January 2010 News

Friday 1st January

Chris Craig reported (per Bristol Wildlife) seeing the Great Northern Diver Gavia immer today. I was still away, birding in China unfortunately - or not!

Saturday 2nd January

No reported sightings of the Great Northern Diver Gavia immer today. Probably because I arrived back home!

Sunday 3rd January

Not feeling at all well today, so didn't visit the lake. However, I could see that Butcombe Bay was frozen over although the main body of the lake was still ice-free in the wintery conditions.

Monday 4th January

I can't see the lake from the house today, due to mist in the valley, and I'm not well enough to drive down for a look. Sorry, no news.

Tuesday 5th January [Bitterly cold]

Jeremy Williams of Bristol Water kindly emailed me to say that a Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris had been seen today by Bristol Water Estates Manager Malcolm Baber. I visited the doctor today, as I'm still not feeling well, and when I drove to Ubley Garage it appeared that the lake was all but frozen over - excellent conditions for seeing Eurasian Bitterns as I discovered in China where I saw at least 10 on one day at a frozen Yancheng National Nature Reserve in Jiangsu Province. I should hastily add that these are not good conditions for Bitterns to feed in though. Malcolm's is the 6th record for BL, others occurring in 1947, 1951, 1955, 1981 and 2002.

Wednesday 6th January [3-4" of snow fell overnight, overcast all day with further snow showers]

50-60 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flew SSW over Blagdon village this morning in the continuing light snow showers.

A few small areas of open water with a few Common Gulls Larus canus, a brownhead Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and a Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo off the dam. There was a Common Buzzard Buteo buteo polishing off something on the ice and there were more birds further down the lake in other areas of open water including Canada Geese Branta canadensis by the sound of it.

Thursday 7th January [Bright and sunny but remaining bitterly cold]

During a brief visit in the sunshine today there appeared to be only one area of open water which was fairly crowded with waterfowl off Home Bay Point. Species noted included: Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 139 standing on the ice, Common Gull Larus canus c. 150 bathing in a small hole and standing on the ice, reasonable numbers of Canada Goose Branta canadensis, Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis, Common Coot Fulica atra, Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, Common Pochard Aythya ferina, Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata, Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Eurasian Teal Anas crecca and Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope. There were fewer Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 5, Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1, Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis 2 drakes and Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2. A total of 36 spp. were seen during the visit.

Whether the congregation of birds will keep the water open overnight remains to be seen. Last night the temperature dropped to -6 Celsius at the airport and has not risen above freezing point all day. Early evening the temperature is already down to -4 Celsius with a windchill factor of -9 Celsius.

According to Bristol Water's website Blagdon is 96% full as of the 5th January. In October, 59 mm of rainfall was recorded, or 63% of the average. Some 208.3 mm was recorded in November, against a standard average for the WHOLE month of 94 mm. Over 67 mm of that fell in the last week. December saw 71.2 mm. against a 102 mm average.

Friday 8th January [Bright then overcast and bitterly cold]

A quick look from the dam with the telescope this afternoon helped me establish that the area of open water had reduced significantly and the remaining birds were more tightly packed than ever. There may have been fewer dabbling ducks, but this was just a gut feeling, I didn't count. Why don't they all fly off to running water or the coast? A handful of puzzled-looking Common Gulls Larus canus were on the ice as were just 2 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. The weather is set to remain cold for another two weeks according to the man on the radio, but locally the temperature may rise above freezing point on Sunday although the wind chill factor may be much worse. Let's hope some ice melts soon for the sake of the waterfowl, gulls, herons and rails at least.

Saturday 9th January [Overcast then sunny but temperature below freezing all day]

Well, the ducks have kept their patch of water open at the entrance to Long Bay but things must be getting increasingly desperate. There are about 40 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata swimming round and round in a huge vortex near the bank, presumably trying to draw up food items. I've seen pairs of this species doing the same thing, but never a huge group acting in a combined manner like this. The list of species is much the same as given on Thursday, though I didn't spot any Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, the Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus or Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis. There were 7 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on the ice but no gulls to be seen anywhere.

I also noted 4 male and a single female Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula feeding on the ground just inside the entrance gate to the Lodge. This seemed unusual because you usually see them in pairs at this time of the year. Could they be migrants?

Sunday 10th January [Overcast with some light snow showers, but the temperature crept above freezing at last]

Signs of a slight thaw today, but the area of open water hadn't opened up much at the mouth of Long Bay. There seemed to be slightly fewer diving ducks but I still recorded: Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Eurasian Teal Anas crecca, Gadwall Anas strepera 3, Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata, Tufted duck Aythya fuligula, Common Pochard, Aythya ferina, Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis 1 drake, Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis and Coot Fulica atra. A few Common Gulls Larus canus bathed and flew off to Chew. A few Canada Geese Branta canadensis were scratching about on Holt Farm.

The most remarkable sight on my brief foray outside was of 13 Brown Hares Lepus europaeus in a single field! I grabbed a picture, through a hole in the hedge, of some of them.

Brown Hares Lepus europaeus, Blagdon © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

We had visits from male and female Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla to feed on the garden patio with the host of 15-20 Common Blackbirds Turdus merula. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus flew over, no doubt with an eye to the main chance!

Monday 11th January [Benign, overcast, with some light sleet, tempeature around freezing all day]

I paid a very brief visit to check the Long Bay ducks this afternoon (still feeling under the weather), and counted Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 20, Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 4 or so, Eurasian Teal Anas crecca 54, Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 3, Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis 1 drake, Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata circa 85, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1 and Common Gulls Larus canus washing up, Common Pochard Aythya ferina, Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, Common Coot Fulica atra and Mallard Anas platyrhynchos.

Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula at the edge of the ice, Home Bay Point © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, Common Pochard Aythya ferina and Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula seem to be feeding preferentially around the edge of the ice, presumably to exploit new food sources.

Tuesday 12th January [Windy, overcast and significant snow fall after dark]

A quick look revealed that the ice has opened up a bit today, thus allowing the diving ducks access to a wider area. Some snow had thawed a little and Common Coots Fulica atra were scratching around on the bank at Long Bay. The snow started to fall just before it got dark, but the forecast is for the temperature to continue to rise. Let's hope more ice melts and the snow thaws quickly so that local Barn Owls Tyto alba and smaller passerines can get to their food.

Wednesday 13th January [Overcast with light snow showers in the morning. 3-4" fell overnight]

I did not venture out of the house in the inclement weather conditions so, sorry, but no news from the lake today unless anyone else visited?

A male Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla came in to feed on the patio and at least one Fieldfare Turdus pilaris came into the garden to feed on apple halves that I put in a tree (I pushed them on to small branch spikes). This appears to be more successful than cutting up apple and putting pieces on the ground, although at least one tail-less Song Thrush Turdus philomelos came in to invstigate those.

Thursday 14th January [Overcast, fog and the thaw has started]

Another quick visit today and I was surprised to see 3 adult drake Goosanders Mergus merganser fly in. There has been an increase in the number of Little Grebes Tachybaptus ruficollis, which were up to 9, as were Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula. The area of water has opened significantly from the mouth of Long Bay to the Lodge, but the majority of the lake remains under ice, though this should change tomorrow.

Drake Goosanders Mergus merganser, Home Bay Point © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Friday 15th January [Overcast but much milder with a SE wind]

I felt well enough to go for my first walk since getting back from China this afternoon and was relieved to see that much of the local countryside is now free of snow, but the lake remains 90-95% iced-over. No surprises at the lake, other than a juvenile Mute Swan Cygnus olor, 18 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago and an unidentified small wader that went bowling down the middle of the lake and off to the west.

Saturday 16th January [Mild and cloudy, with early rain]

I did the WeBS Count and was amazed out how many new birds had arrived since yesterday now that the ice has all but melted (perhaps 5-10% coverage still). There has clearly been an influx of Common Pochard Aythya ferina, I suspect from Cheddar Reservoir, but unfortunately the Red-crested Pochards Netta rufiina didn't come over the hill with them. Wildfowl are beginning to spread out over the lake again, and my count of 9 Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus yesterday was down to 4 today as they have more suitable places to feed, away from prying eyes, now that the ice has gone. See the WeBS Count page for full count details.

The other surprise was that there was clear evidence of a movment of Skylarks Alauda arvensis with one flock of 13 heading north-east and three other calls heard but I didn't see the birds that made them.

Sunday 17th January [Mild and sunny]

I went to WWT Slimbridge to photograph wildfowl and didn't visit the lake today. There are a couple of shots in the Gloucestershire Birds Gallery. I haven't heard from anyone else who did go down to the lake for a look.

Tuesday 19th January [Continuing mild weather with little wind and fog]

No news from the lake for the past two days. The lake is 99% full now.

However, I did find a Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros at Somerdale, Keynsham today and we have been getting regular visits from Peregrines Falco peregrinus to the building ledges; we suspect the tiercel is roosting overnight.

Wednesday 20th January [Colder with snow showers on an easterly wind this morning]

Len Ingram and Don Smith had a look at the lake from the dam today and saw 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila, the first sighting of the species at the lake in 2010 (thanks for the email guys).

Thursday 21st January [Cool, with a southerly breeze turning east & light rain after dark]

I managed a quick squint from the dam this morning, in the half-light before sun up and saw what appeared to be the 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila noted yesterday. However, in the short time I had to watch them I came to the conclusion that these were probably the two birds present in December viz. a drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and a drake Aythya hybrid. Question is, where did they go when the lake froze over and why were they so keen to get back?

The Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros was still at Somerdale, Keynsham today.

Saturday 23rd January [Mild, benign and overcast]

The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid were feeding off the middle of the dam this morning and there were 5 Goosanders Mergus merganser (2 adult drakes and 3 females) in Butcombe Bay. 24 Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula were spread around the lake, 8 of which were drakes (7 adults and a 1st-winter). A pair of Eurasian Stonechats Saxicola torquata were feeding at Rugmoor (per Mervyn Pearce), 28 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flew high west, a male Peregrine Falco peregrinus flew south over the lake and off towards the Mendips and I heard 2 Water Rails Rallus aquaticus sqealing in the reeds at Home Bay.

Sunday 24th January [Sunny but cool with a light westerly breeze]

The lake is full with water going over the spillway today. On the bird front, not too much appears to have changed overnight, with the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid still feeding off the middle of the dam, but the Goosander Mergus merganser count has gone up to 14 (4 adult drakes) in Butcombe Bay. They offer great viewing opportunities from the public footpath along the Butcombe shore, accessed from the north end of the dam, as they display and interact with each other.

Drake Goosander Mergus merganser, Home Bay Point © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Tuesday 26th January

No news from the lake for the last couple of days I'm afraid.

Wednesday 27th January [Cool and hazy with a westerly wind]

I made a brief visit before sunrise and saw 3 adult drake Goosanders Mergus merganser displaying and chasing each other around in Butcombe Bay. However, it was too dark to see how many females were there also. The gull roost was quite large and included all the commoner species still sitting on the water. I didn't see either the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila or Aythya hybrid but they are probably still present.

The Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros was still at Somerdale, Keynsham today.

Friday 29th January [Fog, light variable westerly wind then cloud on a north north-westerly wind]

I was rather late on parade this afternoon, but nevertheless enjoyed a fine walk, the highlight of which was a close encounter with a Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola at Holt Bay. Another remarkable sight was a pair of Peregrines Falco peregrinus sitting in a dead tree on Holt Farm fields next to Park Lane. The female was sitting on the topmost point and the male well down on the outer branches.

An adult drake Goosander Mergus merganser swam with 3 redheads in Butcombe Bay and the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and Aythya hybrid were still feeding a couple of hundred metres off the dam.

Saturday 30th January [Bright and sunny with a light north westerly]

Despite the beautiful full moon last night there doesn't appear to have been any movement of wildfowl. The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and Aythya hybrid were feeding distantly from the dam close to the North Shore. Two drake Goosander Mergus merganser and 5 redheads were in Butcombe Bay, with a lone drake at Wood Bay Point. As I walked back towards Blagdon later, I saw a pair copulating in Pipe Bay (presumably from Butcombe).

7 Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus flew west, 6 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea were sitting in the trees on The Island (with another in Long Bay), the usual pair of Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus were mooching around and two pairs of Mute Swan Cygnus olor have returned to the lake since the big freeze.

Sunday 31st January [Cold with a light westerly breeze]

The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and Aythya hybrid were feeding in the entrance to Butcombe Bay with Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula. I saw 4 Goosanders Mergus merganser, a couple of redheads flew out of Butcombe Bay and a pair of adults in Long Bay (which was half covered with glassy ice).

As I approached the Fishing Lodge (affectionately known as 'The Hut') five Eurasian Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula flew across in front of me. I think they have been surviving the winter on 'keys' shed by Ash Fraxinus excelsior, Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus and Norway Maple Acer platanoides.

Nearing Home Bay Point woodland I watched the Western Jackdaws Corvus monedula and Rooks Corvus frugilegus gathering to converse before settling down to roost. However, there was a sudden clamour and a pair of Peregrines Falco peregrinus flew low over the wood. The tiercel (male) was flying highest with a slow fluttering flight and the falcon (female) was flying low over the tree-tops. I can't imagine they were seriously thinking of taking a Jackdaw, more likely one of the Woodpigeons Columba palumbus that were coming in to roost in the pines around Long Bay. I saw them sitting together in a tree nearby at dusk yesterday, so perhaps they are hunting co-operatively.

Further along by Long Bay bridge I put up a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago and another six rose out of the Top End marginal vegetation as darkness fell. Canada Geese Branta canadensis numbers had risen to 157 today but there was no sign of any hunting Barn Owls Tyto alba, so perhaps they didn't survive the snow earlier in the month - I haven't seen any since.