BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

May 2010 News


Saturday 1st May [Sun, then cloud, with some light rain]

Only time for a quick drive around today. There were lots of hirundines and Swifts Apus apus, but I couldn't see any waders or interesting ducks in a quick scan.

I have uploaded some lists of popularly recorded flora and fauna that can be accessed from the Blagdon List Page. They are work in progress and if you can add to them please feel free to contact me at the email address above. English Names highlighted in the plant list link to a Blagdon Lake plant image.

Sunday 2nd May [Cool with rain in the morning and a light NNE variable breeze]

There is a fine display of Green-winged Orchid Orchis morio and Cowslips Primula veris in the grounds of the Pumping Station as predicted last week. Go and have a look, particularly if you're interested in orchids. I think the number of blooms has been decreasing in the last few years, but these things are notoriously fickle and they are just as likely to spring up next year in huge numbers.

This evening there were 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam with hundreds, if not thousands, of hirundines feeding over the lake.

Monday 3rd May [Scattered clouds with a light variable breeze]

It was my first day out this weekend because I've been suffering from another cough. So, I did my May migrant count, albeit I was a bit late starting. Here is the tabulated data for comparison with previous years:

Year
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Date
2 May
3 May
30 Apr
5 May
26 May
5 May
14 May
2 May
6 May
13 May
3 May
2 May
3 May
Chiffchaff
16
12
11
16
11
18
19
16
18
15
16
16
15
Willow Warbler
4
3
2
2
1
1
0
1
4
0
2
0
1
Blackcap
15
17
23
22
18
15
10
18
16
14
22
19
14
Garden Warbler
9
15
7
11
9
4
13
6
10
8
10
7
4
Reed Warbler
3
4
5
7
2
6
29
5
6
8
5
6
5
Sedge Warbler
4
6
5
4
10
6
12
8
11
10
8
8
10

Year-on-year variation of Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita numbers is best calculated from the May count, rather than April, due to variation caused by birds still migrating through. It would appear that there has been a small increase over the last decade. The same argument applies to Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus counts which indicate a small decrease in numbers over the last decade. I haven't done the statistics, but neither change is likely to be significant.

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla counts have shown a modest fall in May over the same period whereas the fall in Garden Warbler Sylvia borin numbers is more marked but probably still not significant. The low number of Garden Warblers counted today is likely to be a reflection of their late arrival (today was the first time I've seen any at the lake this year) and this has skewed the trendline slightly.

I suspect that the early May counts can only be used as a vague indication of population trends for the Acro Warblers because they are still arriving and setting up territories at the beginning of the month. Nevertheless, I have included them for comparison without trying to draw any concusions from the data.

Year
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Date
30 Apr
5 May
26 May
5 May
14 May
2 May
6 May
13 May
3 May
2 May
3 May
Reed Bunting
4
6
7
3
10
11
12
13
9
6
9
Wren
34
32
38
44
42
30
42
46
36
32

The Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus data is interesting, with both April and May counts pointing to a definite increase in numbers over the last decade. I think I shall suggest that the hedge cutting that is carried out so ruthlessly around the lake is reviewed in order to provide more cover for them to use as nest sites. For a species that is in trouble at a national level, every little we can do to help would be a good thing. Finally, we come to the dear little Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, whose numbers I suggested last month seem to be holding up at a local level. Once again, using May counts over the last 10 years, the trend is absolutely level indicating that there has been no change. I agree that on the face of it the count today is distinctly lower than in say, 2007 and 2008, but looking at the bigger picture they seem to be doing OK.

Other birds noted today included a single Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, 3 pairs of Mute Swans Cygnus olor nesting at last and 11 presumed non-breeding Canada Geese Branta canadensis (though there may be an odd bird that is the mate of one possibly sitting nearby). Garden Warblers noted today bring the total bird species count to 100 at the lake so far this year. The water level has dropped about a foot from top level but unless it goes down significantly before autumn and attracts some waders, I don't suppose the species count is going to rise by more than another 10-20 at best.

Other sightings included a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus along Butcombe Bank, St. Mark's Fly Bibio marci on the wing, a fine Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus buck sitting quietly in a meadow and my first Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza sp. in flower. I will need to take a closer look at the Marsh Orchid because it's very early for one of them to be in flower. Finally, here is a picture of a beetle you don't see often (I've recorded it twice previously at BL and once at AWT Bathampton Ox-bow Lake Reserve) the Water Ladybird Anisosticta 19-punctata. I found it in marginal grassland at Burmah Road close to Holt Copse.

Water Ladybird Anisosticta novemdecimpunctata, Burmah Road © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Tuesday 4th May [Sunny with a variable light breeze]

Not much news to tell today I'm afraid. I didn't get out until late afternoon and then again this evening. It's very quiet on the bird front, no new migrants to report, just loads more predated Coot Fulica atra eggs lying around. There were 5 Gadwall Anas strepera still at the lake, so perhaps they'll breed this year for the first time in many years? Oh, and there were 2 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis with the 11 remaining Canada Geese Branta canadensis. I've added a few more plants and photos to the lists accessed from the Blagdon List Page.

Wednesday 5th May [Sunny periods with a very light WNW draught]

I've found 3 orchid spikes aside from Early-purple Orchis mascula and Green-winged Orchis morio, and photographed one that has all the hallmarks of being Southern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa. However, it is very early for Southern Marsh-orchids to be flowering - their normal period is mid-June to the end of July - hence my reservation. I've examined the specimen below carefully and can only conclude it is just an early flowering specimen. It'll be interesting to see how it grows-on in the next few days.

Southern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa, Top End © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

On the bird front it was very quiet again today. A new Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus sang from the hedge at Long Bay with it, or another, singing at Holt Bay later. A few hirundines dropped in during the evening. There was no of sign of the Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis with the 12 Canada Geese Branta canadensis.

Thursday 6th May [Steady ENE breeze with a couple of showers on a cloudy day]

There was a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and 3 Pochard Aythya ferina in Holt Bay. I went for my evening walk at Butcombe Bay for a change and saw a female Wigeon Anas penelope with what looked like a damaged wing. Three broods of Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (3rd, 4th & 5th broods at the lake, 2010) with 5, 8 and 9 ducklings were feeding in the bay and a pair of Tawny Owls Strix aluco were calling from All Saints Wood. Good numbers of bats were flying along the woodland edge.

I've had verbal reports of Otter Lutrra lutra sightings from different parts of the lake in the last week or so, but haven't been lucky enough to spot one myself.

Friday 7th May

Today was ringing day for some Tawny Owls Strix aluco, so here are a couple of shots.

Warwick White & Chris Klee with supporting cast © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Tawny Owl Strix aluco chick being ringed © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Tawny Owl Strix aluco chicks © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Yesterday, as I walked down Station Road a bunch of Blackbird Turdus merula fledglings fluttered in and out of the hedges in front of me, and today as I drove up the hill a newly fledged Robin Erithacus rubecula sat in the road looking a bit bemused. So, I picked it up and moved it into the hedge and safety.

While we were inspecting boxes we came across a box infested with moths which appear to be the Skin Moth Monopis laevigella the larvae of which feed "on a range of animal origin foodstuffs, such as dead animals, owl pellets and detritus in birds' nests" (UK Moths © Ian Kimber, 2010). The specimens will have to be determined to be sure, so I'll hand them on to Ray Barnett at Bristol Museum. I've added a picture to the moth list.

Saturday 8th May [A cold NE breeze on an overcast day]

Very little to report from the lake. There were 9 Common Pochards Aythya ferina (8 drakes) in Holt Bay and hundreds of Swifts Apus apus and Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica feeding over the water in the overcast conditions.

Sunday 9th May [ENE zephyr dropping away to a flat calm at dusk on a cool, cloudy day]

As I walked through Lodge Copse a Treecreeper Certhia familiaris sang as did a Garden Warbler Sylvia borin at Home Bay. Crossing the bridge, I surprised a pair of Gadwall Anas strepera off the feeder stream into Long Bay and I was pleased to see the female Mallard Anas platyrhynchos still with her 9 ducklings. There were 2 singing Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus beside Long Bay and another at Holt Bay. A Red Fox Vulpes vulpes was out early, perhaps with hungry young mouths to feed. A male Tawny Owl Strix aluco sang quietly from Holt Copse as the sun went down and the anglers rowed back to The Lodge.

Monday 10th May [A lovely spring day]

I didn't have time to visit the lake today as I didn't get home from work until very late. I thought you might enjoy these comparative views of Lodge Copse, both taken this year, to make up for it.

Lodge Copse in January & May © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Tuesday 11th May [Sunny periods with a light NNE breeze]

There was lots of bird song this evening but little by way of new birds and I didn't find any new broods of wildfowl. A few hirundines and Swifts Apus apus fed over the aerators. There are lots of Southern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa spikes coming up now at Top End and this heralds the second phase of Spring to me, as the Bluebells Hyacynthoides non-scripta, Primroses Primula vulgaris, Cowslips Primula veris and Green-winged Orchids Orchis morio set seed in the woods and hay meadows and die-back.

Tomorrow morning it's up early before work to do my Breeding Bird Survey square first visit in ST5159, Holt Farm and Blagdon Lake. It's already less than 4 Celsius outside so could be quite a chilly start!

Wednesday 12th May [Cool but sunny]

I visited very early this morning to do my BBS survey. I hadn't seen the few remaining Canada Geese Branta canadensis for a few days but spotted them in a field close to the farm buildings with a Greylag Anser anser this morning. I heard a Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca singing in Park Lane but there was not much else I hadn't seen or reported on before. In addition to the birds, I saw countless Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus, a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus and 5 Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus.

Thursday 13th May

No news from the lake because I went birding in Extremadura, Spain with mates Jack Willmott and Pete Massey. We based ourselves in the lovely old city of Trujillo and spent the first morning just walking around the castle and Plaza Mayor. Trujillo is a well-known spot to see Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, but we were far more excited when we found a Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps at a fish pond on the edge of town. It was virtually the first bird we'd looked at, but subsequently disappeared, as they do, making me extremely nervous about what I'd just identified! Could it really have been? For fully half an hour the bird remained hidden from view on the pond which can have been no bigger than a football pitch. Pied-billed Grebes have an amazing ability to just sink below the water surface and leave just their head or even just their bill above the surface when they feel threatened. To add to the confusion, there were a pair of breeding Little Grebes Tachybaptus ruficollis and a pair of non-breeding Coots Fulica atra on the pond as well - but they all seemed extremely nervous. However, I eventually managed to obtain some shots of the American vagrant for the record about an hour and a half later.

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps, Trujillo, Extremadura, Spain © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

It was a lovely surprise to find a Pied-billed Grebe and a strange, if tenuous link, to Blagdon where the first European record (outside the Azores) occurred in December 1963. This, if accepted, will be the fourth mainland record for Spain (plus another from the Canary Islands).

Friday 14th May

We went to Monfrague National Park 40km north of Trujillo today. We visited the Castillo de Monfrague and saw Red-billed Choughs Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax and very close views of raptors flying by at eye level and below, before moving on to Salto del Gitano car park where you can view the Pena Falcon rock pinnacle where there are Eurasian Griffon Gyps fulvus, Eurasian Black Aegypius monachus and Egyptian Vultures Neophron pernocpterus, Black Storks Ciconia nigra and Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adelberti. Here is a picture of one of the Griffons close to the car park.

Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus, Monfrague NP, Extremadura, Spain © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Saturday 15th May

Roy Curber and Chris Billinghurst carried out the WeBS Count at Blagdon Lake today. Christine reported hearing a Cuckoo Cuculus canorus during the count. I think this is only the second record this year.

In Spain we decided to drive the Monroy road from Trujillo, then to Santa Marta de Magasca and back via Cacares. We saw some excellent birds including the European Roller Coracius garrulus shown below which was using one of the boxes put up on the telegraph poles along the roads around Cacares.

European Roller Coracius garrulus, Cacares, Extremadura, Spain © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

We checked the pond on the road to Heurtas de la Magdelena again when we got back to Trujillo to see if the Pied-billed Grebe was still present. It was, but still very nervous and elusive. We'd met several visiting birders since finding it and told them, including a party of Americans who told us they call them 'pee-bee-gee-bees'. Nice!

Sunday 16th May

We travelled south to Zorita today and visited Campo Lugar and drove over to Embalse De Sierra Brava hoping to see Sandgrouse and water birds. This entailed driving past the Bull Ring in Trujillo, another good site for nesting Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni with Pallid Swifts Apus pallidus nearby. Todays shot is of a Lesser Kestrel.

Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, Trujillo, Extremadura, Spain © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Monday 17th May

We headed north again to Monfrague NP where I was hoping to connect with White-rumped Swift Apus caffer and Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti at the Castillo de Monfrague, which I did, thanks to one of the park wardens who pointed out an eagle's nest to us. We saw just the one White-rumper though. From there we headed out to Embalse de Talavan and back via Cacares again. Todays picture is of a Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica feeding young at a nest inside the bird hide at Embalse de Talavan. I had no flash gun with me so this was hand held at 1/15th of a second. Please forgive the slight movement, but I think it's made up for by the 'ah factor'.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, Embalse de Talavan, Extremadura, Spain © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Tuesday 18th May

An early rise to visit the Belen Plain before breakfast and then we went back out to do the Monroy Road, Talavan and Torrejon el Rubio.

Todays picture is a Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius.

Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius, Extremadura, Spain © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Wednesday 19th May

Today we visited Benquerencia de La Serena where I saw Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura and one of the most important grasslands in the world. We did see Great Bustards Otis tarda but not like we did on Belen Plain, and caught up with 7 Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis. Todays picture is of a Black Vulture Aegypius monachus.

Black Vulture Aegypius monachus, La Serena, Spain © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Thursday 20th May

Nearly time to go home, but we went back to the Monfrague NP and Embalse de Arroyocampo. When the days run out, its so typical to realise you don't have pictures of some of the more common birds and so it was with Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor, the subject of todays picture.

Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor, Extremadura, Spain © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Saturday 22nd May [A beautiful hot sunny day]

In a remarkable reversal of the link between Blagdon and Extremadura, made on the 13th, I saw 2 Red Kites Milvus milvus drift north east over the lake at 1638 hrs when I went down for the first time since going away. We saw tens of Black Kites Milvus migrans and a few Red Kites each day we were in Spain during the last week or so. This is the 2nd record for the lake and the first since Sue Caola and I saw one in December 2002.

I met some birders at the Lodge who said they hadn't seen much but I was excited at the thought of checking around the lake for the first time in a while. I was immediately greeted with the sight of a pair of Mute Swans Cygnus olor with a family of 7 cygnets (1st brood at the lake, 2010). There was also a brood of Mallards Anas platyrhynchos, a duck with 3 ducklings at Bell's Bush barrier (the 6th brood at the lake, 2010).

I saw lots of day-flying Burnet Companion Euclidia glyphica moths along Burmah Road and at Bell's Bush, while there was a male Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines and Speckled Wood Parage aegeria at Holt Copse. Damselflies have also appeared in numbers during the last few days, so perhaps a Hobby Falco subbuteo or two will appear soon.

The meadows are in full flower now and I noted Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi, Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus and Dittander Lepidium latifolium in bloom for the first time this year.

Sunday 23rd May [A beautiful, hot, sunny day]

Sean Davies was early on parade this morning and reports seeing the first Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata of the year at the lake at Butcombe Bay, along with the female Wigeon Anas penelope in Rugmoor Bay and a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at Green Lawn. I suspect the Wigeon will be the one I reported on the 6th as having a damaged wing.

I went down to the lake at lunchtime to do some insect monitoring and was surprised to put up a Lapwing Vanellus vanellus off the North Shore. There was a female Mallard Anas platyrhynchos with 4 ducklings at Ash Trees (7th brood at the lake, 2010) and a pair of Common Shelduck Tadorna todorna asleep at Top End.

There were lots of Common Blue Polyommatus icarus butterflies on the wing now that the Common Bird's-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus is in full flower and Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii are coming into bloom in numbers.

Monday 24th May [Another hot sunny day]

I only made a very brief visit this evening after returning from a cycle ride after my evening meal. There was an adult Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus on the dam.

I also heard a Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos singing while out on the cycle ride along the Strawberry Line. Shades of Extremadura again! The bird was in the Avon recording area, but I won't give exact details of the location for obvious reasons. Amazingly, Kurt Vickery also reported hearing it this evening on Bristol Wildlife egroup.

Tuesday 25th May [Slightly cooler with a steady easterly breeze]

Two of the Mute Swan Cygnus olor cygnets appear to have disappeared because the pen only had 5 with her in front of the Lodge this evening. I couldn't find the cob, but doubt he had the missing birds with him anyway. While on the subject of young birds, I also heard one of the Tawny Owl Strix aluco chicks that we ringed, food-begging. Other than that, I couldn't see any new birds, or broods, today in my two visits.

Local fisherman Jeff Hurst told me this evening that he heard Cuckoo Cuculus canorus singing on a couple of occasions at the lake while I was in Spain.

Wednesday 26th May [Cooler again with the odd light sprinkle of rain]

I'm afraid I have no news from the lake today.

Thursday 27th May [Cool & sunny with a strong NW breeze that blew up at lunchtime]

No new bird news. The Mute Swan Cygnus olor family was still together and I saw several Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus in various meadows and a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus at a point in Butcombe Bay where I've never seen one before. Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii are starting to show in good numbers, on the North Shore in particular.

Friday 28th May [Cool and cloudy with a steady westerly breeze]

The Swifts Apus apus and House Martins Delichon urbicum that I presume are breeding locally were feeding over the lake yesterday and there were huge numbers of damselflies in the meadows. The usual pair of Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus were loafing about with ill-intent and as I walked into Holt Copse at tea-time I came face to face with a Fox Vulpes vulpes carrying a food item, but after a moment when we both just stared at each other, it darted off into the undergrowth before I could focus my binoculars on what it was carrying. The Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock has built up to 29 now, and if previous years are anything to go by, this will continue until the end of June when they will make a decision about whether they will stay at the lake to moult in July or move somewhere else where they feel safe and have an accessibe food supply. We shall see.

Saturday 29th May [Cool, cloudy with light rain]

I went walking in the woods along the northern edge of Mendip in the light rain this afternoon and was amazed to find a Bird's-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis in Dolebury Warren Wood. This particular species of orchid is often associated with Beech Fagus sylvatica woods, but in this instance is to be found under Oak Quercus sp., Hazel Corylus avellana and Holly Ilex aquifolium. According to the recent Bristol Flora (2000) there are no records in ST45. I make no apology for showing a picture photographed with flash, it always shows this species off best - they almost appear to glow.

Bird's-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis, Dolebury Warren Wood, North Somerset © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Down at the lake I found little new. A Badger Meles meles came trotting, towards me as I walked back along Burmah Road, and it got within a few yards before realising I was standing to one side of the road and turned on its tail and ran back to Holt Copse and cover.