BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

October 2017 News

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


Sunday 1st October [Pretty miserable]

At Top End there were 2 voiciferous Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo, and a handful each of Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and Northern Pintails Anas acuta. There was a single Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis with the Canada Geese Branta canadensis, and John Harris told me the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca was in front of the Lodge before I arrived. I spotted circa 10 Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica there, and among the gulls was:

Monday 2nd October [Mainly dry & windy]

Oh boy! What a boring autumn's birding at Blagdon. I resorted to counting Mute Swans Cygnus olor today - I made it 73, my highest count, and not far short of the record 80 on 16th Agust 1958. There were 74 Common Pochards Aythya ferina, 28 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and 7 Northern Pintails Anas acuta. I think Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope numbers are continuing to grow too, but with little angling pressure today, they were quite widely spread.

News from Julia Newth at WWT Slimbridge today that the Bewick's Swans are well on their way, with large flocks arriving in Estonia last week. I'm looking forward to their arrival and hoping they don't decide to go to Chew like everything else has this autumn!

Tuesday 3rd October [Dry with sunny spells]

Would you Adam and Eve it, I found my first new species for the year since 12th September, a Ruff Calidris pugnax, together with a Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa at Top End this afternoon. Also counted were 27 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 8 Northern Pintails Anas acuta and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. The number of larger gulls has dwindled over the past week, and I only found one ringed bird in front of the Lodge:

Wednesday 4th October [Dry, cloudy & increasingly breezy]

Late this afternoon there was a Ruff Calidris pugnax that I saw in flight at Top End and caught up with in front of the Lodge on Tiny's Shallow later. I saw one ringed gull in front of the Lodge, also on Tiny's Shallow:

Tomorrow is 'Black Thursday' - the first day of public Pike fishing at the lake. It is limited to fly fishing on a restricted number of dates throughout October to be fair. However, with a boat price of £400 per day, and £800 per day if guided, not to mention rumoured auction prices of over £1000 per day, the 'bean counters' at Bristol Water will be pressing for more next year you can be sure. Not only them, of course, but I've already overheard a conversation between an angler and staff member speculating that lures might be allowed next year, followed by bait fishing shortly after, which will no doubt bring the bivvy brigade camping out on the banks during the winter months (although in truth they are already here by all accounts, poaching at night). Of course, Natural England have to be consulted if changes in fishing pressure and timing are proposed, but money talks and I see tomorrow as the not too thin end of the wedge. I fully expect some huge pike, perhaps in excess of 40lbs, to be caught during the month, but (along with Mink, Otters, Carrion Crows and large gulls) they are, in my opinion, responsible for the near collapse of successful breeding by waterfowl since their introduction - probably by selfish angling interests. There is no doubt there are some pretty profound changes going on in the lake that are being reflected in the number and mix of breeding, passage and wintering water birds. Blagdon is, or rather was, a world famous trout fishery. Sadly, 'the times they are a-changing' and Pike surely won't benefit the existing wildlife. I'll continue to try and improve the lot of the wildlife around the lake, in my own small way, as long as I am able and welcomed by BW, but I fear tomorrow and what it means for 'my patch' going forward.

Thursday 5th October [Sunny & warm after mist & rain early morning]

I took a leisurely walk in the sunshine with friends around the lake today, with stunning views from the hillside above Nempnett Thrubwell looking across the lake towards Blagdon and Black Down. I saw a Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Top End, and a Barn Owl Tyto alba hunting at Indian Country while walking, and later when I went back with my telescope I spotted a Ruff Calidris pugnax and 38 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Top End, with a Dunlin Calidris alpina and White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba in front of the Lodge on Tiny's Shallow.

Friday 6th October [Sunny]

There was an unexpected juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta on Tiny's Shallow this afternoon, which was a pleasant surprise and the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca was on the dam wall. I walked to Top End and most of the way back with Mark Hynam who had spent much of the day at the lake. He'd seen the juvenile Ruff Calidris pugnax at Top End earlier, and it was still there when we had a look together. There were 20-30 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 101 Common Pochards Aythya ferina, 10 Northern Pintails Anas acuta, and Mark counted 114 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope. Just before leaving, we had another look through the gulls on Tiny's Shallow and saw a new ringed gull:

Other notable sightings inlcuded, a Comma Polygonia c-album, and a Grass Snake Natrix natrix with a bright yellow collar at Long Bay, so presumably of the sub-species N. n. natrix, the Common or Eastern Grass Snake, rather than the Barred Grass Snake N. n. helvetica which has a dull yellow collar. Therefore, our sighting referred to the introduced rather than the native sub-species, if the work of the German scientists is correct (see blog for 7th & 18th August).

The first day of Pike fishing saw a 32 pounder and several 20+ pounders boated, but none of the 'big 'uns' yet. I think the anglers were finding it a bit harder today according to Martin Cottis at lunchtime. While chatting, he told me he'd seen 3 Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo in the air at Top End one day last week while he was fishing.

Saturday 7th October [Misty, cold & wet in the morning. Some sunshine & warmer later in the day.]

Starting at the Fishing Lodge, I saw the juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta on Tiny's Shallow, along with the Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca. There was a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos in Long Bay, and at Top End I saw the juvenile Ruff Calidris pugnax, a Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, and counted 37 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus.

In the evening, we went bat trapping at Portbury Nature Reserve (see Bat News for results) and stayed out until 0400 hrs when we packed up.

Sunday 8th October [A sunny war day]

Having got up late after bat trapping all night, I didn't have time to visit the lake before driving off to Wiltshire to do some more bat trapping at a swarming site run by friends Dani Linton and Keith Cohen. We will be carrying out the WeBS count in the morning.

Monday 9th October [A pleasant warm & sunny morning, although it got a bit cooler later in the day.]

Roy Curber, Phillip Delve, Rob Hargreaves and I carried out the WeBS count today between 1030-1400 hrs. The juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta was on Tiny's Shallow, and a juvenile Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe was on the eastern corner of Green Lawn. We also saw a Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas butterfly at the Lodge. There wasn't anything else of particular note save for 3 Common Gulls Larus canus, and a count of 48 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Top End. See the WeBS Page for full count details.

Tuesday 10th October [A bit grey & dismal]

We didn't count the Canada Geese Branta canadensis yesterday because they were in a field on the North side of the lake and we couldn't see them all. I counted 144 today. The juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta was on Tiny's Shallow, as were the two gulls:

At Top End I counted 57 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus.

Wednesday 11th October [Another grey & dismal day]

There was a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at Cheddar Water this afternoon, and 19 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Top End. While at the Lodge, I saw few gulls on Tiny's Shallow because 2 Common Buzzards Buteo buteo were feeding on something at the point, however, I spotted:

Martin Cottis told me he'd seen a Barn Owl Tyto alba hunting at Top End this morning while he was fishing.

My ready reckoner suggests that the water level is about 61% and has dropped very slightly over the last month.

Thursday 12th October [A pleasant warm & sunny day]

I started birding at the dam end this evening, and hadn't got further than the Lodge when Mark Hynam came along from Top End and said he'd seen nothing to report. Neither had I until we spotted a Little Egret Egretta garzetta on Home Bay Point. The waterfowl have been moved around the lake fairly significantly this week avoiding angling disturbance.

Friday 13th October [Pleasant enough but mainly cloudy]

I didn't visit the lake today, having gone down to RSPB Ham Wall in the morning, and then having spent the rest of the day at Chew in preparation for a bat trapping session in the evening.

The evenings trapping at Chew along Moreton Bank was pretty slow, but we didn't do too badly in the final analysis (see Bat News).

Saturday 14th October [Cloudy & mild]

As I'm on night shift with the bat work again tonight, at a swarming site in Wiltshire, I don't have time to visit the lake today.

Sunday 15th October [Sunny & warm]

There was good news that the 1st-winter ♂ Rock Thrush was still on Gilwern Hill near Blaenavon in South Wales when I got up, so I went on a 'twitch' with Mark Hynam to see it. I had to drive up the famous cycling climb 'The Tumble' in order to get there, the first time I'd seen this fearsome hill. While we were watching the thrush, we also saw a number of Northern Wheatears, a Black Redstart, Phillip Delve, Chris and Theresa Stone, and Gary Thoburn. We got back at dusk and had a brief look in front of the Lodge but saw nothing other than a few anglers who had been out for a day's fishing in memory of former Blagdon Fisheries Ranger, and friend, Mike Gleave.

Monday 16th October [Breezy, sunny & warm.]

With the remnants of hurricane 'Ophelia' battering Ireland today, it was a little breezy by the lake but not too bad. There were 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, a juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta, a juvenile Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus, 13 Northern Pintails Anas acuta and 46 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Top End. A number of Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus were roaming around and visiting Alder trees along the south side of the lake while I was there too.

Tuesday 17th October [Mainly cloudy & cooler than yesterday]

The only bird of note that I saw this afternoon was a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.

I'd spent the morning checking Dormouse boxes (under licence) with Ken Anstey, during which we found a single ♂ weighing 29 grams, and this evening I was due in Worcester for a meeting with BCT and NE who are reviewing the Voluntary Bat Roost Visitor Service, that was until I was confronted by the M5 closure (again) at Clevedon. I turned around and came home!

Wednesday 18th October [Grey & misty with drizzle. Cool.]

I spent all day at the lake checking bat boxes with Ken Anstey. At Home Bay, I heard a singing Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti, my first here for several years. I also spotted 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta around the lake and there appeared to have been a mini-fall of Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis.

For an update on the box checks see Bat News.

Thursday 19th October [Very wet & rather miserable]

I got a good soaking this morning when I went over to Portbury NR to look at the bat boxes with Sarah Dale and Iain Macfarlane. We found just one Pipistrelle sp. (couldn't see which, and didn't wish to disturb it given the conditions). After drying out and changing my wet clothes, I ventured down to the lake late this afternoon. The dabbling ducks were having a great time feeding out on the wet mud, and there were lots of very full-looking crops. I saw a single Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Holt Bay, just one Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus on Wookey Point, counted 13 Northern Pintails Anas acuta and 73+ Mute Swans Cygnus olor, and finally added Skylark Alauda arvensis to the site year list, when I heard one flying over calling while checking out the gulls at the Lodge.

Friday 20th October [A fairly pleasant day as it turned out - but Brian is coming!]

Yay, they're coming thick and fast now, and I don't mean the storms! There was a Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata on Tiny's Shallow in front of the Lodge early this afternoon, another year tick to the site total - that's three in three days. Also noted were 17 Northern Pintails Anas acuta, 44 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, and a large ♀ Peregrine Falco peregrinus that 'buzzed' the gulls and dabbling ducks in front of the Lodge while I was checking through them. I found the following ringed gulls:

Saturday 21st October [Gales and some heavy rain]

Not a great deal to report from my lunchtime visit. The first Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, a ♂, had arrived off Bell's Bush, and an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis dropped briefly onto Wookey Point. Aside from those two new birds, I saw just 3 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and 19 Northern Pintails Anas acuta. A young angler, full of enthusiasm, ventured out on to Tiny's Shallow and put up all the large gulls before I had a chance to go through them. It'll be interesting to see if Storm Brian brings anything in from the Channel overnight.

Mark Hynam reported:

Sunday 22nd October [Sunny spells & breezy]

Mark Hynam spent 4.5 hours at the lake and had very little to report when he came to see me. We went back down together late afternoon and I saw 2 (feral) Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, but then got 'top-trumped' when Mark told me he'd seen 3 earlier! We had a look through the gulls; the Commons Larus canus have been arriving this week, but there was nothing else to report other than a Little Egret Egretta garzetta seen by Mark earlier in the day.

News from Viola Ross-Smith of:

Monday 23rd October [Warm, with mizzle late afternoon.]

I had a free afternoon, so went for a leisurely walk to Top End and back. I didn't see too much, but was looking forward to going through the increased number of waterfowl at Top End as the level is still dropping. However, as I got to Hellfire Corner, boat #15 came straight up the lake through the birds putting about 80% of them up. I went out to Bell's Bush for a look anyway, but the anglers had run aground off Wookey Point (of course), so they motored back out and drifted right up to the trees. When they started their motor again the remaining 20% of the birds went up, and I was left staring at nowt! Not happy, to put it mildly... I think there is a very good case to be made for making the Top End, east of a line from Wood Bay Point to Rugmoor Point out of bounds for angling if the water drops below an agreed level, say 65%. It's so shallow it's barely worth fishing anyway.

What did I see? Well, there were still 3 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, 29 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, a couple of Red Admirals Vanessa atalanta, and the following ringed gulls:

Tuesday 24th October [Overcast but warm]

I spent much of the day walking on the Somerset Levels with friends and saw some of the usual suspects including Great White Egrets, and met Alan Ashman, Jeff and Kay Hazell, among others, which was nice.

Late in the afternoon I visited the lake and saw 204 Common Pochards Aythya ferina that looked as if they'd just arrived with a larger flock of flock of Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula. Then a small flock of waders flew through my scope view and eventally settled on Wookey Point; it comprised 5 Dunlin Calidris alpina and a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. I only managed to find 4 Northern Pintails Anas acuta, while at Holt Bay there were 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta.

It's getting toward the time when the first Bewick's Swans will be arriving in the country, and with the water level as it is, I'm hoping that some of our regular birds will make it back to the lake. Julia Newth at WWT will be keeping us up to date with a regular blog, and you can follow the progress of satellite tagged birds by following a link on her page.

Tomorrow, we're doing the Chew Valley Lake bat boxes for the last time this year and, possibly, trapping in the evening.

Wedensday 25th October [Fine & warm]

I did not visit the lake today, as I was at Chew Valley Lake all day checking bat boxes with Ken Anstey and three trainees, then trapping in the evening (see Bat News for more).

Thursday 26th October [Overcast drizzly morning, brighter in the afternoon.]

Not much to report from a late afternoon visit, with just 7 Northern Pintails Anas acuta and 36 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus of note. The Common Pochard flock, noted on Tuesday, appears to have moved on and I'm left wondering if they had come to Blagdon as a result of disturbance at either Chew or Cheddar. Although the less common migrants are steering clear of Blagdon so far this autumn, you sometimes see things that turn your head nevertheless. While I was sitting in the Top End hide scanning the wildfowl, I noticed a group of 6 or more Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata diving for food. I don't recall seeing this before and was prompted to have a look through the literature for previous observations of this behaviour, to find that it is said to be rare in dabbling ducks, but has been noted with Shovelers on a number of occasions. Tim Sharrock wrote in Wildlife Through the Year about seeing Shovelers diving, and Ducks, Geese and Swans (ed. Janet Kear) states that "Dabbling ducks take a wide variety of animals and plants during the year. Most are largely vegetarian or omnivorous, with the exception of the Shovelers and Blue-winged Teal that take mainly small particles of animal matter (Krapu and Reinecke, 1992)." The group comprised both sexes, and I reckoned the dives to be typically 3-6 seconds in duration. The birds slightly opened their wings in the act of diving, in a similar manner to auks, so I presume they used them to propel themselves under water. When they surfaced they invariably had a food item in their bill which they swallowed there before diving again. I can't be sure about what they were eating, but suspect it may have been molluscs. The bills were slightly open with food in, and there was no sign of weed. I didn't see the start or finish of the activity, but was aware of it continuing for at least 15 minutes while I was there.

Friday 27th October [Sunny]

I spent much of the day checking bat boxes for YACWAG, but got down to the lake late in the afternoon. Quite a few of the boats were in Top End and most of the waterfowl, especially diving ducks and coots, were tight to the North Shore. However, there were at least 104 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus visible from the hide, as well as 3 Northern Pintails Anas acuta and 3 ♂ Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata diving for food, as noted yesterday. At the Lodge I heard 2 Water Rails Rallus aquaticus squealing in Pipe Bay reeds.

Saturday 28th October [Windy & changeable]

I didn't visit the lake during the day, but Mark Hynam told me he'd seen a ♀ Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina, a single Northern Pintail Anas acuta and 10 Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina, with a sprinkling of Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis. He looked for the Red-crested Pochard again later but couldn't find it, so it may have moved on.

He also saw:

Having worked on a YACWAG event for most of the day, I got to the lake at dusk for our 'Last Hurrah' bat trapping session of the year. We had an exciting re-capture, which made the long wait worthwhile (see Bat News). While setting up the traps, I saw a flock of about 10 Redwings Turdus iliacus at Lodge Copse on a couple of occasions.

Sunday 29th October [Sunny]

I spent much of the day recovering from a very late night batting, and then tidying up some of the kit. I met Mike and Jackie at the lake when I went for a quick look for the Red-crested Pochard, but none of us found it. Just as I arrived, a boat put up all the gulls on Tiny's, so Mike and I didn't get much of a chance to go through them, although I heard a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus squealing in Pipe Bay reeds. As we were about to walk away from Bell's Bush a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus flew in high from the south, calling, and appeared to land at Top End. I have a bit of free time tomorrow, so I'll spend it having a decent look around.

Monday 30th October [A beautiful sunny day]

I spent quite a bit of the day at the lake with Mark Hynam, who arrived at dawn, but it was unnecessarily frustrating as the ducks were continually being pushed around the lake by thoughtless boat anglers who continually drove into the large flocks, flushing them rather than giving them time to swim out of the way. Thankfully, the boat season finishes tomorrow, and perhaps the increasing number of diving ducks will get some peace and quiet. Most of the dabbling ducks, especially Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata and Pintails Anas acuta have been driven off during the last week. We noted 5 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Indian Country, 2 Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, 14 Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria (site year tick), and 182 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Top End, and about 20 Common Linnets Carduelis cannabina at Wood Bay.

We also saw:

During the afternoon, we went over to Chew Valley Lake to finish checking the bat boxes we didn't have time for last week. We didn't find any bats.

Tuesday 31st October [Overcast. Remaining mild.]

My apologies for the late report. Today, I made a record count of 83 Mute Swans Cygnus olor which is, I suppose, noteworthy in itself. There were 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta feeding along the Indian Country bank opposite the hide, just 7 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, a ♂ and 2♀ Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata diving for food again, while the Water Rail Rallus aquaticus was still squealing in Pipe Bay reeds.