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Blagdon Lake Birds

July 2014 News

Tuesday 1st July [Warm and, mainly, sunny.]

The ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis was still present this evening off Spinney Point and viewable distantly from the dam. I didn't spot the Aythya hybrid, but all bar one group of Tufted / Common Pochards were miles away from any decent (by which I mean close) viewing points. Rare Bird Network reported the hybrid to have been present at 1745 hrs, with the Lesser Scaup at Rugmoor Bay. There were 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.

I spent the day walking with friends from Wheddon Cross in Exmoor National Park to Williton, 15.4 miles. We saw a couple of (White-throated) Dippers Cinclus cinclus (one juvenile) on the Washford River downstream of Pooltown, Luxborough. There were loads of Skylarks Alauda arvensis over Lype Hill too.


Wednesday 2nd July [Hot and sunny]

I met Rupert Higgins (Wessex Ecological Consultants) this morning to discuss the Management Plan he's putting together for Bristol Water at Blagdon Lake, and he'd looked for the Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis before I arrived and seen two grey-backed Aythyas off Rugmoor, but they were too distant to specifically identify. However, we can reasonably assume it is still present, though viewing is very difficult this year due to the high water level. He'd also seen 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and another unidentified wader on the dam asleep, which he presumed was a third sandpiper.

Lesser Scaup at Rugmoor Point viewed distantly from Rainbow Point at 2100 hrs.


Thursday 3rd July [Warm though mainly cloudy]

The ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis was still as difficult as ever today. It was asleep at Flower Corner where I managed to view it for an hour until 1515 hrs, when I got bored! It raised its head twice giving me a decent view of the isolated black nail on an otherwise blue-grey bill. There are many brown feathers mixed in with the few nicely barred back feathers, so it doesn't exactly leap out of the crowd at you when trying to locate it. There were no less than 5 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam when I arrived at lunchtime and I saw the Western Greylag Goose Anser anser anser again as well. On my evening visit I saw the ♂ Aythya hybrid for the first time in a couple of days.


Friday 4th July [Warm, cloudy and breezy]

The ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis was still present this evening off Rainbow Point at 2030 hrs, as was an adult ♀ Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula. The Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula had spread over the lake in medium-sized groups making it easier to look through them, but even then it took me half an hour to find it! There were 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and the Western Greylag Goose Anser anser anser is still with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis moult flock.

Heavy machinery is being moved into place ready for a 3-5 week project to replace pipework and pumps at the foot of the dam. This will undoubtedly have a bearing on attracting migrant waders to site because we have little margin around the lake for them to feed on other than the dam wall. The water level is only down about 1 foot from top level.


Saturday 5th July [Warm and breezy]

I didn't go down to the lake until this evening and it took me half an hour, again, to find the ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis off Ash Tree with 22 Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula. I took some pictures and video of it although it was at 2030 hrs - sorry the quality is poor. However, it does demonstrate the classic head shape and the dark back and flanks as it goes into moult. There were 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and the Western Greylag Goose Anser anser anser was with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis moult flock at Rainbow Point.


Lesser Scaup with Tufted Ducks, Ash Tree. 5th July 2014.Lesser Scaup with Tufted Ducks, Ash Tree. 5th July 2014.


During the afternoon, I went up to Ubley Warren with David Gibbs, John Martin, Margarete Earle and Richard Mielcarek to show them Hieracium cyathis and H. angustisquamum, and Richard showed us the Ophrys apifera var. badensis and O. apifera var. friburgensis that he'd found on Friday.

Tomorrow I'm off to see the Tour de France at York (I hope) with Paz and Beth Fletcher and the gals. So, dear readers, you're on your own with the Lesser Scaup. Good luck!


Sunday 6th July

Steve Hale visited the lake today and found the ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis in Home Bay and got some pictures (Avon Birds). He also saw a Common Redshank Tringa totanus and Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. Late news from Sean Davies who saw the Lesser Scaup off Green Lawn at 2110-2130 hrs this evening. Also, the Pochard xTufted Duck hybrid in Orchard Bay, Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus in flight over Rugmoor Bay and, on the dam, 3 Common Sandpipers and a Common Redshank. Thanks for the notes guys. I am in Northumberland tomorrow visiting Joanna Dailey at Kielder Water to catch up with White YA the Osprey and his family.


Monday 7th July

No news from the lake today.

I had a lovely day at Kielder Water in Northumberland meeting Joanna Dailey who writes the Kielder Ospreys Blog. I had lunch in the cafe at Kielder Castle watching the nest cam for an hour or so before she arrived and after a chat we headed off to view nest one together (from a long way off, I ought to add). Osprey Pandion haliaetus Mrs YA was on the nest platform with the three chicks with White YA sitting nearby in the sunshine. When a couple of Carrion Crows Corvus corone flew by he was quick off his perch to chase them off. It was a picture of domestic bliss! Later I went down to the dam at the key fishing time between 1600-1700 hrs hoping to see some fishing action. One (or two) Ospreys flew down to the dam and almost immediatley back up the reservoir, without plunge diving unfortunately. It was lovely to renew old acquaintences, and Joanna is off to the Lake District on Wednesday to help prepare an Osprey news release. She also told me she'd had news of one of the Kielder youngsters, back for it's first summer in Britain at a pond in County Durham which she went to see over the weekend, only to get caught up in the Black-winged Pratincole twitch! How lucky was that? Not for Joanna - she'd just missed the Osprey!


Wednesday 9th July

I drove back from Northumberland today and made a quick visit to the lake this evening. There were 5 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam but the majority of the Aythya flocks were over on the North Shore making viewing difficult. I'll have a proper look around tomorrow.


Thursday 10th July [Sunny and warm]

Well, it took a while to find it, but the ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis is still present. It had the Aythya hybrid alongside it at Burmah Road early this afternoon. There was also a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at Pipe Bay, no doubt displaced by the engineering works taking place on the dam. The road across the dam is closed to vehicles, although I believe the footpath is open outside normal working hours, at least.

There was a Common Redshank Tringa totanus calling as I was about to start a bat transect from the south end of the dam this evening. I managed to locate it in flight and watched it land on the dam. There was also a ♀ Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula with 2 juveniles at Orchard Bay (1st brood, 2014).


Friday 11th July [Sunny and warm]

Although I made two visits to the lake today I didn't do much birding and didn't see the Lesser Scaup. I was called home while looking for it on my first visit, and on my second visit, I went to fit the new entrance box that I'd made in the bat house. I did note a Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum at Burmah Road though, my first of the year.

This evening I was out doing a bat roost emergence survey with YACWAG. We had both Greater and Lesser Horseshoes Rhinolophus spp. Tomorrow morning the team will be carrying out the monthly WeBS Count.


Saturday 12th July [Mainly sunny and warm]

The WeBS Count produced 605 Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula, and two grey-backed Aythyas, one of which I assume was the Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis, though I couldn't get definitive views of it at Burmah Road, even after the count finished. There must have been a sizeable arrival of Tufties overnight on the full moon. Highest count of the day was the 681 Common Coots Fulica atra. Surprises included an adult Common Tern Sterna hirundo that sat on the water and bathed several times, a Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo seen briefly by Roy Curber over Home Bay, 7 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Green Lawn, and 2 Silver-washed Fritillaries Argynnis paphia (one each near the Pumping Station entrance and one along Butcombe Bank). There were 5 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos around the dam end from Butcombe Bank to Home Bay Point still. Count details on WeBS Counts Page.


Sunday 13th July [Mainly sunny and warm]

I didn't visit the lake until this evening and after over an hour of searching I found the ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis over against the North Shore with a large group of Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula. I saw an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis that I tentatively called during the WeBS Count, but in the bright light yesterday I bottled it and went for a Herring Gull Larus argentatus. In the fading light this evening I had much better views which proved conclusive, and by the time I left for home I'd also seen 5 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos.


Monday 14th July [Mainly overcast, but still warm]

Paul Williams texted to say he'd found the ♂ Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis and ♂ Aythya hybrid off Bell's Bush at lunchtime.

I had a look this evening in overcast conditions which meant the light was much better for looking at the backs of the Aythyas, and possibly photographing the Lesser Scaup, but although a large flock of Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula were strung all along the North Shore it wasn't among them. So, despite searching for an hour and a half I couldn't find it and assumed it was still along the Burmah Road stretch where Paul had seen it earlier. There were 7 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, 98 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, a juvenile Green Woodpecker Picus viridis on the road at Rainbow Point and another voiciferous individual at Orchard Bay Point. Also, a Little Egret Egretta garzetta flew west over the lake while I was there.

Friend and local bee-keeper, John Smythe, helped with the making of two documentaries called 'Hive Alive', the first of which is being shown tomorrow night at 2000 hrs on BBC2. It should be well worth a watch.


Tuesday 15th July [Sunny and warm]

No news from the lake today.

I walked over the Quantocks today, from where I saw Rains Batch masts and Black Down just above our home. Ex-Somerset & Dorset No. 88 eased into Williton as I left, and by the time I crossed the WSR line at Doniford I was being serenaded by Yellowhammers which continued all the way up Bicknoller Combe. On the tops, I caught sight of a ♂ Common Redstart and above Crowcombe Gate I saw a Eurasian Hobby, both of which were new to my walk list. There were Eurasian Siskins all the way along the hills, and I even watched a pair flying overhead at Enmore where I finished for the day at 15 miles.


Wednesday 16th July [Warm]

I spent 2 hours at the lake this evening, but couldn't spot the Lesser Scaup, though I've little doubt that it was there somewhere. There was a boat angling competition that meant birds were moving about quite a lot. On the dam I saw an adult Common Redshank Tringa totanus and a single Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and the adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis put in another appearance off Ash Tree.


Thursday 17th July [Hot and sunny]

I spent an hour or so at the lake this evening, but I wasn't really bird watching. However, I did see a summer-plumaged adult Dunlin Calidris alpina and 7 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. I'll look for the Lesser Scaup tomorrow.

I spent much of the day walking from Enmore on the edge of the Quantocks to Nythe, near Street (17.22 miles) though I had to stop short of my planned finish on Walton Hill due to the extreme heat on the levels, and lack of fluids. I'm pretty fed up with the 'Summits of Somerset and Avon' route, having had to bash my way for 6 miles along the Kings Sedgemoor Drain through nettles and grass up to my waist and climb over fences because the stiles have been destroyed. There were too many barbed wire and electric fences across the footpath and I was expecting to step into a hidden rhyne at any time. Thankfully I didn't! The first 10 miles into, through and out of Bridgwater was almost entirely on the road too! On the plus side, I bagged a Kingfisher at Parchey Bridge, near Chedzoy. There were also several (4 or 5) Eurasian Curlews at Greylake Bridge.


Friday 18th July [Warm and sunny]

At lunchtime, I spent over two hours having a look around and counted 5 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, saw a Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Cheddar Water, but couldn't spot the Lesser Scaup. There are even more Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula than at the weekend, and there are many large flocks spread around the lake. I spent another hour and a half in the evening checking Burmah Road and North Shore flocks without finding it either.


Saturday 19th July [Thundery]

A surprise adult Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (5th record) was on the dam at lunchtime, with at least 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos feeding around the vegetation growing out of the wall too. Sean Davis reported a Common Redshank Tringa totanus at Green Lawn and a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago over Holt Bay. The road over the dam has been opened again now.


Sunday 20th July [Warm and sunny]

This evening I saw 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis. The Greylag x Canada Gose hybrid is still present with the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock (circa 100).

Later, I walked one of my Nathusius's Pipistrelle transects. I didn't record any Nat Pips, but on the return walk to the start, with the recorder in heterodyne mode, I was deafened by continuous echolocation calls from several species of bats all the way - amazing!


Monday 21st July [Warm and sunny]

I have no news from the lake today.

I was walking again and, having decided to abandon the Summits of Somerset and Avon as a bad job, made my own route from Nythe (near Street), to Walton Hill for a Polden Hills ridge walk to Windmill Hill (Hood Monument) over the moors to Glastonbury, were I took in the Tor, met Ce for a cuppa and some lemon drizzle cake, before walking along the old railway line to Ashcott Corner in order to take in Ham Wall RSPB, then over the moors again (where I was diverted because there was no bridge were the path showed I could cross a river, gr-rrr), along London Drove at Westhay Moor NNR, then over the hill at Mudgley to Wedmore. 23.3 miles in 8:10 hrs walking time! I've now done 399.6 miles since leaving Lizard Point, 30 walking days ago on 21st March.


Tuesday 22nd July [Hot and sunny]

This evening I saw 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and a (probable adult) Garganey Anas querquedula with 4 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca at Rugmoor. While chatting to anglers at Peg's Point, I counted 51 adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor from that one point alone, most of which were moulting non-breeders.

Then, I carried out a bat transect at Top End. No Nathusius's Pipistrelle calls were recorded, indeed, there weren't many bat calls at all, just lots and lots of Orthopteran stridulations, most of which were Dark Bush Crickets Pholidoptera griseoaptera.


Wednesday 23rd July [Warm and sunny]

Retrospective news of a Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra flying over the dam at midday on 19th July reported by Oliver Mockridge on the Somerset Ornithological Society website. Crossbills are very scarce at the lake, with the previous record being of a small group I saw (my first in 20 years) in 2011. Thanks to Mervyn Pearce for drawing this record to my attention. There was no other news from the lake today.

I walked the last stage from Lizard Point home this evening from Wedmore, via Cheddar Reservoir, Cheddar Gorge and Black Down where I saw a Nightjar to add to my trip list. In round figures I've covered 412 miles so far, in my quest to walk to the Scottish border in Northumberland during the year (so, incredibly, that's almost half way).


Thursday 24th July [Sunny and hot]

Dave Cottle (my trainer) and I met Sophie Edwards of Bristol Water this morning and went to see what turned out to be a Lesser Horseshoe Bat maternity roost on one of their properties. I had a look at Top End as I made my way back home and saw the Greylag Goose Anser anser, and a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. John Harris of the fisheries team stopped and told me he'd seen a large moth at the Pumping Station while emptying one of the ponds, so I went to take a look and discovered a ♀ Oak Eggar Lasiocampa quercus. When I got home there was a Silver-washed Fritillary flying around the patio, visiting one of the Buddleja bushes (our first garden record).

This evening there were 12 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Rugmoor Bay, and I saw a grey-backed Aythya off Rugmoor Point that was quite possibly the Lesser Scaup but I lost it, when it dived, before I could clinch its identity.


Friday 25th July [Sunny and hot]

An evening visit turned up 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, 2 broods of fledged Common Buzzards Buteo buteo (4 juveniles seen), 2 Tawny Owls Strix aluco seen and 2 juveniles heard food-begging, and a ♀ Glow-worm Lampyris noctiluca at Ash Tree (a new kilometre square at the lake). Tony Donnelly told me he'd counted twelve one evening this week in the Pumping Station grounds, a known site. There were some Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Rugmoor Bay, but they were very difficult to view in marginal vegetation, which meant I couldn't count them accurately.

I stayed on at dusk to carry out a bat transect from Indian Country to Orchard Bay and recorded 2 Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii passes, one at Ash Tree and another at Orchard Bay (possibly the same bat).


Saturday 26th July [Light cloud and hot]

I had time for more of a look around this morning, and found the Aythya hybrid but no sign of the Lesser Scaup, which I have to conclude has probably gone. The Garganey Anas querquedula, first noted on the 22nd, was on the bank asleep at Rugmoor Bay again, with at least 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos dotted about, and I saw a very young Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus riding on the back of one of its parents at Paradise (so presumably another new brood). Curiously, there was an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis at Top End which was either asleep or sick close in to the bank.


Sunday 27th July [Cool and dry]

According to Rare Bird Alert the Garganey Anas querquedula was still present at Rugmoor this morning, and this evening, when I went to carry out a bat transect, I counted 6 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the south end of the dam. I recorded 6 Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii calls on the bat walk. I also saw 2 ♀ Glow-worms Lampyris noctiluca at a part of the lake where I didn't see any last year after the prolonged cold spring.


Monday 28th July [Warm and dry]

This evening there were 6 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos at the lake and a Black Swan Cygnus atratus had appeared in Holt Bay - over from Heron's Green, Chew Valley Lake, where I saw it when I drove past last Tuesday.


Tuesday 29th July [Hot and dry]

This morning I had a good look around the Top End but didn't see anything of note. At Green Lawn there were 2 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, with a Black Swan Cygnus atratus in Holt Bay.

The water level is currently 82%, but Bristol Water will not be pumping for the next few weeks while new pumps are fitted. A new building is also going up on the dam which will mean overnight arrivals on the dam wall will be unlikely to stick around during the day. Work is likely to be taking place throughout August. There are some margins for migrant waders to utilise, however, these will be subject to disturbance by anglers, so I'm not confident we'll have too many opportunities to find top birds as things stand at the moment.


Wednesday 30th July [Warm and dry]

Today was the first stage of my walk north from Blagdon to Northumberland. I completed 19 miles via the dam and Butcombe Bay, where I got Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos for the trip list, then headed out through Winford, past Barrow Reservoirs, to Long Ashton, through Ashton Park, down Nightingale Valley to Avon Gorge where I saw a Peregrine chasing gulls, then along the riverside track to Ham Green.


Thursday 31st July ['Spits and spots of rain' - I just hate that phrase]

I did a bit more walking, 9 miles, this time over the Avon Bridge, through Avonmouth and along Severnside which wasn't that great, and I have to sympathise with the birders who have this as their local patch day in and day out! Give me Blagdon every time...

To cap a great day, I had the absolute privelege to show Roy Dennis, one of the world's leading experts on Ospreys, around Blagdon, Chew and Litton this evening. He wanted to see the lakes, especially after the events of last spring. We also considered the suitability of each site and their respective surroundings for nesting Ospreys. An adult Hobby Falco subbuteo was hunting at Top End and we spotted the Black Swan Cygnus atratus in Holt Bay while we were looking around.

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