BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

May 2012 News

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2012

Site Updates; I am in the process of revising the whole website, having originally started with the intention of replacing just the photo galleries, using Lightbox2 code, to match a new website I am building to showcase my photography. I have almost finished restoring information and have changed some of the photo galleries which will take a bit longer. There is a table of earliest and latest dates of some Spring migrants on the General Info. page. I've added breeding status to the Birds List, and I've just added records of a survey carried out by Somerset Botanical Group in 2007 to the Plants List courtesy of Ann Bodley et al. This adds more flowering plants and many grasses.

Updated 30 April, 2012


Tuesday 1st May [A day of two halves - rain then sun] May Day

We have workmen in at the moment, so I was confined to the house most of the day, but Celia and I saw a Robin Erithacus rubecula feeding a fledged youngster in the garden and as soon as the sun came out a Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus flitted across the patio.

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Fishing Lodge © Nigel Milbourne, 2012

Not the greatest shot in the world but you get the idea!

I went down to the lake after tea and what an absolutely beautiful evening it was for a walk. The highlight was 3 adult, summer-plumaged, Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis in front of the Fishing Lodge. They were absolutely stunning in the low evening sunlight, with their yellow ear tufts and ruby red eyes glowing against their black upperparts and coppery flanks. There were 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall, 3 Brown Hares Lepus europaeus on Holt Farm fields and while I was watching the sun go down from the Top End hide, a Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo flew through east. As I walked back towards the Lodge, an angler and I saw a litter of 4 healthy Red Fox Vulpes vulpes cubs. Then, as I set out from the dam back up the hill I realised there was a new sound I hadn't heard for some time; the roar of water going down the Spillway carried on the still evening air. It wasn't cold, despite the clear night sky, and my moon shadow accompanied me home up the hill to round off a leisurely stroll at the end of the day.

Wednesday 2nd May [Mainly warm and dry]

There was no sign of the Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis this afternoon unfortunately, but there were lots of fishing boats in front of the Lodge. Rather surprisingly though, we had 4 Northern Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe along the south side. There were 2♂ and a ♀ at Bell's Bush and a ♂ at Holt Bay.

Thanks to Andy Davis and Mike Jenkins for the call about the Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides at Chew Valley Lake. A real cracker that drew lots of admirers early this evening. Here's a hand-held grab shot taken when it flew up briefly over the back corner of Herriott's Pool at 1715 hrs - just about identifiable!

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides, Chew Valley Lake © Nigel Milbourne, 2012

After tea I had another walk, but didn't see too much except for a 5th Red Fox Vulpes vulpes cub with those I saw last night. It was quite small though.

Thursday 3rd May [Mizzle on and off]

About the only thing I saw of note this evening was a Eurasian Hobby Falco subutteo with a prey item at Green Lawn.

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

Friday 4th May [Overcast]

I went down to check the moth trap early this morning and a small white heron in flight gave me a brief heart-stopping moment but it turned out to be a Little Egret Egretta garzetta flying east. During my evening visit I heard my first juvenile Tawny Owl Strix aluco food-begging.

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight (min. temp. 4 Celsius) at Lodge Copse and caught:

Saturday 5th May [Mainly overcast with some sunny spells. Cool.]

I got up early this morning to do my May singing birds count around the lake, but delayed the start because it was cold, grey and windy. I went down and checked the moth trap, which turned out to be empty, and started the walk at 0800 hrs. I nearly gave up before I got to the Lodge entrance because there were hardly any birds singing. However, I decided to plough on, as I'd already made the effort, and I'm glad I did because it was a very interesting walk. Highlights were 2♂ Common Redstarts Phoenicurus phoenicurus singing (at Butcombe Bank near the old caravan and Orchard Bay) and a ♀ in the hedge behind Top End hide. There were 2 Whinchats Saxicola rubetra at Orchard Bay and another at Holt Bay, as well as 4 Common Whitethroats Sylvia communis and 6 Garden Warblers Sylvia borin between Butcombe Bay and Rugmoor Gate on the North Shore. There was little to report on the water, but we still have a few passage Sand Martins Riparia riparia coming through among the throng of hirundines over it. Here are the counts:

Year
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
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
3 May
5 May
Chiffchaff
16
12
11
16
11
18
19
16
18
15
16
16
15
24
14
Willow Warbler
4
3
2
2
1
1
0
1
4
0
2
0
1
0
3
Blackcap
15
17
23
22
18
15
10
18
16
14
22
19
14
29
26
Garden Warbler
9
15
7
11
9
4
13
6
10
8
10
7
4
10
6
Reed Warbler
3
4
5
7
2
6
29
5
6
8
5
6
5
14
3
Sedge Warbler
4
6
5
4
10
6
12
8
11
10
8
8
10
10
1

Daniel Hargreaves emailed me yesterday to say he is planning to do some more bat trapping at the lake this evening. I can't make it tonight, but we will be checking the bat boxes tomorrow as well, after I've done my lakeside Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) square at the crack of dawn. It's all go at this time of year!

Sunday 6th May [Sunny and warm]

A RED LETTER DAY; SQUACCO HERON - A FIRST FOR THE LAKE

Daniel Hargreaves and I were checking bat boxes this lunchtime when Steve and Sue Mackie drove up and told me they'd found what they thought was the SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides from Chew and showed me an excellent picture of the first for Blagdon. Thanks so much for letting me know guys. Due to the high water level and flooded meadows, there is very limited safe parking at the lakeside, so we didn't put the news out on the national networks. We did contact local birders, especially those who we knew missed it at Chew. I didn't stay until dusk, eight hours lakeside was enough for me, so I don't know if it flew back to Denny Island at Chew to roost for the night.

Rich Andrews told me he'd heard a flyover Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flavissima, the first reported since 2010, and I saw a Whinchat Saxicola rubetra at Holt Bay. I also saw my first Burnet Companion Euclidia glyphica of the year at Bell's Bush.

Daniel and I managed to do the bat boxes in the Pumping Station where we had a box containing a roost of 7 female Natterer's Bats Myotis nattereri, 4 of which were recaptures. Daniel ringed the others. We found a few Soprano Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus in some of the other boxes, but didn't complete the check because we ran out of time and the heron rather took over the day! There was also a Coal Tit Periparus ater nest in a bird box at the Pumping Station and a high percentage of the bat boxes we checked also had bird nests in them.

I've posted some pictures of the heron and bats in the Recent Images Gallery.

Monday 7th May [Showers and cool]

I spent a very wet and miserable hour looking for the SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides early this morning without any success until Richard Mielcarek phoned to say it was at Moreton, Chew Valley Lake, at 1010 hrs but had probably flown west back towards Blagdon shortly afterwards. So I drove back down to the lake and the 'Pointy Barn Owl', as the heron has become known, was feeding at Top End in the meadows near the owl box and was still present until 1340 hrs at least, when we all ran for cover as a storm came over. It was showing really nicely at times and seemed to be finding plenty to eat. We also had 3+ Hobbies Falco subutteo over while watching the heron.

This evening I saw it at 2015 hrs still feeding at Top End as yet another rain storm set in. No doubt it will fly back to Chew to roost. I saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and a couple of Hobbies at dusk, while Rich Andrews emailed that he'd heard another Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flavissima this morning.

While watching the heron this afternoon we started talking about the meaning of the word squacco and no-one was able to offer an explanation. Here is the etymology from Wikipedia: "The English common name Squacco comes via Francis Willughby (circa 1672) quoting a local Italian name Sguacco. The current spelling comes John Hill in 1752 [sic]. The scientific name comes from Latin ardeola, little heron, and ralloides, Latin rallus, rail and Greek -oides, resembling." I have also read that Scopoli, the Italian Ornithologist, named the bird after the phonetic local dialect for the birds call.

And finally - I received an email From Sue and Steve Mackie that made me smile this morning:

"Hi Nigel, we thought this pic might give you a chuckle. After all the excitment yesterday, we took ourselves off to the Blue Bowl for a ploughmans and a cider and we were duly shown to our table. Could you imagine the suprise we had at the picture hanging above our heads!"

Finders of Blagdon's first Squacco Heron, Steve & Sue Mackie © Simon Mackie, 2012

Tuesday 8th May [Warmer with a few sunny spells]

The SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides was at Burmah Road this morning but I was called at home and told 'photographers' were walking out into the meadow after the bird. When I went down it had flown to Top End. We got the parking organised and a couple of photographers onto the bird from a suitable viewpoint and it showed pretty well to visitors all afternoon.

Mike Jenkins 'gripped' me big time by announcing he'd heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor singing at Ubley Hatchery where he'd parked just outside the gate. We couldn't refind it, but I shall be looking tomorrow you can be sure (even if the weather is bad). Paul Williams told me he'd seen a Tawny Owl Strix aluco late afternoon; we have two confirmed broods by the lake, so far.

Wednesday 9th May [Another dismal wet day]

The adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides was present at Top End again today. The bird appears to be an adult that hasn't quite reached full breeding condition. The bill is grey with a black tip and the legs are yellow, rather than the courtship colours of blue bill with black tip and reddish legs.

It's one of those curious ironies that as I had to go to the dentist first thing, I didn't take my camera, but went to check to see if the heron was still there and blow me, it landed by the road at Top End as I drove towards the entrance gate and it couldn't have been more than 10 metres away in full view! I spent a couple of hours watching it this lunchtime, in between the showers, and it seems to be finding lots of food in the flooded meadows, though the pace of feeding seems to have slowed since Sunday. I don't know if it flew back to Chew to roost for the last two nights or if it just stuck it out at Blagdon, on it's own. It was still feeding this evening at 2036 hrs in a Top End ditch but I didn't wish to wait in the rain any longer to see if it flew out to Chew to roost. It would be nice if it stayed until the weekend, when we might just see a glimmer or two of sunshine to photograph it in.

I didn't see too much else during my visits except for one of a pair of breeding Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major having a very narrow escape when it was attacked by a Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. It just escaped the hawks clutches when clinging to the trunk of an Oak Quercus sp. and flew a hundred metres or so to the next tree fast enough to escape the hawks pursuit.

Thursday 10th May [Mainly overcast with showers]

The adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides is still performing amazingly well to the assembled few at Top End and is well worth the fee. I left at 1400 hrs when it flew into a Willow Salix sp. near the bird hide for a wash and brush up before putting its head under a wing. There are still people turning up without permits, so please get one at Chew Valley Lake Picnic Site No. 1 (by the dam) before coming and park outside the gate, or, as directed by myself or other wardens in designated car parks. The bird was still present at 2000 hrs this evening when I saw it drop out of a tree into some dead, flooded, Reed Canary Grass Phalaris arundinacea.

The only other birds of note during my lunchtime vigil, were a pair of Hobbies Falco subutteo ganging up on a Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica (outcome unknown but probably inevitable) and 6 Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus flying through east (1 adult and 5 1st-summers).

Friday 11th May [Strong westerly wind and sunny spells]

I didn't see the adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides in a search between 0700 and 0730 hrs this morning. I did see 4 Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna struggling westwards up the lake over the white horses and a pair of Gadwall Anas strepera at Top End.

The Heron was reported as being at the Top End on the pagers at 0840 hrs this morning and Jon Mercer contacted me by email to tell me that it was still present at Top End late afternoon and showing well. He also saw a Hobby Falco subutteo over and a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata at the Ubley Entrance. I had another look at dusk (2045 - 2110 hrs) but didn't see it.

Phil Baber and Pam Buckle sent me a link to some excellent footage of the heron that they've posted on YouTube. Thanks guys. Nice work! View at http://youtu.be/XJ7QbKbCZ4I.

I went to Portland Bill and arrived just as Martin Cade caught a Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus in the Observatory garden nets. I also caught up with a few other year ticks including Common Cuckoo, Bonxie, Manx Shearwater, Spotted Flycatcher, Fulmar and Common Scoter.

Welly Boots; I found a pair of wellingtons looking rather forlorn by the mud and puddles just outside the Ubley Entrance gate yesterday evening. I have taken them to the Fishing Lodge where they may be collected from the Drying Room.

Saturday 12th May [A beautiful sunny day]

The adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides has been showing beautifully again at Top End until this evening when it probably went to roost in the flooded Willows Salix sp. 3 Hobbies Falco subbuteo had a brief spat overhead mid-morning while we were there. I saw the day-flying moth Pyrausta aurata at Bell's Bush.

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides, Top End © Nigel Milbourne, 2012

I popped down to Blagdon this evening to try and get a shot of the 2 juvenile Tawny Owls Strix aluco that I've seen for the last few days hanging out of the nest box side-by-side. I set up in the gloom but there was no sign until one called right over my head! I spotted a ball of fluff which gradually turned into a little pot-bellied owl as I edged away to get some shots which don't stand up to close scrutiny, but may make you smile. They're known as 'branchers' at this stage.

Tawny Owl Strix aluco branching beside the lake © Nigel Milbourne, 2012

There was a Pomarine (Jaeger) Skua Stercorarius pomarinus at Chew this afternoon (thanks for the call Mike) complete with 'spoons' which makes up nicely for the one I didn't see at Portland Bill yesterday! Rich Andrews went out in a boat to get some close-ups which I'm sure he'll post online soon.

Sunday 13th May [Sunny with a cool wind]

The adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides has, once again, been showing amazingly well at times today between Top End and Burmah Road in the sunshine for both admirers and photographers. I last saw it this evening feeding at Top End at 2106 hrs.

Mervyn Pearce saw a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata at Hellfire Corner and a Stoat Mustela erminea at Wood Bay. I haven't seen a Stoat at the lake for a few years, so it's nice to know they're still around.

I spent some time on the North Shore looking for insects in the lee of the hedges by the flower meadows and saw some nice things, though it appears that the cold wet weather we've been having means that both the flower and the invertebrate emergences are behind where they were last year. I recorded the following:

My friend Robin Williams photographed a few Hymenopterans and other invertebrates and gave me this list:

This evening I had a smashing walk seeing 4 Brown Hares Lepus europaeus, 2 Badgers Meles meles, a Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna flying east, 3 juvenile Tawny Owls Strix aluco (plus another heard) and at least one of their parents.

Monday 14th May [A dismal, grey and wet morning]

The adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides is into its second week lakeside and was showing at Top End this morning, though the viewing conditions were, frankly, miserable. The BBC weather forecast is for sun late this afternoon so it might be better to plan a visit then, if you're coming. There were a pair of Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula and a Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus on the dam, which later flew east past the Fishing Lodge calling.

This evening I caught up with the Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata at the Ubley Entrance, saw the Squacco Heron apparently go to roost in the Top End willows at 2036 hrs and photographed Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major taking food to their nest hole, where I could hear youngsters food-begging. I was also entertained by 5 Brown Hares Lepus europaeus on Holt Farm fields and got some distant shots.

Tuesday 15th May [Sunshine and heavy showers]

As I write this at 1610 hrs, there is a prolonged and heavy hail storm going on! I hadn't heard any reports about the adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides this morning while I was doing some domestic stuff, so I went down for a look and eventually found it at Top End feeding in the shelter of a line of Willows Salix sp. well out from the road by the edge of the lake. A few of us had reasonable views and it did fly into one of the Willows for a while to preen, but it was probably 100 metres, or more, away all the time I was there. I'm not sure if this change of feeding area was brought about by the strong wind blowing down the lake, or, it just wanted to put some distance between itself and the viewers! It was present until dusk. As I left this evening, mist was starting to rise and the temperature dropped rapidly under the clear sky. No point in moth trapping again!

I took the camera to the Ubley Entrance and got some passable pictures of the 2 Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata feeding in the Grey Poplars Populus x canescens just inside the gate. I'll have another go tomorrow to try and do better.

One of the visitors kindly told me about an amazingly tame Sanderling Calidris alba that was feeding along the lakeside causeway at Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake. I got some great pictures, so thank you very much. The overall appearance was of a spring adult. Most one-year old birds remain in their winter quarters.

I photographed an orchid on Sunday afternoon that appears to be Heath Spotted x Southern Marsh Dactylorhiza x hallii and along with photos of birds taken today can be viewed in my Recent Images Gallery. I sent the picture to Helena Crouch the local Botanical Recorder who in turn has passed it on to the Natural History Museum for confirmation (or not, as the case may be).

Wednesday 16th May [Sun, sun, sun]

Sorry about the late news, but I was out walking on the Mendips all day and didn't visit the lake until 1900-1945 hrs. The adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides remains at Top End feeding just east of the owl box meadow but has become more difficult to view because it is feeding in taller (growing) vegetation and is probably following the slowly receding water line out of the meadows and into the growing sedges and irises. Photography from the road has become more difficult and distant as a result, although if you're prepared to put in the time it does come out into the meadows and sit in willows, on occasion. Yesterday evening I was watching it with Colin Hunt, Dave Nevitt and Warwick White and we saw it rocking backwards and forwards a few times. It was suggested that it might be using its feet to disturb prey items in the shallow weedy water which resulted in the observed motion, but I don't recall seeing Little Egrets Egretta garzetta rocking when they're doing this, so I don't know. Has anyone else seen it, or others, doing this?

Hilary Raeburn emailed with news of the first Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas of the year seen near The Spinney on the North Shore and several Holly Blues Celastrina argiolus also on the wing.

My 15 mile, 7 hour, Mendip walk in ST45 from Charterhouse to Rowberrow and many points between, although wonderful in the sunshine, was disturbing in the sense that I didn't hear a single Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus singing all day. I'm off to Alaska, birding, from the end of next week for a month, so I may not see or hear a Cuckoo locally this year - a sad reflection on their decline. We rarely get them at the lake these days.

Thursday 17th May [Overcast with showers]

As I wrote last night, the adult SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides is still present but proving much more difficult to see because it's feeding out beyond the rapidly growing marginal vegetation a lot of the time. Will visitors with cameras please refrain from going into the meadows after the bird - I understand one guy was out within 20 metres of it this morning! It was still present at Top End at 2015 hrs this evening.

On my evening round I found another dead Mute Swan Cygnus olor, this time in Butcombe Bay. I don't know what's happening but we've now had 3 deaths each at Chew and Blagdon recently. Today's bird initially appeared to be asleep but was not responsive to my shouting, whistling and clapped hands. I saw a new Mallard Anas platyrhynchos brood, the 4th, and heard a juvenile Tawny Owl Strix aluco calling at a new location, the 3rd successful brood this year.

Friday 18th May [Overcast]

There was no sign of the SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides where I usually see it in the evening and as far as I know there was no sign of it during the day. I was planning to carry out the WeBS Count tomorrow but Butcombe Bank is currently cordoned off by the Police as a crime scene see http://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/localpages/NewsDetails.aspx?nsid=25593&t=1&lid=6. There is very little else to report today.

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight (min. temp. 10 Celsius) at Lodge Copse and caught:

Saturday 19th May [Leaden sky all day]

Not much to report at the lake. The grass on the dam was being strimmed, so no chance of anything on the wall and although I spent a bit of time on the North Shore looking for day-flying moths ahead of tomorrows BDMG field meeting, there was only a singing ♂ Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca of note. I saw very few flying insects and certainly no moths because the sun steadfastly refused to come out from behind the big black cloud that hung over the lake all afternoon. I found larvae of Spindle Ermine Yponomeuta cagnagella and Drinker Euthrix potatoria but it was hard going. The Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata are still at the Ubley Entrance.

The lake, having filled, was being pumped until today which probably explains why the level dropped out of the flooded meadows and contributed to making the Squacco Heron difficult to see on Wednesday and Thursday. The pumps were turned off this morning, which is good news for some of the Common Coots Fulicra atra that have started to nest again after being washed out as the level came up.

Sunday 20th May [Cloud then weak sun]

The Bristol & District Moth Group field trip was hampered by the lack of sunshine, but thanks to the enthusiasm of those that came, and the identification skills of Ray Barnett (Bristol Museum), we managed to find a few nice things, including some moths. Thanks to all concerned for making it such an interesting morning.

The list will undoubtedly be much longer when Ray Barnett adds his notes.

Ian White spent some time photographing the Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata today and sent a couple of lovely images (see Guest Photo Gallery).

This evening Daniel Hargreaves rang, so I met him and Jim for a short 2 hr bat trapping session at Pipe Bay Copse (the Police still have Butcombe Bank shut off tonight). We trapped 12 Soprano Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus (just 1♂) and a single ♀ Whiskered Bat Myotis mystacinus. Daniel booted up my SM2+ Songmeter for the first time which we ran while we were there to test it and I ran my 15W Heath Trap but caught nothing under a clear sky (although I think the tube needed turning around to be fair). I heard a Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus flying around over the dam end of the lake for 5-10 minutes calling at around 2300 hrs to round off a splendid day.

Monday 21st May [The sun has come out!]

Sunshine at last.... I saw a few Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines butterflies flitting about and, fishermen sit up and take notice, a few recently-emerged, teneral, damselflies flying from the water to surrounding hedges to mature. Not much to say about the birds this morning other than that there appears to have been a bit of an arrival of Eurasian Reed Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus with a few noted singing in hedges as well as the limited reed beds. This evening I came across a ♂ GarganeyAnas querquedula in Long Bay.

*** WARNING ***

To those who stray off the road at the lake (e.g. in meadows or woods), I picked up a Deer Tick on my leg while surveying yesterday. These are potential carriers of Lyme Disease which should be referred to a doctor quickly if symptoms occur.

***************

I ran my 15W Heath Trap overnight (min. temp. 9 Celsius) at Lodge Copse and caught:

Tuesday 22nd May [Wall-to-wall sun]

I was up early to empty the moth trap and do the WeBS Count, before I was supposed to join in with the Avalon Marshes Bioblitz. Sadly, I didn't get there, on the day we found out that Great White Egrets Ardea albahave bred at Shapwick NNR as well! See the Somerset Ornithological Society website Bird News for more about the announcement.

Nothing nearly as dramatic at Blagdon this morning, not even the ♂ Garganey Anas querquedula that I saw last night. See WeBS Count.

Wednesday 23rd May [Sunny, with a cool breeze by the lake]

I only visited the lake in the evening and met Mervyn Pearce. He had seen an adult Tawny Owl Strix aluco showing very well until a fisherman drove past when he was fetching his camera! That's the sort of thing that happens to me. I saw 4 of the original 5 young Red Foxes Vulpes vulpes again, but nothing new on the lake.

Thursday 24th May [Mist, then stifling heat]

I could barely see the lake, until lunchtime, then the sun came out. I thought I'd check for some day-flying moths and other invertebrates, hoping the last couple of days may have stimulated some onto the wing, but it was still very quiet. However, I did manage to find Grass Rivulet Perizoma albulata ssp. albulata, a new species for the site. I suppose I should have expected it given that the larval food plant is Yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor agg. seeds in hay meadows. I also saw a couple of Burnet Companions Euclidia glyphica.

This evening I saw a Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna fly east and a lone Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis at Top End.

Chatting to some of the fishermen we were all commenting on the floating algae around the margins that one of them likened to 'emulsion paint'. It looks and smells pretty awful. It must surely be a sign of increasing eutrophication and the next lot of rain will no doubt bring a fresh lot of nutrients into the lake as fields along one side have just been injected with slurry again this week.

Friday 25th May [Sunny with a stiff easterly breeze]

I didn't see anything on the dam, even the Mallards Anas platyrhynchos have moved away with all the green 'emulsion paint' slopping up the wall. There weren't any new birds that I could see in my final round for a month. I'm off birding (with my cameras) to Alaska! I will update the news page, if I receive any, while I'm away, but my access to the internet might be less than frequent. I might also post some news of my travels, the first week of which will be at Gambell on St Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, but I'll also be visiting St Paul Island in the Pribilofs, Nome, Barrow, Denali National Park and Seward for a pelagic from my base at Anchorage. Spectacled Eider here I come...

I saw a Narrow-bordered Bee-Hawk Hemaris tityus today.

Sunday 27th May [Warm and sunny]

Mervyn Pearce reports: "This morning... at Blagdon 0630 till 0900 hrs 2 Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata at the Hatchery... and... 1 juvenile Tawny Owl Strix aluca."

ALASKAN DIARY: I birded with a fellow tour member, Mike Myszewski, for the day in steady drizzle around Anchorage where we picked up over 40 species, including Hudsonian Godwit. The tour proper started this evening when we met up with Jon L Dunn and the rest of the group for dinner, before another short jaunt back to Westchester Lagoon where we saw a ♂ Rusty Blackbird.

Monday 28th May

ALASKAN DIARY: Today we flew to Nome, on the Seward Peninsula, before connecting for a flight to Gambell. It was just as cold as I expected when we got there and after meeting co-leader Paul Lehman, a lengthy briefing and some tuition on how to drive our ATVs we set off for the Far Boneyard to see if we could locate the ♂ Brambling found earlier in the day. Not only did we find the finch but we also jammed into a Lesser Sandplover in Old Town Boatyard. This was quite a promising start! We went to bed early in order to get up for an early morning (0600 hrs) sea-watch at The Point before breakfast.

Tuesday 29th May

ALASKAN DIARY: Blige, it's cold up here and sitting on your behind in the gravel watching ice flows go past is quite a shock to the system! 9 Pacific and 3 Yellow-billed Loons got us off to a great start and we watched a flock of 11 Lesser Sandhill Cranes fly out over the point, then dither, before striking out for the Russian Coast some 42 miles miles away. We saw a Slaty-backed Gull, about 200 'Vega' Herring and 300 pallidissimus Glaucous Gulls, 4 Long-tailed (Skuas) Jaegers and a cast of thousands of alcids. A visit south of Troutman (Navvook) Lake to the marsh brought us a Rock Sandpiper and 3 Northern Wheatears. Troutman is about the same size as Blagdon Lake but is still frozen over except for a few square metres where the run-off from the marsh trickles through The Gulley and into the lake. The Gulley produced a couple of Wandering Tattlers. The temperature remained below freezing point most, if not all, of the day.

Wednesday 30th May

ALASKAN DIARY: The wind was still out of the north but is due to swing to the SW tomorrow. A cracking day of sea-watching ensued and I racked up my most sought after bird, a pair of Spectacled Eiders, about 15 Steller's Eiders (including drakes in breeding plumage), 100 King Eiders, 49 Pacific and 17 Yellow-billed Loons, 8 Emperor Geese and 12 deglandi White-winged Scoters among a cast of thousands. We visited Sevuokuk Mountain (the eastern boundary of our permitted visiting area) to see the breeding alcids and our leaders picked out 3 Dovekies (Little Auks) on the snow slopes. Later we headed south along the lake and saw a Red-necked Stint, while breeding Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings displayed all around us on the tundra.

Thursday 31st May

ALASKAN DIARY: The change in wind direction brought fog and the temperature remained below freezing all day. I wrote day, but of course there is no night, so perhaps it'd be more accurate to write during waking hours (typically 0600 - 2300 hrs). 4 more Spectacled Eiders, another Red-necked Stint and a ♀ Varied Thrush were all knocked into a cocked-hat by a mystery 'chicken' found in the Near Boneyard while we birded the marsh 2 miles away. Paul Lehman, sprinted back on his ATV but missed the bird that had by now done a tour of the village and headed towards the mountain. He was visibly distraught at missing an island 'tick', but to our utter amazement found it later that afternoon on the mountainside about a mile away. I got some pictures as the Ptarmigan sp. wandered past me about 10 feet away and with the help of the internet it was eventually identified as the first Willow Ptarmigan for St. Lawrence Island. Sadly, it was later shot by one of the villagers who posted a picture of himself on his Facebook Page with his 'trophy' - how's that for subsistence living!?