November 2012 News

Site Updates; I am currently revising the presentation of the bird species accounts and I've started to upload some of my database info on vagrant records. I'd welcome additional information and corrections if you spot any omissions or mistakes. Thanks.

Updated 18 November, 2012

Thursday 1st November [A raw penetrating wind and squally showers]

All change again today with no sign of the Greater Scaup or the Canada Goose with the neck collar, so far as I could see. The adult winter Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus dropped in at lunchtime to bathe alongside the Common Gulls Larus canus, but I didn't see it in the roost this evening. There were 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis on the lake again today.

My thanks to Richard Mielcarek who responded to a plea for help in catching the Mute Swan Cygnus olor in the by-wash that enabled us to return it to the lake. Thanks also to Ian and Caroline Stapp for their encouragement and photo! The hat's dried out now...

Rescuing a Mute Swan Cygnus olor, Spillway © Ian Stapp, 2012

Friday 2nd November [Cold, with squalls bringing hail]

I paid a brief visit this morning to check if the Mute Swan Cygnus olor rescued yesterday was still on the lake and not back in the byewash. I'm glad to report it was! I didn't see much else to report before I received a call which meant I had to leave.

Saturday 3rd November [More wintery showers]

Eurasian Teal Anas crecca seem to be on the move now. There were 3 in Long Bay early this morning, briefly. Other than that there wasn't too much to write about I'm sorry to say. I saw my first Trooping Funnel Clitocybe geotropa fungi at the Lodge today as well. Fungi have been conspicuous by their absence so far this autumn, which is a surprise given the wet summer. I haven't seen any Waxcaps Hygrocybe sp. at all yet.

I had belated news from angler Alan Herring of a possible visit by 2 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii last Tuesday. He told me 2 elegant looking swans flew in, one put the landing gear down but the other didn't want to know and they both flew off west. Intriguingly, 2 new birds arrived at Slimbridge on the same day. We have demonstrated in the past that birds arriving at Blagdon / Chew that find high water conditions, fly off to WWT Slimbridge instead.

Monday 5th November [Sunny but cold]

The Canada Goose Branta canadensis with orange neck collar DL was back on Holt Farm today and I counted 11 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago and at least 31 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope at Top End while searching for a 'small dark heron' put up from beside the feeder stream in the wood by Bell's Bush barrier on Saturday by Mark Chamberlain. Discussion with Mark this morning, in which he described a white-spotted bird with streaks on the front lead me to think he probably saw an immature Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax fly out of the wood over the hedge and up the stream towards Ubley STW. I had a fairly careful search around Top End, including the stream, this morning and parked at Bell's Bush before dusk to see if anything showed, without any luck. Funnily enough, I saw a small heron fly out of the exact same spot and away west a few years ago. Although I ran after it, to try and get something other than a rear-end view, I didn't see any field marks so didn't bother to submit the record. I did, however, get prolonged flight views of another on 17th June 2002, though it was only a silhouette, which flew out of a tree about 100 metres away from the barrier and eventually flew off east. Rather unsurprisingly, AOG rarities committee binned that record too, I couldn't even age it. So the wait for Blagdon's first acceptable Night Heron goes on, though Marks bird might be hanging around and give us another chance.

I checked the gull roost and saw a small bat sp. fly out over the water towards the gulls (potentially suicidal I should think) at 1644 hrs.

Tuesday 6th November [Sunshine then drizzle]

I saw the 1st-winter Greater Scaup Aythya marila again, off Holt Bay, in the middle of the lake. It is undoubtedly the same bird that I saw on 31st October. There were lots of waterbirds spread over the lake and I spotted the Aythya hybrid (probably a tufted x pochard) asleep along the Burmah Road stretch where I'd seen it several times before. At least one adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis was off Cheddar Water mid-afternoon and 9 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca were sitting out in the middle of the lake, presumably resting for the day before moving on.

The Brambling Fringilla montifringilla that has been visiting our garden was noted again today.

Wednesday 7th November [Dull, though milder than of late]

The 1st-winter Greater Scaup Aythya marila was asleep in Holt Bay this afternoon and the Canada Goose Branta canadensis with orange neck collar DL was feeding with the rest of the flock on Holt Farm with 13 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis there too. An adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis was sitting on the water at the dam end. With the trout fishing boats off the water now, the wildfowl appear to be spreading out around the lake, though there are large concentrations in the Holt, Wood and Rugmoor Bay areas, mainly composed of Common Coots Fulica atra and Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula. Top End has got a few Gadwall Anas strepera, Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope and Northern Shovelers A. clypeata feeding around the edges, often out of site in marginal vegetation, and there are a few Common Pochard Aythya ferina dotted about as well.

Thursday 8th November [Sunny spells early]

I was out most of the day today and only had time for a quick peek over the dam at 1700 hrs. I couldn't see any 'white-wingers' in the gull roost and haven't heard from anyone else who visited.

Friday 9th November [Mild and pleasant until drizzle arrived just before dusk]

I was beside the lake from 1000 hrs until dark and recorded 56 bird species seen or heard, including 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis, but couldn't find the Greater Scaup. 7 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, 3 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus, 10+ Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, 2 Stock Doves Columba oenas were among those I counted and 21 Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus and 123 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus were in the roost.

I found a Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula with a blue nasal saddle at Top End which I eventually managed to read as 34. I first saw this bird at Blagdon on 2nd August 2008 and last saw it when it returned the following year on 16th October 2009. It was also seen earlier this year at Chew Valley Lake and was ringed at Marolles-sur-Seine in France on 19th November 2007 (per Alain Caizergues).

Rather unexpectedly, there was medium-sized bat flying around the Lodge and car park at 1615 hrs but I couldn't get a picture due to the drizzle.

I spotted a Common Coot Fulica atra under the cill of the by-wash, which I'll try and find time to rescue, if necessary, at the weekend though I expect to be at Bristol Museum learning about Hoverflies for most of the daylight hours.

Saturday 10th November

There's no news from anyone today, I'm sorry to say. I stopped at the dam and looked into the by-wash with my head torch on the way home from Bristol Museum but it wasn't powerful enough to see if the Common Coot Fulica atra was stilll there. However, in the gloom it looked like the Mute Swan Cygnus olor was sitting under the tumbling water again!

Sunday 11th November

I had a quick look over the parapet at the spillway on the way to Bristol Museum this morning but couldn't see the Common Coot under the cill, however, the Mute Swan Cygnus olor had apparently gone under the roadbridge and was further down the Spillway among 46 feeding Mallards Anas platyrhynchos standing, seemingly unconcerned, on one leg. The Mallards have been feeding on weed growing on the stonework of the by-wash which might also be attracting the swan and if it is happy to walk under the bridge it can presumably fly back onto the lake (unlike Common Coots which won't go under the bridge).

Monday 12th November [Grey and dismal with drizzle]

I spent much of the afternoon by the lake though I didn't find any new birds. There was an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis off the dam mid-afternoon, but it wasn't in the roost later. There wasn't any sign of the geese until just before dark when 80 Canada Geese Branta canadensis flew in without the neck-collared individual.

Good ol' Warwick White came down to help me return the Mute Swan Cygnus olor to the lake this evening. We found 4 Common Coots Fulica atra under the cill, two of which we managed to catch and put back, but the other two went further down the spillway so we left them to make their own way back.

I had an email from Norway today confirming that my sighting of Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus J8P8 on 18th October was ringed in Oslo.

Tuesday 13th November

No news from the lake today, I was at the funeral of Tony Hamblin, a wonderful wildlife photographer and fellow member of the Nature Photographic Society. Many members of the NPS and ZPC were also there to pay their respects to a lovely man who was held in high regard. I always respected and valued Tony's opinion on my folio entries and looked forward to his fantastic shots, that invariably stood out from the bunch. Born in Somerset, he enjoyed his visits 'home' at our NPS conventions in Wells and I treasure the afternoon I spent with him and Robin Williams at Catcott last time out. Heartfelt condolences go to Valerie, Mark and the rest of the family. I will never hear 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' again without thinking of Tony!

Wednesday 14th November [A warm, sunny afternoon after early cloud]

I walked from Wells to Shepton Mallet along the East Mendip Way during the morning and in the afternoon I had a good look around lakeside. There were 152 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, including neck-collared bird, DL. It's been interesting to see that since 'woolly maggots' (sheep, if you'd prefer) were put out on Holt Farm, the geese have not grazed in the same fields with the sheep - they don't seem to like to be in close proximity.

There was a small group of 15, or so, Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata in Rugmoor Bay and, as expected, the 2 Common Coots Fulica atra were under the cill of the by-wash and the Mute Swan Cygnus olor was also back down there. It clearly wants to be there to feed, so I won't bother to 'rescue' it any more. However, I will try and get the 2 Coots back on the lake tomorrow because I haven't seen them feeding down there. The large number of Coots on the lake continue to dive and find plenty of weed to feed on, but it can't be too long before they foresake Blagdon and fly 'over the hill' to winter at Cheddar.

While checking the gull roost, I saw a bat sp. flying back and forth along the back of the dam at 1633 hrs. I think Daniel plans for us to check the bat boxes for the last time this year at the weekend, so it'll be interesting to see if we find any that have yet to hibernate.

Thursday 15th November [Grey and overcast]

Not much to report save for the fact that Warwick White and I put 2 of 3 Common Coots Fulica atra stuck in the by-wash back on the lake. There was no sign of the neck-collared Canada Goose Branta canadensis, though numbers were less than half of those counted yesterday.

Friday 16th November [Thick fog all day]

I didn't even bother to go down to the lake today because I couldn't see more than 200 metres from the house window the fog was so dense! Tomorrow, Daniel and I will be checking the bat boxes and on Sunday our usual team will be carrying out the WeBS Count.

Saturday 17th November [Dry]

Again, no sign of any new birds to speak of, though 6 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flew over the dam end while Daniel and I were checking bat boxes at the Pumping Station. He found 3 Daubenton's Bats Myotis daubentonii at the Spillway (probably what I've been seeing flying around in the evening) and we had a single Soprano Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pygmaeus in the hibernaculum that we put up last year.

I found a nice example of Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa growing at the Pumping Station, although common enough, it doesn't appear to have been recorded here before. It was growing under a Scot's Pine Pinus sylvestris.

Sunday 18th November [A lovely sunny day]

Terry Doman, Phil and Lucy Delve and I carried out the WeBS Count this morning. It was really interesting because we had 3 adult Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus in front of the Lodge at 1045 hrs but they flew off west at 1100 hrs (6th lake record). Phil relocated the 1st-winter Greater Scaup Aythya marila in the entrance to Long Bay by the platform while counting Tufteds Aythya fuligula, then on the way back on my own I spotted an adult Mealy (Common) Redpoll Carduelis flammea sitting right on the top of a conifer taking the sun. While I was watching, it flew right and another, darker, bird flew with it. They seemed to fly out towards the seat at Bell's Bush and I expected to relocate them in the Birch Betula sp. trees, but no such luck, sadly. If the record gets accepted it would be the first since 1967. The full count details are on the WeBS Counts Page.

We also saw 2 Red Admirals Vanessa atalanta and a Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae in the sunshine, all of which looked in pristine condition. There were also lots of Muscid flies, including 20+ Noon Flies Mesembrina meridiana, sunning themselves on a tree trunk at Hellfire Corner.

Monday 19th November [Grey, with a stiff south-southeasterly breeze and some drizzle]

What a change in the weather from yesterday! The 1st-winter Greater Scaup Aythya marila was in the entrance to Long Bay again this afternoon and probably over 1000 Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris piled into the small Home Bay reed bed at dusk.

A reminder that I'm talking tomorrow night at 20:00 hrs in the Church House (opp St Andrews Church), Cheddar, BS27 3AA. Entrance £3. Refreshments provided. The Wildlife of Blagdon Lake: A Waterside Perspective.

Tuesday 20th November [Rain]

I paid a late afternoon visit to the lake in the car, but conditions were pretty awful. Water was running out of the fields and the corner by the dam was awash! I saw the Greater Scaup Aythya marila in the entrance to Long Bay again and despite spending quite a bit of time 'grilling' the large number of gulls, didn't find anything unusual among them.

Wednesday 21st November

Thanks to everyone who came to my talk last night and thanks for the many kind comments recieved.

I'm currently in the air flying over the Basra Marshes of Iraq, on another trip away with my cameras, so I won't be posting any news from Blagdon for the next couple of weeks, unless someone visits and sends me their sightings, which I'll gladly pass on. You can email me at

If I have connectivity while I'm away, I'll post a brief diary and gallery of my trip, as several people said they enjoyed my Alaska updates earlier in the year.

Sunday 25th November

SEYCHELLES DIARY: I've just arrived on Praslin in the Seychelles having spent the first 3 days of my trip on Bird Island which I last visited in 1993. Bird is privately owned, having been bought by the present owner from his father when it was a coconut plantation. A great deal of excellent work has been done since my last visit, with the help of Robbie who is employed to look after the sanctuary. The main ornithological attraction is the huge Sooty Tern colony (over half a million pairs) which was in full swing in June 1993, but almost over at this time of year. However, I particularly wanted to see Hawksbill Turtles egg-laying on this trip and, during the last half an hour on the, island managed to catch up with one as she was covering her eggs up. Hawksbills lay day or night, whereas the Green Turtles only come ashore under the cover of darkness. Robbie has been tagging and caring for them for many years and so far there have been well in excess of 100 Hawksbills ashore this season (Oct-Feb).

I saw a few migrant birds, not least among which was a possible first for Seychelles, a Pied Avocet that arrived a couple of days ago! Also, around were Common, Green and Wood Sandpipers, a probable Red-backed Shrike, 3 Tree Pipits, 2 Amur Falcons, a Yellow Wagtail, and some more familiar shorebirds such as Curlew Sandpiper, Lesser Sandplover, Crab Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint and Ruddy Turnstone. There is a photo gallery of some flora and fauna that I'm putting together for the blog.

I will be trying to visit Cousin Island (also visited in 1993) and Aride (which I couldn't get to due to impossible landing conditions in the summer trade winds in 1993) as well as the more familiar Fregate and La Digue islands while I'm here.

I haven't received any news from Blagdon Lake to pass on.

Monday 26th November

SEYCHELLES DIARY: I visited the island of La Digue today especially hoping to see and photograph Seychelles Black Paradise Flycatcher, having had my camera fail on my last trip out here. I did eventually see a female visiting a nest site thanks to the help of a warden in the reserve and as we made our way back to the entrance I spotted a male but was unable to do it justice with the camera, sadly. There are apparently 300 pairs on the island and the warden told me they are increasing in number, with some having been introduced to Denis Island as well. We also saw another young White-tailed Tropicbird chick, perhaps 3 days old, in a hole in a Takamaka tree. There were lots of Seychelles Fruit Bats feeding in the tops of the trees making lots of noise. Seychelles Cave Swiftlets were flying around the houses near the jetty and on the crossing I spotted no less than 4 Flying Fish glide away from the ferry.

My overall impression is that there has been a lot of development on the plateau area in the intervening years which is squeezing and fragmenting the habitat of the Flycatcher.

Wednesday 28th November

SEYCHELLES DIARY: I have managed to arrange my long-awaited trip to Aride for tomorrow. It is an excellent sea bird colony so I hope to get lots of photos there. I should also be visiting Cousin on Monday morning, home of the Seychelles Warbler and Seychelles Fody and, I hope, Seychelles Magpie Robin.

Today, I saw a couple of Bridled Terns fishing in the bay where I'm staying, but shelved the trip to the Vallee de Mai, a World Heritage Site, because the bus didn't turn up, so I missed the vital connection! I'll have to rearrange for another day, or, take a taxi. I did see a couple of Seychelles Black Parrots, an island endemic, in flight today but hope to get some shots of them in the Vallee.

Thursday 29th November

SEYCHELLES DIARY: Well, that's another one off the 'bucket list'. I had a great visit to Aride today in near flat calm conditions with boatman Bruno and had a long and informative walk with Robbie's (Bird Island) brother Clifford. He explained a bit about the history, including the fact that Christopher Cadbury (of the chocolate manufacturing family) bought the island for conservation. There is lots of good work going on there, with the help of an Italian Conservation Officer and 2 English graduate volunteers who are monitoring the sea bird populations. Clifford said there are also 4 Seychelloise workers who do everything from growing food to making nest boxes for Seychelles Magpie Robins (up to 5 in each of the 23-24 territories).

We also saw Wright's Skinks, Brown Geckos, huge Millipedes, Wedge-tailed and Tropical Shearwaters in nest burrows, Seychelles Warblers (80% of the world's population are now on this island) and Seychelles Fodys also kown as Tok-toks locally. When we had climbed to the top of the hill we had an outstanding view to the north towards Denis Island from the top of the cliffs with eye-level Great and Lesser Frigatebirds in their thousands (they breed on Aldabra not Aride). Clifford said they census them monthly from a boat, when roosting, and on the last count they had circa 6000. We also saw a Hawksbill Turtle in the clear blue water below. I had hoped to see the local race of Roseate Tern while I was there, but they had all left. Roseates nested just before the Sooty Terns this year and there were just a few Sooty juveniles in the wood that were unlikely to successfully fledge so late in the year.

Clifford explained that the Seychelles Magpie Robins are holding their own on Aride since they were reintroduced, but they require a lot of help. As we entered each territory on our walk, he whistled and the pair would come down and wait for him to scratch some leaves and earth away off the woodland floor where they would look for any exposed invertebrates. Each territory had a bird table in it as well, with a water bowl and another in which Clifford would put out some boiled egg each day for them. The whole thing was covered over with an adapted crab pot that keeps the Turtle Doves and Common Moorhens off. Each bird has a series of colour leg rings that enables identification, but the fledglings have to be DNA tested in Britain, to enable the conservation workers to know what sex each bird is. As we got back to the housing of the resident scientists, we came across a Robin that was wearing a leg ring colour combination that showed it had flown from Cousin, one of the other islands. We smelled the heady scent of a flower on Wright's Gardenia Rothmannia annae, an island endemic, then Clifford showed us the fruits and vegetables they grow for food in their small garden area to add a little variety to the diet of rice and fish.

I've added a few more pictures to the Seychelles Gallery.