March 2011 News

Wednesday 2nd March [A sunny but cool afternoon]

I received the following email today from Mike Gillett:

"Nige, just a brief visit to Ubley Hatchery today I noticed yet another peanut feeder vandalised only the cone remaining on grass. I could not find the rest of feeder anywhere. I have got the cone in my car. I will try to make a new one when I get time, Mike"

What a top bloke! Mervyn Pearce and I had both noticed the big nut feeder (originally supplied by Merv and squirrel-proofed by Simon Isgar) had disappeared shortly after I had re-filled it. Question is, what to do about it? The Eurasian Nuthatches Sitta europaea that breed in the Hatchery grounds undoubtedly benefit from the food supply and just recently the Long-tailed Tits Aegithalos caudatus have really taken to feeding at the fat / insect balls put out for them in the prolonged cold spells such has we had at the beginning and end of last year. That means putting them back close by, but perhaps out of the public gaze.

I had a brief look at the lake both yesterday and this morning but saw very little from the dam. I also checked the Top End this evening but failed to connect with the elusive Smew Mergellus albellus - just a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser. There were about 40 Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo roosting and just a couple of hundred gulls. I didn't check for the Greater Scaup Aythya marila.

Friday 4th March [A beautiful sunny day]

The first signs of Spring in the sunshine today - a Sand Martin Riparia riparia was flying around at Bell's Bush late this afternoon and I heard my first Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita singing over the Spillway. I believe this is the earliest ever date for either species at Blagdon. The 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila (adult drake and duck plus two 1st-winter drakes) were feeding between Green Lawn and North Shore as usual and the drake Aythya hybrid was feeding close in to the dam. I counted 16 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula and 8 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope. I waited until near-dark at Top End and saw a single Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago fly out from the marginal vegetation and head off towards the Mendip Hills, presumably to feed. Just after, I heard at least four more 'squelch' as they flew up unseen.

Saturday 5th March [Sunny early, clouding over later with a chilly easterly wind]

The Sand Martin Riparia riparia must have roosted at the lake overnight and was feeding along the south shore at Burmah Road around lunch time.

When I went down to check the gull roost there were still 4 Greater Scaup Aythya marila (a pair of adults and two 1st-winter drakes) at the dam end, as was the drake Aythya hybrid. There were also good numbers (I didn't count) of Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus with a small Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus count that included a small 1st-winter bird that needs another look - if I'm lucky enough to get the chance tomorrow! Yeo Valley Farms are injecting liquid manure into their fields (it stinks around here) and this is attracting the gulls to feed nearby and visit the lake regularly to bathe.

Sunday 6th March [Cold, but sunny this afternoon]

The Sand Martin Riparia riparia was still present today, all on its lonesome. The 4 Greater Scaups Aythya marila were feeding in the usual place off the North Shore and the drake Aythya hybrid was with a Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula off the dam.

However, the main focus of my visit this morning was to try and find the small gull I saw last night and that I suspect was a 1st-winter Bonaparte's Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia paddling about among the Black-headed Gulls. Alan Bone joined me, and despite going through the gulls twice this morning and again in the smaller roost this evening, we did not see it. However, this morning I spotted another very interesting gull sitting facing us on the weed cutter's barge beside a Common Gull Larus canus that we suspect was a probable 3rd-summer Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans. It immediately caught my attention due to its structure and dark eye (the iris was dark yellow at some angles, but mainly appeared black and beady). The head was rounded and very similar to a Common Gull (viz. 'friendly' looking) with the eye standing out and in a high, forward looking position. The legs were pink and looked characteristically long, though not especially pale. There was no hind neck streaking. The bill was long and parallel-sided with weak yellow colouring proximally to the black subterminal band that extended across both mandibles, while distally there was a pale, almost-white drooping tip. At this point in the discussion the bird flew up and away from us to Cheddar Water where I briefly got it back in the scope, whereupon it flew up again and I lost track of it altogether. I also saw it for a short while through my binoculars and noted the extensive dark wing-tips and primary coverts with a small white mirror. Sadly, I did not make any note of the tail markings or other brown feathering tracts before I lost sight of it and before I photographed it. It was not present this evening.

A very frustrating weekend with two 'near-misses' that I don't feel I had enough detail on to submit a claim for. Nevertheless, I will share the information in the hope that the birds get spotted again by local birders at one of the other local roosts.

Wednesday 9th March [Very windy and quite cold]

A message from John Thorogood:

"Didn't stay long, about an hour-and-a-half this afternoon, largely because it was so windy. Nothing very unusual to report but as I got out of the car by the Wood Bay gate I saw 3 Goosanders Mergus merganser, male and two females, swimming out into the centre of the lake."

Also, the following from Paul Williams:

"Lunchtime today there were at least 3 Sand Martins Riparia riparia over the water at the dam end."

Thursday 10th March

8 Sand Martins Riparia riparia off the dam today (per Richard Mielcarek, BOC Website).

Friday 11th March [Sunny]

Of note, was a report on the Top End hide sightings board of circa 10 Sand Martins Riparia riparia off the dam by 'JC' today.

Saturday 12th March [Sunny spells and warm]

A single adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila is still hanging around, but the two 1st-winter drakes and adult duck appear to have gone. The adult drake hybrid, which looks very like a Greater Scaup, was asleep with the good bird this morning. Yesterdays House Martins Riparia riparia have moved on as well.

The WeBS Count this morning was relatively uneventful though the signs of Spring continue to show in the form of 3 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, two of which were singing, as were 6 Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus along the south shore. One of the more bizarre sights was a Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea walking across the footbridge over the Spillway. There were lots of black midges around the dam end in the light easterly breeze, so perhaps it was picking some off the infrastructure. I am planning to do the next WeBS Count on Thursday 14th April.

New plants are bursting into flower, including Sweet Violet Viola odorata, both white and dark violet forms, and Lady's-smock aka Cuckoo-flower Cardamine pratensis. Peacock Inachis io and Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni butterflies were both seen on the wing during the sunny spells.

Sunday 13th March [Sunny]

An apology: My home router gave up the ghost last week and as a result I have been offline until a few minutes ago. I've received several items of news that I've added retrospectively. Thanks to all who took the time and trouble to keep me up to speed.

Bristol Water have informed me the lake is 93% full and a foot from going over the spillway. Trout fishing starts with an exclusive day for season ticket holders tomorrow, followed by opening day on Wednesday 16th and the opportunity to catch up with some old friends. The weather promises to warm up later in the week and good hatches of black midges / buzzers should occur - whether the trout will be interested in them is another matter!

I paid a quick visit late this afternoon in the sunshine but there wasn't a great deal to get too excited about. I saw the drake Aythya hybrid on his own at Cheddar Water, but no sign of the adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila. There were 20 each of Canada Geese Branta canadensisand Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata and 16 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula which were both higher counts than yesterday and I saw my first Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis of the year at Burmah Road. There was only one bird in the gull roost.... a solitary Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus! As I left, I heard a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus squealing from the Pipe Bay reeds.

Monday 14th March [Sunshine with a cool easterly breeze]

The adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila is still present and was feeding off the dam with the adult drake Aythya hybrid this evening.

Tuesday 15th March [Sunshine and a bit of spring warmth at last]

I didn't visit the lake today, due to work commitments, but we had a male Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus on the garden feeders this morning when I opened the curtains.

The drive home from work just after dark this evening was notable for the first mass migration of Common Toads Bufo bufo of the year, on the roads between Ubley and Blagdon. They were everywhere, even though there was no rain. I guess it was down to the milder weather and cloud cover. Sadly, many had been killed.

Wednesday 16th March [Overcast with a cool north-easterly breeze]

Opening Day at last! The morning dawned cool and misty with a north easterly breeze which saw the north shore lined with fishermen. Apparently it went quite well and most caught some fish.

I saw the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid off the dam this morning and evening. There were 37 Canada Geese Branta canadensis in front of Top End hide this evening (none earlier) but 'JC' recorded seeing an Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus which, sadly, I contrived to miss. There were approx 120 Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus and 40 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus in the evening on the water.

Thursday 17th March [Sunny and warm]

I saw the drake Aythya Scaup-a-like hybrid off the dam but not the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila. Most surprising sight was a wader sitting on the water in Holt Bay, but as I set up my telescope and pondered a phalarope sp. it flew to the bank and turned out to be a Common Redshank Tringa totanus. The gull count was higher this evening with 191 Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus and 18 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus, though some were flying off west after washing themselves. I also counted 10 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula and a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser.

Richard Mielcarek e-mailed me later to say he saw both the Scaup-a-like drake Aythya hybrid and the adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila.

Sunday 20th March [Sunny]

Despite the glorious sunshine, I was unable to visit the lake today thanks to a horrid dose of food-poisoning contracted in Cumbria yesterday. I've not received any news of sightings while I've been away either. Never mind, the coming week is my last in full-time employment, as I retire on Friday.

Monday 21st March [Warm and sunny] THE VERNAL EQUINOX

As befits the first day of Spring, I saw 6+ Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica fly east over the lake at about 1440 hrs. The adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and his drake Aythya hybrid pal were both still present off the dam and counts of other species included 12 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, 5 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, 3 Gadwall Anas strepara, 2 drake Common Pochards Aythya ferina, a pair of Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, 2 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and singles of Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus and Fieldfare Turdus pilaris.

I also found my first broken egg of the year in Holt Copse. It was large, olive and unspotted so was probably laid by a Mallard Anas platyrhynchos and predated by a Carrion Crow Corvus corone. I also noticed the Wood Anemones Anemone nemorosa were starting to flower at Top End.

Tuesday 22nd March [Mist early, then warm and sunny]

It was really misty early on, but a lovely photographic opportunity that I had to let pass in favour of earning a crust. This evening, however, there were very few birds on the lake and I couldn't find the drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila or drake Aythya hybrid.

At Somerdale, Keynsham, there were 2 Sand Martins Riparia riparia around the nest holes and I saw a Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae and a probable Peacock Inachis io.

Wednesday 23rd March [Warm and sunny]

Not unsurprisingly, I saw the adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid again today - little blighters! There were no hirundines or other new migrants that I could see. There were 6 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula (one drake) roosting together off the dam, with others further up the lake.

Mervyn Pearce pointed out a Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius he'd found at Heron's Green, Chew Valley Lake when I saw him today.

Saturday 26th March [Warm but largely overcast]

I was very pleased to find a 1st-summer Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus off the dam this morning (still present at 1300 hrs) and the usual adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid together close by. Given the murky conditions, I was surprised to find no hirundines over the lake.

Despite the dry conditions I found 14 fruiting bodies of the Morel Morchella esculenta in Holt Copse.

It was nice to meet two new birders, Mike and Christine (was it?), who've just moved to the village - a very warm welcome.

Sunday 27th March [Murky and cooler]

No sign of yesterdays Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus as it had presumably moved on northward, but the adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid were both still present this evening. It feels like its going to be cooler this evening than of late, but there were good numbers of Bats flying around at dusk, as there have been in the last few days.

I didn't spend much time at the lake today, having elected to visit Portland Bill to watch for migrants arriving off the sea this morning.

Monday 28th March [Overcast but warm]

I went to the lake for a good look around today and enjoyed catching up with the gathering pace of Spring, especially the flowers brightening up the meadows, including Primroses Primula vulgaris, Cowslips Primula veris, Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris and Bluebell Hyacynthoides non-scripta among others.

On the bird front there was little new on the water, with the adult drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid both still present. There was a steady stream of gulls dropping in during the afternoon to bathe, so I carried out a couple of spot counts with the higher numbers as follows: 198 Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus, 36 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus, 2 adult Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus, 3 (one injured) Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus, and a single 1st-summer Common Gull Larus canus.

A pair of Common Kestrels Falco tinnunculus were displaying at the Pumping Station, Mute Swans Cygnus olor have built nests, I watched a pair of Long-tailed Tits Aegithalos caudatus carrying feathers into their nest to line it and a single Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus flew over Top End. 21 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca and at least 10 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris are the winter stragglers still hanging on, while of the summer visitors I counted 6 Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus, 9 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla and 21 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita singing around the lake.

Finally, I saw my first male Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines of the year go careering past along the North Shore at lunchtime.

Morels Morchella esculenta, Holt Copse © Nigel Milbourne, 2011

Tuesday 29th March [Overcast with showers]

A short visit this evening and aside from the Greater Scaup Aythya marila and the Aythya hybrid, there were still 4 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula off the dam. A Peregrine Falco peregrinus flew over Holt Bay towards Blagdon village at dusk.

Wednesday 30th March [Wet early, then cleared up]

The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and the Aythya hybrid were both at Cheddar Water, 2 Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica flew over Long Bay and a Little Egret Egretta garzetta appeared to roost at Hellfire Corner this evening. A small flock of 24 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata at Top End (20 drakes and 4 ducks) were feeding and displaying close to the hide.

There was a wholly unconfirmed and anonymous report on the Top End hide sightings board of an Osprey Pandion haliaetus and Otter Lutra lutra seen yesterday.

Thursday 31st March [Dry, but blowin' a 'hooly' from the south-west]

The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and the Aythya hybrid were both at Cheddar Water mid-afternoon and there were probably about 200 Sand Martins Riparia riparia over Long and Holt Bays, with a couple of Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica over Holt Farm.