BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

November 2010 News


Monday 1st November [Sunny and mild]

I can only bird at the lake before I go to work at this time of year and this morning I found a single Greater Scaup Aythya marila by the dam before the sun came up. When it did the mist stated to rise as well and very quickly I wasn't able to see more than a few yards from the bank. However, I was able to see that there was a large increase in the number of Aythya ducks and so it wasn't any surprise to get a call from Mervyn Pearce this afternoon to say that he'd found a drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK Aythya nyroca off Rugmoor Bank. There are only a few records of this vagrant at Blagdon, though with the recent run of records at Chew Valley Lake I'm not surprised that one should turn up. I read a report from Mike Jenkins (per Bristol Wildlife) at Chew today who reckoned that "we've lost about half the aythya flock", so we can reasonably assume that they have flown over to Blagdon. Question is why? Some have suggested fishing disturbance over the weekend and it is possible that sailing may have been a factor, but I don't know. It was interesting to hear that although boat fishing finished at Blagdon yesterday there were two guys out spinning for pike today - I hope this isn't a portent of things to come! It's good to have a quiet refuge for birds to fly to, close to Chew and Cheddar, when all the weekend leisure activities get underway and there's no doubt that birds do fly from one lake to t'other. Pike Esox lucius have been introduced to Blagdon, unfortunately for the ecosystem, and there will undoubtedly be pressure (and perhaps financial pressures on BW) to allow guys to fish for them at some point. With Blagdon being so small and narrow, with no defined refuge I sincerely hope this doesn't happen.

Mervyn also gave me the following counts: 1 Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, 13 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea, 5 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, 3 Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna and 106 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus.

Tuesday 2nd November [Sunny spells and a steady westerly breeze]

I spent quite some time at the lake first thing this morning looking for the Ferruginous Duck found by Mervyn yesterday but, sadly, no luck. However I found the usual 3 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis before going to work. Later in the day, Richard Mielcarek texted me to say he'd found a Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End and then later still a female Greater Scaup Aythya marila in Holt Bay. I checked Holt Bay about four times this morning so the Scaup was a real surprise, but perhaps it flew there later from Butcombe Bay which I didn't check. A boat with two guys equipped for Pike fishing left the landing stage as I left for work and all the Aythyas in Home and Long Bay flew out, perhaps the anglers moved the ducks around during the day?

Autumn Colour, Top End © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

The lake level has dropped again and is now only 37%, compared to 62% on the same date last year (per Bristol Water website).

Wednesday 3rd November [Sunny this morning then drizzly this afternoon]

I only managed half an hour this morning, during which time the only bird of note that I saw was the Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Holt Bay. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to see if it was wearing any darvic leg rings. I will try and have a look tomorrow because I am keen to know if it's a bird that I have recorded at the lake before, so I can share the information with Julia Newth at Slimbridge WWT. Is it the bird from Chew Valley Lake and has anyone there noted if it's got rings?

On the subject of pike fishing at Blagdon, I was very pleased to receive the following email from Jeremy Williams (Bristol Water's Director of Corporate Affairs). "Just to reassure you -- there are no plans to allow public pike fishing at Blagdon Lake. All we have been doing recently is some work to assess how many pike are actually there, with a view to controlling their numbers."

Thursday 4th November [Blustery south-westerly wind and cloudy]

The lone adult Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii was still in Holt Bay this morning and I managed to establish that it had no ring on its left leg before having to leave. I got some distant pictures that I'll have a look at later to see if there is sufficient detail visible to make it worth sending bill patterns to WWT Slimbridge to see if they can identify the bird. Also still present today were a drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila, the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis and 3 Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna.

In answers to yesterdays question I received the following from Richard Mielcarek who sent this observation to Julia Newth at WWT:

"An adult Bewick today at Blagdon - it was unringed - one of those birds with the black down the centre of the bill and quite a brown stained head. There had been a different adult at Chew since Saturday (and possibly since October 21st) although I couldn't see it today."

Julia replied as follows: "Many thanks for your news. I wonder whether this is in fact a bird named 'Blagdon' who has, unsurprisingly, been seen at Blagdon before! Typically, I cannot find a photo of 'Blagdon', but she/he has a dark strip down the front of the bill with a yellow splodge in the middle (which may not be seen from a distance). Best wishes, Julia."

Here are some shots I got of 'Blagdon' that I sent to Julia who replied "Many thanks for sending these pictures through. Steve and I think that this bird is 'Blagdon' so we will add this sighting to our database accordingly. It is great to fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw!"

Bewick's Swan 'Blagdon' Cygnus columbianus bewickii, Holt Bay © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Friday 5th November [Grey and drizzly all day]

I went down with the monster lens to photograph the Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus this afternoon, thinking it may get spooked away from the lake with all the fireworks going off in the surrounding villages this evening. But no luck, it's gone already! Nor did I see the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis though I only scanned for it briefly. The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was off the dam, 3 Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna were off Rugmoor Point, a female Northern Pintail Anas acuta was feeding at Top End and there were 29 Mute Swans Cygnus olor scattered about.

Saturday 6th November [Mainly sunny with a WSW breeze]

A beautiful sunny autumn day to go birdwatching and it started well with 3 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the dam and later what was presumably the same Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta present since 23rd October with the Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis flock at Top End. In between, I managed to total 50 species including 302 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, circa 300 Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina, 21 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, 5 Little Grebes Tachybaptus ruficollis and 3 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula.

A couple of other interesting things to report. Firstly, an adult Herring Gull Larus argentatus with a darvic ring on its right tarsus bearing the black inscription "L:P" on a white background. This will be one of Peter Rocks local birds and I'll report his reply as soon as I receive it. Secondly, I was taken aback when I spotted a Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus floating imperiously about 10 metres off the north shore. While I was puzzling over what I was watching, a Carrion Crow Corvus corone flew over and dive-bombed it, but the pigeon lowered its head and flapped the crow away. I continued scanning the north shore and then went back to see what was going on and saw the pigeon standing in inches of water just off the bank with the crow a few metres away feeding along the shoreline. The pigeon walked out of the water and as it started to shake the water off, the crow pounced on it and grabbed it by the back of the neck. After pummeling the hapless pigeon a few times with its bill, the crow started to pluck it. After a few minutes, the pigeon appeared to have succumbed to the attack and the crow continued tearing off feathers prior to feasting. All the while this was going on 6 Common Coots Fulica atra swam over to get a ringside view and even a group of Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula swam over to see what all the fuss was about. A very strange affair.

Finally, the late autumn sun encouraged a Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta, Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria and Hornet Vespa crabro onto the wing at Lodge Copse.

There is a foray by the North Somerset & Bristol Fungus Group at Blagdon Lake tomorrow.

Sunday 7th November [Cold with a northerly wind that turned SW at dusk. Some rain in the morning and sun during the day]

There were at least 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the dam and a Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Pipe Bay when I arrived late morning. Most surprising find of the day was the return of 'Blagdon' the Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus which was in Holt Bay again and although fairly distant I was able to get the big lens on it this time. I wonder where it's been for the last couple of days?

Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii, Holt Bay © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

I bumped into Roger and Jean Staples who had seen 5 brown head Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, that I saw later, and as I headed back to the dam to join the Fungus Foray, 7 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris flew onto Rainbow Point.

News today from Chris Klee who emailed me to say he'd almost trodden on a Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola in a village woodland yesterday.

Also, here is the lowdown on the Herring Gull "L:P" reported at the lake yesterday, ringed as a male on 5th July 2003 in Bristol as cohort white4 with BTO ring number GN49394

The North Somerset & Bristol Fungus Group met at the Pumping Station at 1300 hrs where we were met by Patric Bulmer of Bristol Water. A very interesting three hours followed as we searched the grass and woodland behind the dam. I will be creating a page with a fungus list and some more pictures. I made a nice find, the rare, gelatinous Agaricomycete Guepinia helvelloides usually found on buried wood amongst grass in woodland glades. According to the NBN Gateway this would appear to be the first Bristol (BRERC) area record. The gorgeously delicate lilac and edible Wood Blewit Lepista nuda was fairly common and a few were collected for cooking later!

Wood Blewit Lepista nuda, Pumping Station © Nigel Milbourne, 2010

Monday 8th November [Rain and SSW gales overnight until daybreak when the sun came out]

I went down early after last nights bad weather cos you can never tell what might have been blown in, or, dropped out of the sky - but I found nothing save for a single drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the dam with no sign of the Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus which was in Holt Bay yesterday. However, Mervyn Pearce reported seeing 3 Dunlin Calidris alpina, clearly part of a movement with up to 45 reported this afternoon at Chew Valley Lake. As yet, I haven't heard anything back from Julia at WWT Slimbridge about the Bewick's Swan but will report back when I do.

Tuesday 9th November [Cold with rain on a stiff ENE breeze]

It was wild beside the lake at first light and I didn't see any unusual large birds. But, there was a flock of shorebirds in flight at Top End that I eventually managed to get in the scope and identify as 20 Dunlin Calidris alpina. Perhaps these were part of yesterdays Chew flock?

The Bristol Water website has indicated a rise in water level to 40% and provides a fascinating commentary on what has been going on.

Wednesday 10th November [A cold, sunny, day]

A beautiful morning, but I only had time to look over the dam wall where I spotted the 3 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila.

Thursday 11th November [A wild, wild day with lots of rain and gales - a stark contrast to yesterday]

There were at least 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila close in, sheltering under the bank at Cheddar Water, but as I drove along the south shore in the driving rain I couldn't pick out anything new. I took a quick look out of the hide but I couldn't see where the lake finished and the mud began, everything was awash! The Dunlin Calidris alpina appeared to have gone, but will go down at dawn tomorrow hoping to get my first Blagdon Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla (again) as there were lots pushed up the Severn Estuary today.

There has been a noticeable rise in water level overnight with the stones at the bottom of the dam wall getting inundated.

Friday 12th November [Wet, but thankfully the wind died down]

The usual drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was with the Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula at Rugmoor Bay because the water boys were working on the aeration equipment (used to prevent thermal stratification) with a team of divers at the dam end of the lake. I counted no less than 118 Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo on Rugmoor Point (30 - 40 were fishing co-operatively by the dam at first light), with 2 brown head Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula and 2+ Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna. A dog Red Fox Vulpes vulpes was prowling about along the feeder stream and out across the mud at Top End putting all the birds to flight while an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis fed at the water's edge on my early visit. At dusk there was a huge gull roost, but beause there weren't many when I went along to the Top End I left it too late to go through them all properly before it got dark. Doh! Tomorrow is WeBS Count day.

There was a Brambling Fringilla montifringilla in our Blagdon garden with Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs after the sunflower hearts this afternoon.

Saturday 13th November [A lovely sunny day]

The 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila were together at the dam as we started the WeBS Count at 0930 hrs and I had the chance to look at them closely in good light. I now think they are an adult drake and 1st-winter and it sounds like the other one may have flown over the hill to Cheddar. Phil Delve re-found the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis again after it had gone missing for a few days. Later, when the rest of the team had gone, and I had visited Ubley Hatchery, I saw 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Top End. The waders included a juvenile Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus at Long Bay, 8 Dunlin Calidris alpina, 102 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and at least 3 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. The new birds in included 7 Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula (one drake), 4 Ruddy Ducks Oxyura jamaicensis (one drake), a number of Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus and 2 flyover Skylarks Alauda arvensis (to the west). The rest of the count is on the WeBS Counts page.

I found the fungus Hygrocybe virginea in the Ubley Hatchery compound this afternoon and when I went down later to check the gull roost my clicker totalled 1642 Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus, with very small numbers of the other common species.

Sunday 14th November [Grey, cool with some "spits and spots" (don't you hate that phrase?) of rain]

The white bird at the top end of Butcombe Bay turned out to be an adult Little Egret Egretta garzetta and the 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila were off the dam still. I eventually saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis feeding along the North Shore and found a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser off Wood Bay Point; the first of the autumn. While I was standing on Rainbow Point, I heard the familiar call of a Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus and spotted 3 (2 adults and a juvenile) in flight that circled around for a while before heading off east towards Chew at 1320 hrs. One of the adults was definitely sporting a darvic ring on its right leg, so might be worth checking out.

There were only 7 Dunlin Calidris alpina at Bell's Bush today with other selected counts including 122 Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, 111 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, 3 Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus, 2 Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus (none were noted on the WeBS count yesterday) and a Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna.

I spotted 3 lambs trapped in brambles beside a footpath on Holt / Lag Farm yesterday and had hoped the farmer would have freed them by today, but he hadn't, so I went in and freed them myself (ripping my hands to shreds). Thankfully they all ran off, seemingly none the worse for wear. Surely basic animal husbandry should mean the animals being inspected, at least, daily? They are only a few hundred metres from the farm buildings after all.

Monday 15th November [Cold but a lovely sunny day]

I had a quick peek this morning, but Mervyn Pearce spent a couple of hours at the lake this afternoon and reported the following:

2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Butcombe Bay with 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila off the dam and a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos in Pipe Bay. Among other birds noted were 5 Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos, 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major and a Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula on the way to Bell's Bush where he saw 26 Redwings Turdus iliacus, 18 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris and 2 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus. At Top End there were 9 Dunlin Calidris alpina and 3 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago.

Tuesday 16th November [Misty early on but otherwise a lovely sunny, cool, day]

It was too misty for me to see anything this morning, but Mervyn Pearce visited today and reports seeing 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta dotted about the lake, 5 Dunlin Calidris alpina at Bell's Bush, 3 female Goosanders Mergus merganser, a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus at Top End. Thanks Merv.

Bristol Water have released the latest water level figures and it seems that the lake has risen to 44%, an increase of 4% in a week thanks to the heavy downpours. The extra water has led to the trout, both rainbow and brownies, running up the feeder stream to the hatchery and the collection pond was absolutely stuffed full of fish a week ago. Some of those fish will be stripped of milt and eggs and provide the nucleus of stock to be grown on in the hatchery, although I understand that Bristol Water bought some Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss in from the United States (their homeland) last year.

Wednesday 17th November [Rain for most of the day on an ESE breeze]

My early visit was focussed on trying to find (unsuccessfully) the rather intriguing Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos that Mervyn and I had been exchanging emails about, so I saw little of note. Thankfully, however, Sean Davies visited later in the day and found the 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila near the Lodge and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Rugmoor Point. Seans best find was a Red Knot Calidris canutus in front of the Lodge, together with 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta in Long Bay and 12 Dunlin Calidris alpina and 20 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago at Top End.

Thursday 18th November [Showers on a light SSW breeze]

An early morning visit turned up the usual 2 drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila near the Lodge and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Peg's Point. A Little Egret Egretta garzetta was feeding up the feeder stream at Top End with the Grey Herons Ardea cinerea and Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo and dabbling ducks.

Friday 19th November [A beautiful sunny day]

I spent an hour or so at the lake on the way home from the dentist this afternoon and rather surprisingly did not see either the Greater Scaup Aythya marila or Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, but they may have been there of course. I'll have a closer look for them tomorrow. That aside, I did see a Little Egret Egretta garzetta and 2 Dunlin Calidris alpina at Top End and a winter adult (I think) Red Knot Calidris canutus at the Lodge (presumably the same bird seen by Sean Davies on 17th). I counted 14 Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and saw a lone Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis with the 100-200 Canada Geese Branta canadensis.

Saturday 20th November [Still, grey day with occasional drizzle]

Well, no sign of the Greater Scaup Aythya marila or Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis as suggested yesterday, but the adult Red Knot Calidris canutus was still in front of the Lodge and there were 32 Dunlin Calidris alpina and 7 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago at Top End along with 207 Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus scattered about. Many of the Aythya ducks have left, nevertheless there are still good numbers of dabbling ducks around the margins as the water level rises. I counted 152 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata, 38 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and hundreds of Eurasian Teal Anas crecca still. As I walked away from the Lodge car park there were 3 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus feeding in the tree tops and when I got to Long Bay there were 6 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta feeding up the stream along with a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis. At Green Lawn and at various other stations there were 293 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, a white-faced hybrid and a single Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis, 11 Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula (3 drakes) and a Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo in breeding dress, which suggests it is probably of the continental race P.c. sinesis with a wide gular angle (greater than 90 degrees). Finally, there was another Little Egret at Top End, bringing the total present to 7.

Sunday 21st November [A cool, grey day, with occasional drizzle]

There has been a clear-out overnight by the looks of it, with far fewer birds present today. Having said that, there were 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta in Butcombe Bay and a veritable blizzard of 8 egrets flew out of the feeder channel by Long Bay road bridge when I got there. The Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis was also by the bridge, no doubt getting a bit put out by the competition for fish. I saw a few Little Egrets flying about while I was at the lake, so there can have been no less than 10 there. The Red Knot Calidris canutus appears to have moved on as well as some of the Dunlin Calidris alpina as there were only 21 today. The 7 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago noted yesterday were still probing away in the open at Bell's Bush, a risky strategy given the frequent low level flypasts of a Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. New birds included 8-10 Lesser Redpolls Carduelis cannabina feeding in the Birch trees at Lodge Copse (the 144th species noted at the lake this year) and 2 female Northern Pintails Anas acuta at Top End.

News this evening on Bristol Wildlife egroup from Mike Jenkins that one of the 3 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii that flew from Blagdon to Chew on 14th November has a darvic on the left leg bearing the letters TVX (thanks to Darren Pearce for reading it) and is, therefore, 'Tinkie' who is paired with 'Winkey' who in turn has a ring with the letters BCL on the right leg. One of the birds I noted in flight on the 14th had a darvic on the right leg, so was presumably 'Winkey', though we await confirmation from the Chew boys. 'Tinkie' was ringed at Slimbridge WWT in 2003, so has made the 3-4000 km flight each way from European Arctic Russia a few times now. I read with interest recently that Julia Newth et al are preparing a paper for publication that states that although hunting Bewick's Swans is illegal, some 22.7% of birds x-rayed at Slimbridge in the 2000's had pellets in their body tissues - a shocking indictment of the hazards they face during migration to honour us with their presence. I have added some more information about Bewick's Swans in the Species Accounts pages, though there is so much more to say yet.

Monday 22nd November [Dull and grey]

The 'tide' is really coming in at the Top End and the birds are being forced closer to the hide, which makes for better bird watching. This morning when checking for waders I saw just 7 Dunlin Calidris alpina from the hide, aside from lots of Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus that were standing in the shallow water where they were apparently roosting.

Here are the reported sightings of Bewick's Swan 'Tinkie' courtesy of WWT Slimbridge (see yesterdays notes):

Tinkie (female)

I'll add details of 'Winkey', if and when he is confirmed as being at Chew with 'Tinkie' this year.

Tuesday 23rd November [Cold, dull and dismal]

All the Dunlin Calidris alpina appear to have moved on and the only birds worthy of note from the Top End hide this morning were 3 Northern Pintail Anas acuta (one drake) and 4 Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis.

Wednesday 24th November [A cold but lovely sunny day]

No visit to the lake today. However, I've been sharing emails with Julia Newth at WWT Slimbridge and she pointed me to her blog at

http://www.wwt.org.uk/our-work/wetland-wildlife/bewicks-swans/bewicks-swan-diary

Of particular interest was the note of 19th October 2010 which comments "The first Bewick’s swans flew into Slimbridge yesterday, bringing with them cold temperatures and crisp clear skies! Eight birds settled onto the reserve after completing a gruelling 2,500 mile journey from breeding grounds in the Russian arctic. This was the earliest arrival at Slimbridge since 2003 when the first birds also arrived on the 18th......Two of the new arrivals are a favourite pair called Risa and Riso. Risa has been visiting Slimbridge faithfully since 1999 and brought new mate Riso with her for the first time last winter. With them is a two year old bird, Blagdon, and five yearlings. Risa, Riso and Blagdon have remained on the reserve overnight and have been spending most of their time sleeping on Swan Lake, recovering from their long migration. Having been to Slimbridge before, all three are very much used to the routine of the daily feeds so visitors are being treated to very close views!" If you look down this months news you will see that 'Blagdon' came back to the lake on 2nd for a few days on and off until 7th when it went missing again. I wonder why it decided to leave WWT Slimbridge with its winter feeding that will undoubtedly help it recover quickly from the long migration flight and put on weight before the rigours of winter start to bite?

Thursday 25th November [Sunny, but bitterly cold with a NW breeze]

Again, no visit to the lake today, but I did notice a margin of ice along the shore of Indian Country (opposite Top End hide) from the A368 as I drove to work this morning. Late news from Richard Mielcarek and Andy Davis who saw 39 Dunlin Calidris alpina and 3 Northern Pintail Anas acuta. The water level is up 4% to 48% according to the Bristol Water website.

Friday 26th November [Cold with snow arriving late afternoon]

I saw very little in the gloom first thing this morning except 7 Goosanders Mergus merganser flying in from Chew. But, when I met Mike Gillett at Top End this afternoon, we counted at least 45 Dunlin Calidris alpina, 5 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, 5 Northern Pintail Anas acuta (4 drakes), 5 redhead Goosanders, 89 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, 17 feral Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis with the huge flock of Canada Geese Branta canadensis and the usual Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis by the road bridge at Long Bay. It could be a good weekend with birds being moved about by the weather - no sooner had I got home from the lake when it started snowing and it looks like it's starting to lay on the ground as darkness falls. Mike Gillett counted 86 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus after I'd gone home.

Saturday 27th November [Cold with light snow on the ground]

There was still some snow on the ground this morning and there has been yet more change around with a drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila new in off Long Bay. I managed to find 102 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, 6 redhead Goosanders Mergus merganser, only 19 DunlinCalidris alpina (although there may have been others in the gullies), 2 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago and a Peregrine Falco peregrinus.

News on the Rare Bird Alert pagers this afternoon that there were a couple of Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus at Bishop Sutton at 1339 hrs.

Sunday 28th November [Sub-zero all day (max -2.3 Celsius with periods of sunshine. Temperature overnight last night down to -6.1Celsius.]

I was surprised to see 10 Dunlin Calidris alpina feeding well up the shore at Pipe Bay when I got to the lake. I saw other groups of 7 at Holt Bay and 4 at Top End, so there may have been up to 21 birds in total. The drake Greater Scaup Aythya marila was off Home / Long Bay again today and there were 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta feeding up the stream in Long Bay. Most of the Mute Swans Cygnus olor have left the lake, as they often do in the winter, leaving just 2 pairs of adults looking for food around the ice-free margins. I estimated that there was 5-10% ice cover this morning and many of the birds that had been feeding at Top End were forced to look elsewhere around the lake for food, especially the Eurasian Teal Anas crecca. Other counts included 370 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, 18 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, 317 Common Pochard Aythya ferina,103 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, 80 Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, 4 redhead Goosanders Mergus merganser and 3 Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus. The other bird especially worthy of note was the Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola that I accidentally flushed from a ditch as I walked by at Top End.

Aside from the above was a simply amazing 193+ Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo (191 counted from Rainbow Point plus two others that flew in from Chew). However, there were probably more than 200 present with several flocks swimming and fishing cooperatively making it difficult to count them. Either way, 193 is a record count at the lake. I watched them for quite some time and they certainly took a few trout, but they were also catching and eating small to medium-sized European Perch Perca fluviatilis which is the main food of the Great Crested Grebes too. The unusually high number of Great Crested Grebes also suggests a plentiful supply of Perch. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a Cormorant catch and eat any of the unwanted Northern Pike Esox lucius, though no doubt they must take jacks if they can catch them. I know the Cormorants cause strong emotions among the angling fraternity, but you can't blame the birds for congregating at fisheries with high densities of prey given that we have depleted the inshore coastal waters of their food. Various interested parties have put together a paper which you can access by typing 'Cormorants the Facts' into a search engine such as Google.

One important factor is the spread into England of 'Continental' Cormorants P.c. sinensis which are an inland breeding bird, unlike our normal Great Cormorant which used to breed solely on the coast. A paper published a few years ago suggested a means of differentiating the two sub-species in the field, but more recently researchers are urging caution because both are breeding inland in mixed colonies and only birds at the extremes of the 'gular pouch angle' spectrum can reliably be identified in the field by experienced cormorant watchers. Have a look at the following information:

http://www.paxton-pits.org.uk/id.htm

I've tried sorting them out from my photos but don't feel confident enough to assign birds to sub-species at Blagdon, although colleagues at Chew are doing so. I noted one bird on Rugmoor Point this afternoon that had a green darvic ring on with a black inscription which I just could not read from Rainbow Point. The only ones I have read at Blagdon so far, are from coastal sites and are, therefore, nominate P.c. carbo, but continental P.c. sinensis will undoubtedly occur as well. All we have to do is unequivocally prove it!

Monday 29th November [Sub-zero all day (max -0.9 Celsius with periods of sunshine. Temperature overnight last night down to -6.0Celsius.]

The fishing season has finished now, so I won't be able to visit on a daily basis because the gates are locked at either end. It's Shanks' Pony from now until the end of March. If I get news during the week, or, if I see anything from the dam, I'll report it of course.

Rich Andrews sent me an email yesterday saying he saw about 90 Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo flying out from Chew towards Blagdon Saturday afternoon. He also said they flew back later and suggested that the same happened Sunday, probably due to disturbance from pike anglers boats.

When the Cormorants have fished at the Blagdon and caught sufficient food to satiate their hunger, they haul out (sometimes with great difficulty) and stand around drying their wings and then sleep to digest their meal. At the present time, the preferred haul-out spot is Rugmoor Point but this wouldn't be a suitable place to roost because predators such Red Foxes Vulpes vulpes would be able to pick them off. So, perhaps Chew offers a safer roost?

The other recent observation that I thought worthy of note was that all the trout that I have seen up the feeder stream in the last couple of weeks have been clean, healthy and seemingly undamaged. This seems at odds with the comments made by the anglers that I chat to, who complain about the number of trout that they catch that have been injured by cormorants and Northern Pike Esox lucius. I am not suggesting for one minute there isn't a problem, clearly there is, but it seems evident to me that there are lots of trout that escape the ravages of the predators and fishermen. Maybe the cormorants are serving a useful purpose in reducing the numbers of coarse fish in the lake? I see no evidence of an increase in the average numbers of cormorants, though there are occasional peaks such as those observed at the weekend. In fact, there has probably been a slight decrease in the summering population over the last few years. How could this be legitimately reduced further? One could remove the roost trees over water, but this would substantially change the character of the lake and I'm not sure would be welcomed. Due to the shape of the lake and proximity of anglers and birders along the banks during the fishing season, the birds are frequently disturbed, but at this time of year the place offers a quiet day-time refuge.