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Blagdon Lake Birds

May 2014 News

Thursday 1st May

News from Paul Williams as follows: "At about 1(3):30 today, the two Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis were about 15 foot off the bank at Holt bay. Fantastic views, I wish I had my camera. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. A couple of Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, again, good views of them singing in the top of the hedge. Jackdaws Corvus monedula still in the Tawny Owl box." Thanks Paul.

I walked the SWCP from Perranporth to Newquay plus into and out of town for food making a total of 17 miles. The Spring Squill was an absolute picture on many of the cliff tops.


Friday 2nd May

I received a text from Steve Hale to say the 2 immature ♂♂ Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis were off Peg's Point. Thanks Steve.

I walked the SWCP from Newquay to Porthcothan, an easy 10 miles. It was the day of the Whimbrels. We saw up to 9 birds at Porth Mear along the cliffs where they'd stopped off during their northward migration.


Saturday 3rd May [Sunny]

I have to apologise for not being able to post news while I was away in Cornwall, I couldn't access the B&B wi-fi. When I got home, I went for a brief look around before dark and saw the 2 immature ♂♂ Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis in Rugmoor Bay and a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.

Another day along the SWCP with more Whimbrels along the way, the biggest group of which was 11 birds. There were some fields behind the path that were signed as being given over to Skylark and Corn Bunting habitat under the management of the RSPB, and I was thrilled to hear and see a ♂ Corn Bunting singing from a fence post not 20 metres away from where I was standing. We walked nearly 14 miles today.


Sunday 4th May [Mainly sunny]

This evening there was no sign of the Long-tailed Ducks, though I did see 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. Weather permitting, I will be carrying out another singing bird survey tomorrow morning.

While I was away in Cornwall, Mrs YA laid a 3rd egg in the nest at Kielder Water. Thanks for the excellent news Joanna (see Kielder Ospreys Blog).

I spent most of the day at Folly Farm with Avon Bat Group members checking the boxes. We found two groups of Natterer's Myotis nattereri and, excitingly, a group of mainly ♀♀ Noctules Nyctalus noctula.


Monday 5th May [Cloudy with a rising breeze]

Once again, there was no sign of the Long-tailed Ducks so, unless they've popped over to Chew, I have to conclude they've gone. There were 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos at the dam end but precious little else on the migrant front to write about. I spent 3 hours lakeside this morning from 0730-1030 hrs surveying singing birds. However, I must say that this spring has been exceedingly poor for unusual passerine migrants, indeed, I can't think of any! No Whinchats, Wheatears, Redstarts, Flycatchers, Wagtails etc etc. They've either by-passed us, or, gone straight over.


Other species counted included 50 Winter Wrens Troglodytes troglodytes, just 4 singing Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus, 18 Robins Erithacus rubecula, 6 Dunnocks Prunella modularis, 11 Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus, 8 Great Tits Parus major, 3 Common Whitethroats Sylvia communis, 7 Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos and 4 Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis, but the list isn't exhaustive. Of note, we have no Willow Warblers breeding, and Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting numbers seem to be down, although they could still increase yet. I'm surmising that Blue and Great Tits are flat-out feeding young rather than singing late into the morning, hence the low counts.


Tuesday 6th May

Sorry, no news from the lake today.

I am back in Cornwall walking the SWCP. Just before reaching the start at Rock, I saw a Red Kite over the south end of Delabole from the car. Today, I covered 12.6 miles from Rock (ferry) to Port Isaac, making a short detour to visit St. Enedoc Church to see the grave of Sir John Betjeman. I saw Common Dolphins again, Wall Brown and Small Copper butterflies, and huge swathes of Bluebells along the cliffs.


Wednesday 7th May

Again, no news from the lake today.

I walked a real roller coaster section of the SWCP from Port Isaac to Tintagel, nearly 10 miles, but it took just shy of 4 hours! There was just a single Whimbrel of note along the way, and lots of Gannets close in along the cliffs.


Thursday 8th May

Steve Hale reported: c.1,100+ hirundines this morning. Ball-park split, 50 Sand Martins Riparia riparia, 800 Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica, 150 House Martins Delichon urbicum and 100 Common Swifts Apus apus. Paul Williams texted me with much the same. Thanks guys - you deserved something better given the conditions.

I walked the coast path again covering the stretch from Tintagel to Crackington Haven. I walked 12.5 miles in filthy conditions. A sea fog blew in all day limiting visibility to around 100 metres, until I got to Crackington that is, when it lifted! I saw very little, as you might guess, but would have spent a while at the Valley of the Rocks with my camera if the weather had been better. Bude tomorrow, then back home. Only 134 miles to Minehead now...


Friday 9th May

Although I was walking again today, I went to check that the lake was still there when I got back home this evening! It was, and I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the south corner of the dam.

I spent some time watching a pair of Dippers Cinclus cinclus feeding two young while eating breakfast at the Riverside Hotel in Boscastle. Then, back on the SWCP, I walked from Crackington Haven to Bude covering 10.9 miles. There were lots of Speckled Yellow moths in the sunshine and nearly every patch of scrub along the way had a Common Whitethroat singing from it.


Saturday 10th May [Windy with some rain showers]

There were thousands of hirundines and Common Swifts Apus apus over the lake (mainly Swifts and House Martins Delichon urbicum), a pair of Northern Shovelers Anas clypeatus at Burmah Road and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was still on the dam.


Sunday 11th May [Very windy with sunny spells]

The wind brought in 3 Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea and a single Common Tern Sterna hirundo today, the first of the year, and there was a bizarre report of a Red-necked Phalarope at Top End on the board in the Fishing Lodge (presumably written by a boat angler). Needless to say, I spent ages looking for said Phalarope without any success. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam as usual.


Monday 12th May [Showers]

There were 4 terns present again at 1100 hrs, that I believe were the same 3 Arctic Sterna paradisaea and single Common Tern Sterna hirundo noted yesterday.

I have been looking at the new BTO online resource Mapstore which draws on the information gathered for the various atlases (breeding and wintering) that have been published right up to the Atlas 2007-11. The decline of breeding species that I have spoken about recently such as Spotted Flycatcher, Cuckoo, Little Owl, Starling, Marsh Tit, Swift and Kestrel is shown beautifully if you click on the breeding maps relative abundance change button. But, there are some good news stories as well. Check out Hobby, Raven, Whitethroat and Song Thrush for example. It shows the value of the survey work that so many voluntary birders carry out, such as the Breeding Bird and Wetland Bird Surveys, and I hope that in years to come the younger generation continue the fantastic monitoring of our wildlife, in which the UK is probably second to none in the world, in order to inform the decision makers at local and national levels.


Tuesday 13th May [Mainly sunny with a few showers]

The 3 Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea and single Common Tern Sterna hirundo were still ranging around the lake this evening, and rather surprisingly 5 adult summer Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus flew through to the west. A brood of recently fledged European Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis were with their parents at Hellfire Corner making lots of noise begging for food.

I had a brief chat to Dave Wheeler who was convinced that he and another angler had watched a Red Kite Milvus milvus fly west along the lake mid-afternoon as well.


Wednesday 14th May [Warmer with just a gentle breeze]

The 3 Arctic Terns have moved on now the weather has improved, but the Common Tern Sterna hirundo was still ranging around during my 4 hour visit this morning. A pair of Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna flew in to Butcombe Bay before heading east along the North Shore and singing birds counted included 9 Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus, 4 Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus and 3 Common Whitethroats Sylvia communis. I saw a brood each of Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus and Common Coot Fulica atra which were new, and at least 4 new broods of Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. Later, Ian Hayes emailed to say he'd seen a family of Grey Wagtails Motacilla cinerea with at least 4 young along the public footpath at Butcombe shore this morning and this evening Alan Herring rang me to say there was a Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Burmah Road.

The sunshine encouraged a significant emergence of damselflies this morning and I saw a Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa at Top End, a species I don't see every year at the lake by any means. Marsh and Spotted Orchids are flowering in some profusion now that the Green-winged and Early Purple Orchids are going over.

I carried out the first of my May bat transects from the south end of the dam to Long Bay and recorded 8 Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii passes.


Thursday 15th May [Bright and sunny]

I was at the lake by 0630 hrs and did my BBS square ST5159 before breakfast. I saw nothing unusual except a small gull in adult summer plumage sitting out in the middle of the lake on its own. By the time I'd walked the half mile back to my car and driven back with the telescope it had, of course, flown away! It was almost certainly a Black-headed Gull, but you have to rule out Bonaparte's, especially at this time of year. There was no sign of the Common Tern, just a few new Reed Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus singing in places I didn't hear them yesterday.

Simon Mackie reported a ♂ Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix singing in an Oak Quercus robur tree by the Lodge at 1130 hrs this morning but there was no sign of it this afternoon at 1700 hrs. Simon also saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.

I carried out a Nathusius's Pipistrelle transect this evening.


Friday 16th May [Sunny and warm]

I spend all week looking for the arrival of Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata, turn my back for a day and Ian White finds one! I'm really delighted they're back, and it's fitting Ian should be the one to find them as they hold a special fascination for him. I look forward to seeing the fruits of his photographic endeavours with them again this year.

I drove down to Bude and walked 16.2 miles to Hartland Quay with Ann and Colin Lawry, which took nearly 8 hours (7 hours walking) due to the numerous climbs and descents all along the route. I think we climbed over 4000 feet. Sheep's-bit and Foxgloves are beginning to come into flower along the way as the Primroses finally begin to fade. I saw a Slow-worm, a ♀ harrier briefly over a Sky Lark meadow (probably a Montagu's), my first Green Hairstreak of the year and a number of Pearl-bordered Fritillary sp., none of which settled long enough for a photo in the warm sun.


Saturday 17th May [Sunny and warm]

Having been at RSPB Ham Wall checking bat boxes this morning, it wasn't until this evening that I got down to the lake. In the time I had before dusk I didn't see any birds of note.

I carried out another bat transect this evening which was dominated by Noctule Nyctalus noctula and Soprano Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pygmaeus passes.


Sunday 18th May [Sunny and warm]

I spent all evening at the lake and saw a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata in Lodge Copse and a new Mallard Anas platyrhynchos brood of 8 juveniles at Top End. We will be doing the WeBS Count in the morning.

Then, I did the third of the May bat transects from Hellfire Corner to Top End. Again, the transect was dominated by Noctule Nyctalus noctula and Soprano Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pygmaeus passes.


Monday 19th May [Warm with sunny spells and a stiff SE breeze]

At long last, vis mig at Blagdon as 8 Red Kites Milvus milvus come through during the WeBS Count and head off in a south-westerly direction over the village. I spotted the first one flying over Holt Copse while we were watching a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, and after running out of the wood we saw it join up with 3 others over Blagdon village and head off SW over the Mendips at 1220 hrs. Then, while watching a Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo at Top End, I picked up another coming in from high over Nempnett Thrubwell. Amazingly, 2 suddenly appeared at tree-top height over the Top End hide and another flew in high from the east (from the direction of Chew Valley Lake), all at around 1320-1325 hrs. This brought the total to eight in an hour! I have records of 9 previous Red Kites at the lake - only 4 of which are accepted records so far, which ought to put this mornings event into context. I stayed on after the count until 1515 hrs but there weren't any more.

Back to the WeBS Count, during which we only saw a handful of waterbirds, the best of which was, I suppose, our first Mute Swan Cygnus olor brood of 6 cygnets at Top End. Spotted Flycatchers were noted at Lodge and Holt Copses, with another heard at Hellfire Corner by Lucy Delve.


Tuesday 20th May

No news from the lake.

I arrived at Higher Clovelly, my base for a few days, just as a thunderstorm broke. It didn't bode well for a dry walk, but after my bus ride to Hartland I had a sunny stretch from Hartland Quay to Clovelly in the afternoon. I saw my first Silver Y moths of the year and half a dozen, or so, Grey Seals at Hartland Point, but it was the profusion of Red Campion and Bluebells that really shone today. It was also noticeable that there were a goodly number of Willow Warblers singing along the latter half of the walk too. Oh, and another milestone has passed, I've walked 500 miles of the SWCP by my reckoning (which includes diversions).


Wednesday 21st May

No news from the lake today.

I walked more of the SWCP from Clovelly to Westward Ho! The first half was through cliff top woodland before it opened out into fields and a hard path. I added a few woodland species to my trip list but nothing out of the ordinary. Another 12 miles in the bag.


Thursday 22nd May

No news from the lake today.

More SWCP today around the Torridge estuary, taking in Northam Burrows, Appledore, Bideford and on to Instow along the Tarka Trail. Easy, level, walking meant I did the 12.2 miles in less than 4 hours, and stayed dry which was a real bonus given the thunderstorms that were rattling around. I saw some new plants but Northam was, on the whole, rather disappointing. I'm really looking forward to Braunton Burrows on the next but one stretch. Tomorrow, I'm walking around the Taw estuary through Barnstaple to Braunton.


Friday 23rd May

A quick whizz around this evening didn't turn up anything new among the wildfowl apart from 3 Common Pochards Aythya ferina (2 drakes) at Top End.

I slogged along more of the Tarka Trail earlier, another 12.6 miles along the tarmac, except for a diversion along the sea wall at Isley Marsh, a spot I've visited in the past to see wintering Eurasian Spoonbills. I added Eurasian Curlew and Cetti's, Sedge and Reed Warblers to the trip list there, a Reed Bunting nearby and saw my first Common Coot just as I entered Braunton. Along the way I took some snaps of the preserved signal box and level crossing gates at Instow, and would have taken some of the thatched club house and scoreboard at the cricket ground if it hadn't been for the radio aerial and container that rather spoiled the scene. I reckon it would be hard for a birdwatching fielder to keep his eyes on the ball in an outfield which overlooks the confluence of the Taw and Torridge, especially late in the season.


Saturday 24th May [Cool with showers]

Again, a very quiet day at the lake. Canada Geese Branta canadensis have successfully brought off 4 goslings and I watched them swim right across the lake from Ash Tree to Rainbow Point, rather daringly, with the little ones line astern between the parents acting as bookends. Of course, with the showers, there were lots of hirundines and Common Swifts Apus apus over the water but with the water warmer than the air, I wouldn't have expected many midges to be hatching for them to feed on.

Ian White kindly sent me this enchanting picture of a young Tawny Owl he saw in the trees towards Top End today.


Juvenile Tawny Owl Strix aluco, Top End © Ian White, 2014Juvenile Tawny Owl Strix aluco, Top End © Ian White, 2014


Sunday 25th May [Windy with sunny spells]

I spent an hour or two beside the lake this evening and saw a pair of Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata at Top End (potential breeders perhaps?) and a pair of Common Shelducks Tadorna tadorna fly over from the east. I was going to carry out a bat survey on the north side of the lake this evening too, but decided against it with the strong breeze blowing across the lake.


Monday 26th May [Warm, still, and mainly overcast]

I saw a second brood of Mute Swans Cygnus olor with 6 cygnets, this time at Home Bay, and the Top End pair also have 6 youngsters (I reported 5 on the WeBS count). Canada Goose Branta canadensis numbers are starting to build prior to their moult. I counted 23 adults and 4 juveniles today.

I spent an hour or so looking for Narrow-bordered Bee-Hawks Hemaris tityus around midday, when the sun came out for a while, but as with last year I have yet to find any.

This evening I did a bat transect and met Jeff Hirst and Alan Herring who both told me a ♂ Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus was singing around the Indian Country area late this afternoon. And, rather more amazingly, after I finished my bat transect I heard a ♂ Water Rail Rallus aquaticus singing for the first time ever. I'd heard it during the last week but couldn't put a name to it so, at 2250 hrs, I recorded it. It's very different to the 'squealing pig' that most birders are familiar with in winter.


Tuesday 27th May [Overcast with an occasional thundery shower]

Not much to report I'm afraid. 32 Canada Geese Branta canadensis plus the family party at the lake, and unsurprisingly, given the conditions, there were lots of hirundines and Common Swifts Apus apus over the water. I heard a young Tawny Owl Strix aluco food begging along Butcombe Bank this evening while carrying out a bat transect. I didn't hear a peep from the Water Rail that was singing last night.

No bats were flying over the length of the dam at the start of the transect, but as soon as I started walking under the trees beside the water along Butcombe Bank I was absolutely surrounded by bats. Later, as I walked back to the start there were bats flying all along the dam under the cover of darkness.


Wednesday 28th May [Grey, with light rain for much of the day]

I didn't spend long at the lake today, due to the weather, and consequently have little to report. Likewise, Steve Hale also had a look around and sent the following: "3 Grey Heron, c.120 Swift, 1 Treecreeper (Top End trees), 1 Grey Wagtail (dam). Best I could manage Nige." It's quiet hereabouts!

I had a read through Joanna Dailey's Kielder Osprey Blog today and learned that White YA, who spent some time at Blagdon last year, turned 7 years old on 20th May. Apparently, he and Mrs YA can expect their first egg to hatch in the next day or two.


Thursday 29th May [Overcast]

I spent a couple of hours at the lake this afternoon and saw a 2nd-calendar year Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo hawking at Top End. I also heard the Garden Warbler Sylvia borin singing behind the Top End hide (it was showing really well yesterday) and Canada Goose Branta canadensis numbers were up again too.


Friday 30th May [Overcast]

I found a new Common Coot Fulica atra brood (4 juveniles) at Long Bay, but that was about the extent of the bird news I'm afraid. You can't see much from the Top End hide now that the marginal vegetation has grown up and boat anglers have been crowding into the Top End for the last few days anyway. I've walked the south side several times but with the high water level and tall grass you can't see many waterbirds. It's scope views from Rainbow Point if you want a wide view. We've had a fairly constant stream of Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus dropping in from the east to bathe in the afternoons, and there are hints that a few ducks are starting to move, just as the Canada Geese Branta canadensis have been this week. On the plus side, the meadows are absolutely stunning and with a few days of sunshine the invertebrates should be worth a closer look.

Chris and Helena Craig are running a Garden Bio-blitz from midday tomorrow for 24 hours (see the BBC Springwatch website) in their Compton Martin garden, and they have invited me and several other local naturalists to help them. I'm going to run a passive bat recording device as well as use the EM3+ around dusk. There will be moth traps run overnight and we'll be looking for invertebrates too - I'll concentrate on hoverflies for them. Should be fun!


Saturday 31st May [Sunny spells]

I did not visit the lake today!

Chris and Helena Craig's Garden BioBlitz was fun. We recorded lots of species from plants through to mammals. I ran two 125W Robinson Traps overnight and ran my SM2+ passive bat detector by their front door as well as using my EM3+ hand held recording detector. We had around 50 moth spp. and Common & Soprano Pipistrelles, Noctule, Lesser Horseshoe, a Myotis sp. and probable Serotine (to be checked).

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