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Blagdon Lake Birds

August 2014 News

Friday 1st August [Showers]

I'm beginning to feel guilty about spending so little time at the lake at the moment! I did visit this evening at 2100 hrs and saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, but because of the overcast weather it got too dark for me to look around properly.

I spent the day with Robin Williams (Som. Inverts. Group) and Tony Taylor (Glos. Inverts. Group) in Dorset looking for some scarce aculeates. We found both the ♀ Hairy Legged Mining Bee Dasypoda hirtipes and lots of ♀ European Beewolfs Philanthus triangulum which I wanted to photograph (see my photo website and look at the Somerset Invertebrates Gallery). I have included a couple of pictures of D. hirtipes to show it with pollen on the legs (being brought in to provision its nest), and a picture of it after it re-emerges from the nest cleaned up and ready to go foraging again - you can see how it got its name in the second picture. The Beewolf is bringing in a Honey Bee Apis mellifera to provision its nest. Note the size comparison - it seems impossible that the Beewolf should be able to carry the bee slung under its body! While we were there we saw the amazing Hornet Robberfly Asilus crabroniformis, though we unfortunately dipped on the Purbeck Mason Wasp Pseudepipona herrichii at our usual site.


Hairy-legged Mining Bee, Stoborough Heath NNR, Dorset 1st Aug 2014.Hairy-legged Mining Bee, Stoborough Heath NNR, Dorset 1st Aug 2014.

Hairy-legged Mining Bee, Stoborough Heath NNR, Dorset 1st Aug 2014.Hairy-legged Mining Bee, Stoborough Heath NNR, Dorset 1st Aug 2014.

European Beewolf carrying a bee, Stoborough Heath NNR, Dorset. 1st Aug 2014.European Beewolf carrying a bee, Stoborough Heath NNR, Dorset. 1st Aug 2014.

European Beewolf with bee about to go underground, Stoborough Heath NNR, Dorset. 1st Aug 2014.European Beewolf with bee about to go underground, Stoborough Heath NNR, Dorset. 1st Aug 2014.


Saturday 2nd August [Thundery showers and a stiff westerly breeze]

This afternoon, after a thunderstorm had passed over, I had a good look around. I saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos at dam end, the Black Swan Cygnus atratus in Holt Bay, a large increase in the numbers of Canada Geese Branta canadensis, and some new wildfowl including at least 15 Gadwall Anas strepera, 3 Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata and one Eurasian Teal Anas crecca. An adult Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo flew over Burmah Road and the adult ♂ Aythya hybrid was still present off Bell's Bush.

A Clouded Yellow Colias croceus flew past me at Bell's Bush as I walked out to look through the birds at Top End (the hay's been cut, baled, and removed now).


Sunday 3rd August [Dry]

Two Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula were reported by Chris Hynam on the dam early this evening, and I saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos (one on the dam and one at Home Bay Point), the Black Swan Cygnus atratus on Rainbow Point, a mobile Little Egret Egretta garzetta and a Tawny Owl Strix aluco at Bell's Bush barrier.


Monday 4th August [Mainly sunny]

I didn't see any waders, or the Black Swan, but I did find the ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis at Top End. It looks very different from the last time I saw it on the 13th July. The mantle is grey-brown and at a range of 150 metres or so, I couldn't make out any coarse vermiculations. However, although the bill is darker grey than when seen previously, it still shows a black nail. The wings are in moult and many primaries are missing, but I did see a wing stretch after watching it for nearly two hours and saw a white secondary panel that didn't extend into the wing tip. The ♂ Aythya hybrid is also at the lake and presents an identification pitfall for the unwary. I'm guessing the Lesser Scaup has been at the lake all along, but as it's in moult it may have been keeping a low profile, possibly hiding in marginal vegetation. It'll be interesting to watch how it comes out of eclipse over the coming weeks - if I can keep finding it! Having said there are more Canada Geese Branta canadensis on Saturday, I decided to count them today and clicked a total of 356, plus the adult Greylag Goose Anser anser.


Tuesday 5th August [Thundery showers]

I carried out a bat roost visit with Dave Cottle at Litton today where I saw a ♀ Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula with 3 ducklings on the lower lake and a pair of Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus with 2 young on the upper lake.

I stopped at Blagdon Lake on the way home late in the afternoon, but just as I walked out to Bell's Bush the heavens opened and I beat a hasty retreat!


Wednesday 6th August [Early rain, then sunshine]

I was at Wytham Wood near Oxford all day with Chris Barrington from YACWAG checking 'bat' boxes with Dr. Danielle Linton. The 'bat' boxes are, in actual fact, bird boxes that are monitored as part of the long-running Great Tit study carried out by Oxford University. The bats move in after the birds have finished breeding, and today we found a colony each of Brown Long-eared and Natterer's Bats.

I had a look at the lake late this evening and saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on Home Bay Point to add to Chris Stone's earlier sighting of 10 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and 3 Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus. Chris couldn't find the Lesser Scaup in 2 hours of looking. For information, the south side road is partly closed at Bell's Bush while it's being repaired, so there's no thoroughfare for the time being.

Bristol Water give the reservoir level as 82% today.


Thursday 7th August [Sunny and dry]

There was a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on Green Lawn and 7 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on Holt Farm fields beside the lake. At Top End I saw the ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis and the ♂ Aythya hybrid, but a boat kept motoring around moving the ducks all over the place, and frustratingly I didn't get the chance to clinch the identification for sure. I gave up in the end due to the continual disturbance. Later, I couldn't find either grey-backed Aythya. WeBS count tomorrow.

I did a bat transect this evening from Long Bay to the dam and recorded 9 Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii passes and a Lesser Horseshoe Rhinolophus hipposideros among the usual species.


Friday 8th August [Warm, dry and overcast]

Roy Curber and I did the WeBS count this morning and had great (100 metres range) views of the eclipse adult ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis off Bell's Bush. Other highlights included a juvenile Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius on the north end of the dam, a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus squealing at Pipe Bay, 3 juvenile Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna which flew west past us at Rainbow Point, a Peregrine Falco peregrinus over at Bell's Bush and a Clouded Yellow Colias croceus butterfly. I haven't got all the totals yet, but I counted 1114 Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula, 1052 Common Coots Fulica atra, 55 Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus (37 juveniles), 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, 14 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, 68 Mute Swans Cygnus olor (20 juveniles), 338 Canada Geese Branta canadensis and 1 Greylag Goose Anser anser. Full details of the count are on the WeBS Page and an update to details of species seen so far this year are on the Phenology Page, including the Peregrine and LRP which were both firsts today.

Oh, and we added what looked like a Typhoon to the unusual planes seen at Blagdon - it looked like it was going to land at the airport as it had it's undercarriage down.

The road along the south side of the lake is open again, but if you're visiting for the Lesser Scaup, please remember it is a permit only site.


Saturday 9th August [Overcast with showers]

A late visit this evening turned up 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and a Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo hunting at 2120 hrs in near-darkness. I didn't bother to look for the Lesser Scaup today, but will have a look tomorrow.

Most of the day I was helping check bat boxes on the east side of Bristol, where we found some Soprano Pipistrelles and, rather unexpectedly, a ♂ Bechstein's Bat.


Sunday 10th August [Heavy showers and a rising wind]

Again, there were 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos present and I watched the eclipse adult ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis off Bell's Bush for about an hour hoping to get some pictures. Unfortunately, it stayed out at about 200 metres range as the water got increasingly rough, and I wasn't able to capture the coarse vermiculations of the new mantle feathers. In addition I saw 5 Sand Martins Riparia riparia at the dam end and the Greylag Goose Anser anser on Holt Farm fields.


Drake Lesser Scaup, Bell's Bush. 10th Aug 2014.Drake Lesser Scaup, Bell's Bush. 10th Aug 2014.

Lesser Scaup, Bell's Bush. 10th Aug 2014.Lesser Scaup, Bell's Bush. 10th Aug 2014.


I was just about to sit down to my evening dinner when Mike Jenkins phoned to say an Osprey was heading west from Chew, but despite going back to the lake and watching for 40 minutes I didn't see it. Thanks for the call though Mike.


Monday 11th August [Heavy showers and gusting wind]

I spent most of the day at Catcott Heath with some members of Somerset Invertebrates Group where I had a cracking view of a Bittern and 4 Common Swifts, besides lots of interesting insects around the new SWT reserve.

Back home at the lake this evening, I was delighted to find a moulting adult Sanderling Calidris alba (first since 2011) and 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall, but I couldn't find the Lesser Scaup. There were no angling boats out today, and the ducks were well spread over the lake.


Tuesday 12th August [Sunshine and showers]

I didn't have much to report until I got to Rainbow Point, where I saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, then at Bell's Bush I had excellent views of the moulting adult ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis asleep just to the left, off Hellfire Corner. Eventually he woke up, had a good preen and drifted towards me allowing me to see the bill and feather detail clearly. He also gave a nice slow wing stretch. These were the best views I've had since finding him on 29th June. It is definitely easier to pick him out when the sky is overcast because many of the Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula have silvery looking backs in bright sunshine. I could have done without the rain which made me scuttle back to the car, though on the plus side, it brought in a Common Swift Apus apus over Bell's Bush.


Wednesday 13th August [Sunshine and Showers]

I didn't visit Blagdon Lake because I have a very sore back this evening, but I hear that Keith Vinicombe saw the ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis off Bell's Bush.

I went walkabout again today, from Severn Beach across the old Severn Bridge to Chepstow Castle (9.5 miles). It was most enjoyable walking along Severnside, during which I saw Pilning Wetlands for the first time, but apart from Dunlin, there were no new birds for my trip list. I saw a Clouded Yellow on the saltmarsh, a migrant from mainland Europe. So, that's the second stage of my end-to-end walk complete, and now I'm planning to take the Great English Walk from Chepstow to Wark in Northumberland, 471 miles away.


Thursday 14th August [Heavy showers with occasional sunny intervals]

I went for a look this afternoon and found the adult ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis off Bell's Bush, as usual, but saw no shorebirds, though I understand there is at least one Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos present.

Paul Williams visited Bell's Bush at lunchtime and sent me a picture of one of 2 Clouded Yellow Colias croceus butterflies he saw there. Thanks Paul.

I went to Graham Rix's funeral this morning, where I was just one of many local naturalists there to celebrate his life. I knew Graham for 25 years or so, through my association with Somerset Wildlife Trust and Somerset Invertebrates Group, and am grateful for his many workshops and shared observations on the wildlife of the Somerset Levels, particularly Street Heath where he loved to spend so much of his time.


Friday 15th August [Dry with sunny spells]

I had an interesting late morning visit, adding Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia to the site year list, a juvenile Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius and 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos were all on Green Lawn, with a third Common Sandpiper on Rainbow Point. There was a Clouded Yellow Colias croceus on Green Lawn and at least another 5 at Bell's Bush, along with 4, or more, Common Blues Polyommatus icarus. I had a quick scan for the adult ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis from Bell's Bush, and spotted it feeding on the east side of Wood Bay Point. The Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock seems to have moved off.


Saturday 16th August [Breezy with sunny spells]

At lunchtime there was a Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe on Green Lawn (another first for the year as autumn migration gets underway) and 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos (2 on Green Lawn and 2 at Cheddar Water) feeding on what little margins we've got around the lake at present. Holt Bay held a remarkable 34 adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor and they've been joined by the adult Black Swan Cygnus atratus, that's presumably back from Chew. I was disappointed to see a boat go full tilt up into Top End where most of the moulting wildfowl were gathered, as I walked out onto Bell's Bush to look for the LESSER SCAUP. There's no need for the anglers to do it, and if they throttled back a little the ducks would move aside without being scattered all over the lake. I think it would be beneficial if the fisheries team were to let boat anglers know that many of the wildfowl are flightless and need to conserve energy at this time of year as they moult, even if they can fly. I'm sure most anglers would understand if they were to be made aware of the situation. The diving ducks come to Blagdon because it's historically been a safe haven to moult at, but the addition of outboard motors to the boats this season (for a two year trial period only) is being monitored for Natural England. Prof. Gareth Jones reported the adult ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis at Burmah Road later.


Sunday 17th August [Sunny]

Sean Davies reported the adult ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis at Bell's Bush around lunchtime and it was still there at 1500 hrs this afternoon. I also saw a single Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.

This evening I went to Tyntesfield House to help with the Lesser Horseshoe emergence count.


Monday 18th August [Some sunny spells, mainly overcast]

I spent 2 hours, and Chris Stone spent 3 hours this morning looking for the Lesser Scaup from Bell's Bush without any luck. I also checked the bays along the south side right back to the Lodge. There was a sizeable flock of Aythyas over at Rugmoor that I didn't check, so it may be over there. A juvenile Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo was hunting over Top End, and there were at least 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos around Green Lawn/Long Bay.

An evening visit produced a total of 4 Common Sandpipers, a calling Common Redshank Tringa totanus (at 2130 hrs) from the Rugmoor direction while I was carrying out a bat transect, but no sign of the Lesser Scaup in another one hour search before dusk. There must be some turnover of the Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula because there were many more females present today than when we carried out the WeBS count on the 8th August. It could be that some of the males have moved off (perhaps to Chew?) and taken the LS with them.


Tuesday 19th August [Sunshine and showers]

An adult Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus flew in from the east at lunchtime, and was still on the dam late afternoon, while I understand the Lesser Scaup has flown the other way to Chew (thanks for the call Richard Mielcarek). There were a lot fewer Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula at Blagdon today than there were over the weekend. Also at Blagdon today was a single Common Swift Apus apus among a good number of hirundines which included a few Sand Martins Riparia riparia, and I saw at least 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos.


Wednesday 20th August [Sunshine and showers]

I have no news from the lake today other than to report the water level is 83% according to the Bristol Water website.

After driving to Chepstow, I started out on the first leg of the Great English Walk, but failed to make it to Viney Hill because I came across three blocked/impassable footpaths and had to walk around umpteen fields that were blocked with crops of maize - not in itself a problem if there is a suitable path left around the perimeter, but in most cases there wasn't. By the time I got to Aylburton (12.85 miles) I'd been walking for 04:37 hrs and was pretty fed up with the state of the route. I think an email to Gloucs. Public Rights of Way team is in order.


Thursday 21st August [Sunshine and showers]

This evening I saw 8 Common Redshanks Tringa totanus on the dam, and 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos scattered around dam end. There appears to have been another influx of Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula and Gadwall Anas strepera, but I didn't have time to look through them critically before dark. I am going to be away at BatTRACK 2014 until Sunday evening, so if anyone finds anything to report please text me and I'll tweet the news out.

After yesterday's walking debacle, things didn't improve today. I met some ex-work colleagues to walk more of the Mendip Ring near Bruton, but yet another road had been closed, which rather ruined our plans. We enjoyed a catch-up and stroll around some of the Stourhead estate (6.6 miles) in the gentle rain instead!


Friday 22nd-Sunday 24th August

No news from the lake to pass on.


Monday 25th August [Rain all day]

The water level appears to have gone up slightly while I've been away, which has reduced the already meagre margins to attract waders in. Early this afternoon I saw a single Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and an adult Common Tern Sterna hirundo ranging around at Rainbow Point. I sat in the Top End hide for half an hour or so, and went through the waterfowl at Top End, but the only bird of note was an overflying juvenile Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo.

There were 2 Common Sandpipers on the dam at dusk this evening when I went back to the lake to walk bat transect #3 from Top End to Hellfire Corner. I recorded 2 Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii passes.


Tuesday 26th August [Showers]

I had an interesting morning at the lake with my top sighting being an Osprey Pandion haliaetus which I first saw over Cheddar Water at 1255 hrs as I drove back to the Lodge from Top End. By the time I parked and jumped out of my car it was over Long Bay and drifting east along the south side hovering over each bay in turn as it went. I last saw it from the Lodge at about 1300 hrs, and I believe it was seen later at Chew Valley Lake.

While in Top End hide (which allows reasonable views again now the vegetation in front has died down a bit) I watched an adult and juvenile Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo hunting Migrant Hawkers Aeshna mixta (the adult by the hide / Flower Corner and the juvenile along Indian Country Bank). The juvenile was using the pine trees to launch itself after the dragonflies and landed back on a branch to eat them, while the adult was feeding on the wing. New in were 13 Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata, though they may have left when the Osprey was hovering over Top End. I also heard a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus squealing in front of the hide and watched a Water Shrew Neomys fodiens feeding on the path behind the hide as I left. This is the first time I've definitely seen one at the lake. It's black pelage showed the white ear tufts in the shadows beautifully. In addition, there were at least 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos still around.

This evening on the way to do another bat transect at the lake I saw a flock of Canada Geese Branta canadensis with 11 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis on Holt Farm fields.


Wednesday 27th August [Strong easterly breeze]

I was on the point of going down to the lake when Andy Davis rang to tell me an Osprey was heading towards Blagdon. I raced down there but didn't see it. Two very pale young Common Buzzards Buteo buteo were hanging around the Long Bay pines, one of which briefly got my hopes up when I saw it perched right on the top of a Scot's Pine! Andy thought the bird he saw this morning at Chew was probably an adult - which I suppose would probably be an adult ♀, as they are starting to leave nest sites where young have fledged and that are being cared for by the ♂♂, which leave later. Joanna Dailey emailed from Kielder last night to say that she thinks the ♀♀ are on the point of leaving there, or have already gone in the last day or so. White YA is doing a great job providing for his young this year. It'll be fascinating to see what happens to those that were radio tagged. Bristol Water are stocking Chew today (and Blagdon later, in all probability), so if Andy's bird hasn't already left the area, it might hang around for an easy meal!

While I was at the lake I saw 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and a distant Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo.


Thursday 28th August [Mainly sunny with an occasional shower]

Late this afternoon there were 5 Black Terns Chlidonias niger hawking insects over the dam end of the lake, one of which was in full adult summer plumage and looked stunning. An early ♀ Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope was in Holt Bay and I found just a single Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. There was no sign of the Barnacle Geese that have flown over from Chew with the Canada Geese Branta canadensis for the last two days.

The water level remains fairly high at 82%, and with the engineering works still underway, it isn't like to drop anytime soon.


Friday 29th August

An early morning visit didn't turn up anything exciting, just a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. There was a blizzard of white feathers blowing off the dam wall from the moulting and preening Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus and a couple of Grey Herons Ardea cinerea stalking among the vegetation. There was a sizeable flock of House Martins Delichon urbicum at Top End but I didn't stay long enough to see if there were any Eurasian Hobbies.


Saturday 30th August [Sunny spells]

I paid a quick visit this evening but didn't see anything to report. There were hundreds of Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus resting and preening on the dam, so I couldn't even spot a Common Sandpiper. I see that someone had seen a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus at Top End, which was reported on the blackboard in the Fishing Lodge, but I'm not sure if it refers to today or yesterday.

This evening I was invited to go to a bat swarming site in Wiltshire. It was a long but fantastic night, and the team caught at least 300 bats of 9 spp. by the time Chris Barrington and I had to leave. Highlight for me was seeing at least 3 Barbastelle's Barbastella barbastellus, a species I'd not seen up to this point. There was one major downer though, Adrian Bayley had a harp trap stolen!


Sunday 31st August

There wasn't much time for birding, I didn't get home much before 0500 hrs this morning and I was out with family all day. I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam in the evening before walking bat transect #5 along the dam and Butcombe Bank, however, and recorded lots of Myotis spp. passes as well as Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii and Lesser Horseshoe Rhinolophus hipposideros.

Nigel Milbourne © 2009-24. All Rights Reserved.