BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

January 2014 News


Wednesday 1st January 2014 [Very wet and windy] New Years Day

Adult Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

It was a pretty miserable walk from Top End back home today. The passerines were keeping a very low profile in the wet and windy weather and it wasn't until I got to the Lodge, where I keep the feeding station going, that there were lots of song birds. I managed 46 species in the dismal conditions including a surprise adult ♂ Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina at Cheddar Water with a small flock of Common Pochards Aythya ferina. There were also 2 pairs of Goosanders Mergus merganser in the vicinity of the Lodge with the ♂♂ chasing each other around and displaying to the ♀♀, which was quite entertaining. I didn't manage to spot the Black-necked Grebe, Pink-footed Geese or Common Sandpiper though. Hopefully I'll get 'em tomorrow.

Thursday 2nd January [Sunny and mild]

Viewing was much easier today in the benign conditions, and I was able to spot the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis way out from Wood Bay towards Rugmoor and, while I was checking the gull roost, I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos pottering along the dam. However, I didn't see the Red-crested Pochard or Pink-footed Geese today.

I've added a few new species to my 2014 site list today and I've produced a type of phenology graph that will demonstrate how the list grows as the year unfolds. If this spring is normal, then we should see a difference between the two years as the spring/summer migrants start to flood in.

Friday 3rd January [Windy with wintery showers]

I went down to fill the bird feeders late morning, and saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Wood Bay again (the gates were shut, but it could be viewed with a scope from Rugmoor Gate looking to the left of Rainbow Point), I also scoped the Aythya hybrid off Burmah Road. A single Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Long Bay and ♀ Goosander Mergus merganser by the Spillway were the only other birds of note at that time. Later, I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam when checking the gull roost and just before that I saw a flock of 20 Stock Doves Columba oenas at the Lodge.

Bristol Water's website gives the water level as 82% today (64% on 18th December).

Saturday 4th January [Still, with an occasional shower]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was feeding quite close in to Rainbow Point late morning and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was feeding along the dam wall, where I also spotted a ♂ Goosander Mergus merganser diving close in. The best surprise was seeing a couple of Lesser Redpolls Carduelis cabaret. Singing passerines included Great Tit Parus major and Song Thrush Turdus philomelos.

Geoff Dring saw a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita on Rainbow Point just after we'd met, and heard it call "hoo-eet." That's the first report of the winter, so thanks Geoff.

Sunday 5th January [Miserable, wet, and increasingly windy]

Despite the conditions, I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay at lunchtime, and although I didn't expect to add to the site year list, with most birds sheltering out of the wind and rain, I saw 6 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus at Hellfire Corner in the Alder trees. The wind was whipping waves up the dam wall so, predictably, there was no sign of the Common Sandpiper. I've spent quite a bit of time checking the nut feeder at Ubley Hatchery since the New Year, but as yet there has been no sign of any Eurasian Nuthatches using it - perhaps they're no longer there? For about the last two weeks, Redwings Turdus iliacus and Fieldfares Turdus pilaris have been down by the lake in good numbers, which is something of a contrast to the autumn months when they were conspicuous by their absence.

I saw Yellow Brain Tremella mesenterica growing on a sapling in Holt Copse (west side of track) which added a splash of colour.

Monday 6th January [Overcast and windy]

It wasn't very exciting today, with just the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam worthy of reporting. I added Greenfinch Chloris chloris to the year list - not an easy bird to get at the lake these days!

Tuesday 7th January [Sunny spells]

I spent over 4 hours at the lake today, but it was very quiet apart from the two huge tractors that were flailing the south side hedges! I struggled to find 49 bird spp. and only managed one new bird for the year - a ♂ Tawny Owl Strix aluco calling at Cheddar Water. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Rainbow Point and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam as usual. There was a small party of 7-8 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus at Ubley Hatchery in the tree above the nut feeder and one flew overhead at Bell's Bush. A single ♀ Goosander Mergus merganser continues to fish alongside the dam, but all the others have gone.

The water is about 4 inches from the top of the overspill this afternoon and I guess it will probably go over sometime in the next 24 hours. Bristol Water give the level as 97% today.

Wednesday 8th January [Sunny, then late rain]

I made a quick visit this morning and saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and 3 (adult ♂ & 2♀♀) Goosanders Mergus merganser nearby. I couldn't spot the Black-necked Grebe in the short time I had available, most of which I spent looking through the gulls for a Mediterranean Gull without success. The water was lipping the overspill but not going over yet.

Steve Hale saw: 1 Goosander (dam), c. 140 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 1 Common Sandpiper (dam), 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major, 1 Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris, 20 Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis (field by pumping station). Thanks for the news.

The phenology page now shows the first date each species is recorded and the first date song is noted. I also graphically show the number of species I've seen over the course of 2014. If you wish to contribute sightings to the phenology page please contact me with your information and I'll add it. For example, resident species I haven't caught up with yet, include Kestrel, Reed Bunting, Raven, Green Woodpecker and Nuthatch.

Thursday 9th January [Mainly sunny and dry]

I spent the afternoon lakeside, but once again I struggled to find birds. I only racked up 44 spp. seen and heard, when I would normally expect to get a minimum of 50 spp. I've managed 50 spp. just once this year, which is very different to January 2011 when I got 65 spp. on New Year's Day alone. There don't seem to be many passerines, and with the water level coming up rapidly, there aren't many waterbirds either. I suppose the tractors working around the site, flailing hedges, aren't heping too much either! The water was running down the spillway today, so we've reached top level.

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Wood Bay and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. At least 8 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus were feeding in the Alders at Hellfire Corner.

An interesting news story broke today in the Shetland Times about the migration of a Red-necked Phalarope, fitted with a geolocator on Fetlar, which flew to winter in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru. It flew down the the eastern seaboard of the US, crossed the Caribbean and Mexico, to reach its destination.

Friday 10th January [Dry and overcast, slight breeze]

I tried something different and spent most of my time around Butcombe Bay today, but I've nothing to add to the year list. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was close in to Rainbow Point and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, even though there's water going down the spillway. There were also 6 adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor and 3 (adult ♂ & 2♀♀) Goosanders Mergus merganser.

Saturday 11th January [Sunny all day]

I didn't spend too much time at the lake as I was checking some bat roosts with Avon Bat Group, but a couple of hours this afternoon saw 3 Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna sitting on the water, but no sign of the Black-necked Grebe or Common Sandpiper, although I expect both are still present. A couple of birders reported seeing the small flock of Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus.

Sunday 12th January [Showers]

I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis over at Peg's Point again today (easily viewed from Rugmoor Gate) but with the easterly breeze blowing onto the dam, the Common Sandpiper wasn't on the dam, as is often the case in such conditions.

I spent the afternoon at a meeting, in Bristol Museum, of the Bristol & District Moth Group during which members told us about their season last year and showed us pictures of their finds from the coast right into central Bristol.

Monday 13th [Sunny early on,then wintery showers in the afternoon]

It was a pretty miserable, wet, afternoon by the lake today and once again it was hard to find even common birds e.g. I didn't even see a Great Tit. I managed a paltry 38 spp., though I did see the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis just off Rainbow Point and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos back on the dam. The most interesting thing I saw was an immature Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus eating wind-fall apples at Ubley Hatchery - not something you see every day!

Tuesday 14th January [Sunny]

What a difference a bit of sunshine makes! I managed to get 51 spp. today, including a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis, as it flew up over the dam and away along Cheddar Water while I was watching the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. The pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser were in Butcombe Bay and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was back over on the north side, off Peg's Point. 5 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago sprang up from the water's edge as I walked along the road at Long Bay, and I saw a single Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus at Ubley end in the Alders Alnus glutinosa.

I guess the reason it's hard to add new species to the year list at present is largely down to the continuing mild weather. Nothing much is moving about. A pair of Mute Swans Cygnus olor has come back to the lake, doubling the number present, and the Canada Goose Branta candensis flock is growing steadily, but we'd probably need a prolonged cold spell to force more birds our way.

Wednesday 15th January [Mild with showers]

I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis over near the north shore at Paradise / Peg's Point an hour or two after Chris Craig tweeted it as being off Rainbow Point.

Thursday 16th January [Heavy rain showers]

It was hard to tell where the fields ended and the lake started today, with some pretty extensive flooding caused by the heavy downpours. According to the Blagdon Weather Station we've had 16mm of rain up to 1700 hrs.

I found the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay when I went down for a second time, but on my first visit, the rain was coming down so hard I couldn't see the birds on the other side of the lake. Even the gulls had taken refuge in the fields! I saw a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis fly up over the dam and across the lake into Butcombe Bay, while I was watching the water rushing down the spillway. I wonder if any mature European Eels Anguilla anguilla will take the opportunity to escape the lake and head down the Yeo towards the sea? I suppose it'll be more likely on a New Moon rather than the Full Moon we will have tonight, if the clouds roll back.

I haven't seen the Common Sandpiper since Tuesday, and the engineers were putting up safety fencing on the middle of the dam by the valve tower today, prior to work starting there. No doubt the sandpiper will stay through until Spring, but it might be pushed to either end of the dam to feed during the day.

Friday 17th January [Showers]

I didn't get to the lake until late this afternoon. I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Rainbow Point and checked the gull roost (as usual nothing of note) and that was about it. Again, there was no sign of the Common Sandpiper. Tomorrow is WeBS count day though I'm not expecting it to take very long. Hopefully, the extra pairs of eyes might see something to keep the year list ticking over. We will also be doing some bat work, more about which over the weekend.

Saturday 18th January [Overcast some showers]

We did the WeBS count this morning and just as I thought there were very few birds. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was still present between Rainbow Point and Ash Tree and I managed to add 2 new species to the year list, a confiding Green Woodpecker Picus viridis and a small flock of 21 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus that flew east along the lake. The pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser were still in Butcombe Bay.

This afternoon a few of us checked some bat boxes and found the first Noctule Nyctalus noctula to have been recorded in a box at the lake. However, there will be a big announcement made in the national press on Monday about a bat from Blagdon, so watch this space...

Sunday 19th January [Sunny]

It was a lovely sunny day but I didn't visit the lake, I spent most of it underground! So, sorry, I have no bird news to pass on today.

Monday 20th January [Still with sunny spells]

It was a lovely afternoon for a walk, and I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Holt Bay. There were 2 adult ♂♂ Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay and 16 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis were back with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock at Green Lawn.

I spent the morning with Teddy Dolstra who'd come from the Netherlands for the weekend for a special get together at Blagdon Lake. To find out why see this news story on the BBC website. See my Bat Info News page for more about the weekend with pictures.

Tuesday 21st January [Increasingly cloudy with a stiff easterly breeze]

An afternoon visit saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis close in off Rainbow Point, a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay, 2 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on Green Lawn, 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, a ♀ Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis at Ubley Hatchery (still no Nuthatches there) and, despite over an hour spent checking through the gull roost on two separate occasions, no Med. Gull either.

Laurence Hellier told me his mum had seen an Otter Lutra lutra cross the road at the Hatchery yesterday, which is a bit worrying - Otters and traffic don't mix.

I'd like to publicly add my congratulations to Richard Bland, who has been awarded the Jubilee Medal by the BTO for his 'commited devotion to the Trust'. It's a real honour for Richard, who served as Regional Representative for Avon from 1980 to 2012.

Wednesday 22nd January

I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay this morning during a brief visit to fill the feeders before heading down to Cornwall where I spent half a day walking the SWCP in Cornwall, thanks to the M5 accident at Bridgwater which closed the motorway. We did Cremyll Ferry, through the Mount Edgcumbe Estate to Rame Head (6.7 miles) where there was a very confiding Common Kestrel hunting by the coastguard station car park.

Paul Williams texted me during the afternoon to say he'd seen a Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris during his lunchtime break at Home Bay. By my reckoning this becomes the 10th site record and continues the trend of increasing sightings in recent years.

Thursday 23rd January

I was away walking the SWCP again from Rame Head to Looe in Cornwall (16.7 miles) today, and Steve Hale kindly texted me to say he'd heard a Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti at Home Bay - I wonder if it's the one I heard in the vicinity on 13th November last year?

Friday 24th January [Gloomy with occasional drizzle]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Rainbow Point at lunchtime today, and even though I spent a couple of hours looking around the place I didn't have anything else to report until I went back down at 1630 hrs in the rain to check the gull roost - yahoo, an adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus, at long last, goes on the year list.

Prompted by Steve Hale's record of a Cetti's Warbler yesterday, I've been digging out my records and there aren't too many. I've posted a species account page with all the records I have. I'd be pleased to receive any others birders have seen or heard at Blagdon.

Saturday 25th January [A storm blew up early afternoon]

I spent some time at Top End after filling the feeders at the Hatchery and saw a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis flash through while watching a ♀ Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major on the nut feeder. I couldn't see the Black-necked Grebe around Rainbow Point or Wood Bay, but it may have been over at Rugmoor in the white-horses that were racing down the lake as I made my way back. Lots of gulls flew in ahead of the winds but I couldn't see anything exciting among them in the rough conditions. As I look outside late afternoon, the strongest wind of the year so far has blown up in just 3 hours - whole trees are swaying and a gust of 65 km/hr has been registered on the Blagdon Weather website.

Sunday 26th January [Rain all morning & wintery showers in the afternoon]

I went out between the showers this afternoon hoping to see lots of gulls, if little else, but there were very few on the lake by 1600 hrs. I guess they're dispersed all over the place on the flooded fields hereabouts. I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Holt Bay.

Monday 27th January [Showery & cold]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off the east end of Green Lawn at the entrance to Holt Bay late morning.

In addition to the tree blown down at Home Bay a week or two ago, recent winds have brought down two more trees (Cypress sp.) that have unfortunately fallen into the Home Bay reed bed. Although I haven't seen the Eurasian Bittern spotted by Paul Williams last Wednesday, I guess it will have been spooked by the falling trees if it was still there.

Tuesday 28th January [Miserable and wet]

Despite the persistent showers, I popped down for a look around at lunchtime, and to fill the feeders before I go back down to Cornwall to do a bit more of the SWCP. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was close in to Rainbow Point, and quite surprisingly I spotted a pair of adult Northern Pintail Anas acuta at Rugmoor Point. Then, wonder upon wonder, a second new species for the year list, the ♂ Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus was back at the Pumping Station sheltering in one of the Cedar trees. There was nothing unusual in the gull roost, that I could see. Nevertheless, the year list is growing steadily, but well behind this time last year, and its a sobering thought that the 73 spp. I've seen already will probably be half of all those I'm likely to see for the whole year at the lake. It's a patch listers lot!

Wednesday 29th January

No news from the lake today. However, I had a fascinating email from Andy Davis relating to the 1993 Blue-winged Teal Anas discors record, which it appears was accepted by the BBRC as being a wild bird, but their decision was apparently 'misunderstood' by the local rarities committee and consigned to 'escape' status. Hopefully, I can upgrade the record and put it into the A-C category now.

The walk from Looe to Polruan (13.3 miles) was pretty strenuous and horrible underfoot, what's more it rained just about the whole way! I didn't see any birds of note, but I did see Three-cornered Leek Allium triquetrum, Winter Heliotrope Petasites fragrans and Sweet Violet Viola odorata in flower along the way. Most surprising was the fact that for about a mile I seemed to be following the tracks of a Badger Meles meles that was also walking along the path in the same direction. I lost track of it when I came to an area where there was obviously a sett nearby, judging by the plethora of latrines and general ground disturbance. It was amazing, it had obviously gone up and down the same hills and happily used the steps that had been provided in places. I wonder if it was a young male that had decided to leave its home sett?

Thursday 30th January

Again, no news from the lake, but I'll be checking it over tomorrow.

I was away in Cornwall today, walking the SWCP from Fowey to Charlestown (10.7 miles). I had a look through the gulls and waterfowl at Par pool but didn't see anything unusual.

Friday 31st January [Rain set in late morning]

I filled the feeders at both ends of the lake this morning and took the opportunity to have a look around. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off the east end of Green Lawn again, feeding around some Common Pochards Aythya ferina. A Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis flew into Long Bay, there was a pair of Gadwall Anas strepera at Top End by the hide and 16 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock. However, it was the 90, or so, Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo feeding line-abreast at the dam end when I got there, that was the most dramatic sight. There were already lots of gulls sitting on the water in the driving rain by lunchtime, each with their bill turned upward, facing into the wind. Roger Edmondson emailed to say he'd year-ticked the grebe and counted 198 Canada Geese.