BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

March 2017 News


Wednesday 1st March [Dry until lunchtime when drizzle set in]

The 2♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila were feeding in the area between North Shore and Green Lawn and, again, there was just the one Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm today. There was no sign of any hirundines during my visit, but 2 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus had dropped in on Green Lawn. Also counted were 3 (including a 1st-winter ♂) Goosanders Mergus merganser, 10 (6♂) Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, and at least 22 Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata.

Thursday 2nd March [Dry & sunny, with the wind gradually dropping to a gentle breeze]

Nothing new to report as regards the birds, so far as I could see, but I did see my first Comma Polygonia c-album butterfly and hoverfly sp. of the year in the sunshine. Birds of note included the 2♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila and single Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca. Hoping to hear my first singing Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita of the year, I was listening quite intently to the bird song while walking and did hear two calling, but presume these to have been over-wintering birds rather than new arrivals. I also heard a singing Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris at Home Bay, and a Stock Dove Columba oenas in Lodge Copse, my first of the year at the lakeside for both species.

Friday 3rd March [Light rain most of the day]

It was mid-afternoon before the rain eased and during my visit I saw much the same as I have for the last few days, the 2♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila, single Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca, 41 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and 79 Canada Geese Branta canadensis. I left at 1600hrs by which time there were very few gulls sitting on the water.

The earliest date I've ever seen a Sand Martin at Blagdon was one on 4th March 2011, so it is possible we could see one anytime soon, given a fair wind.

For those of you asking, there will be fishing season ticket holders present at Blagdon on their 'special' invitation day on the 14th March, and the fishing season commences in earnest on 16th March. The corresponding dates at Chew are 7th and 9th March, a week earlier than Blagdon.

Saturday 4th March [Showers]

I only had time for a quick visit this morning and saw the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca but not the 2♂ Greater Scaup. Avon Birds reported a singing Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita at the Lodge and the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.

Sunday 5th March [Wintery showers & very blustery]

As has happened before, and having wondered if the Scaup had gone, there they were again this afternoon off Green Lawn as usual in the mad conditions. The Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock were in a difficult viewing area on Holt Farm this afternoon, but I did eventually spot the lone Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca with them. I couldn't find any large white-winged gulls in the roost, and didn't spend lots of time scanning the smaller gulls because they were so far off in the windy conditions.

Monday 6th March [Dry with a cool wind, until rain showers set in at dusk.]

I had a look at the lake twice today, early morning and late afternoon, and saw the usual 2♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila and single Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca, with an adult ♂ Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna on the second visit at Green Lawn. Mervyn Pearce told me he'd seen the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. No hirundines yet though.

The rest of the day was spent at Chew Valley Lake cleaning and checking bat boxes with Ken Anstey (see Bat News), but we did see the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, 3 Sand Martins Riparia riparia and at least 10, probably 12, Greater Scaup Aythya marila while we were there.

Tuesday 7th March [Watery sunshine - very pleasant]

I enjoyed a great 3 hours birding early this afternoon. I got three new species for the year at Blagdon; a Red Kite Mivus milvus circling over farmland between BL and Chew at 1420 hrs that possibly headed back towards Chew, plus 6 Sand Martins Riparia riparia and a Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica feeding over Burmah Road/Hellfire Corner. There were quite a few black midges on the wing, which are what I assume the hirundines were feeding on. The 2♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila and Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca were still present. I heard my first Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus of the year singing at Burmah Road and saw a Common Coot Fulica atra on a platform it had built at Wood Bay, so things are beginning to gather pace, although the weather forecast for tomorrow is rather dire!

Wednesday 8th March [Rain then mainly dry and overcast]

There's nothing to add to yesterdays fare, the 6 Sand Martins Riparia riparia and Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica were ranging between Burmah Road and Bell's Bush, the 2♂ Greater Scaup Aythya marila were off North Shore and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca was looking rather forlorn on Holt Farm. I shall be underground most of the day tomorrow counting (and ringing) bats with Fiona Mathews, Ken Anstey, George Hayworth, Dani Linton, Keith Cohen et al. Always a good day, good company, and I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday 9th March [No idea!]

Mervyn Pearce saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam today.

I was underground for over 6 hours helping carry out a bat hibernation count. We tallied over 240 Lesser Horseshoes Rhinolophus hipposideros and 80+ Greater Horseshoes Rhinolophus ferrumequinum, plus a few Myotis bat spp. and 3 Tissue moths Triphosa dubitata. A fantastic 'day' and we watched the sun go down over a beer too... Back on the patch tomorrow.

Friday 10th March [A mild day with sunny spells]

There was a southerly air flow, albeit gentle, this afternoon but the only sign of migration I saw was a stunning, breeding-plumaged, Eurasian Stonechat Saxicola torquata catching insects off the hedge at Holt Bay. Gone were the hirundines and the Greater Scaup. The Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca was at Green Lawn and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. I totted-up between 50-70 Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata, c. 35 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, 22 Mute Swans Cygnus olor, and saw a single Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. There were quite a few Comma Polygonia c-album butterflies on the wing, and I saw a Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris too. Also noted were the first flowers of Sweet Violet Viola odorata (purple form) and Cuckoo-flower Cardamine pratensis. If the southerly breeze stays in place overnight, as forecast, perhaps we might get another wave of migrants - up early in the morning for a look around I think.

Saturday 11th March [Warm but overcast]

I spent late morning and early afternoon at the lake, hoping for the sun to come out, but it barely showed through while I was there. Nevertheless, I heard 4 singing Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, saw a couple of Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna at Green Lawn, and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm. At Top End there were 4 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris still present and when I had a look through the flock of, mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus off Butcome Bank before I left, I spotted a 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus. I saw a Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa in flower too.

It occurred to me today that the Barn Swallow present on 7-8th March might be an early record for the site, and I now believe it's probably the earliest, although I might need to check the last few years (when I've been away doing bat work in Trinidad).

Sunday 12th March [Still relatively mild & overcast]

Late this afternoon, I saw a flock of circa 25 Sand Martins Riparia riparia with a Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica at the east end of the lake, 2 Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna in front of the Lodge, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm. There were 19 Mute Swans Cygnus olor on another part of Holt Farm from the geese, plus 7 on the lake (26 total), and I counted 72 Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata feeding over Tiny's Shallow. Tomorrow morning, we will be carrying out the WeBS Count.

Monday 13th March [Sunny morning then clouding over]

Roy, Phil, Terry, Rob and I carried out the WeBS count this morning during the best of the day. There were Common Buzzards Buteo buteo all over the place and I put down 21 for the count, which is probably a bit on the conservative side. We also spotted a high flying flock of circa 40 Sand Martins Riparia riparia feeding over the centre of the lake. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam, and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm. The Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata were around Rugmoor Point and extremely difficult to view from our set viewing points. Today's count of just 21 was somewhat shy of that made yesterday, and undoubtedly represents an undercount. The WeBS count of 18 Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo was also low for the same reason. While walking back to my car, I saw a flock of over 30 fly out from Rugmoor that had not been seen up to that point. The water level is now up to about 85% and getting into the marginal vegetation so the usual problem of counting Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus at this time of year was also a factor in their low count. I heard 7 singing Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita today, although there were others present, as numbers continue to build. Full count details on the WeBS Page. We also saw at least 4 Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae sunning themselves during the count.

Tuesday 14th March [Sunny morning then grey and drizzly]

I spent the day with friends walking 10 miles of the Cotswold Way from Kings Stanley to Painswick and didn't get to the lake until 1730 hrs. I had a look at the dam end, and watched what I assume to be the same flock of circa 40 Sand Martins Riparia riparia hawking insects low over the water that I saw yesterday. However, although it was the first day of fishing for season ticket holders, when I got to the Lodge entrance gate I found it already locked, so didn't bother to go any further given the heavy drizzle and poor visibility.

Wednesday 15th March [Misty early then a warm sunny day

Having spent the morning cleaning and replacing Dormouse boxes, then doing a bat hibernation count in a new (to me) Mendip cave, I went to the lake late in the afternoon.

There were just the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca of note, plus circa 80 Sand Martins Riparia riparia feeding at Top End. I forgot to mention that I counted 13 (2♂) Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula gathering to roost yesterday when I looked over the the dam.

Tomorrow, the fishing season starts again. Please note that there is a new gate across the road at the entrance to Lodge Copse. This will be kept shut for much of the time to deter walkers and cyclists from trespassing, but it will be fitted with a combilock in much the same way the Ubley entrance was last season. Anglers and bird watchers with permits will be given the code on request.

Thursday 16th March [Cool & overcast]

Today was the official opening day of the fishing season and there were lots of anglers around the lake (good news for the Fisheries Dept.). I had a walk this afternoon and renewed acquaintances with a number of season ticket holders. I couldn't spot the Common Sandpiper, but did see the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm and, at Top End, there was a flock of Sand Martins Riparia riparia still. I didn't count them but it looked like the same group that were present yesterday, so probably about 80 or so. I had a good look to see if there was a Barn Swallow or House Martin among them, but alas, not today! It looked like many of the Northern Shovelers had moved on with all the boat activity too.

Late news of a House Martin Delichon urbicum seen today by Pete Taylor (pers. comm.).

Friday 17th March [Windy & mainly overcast]

I didn't visit the lake today (busy with other things) but John Thorogood emailed me to say he went looking for the Sand Martins Riparia riparia at Top End but saw none. He wrote "I found them off the dam just after midday.  Didn’t really attempt to count them but I guess somewhere between one and two hundred might even be an under estimate!" Thanks John.

Saturday 18th March [Windy & cool, with mist & low cloud all day.]

Visibility was very poor first thing this morning, so I didn't go to the lake until after lunch. There was a flock of circa 250 Sand Martins Riparia riparia at the dam end, and I saw more at Top End but they could have been part of the same flock. Other than that, there was just the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca of note, apart from 4+ Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis huddled down feeding on the meadow of Green Lawn with a flock of Pied Wagtails Motacilla alba yarrellii.

The Rookery on Home Bay Point is starting to take shape. For some reason this one is way behind all the others I've seen locally, and it could be that some of the birds have moved to the copse beside the Yeo Valley yoghurt factory on Lag Farm.

Sunday 19th March [Windy, with rain arriving during the afternoon.]

The forecast said rain at tea time, but I got soaked through to the skin mid-afternoon! There aren't any changes to report since yesterday on the birding front; there's still a sizeable flock of Sand Martins Riparia riparia over the lake, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm. Despite the conditions, one or two Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita saw fit to sing, and the rain is forecast to last until lunchtime tomorrow.

Nick Wilcox-Brown told me he'd seen a Peregrine Falco peregrinus over the North Shore during the morning.

Monday 20th March [Wet & windy morning, with sun late afternoon.]

Nothing new to report I'm sorry to say. There were still plenty of Sand Martins Riparia riparia over the lake, I'm guessing around 200-250, and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm. Yesterday, I saw a 'False Oxlip' P. x polyantha in flower, and saw another at Flower Corner today. No sign of any migrating Ospreys during the afternoon, but I might go back for another look later.

Tuesday 21st March [Squalls and cooler than of late]

I met Pete Taylor this afternoon who told me he'd seen a House Martin Delichon urbicum from the dam last Thursday 16th March, and had seen the same, or another, at Top End before we met today. Funnily enough, I saw him again later, and spotted what I assume to be the same bird from Green Lawn while we were chatting. There is still a good-sized flock of Sand Martins Riparia riparia too, as well as the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca.

Wednesday 22nd March [Showers, then sunny.]

The Sand Martins Riparia riparia were still present, I reckoned on about 400 today, and included the single House Martin Delichon urbicum. They spent much of their time feeding high over surrounding meadows at Top End. While I was in Top End hide trying to watch them (a nightmare through the narrow viewing hatches), I heard a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus squeal a couple of times, and saw 3 (1 adult ♂) Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula. A pair of Mistle Thrushes Turdus viscivorus flew out of the trees at Hellfire Corner and the ever-present Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca was in the usual spot.

Thursday 23rd March [Strong, cool, easterly.]

The only change today was the wind direction. The Sand Martins Riparia riparia and lone House Martin Delichon urbicum were feeding at Top End in front of the hide, but it's a devil of a job picking out the House Martin. They kept spiralling up whenever a Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus or Peregrine Falco peregrinus came over the horizon. There's a few Redwings Turdus iliacus in the woods that haven't left yet, and the Home Bay Point/Long Bay pines rookery is building. I counted 26 nests already built or in preparation, but that's still some way short of the 60+ counted in previous years.

I found this fruiting body of a Morel Morchella esculenta, the first I've seen for a number of years (2011, I believe).

Morel Morchella esculenta, Blagdon Lake © Nigel Milbourne, 2017

Friday 24th March [Cool easterly. Sun in afternoon.]

Hoorah! Some new birds have arrived. I thought I heard a Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla singing at Lodge Copse yesterday, but wasn't sure, but there it was again today along with two others, one at Top End and another along Butcombe Bank. Also in were 2 Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica, feeding over Burmah Road/Hellfire Corner. The Sand Martins Riparia riparia were still present, but I didn't spend long looking for the House Martin so consequently didn't see it. The Mute Swan Cygnus olor count was up to 30 today, and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca was on Holt Farm.

Cowslips Primula veris are starting to flower in many of the meadows.

Saturday 25th March [Sunny]

I was at the Bat Conservation Trust South West Conference in Tiverton today and have no news from the lake I'm afraid.

Sunday 26th March [Sunny]

There were lots of singing Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita along the south side of the lake today, including one that had an abnormal song at Hellfire Corner, but it was no Siberian or Iberian Chiffchaff unfortunately. The only other birds I put in my notebook were a 1st-winter Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca.

The sunshine brought out Peacock Inachis io and Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni butterflies as well as my first Dark-edged Bee-fly Bombylius major of the year. There were clouds of black chironomids on the wing too.

Monday 27th March [Cold & misty am, warm & sunny pm.]

I didn't bother to go down the hill to the lake until the mist started to lift just after midday. Then, I had a lovely afternoon (1230-1730 hrs) lakeside. The wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was back on the dam, as the waves had stopped being driven up the stonework by the easterly breeze, the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca was on Holt Farm with the remains of the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock (23 birds plus another pair elsewhere), and I saw a flock of Sand Martins Riparia riparia with 2 Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica. At 1325 hrs I spotted an Osprey Pandion haliaetus high over the dam which stayed until 1350 hrs and made a couple of aborted dives for fish in Butcombe Bay, before probably leaving to the north. Later, at 1435 hrs, as I was making my way along the Burmah Road stretch I watched another Osprey gliding away from me in a northerly direction. I don't think that one dropped in at all, although it became obscured from me by a tree, and I'm pretty sure it was a different bird. I saw a pair of Common Buzzards Buteo buteo nest-building, and lots of pairs up on the thermals during the afternoon, as well as a Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus and Peregrine Falco peregrinus. I also counted 19 Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and 6 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla singing, as well as noting 8 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope hanging on at the lake. Yeo Valley were spreading slurry on some of their fields which attracted several hundred migrating Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus (and a few Herring Gulls Larus argentatus), which came to bathe on the lake at tea time. The water level is only a few inches from top level now.

Tuesday 28th March [A warmish southerly wind, with some squalls passing nearby up the Bristol Channel.]

After yesterday's Osprey (I've decided I'm only going to put a record in for one), I spent another four hours on site this afternoon but I saw none come through. However, I don't think I've ever raised my bins to as many Common Buzzards Buteo buteo in a day at the lake. One kettle of six that I was watching had 2 Peregrines Falco peregrinus circling with them, then out of nowhere a third Peregrine flew at them to see them off. It would be no exaggeration for me to say I looked at over 100 Buzzards, though I realise many, if not most, will have been the same birds displaying over their territories at a few passing birds. It was an extraordinary afternoon though. There was a flock of circa 100-150 Sand Martins Riparia riparia at the dam end of the lake, often feeding high over the surrounding farmland, but I couldn't see any other hirundine spp. with them. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca were both still present, and I counted 23 Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and 6 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla singing on the same walk as yesterday.

Wednesday 29th March [Overcast & a bit warmer]

A busy morning, then lunch with friends followed by emergency dental treatment, meant I only had time for a drive through look at the lake today, before a trip to Devon this evening! However, I saw 200+ Sand Martins Riparia riparia, the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca and a pair of Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna. I didn't see the Common Sandpiper on the dam, but it was reported on the Avon Birding website. It wasn't a day for thermaling raptors! Back on site tomorrow for some more migration action, I hope.

Thursday 30th March [Watery sunshine & a warm southerly breeze]

A repeat of my 'standard walk' this afternoon resulted in a fraction of the Common Buzzard Buteo buteo numbers I saw on Tuesday despite the favourable weather conditions. So, I can only conclude there must have been some kind of movement going on then, although the overall direction wasn't obvious. I counted 28 Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and 10 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla singing, saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca, and counted 39 Rook Corvus frugilegus nests.

Comma Polygonia c-album and Peacock Inachis io butterflies were on the wing, and I saw my first live Violet Oil-beetle Meloe violaceus, although I saw a dead Oil-beetle that had been run over on 26th March at Holt Bay that I was unable to identify.