BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

June 2013 News


Site Updates; I have provisionally revised the Bird List based on research in the Wells Natural History and Archaeological Society annals. I have added six new species (Little Bittern, Stone-curlew, Guillemot, Wryneck, Golden Oriole and Cirl Bunting) and many new first dates, especially among the passerines. There are some other records that will need consideration before I add them to the list, though I will populate the species accounts, in due course, with notes. Thanks to David Cottle for his help with this thread of my research. I have included a copy of Carr's 1907 Blagdon Bird List and have added his records, that don't appear to have been published previously, underneath it.

Updated 14 June, 2013


Rarity Highlights within the last year; Ferruginous Duck and Lesser Scaup.

Updated 1 June, 2013


Saturday 1st June [Sunny and warm]

I saw the Canada Goose Branta canadensis brood again today at Green Lawn, but not the Mute Swans Cygnus olor during a brief visit.

Although the news is not from Blagdon, it is worth repeating here that there has been a huge movement of Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata observed arriving over Portland Bill this morning with 800 counted flying over the Observatory and Martin Cade speculates that over 1000 must have arrived over the Isle by 1100 hrs. Hopefully, a few will settle around the lake to breed in the next couple of weeks with favourite spots being the pines at Long Bay and Hellfire Corner, while Holt Copse is usually worth checking out too.

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight (min. temp. 7 Celsius) at Pipe Bay Copse and caught:

Sunday 2nd June [Sunny and warm]

Despite yesterdays fall of Spotted Flycatchers on the Dorset coast, I did not find any new arrivals around the lake this morning. I was greeted at 0550 hrs by a ♂ Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca singing at the Fishing Lodge entrance gate, and heard 3 ♂ Garden Warblers Sylvia borin and a ♂ Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis in song too. Unusual summering wildfowl included a pair of Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata at Paradise, a pair of Gadwall Anas strepera at the dam and 5 Common Pochards Aythya ferina (a pair at Green lawn and 2 ♂♂ and a ♀in Holt Bay). This evening I spotted 2 more ♂ Common Pochards at Burmah Road. There was a ♀ Mallard Anas platyrhynchos with 8 large juveniles on the dam wall (5th brood, 2013).

I came across a Glow-worm Lampyris noctiluca larva crossing the road at Top End. I ran the moth trap last night but only managed to catch a single moth, remarkably a new species for the site!

Monday 3rd June [Sunny]

I did not have time to visit the lake today because we left home early to walk the 3rd leg of the South West Coast Path from Lulworth Cove to Weymouth (14.1 miles). The weather was brilliant and I got very excited at finding a Corn Bunting along the route. There were dozens and dozens of Wall Brown butterflies along the path and we also came across a Dingy Skipper. It was nice to see good numbers of Stonechats along the coast too, including one recently fledged family.

Tuesday 4th June [Sunny]

During a quick check at the lake this evening I saw the first returning Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus (an adult) and a fisherman who'd driven right across one of the flower meadows to park at the water's edge!

We stayed overnight in Weymouth and walked around the Isle of Portland today on our 4th leg of the SWCP (16.1 miles). Best sightings were a Little Tern and 3 Dunlin at Ferrybridge, a Little Owl sunning itself along the east cliffs, a Small Blue butterfly (first I've seen for years), 2 Small Heaths, lots more Wall Browns and a juvenile Peregrine.

Wednesday 5th June [Sunny]

We had a Somerset Invertebrates Group return visit to Berrow Dunes LNR today, so I didn't get to the lake until this evening. It wasn't terribly exciting from the birders point of view with a single ♀ and 7♂ Common Pochards Aythya ferina in front of the Lodge and two new brood of Mallards Anas platyrhynchos, a ♀ and 8 juveniles at Home Bay Point, and a ♀ with a single juvenile at the Lodge (6th and 7th broods, 2013). I saw the family of Canada Geese Branta canadensis, plus the regular flightless bird and 13 others (total 18) and the complete family of Mute Swans Cygnus olor (7 cygnets) back at Top End.

I've put some images of Dactylorhiza orchids up in the Recent Images Gallery. I think some are good Southern Marsh Orchids D. praetermissa taken at Rugmoor Bay, while the others probably all show some hybridisation features in a huge swarm of Southern Marsh and one, or both, of the Spotted Orchid spp. taken at Top End. Any authoritative views on identity and parentage welcomed! Whatever they are, they make a fantastic display.

Thursday 6th June [Sunny]

Another warm sunny day, so I spent the afternoon looking for invertebrates, especially hoverflies. But, despite the meadow being a-glow with flowers, there was a curious lack of pollinators on the wing. I struggled to find many hovers, with the exception of Eristalini. Huge numbers of silver wings were flashing over the grassland as teneral blue damselfly spp. came ashore on their maiden flight, and there were, of course, lots of craneflies Tipulidae on the wing too. I saw a Large White Pieris brassicae, 2 Common Blues Polyommatus icarus, a beaten-up old Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria and a ♂ Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines on the North Shore.

Hoverflies caught and identified were:

I spotted two new Common Coot Fulica atra broods (at Paradise and Rugmoor Bay) but the birding was quiet. Blagdon Lake is 92% full (97% this time last year) according to the Bristol Water website.

Friday 7th June [Cloudy with rain later]

Not quite the day I expected, and I'm sorry for the lack of updates, it seems a virus got through all my firewall protection and infected my address book so I've been off-line. I update my virus protection daily, so it was a bit of a shock. Apologies if it has affected anyone I'm in contact with.

I visited the lake in the evening, and saw a pair of Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata in Long Bay and a single ♀ and 6♂ Common Pochards Aythya ferina in Holt Bay. Neither of these species have bred at Blagdon for a long time, so it'll be interesting to see if the high water level has attracted them in to breed this year. A showy Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis was flying out from the roadside hedge to feed in the Reed Canary-grass at Top End and I saw a beautiful yellow adult mayfly (spinner) there too.

Saturday 8th June [Sunny and windy]

Simon Isgar texted me at 1341 hrs to say there was a Red Kite Milvus milvus over Rugmoor on the north side of the lake being harassed by Common Buzzards Buteo buteo. I went down to look for it with him, but we didn't see it again. Grass was being cut on the farms over there and it had brought in a good number of Buzzards which may in turn have attracted the passing Kite. We saw a Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo over the centre of the lake.

I found a new species of Hoverfly on Thursday, with another today, having spent the afternoon at Orchard Bay. Those identified, included:

However there was another hover that shows all the characteristics of being a ♀ Platycheirus europaeus but it could be the more common P. ramsarensis. The hairs on the posterior side of the front femur are not entirely conclusive. It is also an interesting specimen because there is a yellow square on the left side of tergite 5 but none on the right side.

Sunday 9th June [Sunny]

We've had an influx of Canada Geese Branta canadensis today. They remained distant, so I had to estimate that there were about 70. Neighbour, Alastair Barr, emailed to say that he'd seen a Red Kite Milvus milvus over the village at about 1800 hrs being harassed by a corvid as it flew north towards the dam end of the lake.

I had a look at Hellfire Corner for hoverflies and found:

and then in the meadows at Burmah Road where I found:

Monday 10th June [Sunny intervals and warm]

It's still quiet at the lake. I saw a pair of Gadwall Anas strepera at Cheddar Water, though most of the Canada Geese Branta canadensis that dropped in yesterday had moved on again. They wander around looking for a suitable site to moult at which time they will become flightless for about a month. So, wherever they choose to moult must be safe, and provide sufficient food resources to see them through.

I caught a few more hoverflies at Top End and spotted a beautiful soldier fly (Stratiomyidae), the Common Green Colonel Oplodontha viridula. It was found in 2004 by Dave Gibbs but I don't think I've ever seen it before. Hoverflies included:

I spent the morning doing some survey work on the Mendips for the new Somerset Bird Atlas. It was lovely walking through hay meadows to the sound of singing Skylarks Alauda arvensis. It reminded me of one of my favourite pieces of music, The Lark Ascending, by Ralph Vaughan Williams . There were no surprises, but I accumulated quite a good list - for the hilltop. As I sit and write this we have a recently fledged Common Blackbird Turdus merula sitting on a flower pot on the patio calling for food. It's still sporting it's downy top-knot!

Tuesday 11th June [Early showers and sunny intervals since]

Again not much going on bird-wise, the Mute Swan Cygnus olor brood appears to be down to 6 cygnets today, and there were a few, 36 I think, Canada Geese Branta canadensis (including the brood of 2 goslings).

I had a look for some hoverflies at Home Bay Point and saw very few:

So, I went to the car park at Butcombe Bank in the late afternoon sun, and found:

Daniel and I met up later to collected the Song Meter and some bat bugs from one of the boxes for a european researcher who has requested some.

Wednesday 12th June [Showers]

Nothing much to report today. There were hundreds, possibly thousands, of Common Swifts Apus apus feeding over the lake in the damp conditions, which unfortunately made it too wet for invertebrate survey work.

A quick look through the Songmeter files last night turned up all three species of Pipistrelles Pipistrellus sp., Lesser Horseshoe Rhinolophus hipposideros, Myotis sp. and some other calls that will need to be looked at in more detail. The recordings were not up to the usual standard though, probably due to the position of the songmeter in trees coming into leaf.

Thursday 13th June [Very windy]

There was a howling gale at the lake, but there weren't any wind-blown sea birds, just thousands of Common Swifts Apus apus over the waves. I watched 4 adult Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna struggling into the headwind along the North Shore and away over the dam while I was there this morning. A Green Woodpecker Picus viridis flew up off the roadside bank at the Lodge entrance. It was probably the same bird that I saw on the newly-mown dam wall yesterday. There was also a pair of adult Grey Wagtails Motacilla cinerea on the dam wall, foraging for a young family perhaps?

A news update from up t'North. Joanna Dailey has emailed me the following news of Osprey Pandion haliaetus white 'YA':

"The compilation video Sally put together for the County Show, with your and other Blagdon photographers' efforts is... [finished]. We think YA has at least one very new chick as behaviour has altered in the last couple of days. There is a photo of him above the nest on yesterday's blog http://kielderospreys.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/is-there-or-isnt-there/. It is very frustrating that we lost nestcam coverage before laying. However at least we do have the long view camera."

The team were sure that white 'YA' and his new partner (this year) have now hatched at least one chick. Great news! I'm off to Ecuador for a couple of weeks soon, but when I get back I'm hoping to go up to Kielder (I used to live near there for a while) to meet up with Joanna and the Kielder Osprey Watch team and reacquaint myself with white 'YA' and see his young family.

Friday 14th June [Sunny spells with a strong southerly breeze]

There were a number of wildfowl, mainly Mallards Anas platyrhynchos, lounging around on the dam wall as they start their moult. However, apart from lots of Common Swifts Apus apus over the lake and 70 Canada Geese Branta canadensis (including the family) there wasn't much else to write about. I had a look at a 1st-summer Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus standing on a buoy at the dam end to see if it was the ringed bird that I saw last month, but this was a different bird. These large marine predators seem to be ever-present at the lake these days, although Donald Carr reported them regularly at the beginning of the last century too. I've suspected they might be breeding inland locally for a while now, and this has proven to be true with a pair nesting at Chew Valley Lake this year.

I had a look for some more hoverflies in the Butcombe Bank car park where I found a bit of shelter from the wind this afternoon. There were lots of Eristalini on Hogweed and Xylota sylvarum in good numbers. I took the following for identification:

Saturday 15th June [Heavy showers and windy]

There were still lots of Common Swifts Apus apus over the lake but not much else to report I'm afraid... back to the hoverflies!

I spent quite a long time last night adding Donald Carrs records to the 1907 List page (scroll towards the bottom). These are just the interesting sightings of unusual birds. There is lots more information contained in his notes that give some indication as to what was happening with the passerines at the turn of the last century that I'll add to the respective species accounts as and when I get time to write them (probably on the long dark nights of next winter).

Sunday 16th June [Overcast but dry]

I did my BBS square by the lake this morning at 0615 hrs. The best of the bunch was a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata on top of an Ash tree at Holt Copse.

This evening I took a walk up to Burrington Ham and heard a Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus singing near the bottom of West Twin Brook. On the walk home, I used my detector to record passing bats along the route. I picked up Lesser Horseshoe Rhinolophus hipposideros calls on the Ham and Common Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pipistrellus around home. There were some other calls that may have been Noctule, Leisler's or Serotine but there were too few to enable me to separate them.

Monday 17th June [Sunny spells]

I popped down to the lake this evening and saw a ♀ Mallard Anas platyrhynchos with 8 ducklings at the south end of the dam (8th brood at the lake, 2013). There was a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata at Hellfire Corner. Then at Top End, I saw a pair of Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus through the marginal vegetation, one of which probably had young on its back.

Another morning of survey work for the Somerset Bird Atlas, this time at Chancellor's Farm and Yoxter MOD ranges, with Kate Lawrence. We saw a reasonable variety of birds, with the pick of the bunch being 8♂ Common Redstarts singing or seen, a Spotted Flycatcher in West Wood, and Barn Swallows and House Martins collecting nest materials at the farm. The meadows were glorious with Common Spotted and Fragrant Orchids in bloom, and Kate showed me an extensive patch of Spring Sandwort Minuartia verna and Soft-leaved Sedge Carex montana; echoes of Ubley Warren gruffy ground. A couple of wet areas and ponds had attracted Broad-bodied Chasers, Azure and Large Red Damselflies. A lovely way to spend a morning.

Tuesday 18th June [Warm with sunny spells]

I made two visits to the lake today. First, this afternoon for a look around in the late afternoon sunshine when I saw lots of hoverflies on Hemlock Water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata, but no new species unfortunately. However, I did see 7 adult Flecked General Stratiomys singularior soldierflies at Burmah Road and a pair of Rufous-shouldered Longhorn Beetles Anaglyptus mysticus beetles in cop at Holt Copse. Then, I had a late walk with Sue Caola when I was interested to see if there were any Eurasian Hobbies Falco subutteo hunting at dusk. We didn't see any though.

Wednesday 19th June [Hot, hot, hot]

I went up to Ubley Warren for the morning with the Mendip Conservation Volunteers. We did some dry-stone walling (and saw a Wood Tiger, a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and lots of Small Heaths), then I took my leave early afternoon to pop down to the lake to carry out what will probably be my last desperate attempt to see Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk this year. I only saw the one before my month in Alaska last year and I've seen none this year despite several searches since the beginning of May. I do so hope we haven't lost our small population, but this is the first year since I started monitoring them in 2009 that I haven't seen one. There were a few each of Six-spot Burnet Moth Zygaena filipendulae and Meadow Brown Butterfly Maniola jurtina on the wing in the sunshine. I've also noted the larvae of the micro-moth Dingy Flat-body Depressaria daucella in the heads of Hemlock Water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata over the last two days which is a new species for the lake.

I ran my two 125W MV Robinson Moth Traps this evening at Home Bay, but after an hour I had to turn them off because they were being filled with thousands of caddis flies. They were, in the main, Grouse Wings Mystacides longicornis which have been hatching over the last two weeks. There were so many flies that I couldn't use my headtorch and remain a vegetarian! I let everything go without checking the few moths in the traps.

Thursday 20th June [Grey and dank all day]

Again, not too much to report from the lake today. I saw an adult Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus on the dam this morning and in the evening I saw the pair of Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus at Top End with a single juvenile (1st brood, 2013).

The latest on the water level according to Bristol Water is that the lake is 88% full. In addition, Mendip rainfall has been below average every month of the year so far. You never know, we might get suitable conditions for migrant waders to drop in, yet.

Some of the fishermen have been commenting on what a wonderful display of Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus there is around the water's edge this year and, funnily enough, I was planning to spend some time trying to photograph them tomorrow, because I also thought to myself that they have been the outstanding natural event of the year so far. Let's hope for at least a bit of sunshine to highlight their rich golden hue before the rain batters them over the weekend!

Friday 21st June [Sunny spells and warm] Summer Solstice

I went down to the lake just before lunch but couldn't really summon up the energy or will-power to investigate the hoverflies. I had the last of a course of three Rabipur injections yesterday morning as part of the preparation towards getting my bat handlers licence, and today, for the first time, I'm suffering some pretty uncomfortable side effects! I didn't see any new birds, but did see the spectacular Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis on the North Shore. I also took some pictures of the Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus beds.

Saturday 22nd June [Grey and blsutery with showers]

Not a great day and little to report from the lake - just a new brood of Mute Swans Cygnus olor with 2 juveniles (2nd brood, 2013).

Sunday 23rd June [Windy and overcast]

I carried out the WeBS Count this morning despite the windy conditions and was pleased to see a Common Sandpiper on the dam wall and watched with fascination as an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis made a fairly determined attempt to pick up a young Common Coot Fulica atra off the water, but the adults kept leaping up at the gull as it dropped over them and they eventually drove it off. Mallard Anas platyrhynchus and Common Coot numbers are up on last month but the Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula count has dropped again. Of the new broods, I was pleased to see a Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis pair with at least one juvenile riding on the back of an adult in Long Bay (1st brood, 2013).

Monday 24th June [Warm]

Roger and Jean Staples emailed the following news, for which I'm very grateful: "Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 1 adult, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata 1, Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula circa 100+ including lots of young birds."

I spent the day walking the South West Coast Path national trail again, from Ferrybridge, Weymouth, to Abbotsbury. There were surpisingly few birds on The Fleet. We saw a few Eurasian Oystercatchers, a Little Egret, Grey Heron, Herring, Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls, Common Shelducks, Mallards, Mute Swans, 2 Common Kestrels, a ♂ Reed Bunting, Linnets, Greenfinches and lots of Common Whitethroats. Including the walk to the Elm Tree at Langton Herring for lunch, and the extra 3 miles to retreive my GPS that I left behind at a drink stop, I walked 16.2 miles to cover just 10.9 miles of the trail!

Tuesday 25th June [Warm and sunny]

No sign of the Common Sandpiper on the dam this afternoon, or the Yellow-legged Gull. I had another look around the meadows and was delighted to see lots of 6-spot Burnets Zygaena filipendulae on the wing in the sunshine, but still no Narrow-bordered Bee Hawks.

Wednesday 26th June [Warm with sunny spells]

This is my last update from the lake for a couple of weeks because I'm off to Ecuador with Alan Bone. I should have some connectivity with the internet while I'm away, so will gratefully receive and post news from visiting birders. Anyway, the only update I'll leave you with is a ♀ Greater Scaup Aythya marila with 2 ♂♂ Tufted Ducks Athya fuligula in Holt Bay. I guess it's the bird seen by Keith Vinicombe a couple of days ago at Chew.

Thursday 27th June

I flew to Ecuador today from Bristol via Amsterdam with Alan Bone. We were upgraded to Business Class for the long flight which was rather special and made the long day just that bit more comfortable than it might have been!

No news from the lake today.

Friday 28th June

No news from the lake today.

ECUADOR DIARY: We met our Neblina Forest guide Randy Vickers, and driver Jose, who drove us straight up the Papallacta Pass to 4400m asl where we tried to see Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, but it was cold, windy, and the cloud prevented us seeing them. While we were up there we saw some Andean Gulls in flight before we made our way to Guango, on the east side of the Andes where we were met by a Masked Trogon in the car park! In the afternoon we spent some time with the Hummingbirds at the feeders, before taking a walk by the river. I was punching the air at seeing my first ♀ Torrent Duck, and a pair of White-capped Dippers.

Sword-billed Hummingbird Ensifera ensifera, Ecuador © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

Saturday 29th June

No news from the lake today.

ECUADOR DIARY: The morning was spent on the ridge trail at Guango where we had Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan before dropping down to the riverside again. I managed to get some nice shots of a pair of Torrent Ducks before lunch. We birded a lowland pass on our way to Cabanas San Isidro in the afternoon, where we walked the Antvireo Trail. After the evening meal we saw the mystery 'San Isidro' (Black-banded?) Owl right outside our cabin! 87 spp so far.

Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan Andigena hypoglauca, Ecuador © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

Sunday 30th June

No news from the lake today.

ECUADOR DIARY: Up again before first light, to breakfast and head up to the Sendero Jumandy (Antisana) trail. We walked it for much of the morning and got caught in rain on the way back to the vehicle. However, it was a superb mornings birding and we saw Golden-headed Quetzal and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock among a host of other goodies. We checked out the San Isidro hummingbird feeders before lunch, and also saw a couple of Black Agouti. Afterwards we drove further along the entrance road, but it was surprisingly quiet after a few hours of steady rain, though we did see a Semi-collared Hawk. We were told to look outside our cabin as it got dark for Night Monkeys, and sure enough, two came through the trees giving us excellent views before dinner. On the way back, we checked out some lights where I took a few pictures of moths.

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta Grallaria ruficapilla, Ecuador © Nigel Milbourne, 2013