BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

February 2015 News


Sunday 1st February [Sunny with a couple of snow flurries. Cold.]

There was a large spread of gulls on the mirror-like water surface this afternoon and I managed to spot what I presume is the same adult winter Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus among them. The 2 pairs of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser were noted off Spinney Point, no doubt they'd moved there away from the many afternoon walkers along the path alongside Butcombe Bay. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Wood Bay Point and the 2 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were still at Top End.

Monday 2nd February [A lovely still day]

I enjoyed a great day beside the lake putting together my first February day list during which I totted up 54 spp. There was some ice at the edges of the lake in sheltered spots with an extensive covering at Top End, which might have explained why I couldn't find the Egyptian Geese. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Bell's Bush, Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall, and I counted 11 (3♂, 8♀) Goosanders Mergus merganser, the highest count of the winter. I added Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis to the site year list, and Paul Williams texted to say he'd seen 4 Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus, also the first of the year. A couple of open Lesser Celandines Ranunculus ficaria added the first bit of colour too.

Tuesday 3rd February [Another cold, but very pleasant, day.]

The ice covering at Top End seems to have extended further out into the lake overnight, but I did spot the 2 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End today. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Bell's Bush, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos in the Spillway at the north end of the dam, and the Goosander Mergus merganser count was up to 16 this afternoon (4♂♂). The rather good-looking adult ♂ Aythya hybrid remains in Wood Bay - I must take a picture of it for the record.

I probably won't visit the lake tomorrow because I'll be in Wiltshire carrying out bat hibernation counts with Dr Fiona Mathews (Exeter University), Ken Anstey and Jim Mulholland. Then, we'll be meeting with Chris Barrington and Dan Flew to put together the local National Nathusius' Pipistrelle trapping programme for the year over a beer and and a bite to eat! More details to follow on the Bat News Page when we've finalised the dates.

Wednesday 4th February

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was reported again today.

Thursday 5th February [Cold with showers]

I was called out for an emergency roost visit in Portishead this morning by the Bat Conservation Trust which meant I didn't get to the lake until late this afternoon. However, I did find the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Bell's Bush and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the Overspill. There were 6 Goosanders Mergus merganser, at least, in Butcombe Bay and a brief visit from a lone Mute Swan Cygnus olor, which flew off towards Chew leaving the regular pair of adults and their juvenile. I couldn't spot the Egyptian Geese, though there were 292 Canada Branta canadensis and 17 Barnacle Geese B. leucopsis.

Friday 6th February [Sunny with a bitterly cold north easterly wind]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was still off Bell's Bush this morning and I found the pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Holt Bay. There were a number of mobile Goosanders Mergus merganser but I didn't count them - we're doing the WeBS count tomorrow. I also managed to add Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus to my patch year list.

Saturday 7th February [Sunny with a cold north easterly breeze]

We did the WeBS Count this morning but there were no real surprises other than the continued build-up of Goosanders Mergus merganser; we reckoned there were 24 (8 adult ♂♂) scattered around the lake. Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula numbers were still reasonably bouyant at 486 though it's obvious wintering birds are beginning to move out. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was at Wood Bay Point, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos in the Spillway channel, and pair of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End. Ice at Top End for the last few days seems to have moved the few Eurasian Teal Anas crecca out. Full details of the count are on the WeBS Page. Also noted were 3 Eurasian Nuthatches Sitta europaea and a pair of Northern Ravens Corvus corax.

Sunday 8th February [Sunny and still]

What a beautiful day! We still have a moulting Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, off Bell's Bush this afternoon, and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos in the Spillway channel. However, once again, the Egyptian Geese gave me the slip, though I did see a few Eurasian Teal Anas crecca at Top End and Green Lawn. I only saw 4 (1 adult ♂) Goosanders Mergus merganser at Top End.

Monday 9th February [A beautiful day]

A mirror calm lake and sunshine made for a spectacular scene around the lake. My highlight had to be the 31, or so, Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay, but the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis at Bell's Bush was glowing in the sunshine now that its golden ear tufts are through, as were the 38 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Green Lawn. The pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were mobile around Holt Bay, before they disappeared - back to Top End? The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was feeding on the overspill in the late afternoon sunshine, and a couple of Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago were probing at the waters edge among the Lapwings.

Tuesday 10th February [Cooler and overcast]

First, the bird news. Late this afternoon, I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis at Bell's Bush and the pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End. Amazingly, after 38 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus turned up at Green Lawn yesterday, there were 210 there today! I've never seen so many beside the water when the lake is full. With only 2 Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata noted on the WeBS count, it was good to see 5 displaying today, with another pair elsewhere. The ♂ Aythya hybrid is still in Wood Bay - I spent the whole day yesterday unsuccesfully trying to get some decent pictures of it. Though these will give you an idea:

Aythya hybrid superficially resembling a Lesser Scaup, Wood Bay Point © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Secondly, I can reveal that I organised a meeting of interested stakeholders to discuss what I think we'll call the 'Mendip Lakes Osprey Project' at Blagdon Pumping Station today. This saw representatives from Bristol Water, Natural England, Avon Wildlife Trust, The Hawk & Owl Trust, Wessex Ecological Consultancy, Bristol Ornithological Club and Chew Valley Ringing Station get together to discuss the recent upsurge in records at the lakes, during which it was agreed that we will look into putting up some nest poles of a successful design developed by Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife. The next step will see a sub-group of myself, Robin Prytherch, Ed Drewitt and Chris Sperring get together in April, to look for prospective sites to take back to the rest of the group, with the aim of getting some poles put up by Spring 2016. I'd like to publicly thank the team who came together today to kick-start what I think is a very exciting venture.

Wednesday 11th February [Milder than of late]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Bell's Bush and the pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End in the field by the entrance gate. There were over 100 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Green Lawn in the morning before the majority flew off west over the dam. Having filled the nut feeder at the Hatchery late this afternoon, I drove along the south side road and counted the Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus that I could see close to the road and came up with a total of 51, well in excess of the WeBS count, probably because a slowly driven vehicle causes less disturbance than a person on foot. Warwick White and I did some refurbishment work on the barn owl boxes this morning and saw a few Goosanders Mergus merganser flying around, though I made no specific count.

Thursday 12th February [A grey morning and sunny afternoon]

A notable change today was the arrival of two pairs of adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor, presumably to breed as Spring advances north. As usual, the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Bell's Bush, the pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End in the field by the entrance gate and 42 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus were on Green Lawn. I got some pictures of the Aythya hybrid at Wood Bay, and saw the Greylag x Canada Goose hybrid among the flock of Canadas Branta canadensis and 17 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis. At Butcombe Bay I saw 11 Goosanders Mergus merganser and 11 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca but forgot to look for the Common Sandpiper!

Friday 13th February [Showers and cool]

I spent most of my day inputting last years records into my database and only made a brief visit at dusk. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was feeding in the Spillway again and Mike Johnson told me he'd seen the Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End.

Tomorrow, we'll be putting up the new bat boxes at Chew Valley Lake, another very exciting scheme designed to boost local biodiversity.

Saturday 14th February [A nice mild day]

The only news was from Melanie Patch who saw 8 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago at Long Bay. I was at Chew Valley Lake all day with Chris Barrington and Ken Anstey putting up bat boxes along the west side. It took much longer than we'd hoped, and we've still got the north and east shores to do before I go to India in March.

Sunday 15th February [Cooler and more overcast with brief sun around lunchtime]

I joined Bristol Naturalists Society ornithological section for a walk at the lake this morning and we had a really nice time. We saw plenty of birds, many giving excellent views, with the undoubted highlight the near-summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis at Wood Bay Point. We also heard a Coal Tit Periparus ater singing at Home Bay (a first for the year). Just before we left, we spotted a Brown Hare Lepus europaeuscrouching in one of Holt Farm fields which I was able to get the telescope trained on for the group to eyeball.

Monday 16th February [Drizzle for much of the day]

The near-summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was at Hellfire Corner this afternoon, and the 2 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus on Holt Farm fields. I did check out the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos today, which was feeding along the overspill and scoped 9+ Goosanders Mergus merganser from the dam in Butcombe Bay, though there were probably more in cover. There were 6 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and 2 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago on the water's edge at Green Lawn, 5 Gadwall Anas strepera in Long Bay and at least 15 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca dotted along the south side as I drove back from Top End, having filled the nut feeder at the Hatchery.

Tuesday 17th February [Sunny and mild]

I didn't visit the lake today, preferring to go to WWT Slimbridge with Robin Williams. We took our cameras, which gave me the opportunity to take a picture of an adult ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis to compare with the Lesser Scaup-type Aythya hybrid that has been at the lake recently (although I haven't seen it since last Thursday). Note the bill pattern, the subtly different head shape, the lack of vermiculations on the back and flanks, iris colour and proportions that give the hybrid away. Paul Williams belated reported seeing the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Hellfire Corner today.

Lesser Scaup, WWT Slimbridge collection (left), and Aythya hybrid (right) for comparison © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Northern Pintails Anas acuta, WWT Slimbridge, Glos. © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Wednesday 18th February [Sunny with a coolish breeze]

Robin Williams came over again this morning and we set out to photograph the Black-necked Grebe, but I just could not spot it anywhere. I was delighted to see 2♂ Eurasian Stonechats Saxicola torquata along the hedge at Holt Bay, that I presume are migrants because I haven't seen any others over the winter period. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was feeding along the overspill as usual. I got the picture below with a 600 mm f4 L Canon lens coupled to a 1.5x converter on the Canon 1Ds MkIII camera from the road bridge.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, Overspill © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

A visit late this afternoon produced the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis at Bell's Bush, of course, just where I started looking for it this morning, and the 2 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End. I spotted 4 (1♂) Goosanders Mergus merganser at Butcombe and an adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus in the roost (almost in summer plumage).

Thursday 19th February [Wet and cool]

Paul Williams reported a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus at Home Bay reeds and 8 Mute Swans (the family + 5 other adults) during his lunchtime visit.

Late this afternoon I decided I had to go and have a look despite the rain. I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis at Bell's Bush, and the 2 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End, but no sign of the Common Sandpiper around the Overspill, no doubt due to the extra flow of water going down the spillway. There were lots of Mallards Anas platyrhynchos feeding out on the adjacent fields, probably attracted to the fresh flush of spring grass but I counted just 65 Canada Geese Branta canadensis on Holt Farm.

Friday 20th February [A lovely spring day]

I spent the whole day beside the the lake today, but rather than birding, I was working with Ken Anstey finishing the winter work on the bat boxes. He's been a real stalwart helping with the workload getting the boxes back into some semblance of order for the new season. Ken has taken away one of the new 1FF boxes, that's cracked over the winter period, hoping he can mend it. During the day I did see 3 Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay, 2 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End and drove back along the south side at dusk where I spotted the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis at Bell's Bush. Ken and I also heard the first Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus song of the year at The Island and Home Bay in the sunshine. I saw 9 (8 adults) Mute Swans Cygnus olor beside the lake today.

Saturday 21st February [Sunny, with a hail/sleet shower in the afternoon.]

Late this afternoon the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was at Bell's Bush, the 2 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End and a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus was showing at Home Bay.

Robin Williams kindly sent me this picture of one of the Eurasian Stonechats that dropped in on Wednesday - we used my car as a hide to get the shot at Holt Bay.

♂ Eurasian Stonechat Saxicola torquata, Holt Bay © Robin Williams, 2015

Sunday 22nd February [Persistent rain]

There was significant flooding around the south side of the lake this afternoon and it wasn't the weather to spend long outside. However, I was surprised to find an adult Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus on Holt Farm beside the road at Home Bay, then surprise turned to concern because there was just a singleton. Had one of the regular pair been predated? I drove to the Top End and was pleased to find the regular pair in their usual field. So, there were 3 present! On the way back, I spotted the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis at Bell's Bush and although I went to look for the Common Sandpiper around the dam and spillway, it wasn't anywhere to be seen.

Monday 23rd February [Sun and showers of sleet]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Wood Bay this morning and the 3 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were all still present; the pair at Top End and the lone bird in the fields beside Home/Long Bays. I spent the afternoon hoping to photograph the grebe, but despite lugging all my gear around I couldn't find it again! The lone Egyptian Goose had gone by this afternoon but there were 24 Canada Geese Branta canadensis still on Holt Farm fields.

Tuesday 24th February [Sunny all day]

Late this afternoon I saw the pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End and, after much searching, spotted the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis at 1745 hrs in Holt Bay! There were still 24 Canada Geese Branta canadensis on Holt Farm, a Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Long Bay and a Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus in the Oaks at Green Lawn.

Wednesday 25th February [Mainly overcast with a few sunny spells. Mild.]

The Little Egret Egretta garzetta was still in Long Bay this afternoon, and I found the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis back off Wood Bay Point where I was able to get a few distant shots when the sun broke through. While I was waiting for the grebe to come a bit closer a pair of Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna flew through to the west. The pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus remain in the field by the Ubley entrance gate. Here are some shots of the grebe (they have softened somewhat when converted to jpegs) but you get the idea - it's a little cuty! There are a couple of close-ups of the Egyptian Geese to show their differing bill patterns too.

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Wood Bay Point © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Wood Bay Point © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Wood Bay Point © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, Top End © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Thursday 26th February [Sunny]

I only had time for a quick look around this afternoon and failed to locate the Black-necked Grebe. However, the pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were at Top End and there were 2 pairs of Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay. While on the subject of pairs, I saw a couple of Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus doing the full 'Penguin Dance' at Rainbow Point while I was there too. A magical spectacle!

Friday 27th February [Sunny]

I spent most of the day at Chew today putting up more of the new bat boxes with Ken Anstey. That's quite a tough gig for seven or more hours believe you me! Ken had also repaired one of the Blagdon boxes since our last work day for which I'm truly grateful. I did manage to have a drive-through look at Blagdon on the way back home. I saw the pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus at Top End as usual, but couldn't spot the Black-necked Grebe again. I shall have a proper look in the morning.

Saturday 28th February [Showers]

The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam today, the first time I've seen it for a while, and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Wood Bay, while the pair of adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were still at Top End. There were 2 pairs of Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay that I saw swimming together towards the dam at dusk as well.