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Blagdon Lake Birds


 April 2021 News

Tuesday 13th April [Milder & mainly sunny]

I was busy all the day today so didn't get down to the lake until the last couple of hours of daylight. I walked to the Top End gate and back from the Lodge with my sister Ruth, and was well pleased to come across a male Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus along the roadside hedge between the hide and the Ubley entrance. Nick Willcox-Brown was there when I arrived and had located the Osprey Pandion haliaetus which he was able to point out to us in the gloom, so thanks Nick.


Monday 12th April [Sunny spells]

Phil, Rob and I carried out the WeBS count this morning. Close to the start point we spotted a pair of Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca in the trees above our heads along Butcombe Bank! Notable birds included a drake Garganey Anas querquedula at Flower Corner, an Osprey Pandion haliaetus, and 2 Greylag Geese Anser anser. Other count details: Coot 194, Tufted Duck 170, Lesser Black-backed Gull 108, Mallard 50, Great Crested Grebe 21, Herring Gull 14, Mute Swan 12,  Canada Goose 8, Gadwall 6, Moorhen 6, Cormorant 5, Grey Heron 5, Great Black-backed Gull 5, Buzzard 4, Little Grebe 4, Teal 1, Great White Egret 1, and a mixed flock of Common and Black-headed Gulls c. 35 in total and all 1st-summer (majority Commons).

As I left site Rob caught me and said he'd heard that another Pied Flycatcher had been seen at the Lodge.


Sunday 11th April [Sunny spells]

I was up with the sun this morning to carry out a singing bird survey at the lake while Mark had a mooch along the south shore for migrants. Pick of my counts were: 35 Wrens Troglodytes troglodytes, 29 Robins Erithacus rubecula, 30 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 23 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 14 Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus, 2 Reed Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus and a Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti. I saw 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, 2 Siskins Spinus spinus, 2 Snipe Gallinago gallinago, a Great White Egret Ardea alba and the Osprey Pandion haliaetus, while Mark, spotted not one, but two, Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, both 1st-summer males and the male Garganey Anas querquedula. That's a good morning by anyone's standards. I think the Willow Warbler count is the highest I've had at the lake, and the Pied Flycatchers are the first for 5 years.


1st-summer male Pied Flycatcher, Flower Corner. 11th April 2021.1st-summer male Pied Flycatcher, Flower Corner. 11th April 2021.

1st-summer male Pied Flycatcher, Flower Corner. 11th April 2021.1st-summer male Pied Flycatcher, Flower Corner. 11th April 2021.

Note the brown primaries indicative of age, the different face patterns of the two birds, and that the bird in the right picture is ringed.

I went home mid-afternoon but I couldn't stay away, so rang Mark who was still at the lake and suggested we meet and go for a walk down the stream from Butcombe back to the lake via All Saint's Meadow when most of the Sunday afternoon crowds had gone home. You could have knocked me over with a feather! We found another male with a female in All Saint's Meadow with a load of Phylloscs. working the waterside bushes, and walking back along Butcombe Bank what should pop up in front of us but another male! That was 5 Pied Fly's for the day... I have only seen five at the lake since 2000, until today. Absolutely amazing!


Saturday 10th April [A pleasant sunny day until this evening when the temperature just plummeted and sleet set in]

I got up at 0700hrs, but decided against a singing bird survey at the lake in the prevailing conditions. Mike O'Connor did get out though, and saw 3 Great White Egrets Ardea alba at Top End, and the Osprey Pandion haliaetus, that stayed around all day, showing on and off. At lunchtime Nigel and Beryl Crocker let me know they'd seen a male Garganey Anas querquedula at Flower Corner. I was well pleased to see it (thanks guys), and showed them the Osprey quietly perched in a tree through my telescope in return. I had an early tea and met Mark to look for the Garganey again, but we couldn't find it in the perishing cold and wet, so we beat a retreat as the sleet drove across the lake. A decent-sized flock of hirundines was still over the water, trying to find some sustenance, as I headed back up the hill. 


Friday 9th April [A cool morning with sunny intervals]

I was on site at 0730 hrs this morning and saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and the Osprey Pandion haliaetus fly along the North Shore at about 0800 hrs. I got a couple of very distant shots which suggest it is the same bird that I posted photos of a couple of days ago after all. I went for a walk to Holt Copse and back and was struck by the number of Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus that I heard singing, there has clearly been something of an influx overnight. Late morning I drove up to Top End and had a little wander there too, more Willow Warblers, and a Snipe Gallinago gallinago, a flyover Peregrine Falco peregrinus, and the male Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti still in song. I tried to get a decent shot of one of the Willow Warblers to show the comparison with a Chiffchaff but wasn't happy with the results, so I'll try again. Here's a Chiffchaff, note the dark (black) legs and short primary projection:

Chiffchaff, Lodge Copse, Blagdon Lake. 9th April 2021.Chiffchaff, Lodge Copse, Blagdon Lake. 9th April 2021.


I also spotted a couple of Great Crested Grebes 'dancing' at Holt Bay and grabbed a couple of shots of them to share, note the male has longer feathers on the head which helps to sex them:

Great Crested Grebes, Holt Bay, Blagdon Lake. 9th April 2021.Great Crested Grebes, Holt Bay, Blagdon Lake. 9th April 2021.

Great Crested Grebes, Holt Bay doing the weed dance. 9th April 2021.Great Crested Grebes, Holt Bay doing the weed dance. 9th April 2021. 

For those of you who have been following the Blagdon Lake blog since 2013, you will remember the fun we had with a male Osprey White YA that got caught in the nets over the Blagdon stock ponds 3 times in a few days, requiring us to release him on each occasion. Well, I've just taken a look at Joanna Dailey's Kielder Osprey blog and see that White YA touched down on his nest platform on 28th March. He has since been joined by his partner 1A as the various nests get busy with returning birds. Fantastic news!


Thursday 8th April [Sunny morning, overcast afternoon. Milder than of late.]

The Osprey Pandion haliaetus is still about today. It was seen early this morning by fisheries staff and ex-neighbour Martin, and while I walked the south side road looking for migrants, it flew down the lake towards me at 1206 hrs and literally right over my head at less than 30 ft. I didn't carry my camera because of the prospect of rain as I set out, but I noted that the underwing is clearly different from the male that has been photographed many times in the last few days at Herriott's Pool, Chew Valley Lake. As I left Top End, after chatting to Tina Bath who was hedge-laying in her field, the bird came drifting back  up the lake at 1320 hrs and headed off to the east towards Chew. I saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall as well.

As an aside, I came across this seemingly authoritative paper published in Dutch Birding on the ageing and sexing of Ospreys, including subspecific differences, on the internet that will help you try and age and sex your sightings, which is more useful than just reporting Osprey. Note, however, the caveat that not all are straightforward without experience: Ageing, sexing and subspecific identification of Osprey, and two WP records of American Osprey by Roine Strandberg .

I went back to the lake for an hour and a quarter this evening, and saw 3 Common Sandpipers on the dam, before driving slowly to Top End hide (it will open for business on 12th April) where I parked and walked to the Ubley entrance gate and back. As I walked back, I spotted an Osprey through my binoculars over the middle of the lake being harried by Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus. It circled while being chased, then drifted over Rugmoor, flew west along the ridge to the north of the lake when I lost it to sight. I had another look when I got back to the dam end, and briefly saw it over Butcombe Bay before it seemed to head off low to the north. I can't be sure because the views were far too distant, but I rather suspect this was a different bird to the one photographed yesterday and seen again earlier today. NEWS UPDATE: Nigel Crocker went round to Rugmoor after I rang him when the bird was over the centre of the lake. He saw the Osprey in the water with what he felt sure was a large Eel, which it couldn't take off with, so abandoned the catch. An interesting observation.


Wednesday 7th April [Dull & overcast, but warmer.]

A call from Ross as I was on my way out of the house, alerted me to this extraordinarily confiding Osprey Pandion haliaetus that perched in a tree beside Park Lane nearly all the morning. There were people walking and driving along the lane within a few metres of it perched in the tree, and it was completely unfazed. It was nice to share some super scope views with villagers and visitors alike who chanced by.


Osprey, Pipe Bay, Blagdon. 7th April 2021.Osprey, Pipe Bay, Blagdon. 7th April 2021. 

Osprey, Pipe Bay, Blagdon Lake. 7th April 2021.Osprey, Pipe Bay, Blagdon Lake. 7th April 2021.


It looks like a female. The eye wasn't that bright, but then the light was awful (I had to expose shots at +3 I think it was), but it's likely to be an adult. I hope to get back to the lake later, for a more general look around. There were lots of hirundines early this morning, and we are just about due for a Hobby around now...

No Hobby this evening, but 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and 2 Snipe Gallinago gallinago, and I forgot to list the Great White Egret Ardea alba that flew up the lake, and the Little Egret Egretta garzetta that flew down the lake this morning while I was on Osprey Watch.


Tuesday 6th April [Cold with a few snow/sleet flurries]

I had some time free around lunchtime, so walked from the Lodge to Top End and back. I was pleased to see a pair of Kestrels Falco tinnunculus over Bell's Bush, I only get a handful of sightings each year these days, a Snipe Gallinago gallinago at Top End, and heard a couple of Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus in song. There were still quite a few hirundines high over the lake and surrounding farmland, mainly Swallows Hirundo rustica.

Ross Fairley emailed me this evening to say he had an Osprey Pandion haliaetus over the Inspection House at 1915 hrs. A nice garden tick if ever there was one! 


Monday 5th April [A cold northerly blast, but sunny most of the day.]

I would like to say it was an excellent day birding at the lake, but the truth was somewhat different. The cold wind suppressed bird song, and although I was at the lake for six hours, I had very little to record. There were 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall, and a late, lone, adult Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus in summer plumage hawking insects over the water. I heard 2 Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus and a Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti singing, and this evening there were about a hundred Swallows Hirundo rustica and about the same number of Sand Martins Riparia riparia, plus a House Martin Delichon urbicum over Top End. Things were so desperate, I even went over to 'the other place' to see if I could see the reported Osprey, Garganey or Slavonian Grebes - I didn't see any of those either!


Sunday 4th April [A frosty start, but warm & sunny later.]

Mark and I surveyed the singing birds around the lake this morning while looking for migrants. We had our first Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus singing at The Island reed bed, and recorded 27 singing male Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 19 singing male Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 2 singing male Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus, saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, 1 Swallow Hirundo rustica, and at least 10, probably 20, Dark-edged Bee-flies Bombylius major and a first Comma Polygonia c-album butterfly of the year. Of the resident birds, a count of 31 singing male Robins Erithacus rubecula was good, but just 18 Wrens Troglodytes troglodytes was well short of the usual 50-60 I would have expected - perhaps the cold night depressed early song?


Saturday 3rd April [A cold breeze, but increasingly sunny.]

I drove down to the lake for a quick look around at lunchtime. I saw a small flock of hirundines, mainly Swallows Hirundo rustica, over Bell's Bush that included my first House Martin Delichon urbicum of the year. Mark and I will be back later for a proper look and may possibly do some bat recording, if there are any out, at dusk in the cold wind. I've watched good numbers of Noctules Nyctalus noctula this week and even saw a Peregrine probably take one!

There were some of the smaller bats out, but no sign of the Noctules this evening. The only bird to add to my notes was a Great White Egret Ardea alba in non-breeding plumage at Indian Country.


Friday 2nd April [Overcast & chilly to start but the sun came out]

Mark and I spent 4 hours at the lake this morning having a proper look around, but it wasn't terribly exciting. All 3 wintering Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos were on the dam wall together, and a fourth was on the overspill. There was a Peregrine Falco peregrinus at Indian Country, an adult drake Goldeneye Bucephalus clangula in Orchard Bay,  and a Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus in Lodge Copse. We spotted the female of a pair of Mute Swans Cygnus olor in Wood Bay with a yellow darvic ring BJB on her right leg - a regular.

Welcome news from Andy Mears of 4 (3 drakes) Garganey Anas querquedula mid-afternoon stirred me into action again but despite two visits, before and after tea until dusk, but I couldn't find them.

Some of the Green-winged Orchids Anacamptis morio are in bloom already, although it's early days yet. There should be plenty more as things warm up.


Thursday 1st April [Mainly overcast, with a cool and fairly strong easterly breeze]

The weather was a bit of a contrast to yesterday, but when I got out of the car at the Lodge, I could hear the unmistakeable calls of Siskins Spinus spinus in the copse, and saw 8, but I'm sure there were more judging by the calls. As I walked along the road at Holt Bay, I saw 9 Swallows Hirundo rustica that flew out over Rainbow Point, with another a few minutes later over Holt Copse. As I approached Flower Corner, I saw 4 Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis flying in from the Top End, and eventually had great views of 15 that had settled down to preen and wash before they were disturbed by a pair of anglers in a boat who motored to within 30 metres of the tree (probably unwittingly to be fair), but the result was that all the egrets took off, circled a couple of times, and flew off.  A shame.


Wednesday 31st March [A warm & sunny Spring day]

I had a look around the lake on a couple of occasions today, but could not find the Black-necked Grebe, or the Aythya hybrid that I wanted to photograph. I guess they've moved on as a result of the boat disturbance. I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam for the first time in a couple of days and a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End, that flew off to Chew to roost at dusk. The male Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti, 2 pairs of Shoveler Spatula clypeata, 2 pairs of Teal Anas crecca and a pair of Wigeon Mareca penelope were at Top End too. There's lots of birdsong in the patches of woodland around the lake now, so I'll start my migrant monitoring walks over the next few weeks to try and capture first dates for summer visitor arrivals, and to gauge the numbers for comparison with previous years. I have a long series of data going back over 25-30 years of such counts that I've conducted, and Andy Davis sent me some for years prior to my arrival in Blagdon. I really need to sit down and analyse the information now. Other signs of Spring included a male Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni, and several Peacock Aglais io and Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae butterflies on the wing in the sunshine.


Tuesday 30th March [A glorious sunny day]

Mark finished work early and spent the afternoon at the lake, while I didn't manage to get there until the evening. Before I arrived Mark had seen 5 Snipe Gallinago gallinago fly up out of the marginal vegetation when a  Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus went in. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was still present until dusk at least, despite the boat angling starting today, and we found a male Lesser Scaup-like hybrid, probably a Pochard x Tufted Duck.  All the hirundines had moved on. As we left we saw a few Noctule Nyctalus noctula bats hawking over the lakeside meadows with their characteristic fast, straight flight, interrupted by sudden swoops down after insects. They are large and have narrow pointed wings, and fly in the open, above 10 m or so, if you wish to have a look for them.


Monday 29th March [Overcast & breezy]

Mark was at the lake at first light, with all the fishermen, before having to leave for work, and despite getting up at 0556 hrs I only decided to trundle down the hill on foot at 0700 hrs. I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and on reaching the Lodge spotted the grebe a few metres out from the bank, having looked hard for it yesterday to be sure about our identification on Saturday evening in the failing light. I could see it was clearly a Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis after all! I then walked along the south side road, chatting to some of the anglers I know, and looking for migrants. I counted 13 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 6 singing Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, and 3 singing Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus and heard the male Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti give its deafening song on the opposite side of the road from the Top End gate, in the Hatchery grounds. There were nowhere near the number of Sand Martins Riparia riparia over the lake this morning, in comparison to what we'd seen over the weekend, but numbers may grow as the day wears on. I hope to get back to the lake later in the day, when things have quietened down a little; the anglers were catching lots of super looking fish, and with the wind making Chew Valley Lake difficult from the bank, many of the regulars there had apparently swollen the numbers at Blagdon this morning.

A beautiful evening, with the number of Sand Martins Riparia riparia around 100 over Top End, and the Black-necked Grebe out in the middle of the dam end at dusk. I think I'm right in saying the boat anglers will be back out on the lake tomorrow.


Sunday 28th March [Overcast & breezy]

I had a walk around the lake this morning, following footpaths and lanes, but the visit wasn't anywhere near as fruitful as yesterday evening. There was no sign of the grebe, just 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, several hundred Sand Martins Riparia riparia, a male Kestrel Falco tinnunculus at Rugmoor, 15 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 1 singing Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, and Mark heard the Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti.

Tomorrow the lakes open again to birdwatchers and anglers. Permits may be obtained from the Bristol Water website. Please note that the bird hides remain closed for the time being. 


Saturday 27th March [Overcast]

I arranged to meet Mark at Top End around 1615 hrs for a walk along the footpath at Top End where we looked over the gates and hedges and saw approx. 250 Sand Martins Riparia riparia and a single fly-through Swallow Hirundo rustica over the water, 17 Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis in a tree at Hellfire Corner, and I heard a male Cetti's Warbler's Cettia cetti explosive song once as we walked back to the cars. We drove on round to Rugmoor for a look over the gate there and saw Sand Martins feeding all the way up to Rainbow Point and just one Cattle Egret left in the trees at Hellfire Corner, but nothing else of note, before moving on to the dam at dusk, where there were lots of Sand Martins feeding too. I estimated a minimum of 400, which Mark agreed with, but we don't know if they included birds from the other end of the lake or not. I was carrying out one last scan through the flock when I noticed a bird off Green Lawn that I thought was interesting. After a short time, it woke up and we agreed it was a Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis (well, we got that wrong) Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis after spending some time at various viewpoints watching it. What a couple of hours birding that was - happy days!


Friday 26th March

I didn't get to the lake until dusk and only saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.


Thursday 25th March [Sunshine & occasional light showers]

A mid to late-afternoon walk around the lake saw lots of gulls on Holt & Lag Farms again, but I didn't pick out anything unusual through my binoculars, bar 7 Buzzards Buteo buteo circling above. At Top End there were still plenty of Sand Martins Riparia riparia, and when they all went into a close-knit flock as a Buzzard flew over, I estimated there to be about 100. Back at the dam, I saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, one of which had a few unusual white flecks in its plumage.