hellfire Corner, 8 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, 8 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 3 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, and 3 (1♂, 2♀) Goosanders Mergus merganser off the dam. Adult Herring Gull Larus argentatus 'dark blue G:P' dropped in on Tiny's Shallow, and Paul Williams spotted a juvenile with a red ring that flew off before we could read it.

The gull roost was small and consistented almost entirely of Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus this evening, in the steady south-easterly breeze. Of more interest, was the raft of 46 Great-crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus that was gathering to roost off Pipe Bay when I left at 1635 hrs.

Tuesday 8th December [Mainly sunny with a cold wind blowing up late in the day]

I only had time for a short visit late this afternoon, but I saw all 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, and both adult ♂ Aythya hybrids (see 7th Dec). I couldn't find the Red-crested Pochard. New in were 151 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus.

Paul Williams added a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Flower Corner, a pair of Goosanders Mergus merganser in Home Bay and the single ♀ Goosander off the dam (presumably the bird reported on Avon Birds). Thanks Paul.

Wednesday 9th December [Sunny in the morning. Clouding over in the afternoon. Dry.]

Although at the lakeside for about 2.5 hours this afternoon with Robin Williams, I didn't really spend much time looking for waterfowl. I did see the 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis that have been favouring the Wood Bay Point area, and 6 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta dotted around, but that was about it for the notables. Most of the Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus counted yesterday appear to have moved on. Two Eurasian Nuthatches Sitta europaea were regulars at the Ubley Hatchery nut feeder as soon as I filled it again.

John Thorogood sent me this "Spent around 90 minutes this afternoon walking beside Butcombe Bay.  Nice selection of dabbling ducks, 2 Little Egrets and a Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea along the shoreline.  On my return to the dam the (possibly) remaining pair of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were on the wall above the spillway." Thanks John.

Paul Williams added a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at Flower Corner. Cheers Paul.

Thursday 10th December [Overcast with rain in the afternoon]

I didn't visit the lake today. However, Paul Williams sent me the following sightings: ♀ Red Crested Pochard Netta rufina at Flower Corner, 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis (one each in Wood Bay and off Rumoor Point). He also added some additional sightings for Tuesday and Wednesday (see respective days).

For the last few days I've been updating the lake Bird List, turning it into a simple list and adding updated status information from the recently published Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC4). It's a rather dazzling affair because I've coloured the species names red and amber if they're on the respective lists, and added sub-species names where I've been able to as well. However, it paints a rather worrying picture... Birds on the red list have increased from 36 species in 1996 to 67 species today (27.5% of the UKs regularly occurring 244 bird species). When you include the 96 species on the amber list, together with the listed sub-species, 60% of the species on the Blagdon list are considered to be of conservation concern for one reason or another.

If any local birders have corrections or constructive comments to make, please contact me.

I was really disappointed with the rather miserable trickle of waders at the lake this autumn, especially considering the acres of exposed mud available for them to feed on, and have been forced to speculate that perhaps there just aren't the number of birds coming through any more. I hope this isn't the case, but you can't help but wonder when you look at the bigger picture painted by the report. I think perhaps too little is being done, too late, to reverse the underlying downward trend of our avifauna - and that's quite depressing to this birder! Have a look at the report: Eaton et al. Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the population status of birds in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Brit Birds 108: 708-746, Dec. 2015.

Friday 11th December [Showers around lunchtime]

There were 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis off Wood Bay Point this afternoon, and the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid was in Wood Bay. New in was a Dunlin Calidris alpina on Wookey Point and 10 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in front of the Lodge. The pair of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were in Butcombe Bay, the pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser in Home Bay, 15 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis were with the Canada Geese Branta canadensis, and I saw at least 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. Neither Paul Williams or I saw the Red-crested Pochard today. Tomorrow morning, the WeBS team will be doing the monthly count - if the weather isn't too bad!

Saturday 12th December [Blustery and overcast]

We only found the 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis on the WeBS count today, along with 3 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, the pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser, and a surprise adult ♂ Northern Pintail Anas acuta which didn't look like it was going to stick around for long. The adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid was still in Wood Bay. There were 1221 Common Coots Fulica atra, 543 Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula and 411 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca of note, but generally speaking, the wildfowl numbers are dropping quite quickly as the water level is coming up. The WeBS count (less the gull roost) is on the WeBS Page.

Sunday 13th December [Mild, overcast and still.]

Of note, there was a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Flower Corner, and the 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis off Wood Bay Point again. The adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid, 3 (1♂, 2♀) Goosanders Mergus merganser, and 6 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta were also noted, while I carried out a supplementary count of 156 Gadwall Anas strepera.

Monday 14th December [Mild, with showers.]

I had time for quite a good look around this morning, as a planned trip to Black Hole Marsh at Seaton was called off due to the weather. I saw a mobile Great White Egret Ardea alba, 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on Home Bay Point, 2 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus on Green Lawn, the pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser in Home Bay, an adult ♀ Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina, 9 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, 7 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on Wookey Point, and the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid in Wood Bay. In addition I counted 241 Mallards Anas platyrhynchos, 51 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, and 36 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeatus.

At Top End I saw 4 Roe Deer, 3 of which looked like a family group of adult ♀ with 2 well-grown young, but what was really noticeable was that the younger deer had bright white rump patches and the adult ♀ was a far more subdued buff. I presume this is an age-related difference that I haven't really noticed before. I shall have to consult my British Mammals tome.

Tuesday 15th December [A wet afternoon but very mild]

The Great White Egret Ardea alba, and 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were still present during my afternoon visit in the rain. Also noted were 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and 7 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. Then it got too dark to see anything else that might have been around.

Paul Williams reported seeing 3 Black-necked Grebes together and a ♀ Goosander Mergus merganser on Rugmooor Point in addition to my sightings. He gave up in the wet too!

Wednesday 16th December [Mainly dry, overcast, and exceptionally mild.]

I didn't really go to the lake with the intention of birding today, rather, I was doing some environmental work with Ken Anstey, checking the bat house and a new potential roost site. We also looked at a heron breeding site and re-roofed the owl boxes. During that time we saw the adult ♂ Goosander Mergus merganser in Pipe Bay, a Barn Owl Tyto alba and a (Eurasian) Woodcock Scolopax rusticola twice (presumed to be the same individual). I also saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba and 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, and pointed out the general feeding area of the Black-necked Grebes to a birder, though I don't know if he saw them. I'll have time for a proper look around in the morning, because I'd especially like to know if the ♀ Red-crested Pochard is still around. The mild weather is causing many flowers to come out way too soon, including a large patch of Lesser Celandines Ranunculus ficaria in one of the meadows and I even photographed this Primrose Primula vulgaris on one of the banks.

Primrose Primula vulgaris flowering on 16th December © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Oh, and I received a call from John Harris at Woodford Lodge (at the other place down the road) to say he saw an Otter in front of the Lodge that swam across the mouth of Villice Bay towards Nunnery Point.

Thursday 17th December [Continuing mild with rain at lunchtime]

As things turned out, I didn't get to the lake early this morning as planned, and when I did arrive the heavens opened! I met Sheila Ablitt briefly after filling the Lodge feeders, and she told me she'd seen a Great White Egret Ardea alba, and I saw 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis on my way to Top End to fill the Hatchery feeder. However, with no coat in the car, I didn't stick around to look for more birds. Paul Williams texted this afternoon to say that he saw 3 Black-necked Grebes in Wood Bay and the pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser in Home Bay. Thanks Paul.

I met an old friend, Chris Holloway, from my running days this afternoon for the first time in some 25 years or so, and he very kindly gave me some books that he wanted to go to a 'good home', including the 4 volume set 'The Wildfowl of the World' by Jean Delacour (illustrated by Peter Scott) and a complete set of the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust annual reports, among a number of other mouth-watering titles. I dived into them, as soon as I got home! I shall treasure them Chris. So, a BIG thank you.

Friday 18th December [Mild]

I had a very pleasant look around this afternoon and totted up some 61 spp. including the 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis just east of Wood Bay Point. There wasn't much else of special note, although Mike Gillett saw a number of Bramblings with the large flock of Chaffinches in the field where the corn was cut recently beyond the north end of the dam. I saw 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, about 60 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 2 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus on Green Lawn (though there may have been 4 today) and around 20 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus at Bell's Bush. There was no sign of the Red-crested Pochard, but the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid was off Wood Bay Point still.

Saturday 19th December [Mild, wet and windy.]

New in today were a pair of Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna at Green Lawn and 3 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago feeding on Wookey Point. The 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were between Wood Bay and Rugmoor Points as usual, and the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid in Wood Bay, while just 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta were stalking the lakeside margins in the rain.

Sunday 20th December [A bit cooler and mainly sunny]

The 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis and adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid were still present in the usual spots this afternoon, and I counted 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. I didn't spot anything out of the ordinary in the gull roost this evening, and was surprised by how few large gulls there were. I must do the monthly roost count...

Yesterday, I noticed that the occasional fruiting bodies of Shaggy Inkcaps Coprinus comatus are still popping up in this prolonged autumnal weather. The water level has risen such that Wookey Point is just about inundated now, and Rugmoor Point will surely go the same way very soon, although I was told a few days ago that Blagdon is being pumped again.

Monday 21st December [Rain this morning and sunny late afternoon. Continuing mild.]

The sun went down behind the Mendip hills at around 1515 hrs as I set out along the south of the lake. I spotted just one of the Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis during my walk. I also saw 3 (1♂, 2♀) Goosanders Mergus merganser, 6 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, 2 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, and 33 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus before it got too dark.

As I walked through Lodge Copse I saw the first leaves of Lords-and-Ladies Arum maculatum unfurling in a couple of places beside the road. Tomorrow is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

Tuesday 22nd December [Wet and horrible] Winter Solstice

Sorry folks, I just didn't fancy it today!

Bristol Water say the water level is 71% today.

Wednesday 23rd December [Sunny and pleasant. A little cooler than of late.]

All the old favourites are probably still around, and I saw 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, 2 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, an adult ♀ Goosander Mergus merganser, and the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos this afternoon. Also noteworthy, was a flock of 22 Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina feeding on the weeds along the shoreline in Long Bay.

On to the gulls: During my early afternoon visit there were probably around 1000 gulls on the water in front of the Lodge, and they were split about 60:40 Black-headed Chroicocephalus ridibundus to Common Gull Larus canus. However, when I carried out the long-overdue monthly roost count later, I found only 6 Common Gulls, so I'm assuming the others had gone to roost at Chew. There were circa. 2200 Black-headed Gulls, 78 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus and 8 Lesser-black backed Gulls Larus fuscus in addition to those few Common's in the roost by 1630 hrs.

For your information, whenever I've been down to the lake this week, the gates have been locked. The Black-necked Grebes can be seen distantly through a telescope from the Top End hide, by walking the short distance in from the Top End gate, but note that this is a permit only site please.

Thursday 24th December [Occasional showers]

The 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, 2 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, 6+ Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, and adult ♀ Goosander Mergus merganser were all still on the lake today. I also kept seeing Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in flight so assume the largest count of 85 flying off west at dusk to be the number that were present.

Friday 25th December [Early showers. Grey.] Christmas Day

I went down to fill the feeders at lunchtime, and saw the 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis off Burmah Road, 2 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus on the overspill, the pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser from the Lodge, the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid back in Wood Bay, and 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. Again, there were a few Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus around, but I didn't count them. Nice to meet Mark Hynam, and Christine and Mike O'Connor out birding too. Happy Christmas everyone!

Saturday 26th December [Grey and very mild] Boxing Day

I did not visit the lake today and have no news.

Sunday 27th December [Grey and very mild. Overnight rain.]

I could cut and paste the news from last week as there's very little change in either the weather or the birds. The 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were off Burmah Road (best viewed from Wood Bay Point), the 2 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were on Rainbow Point, and I saw 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and about 30 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. The adult ♀ Goosander Mergus merganser and Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos were both viewable from the south end of the dam. Mike and Christine O'Connor saw the pair of adult Goosanders late this afternoon - perhaps they flew in from elsewhere to roost on the lake?

Monday 28th December [Grey and slightly cooler]

My visit today was during the late afternoon. I saw the 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis from Wood Bay Point, 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta scattered around the lake, and a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End. As dusk fell, a Song Thrush Turdus philomelos was singing at Burmah Road.

With the mild weather continuing, I decided to look in some of the bat boxes and although I didn't see bats in the three 1FF boxes I checked, I did see at least 2 in the six Kent boxes I looked at. I'm wondering if the wooden Kent boxes are preferred to the woodcrete Schwegler boxes?

Tuesday 29th December [A warm sunny day]

It felt like the first day of Spring today! The Great White Egret Ardea alba was at Top End again, and the 3 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were off Wood Bay Point. Also noted were the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, at least 7 mobile Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, circa 90 very restless Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid in Wood Bay, at least 8 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, 175 Common Pochards Aythya ferina, and some Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus. I also received this news by email from Mike O'Connor titled Long Bay: Great (White) Egret, female Goldeneye and flock of 40-50 Lapwings overhead, in lovely sunshine, all about 11.00 this morning. The two Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were just around the corner on Green Lawn. Thanks Mike.

I checked 4 more Kent bat boxes and spotted 2 bats together in one of them.

Wednesday 30th December [Southerly gales and near torrential rain]

The weather is awful today, but after a brief walk when I got soaked, I drove along the south side of the lake and saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba in Long Bay, 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis off Wood Bay Point, and what I presume to be the adult ♀ Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina off Hellfire Corner with Common Pochards Aythya ferina. Is it coming over the hill from Cheddar Reservoir with disturbed Pochards?

Thursday 31st December [Heavy showers, windy and slightly cooler than of late.]

What is it with the weather at the moment? No sooner had I got to the Top End hide and was watching the Great White Egret Ardea alba about 20 metres away, when I was called to go and let someone out from Woodford Ladge car park who'd been locked in. When I got back to Blagdon the heavens opened and it poured down so hard I could barely see the north shore from Rainbow Point! When it eased a bit, I spotted 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, a pair of Northern Pintail Anas acuta (hope they stick around until tomorrow), 4 (2 pairs) Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. No 'white-wings' in the gull roost this evening so far as I could see, but I did count 14 (5 adult ♂♂) Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula and 52 Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus from the dam.

So, that's it for 2015 - quite an unremarkable year bird-wise. Highlights were the pair of Grey Herons Ardea cinerea that bred for the first time in many years at Blagdon, the regular sightings of Great White Egrets which seem to be becoming established as a local breeding species, catching our first juvenile ♀ Nathusius' Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii in August (they must be breeding locally), a memorable night in September spent beside the lake photographing the lunar eclipse, the Temminck's Stint Calidris teminckii found by Ken Hall in October which led us all such a merry dance, and finally, all the lovely people I've met and worked with while birding and batting around the lake during the year, and not least all of you who have sent me news and pictures of your sightings. Thank you!