January 2011 News

Saturday 1st January, New Years Day [A bit nippier today and remaining grey and tranquil]

Happy New Year to all and thanks for your support throughout 2010. I found a Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis feeding along the North Shore today and I think I've finally had good enough views to conclude that the mystery Aythya is, indeed, a Greater Scaup Aythya marila (a 1st-winter male, the juvenile facial blaze is still present). The Goosander Mergus merganser count continues to rise and there were at least 38 today. Unfortunately, last nights celebratory fireworks appear to have driven off the Tundra (Bewick's) Swans Cygnus columbianus and the Northern Pintails Anas acuta, but I still managed to rack up 54 species during my visit. There were 28 Dunlin Calidris alpina at Top End and a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus at Home Bay along with the usual Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on the shorebird front, while passerines included a flyover Skylark Alauda arvensis, a number of Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus and the huge flock of Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina at Long Bay today.

I met Chris Klee who told me he had been watching a Common Buzzard Buteo buteo picking over the fresh carcass of another Common Buzzard behind the dam. This is the second dead Buzzard to have been found at the lake in the last few days - it is to be hoped there is nothing sinister going on that's causing these deaths other than starvation (e.g. poison baits). Perhaps it might be worth getting some analysis done on them if we find any more? Chris kindly sent me his Otter Lutra lutra shots taken in December to share on the website:

Otter paw prints & tracks in the snow © Chris Klee, 2011

Note the five toes and short claws which show really nicely on the left shot. The shot on the right shows a bounding animal, I think, and the tail dragging in the snow during December.

The other interesting find was made by Phil Wright of Bristol Water in the shape of a Lesser Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus hipposideros. He took some pictures and I'm hoping to post one in due course. I would have expected the bat to be tucked up in a cave by now, but Daniel Hargreaves of Avon Bat Group said it may have come out to feed during the recent mild spell. Lets hope it isn't too cold overnight and that it finds a warmer place to sleep tonight. Daniel said he'll weigh and check it tomorrow, if it hasn't flown off tonight. All bats are legally protected and interfering with them without a licence is an offence.

Sunday 2nd January [Chilly easterly breeze on a grey day]

Sadly, no sign of yesterdays Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, but one's been reported at Cheddar Res, so it's probably the same bird. There's also news of a Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris further down the valley at the Perfect Bite Pools, Kingston Seymour. Could this be the bird I saw fly west over the dam on 30th December? The Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid were both still visible from the dam today. The Goosander Mergus merganser count was made difficult by people walking around Butcombe Bay on the waters edge, but I counted at least 36 despite all their evasive actions and the Dunlin Calidris alpina count was 32 at Top End. In addition, 3 Tundra (Bewick's) Swans Cygnus columbianus were by the Lodge this morning and I added Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea and Black-billed Magpie Pica pica to the lake year list. A second pair of Mute Swans Cygnus olor has arrived back at the lake too.

The Lesser Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus hipposideros was still torpid today so Daniel is going to check its welfare tomorrow. Here's a shot of a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus grabbed in the rather poor light this afternoon:

Brown Hare Lepus europaeus © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Monday 3rd January [Brrr! Barely above freezing point all day with snow showers]

When Daniel and Heidi came to check the Lesser Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus hipposideros with me today, it had gone! I guess it wasn't happy with the low temperature last night. Here is a picture I took yesterday for Daniel to check our putative identity:

Lesser Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus hipposideros © Nigel Milbourne, 2011 (left) & Phil Wright, 2011 (right).

Note that both species of Horseshoe Bat hang free by their feet and it is usual for the plum-sized Lesser Horseshoe to cover its head and face with its wings when torpid (as shown above), while the Greater Horseshoe Rhinolophus ferrumequinum has its face and ears uncovered. Apart from forearm length, the shape of the sella on the nose-leaf is the best aid to separating the two species in the hand. You can see this better on the excellent close-up sent to me by Phil Wright, the finder. The sella is tapering, when seen from below, unlike the saddle-shaped sella of the Greater Horseshoe (the shadow cast by the flash shows the shape well on the picture above). The profile of the sella also differs but isn't easily seen on a torpid bat. I remember seeing my first Horseshoe bats many years ago, as a young teenager, when I went caving with Bristol Speleological Society in Burrington Combe, a few miles away. I have been out with Somerset Bat Group when they ringed bats in Wookey Hole caves as well, but didn't go a bundle on the squeezing through narrow gaps and climbing that was involved, now I'm getting a bit creakier!

Male Hazel Corylus avellana catkins (flowers) were out at Holt Copse and the Lodge entrance though still growing and not opened yet.

On the bird front, it was business as usual, with the Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid and just 3 Goosanders Mergus merganser still visible from the dam in the snow showers. The 3 Tundra (Bewick's) Swans Cygnus columbianus flew back to Chew yesterday, but the Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus was still in Home Bay and 31 Dunlin Calidris alpina at Top End with 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. I checked the gull roost in the late afternoon but saw nothing unusual other than a few standing on ice in Butcombe Bay - which I thought had all melted.

I met Mike Gillett who told me he had seen a Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla at Ubley Hatchery just before Christmas - a rare winter record at the lakeside. We had male and female Blackcaps and a Brambling Fringilla montifringilla in the garden today as well as a Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus poking its nose out of the wall outside the back door.

Tuesday 4th January

No news today. Sorry. Dark on the way to work and dark well before I got home and likely to be the case until Friday.

Thursday 6th January [Dull, cold and wet]

I received an email from Phil Coles (thanks Phil) who walked the Butcombe Bank and spotted about 10 Goosanders Mergus merganser on the opposite shore, a couple of Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, some Common Pochards Aythya ferina and a probable Greater Scaup Aythya marila, though Phil admitted to being a bit unsure about the last.

Friday 7th January [Rain, at last, and the temp rose to 10 Celsius]

I had a quick look around the lake this afternoon and saw 23 Goosanders Mergus merganser and 12 + Dunlin Calidris alpina picking around on the shoreline with the dabbling ducks at Bell's Bush, although I saw at least 16 in flight with some Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus when I first looked out of the hide.

Saturday 8th January [A biting cold wind and grey start but the sun came out in the afternoon]

Alan Bone and I paid a visit to Cheddar Reservoir this morning in cold, windy conditions and saw a redhead Smew Mergellus albellus, a drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and 12, or more, mobile Red-crested Pochards Netta rufina that were difficult to count because the wind was causing them to continually relocate to stop being washed up on the bank. From Cheddar, we whipped over to Tesco's car park at Weston-super-Mare to see the 2 Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus (my first this winter) before returning to the familiar territory of Blagdon.

There are still good numbers of Eurasian Teal Anas crecca and Wigeon Anas penelope with 31 Dunlin Calidris alpina at Top End despite the rising water level. Also noted were 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta in Long Bay, a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus in Home Bay and at least 17 Goosanders Mergus merganser scattered about in groups. We added Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea, Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris and Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major to the lake year list today. By the time we got to the dam it was just too dark to spot the Greater Scaup having checked through the gull roost first.

Sunday 9th January [Icy early on, but the sun came out all day]

No visit to the lake today, but on the 3rd January I noticed a super bracket fungus on an old Birch Betula sp. trunk that was layered like frilly petticoats and was a beautiful lilac colour. I checked it again yesterday, though I had no camera with me, and have concluded that it is Silverleaf Fungus Chondrostereum purpureum, but as usual will get it verified when I get a picture or two. The NSBFG do not appear to have recorded it on their visits and there are no ST55 records according to the NBN Gateway, though it is not a rare species and is probably just underreported.

As there is little happening at the lake, I decided to have a day birding in the New Forest with some friends and among other things saw the juvenile White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, a male Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus and a good selection of woodland species including Marsh Tit Parus palustris and Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata at Eyeworth Pond, Fritham.

Juvenile White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla & Marsh Tit Parus palustris, Hants © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Tuesday 11th January [Sunny and milder than of late]

As was the case yesterday, I've received no news from anyone visiting the lake today. I had planned to visit and photograph the fungus this afternoon, in the sunshine, but I couldn't get away from work in time.

Sarah Lambert contacted me and told me she had a logbook from the Top End hide that used to be put out there by her dad Roger Lambert, a keen birder who lived in Ubley. The logbook covered the period from June 1989 to July 1992 and amazingly contained my first entry dated 11th June 1992. Sarah leant me the book in order that I may glean records for my BL database and just a quick perusal turned up some interesting notes including regular sightings of Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis, Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia and Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus all of which are rare at the lake just twenty years later.

Wednesday 12th January [Wet, wet, wet! But to be fair, we need it.]

A brief expedition to the dam end this afternoon during which time I saw 6 Goosanders Mergus merganser, the drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid and the 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila, a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus in Home Bay and a few other dabbling (daffy) ducks and gulls.

The lake is beginning to fill again and the next few days of forecast rain will undoubtedly make a difference, though the Bristol Water briefing issued on their website on 10th January puts matters into context: "December 2010 was one of our driest ever months....December rainfall was 25mm against an average at our Litton site of 112mm and is in the lowest 5% of recorded flows....annual rainfall for January to December 2010....has been exceptionally low, the third lowest in the last 100 years with only 1921 and 1933 being lower (both famous drought years)." No figure was published for the lake level, but I will record it myself on Saturday when we do the WeBS count.

Thanks to my good lady wife, Celia, who carried a big brolly on our visit today, I was able to take some photos of the fungus mentioned below to share with you as promised:

Silverleaf Fungus Chondrostereum purpureum on Birch Betula sp. stump & close-up of new growth higher up the tree  © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

It appears as a beautiful lilac, velvety growth when young, but later darkens through purple and eventually turns brown, as it has already on the other side of the stump.

Friday 14th January [Mainly dry with a westerly breeze]

A stiff westerly breeze blew up this afternoon and coupled with the coloured, and rising water, things appeared to be very quiet on the bird front with just the 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the North Shore worthy of note (although asleep as usual). I counted just 10 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 62 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, 5 Mute Swans Cygnus olor (2 pairs and an immature) and the usual pair of adult Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus. There are quite a few Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and Teal Anas crecca but we'll try and count them tomorrow when we do the WeBS Count.

According to the Bristol Water website, Blagdon has risen 4% in the last week to 56% full - still a long way to go! I counted the number of rows of stones on the dam face today and my ready reckoner suggests that the level may be over 60% now we've had all the rain in the last couple of days.

Saturday 15th January [A blustery south-westerly on a grey, overcast, day]

It was nice to see 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila (an adult drake, an adult duck and 2 1st-winter drakes) plus the drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid when we started the WeBS Count, but aside from 14 Goosanders Mergus merganser (4 adult drakes and 10 redheads) there was little else new. Luckily for me, the 312 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and 871 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca were not feeding up the banks when we got to Top End, so I was able to count them a bit more easily than I was expecting. Unfortunately, despite grilling them hard, I couldn't find any Nearctic vagrants among them! There were also a huge number of gulls present when we started, but they had nearly all flown off to the fields by the time we got to the Lodge, so I went back and did the roost this evening. Again, I didn't find any surprises among the usual suspects. The full WeBS Count details are available on the WeBS Counts page. There were 2914 birds counted of 28 species.

Passerines included two sizeable flocks of Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina, about 20 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus (at Top End entrance) and quite a few Pied Wagtails Motacilla alba yarellii and shorebirds were represented by 47 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and 5 Dunlin Calidris alpina.

Sunday 16th January

Sorry folks, no visit to the lake today, I went to bird around the Exe Estuary and came across a BOC coach outing! Anyway, I enjoyed some good birding with friends Alan, Jack and Sid and saw about 60 species including Common Eider Somateria mollissima, Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus, Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis, Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata and Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus. Thankfully, the rain held off for most of the day, though when it did arrive it made the drive home up the motorway a bit grim.

Saturday 22nd January [Cool and benign with occasional sleety drizzle]

While I was looking over the dam on my first visit to the lake for a week, I met Mervyn Pearce who told me he had seen the following:

2 Northern Pintails Anas acuta (a pair) in Rugmoor Bay, a drake Greater Scaup (we actually decided it was Scaup-a-like), at least 12 Goosanders Mergus merganser (1 drake, 11 females), 2 Common Buzzards Buteo buteo, 8 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea, a male Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, 60-80 Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina, 3 Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus and 3 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula. In addition Mervyn very kindly filled the feeders at Ubley Hatchery, where he saw 4 Mistle Thrushes Turdus viscivorus, 2 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris and a Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea.

I saw at least 2 adult drake Goosanders and 6 redheads, so there must have been no fewer than 13 present, at least 5 Common Goldeneyes (including 2 adult drakes) and together we found the group of 3 adult Greater Scaup Aythya marila (drake, 1st-winter drake and a duck) off North Shore.

Sunday 23rd January

Sean Davis visited the lake today and sent me the following news:

4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila off North Shore including an adult drake (hybrids not ruled out but presumably they are the same that were present last weekend), 9 Goosander Mergus merganser, 2 Little Egret Egretta garzetta, 3 Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis and a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis (feeder stream by Top End gate).

Having visited Dawlish and the Exe Estuary last Friday and left my glasses in the pub where Ce and I had lunch (doh), I went back with Robin Williams to photograph birds today.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa, Bowling Green Marsh © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

A blizzard of Pied Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta, Bowling Green Marsh © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Monday 24th January [Dry, dull and cool]

I received an email from Paul Williams today saying he'd seen a drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila by the dam, some Goosanders Mergus merganser and 4 drake Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula. Thanks Paul.

I walked the south side this afternoon and saw 3 Greater Scaup (drake, 1st-winter drake and a duck) off the North Shore, a drake Northern Pintail Anas acuta on Rugmoor Point, a drake Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis, 4 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, 25 Common Goldeneyes (4 adult drakes), 21+ Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus, a Little Egret Egretta garzetta, at least 400-500 Common Pochards Aythya ferina and large numbers of Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and Eurasian Teal Anas crecca. It got dark before I could check the dam end for the drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid and go through the large number of gulls. A fun shot from yesterday as I left the camera at home today:

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa enjoying a worm, Bowling Green Marsh © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Bristol Water is appealing for people to watch out for fly-tippers near its lakes.
The fly-tippers have struck again, this time in broad daylight, at Chew. Between 3.30 and 4pm on Monday (last week), the contents of a garden / garage clearance were dumped, totally blocking the access to Nunnery Point off the B3114 between Harptreee and Chew Stoke. A small tipper truck must have been used and it is likely the load came from within the Valley. The alert was raised by a birdwatcher who had travelled past the area. The company's Estates' team promptly cleared away the rubbish. It included a five gallon drum of roofing bitumen and two drums of unidentified chemicals. The fly-tipping causes an unsightly and potentially dangerous nuisance in a beauty spot, and clearing up after the fly-tippers also costs the company money which would be better spent on conservation. Fly-tippers have struck regularly around both Chew and Blagdon lakes in recent years, often using fishermen's entrances and car parks. It is very rare, though, for somebody to be brazen enough to do it in daytime. BW is asking everybody who goes near the lakes, from staff to birdwatchers, to keep a special eye open for anything suspicious and, if they see anything, to report it immediately to Woodford Lodge on 01275 332339 or Corporate Affairs on 0117 9536470.

Don't forget -- there is still a £500 reward on offer for information which leads to the arrest and conviction of anybody fly-tipping on BW land.

Thursday 27th January

A message from Jeremy Williams of Bristol Water as follows:

Ref: Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis cull

"Just to let you know -- the exercise went ahead at Blagdon yesterday. The team only saw two birds, a pair,  and managed to shoot the female which, they said, was the main target for the visit. They are not aware of any other female in the area now but will continue to monitor Barrow Gurney, CVL and Blagdon just in case.  We have not so far been asked for any further permissions."

I'd like to understand why females are the 'main target'. If Ruddy Ducks are a threat to the Iberian population of White-headed Ducks Oxyura leucocephala because the males outcompete males of that species for the favours of the females (as we've been led to believe), why aren't the male Ruddy Ducks being targetted instead of the females? In addition, the chances of female Ruddy Ducks mating with male White-headed Ducks and diluting the White-headed gene pool would seem unlikely, if, the perceived wisdom is held to be true. Can anyone explain?

Saturday 29th January [A bitingly cold wind but otherwise dry]

Mervyn Pearce visited Top End today and reported "1 Little Egret Egretta garzetta, 3 Northern Ravens Corvus corax, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major."

It seems that the new sunflower feeder that I bought has disappeared from the Hatchery. We're not sure if it's been stolen at this juncture.

I walked across the Mendips to Wookey Hole today, but there was little evidence of bird life in the biting wind. I did see 5 Yellowhammers Emberiza citrinella feeding in a garden along Ubley Drove, 2 Northern Ravens on Warren Farm (where Merv saw 14 yesterday) and a couple of White-throated Dippers Cinclus cinclus along the stream by the car park in Wookey Hole (one of which flew off high over the mill buildings upstream after a short dispute with one from downstream).

Sunday 30th January [Sunny, still and cold]

A check from the dam with my telescope this afternoon revealed 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila (the adult drake, a 1st-winter drake and an adult duck off north shore as usual and a 1st-winter drake with the drake Scaup-a-like Aythya hybrid by the spillway off Butcombe Bank), at least 5 Goosanders Mergus merganser, and 14 feral Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock. With the days starting to get longer, I may be able to get a daily visit in again soon, until then, I will be grateful for news from anyone with information to pass on.