BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

February 2012 News


Wednesday 1st February [Sunny though barely above freezing point all day]

I spent most of the day with the Mendip Conservation Volunteers on Ubley Warren (where I'm Reserve Manager) clearing scrub in the rakes and what a fantastic job they did. As it was so cold, our trip around the reserve late afternoon with Richard Whitcombe to learn about the mining history was changed to the Wessex Cave Club HQ in Priddy, where he gave us a fascinating hour about Mendip mining and caving.

I got down to the lake at about 1630 hrs, but as everything was locked up I decided to just check the gull roost, which was very difficult due to the NE wind. All I saw of note was the strange pale gull again. Anyone else visit today?

Friday 3rd February [Beautiful, sunny and freezing]

Today, the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were still present on Holt Farm fields, and later off Green Lawn, with circa 300 Canada Geese Branta canadensis and 11 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis. The Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis was off Rainbow Point on the Wood Bay side and there were 4 (3♂♂) Northern Pintails Anas acuta on Rugmoor Point. Paul Williams saw 3 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago in front of the Lodge at lunchtime.

While I was at the Top End hide, a ♂ Red Fox Vulpes vulpes came trotting past and I had the opportunity to photograph a couple of ♂♂ Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus grazing.

The gull roost was very small this evening. At about 1630 hrs there were quite a few gulls standing on a patch of ice near the dam that had formed during the day, but instead of sitting on the water later, many flew off towards the coast. Perhaps, they know more ice is likely to form overnight, with the temperature forecast to plunge to -7 Celsius. Light snow is due tomorrow as well, but it should start to warm over the following days.

Sorry for the lack of news yesterday, I didn't have time to visit the lake and no-one sent any news either.

Saturday 4th February [Snow at lunchtime]

I spent all day updating the website and didn't visit the lake in the awful weather. It will take several days to complete the work but the news pages will be updated as normal.

Paul Williams visited this morning and saw 8 Goosanders Mergus merganser (1♂) in Butcombe Bay, a Dunlin Calidris alpina at Wood Bay, 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Holt Farm fields and a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago at Long Bay.

Sunday 5th February [Milder with sunny spells]

Although most of the ice has gone now, Paul Williams didn't see the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis yesterday and I couldn't see it today either. However, the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus remain on the lake and around Holt Farm fields, and I saw the adult ♂ Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator with his escort, an adult ♀Goosander Mergus merganser, in the bit of Long Bay that wasn't iced over early afternoon. There was another adult ♀Goosander Mergus merganser in Home Bay. The other bird worthy of note was the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos pottering about on the point at Cheddar Water.

There was nowt in the gull roost at dusk, but a pair of adult Goosanders that a couple of us saw at Top End earlier, were asleep off the dam.

Monday 6th February [Mild but frustratingly cloudy]

There's only the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus worthy of rarity status at the lake now, but it's not all about rarities. On a very pleasant afternoon, the Great Tits Parus ater, Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus and Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs were in full song, Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major were a-drummin', the Common Coots Fulica atra were screaming and chasing each other, with territory wars breaking out, and there was much-ado in the rookery, though no real signs of nest building yet.

The estates department have had the hedges flailed and the place smartened up in readiness for the start of the fishing season in mid-March, but I'm not the only one to notice that the Eurasian Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula, such a bright feature of the hedges along the south shore in December and January, are now very conspicuous by their absence!

Following the article I wrote last month in Birdwatch, about finding the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in November, Alex Rhodes has penned an excellent feature article in Bird Watching about birding at the lake. If only every autumn were like the last one, eh Alex?

Tuesday 7th February [Cloudy and cold]

Not much to report I'm afraid. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock at Ash Tree late afternoon and the resident adult ♂ Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis was in Holt Bay. I filled the bird feeders at the Hatchery and the Lodge and spotted the ♂ Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, that I photographed on the 3rd February, once again.

Wednesday 8th February [Dry and cloudy but the temperature barely got over freezing point today]

There was a nice surprise in the shape of a Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa in front of the Lodge this afternoon. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were still present and as skittish as ever when I tried to point the camera at them, albeit they don't fly off now, they just run away behind the Canada Geese Branta canadensis. We had 12 feral Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis in the flock as well.

'Jonitor' and 'Willows' the 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were back at the lake today, feeding over at Never Never Land between The Island and Spinney Point and the feeders were well attended, both at the Lodge and the Hatchery, but nothing unusual had been drawn in.

Thursday 9th February [Pleasant sunshine though chilly with it]

There was some lovely light for photography around lunchtime into early afternoon, but sadly very little to point the lens at. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were on Holt Farm fields and promptly walked out of sight when I pulled up. I also saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos fly from Cheddar Water to the south corner of the dam, whereupon it walked away from me towards the valve tower.

Blagdon Lake is 74% full (81% Jan 2011) and has risen 2% since the beginning of the month (Bristol Water website).

I got my passport out and took a trip over to Chew to see the Smew on Herriott's Pool this afternoon. Unlike most Smew it came within range of the camera so I took some shots. I tried to send one to Rich Andrews but his mailbox was full, so share it here instead.

Adult ♀ Smew Mergellus albellus, Herriott's Pool, Chew Valley Lake © Nigel Milbourne, 2012

Friday 10th February [Overcast and freezing with a biting easterly breeze by the water]

The farmer was spreading slurry on his fields at Grove Farm, Nempnett Thrubwell on the north side of the lake yesterday (and today, possibly) and while this attracted lots of Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus yesterday, there were good numbers of Common Gulls Larus canus and larger species today. I didn't go through the gulls on the fields because they kept flying up and moving, but I did go through those bathing and loafing on the water at Ash Tree nearby and found 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus and not long after, when I got back to the dam, I spotted a 3rd adult Med Gull that had just flown in to the roost. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus are still around, moving between Holt Farm and Holt Bay. It's WeBS count day tomorrow.

Saturday 11th February [Sunny and very cold]

We did the WeBS count this morning and the best find was made by Lucy Delve when she spotted a Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris stalking around in the marginal vegetation along Indian Country, opposite the Top End hide, from Rainbow Point! The 8th record for the lake and a cracking find. When we finalised the count at Top End hide we had excellent views of the bird moving about in the sunshine along the water's edge. The pick of the rest was a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall, a Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa at Holt Bay, the 4 mobile Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were flying about and an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis was on Rugmoor Point for a short while. The rest of the count can be seen on the WeBS Count page. We counted 2182 birds of 32 species.

A rather distant Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris, Indian Country © Nigel Milbourne, 2012

Sunday 12th February [Overcast and a bit milder than of late]

It was a bit of a surprise to find that large areas of the lake had a thin covering of ice floating about on it at lunchtime, given that the weather has warmed up a bit, and the large gulls provided me with a certain amount of amusement when they tried to land on the ice alongside the Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus and kept falling though!

The Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris was stalking around on the ice opposite Top End hide giving fantastic views through the telescope. I haven't seen it catch anything, however, so I hope the ice melts quickly and allows it to fish. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were still feeding on Holt Farm fields and had been joined by a small flock of Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, aside from the huge flock of Canada Geese Branta canadensis containing a few Barnies Branta leucopsis.

Monday 13th February [Milder than of late but a strong westerly breeze blew up]

There was no sign of the Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris this afternoon, but it was blowing quite hard at the east end of the lake. The area in front of the hide is gradually being flooded and there were a few dabbling ducks rooting around in the damper areas including 2 ♂♂ Northern Pintails Anas acuta which are always a pleasure to see so close. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were on Holt Farm fields viewed from Green Lawn and as nervous as ever about me stopping and trying to photograph them. I saw the lone ♂ Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis in Pipe Bay and adult ♂♀ Goosanders Mergus merganser at the head of Butcombe Bay. There were 3 Goosanders later, an adult ♂ and 2 ♀♀, while I was checking the gull roost.

Tuesday 14th February [Mildish, with a steady westerly breeze]

The 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis has returned to the lake from Chew and was diving a couple of hundred metres out from the dam late this afternoon. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were on Holt Farm fields again and there were a good number of gulls in the roost this evening, including an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis and a 2nd-winter Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus (which I thought I saw a couple of days ago, but the views weren't good enough to clinch the identification at the time).

Wednesday 15th February [Mild with sunny spells]

The 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was off the dam again today and I noted 3 Goosanders Mergus merganser (adult ♂ and 2 adult ♀♀) while Paul Williams told me he'd seen the adult ♂ Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator and another ♀Goosander at lunchtime in Butcombe Bay. He said the Merg was going through his display routines trying to impress the girls!

I saw the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Holt Farm, as usual, and 2 ♂♂ Northern Pintails Anas acuta on Wookey Point from Top End hide. I didn't note any goodies in the gull roost this evening.

Blagdon Lake is 76% full (84% this time last year) according to the Bristol Water website.

Thursday 16th February [Sunny morning, clouding over later. Still mild.]

When I arrived on the dam, I met John Martin who told me he'd seen the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos fly along the dam wall. We both saw the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis feeding well out from the dam and the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus sleeping on Rainbow Point. There was a large flock of Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on Rugmoor Point which I saw in flight later and estimated to number about 250. There was also a small shorebird flying with them that looked rather short-billed to be a Dunlin, the most likely suspect.

Friday 17th February [Grey, overcast and mild for the time of year]

There was a new species for the year list flying about at the dam end, not quite deciding where to land, in the shape of 3 adult Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus. I watched them fly up to the dam and turn back over the lake several times, so I don't know if they touched down or not. My patience ran out before theirs. The 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was close in to the dam wall and the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were in Holt Bay with 16 Canada Geese Branta canadensis. Considering there were 377 Canada's at the weekend, the drop in numbers since has been precipitous.

At dusk I found an adult summer Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus in a large gull roost that was probably increased by birds in from the coast on the rising westerly breeze. I also saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the south end of the dam wall. The Oystercatchers were on the dam wall with a large group of gulls when I started checking the roost, but I couldn't see them when I left.

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight (min. temp. 7 Celsius) at Hellfire Corner and caught:

Saturday 18th February [Mist turned to rain at lunchtime]

The 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was close in to the dam wall this morning and I saw the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Holt Farm fields on their own. There were only 9 Canada Geese Branta canadensis in Holt Bay. I went down early to pick up my moth trap run overnight at Hellfire Corner. I caught two new species for the lake.

I saw 2 adult ♀ Goosanders Mergus merganser at the dam end at dusk when I went down to have a quick look through the gull roost and return the moths. I also saw 4 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago in front of the Lodge, though Paul Williams told me he'd seen 14 there this morning. There are also probably 100-200 winter thrushes beside the lake, about an equal mix of Fieldfares Turdus pilaris and Redwings Turdus iliacus now, whereas we had mainly Redwings through the early part of the winter.

Sunday 19th February [A pleasant day with sunny intervals]

I spent very little time at the lake today, having been down to Chew Valley Ringing Station for a couple of hours this morning, but I did clock the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Rainbow Point with a few more Canada Geese Branta canadensis than yesterday, and I saw the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis close in to the dam wall again.

I did get back to check the gull roost, which was quite small this evening. There was nothing unusual in the roost but a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser were asleep close by. A ♂ Tawny Owl Strix aluco sang once from its roost at Cheddar Water as dusk fell, but there was no reply from its mate as there usually is when they wake up.

Monday 20th February [Cool with sunny spells]

Pretty much a case of the same old, same old today, with the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the south end of the dam wall, the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis at the dam end of the lake, the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus on Holt Farm fields (later asleep on Rainbow Point with circa 25 Canada Geese Branta canadensis) and, rather surprisingly, 4 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were feeding over the flooded part of Rugmoor Point. I eventually caught up with Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris near the Lodge, for the first time this year, having seen a Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea at the Hatchery yesterday. By my reckoning that takes us up to 93 bird species recorded at the lake so far in 2012.

I thought I'd keep an eye open for early flowers on my walk and spotted Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria, Dandelion Taraxacum agg. and Dog's Mercury Mercurialis perennis. Walking back up the hill, I chose Dark Lane and there were plenty of Ramsons Allium ursinum leaves coming up on the edges of the path already.

Tuesday 21st February [Cloudy with drizzle]

It took quite some time, but I eventually spotted the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis among the the early arrivals in the gull roost and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was in the usual place at the south end of the dam wall when I arrived. The 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were eventually located on Holt Farm fields on their own, with 32 Canada Geese Branta canadensis a little way off over the rise.

Wednesday 22nd February [Windy and wet all day]

What a miserable day, the viewing conditions were atrocious and it took a long time to find the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis in the waves well out from the dam at lunchtime. It seems to favour an area looking towards Spinney Point from the south corner of the dam, but is mobile and was preparing to roost with a group of displaying Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula when I last saw it at dusk. I also missed the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus first time through, but spotted them later with the small Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock on Holt Farm fields beside Long Bay and saw the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the south end of the dam. The 4 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii noted on 20th were feeding at Rugmoor Point again today.

I went out and stood in the wind and rain a second time to check the gull roost, but didn't see anything unusual in it, despite the strong winds that came through during the day.

Thursday 23rd February [Dry and breezy]

I walked home from Ubley and saw a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus fly up from Wood Bay, the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus at Holt Bay with 40 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, an adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus, in transitional moult from winter to summer plumage, and the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis well over against the North Shore.

A Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus was hunting at Top End and I heard my first ♂ Reed Buntings of the year singing at Burmah Road and Home Bay today. The gull roost was very small this evening.

When I ran my moth trap a while back I picked up a fallen twig that had a shrubby lichen growing on it. I think it's Ramalina fastigiata and have posted a picture in the recent images gallery. If there are any lichenologists out there with a view on its identity, I'd be pleased to hear from them.

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight (9 Celsius) at Lodge Copse and caught:

Friday 24th February [Cloudy, dry and mild]

I made an early morning visit to empty the moth trap that I ran overnight and saw the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis not far off the Spillway, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the south end of the dam and 4 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii feeding at Rugmoor Point again. The Bewick's weren't there yesterday, I suspect, because the pair of Mute Swans Cygnus olor that usually nest close by were displaying to one another in Rugmoor Bay rather than being out on the adjacent fields. I saw just a single Canada Goose Branta canadensis in Holt Bay and no sign of the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus.

Later, I saw 3 Canada Geese at Top End but there was still no sign of the Pinkfeet which, on that basis, must have gone. The mist descended this afternoon, and I could barely see halfway across the lake at the dam end so couldn't see any gulls that might have come in to roost.

Blagdon Lake is 78% full (87% this time last year) according to the Bristol Water website.

Saturday 25th February [A beautiful, mild, sunny day]

The 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was feeding along Butcombe Bank at lunchtime and the only other birds worthy of note that I saw were 4 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii still at Rugmoor Point and 4 Goosanders Mergus merganser (an adult ♂ and 3 redheads) at Burmah Road. There were no geese at the lake at all and I received a text from Chris Stone to say the 4 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus were over at Chew Valley Lake today.

It was interesting to see many of the Eurasian Teal Anas crecca picking food items off the surface in open water in the sunshine, as were the Common Coots Fulica atra. Presumably this means there must have been some flies hatching to attract this behaviour.

Sunday 26th February [Another beautiful sunny day]

Late this afternoon I saw the 4 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Rugmoor again (I must try and get some pictures to see if we can identify them), the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis off the dam, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall, 26 Canada Geese Branta canadensis at Holt Bay and 2 pairs of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser off the Spillway.

There were hardly any gulls in the roost, about a dozen each of Lesser Black-backed Larus fuscus and Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus, but I did notice quite a few Common Goldeneyes Bucephalus clangula while I was checking, so I counted them and totted up 31 from the Lodge alone. Then, at last light, I caught sight of a ♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the North Shore.

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight (min. temp. 6 Celsius) at Holt Copse and caught:

Monday 27th February [Drizzle and grey]

The only bird that was present yesterday was the ♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the North Shore. There was no sign of the others in a brief early visit to check the moth trap which had 24 moths in it, including 3 new species for the site (see 26th Feb). I will make a more thorough search later.

This afternoon, I did see the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis off the dam, with the help of Phil Baber and partner, as well as a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay.

Tuesday 28th February [Mild and overcast]

I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall when I went out for my early morning walk.

Later, I saw the ♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the Spillway and the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis off the North Shore. There were a fair number of large gulls, especially Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus on the water at the dam end late afternoon. This may be the beginning of the build up I see every March, as birds migrate north in Spring. It's not long before the first Sand Martins Riparia riparia arrive now either (4th March, 2011).

Hilary Raeburn told me she'd seen 3 Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay, an adult ♂ and 2 ♀♀.

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight (min. temp. 8 Celsius) at Hellfire Corner and caught:

Wednesday 29th February [Grey then warm sunshine in the afternoon]

I made a brief visit this morning to check the moth trap and saw the 4 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Rugmoor again. Later in the morning I saw the 1st-winter ♀ Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis and the ♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila both close in to the dam wall on a walk to Chew Magna.

This evening at 1730 hrs there were 188 Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus and 21 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus with circa 100 Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus in the gull roost, a pair of Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay (and another pair flew off west late morning) and a ♂ Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis in Pipe Bay.