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Blagdon Lake Birds

December 2019 News

Sunday 1st December [A cold wind]

My visit at lunchtime was pretty uneventful with just the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, a Great White Egret Ardea alba, and a pair of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiaca noted, until an Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus flew east up the lake calling at 1435 hrs, followed 5 minutes later by a flock of 20 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus.


Monday 2nd December [Cold & sunny]

I had a day out and went down to the Isles of Scilly to catch up with the Hermit Thrush on St. Mary's with Mark. I've seen them in the United States of course, but this is a first for me in the UK, and boy was it a poser!


 Hermit Thrush, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. 2nd Dec 2019.Hermit Thrush, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. 2nd Dec 2019.


Hermit Thrush, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. 2nd Dec 2019.Hermit Thrush, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. 2nd Dec 2019.


Hermit Thrush, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. 2nd Dec 2019.Hermit Thrush, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. 2nd Dec 2019. 

 Hermit Thrush, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. 2nd Dec 2019.Hermit Thrush, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. 2nd Dec 2019.


After spending over an hour watching it feed in the horse paddock among the Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos, we meandered up through Holy Vale, where we saw a Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus and loads of Goldcrests Regulus regulus, then down to Lower Moors before heading back to the airport for our flight to Land's End (where there's a very obliging Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros around the terminal buildings).


Tuesday 3rd December [Cold & sunny]

I managed a short visit to the lake late this afternoon and saw a (the) Great White Egret Ardea alba, 1000+ Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus at the dam end, and 9 (4♂♂) Goldeneye Bucephala clangula gathered to roost at Top End.


Thursday 5th December [Milder & dry]

I saw the Great White Egret Ardea alba at Rugmoor Point late this afternoon. I understand there was a sighting of a Cattle Egret at around 1330 hrs, but I don't know who reported it. If accepted, I believe it would be the 5th record for the site.


Friday 6th December [Windy, wet & Mild]

I went down to the lake for an hour around lunchtime and saw the Great White Egret Ardea alba and a juvenile ♀ Peregrine Falco peregrinus at Rugmoor Point, and I counted 329 Canada Geese Branta canadensis in Holt Bay. Two or three of the flock appear to have mixed parentage or gene abnormalities!

Rupert Higgins sent me lots of very interesting records as a result of his ecological survey work around the lake for Bristol Water this year. I hope to find time this weekend to go through them in more detail and add them to the growing species lists on the website. My thanks go to him and Bristol Water for agreeing to let me share them.


Saturday 7th December [Dry & mild early on, but wet & windy later.]

Mark Hynam went to the lake this morning after a visit to Barrow Reservoirs to see the divers. He found a number of Goosanders Mergus merganser, but after I'd joined him, we thought we saw others as well. At dusk, when I went to check the gull roost, I counted 10 Goosanders (1♂ adult, 1-w drake and 8♀♀) in Butcombe Bay, but given our earlier observations, there were certainly more because we saw at least 1 1-w♂ as well during the day. The Great White Egret Ardea alba was still present today, being frequently chased around by Grey Herons Ardea cinerea, an adult Greylag Goose Anser anser was in the Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock, and I counted 64 Wigeon Mareca penelope and a single adult Mute Swan Cygnus olor. The evening gull roost was quite large and I was going through the Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus with my clicker when the uncounted part of the roost got up off the water and relocated - I'd got to over 700 when that happened and couldn't be bothered to start again! There were probably over 2000 Black-headeds though. There was also a very impressive four-figure roost of Jackdaws Corvus monedula and Rooks C. frugilegus too.


Sunday 8th December [A wild day with frequent squalls, hail & thunder.]

A mid-afternoon visit brought me 2♀ Goosanders Mergus merganser asleep at Cheddar Water, and the Greylag Anser anser on Holt Farm. But the weather was the star turn to be honest. On leaving the Top End hide, the heavens opened and as I drove towards Hellfire Corner an almighty flash of lightning gave me quite a turn. All the Jackdaws Corvus monedula exploded out of the wood in front of me and hail started to fall with a vengeance. The noise was deafening in the car. The road was white by the time I started up Station Lane into the village and it got a little slippy. The fire engine was called out just as I arrived home, and the alarm company rang because our home phone line had been knocked out. That was quite enough excitement for a few minutes, and let's hope the emergency call out isn't for anything too serious and that no-one has been hurt.


Monday 9th December [Overnight gales, then a dry mild day.]

I got down to the lake late this afternoon and was pleased to see 2 (possibly 3) Great White Egrets Ardea alba and counted 13 Goldeneye Bucephala clangula at Top End as dusk approached. Unfortunately, I ran out of daylight to do the gull roost.

Burrington Combe is closed to traffic this week between 0800-1700hrs, and the resultant traffic is horrendous through the village, especially morning and evening. I couldn't get out of my drive for about an hour this morning!


Tuesday 10th December [Very wet & increasingly windy]

There was a very strong SSE wind blowing over the lake this afternoon, and there were huge numbers of gulls present, including a large roost in Wood Bay, separate from the usual one off the dam. Unfortunately, I was too late to be able to go through them and look for any rarities, or even just get some idea of numbers. However, I did see a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End in one of the very wet meadows, and the Greylag Anser anser. I'll be busy tomorrow too, getting my mum back home again after 5 months of hospital and reablement but, hopefully, I will get more time in the coming weeks to catch up with all the things that have been put on the back burner, and bring you more thorough news from the lake going forward.


Friday 13th December [Windy overnight & more or less throughout the day]

There was a mobile Great White Egret Ardea alba still at the lake, but despite the wind I couldn't find anything unusual, even among the gulls. The lone Mute Swan Cygnus olor at Top End was joined by another, presumably its mate, today - which begs the question where has it been in the meantime?


Sunday 15th December [Cool & mainly dry]

Mark Hynam spent most of the morning at the lake before coming up the hill for a cuppa to warm up. Afterwards we spent an hour together looking around, but the only notable birds to report were the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, the Great White Egret Ardea alba, and an adult ♂ Pintail Anas acuta. Tomorrow is WeBS count day - I started doing them at Blagdon on 13th December 1997, but Terry and Phil have been doing them since about 1989 they reckon.


Monday 16th December [Quite pleasant]

The WeBS team of Phil, Terry, Rob and I did our thing this morning but didn't come up with any unexpected finds. Best birds were still the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, the Great White Egret Ardea alba, and adult ♂ Pintail Anas acuta. Top count was of 1056 Coots Fulica atra, while just 4 Snipe Gallinago gallinago were located, and an incidental, silent, Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita was moving through bankside Willows with a tit flock at Top End. See the WeBS Page for count details.


Tuesday 17th December [Mild, with early rain.]

I met Dr. Mike O'Connor during a brief visit looking in vain for wild swans, and he told me he'd seen the Great White Egret Ardea alba, which somehow managed to elude my gaze.


Friday 20th December [Mild, murky & more rain.]

Will it ever stop raining? The roads and fields are awash. My mid-morning trip down to the lake was pretty uneventful. I saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Long Bay, and what was almost certainly the same one later at Top End. I counted 70 Wigeon Mareca penelope from the Top End hide and saw just one adult Mute Swan Cygnus olor. The year is fizzling out, and from a birding viewpoint, has proven to be a real damp squib. My worst, by some margin, in terms of species identified at the site.


Saturday 21st December [Nice early, then turning to rain.]

Mark Hynam reported the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, and a decent flock of Redwings Turdus ileacus today.


Sunday 22nd December [Showers]

Much of the day was taken up with an underground visit on Mendip to count hibernating bats, but after Ken had gone home, Mark and I had a look at the lake during the late afternoon. The best birds were 3 (2 adult ♂♂) Goosanders Mergus merganser.


Wednesday 25th December [Sunny]

Mark Hynam spent some time at the lake this morning and texted to say he'd seen 3 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 4 Mute Swans Cygnus olor, and 3 or 4 Lesser Redpolls Acanthis cabaret (the latter in Lodge Copse).


Natterer's Bat.Natterer's Bat.


Friday 27th December [Still, damp & misty.]

I was able to take a break from family duties this afternoon and met Mark who'd been at the lake since late morning. There wasn't a lot for us to report though. I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam and the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid in Wood Bay, while Mark had seen 2 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita before I arrived. We counted 7 Mute Swans Cygnus olor (5 adults & 2 juvs.), a flock of 66 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flying high to the east, saw a Snipe Gallinago gallinago fly out of Pipe Bay reeds, and heard 2 Water Rails Rallus aquaticus squealing at Top End.

As we left at the Lodge Entrance gate, there were 2 or 3 bats flying around the hedges at the Park/Dark Lane junction, probably Pipistrelle sp., and I saw another flying around the houses as I drove up Station Road into the village. No doubt, they've come out due to the mild evening - my car reckoned it was 11 Celsius.

Saturday 28th December [A light breeze, dry & mild.]

The Barn Owl boxes on poles were last replaced on 2nd April 2014, but they have taken a bit of a hammering over the years, so Melanie Patch, who keeps an eye on the owls, persuaded her husband Lionel to build two new ones, and after Daniel Barwise and I finalised the necessary H&S documentation last Monday, we got the go ahead to replace them with a new Barn Owl Trust design today. Lionel, Brian, Melanie, Mark and I spent the morning getting them up ready for the new season. With an aluminium paint covering to help protect the marine ply construction, they look quite something; as Mark joked, the owls will need to wear shades! The improved design should allow any young owlets to come out of the boxes and exercise their wings before attempting their maiden flight. Hopefully, this will prevent any mishaps with owls becoming grounded and subsequently predated in the hay meadows.


North Shore Owl Box.North Shore Owl Box.


Mark and I did a couple of other little jobs lakeside today and spent quite a bit of time birding late in the afternoon. We saw 3 (1 adult ♂ & 2 redheads) Goosanders Mergus merganser near The Island, 10 (1 adult ♂ & 9 brownhead) Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula at Top End (although there were others on the lake), 1 Lapwing Vanellus vanellus in flight to the west, a probable Little Egret Egretta garzetta in flight to the east, an adult ♂ Pintail Anas acuta, and 5 (4 adult ♂♂ & 1♀) Shovelers Spatula clypeata of note.


Monday 30th December [A persistent cold mist over the Mendips prevented the sun shining through on the south side of the lake until late afternoon. The North side was sunny most of the day!]

I arrived at the Lodge at sunrise this morning (0815hrs) and met Mark Hynam who was already there. We elected to walk the south side of the lake to Top End and back. By the time we got to the Hatchery we'd already logged 50 spp. and added another 6 on the way back. We left the lakeside at lunchtime for a warming cuppa and a slice of home-made Creole Christmas cake - yum! Mark went home, and later on, towards dusk, I returned to Top End where I heard a Tawny Owl Strix aluco in the distance, and several Snipe Gallinago gallinago calling as they flew out of the marginal vegetation. Pick of the morning sightings were 4 Lesser Redpolls Acanthis cabaret in the Birch trees in Lodge Copse, and 4 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita feeding together at Bell's Bush barrier. The Chiffs all looked like P.c. collybita and they were so busy catching midges we didn't hear any call.


Tuesday 31st December [Overcast & dreary]

Ken, Mark and I checked and cleaned one of the YACWAG bat box schemes today, and then moved two of the Kent boxes at Blagdon Lake. They've been up for five years, and I've never seen a bat using them. I'm really surprised, given the number of bats that use the lakeside there, however, we've relocated them to increase the survey effort in a new area. Mark and I stayed on after that to see if the new owl boxes have attracted tenants yet - sadly they haven't but given time I'm sure they will.

Tomorrow, we start a new year. I'm hoping it will bring more birds than 2019 did and, with the start of a new decade too, I sincerely hope that 2019 wasn't the sign of things to come as we teeter on the brink of mass extinction. Sadly, I fear the worst. But I'll be lakeside before dawn, as I'm ever the optimist, and looking to bag over 60 spp. to start the year off with a bang!

Nigel Milbourne © 2009-24. All Rights Reserved.