February 2011 News

Thursday 3rd February [Sunny and milder than of late]

Mervyn Pearce visited today and reported: A quick visit to the Dam on my way home this afternoon 1630-1700 hrs. 2 Goosanders Mergus merganser (a pair), 3 Greater Scaup Aythya marila (drake, 1st-winter drake and a duck) in the Pipe Bay area.  The Greater Scaup-a-like hybrid was by the Tower. Lots of gulls, but mostly Common Larus canus and Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus.

Paul Williams also visited and watched a small bat flying around over the water along the Butcombe Shore for around 20 minutes - including under the footbridge. It sounds like it was either a Pipistrelle Pipistrellus sp. or Daubenton's Myotis daubentonii. He also saw 2 pairs of Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula.

Jonathan Yabsley also sent me a couple of nice shots of the Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris still present at Backwell Lake. I suspect this is the touring bird I saw at Blagdon at the end of last year and that was seen at Perfect Bite Pools, Kingston Seymour a few days later - that must a good enough reason to share this lovely flight shot don't you think?

Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris, Backwell Lake © Jonathan Yabsley, 2011

Friday 11th February [A lovely soft, Spring-like day]

Sorry for the lack of news, I've been away for a few days and on the mornings I have had time to visit, the fog has been down, reducing visibility to near zero. I walked the south side this morning and met Bristol Water's Colin Hunt who told me a couple had spotted a redhead Smew Mergellus albellus along the North Shore yesterday. No sooner had he mentioned it when I spotted it in the flooded trees at Top End. It fed among the branches and was out of view much of the time, but on the occasions that I was able to get a reasonable look I got enough detail to identify it as a female. The adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila, 1st-winter drake and adult duck were feeding off North Shore car park with the adult drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid. There were 4 Goosanders Mergus merganser (one adult drake) off the dam and the regular drake Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis was in Home Bay. A lot of gulls were visiting during the morning but the two regular adult Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus were on a buoy and I counted 443 Common Gulls Larus canus bathing. At Top End a Little Egret Egretta garzetta was hiding in among the trees. Tomorrow is WeBS Count day.

The lovely day encouraged lots of passerines into song, including Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, Blue Tit Parus caeruleus, Great Tit Parus major, Song Thrush Turdus philomelos, Dunnock Prunella modularis and European Robin Erithacus rubecula. I also saw Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria, Dandelion Taraxacum agg., Daisy Bellis perennis and a Speedwell Veronica sp. in flower.

I visited again late this afternoon with Mervyn Pearce and the Smew was still present in the Top End trees before flying across to the left of the hide. We went over to Herriott's Pool at Chew Valley Lake afterwards and we saw a Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris fly from the east side to the south west corner at 1733hrs.

Saturday 12th February [Sunny and mild]

The team carried out the WeBS Count this morning and top birds were the female Smew Mergellus albellus still present at Top End (view the flooded trees at 1-2 o'clock from the hide and watch for it swimming about among the flooded branches) and the usual 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila (adult drake, 1st-winter drake and adult duck off North Shore plus the 1st-winter drake that keeps company with the drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid near the dam). 14 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus were a surprise on Rugmoor Point where the Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and Teal Anas crecca were feeding in the flooded vegetation. The rest of the details are on the WeBS Count page including the huge 2034 Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus roost count.

Phil Delve picked out a Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus among the European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis flock feeding in the Alder Alnus glutinosa trees at Hellfire Corner during the count and we saw a few Primroses Primula vulgaris in flower along Butcombe Bank. It's perhaps a tad early for wild Primroses to be flowering, so there could be some Primula cultivar genes mixed in?

Sunday 13th February [Dismal and wet all day]

The elusive female Smew Mergellus albellus is still feeding among the flooded Top End trees at lunch time. It's a hard one to catch up with due to its chosen feeding location. I'd concluded it had gone after 20 minutes of watching and wrote 'no sign' on the board in the hide before catching sight of it on one last sweep before going home! I spotted the 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila feeding off the North Shore and drake Scaup-a-like hybrid asleep with a small group of Common Pochard Aythya ferina at Cheddar Water. At least 3 Goosanders Mergus merganser were still on the lake today. However, it wasn't a day for spending time pottering about with the camera looking for the first signs of Spring despite it remaining so mild!

Thursday 17th February

Adrian Adams reported seeing the female Smew Mergellus albellus at Top End at 1200 hrs today (thanks to Steve Hale, BOC).

I saw a mystery raptor at Somerdale, Keynsham heading low to the east upriver late morning being mobbed by Herring Gulls Larus argentatus. I suspected a Red Kite Milvus milvus but my views weren't conclusive. However, it was interesting to see that Derek Angell reported seeing a ragged Red Kite over Weston, Bath shortly afterward.

Friday 18th February [A stiff, chilly, easterly breeze after early mist]

A 1st-winter Eurasian White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons was with 175 Canada Geese Branta canadensis in Long Bay / Green Lawn at lunch time (presumably the bird noted previously at Chew), 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila were off Green Lawn and the female Smew Mergellus albellus was at Top End still.

Saturday 19th February [Rain in the morning with some sun this afternoon]

No sign of the 1st-winter Eurasian White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons at Blagdon late this afternoon, though there were fewer Canada Geese Branta canadensis present. However, the female Smew Mergellus albellus was at Top End at Flower Corner (between Bell's Bush and Wookey Point to the left of the hide - recently cropped of it's Willows Salix sp.). The Smew has been noted flying across from the Top End trees to hunt in this area recently, possibly driven by the colouring up of the water at Top End thanks to the recent rains, so if you can't see it in front of the hide have a look here.

The 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila were diving off Green Lawn (a pair of adults and 2, 1st-winter drakes). The gull roost provided a nice surprise at the end of a successful days twitching in Oxon, when I found an an adult summer-plumaged Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus, the first I've seen at the lake for ages.

Sunday 20th February [A bit brighter today but still a cool easterly breeze]

The 1st-winter Eurasian White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons was back with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock on Green Lawn at lunch time.

1st-winter White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons, Blagdon Lake © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

White-fronted Goose showing dark nail of a young bird © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

I didn't look too hard for the Greater Scaup Aythya marila but all the usual birds appeared to be present in the choppy water off the North Shore and the female Smew Mergellus albellus appeared to fly from Flower Corner to Hellfire Corner where it landed deep in the flooded trees out of sight.

Yesterday, I noted 7 Mute Swans Cygnus olor (3 pairs and an immature) back at the lake as they begin to gather and look for breeding territories though they are not showing any aggression yet, unlike the Common Coots Fulica atra which are thrashing about, chasing each other and making lots of noise as they do at the onset of spring.

Wednesday 23rd February [Grey, with rain but mild]

No news from the lake today, but a very interesting series of emails from Phil Smith who lives in the village. He's sent me a picture of a male Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus with some aberrant feathering on its back that was sitting in a tree in their garden on 19th February. Any other sightings of this bird? The aberrant Common Blackbird Turdus merula (see picture on Dec09 page - 12th) that appeared in the winter of 2009-2010 in our garden may be the same bird that is quite often to be seen feeding along the road edge of Park Lane near the Fishing Lodge entrance to the lake. I must try and get a picture of it for comparison. These aberrant birds, which can be easily recognised, often provide some interesting information about their life histories.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Blagdon village garden © Phil Smith, 2011

He also told me they had a Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes in the same tree, probably in January 2010, and sent me some pix of it. It's also possible one visited very briefly this winter too..... A great record for the BTO Winter Atlas. If anyone else has any interesting local bird records they'd like to share, I would love to hear from you as we enter the last stage of putting together records for the BTO Bird Atlas 2007-2011 mapping Britain & Ireland's birds.

Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes, Blagdon village garden © Phil Smith, 2010

Thursday 24th February [Dry. Bright later.]

          Received from Mervyn Pearce today:

"I had a wander at Blagdon this afternoon between 1345 and 1700 hrs. It was quite pleasant except for a strong wind. It was nice to see some Primroses Primula vulgaris coming out. Birds included 9 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus at Hellfire corner, 6 Goosanders Mergus merganser (2 males and 4 females), 3 Greater Scaup Aythya marila and the 'scaup-a-like' Aythya hybrid, 2 Northern Ravens Corvus corax, a Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis and a Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major. In the fields by Yeo Valley Factory there were 37 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris and 25 Redwings Turdus iliacus. I had a look through the gulls at the Lodge but saw nothing unusual.

Earlier at Chew Valley Lake, I saw a female Greater Scaup at Herriots and a Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata at Villice Bay."

Friday 25th February [Mild but drizzly this afternoon]

The water level is well up now, so many of the dabbling ducks appear to have gone. There was no sign of the elusive redhead Smew Mergellus albellus, any Goosanders Mergus merganser or the 1st-winter Eurasian White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons.

However, there were 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila, but they provided a bit of a conundrum. They were feeding as a group off the North Shore. The adult drake 'scaup-a-like' Aythya hybrid was feeding close to the Spillway at the north end of the dam, as he often is. A male Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus was under the eaves of the Fishing Hut (Lodge) sheltering from the drizzle this afternoon in what is seemingly a favoured roost and a careful look through the large number of roosting gulls turned up another Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus. This one was different to the one I found last Saturday; it had some white feathering around the base of the bill and forehead in what was otherwise a black hood, so was almost in adult summer plumage.

Saturday 26th February [An occasional shower on a light WNW breeze]

The 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila were a bit more widely scattered this morning, but there is still an adult drake, 2 1st-winter drakes and an adult duck present. The drake Aythya hybrid was feeding with one of the 1st-winter drakes (pictured below) by the dam. There was a Common Redshank Tringa totanus on the dam, calling periodically, and 4 female Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay. Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus are starting to claim territories with males singing at Wood Bay and Burmah Road.

1st-winter Greater Scaup Aythya marila, Blagdon Lake © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Sunday 27th February [Squally showers on a cool westerly breeze turning north]

The 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila were together with the drake Aythya hybrid off the dam early afternoon and there were 11 Goosanders Mergus merganser (2 adult drakes) at the bottom of Butcombe Bay. Other than that there were 69 Canada Geese Branta canadensis in Wood Bay.

We can expect to see the first spring visitors over the next couple of weeks with Sand Martins Riparia riparia, Northern Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe and Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita already landing on the south coast. Perhaps yesterdays Common Redshank Tringa totanus was the vanguard? Sand Martin arrival dates have been getting earlier (regression analysis of arrival dates in prep.) and with all things being equal (though the weather often isn't), they should arrive at Blagdon around the end of the first week in March viz. next weekend. This compares with dates spanning 17th March to 4th April in the 1920s and 30s. Common Chiffchaffs show a very similar pattern with arrival dates spanning 18th March to 7th April in the 1920s and 30s and arrivals expected at the end of the first week of March 80-90 years later. I have not seen or heard any Chiffchaffs wintering beside the lake this winter so we can reasonably assume those seen or heard first are likely to be genuine migrants rather than over-wintering birds.

The gull roost was small this evening with just a couple of hundred Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus, 19 Lesser Black-backs Larus fuscus and 4 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus, probably due to the unusual wind direction, slightly west of north, and increasing strength. I suspect early morning visits in the next few weeks will see numbers of migrant large gulls sitting on the water as is the norm at this time of year.

I think the lake is about 90% full, so it may yet reach top level.

Monday 28th February [Dreary, grey and dull]

Despite the weather, I enjoyed an afternoon surveying the lakeside for Lunar Hornet Moth Sesia bembeciformis larval holes in the recently felled trees, albeit without any conclusive success. I did, however, spot the elusive redhead Smew Mergellus albellus at Top End again, having begun to think that it might have gone. Perhaps it was frightened back there by the boat anglers fishing for Northern Pike Esox lucius along the Burmah Road stretch where I last saw it. The 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid were off the dam still and 8 Goosanders Mergus merganser (2 adult drakes) were fishing in Butcombe Bay. A Little Egret Egretta garzetta was sheltering on the leeward side of Wood Bay Point and I counted 5 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope hanging on at the lake despite the raised water level, which appears to be about 18 inches (old money) off top level. As predicted yesterday, there were quite a few large gulls loafing, that I counted at lunch time, getting 189 Lesser Black-backed Larus fuscus and 73 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus. This is part of a larger migration movement that has been commented on by Paul Bowyer who has made some large counts of birds flying west over Brean Down. Mute Swan Cygnus olor numbers increased to 10 (3 birds flew in from the east) and I saw 3 Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus (which we didn't see on the WeBS count).

I heard a cacophony of sound behind Top End hide and in Lodge Copse caused by gathering winter thrushes (mainly Redwings Turdus iliacus) that sit in treetops and have a right old 'chin-wag'. Perhaps this is pre-migration behaviour? I've heard it for many years at work at this time of year. I need to read BWP. Other things noted on my walk included quite a few Barn Owl Tyto alba pellets and Brown Hares Lepus europaeus boxing (warming up for their 'March Madness' perhaps).