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Blagdon Lake Birds

December 2014 News


Please note: Bird Watching season permits for 2015 will be issued at Woodford Lodge from the end of February. This is to bring them in line with season fishing permits. Prices remain unchanged - see the Bristol Water Fisheries website.



Monday 1st December [Chilly, calm and dry.]

Stacks of birds all over the lake this afternoon, with the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis back off Rainbow Point and good numbers of Common Pochard Aythya ferina scattered all over the place. The number of Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus has increased to 22 in Holt/Lag Farm fields.

I also put up the last of the Kent Bat boxes. I'm going to monitor them to see if there's any uptake in the little patches of lakeside woodland that have few, if any, potential roost features.

Last Thursday evening, I was invited to a private viewing of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 exhibition, now in it's 50th year, at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. It's on from 29th November to 22nd February 2015 and well worth a visit. Click here to have a look at some of the photos - one of my favourites was the winner of the mammal category: 'The mouse, the moon and the mosquito'.


Tuesday 2nd December [Perishing]

I made a late afternoon visit. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was on the east side of Rainbow Point and there was another large gull roost, but I decided not to check it today.


Wednesday 3rd December [Late autumn sunshine]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was feeding off Wood Bay Point at lunchtime today. The gulls were quite late coming in this afternoon, probably due to the late sunshine, but there wasn't anything unusual in the throng. The wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam, as it often is towards dusk.

We had our first Redwing of the winter in the garden this morning.


Thursday 4th December [Sunshine]

I didn't visit the lake today - I was busy writing my presentation for the annual Wardens Meeting.


Friday 5th December [Sunshine]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Holt Bay and there were about 20 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on Holt/Lag Farms and 2 more on the dam. Later, I spent about an hour and a half at the Lodge as dusk approached, mainly to check the gulls but was surprised by the size of the Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris roost which probably numbered around a 1000 birds. They flew back and forth trying to decide whether to settle in Home Bay or Pipe Bay reeds. There was also at least one Green Woodpecker Picus viridis which was apparently looking to roost in the Oak Quercus sp. beside the Lodge.


Saturday 6th December [Sunshine]

We did the WeBS Count this morning, and what a beautiful morning it was! Notable birds included the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off the end of Rainbow Point, a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay and a fly over Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Big counts included 1044 Common Coots Fulica atra, 804 Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula and 61 Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus. Full details of the count are on the WeBS Page.

Phil Delve spotted a Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta still on the wing along Butcombe Bank.


Sunday 7th December [Early rain, then sunshine.]

This morning I led a walk for Bristol Ornithological Society. It was raining and quite breezy when I got there about half an hour before the start time, but by the time we got going the sun had come out and we enjoyed a very pleasant walk. We tallied a remarkable 61 species including the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay, a Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Butcombe Bay and 4 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus at Hellfire Corner among the usual suspects, but no Common Sandpiper, Goosander or Song Thrush!


Monday 8th December [Sunshine and wintery showers. Cold.]

Where was the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos when I needed it yesterday? This afternoon, it was back on the dam as usual. The Little Egret Egretta garzetta was in Butcombe Bay again and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay. It was very noticeable that there had been a large increase in Common Pochard Aythya ferina numbers compared with Saturday's WeBS count of 146, I made it 513 without counting any birds in Butcombe or Rugmoor Bays. Have they flown over the hill from Cheddar Reservoir, or, are they part of a cold-weather movement?


Tuesday 9th December [Overcast and breezy]

Not much to tell today, just the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Rainbow Point, and a noticeable drop in the number of Common Pochards Aythya ferina (although there were still quite a few asleep along the windward shore at Bell's Bush and Burmah Road).


Wednesday 10th December [Another sunny but breezy and chilly day]

The wintering Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Wood Bay Point again this afternoon (it seems to be favouring this area more now), and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam despite the continuing engineering works. 17 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis were back with an increased number of Canada Geese Branta canadensis on Holt Farm, and the small flock of Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus remain faithful to Lag Farm. I've been seeing more Redwings Turdus iliacus and Blackbirds Turdus merula in the last couple of days - presumably migrants moving south-west with the onset of colder weather, and the Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris roost flock is growing too.


Thursday 11th December [A bit grotty. Grey and breezy with occasional wintery showers.]

There was a humongous crane on the dam again this afternoon with flashing lights piercing the gloom, but it didn't seem to phase the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos that I saw fly from Cheddar Water onto the dam. There was also a Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea catching flies along the dam wall at Cheddar Water. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Wood Bay Point, and Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on Lag Farm. Canada Goose Branta canadensis numbers had swollen, forming a sizeable flock on Holt Farm with 17 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, but there was no sign of any migrants with them. The Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus don't seem to be coming back for a 3rd winter, unfortunately.


Friday 12th December [Mainly overcast]

The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam this afternoon, the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Rainbow Point, and 26 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on Holt Farm. I met up with Chris Stone and he spotted a grey-backed Aythya over towards Peg's Point while we were scanning from Bell's Bush. Despite going around to Rugmoor Gate and looking for half an hour, we couldn't find it again! From what I could make out of it, I suspect it was the hybrid Tufted x Pochard drake, but I'll have another look for it tomorrow.

I feel I ought to feedback some notes from the Bristol Water Lake Users meeting held on 4th December:

  • Introduction & Welcome, Sophie Edwards (Bristol Water)
    • Blagdon Pumping Station upgrade has seen divers in the lake fitting new pipework. Completion is Feb. 2015.
    • Chew Bat box scheme means 50+ new bat boxes sponsored by BW at the lakes.
    • New telescope and viewing platform on the Bittern Trail.
    • Upgrades to the Grebe and Bittern Trail pathways and a new boardwalk (for safe, dry passage!).
    • AMP6 is looming, Bristol Waters next 5 year investment period with projects planned for eel protection, water quality, invasive species management and the creation of a biodiversity index to quantify biodiversity at our sites.
    • Also saw the formation and first ever 6-monthly Lake Users Meeting where representatives gave updates and discussed access at the lakes.
  •  Catchment Management Project, Matthew Pitts (Bristol Water)
    • BW has obligations to improve water quality under the National Environment Programme (run by the Environment Agency).
    • Partnerships with local farmers, Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, River Trust, Wessex Water, etc.
    • Issues: algae, soil loss into watercourse, flooding.
  •  B-Lines, Janice Gardiner (Avon Wildlife Trust)
    • Network of wildflower meadows across the South West.
    • 3 million ha of wildflower has been lost – huge responsibility to restore.
    • This will mean partnership working (BW).
    • Wildflower meadows at Chew, Blagdon and possibly Barrow will be included in the local B Line.
  •  Bird Counts at Chew Valley Lake, Rupert Higgins (Wessex Ecological Consultancy)
    • The high water levels have meant lower numbers of birds visiting the lake.
    • Shoveler did breed at the lake this year.
    • Possible correlation between coarse fish and numbers of Tufted Duck (fish eat inverts).
    • Lesser Horseshoe bat maternity roost located at the lake.
  • Round up at the Ringing Station, Mike Bailey (Chew Valley Ringing Station)
    • 90 Canada Geese on the annual round up.
    • 2 –Constant Effort Sites run.
    • Water rail project continues.
  •  Fishing at the Lakes, Martin Cottis (Bristol Reservoirs Fly Fishers Association)
    • The past 3 seasons have seen improved fishing at the lakes.
    • Discussion on whether there is a correlation between fish, algae levels and number of birds.
  • Sailing at Chew Valley Lake, Helen Martin (Chew Valley Lake Sailing Club)
    • Sailors love the high water levels!
    • 1200-1500 members run by volunteers.
    • 4 National Inland Championships at the lake this year.
    • Part of the Guinness World Record in memory of Andrew “Bart” Simpson.
  • Wildlife at Blagdon Lake, Nigel Milbourne (Voluntary Bird Warden)
    • Passage of Red Kites at the lake in May.
    • Water Shrew was spotted.
    • Chew bat box scheme to commence.
    • Monitoring of bat boxes at Chew Valley Lake and Barrow to start in 2015.
    • Nathusius Pipistrelle ringed at Blagdon Lake found in The Netherlands sparked national news headlines.
    • The BBCs 'One Show' came to film the National Nathusius Pipistrelle Pilot Project work at the lake with Miranda Krestovnikoff.
    • Improvements made to the bat house continue.
    • Osprey 'Nest Pole Project' to commence in 2015 with BW and help from Roy Dennis MBE (Highland Wildlife Foundation).
  • Barrow Reservoirs, Terry Bond (Voluntary Bird Warden)
    • Where have the Common Coots gone? 500 in previous years now 20/30 present.
    • Where are the Lapwings, the gulls, the Hobbies?
    • Could the loss of the open water filter beds at Barrow Treatment Works be the cause, or work at the former Barrow Pyschiatric Hospital site?
    • The first Rose-coloured Starling was spotted at the site this year.

General Discussion

Biodiversity Action Plans 2014 have been written for Blagdon and Chew and are due to be published at the start of 2015. Changes include more enhancements to the sites. Enhancements will be quantified and measured as part of the company biodiversity index plan.

Herons Green Pool. Although there are currently no plans to change water levels at Heron's Green, due to flooding issues, we are keen to pursue the idea of smaller pools and scrapes next time it is maintained.

Reed cutting is on-going and the plans are available for the next 5 years in the new BAPs.

Floating Island. BW has engaged a local secondary school and the ringing station to build a new floating island for Stratford Pool. This will be launched sometime in the New Year.

Ponds Wick Green & Grebe Trail These ponds need clearing out. This could be a project for Wild Ones (BW’s conservation volunteer group) but it's likely a digger will be required.


Saturday 13th December [Sunny but cold]

I met up with Chris Stone again while at the lake today. We eventually found the Aythya hybrid off Wood Bay Point. It looked quite like a Common Pochard but had a yellowish iris, a high peaked head, dark grey back and a blue-grey bill with a broad black tip. It seemed to be accompanied by a ♀ that showed many of the same features, though the iris was more akin to a ♀ Common Pochard. The ♂ looked very similar to a possible Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid figured in the Collins Guide, and on page 68 of the 2nd edition of the Helm Guide (Vinicombe et al). Perhaps the two were from the same hybrid brood? It was an interesting hour or so, going through their features. I've seen a similar bird at Blagdon before, several years ago.

Anyway, to the news. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam this afternoon, the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Rainbow Point, and 26 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus on Holt Farm - familiar? Chris reported 2 or 3 Chiffchaffs when we met, and we saw one at Bell's Bush when birding together. There was a flock of Fieldfares Turdus pilaris at Holt Copse for the first time this winter, a regular wintering spot.

Tomorrow, Bath Naturalists are visiting.


Sunday 14th December [Milder]

I hosted a visit by Bath Naturalists today, and had a very enjoyable time, even though I felt pretty grotty with a head cold (hence the delay in posting notes). When we met on the dam at 0930 hrs there was a very large flock of Common Gulls Larus canus on the water, which included 2 (adult and 2nd-winter) Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus. We did much the same walk as I'd done with Bristol Ornithological Club last week along the south side of the lake, though I added in more general natural history (including a visit to the bat house). We saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Wood Bay Point at fairly close range, giving excellent comparative views with a small group of Little Grebes Tachybaptus ruficollis. As happened last week, the Common Sandpiper was nowhere to be seen, but we still totalled 61 species, and got back to the cars before the rain!


Monday 15th December [Sunny spells]

I only made a very brief visit, mainly to fill the nut feeder at the Hatchery, but did see the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis on the Holt Bay side of Rainbow Point.


Tuesday 16th December

Sorry, no news today, I'm in bed feeling unwell.

The water level has risen to 89% according to the latest figures from Bristol Water.


Wednesday 17th December

As with yesterday, I have no news because I'm still confined to my bed.


Thursday 18th December [Wet and windy]

During the last couple of days I've had the chance to catch up with some of the many wildlife magazines and news articles I receive, with one of the most important being the governments recent publication of the Biodiversity Indicators 2014. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) contribute to four of the indicators and frankly, they make depressing reading. Indicator A2 relates to the time spent by conservation volunteers in 13 selected conservation organisations, and it shows little overall change. Indicator B6 relates to pressure from about 180 or so, non-native species (there over 3000 in the UK), of which nine established breeding bird species are included (e.g. Canada Goose, Ruddy Duck and Rose-ringed Parakeet). The measure shows how, in the main, these have spread since the 1960s. Indicator C4 measures the status of threatened (priority) species, which includes 101 birds out of 213 overall. Measured since 1970, the pattern of decline is quite alarming, although there are some signs of short term gains being achieved. Finally, indicator C5 comprises five indicators on farmland and woodland birds, seabirds, breeding water and wetland birds and wintering waterbirds. Farmland birds continue their dramatic decline, while woodland birds are not doing well either. The only group that has really increased are the wintering waterbirds, though they have shown a steady decline since 2000 after a dramatic increase through the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The farmland bird population is at 45% of the baseline year 1970. It's all rather sobering, and whilst it's all very well publishing updates every year, these don't seem to show any real progress in achieving the stated aim of reversing the trends by 2020. There's more background detail on the BTO website. I have provided a similar link to the Bat information, contributed to by Bat Conservation Trust volunteers such as myself, in Bat News.


Friday 19th December [Sunny]

Chris Stone texted me at 1230 hrs to say the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Wood Bay at the time. He also spotted the 2 curious hybrids (probable Ferruginous x Pochard) and a ♂ Scaup-type hybrid! He managed a couple of distant pictures and it seems like the other is a ♂ Tufted x Pochard. Chris also reported 11 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris, a Peregrine Falco peregrinus and 2 or 3 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita.


Saturday 20th December [Dry and mainly overcast]

No news from the lake again today. Sorry.

During my enforced spell indoors, I have taken the opportunity to upload most of the pages that I took down to reconfigure in the new style and format a while back. So, you should be able to look up records of the scarce and rare non-passerines again, and consult lists of invertebrates recorded at the lake, all with their provenance. I'm sorry it has taken so long, but there it is. My next job will be to get the passerines section filled out a bit more, then get pictures added to species accounts and galleries for invertebrates uploaded.

It seems like the bat world is going into overdrive with two new announcements over the last few days. See Bat News.


Sunday 21st December [Mainly overcast] Winter Solstice

Gosh, the water level has risen quite a bit since my last visit! Anyway, I had a brief look around this afternoon and spotted the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in Wood Bay, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and c. 20 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Green Lawn. I also filled the feeders at the Lodge and Hatchery.

Given that it's the shortest day of the year and thoughts start turning towards Spring from hereon in, I thought that as there are a few wintering (Common) Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita collybita around the lake, it would probably be worth my while getting out and trying to find a Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis, especially as there's one being reported at Chew again. I have to confess to being less inclined to look for wintering passerines than waterfowl, but given the improvements in available identification help these days, there's no real excuse not to. There's a very nice clip by Kris Gillam of a Siberian Chiffchaff calling and singing on youtube (I typed Siberian Chiffchaff youtube into my browser to bring it up). It's worth listening to before you go out into the field next time. Alternatively, there's a very thorough discussion here with links to lots of up-to-date articles and research to help you find one over the Christmas period.


Monday 22nd December [Mild, overcast and breezy.]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was on the east side of Rainbow Point late this afternoon and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. Despite the level having risen to over 90% by now, there were 68 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca at Green Lawn and another 5 at Rainbow Point feeding along the few remnants of muddy bank, while there was a very substantial flock of Redwings Turdus iliacus feeding on Holt Farm together with a few Fieldfares Turdus pilaris. The gull roost was pretty large, but I didn't spot anything unusual among the usual species.


Tuesday 23rd December [Showers. Mild.]

The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was feeding off Wood Bay Point at 1130 hrs this morning.


Wednesday 24th December [Cold and sunny]

There were several hundred Common Gulls Larus canus dropping in to bathe before flying off to Chew this afternoon, but try as I might, I couldn't even find a Mediterranean, much less a Ring-billed Gull among them. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Wood Bay Point and I counted just 95 Canada Geese Branta canadensis.

After the excitement of yesterdays early Christmas present in the form of 38 new bat boxes for the Chew Valley Lake Bat Box Scheme, I received a copy of Ospreys in Wales, The First Ten Years (2004-2014), by Emyr Evans. It looks like a beautifully produced book, full of lots of wonderful Osprey pictures, that reveals details of the re-colonisation of North and mid-Wales and includes the story of our old friend 'White YA'. I'm really looking forward to reading it.


Thursday 25th December [Cold and sunny] Christmas Day


St. Andrews Church, Blagdon.St. Andrews Church, Blagdon.


News from Mike and Christine O'Connor that the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was still in Wood Bay this afternoon.


Friday 26th December [Dry early, then steady rain.]

The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Wood Bay Point early this afternoon. I met Chris Stone who'd been birding at the lake before I arrived and he'd seen 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta fly through to the west and 4 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita collybita between Top End and Holt Copse. Later he emailed to say a single Little Egret flew back east before he left site. There were very few gulls on the lake, presumably most of them were still out on the fields feeding in the wet conditions.


Saturday 27th December

Sorry, no news. I was at the funeral of my dear friend Dr Anil Lakhani in Croydon.


Sunday 28th December [Sunny and cold]

There was ice on the shallow, reed-fringed, margins but it was a beautiful cold and crisp day to be out. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Wood Bay, the Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis back with the Canadas Branta canadensis, and at least 2 Northern Ravens Corvus corax were enjoying the flying conditions over Top End. And, there was good news from the Hatchery feeder where I saw a Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea on the nuts for the first time this year. They are local around the lake, but hard to pinpoint unless they come to the feeder.


Monday 29th December [Sunny and cold]

On a glorious afternoon I had a good look around the south side of the lake. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was standing on the overspill, and there were 2 Lesser Redpolls Carduelis cabaret feeding in the Birch trees at Lode Copse. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in Wood Bay and shortly after spotting the grebe I saw 2 adult Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna on the water. At least one Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita was feeding in the trees by Bells Bush barrier and the Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea was on the nut feeder at the Hatchery again. I noted a respectable 58 spp. during my walk.


Tuesday 30th December [Sunny and cold]

I didn't get the chance to visit until late this afternoon, mainly to top up the feeders, but I was hoping there might have been some Bewick's Swans, given the arrival off the sea in Suffolk yesterday. Unfortunately no Bewick's, but there were a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser new in at Burmah Road. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was off Rainbow Point and there were a few Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flying about. I didn't pick out anything unusual in the gull roost.


Wednesday 31st December [Strong southerly breeze and milder than of late]

I spent much of the afternoon at the lake but could not find the Black-necked Grebe. The water was pretty choppy and it could have been over on the North Shore. I do hope it hasn't moved on just before I start the 2015 list. I saw 128 of 133 reported bird species at the lake this year, which is well down on usual. I added no new species to my site list - it's been a quiet year. I met Colin Hunt who said he'd seen the 2 Lesser Redpolls Carduelis cabaret in Lodge Copse. I counted 323 Canada Geese Branta canadensis and 17 Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis on Holt Farm, and saw a ♂ Tufted x Pochard Aythya hybrid at Wood Bay Point. Roll on 2015, and a Happy New Year to everyone.

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