November 2009 News


Sunday 1st November [Gale force westerly winds & squalls)

Blagdon Lake is 62% full (compared to last year when it was 97%). Mendip rainfall total for May was 41.6 mm, 64% of the average expected for the month. Total rainfall for June was 53mm, or 83% of the average. In July, 160 mm was recorded (71.6 mm in one week alone), about two and a half times the average for the whole month of 63 mm. Surprisingly,the  rainfall total for August was 43.4 mm, 58% of the average. Total rainfall for September was 21.4mm, only 26% of the average expected for the month. In October, 59 mm was recorded, or 63% of the average (per Bristol Water website).

There will be no fishing boats on the lake from today until the start of next season in March 2010, though bank angling will continue until the end of the month. There was no sign of the adult drake Ring-necked DuckAythya collaris that I could see, but there was one reported at nearby Chew Valley Lake in Stratford Bay, so presumably it has relocated.

At Blagdon today there were 3 Greater Scaup Aythya marila with a juvenile / 1st-winter female off Orchard Bay, and two drakes at Cheddar Water, a 1st-winter and an adult, interestingly, alongside the drake Aythya hybrid that has been present for a week or two. There were at least 5 Northern Pintails Anas acuta and two drake Common Goldeneyes Bucephela clangula, a 1st-winter and a smart adult new in today. I expect there to be more wildfowl moving in the next day or two over the full moon, so it'd be worth looking through the flocks for migrants.

Drake adult & 1st-winter Scaup Aythya marila, Cheddar Water © Nigel Milbourne, 2009

I counted 48 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus in front of the Lodge at midday (the second most numerous gull sp. after Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus at the time). This is an exceptional count for Blagdon and they have presumably come inland from the coast. I couldn't see any with rings on from the urban breeding population, something I've noticed before when gales bring unusual numbers to the lake.

Monday 2nd November [A bright start followed by showers on a southerly wind]

I only had time for a quick peek at the dam and Lodge this morning. The two drake Scaup Aythya marila were together off the middle of the dam and the drake Aythya was feeding close in at Cheddar Water.

Tuesday 3rd November [Westerly breeze with squalls and a thunderstorm in the evening]

I saw a single drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and the drake Aythya hybrid off the dam this morning. In the half hour I spent at the lake before going to work I was struck by the huge number of Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus (1500+) and the large number of wildfowl spread all over Top End - far too may to go through properly in the time available. That'll have to wait until the weekend.

John and Marianne Ball found a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor above Westbury-sub-Mendip, remarkably where he found a Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator in September. John has posted details on the Somerset Ornithological Society website messageboard (go to Links Page). Congratulations John.

Wednesday 4th September [Westerly breeze with squalls]

Not much for me to report today. I saw a Little Egret Egretta garzetta get disturbed by the first angler arriving at Wood Bay Point, but no sign of the Greater Scaup Aythya marila from the dam. The drake Aythya hybrid was still present in front of the Lodge.

Thursday 5th November [Cool with a westerly breeze]

First thing I saw as I pulled up this morning was a flock of 40 Common Woodpigeons Columba palumbus migrating over to the south and there have been quite few feeding around the lake in the last few days - especially Tuesday when I counted over 100 along the South Shore road. There has been a huge movement of Common Woodpigeons along the east and south coasts during the last week - see the Portland Bird Oservatory website. Other than that I saw nothing out of the ordinary, but it's impossible to check the wildfowl properly in my half hour morning visit.

Friday 6th November [Strong breeze from SW to W with showers]

No sign of any Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus when I checked this morning, but there was a sneaky Red Fox Vulpes vulpes mooching around on Home Bay Point and I was genuinely shocked to see a fellow birder (I hope you found your bird at Chew, Barry).

There seems to have been an evacuation of wildfowl over the last day or two. Could it be due to the firework displays? Late this afternoon I saw the following: Mute Swan Cygnus olor 19, Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2 adults, Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 13, Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis 19 (a record count; the usual flock of a 18 plus a singleton keeping company with a Canada Goose Branta canadensis), Canada Goose 261, European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 21 at Long Bay, Redwing Turdus iliacus several at Top end, Common Goldeneye Bucephela clangula 17 and a surprise Merlin Falco columbarius went bowling through along the south shore towards Burmah Road (the first record since 2004).

Saturday 7th November [Cold with a light south south-westerly breeze and showers]

A very quiet morning with 7 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, a single Northern Pintail Anas acuta among the Top End wildfowl and 10 Common Goldeneye Bucephela clangula. During my late visit I was standing listening to the Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago leaving the Top End to go out to feed when a large deep-bodied wader with a short straight bill flew around me twice in a wide circle before I lost it in front of the wood behind the hedge. I rang Richard Mielcarek immediately and before I actually said something stupid like "Great Snipe" I suddenly realised I'd been watching a Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, my first at the lake and the first record since Andy Davis saw one in a frozen ditch at Top End in 1996.

The Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor was still present at Westbury-sub-Mendip (per RBA Pager service) today.

Sunday 8th November [Cool, light rain on a northerly breeze]

Nicest sight this morning was a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus picking around in the Top End sticks visible from the hide through a scope. A Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti sang from in front of the hide as well. A few winter thrushes flew through to the west, with a some Redwings Turdus iliacus perched in the Top End trees. A Northern Raven Corvus corax flew over Butcombe Bay, 5 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus flew into the Alders Alnus glutinosa at Hellfire Corner and a Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea and 2 Grey Wagtails Motacilla cinerea were in the Ubley Hatchery trees. The drake Aythya hybrid was still present off the dam.

In the evening I saw a drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila asleep in Pipe Bay (so not aged) and a Barn Owl Tyto alba.

Monday 9th November [Cool with thick fog]

A visit early in the morning was all but a waste of time due to the thick fog enveloping the lake. However, I did see the drake Aythya hybrid close in at Cheddar Water. Later, I received a text from Mike Jenkins at Chew telling me that 4 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus had flown off west towards Blagdon. I don't know if they arrived at the lake as I didn't get there before dark.

Tuesday 10th November [Cloudy & cool, some light rain]

Well, as suggested last night, the 4 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus had flown to Blagdon and were at Top End feeding along Rugmoor Bank this morning. I didn't see any other unusual birds in my quick visit. Blagdon Lake is 65% full.

Did anyone notice if the Bewick's had darvic leg rings while they were at Chew? I'd be very interested in any information because I have been tracking certain birds movements between Blagdon Lake and WWT Slimbridge the last few years. I'll have a look on Friday if they are still present.

Wednesday 11th November [Thick fog turning to light rain later]

I couldn't see more than 20 metres off the shore this morning! When I drove past Heron's Green at Chew I could see right across to the East shore - what a difference 3 miles makes. So sorry, no news today.

Thursday 12th November [Miserable and wet with a southerly breeze]

No sign of the 4 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus at the lake this morning. I checked through the Aythyas at the dam end without finding any goodies. There were 3 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at the Lodge.

With the gale force winds forecast tomorrow, there could well be some waifs and strays blown in tomorrow evening in the gull roost or at dawn on Saturday morning - dear readers you'll be the first to know if I find anything good! I'm hoping for a Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla or Sabine's Gull Xema sabini personally.

Friday 13th November [Grey, cool and light showers with southerly gales later]

There was a Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti trying to sing at Top End this afternoon but not making a very good job of it. Perhaps a young bird? The ducks were spread far and wide over the lake today and I didn't manage to find anything unusual. There were 8 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in front of the Lodge where the long point has already been reduced to an island as the water level creeps up again. I fancy things will look very different in the morning with the wind howling outside as I write this. With the rains swelling the feeder streams the introduced Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss are running up to spawn, so I thought it appropriate to change the page header picture.

Saturday 14th November [Southerly gale and showers turning to stormy south-westerlies]

Well, the gale force winds overnight didn't bring anything new to the lake, probably because the blow is coming straight over the Mendip Hills rather than from the Severn estuary. Having said that, there are some Common Scoters Melanitta nigra at Chew this morning (per RBA pager service).

There was a drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the dam, photographed by the spillway at 1010 hrs, and the drake Aythya hybrid was also feeding off the dam earlier. I guess the Scaup is the bird that I photographed at the start of the month. The island in front of the Lodge has all but disappeared beneath the waves again and what was left was covered in gulls, but nothing unusual appeared to be among them. 10 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus were also picking about in front of the Lodge. 2 Cetti's Warblers Cettia cetti were heard in sub-song this morning at Pipe Bay and in front of Top End hide.

Drake Scaup Aythya marila, Spillway © Nigel Milbourne, 2009

Bingo! 2 Little Gulls Hydrocoloeus minutus in the roost this evening, probably a 1st-winter and an adult, but they were being tossed about in the waves something rotten so it was quite difficult to be precise. Surprisingly, they weren't sitting together on the water. Perhaps the birds from Chew? Also, at least 63 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus in from the coast.

Sunday 15th November [Light southerly breeze & sunny]

I didn't get down to the lake very early today, but saw an adult Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus off the North Shore car park, but by the time I'd got my camera out of the car it was nowhere to be seen and I couldn't find it again. There was an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis in front of the Lodge, but it wasn't the usual bird. Regulars included the drake Aythya hybrid, the 2 singing Cetti's Warblers Cettia cetti heard yesterday, Barn Owl Tyto alba and Peregrine Falco peregrinus. At dusk I was walking towards Top End when I heard the flock of feral Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis coming up behind me. I turned and saw them veer away rather than fly over me. They circled Top End and then came back in a beautiful single line, wing-tip to wing-tip, allowing me to count 18 as they headed off towards Chew. As I turned back towards Top End I saw the brightest, most spectacular, shooting star I've ever seen. This was also right in the path of the geese and they were clearly spooked by it. The formation broke and they returned to the lake before sorting themselves out and making off for Chew again.

Whilst over at the North Shore car park I saw a familiar Common Buzzard Buteo buteo that has caused quite a number of double-takes over the last few years. The head pattern looking not disimilar to an Osprey Pandion haliaetus.

Common Buzzard, North Shore © Nigel Milbourne, 2009

I'm going to admit to popping over to Chew this afternoon while Blagdon PTA had a walk / fun run along the south shore road at Blagdon. There were 3 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus, 2 adults and a juvenile, in Heron's Green Bay along with 9 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. At Herriott's Bridge I saw 7 Goosanders Mergus merganser (4 adult and a single 1st-winter male and 2 females) and a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus.

Drake Goosander Mergus merganser & Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, Herriott's Bridge, Chew Valley Lake © Nigel Milbourne, 2009

Monday 16th November [Breeze from the south with occasional showers]

Sorry everyone. No news today I'm afraid.

Tuesday 17th November [Scattered clouds with a south-westerly breeze]

6 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in front of the Lodge. Nothing else of interest found this morning.

Wednesday 18th November [Cloudy with drizzle on a SSW breeze]

A drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and the drake Aythya hybrid were at Cheddar Water this morning. However, much of the marginal mud has now been covered, as the level is back to 70%, and I guess it won't be too long before many of the dabbling duck, especially Eurasian Teal Anas crecca, leave as they'll have nowhere to feed. Another year without getting my Green-winged Teal tick..... Doh!

Chris Klee emailed me today with the following news "I was down at Butcome Bay on Tuesday and saw several brown and rainbow trout lying in clear shallow water up Butcombe stream above the old brick trap that Bristol Water used to operate to catch trout running up. They were mostly in pairs and near small patches of gravel so I presume they were about to spawn but didn't see any taking place. One pair seemed to be fighting so could have been two males."

Thursday 19th November [Cloudy with a southerly breeze]

The 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was feeding close to the dam this morning and there were 4 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in front of the Lodge with hundreds of Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus.

Friday 20th November [Storm overnight with rain, clearing to a sunny afternoon and evening. Still and warm.]

I eventually spotted the the 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila feeding over towards Butcombe Bay this afternoon. Most surprising were the number of Common Goldeneye Bucephela clangula with a count of at least 28 present in four groups at dusk. Owls featured as well, with a Barn Owl Tyto alba seen and at least 3 Tawny Owls Strix aluca calling (2 males in the same wood and a female close-by). At least 10 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago flew out of the Top End, presumably to feed on wet meadows.

Also of interest were 2 Pipistrelle Bats Pipistrellus spp. on the wing and a newt that I picked up off the road and placed in the grass as dusk fell.

A Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius was reported by the dam at Chew this afternoon (per Simon Mackie - thanks for the call).

Saturday 21st November [Rain on a rising SSE wind as the barometer dropped rapidly]

WeBS Count Day; An adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus was picked out in flight (to the east) by Roy Curber while we were counting wildfowl at the Lodge and there were 3 Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis and 17 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus feeding close-by in the marginal vegetation. A Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti sang in front of the Top End hide, and there were at least 2 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus in a flock of 10 finches at Hellfire Corner. The 1st-winter Greater Scaup Aythya marila was feeding way out off the dam, the drake Aythya hybrid was also off the dam and the adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis was at Top End. A pair of Northern Pintail Anas acuta were a surprise at Hellfire Corner.

Sunday 22nd November [Cloud & drizzle on a SW breeze]

I eventually found the1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the spillway today and had hoped for a storm-driven bird or two but save for the 78+ Herring Gulls Larus argentatus in the late afternoon there was nothing to show for the wind and rain battering us for the last few days. 13 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus were in front of the Lodge affording me an opportunity to use the car as a hide to grab a shot or two when the sun came out.

Belated news of a Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros on the spillway at 1000 hrs this morning from James Fiddock. Great find James, the first since 1996. The Pumping Station used to be a regular site for them, so might be where it ends up, if it hangs around.

Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Lodge © Nigel Milbourne, 2009

Monday 23rd November [Clouds & rain on gusting westerlies]

Unfortunately no time for me to visit this morning due to the combination of an early start on a pre-retirement course (bring it on) and the dark rain clouds obscuring the sun! I've not received any other news unfortunately.

Tueday 24th November [Cloud & rain on a rising south-westerly breeze]

The 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was visible from the dam first thing this morning, however, there was no sign of the Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros at the spillway in the rain. The water level, unsurprisingly, has risen significantly over the weekend.

Thanks to recent downpours, Bristol Water's reservoirs have risen by 5% over the last week and Blagdon Lake is now 73% full (100% this time last year). In October, Mendip rainfall was 59 mm, or 63% of the average. So far in November, 142.3 mm has been recorded, against a standard average for the WHOLE month of 94 mm (per Bristol Water website).

Wednesday 25th November [Squalls on a SW wind]

Well, what a day! Nothing at Blagdon to compare with events on Severnside, but there was a lovely winter adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus sitting on the water on it's own in front of the Lodge this morning. I couldn't see the Greater Scaup and there were no frigatebirds, petrels or divers to be seen at the dam end either, unfortunately!

Thursday 26th November [Cooler, SSW breeze & scattered cloud]

The 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and the drake Aythya hybrid were both at Cheddar Water this morning.

Friday 27th November [Light SW breeze with cloud & rain early & late]

The only things out of the ordinary were the drake Aythya hybrid at Cheddar Water this morning and several flocks of Common Starlings Sternus vulgaris coming into the reeds at Home Bay this evening. 2 adult Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus were sitting on buoys at the dam end.

This coming weekend will be the last for bank fishing and we can expect the gates to be locked at either end of the lake on Tuesday next.

Saturday 28th November [Benign, overcast day]

The 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid were both still present off the dam this morning. A Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea was tapping away at a tree along Butcombe Bank and a Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris was running along underneath branches of the same tree. I heard 2 Goldcrests Regulus regulus singing nearby. There seemed to be more Redwings Turdus iliacus around today as well as a few Fieldfares Turdus pilaris that were being harassed by an adult female Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus at Hellfire Corner. I counted 16 Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and 236 Common Pochard Aythya ferina.

Sunday 29th November [Light East-south East breeze and rain, rain & more rain]

I didn't get out until late afternoon when the rain abated a little. I saw the usual 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and drake Aythya hybrid and heard a Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti singing in front of the Top End hide. Several thousand Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris came into the Home Bay reeds at dusk.

Monday 30th November [A cold Northerly breeze with scattered clouds]

It was the last day of the trout fishing season today!

There were 3 Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna sitting in the middle of the lake this morning. This is a surprisingly uncommon visitor to the lake given their frequency at Chew and the coast. Several thousand Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris flew out of the roost this morning. However, disappointingly, given the events on the south coast at the weekend, there were no petrels at dawn. Mind you, I should think that if any unfortunate petrel were to be blown in, it would be unlikely to survive for long due to the continued presence of Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus year round these days. The last Leach's Petrel recorded at the lake was being eaten by gulls shortly after dawn in December 2006 - what's a guy to do? Tick or not?

Anyway, from now on, daily updates will become less frequent due to the lack of daylight hours before and after work, though I will continue to publish records sent to my info@ email address. I will also visit at weekends and post news.