BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

May 2015 News


Friday 1st May [Overcast with that cool breeze still]

Paul Williams texted me to say he was watching 4 Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo over Pipe Bay at 1320 hrs, and I met Mark Hynam at dusk watching a Hobby at Top End. Not much else to report though. I finished a licensed bat exclusion job with Ken Anstey this morning (not the sort of job I like to be doing, if I'm honest) and missed the Hudsonian Godwit by 15 minutes this evening. Ho, hum!

Saturday 2nd May [Overcast with a cool breeze]

Steve Hale reported 5 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and a Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo this morning and Mark Hynam saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba lift off from Burmah Road at 1300 hrs and fly west along the south side. We hadn't relocated it by 1430 hrs when I left, although the Hobby was still hawking over Top end. Sadly, I missed the GWE despite being on my way down the hill from seeing the Hudsonian Godwit and my old buddy Paz Fletcher at Meare Heath earlier. The 2 adult Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus were at Top End again, and I heard both Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca and Garden Warbler Sylvia borin singing there.

This evening the 2 adult Egyptian Geese were back at Rainbow Point and Green Lawn, and there were 3 Hobbies over the lake (one at Cheddar Water and 2 at Top End). Surprisingly, there was an adult ♀ Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula at Cheddar Water too. Tonight, if the weather deteriorates, we could get an influx of migrants dropped in the morning, so it'll be up early for a look around to try and keep the Patchwork Challenge score rolling along.

Sunday 3rd May [Showers and much warmer]

It was a very quiet visit to the lake this morning. I'd hoped for a few new birds to have come in with the change of weather, but there's now't to report aside from 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, a fly-through by a pair of Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna, and a Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca singing by the feeder stream at Long Bay. Given the Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo arrival in the last few days, it's interesting to be able to report that I saw my first teneral damselflies (a preferred food item) drifting away from the water to the adjacent hedges today.

Mike Gillett spent the afternoon at the lake and reported the following: 5 Common Sandpipers on the dam, 2 Common Shelduck, Common Swifts Apus apus, hirundines including Sand Martins Riparia riparia, and 4 Hobbies at Top End. He also saw broods of European Robin Erithacus rubecula and Song Thrush Turdus philomelos.

Monday 4th May [Sunny and warm]

I got up early and spent 3.5 hours around the lake this morning but there wasn't anything new to report. Of note was the adult ♀ Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula asleep in Long Bay, and a Peregrine Falco peregrinus that flew over. I counted 15 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and 7 Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, and saw a group of 6 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos among the 51 species recorded.

Mark Hynam texted me to say there were 23 Dunlin Calidris alpina on the dam mid-afternoon, but despite going straight down, they had already departed, as expected. Another PWC point goes begging!

TV programme to watch out for this evening on BBC4 at 2000 hrs Dawn Chorus: The Sounds of Spring which includes woodland birds at Yarner Wood in Devon, a lovely site to visit if you've never been.

Tuesday 5th May [Wet and windy]

I spent the afternoon at the lake - it was nice to have some free time a last. We had the first big arrival of Common Swifts Apus apus, though they only numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands. There were lots of hirundines over the water, including a few Sand Martins Riparia riparia still trickling through on their way north. It wasn't a surprise to see the 4 Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo over Top End in the circumstances, but rather than chasing after the hirundines, they seemed content to be hawking insects. Given the weather conditions, I'd hoped for a Black or Arctic Tern today, but no such luck! It's getting harder to add new species now that spring migration is tailing off. Most of the early nesting Common Coots Fulica atra, and all bar one pair of Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus, appear to have had their nests inundated by waves whipped up by the strong and variable winds during the last week or so.

Irene Mills of YACWAG very kindly dissected and analysed 13 barn owl pellets that I collected when we replaced an owl box at the lake last year, and found:

Wednesday 6th May [Wet and windy again]

It was a bit wild lakeside again today. There were more hirundines with a good many Sand Martins Riparia riparia, and there were 2 Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo feeding on insects among them at Top End. Early afternoon a Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna flew west and I saw one off Green Lawn in the evening. Also noted were 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and 2 ♂ Common Pochards Aythya ferina.

Thursday 7th May [Sunny and warm]

I enjoyed a 10.5 miles walk with friends from Weston-Super-Mare through the woods, around Sand Bay to Middle Hope and back today. I heard my first Cuckoo of spring (in England) and saw at least 5 Northern Wheatears at Middle Hope. Back at the lake this evening I saw 2 Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo feeding over the water alongside the pines at Indian Country.

Mike Gillett reported seeing the ♀ Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula in Long Bay too.

Friday 8th May [Mainly overcast]

I didn't visit the lake today, but Mervyn Pearce rang at tea time to say he'd seen 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and a couple of mobile Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna.

Jim Mulholland, Ken Anstey and I went out bat trapping in South Glos. this evening to see if we could catch a Nathusius' Pipistrelle, or two. Although our session was interrupted by rain, we caught 11 bats but no Nathusius' Pips.

Saturday 9th [Mainly sunny]

I was on a 1st Aid Course run for YACWAG event leaders today - it was absolutely excellent. This evening I saw 3 Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo at the lake and heard a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis at Top End (my first at the lake this year). Some of the summer orchids are starting to push their heads up now, even though there are Green-veined Anacamptis morio and Early Purple Orchids Orchis mascula still in flower, and the Cowslips Primula veris are going over and being hidden by the flowering meadow grasses.

Sunday 10th May [Mainly cloudy]

I spent most of today working on the ducks section of the Avon Bird Report, but I did go down to the lake late this evening to listen for ♂ Water Rails Rallus aquaticus advertising and heard one singing, which was a really pleasant surprise. There was a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos asleep on the dam, 2+ Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo over the water, a pair of Common Pochards Aythya ferina off Rugmoor Point and 3 Gadwall Anas strepera in display flight for the second consecutive evening.

Ian White reported a ♀ Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe on the road at Holt Bay.

Monday 11th May [Mixed sunshine and drizzle on a stiff breeze]

Conditions weren't exactly ideal for surveying the lakeside this morning, but I went anyway. Top bird was the adult ♀ Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula in Long Bay. Also of note were the first and third broods of Canada Goose Branta canadensis (3 juveniles) and Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (5 juveniles). Both families were subjected to the aerial attention of predatory large gulls, so I fear for their little lives. Singing ♂ warbler counts included 24 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 12 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 3 each of Sedge Acrocephalus schoenobaenus and Garden Warblers Sylvia borin, 2 Common Whitethroats Sylvia communis and a Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca.

This evening I found an adult Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula on the dam and added 4 more species bringing the day list up to a respectable 56. In addition I saw 2 new broods of Mallard (the 4th and 5th of the year).

Tuesday 12th May [Sunshine with a cool breeze]

I only made a brief evening visit, but was really struck by how few waterfowl I saw. Perhaps there's been a clear-out, it is normal for the lowest counts to occur in May. However, a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was at Cheddar Water, a Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo was hawking right in front of the Fishing Lodge and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta flew west past me at Rainbow Point. At Top End there was a large flock of 250-300 House Martins Delichon urbicum and a ♀ Mallard Anas platyrhynchos with 6 juveniles. I also noticed that there are 4, not 3, juvenile Canada Geese Branta canadensis in the family that I reported yesterday.

Wednesday 13th May [Sunny and warm]

I was at the lake at 0630 hrs to carry out my BBS walk. I didn't record anything too exciting and neither did I spot anything on my walk back to the Lodge afterward. I spent the rest of the day with friends walking the first leg of the Cotswold Way (northbound) from Bath Abbey to Cold Ashton - too tired to go back to the lake in the evening as a result!

Thursday 14th May [Wet, wet, wet.]

It was wet and chilly today and I only made a short visit to the lake. There was a Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus on the dam which was something of a surprise at this time of year. In the wet conditions it wasn't surprising to see lots of hirundines and Common Swifts Apus apus over the water, but I couldn't spot any Sand Martins this time, so perhaps their passage period is over now.

Friday 15th May [Warmer with some sun]

I spent the afternoon at the lake with bat friend Denise Foster from Herefordshire checking the remaining boxes that we didn't have time to do on 25th April. We found several more tit nests and one box with some Soprano Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmeaus. In the evening a small group of us got together to run some harp traps and a mist net as part of the National Nathusius' Project, during which time I saw a Little Egret Egretta garzetta fly over towards Top End. See the Bat News Page for details of our exciting evenings batting.

Luke Lincoln emailed the following news after taking an early morning walk along the Butcombe Bank public footpath: "Saw a pair of Gadwall, a female Goldeneye, 1 Jay, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Green Woodpecker, 2 sets of Coot chicks and Blue Tits nesting." Thanks for the news Luke.

Saturday 16th May [Sunny with a cool breeze]

I had a very late night last night, so I didn't go down to the lake until this evening. About the only bird worth reporting was a singing Water Rail Rallus aquaticus and, in another area, I heard another couple squealing. I feel sure that the high water level over the last two Spring periods has given them the opportunity to breed. I haven't come across any recent proven records during my research, although Howard H. Davis reported that there had been breeding records from Blagdon (presumably early last century). I have summer records from 2000, 2005, 2007 and 2014 but haven't ever knowingly seen juveniles - but how would you in the dense emergent vegetation bordering the lake?

Tomorrow, I have a group from Avon Wildlife Trust Long Ashton Group coming for a visit, which I'm looking forward to. Fingers crossed for a bit of warmth.

Sunday 17th May [Long sunny spells with a cool breeze]

My morning with the Avon Wildlife Trust Long Ashton Group at the lake was nice; we saw 4 species of orchid, a healthy selection of meadow flowers, 3 broods of Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, a brood of Common Coot Fulica atra, listened to a selection of singing passerines, had great views of a Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus on a nest, but sadly didn't see the Marsh Harrier that Mike Jenkins rang to tell me was heading our way from Chew (nevertheless, thanks for the call Mike). We had a look in the bat house (no bats) and I explained what we're doing with the Nathusius' Project. This evening, the Nathusius' Project team trapped at at Chew Valley Lake and caught a ♂ Whiskered Bat and 6 (1♂ & 5) Soprano Pipistrelles. We also filmed a Lesser Horseshoe. I'll put up a link when Chris has put it on YouTube.

Mike O'Connor emailed to say he and Christine had seen a Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo at Long Bay this afternoon. Tomorrow morning, if the weather conditions aren't too bad, I'll carry out the WeBS count.

Monday 18th May [A wet morning that improved as the day wore on. A very strong wind.]

As I tweeted earlier, Paul Williams reported a flyover Red Kite Milvus milvus at Top End that flew off North. Interestingly, of the ten sightings of that I have for the lake, four of them (involving twelve of eighteen birds) fall in the small window between 13th and 22nd May. I had no such excitement during my visit (I postponed the WeBS count), having to make do with a single Sand Martin Riparia riparia among the hoardes of hirundines! Not too remarkable I know, but an extension date for the protracted Spring passage this year. Spotting waterfowl was nigh on impossible in the conditions - white horses were racing down the lake. Thankfully, the two sitting Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus were sheltered from the destructive wave action.

Just for the record, angler Martin Cottis also told me he'd seen the Red Kite when I met him several days later.

Tuesday 19th May [Changeable with squalls]

Late this afternoon there were lots of hirundines and Common Swifts Apus apus over the lake in the strong wind. Again, I saw a single Sand Martin Riparia riparia among them. The Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus nests are still floating, so hopefully they'll be okay now the wind is dropping. I'm going to do the WeBS count tomorrow, given the improved forecast.

I went out this morning with Ken Anstey's group to check Dormouse boxes locally and was really pleased they actually found one, a male. He didn't wake up while being processed and here's the cute picture:

Hazel Dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius © Nigel Milbourne, 2015

Wednesday 20th May [Sunny and warmer than of late, but still breezy.]

It was a very quiet morning bird-wise for the WeBS Count. The only unusual birds were 3 (2♂ & 1♀) Common Pochards Aythya ferina. It was lovely to see lots of school children being shown some of the lakeside wildlife. I particularly enjoyed watching their faces as the Common Swifts Apus apus whizzed past within a few feet low over the water. Count details are on the WeBS Page.

I found a bat in one of the Kent Bat boxes I made and put up over the winter, and recorded many different spp. along Butcombe Bank in the evening. See Bat News.

Thursday 21st May [Still breezy, but warmer and sunny.]

Not much to report other than a very confusing tern. To all intents and purposes the body and wings looked like an adult but the head looked like a winter or 1st-summer. I could not hold my optics still in the wind and didn't manage to get conclusive views as it flew towards the dam. I tried to intercept it there but thought I'd missed it. Then, from Rainbow Point I picked it up way down in Top End again. Eventually, it flew up to me at Rainbow and gave me conclusive views of an Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea, but I'm still puzzled about its age. I'm assuming the bright light was burning out any greyish feathering on the wings, but the dark trailing edge of the underwing was visible this time around. The bill was still dark, presumed black. Mike Jenkins saw the same bird at Chew earlier in the day from Stratford Hide and although correctly calling it as an Arctic, was equally puzzled by the plumage combo. Anyway, it was a first for me at the lake this year - happy days.

There's been a huge synchronised emergence of damselflies over the last couple of days, with clouds of glistening wings in front of the car as I drove along the south shore road.

Friday 22nd May [Mainly dry and overcast with a few sunny spells. Warmer.]

I had a visit from Frome U3A today. We had a lovely morning and early afternoon botanising, birding, talking bats and looking at invertebrates. There were no unusual birds, although I did spot a 2nd brood (1 juvenile) of Canada Goose Branta canadensis. I also spotted a new site for the rather lovely Meadow Thistle Cirsium dissectum in one of the North Shore meadows.

This evening I carried out another bat transect, but had a couple of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus fly past me over Green Lawn. I think this probably means sad news. I feel pretty sure they have nested twice this year (the first breeding record attempt for the site) but as both birds were on the wing this evening, I guess the latest attempt has failed too.

Saturday 23rd May [Dry, warm and sunny.]

I surveyed the lakeside for singing (presumed territorial) birds this morning and noted the following totals, with the April count in brackets: 60 (50) Winter Wrens Troglodytes troglodytes, 34 (20) European Robins Erithacus rubecula, 28 (24) Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 20 (27) Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs, 18 (12) Blackbirds Turdus merula, 17 (16) Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 14 (2) Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus, 12 (4) Reed Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus, 10 (8) Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos, 8 (18) Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus, 5 (2) Garden Warblers Sylvia borin, 2 (0) Common Whitethroats Sylvia communis and 1 (2) Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus. It was remarkable how different the Blue Tit counts were, but I suppose with most of the nests containing sizeable young by now, the ♂♂ will be busy feeding rather than singing. It's also worth pointing out that of the bat boxes that could house a Blue Tit nest, 16 of 42 (38%) when checked late April - early May did so (which tells me we're short of woodland nesting holes/boxes).

Other birds worthy of note were a Tawny Owl Strix aluco sunning itself, a family (3 juvs.) of Grey Wagtails Motacilla cinerea on the dam, a pair of Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna in flight over Park Lane and a singing Water Rail Rallus aquaticus.

Sunday 24th May [Overcast then brightening up]

I didn't visit the lake during the day, but I had a verbal report from one of the fisheries rangers of 2 Hobbies Falco subbuteo hunting at the dam end late afternoon. My visit in the evening was primarily to walk bat transect 4, during which I saw a ♂ Tawny Owl Strix aluco at Paradise fly from a Willow tree (surely unusual) where it was singing. I wondered if it was attracted to my bat detector which was emitting lots of squeaking noises while I was surveying. I heard squealing Water Rails Rallus aquaticus and saw 2 pairs of Gadwall Anas strepera before I started the transect and watched a Soprano Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pygmaeus fly into and out of a bat box at dusk.

Monday 25th May [Warm with sunny spells]

Another day spent writing the ABR ducks section, so I didn't get to the lake until this evening. I had an amazing close encounter with an Otter Lutra lutra which came running along the road at Green Lawn, way back from the water's edge. Of course it saw me, but ran past about 5 metres away through the meadow grass. Extraordinary! The Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus that's been sitting on a nest in Long Bay was missing, but I saw two 'moored-up' in the emergent vegetation on the far side of the bay so they could have had young on their backs. I counted 25 non-breeding Canada Geese Branta canadensis, so I'm assuming they're starting to arrive at the lake with a view to moulting at the end of next month. I also got roundly scolded by a Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis in the roadside hedge, which I'm assuming must have a nest there.

Tuesday 26th May [Cloudy and warm, with late afternoon sunshine.]

This morning I had to re-set one of the Kent bat boxes, which wasn't as steady on the tree as I'd hoped it would be. The birding was very quiet, though I did spot 3 broods (4 juvs. ea.) of Common Coot Fulica atra in Long Bay. I went over to the north shore to check out the adjacent farm meadows which had been cut, dried and gathered, hoping to see a Red Kite or ringed gull that might have been attracted in. While over there, I noted a number of Common Blues Polyommatus icarus and my first Burnet Companion Euclidia glyphica of the year in the lakeside meadows.

This afternoon I was called out to another Voluntary Bat Roost Visit (in Stoke Bishop) when roofers came across a bat, and this evening I am doing an emergence survey at Blagdon Church.

Wednesday 27th May [Windy, but sunny.]

I'm still writing my section of the Avon Bird Report today, and only managed a quick visit to the lake on the way back from the Lake Users Meeting with Bristol Water held at Woodford Lodge this afternoon. The only birds of note that I saw were 4 (2♂ and 2♀) Common Pochards Aythya ferina in Long Bay. The evening was spent on the trail of Nathusius' Pipistrelles again.

Thursday 28th May [Sunny, with a cold wind in the evening at least.]

I had an hour by the lake this evening, but the wind was perishing! We have our 1st brood (6 juvs.) of Mute Swan Cygnus olor out of the nest with their doting parents off Home Bay Point, but not much else to report bird-wise. I will create a page on the website in due course, and post feedback from the minutes of the Lake Users Meeting that I attended yesterday.