BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

Daily News

A blog of sightings and up-to-date news from the lakeside


Sunday 21st January [A deluge]

I wanted to try and catch up with the Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita Mark had seen yesterday, and he wanted to see a Mediterranean Gull or Scaup. Happily for me, he managed to deliver, and I got my Chiff, but I'm ashamed to say I couldn't return the favour. We spent from 1400-1630 hrs or so in the pouring rain, but we couldn't really identify all the gulls in the gloom and poor visibility. We spotted both Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, with one in Wood Bay and the other off Rugmoor Point, and there were 3 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis and an Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus with one of the two Canada Goose Branta canadensis flocks.

Most of the lakeside and roads hereabouts are flooded, and the water was finally going over the overspill as the lake made top level during the last 24 hours. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a bit drier, as we have the WeBS count to do. I'm glad we hadn't arranged to do it today like many teams will have done around the country!

Saturday 20th January [Foggy early, clearing later.]

I wasn't able to visit the lake today. Mark Hynam spent the morning there and saw a Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay, and a number of Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita from the Top End hide. He looked for, but didn't see the Scaup in Butcombe Bay, though he did see a Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis, the first site record of the year. Thanks Mark.

Friday 19th January [Mainly sunny & still cool]

There were 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis present again today, but both were quite far out near Rugmoor Point and Indian Country. I looked for the Scaup from the dam on a couple of occasions during the day without seeing either, and when checking through the gull roost late in the afternoon I saw 17 (8♂♂) Goosanders Mergus merganser that had flown in to roost on the reservoir. Colin Hunt reported seeing an Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus this afternoon on Holt Farm.

Thursday 18th January [Sunny & cool]

All the two's today...

The 2 ♂ Scaup Aythya marila ARE still present after all. Despite looking into Butcombe Bay every day from the dam, I hadn't seen them since the first sighting. However, they were asleep in the flooded trees on The Island this afternoon (opposite side of the bay from the public footpath), which might explain why no-one's seen them.

The 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were both in their regular feeding spots when I walked along the south shore with Frankie, a new birder to the area. One was in Wood Bay and the other along the Indian Country bank at Top End.

Then, to complete the two's, I found 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus in the roost at about 1530 hrs, one in full winter garb, and the other just about in breeding plumage.

Other sightings included my first Lapwings Vanellus vanellus of the year, when a flock of 60-70 flew west past Rainbow Point, 5 (4 ♂♂) Pintails Anas acuta in the gull roost, a Peregrine Falco peregrinus at Top End, and the adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Duck was in Wood Bay as usual.

Mike O'Connor saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the Spillway.

The latest issue of BTO Bird Study dropped through the letterbox this morning, and in it is a paper entitled 'Sexual dimorphism and sex determination in Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis: on the need to account for geographical variation in morphology and sex ratio'(Pedro Sáez-Gómez et al, Bird Study, 2017. Vol. 64, No. 4, 502-512.) It makes several interesting points, the chief among which is that sex discrimination factors developed for ringers using a sample of grebes caught in Spain do not work for grebes in the USA, which comprise a different sub-species viz. P. n. californicus. Secondly, that the males in the nominate race P. n. nigricollis measured in Spain were on average larger and heavier than the females, although there was an element of overlap (non-moulting birds were assessed). Thirdly, differences were pronounced for bill length, head-bill length and tarsus length, so can be used as sex predictors. Fourthly, visual sex differences could be useful in determining sex, but only by very experienced observers (and presumably in the hand rather than in the field). Fifthly, the discrimination function developed in Spain based on head-bill length was correct 91% of the time for adults and first-years (compared with DNA analysed birds). Lastly, and most interesting to me as a field observer, was the authors assertion that juveniles have brownish-red eyes compared to the intense red of adults. I had used this to age birds arriving at the lake in September in the past, but read somewhere recently that this was an unreliable feature for ageing, so consequently stopped using it. I guess it depends on when the iris colour starts to change as the birds lose their juvenile characters. Perhaps I will start to use it again, at least for birds seen in early autumn, or, until I can find the source of confusion! Anyway, the bird frequenting Wood Bay is probably the bird that has been wintering at Blagdon for a number of years (its behaviours suggest it might be). In the sunshine yesterday it showed an intensly bright red eye. And, to answer several people who have enquired, it rarely seems to associate with the other bird on the lake, at least while they're feeding.

Wednesday 17th January [Sunny & windy]

There was no sign of the Scaup this morning but at least one, probably two, Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were still present. I also saw the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck and adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Duck both in Wood Bay. Wayne Tucker who came over from Bath to see the grebes, also spotted the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the Spillway just before we met up too. The wind was pretty wild, and although I had the intention of going to look the through the gull roost later, I decided to give it a miss in the end.

Tuesday 16th January [Sunny morning, then the wintery weather arrived.]

2 ♂ Scaup Aythya marila were new in today, and were showing very well from Butcombe Bank public footpath at 1400 hrs. Further up the lake, the 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were in Wood Bay and off Indian Country towards Top End, while the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck and adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Duck were both in Wood Bay. After filling the feeders at the Lodge, I stopped and watched them for a while and was pleased to see Nuthatch Sitta europaea among the 12 species that came in, but there was no sign of the Brambling. The rain, sleet and hail helped me decide to give the gull roost a miss this afternoon!

Monday 15th January [A strong breeze from the west with early rain]

There were still 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis present this afternoon, and the the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck and adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Duck were both in Wood Bay as usual. An adult ♀ Brambling Fringilla montifringilla joined the Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs attending the Lodge feeders, and it looked awfully like the one we get in our village garden (present again earlier today) - perhaps it's following me around! As dusk came in with a black cloud and more rain, I picked out an adult winter Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus in the roost.

Sunday 14th January [Cold & mainly sunny]

There is a familiar ring to the report, with 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis (one between Wood Bay & Rugmoor Points, and the other on the Indian Country side of Top End), and the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous and adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Ducks in Wood Bay. I decided to check the gull roost at dusk, but it was way over towards Butcombe Bank making viewing rather distant. However, it wasn't a wasted effort because, although there were no unusual gulls, there were 14 (6 adult ♂ & 8 ♀/juvs) Goosanders Mergus merganser displaying and cavorting in the mouth of Butcombe Bay.

The adult ♀ Brambling Fringilla montifringilla was present in the garden.

Saturday 13th January [Cool & grey]

I didn't visit the lake today. There is a report on Avon Birds that a Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was present, but I don't know who reported it.

The adult ♀ Brambling Fringilla montifringilla was in the garden again.

Friday 12th January [Sunny after early mist]

There was a 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus in the pre-roost mid-afternoon, but no sign of the adult winter at the time. I could only find one of the Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis in a brief look from Wood Bay Point, and only one of the adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Ducks, plus the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck. With the light breeze blowing from the east, there was no sign of the Common Sandpiper on the dam, as is usually the case with waves breaking up the wall. I heard 2+ Water Rails Rallus aquaticus squealing in the reedbed at Pipe bay while checking the gulls.

The adult ♀ Brambling Fringilla montifringilla was back in the garden this afternoon.

Thursday 11th January [Another beautiful sunny day]

More humble pie! There were 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis on show this afternoon; one betweeen Wood Bay Point and Rugmoor Point, and the other off Rugmoor Point/Indian Country, as it was yesterday, feeding in a mixed group of Coots, gulls and diving ducks. Both were fairly distant. I suppose they have been present throughout though, in mitigation, the viewing conditions have been pretty awful since the New Year, until yesterday. The wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam, and all 3 Aythya hybrids were present. I had a look through the gull (pre-)roost, despite many of them having already flown off to Chew, and spotted the adult winter Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus again.

We had a ♀ Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla on the garden wall by the back door this morning - my first of the winter.

Wednesday 10th January [A beautiful sunny day]

I had a meeting at the Fishing Lodge this morning, after which I had time for a quick'ish look around in the beautiful sunshine before heading off to Weston-Super-Mare STW to meet Ellie Phillips of Wessex Water, with a view to bat trapping there later this year. Anyway, as always happens when you write 'showing well' the bird disappears! However, I eventually spotted the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis over towards Rugmoor Point, and confirmed that the other bird has definitely gone. The adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck and one of the adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Ducks were in Wood Bay, and the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was back on the dam. I added House Sparrow Passer domesticus to the site year list.

Apologies for the recent website downtime, we are still trying to get everything transferred over to Bravenet, and it hasn't been without its problems either. Nearly there.

Tuesday 9th January [Dense fog]

Due to the fog not lifting until late afternoon, I didn't visit the lake yesterday. I had a presentation to give at the Lake Users Meeting in the evening. News of interest to birders coming out of the meeting is the proposal by BW to upgrade the two pull-ins at Heron's Green and Herriott's in the Spring - probably April.

I realised that the website access problems had still not been entirely bottomed out yesterday, and we found that there was a problem with hosts Go Daddy that they have not been able to resolve since last summer for a number of their clients. As a result we have moved the website to another host, Bravenet, which should fix the recent access issues. Apologies.

Monday 8th January [Dull, misty & cool]

There were a pair of Goosanders Mergus merganser off Butcombe Bank this afternoon, and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was back in Wood Bay and showing well, along with the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck and a ♂ Stonechat Saxicola torquata . I added Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea at Flower Corner to my site year list while I was at the lake, and heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major drumming for the first time this year, but I saw no sign of the 6 Barnacle Geese that dropped in yesterday.

Sunday 7th January [Sunny, with a bitter north-easterly wind.]

I birded this afternoon with Mark Hynam. He thought he'd probably seen a Marsh/Willow Tit at the Hatchery late morning, so after coming up to the house for a warming cuppa, we both went down to look for it again. We were out of luck though, and so it proved to be for much of the rest of the afternoon. We couldn't see the Black-necked Grebe anywhere, or the Mediterranean Gull in the gull roost, but to be fair, with the wind blowing hard down the lake most of the birds had moved across to the north side. I spotted the 3 Aythya hybrids over towards Rugmoor, and watched a small falcon come bowling down the middle of the Top End low over the water that can only really have been a Merlin, but the view was so brief it'll have to remain a 'probable'. Mark found a small group of Siskins Spinus spinus this morning and I spotted a couple this afternoon, while 6 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis had appeared with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock today (a site year tick).

The adult ♀ Brambling Fringilla montifringilla was still visiting local gardens today.

Saturday 6th January [Dull, with cold breeze.]

Sorry, I didn't visit the lake today and have no news.

I understand that I haven't been the only one to have had a problem accessing the site recently, but hopefully the problem has now been sorted and normal service has been restored.

Friday 5th January [The wind finally dropped!]

My afternoon visit turned up some site year ticks, but wasn't otherwise terribly productive. I didn't see the Scaup Aythya marila that had beeen feeding close to the dam, but the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was still present. I had a look through the assembled gulls before 1500 hrs but didn't see anything unusual in the gathering roost. One Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Wood Bay but, again, I didn't see the other one that had been spending most of its time near Rugmoor Point. In addition, I counted 211 Canada Geese Branta canadensis.

NOTE: This afternoon, I found a key that had been dropped beside the Fishing Lodge. If it's yours, please email me and we can arrange for you to get it back.

Thursday 4th January [Windy & mainly dry]

Today's visit was mid-afternoon, and at the dam end the adult ♂ Scaup Aythya marila, Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, and adult winter Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus were all still present. At Wood Bay one of the Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck, and an adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Duck were showing well, and at Top End I caught up with my first Snipe Gallinago gallinago of the year. Earlier in the day, I could see white horses racing up the lake from the house, so I while I was at the lake it was a pretty hopeless task to try and spot the other Black-necked Grebe that favoured the Rugmoor area. The Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock had grown since New Years Day, but there was still no sign of the 3 Barnacle Geese that had been with them until 31st December!

Wednesday 3rd January [Windy & mainly overcast]

The adult ♂ Scaup Aythya marila was still at Cheddar Water and easily viewable from the south end of the dam, and I saw just one of the Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, although both were likely to be present given the overnight storm conditions. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam again, and I had a a pair of Peregrines Falco peregrinus (one at least an adult) circling together over Top End / Hatchery upsetting the Carrion Crows Corvus corone. I bagged a few regular species and have taken my lake year list up to 61 spp.

Tuesday 2nd January [Mizzle]

News from Paul Williams of a ♂ Scaup Aythya marila from the dam at 1300 hrs, that stayed until dusk at least. Both Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis (Wood Bay & Rugmoor) were present all day and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam early afternoon. I saw the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck in Wood Bay while I was going through the Aythyas, and the gull roost contained an adult winter Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus (note new generic name). It was nice to see Paul Williams, and Julian Thomas on one of his rare forays over the Mendips (I hope you found the Med. Gull).

I received an email this morning from Mike Noel-Smith who photographed and videod an Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta on Butcombe Bank about 400 metres from the Spillway on Friday 29th December. Mike watched it from 1028-1032 hrs before it flew off towards the North Shore. This is just the 2nd record for the lake, with the first in 2006. I have added Mike's record, and a photo taken with his phone camera, to the Avocet page. Thanks for the record Mike, that was one that very nearly got away!

Monday 1st January [Rain showers] New Years Day 2018

Happy New Year! Wishing everyone a healthy and happy 2018.

I walked down to the lake before dawn and stayed through the rain showers until I had to go back for breakfast with my family. During that time I saw 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis (Wood Bay & Rugmoor as usual), the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, circa 10 Siskins Spinus spinus, a ♂ Stonechat Saxicola torquata and an Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca of note. Mark Hynam, helped me catch up with a couple of species, added a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita and another seven resident or regular wintering species that I missed, and saw the Rugmoor Stonechat too. Between us we got the site list off to a respectable 61 species (see Bird Year List).

The adult ♀ Brambling Fringilla montifringilla was still visiting local gardens today.

As promised, I've posted an update to the Blagdon Site List in line with the new BOU list. If anyone has any corrections, additions or comments please get in touch.

Sunday 31st December [Overcast & mild]

My morning visit turned up the usual suspects, with 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis (Wood Bay & Rugmoor), a Great White Egret Ardea alba, the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (on the dam wall) and 3 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock. There was also a (Eurasian) Nuthatch Sitta europaea singing near the Fishing Lodge.

It's been a quiet year's birding at Blagdon, with no rarities seen, another poor wildfowl breeding season, and a somewhat lacklustre autumn wader passage. I've seen just 130 species at the lake, way down on the 144 last year, and have only heard of two others, a Red-crested Pochard seen by Mark Hynam and the Pied Avocet seeen by Mike Noel-Smith two days ago, that I missed. I think 2017 was one to forget, so roll on 2018, and let's hope for better.

yeargraph

Saturday 30th December [Overcast]

Mark Hynam sent me belated news of one each of Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis and Great White Egret Ardea alba today.

I didn't have time to visit the lake, though I hope to get down to have a look around early tomorrow morning, and the same on New Years Day before my family visitors get up!

Friday 29th December [Mainly sunny & mild, but windy at the lake.]

I didn't spend too long at the lake, and the conditions were quite wild this afternoon. I saw one of the Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay, and the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck asleep at Burmah Road in the lee of Holt Copse. I went through the gull roost, and the only bird of note that I saw was a single putative Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis riding the waves, although I couldn't rule out a Herring x Black-headed Gull hybrid given the conditions.

There was belated news from Mike Noel-Smith who photographed and videod an Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta on the Butcombe Bank about 400 metres from the Spillway this morning at 1028 hrs.

Thursday 28th December [Sunny & a bit milder than yesterday]

I birded with Mark Hynam for a few hours today, and saw just the single Great White Egret Ardea alba, 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck, and a pair of Northern Pintail Anas acuta of note. Mark, who'd arrived a couple of hours before me, also saw a Barn Owl Tyto alba hunting early morning, and the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. He also spotted the ♂ Eurasian Stonechat Saxicola torquata while I was scanning for the Pochard x Tufted Aythya hybrids. Neither of us was able to spot either of them today, so I have to retract yesterdays statement and concede that it is possible that they are moving back and forth between Chew and Blagdon causing a degree of confusion.

Wednesday 27th December [Sunny & cold, with some overnight snow on the hillsides.]

A big surprise this afternoon, was the presence of 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba working their way through the marginal vegetation at Indian Country. The 2 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis were still present, with one off Rugmoor and one off Wood Bay Point, and the prolonged debate about the Aythyas at Chew Valley Lake categorically does not involve any of the hybrids that have been at Blagdon recently, because I found all three this afternoon; the adult ♂ Pochard x Ferruginous Duck in Wood Bay, and both adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted Ducks off Rugmoor Point. I also noted 3 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock.

Snow Bunting © Nigel Milbourne, 2017

Saturday 23rd December [Overcast & misty]

I had a look around the lake with Mark Hynam at lunchtime, and we saw both Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis between Peg's Point and Rugmoor Bay, where the ♂ Eurasian Stonechat Saxicola torquata was still feeding in the marginal vegetation. We also saw 10 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid, and one of the adult ♂ Pochard x Tufted hybrids (too far away to tell which).

The adult ♀ Brambling Fringilla montifringilla was still visiting local gardens today.