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Blagdon Lake Birds

November 2019 News

Saturday 2nd November [Persistent rain]

Even the ducks looked fed up with the weather today! A surprise at Cheddar Water was an adult ♂ Goosander Mergus merganser while I was looking for the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, which was on the dam. Also noted were 4 Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, 8 Wigeon Mareca penelope, 2 Teal Anas crecca, and a squealing Water Rail Rallus aquaticus at Top End. As I drove along the south road, I was appalled to come across 30 Pheasants Phasianus colchicus at Hellfire Corner. It seems the shooting fraternity are releasing more and more of these non-native birds into our countryside every year - at what cost to our resident species?


Sunday 3rd November [Early rain, sunshine, then more rain.]

Mark picked me up at 0430hrs this morning and drove us to Land's End through the pouring rain to see the putative Paddyfield Pipit (an Old World sp.), which was still in the same field at Sennen along with a Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens rubescens (from the New World). Thankfully, we saw both birds in less than an hour and a half before we had to come back home.

I went for a look at the lake, after a bite of lunch, and saw just the usual Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Great White Egret Ardea alba of note, plus a ♂ Goldeneye Bucephala clangula new in overnight.


Monday 4th November [Sunshine & showers]

Late afternoon was still and the light good, so provided good viewing conditions for the first time in a few days. However, there is still little to report on the lake, just the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Great White Egret Ardea alba.

I had a chat with bee-keeper friend John Smythe at the dam, and he was telling me that if bees make their winter store up almost entirely of Ivy pollen it sets off too hard for them to be able to use it in this part of the country, unless we have a wet winter when they will be able to make use of it to keep the colony going.


Tuesday 5th November [Dry & Cloudy]

I didn't get to the lake until late in the afternoon and my eye was immediately drawn to the gull roost, which was the biggest I've seen this autumn (November is often the largest of the year). There were lots of Herring Gulls Larus argentatus alongside the usual Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus, perhaps drawn there to feed on Holt Farm fields which have been sprayed with liquid manure over the last couple of days. I made the mistake of moving from the dam to the Lodge to scope the roost and found most of the birds were facing away from me in the northerly breeze. Also, a really heavy bank of black clouds appeared at just the wrong time making viewing even more difficult. I didn't spot anything unusual as a result and left the lake early in the gloom. Not my finest half an hour of birding!


Wednesday 6th November [Dry morning, then increasingly wet.]

An early afternoon visit turned up the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Great White Egret Ardea alba. The water level is continuing to rise and is probably about a foot off top level, so about 95% full by my reckoning. With no boats on the water, you'd be forgiven for thinking that conditions are right for some more waterfowl to drop in, and I know we have the disturbance caused by fireworks at present, but it patently isn't happening - yet!


Thursday 7th November [Sunshine & showers]

Again, just the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Great White Egret Ardea alba of note. The water level is up to the front of the Top End hide now.

Friday 8th November [Sunny but cold]

While looking for the Common Sandpiper on the dam (I didn't see it today) a gritter lorry come down the hill and turned around. I guess we're in for a cold night, and as the sun dipped behind the Mendips at 1600hrs, the temperature immediately started to drop quickly. The sunshine beforehand gave good viewing conditions, but I wasn't able to spot anything unusual. A newly arrived adult ♂ Goldeneye Bucephala clangula was feeding off Rainbow Point, and the Great White Egret Ardea alba was at Top End again. Two other observations were a Saw-wort Serratula tinctoria plant remarkably still flowering, and no fewer than 7 Grey Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis running around beside the Lodge entrance drive as I arrived.


Saturday 9th November [Pretty wet]

I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam this afternoon, but that is the extent of my news I'm afraid. I think the water will start going over the overspill in the next few days.


Sunday 10th November [A beautiful day]

This morning I drove Mark and I over to the Forest of Dean, and for the first time we saw the Great Grey Shrike that has been wintering at Crabtree Hill for the last few years. We were very privileged when it flew and landed on the top of a pine tree close by in the sunshine giving us an extraordinary view. We also saw a Common Darter still on the wing while we were searching for the shrike - it's the latest date I've ever seen one (previously 3rd Nov. 2011 at Blagdon Lake).

This afternoon we went down to the lake and were pleasantly surprised to see the Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End, and staying on in the hide as the sun went down, we saw a Kingfisher Alcedo atthis flash past and heard at least 4 different Water Rails Rallus aquaticus squealing in the flooded vegetation in front of us. Best of all though, while we sat there, we both heard one or more Bearded (Tits) Reedlings Panurus biarmicus 'pinging' near the water's edge in deep cover. Mark thought he saw one briefly, but we didn't get our binoculars on it before it disappeared into cover again. Hopefully they'll stick around with the water level up into the vegetation now.


Monday 11th November [Windy. Mainly dry.]

I got to the lake late in the morning, but the wind was whipping up the waves and making life pretty uncomfortable at Top End (not least in the hide). There was little prospect of hearing, much less seeing, Bearded (Tits) Reedlings given the conditions. What's more, the 2 juvenile/1st winter Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus were back at the lake causing mayhem. I watched them have a go at the resident pale Buzzard Buteo buteo at Flower Corner until it flew into cover at Top End then, over Rugmoor, they had a right old sparring match with another pair of Buzzards. When I left at lunchtime one was circling with menace over Holt Bay putting the fear of God into the Coots Fulica atra and Moorhens Gallinula chloropus out in the bay. I counted 74 Canada Geese Branta canadensis in Holt Bay too.

Late News: Jeff Hirst called me over as I was leaving and told me he saw 2 Otters Lutra lutra swimming towards him at Rugmoor Bay from Peg's Point last Saturday (9th Nov.) in the pouring rain. They swam to within 20 metres of Jeff before stopping and eyeballing him then they beat a hasty retreat. While we were chatting, he said the fishing has been good, with mainly large 3lbs plus fish, but the worrying thing is they don't appear to have much food inside them - mainly Daphnia. That's not good news for the waterfowl, and might help explain the mediocre number of Aythya diving ducks that are currently present perhaps?


Tuesday 12th November [Windy]

I didn't get down to the lake today, but Mark Hynam sent me the following news from a late afternoon visit he made: a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, 2 Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiaca flying west down the lake, and a couple of Water Rails Rallus aquaticus squealing in front of Top End hide, and about 250-300 Starlings Sturnus vulgaris flying to roost in the Home Bay reeds.


Wednesday 13th November [Sunny morning with rain setting in later]

Not much to tell today, just the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and the Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End. We were hoping to finish our bat box checks tomorrow (some deferred by Bristol Water access issues in October) but that has had to be postponed once again. The weather hasn't been kind this autumn, and the lack of access has spoiled what was becoming quite a good data set. A real shame.


Saturday 16th November [Sunny, dry & cold]

Mark went to the lake this afternoon and called me late on to say there was an amazing (by Blagdon standards) Starling Sturnus vulgaris roost forming in Home Bay reeds. He estimated at least 10000 birds were involved, and there was certainly a heck of a racket being made by them before they settled down to roost. We heard (and saw) a few Snipe Gallinago gallinago flying out of the marginal vegetation at Top End as dusk fell too. Earlier, he'd seen the pair of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm.


Sunday 17th November [Overcast]

Following last night's news of a big Starling Sturnus vulgaris roost at Home Bay, Mark went back with his video camera at first light hoping for some decent footage of the emergence. Unfortunately, most came out low and dispersed without putting on a show, but he felt confident of the number he suggested were in the roost last night. While he was there, he heard a Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti calling in the reed bed, saw a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, and watched 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta fly in over the dam and head up the lake. We will be carrying out the WeBS count tomorrow morning.


Monday 18th November [Bright & sunny with a chilly breeze]

Phil, Terry, Rob and I did the WeBS count this morning. Blagdon seems to be a black hole at the moment, what good birds there are seem to be turning up at Chew, Cheddar and even Barrow Reservoirs this year! The count was unremarkable, apart from the sunshine, and the details are on the WeBS Page. Best birds were the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and a singing Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti.

Phil Delve went to Barrow Res. #3 after the count to see the Long-tailed Duck and Black-throated Diver and found a Snow Bunting! There's a Whooper Swan at Chew today, but I haven't heard about the Green-winged Teal and Red-throated Diver. Time for me to hibernate I think...


Tuesday 19th November [Dry & cool]

Today, I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, the pair of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiaca on Holt Farm, counted approx. 170 Canada Geese Branta canadensis at Paradise, and heard a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus squeal in Pipe Bay reeds.


Wednesday 20th November [Dry]

I didn't have time to visit the lake today, but Philip Smith emailed to say that he saw a Red Kite Milvus milvus at about 10.30hrs "over the fields behind us, being mobbed, and then it flew down towards the lake. Unmistakable with its V tail, and we have seen a lot of them around Reading this year."


Thursday 21st November [A cold breeze]

I decided I needed some 'me time' this morning and got up and went down to the lake to reconnect with nature and enjoy some of the therapeutic sights and sounds, on foot. The wind was whipping the waves up the dam wall, but the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was in the relative shelter at the south end. As I walked into Lodge Copse I heard the unmistakable call of a (Lesser) Redpoll Carduelis cabaret as I looked up into the birch trees, but I couldn't spot it. I was able to count the Canada Geese Branta canadensis properly today, and made it 176, so Tuesday's estimate was satisfyingly close. There were just 3 adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor left on the lake, and 58 Wigeon Mareca penelope at Top End today. I was really pleased to see the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid back in Wood Bay (I must check how many winters it has spent with us now - first noted Dec. 2014), and I spotted a roosting Snipe Gallinago gallinago at Top End, after not seeing any on the WeBS count. My final note was of a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita in the hedge at Top End that just wouldn't afford me a decent view through the bins, even though its continual calling made it easy to keep up with. I gave up after 20 minutes in frustration, but it was great to be out enjoying a decent walk for the first time in four months.


Saturday 23rd November [Still, dank and dark all day.]

This afternoon I had a short walk at the lake from Wood Bay Point to Top End and back. I found what I presume was the same Chiffchaff that I heard and glimpsed yesterday. I had good views of a warm brown and buff-flanked bird that had no hint of yellow-green tones in the light I was watching it in. Interesting, but the two calls I heard today were standard Phylloscopus collybita collybita to my ear. Some photos in better light might be more enlightening.

I had seen the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, as usual, when I arrived, and met Mark while I was walking. He spent some time scanning the waterfowl from Rainbow Point and counted 8 Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula. We met up again later to watch the Starling Sturnus vulgaris roost come into Home Bay reeds. It was an amazing spectacle, with a fly-over Peregrine Falco peregrinus and at least one, if not two, Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus hassling the incoming birds. I reckon there were no fewer than 5000 Starlings, but there could have been more, as many stole in very low unseen from our viewpoint. The reed bed had been partly flattened, no doubt due to the number of birds that have been coming in on a daily basis, so the roost may already be in decline. Perhaps, they'll move to Pipe Bay rather than abandon the lakeside?


Sunday 24th November [Mild & grey all day]

Mark Hynam and I had agreed to meet up again this evening to photograph the Starlings coming in to roost, but he rang me while I was getting my cameras ready to say he'd found a Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus with the Canada's Branta canadensis at Peg's Point. I met him there, just after they'd flown off the lake into a neighbouring field. The light was going rapidly, but we agreed it looked like an adult (brown type) and didn't appear to have a ring on either leg. This is just the right time of year for one to turn up, and a cracking find for Mark. I believe it to be the 7th lake record (more details on the Pink-foot Page). Mark also heard 2 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita before finding the goose. He thought both gave the nominate P. c. collybita call.


Pink-footed Goose, Grove Farm. 24th Nov 2019.Pink-footed Goose, Grove Farm. 24th Nov 2019. 

 Taken at 1605hrs, in the dark, so 1/50th sec, f4, ISO800 was the best I could manage.


Monday 25th November [I was going to write showers, but let's just say wet - again!]

The adult Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus was with the Canada's Branta canadensis at lunchtime, but they were well out of reach of my camera lens. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam and the adult ♂ Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid was off Peg's Point. I wrote that there were just 3 Mute Swans Cygnus olor (all adults) on the lake last Thursday, well, today there were none, save for a dead adult at Holt Bay that looked as if it had been killed by another Mute Swan. When I saw the 3 last week, a pair were continually hassling a lone bird, so they were probably the culprits.


Tuesday 26th November [Mild with sunny spells]

I was busy most of the day but allowed myself time to get down to the lake in order to look for the Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus and photograph the Starling roost. That didn't go well - the Pink-foot was seen by Richard Mielcarek before I arrived, but then skipped over to Chew, and there were less than 100 Starlings Sturnus vulgaris into the roost. Most of them appeared to fly straight up the lake towards Chew too!


Wednesday 27th November [Showers]

Not much to tell today. I counted 162 Canada Geese Branta canadensis in Holt Bay and saw a pair of adult Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay. There were over 2000 Gulls on the lake too, probably attracted by the work in the fields on the North Shore.


Friday 29th November [Cold & sunny]

Mark Hynam and I walked the lakeside today from 0910hrs to 1430hrs trying to find Chiffchaffs, and more especially a Siberian Chiffchaff. We found two Chiffs, but neither called and we didn't get prolonged views of either of them. We saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Indian Country, the pair of Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiaca in Holt Bay, a ♀ Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla in Lodge Copse, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, 34 Teal Anas crecca, just 2 Snipe Gallinago gallinago, 4 Shovelers, and heard 2 Water Rails Rallus aquaticus.

However, at Top End I spotted a ♀ Aythya with a huge well-defined white face blaze. We couldn't do much with an identification through binoculars as it was on the far side of the lake. We decided to leave it and walk back to the cars at the Lodge. We drove back and I scoped it for ages, but it remained asleep! We each went our own way, but after some soup and a cuppa I went back with my camera. The bird had woken up by then, but I really couldn't make a positive identification. It was the size of a Tufted Duck, but was essentially golden brown, especially the head (with paler ear covert patches), neck, mantle, and breast. The mantle was concolorous with the breast, but the flight feathers appeared darker. As noted earlier, there was a well-defined face blaze, a brownish eye, grey bill with a black nail, that may spread slightly and grey legs and toes with darker grey webs. The belly was whitish with a brown vent and speckled black undertail. The size suggested a possible Lesser Scaup, but the head shape was wrong, and there was no sign of any frosting in the flanks or mantle feathers. The head shape and extensive face blaze suggested Greater Scaup but the bird was surely too small. So, was it just a Tufted Duck? I suppose it could have been, but the head shape, bill pattern and extensive blaze was unlike any I've seen on a Tuftie. So, that leaves us with a probable hybrid, but what? I saw it wing flap a few times at dusk, but in truth it was too dark to decide if the colour of the panel in the primaries was grey or white. Perhaps I might get some pictures tomorrow, it might help - but it might not! Here's the best I could do this evening; it will give you a sense of what we were looking at.


Aythya duck, Top End. 29th Nov 2019.Aythya duck, Top End. 29th Nov 2019. 

 Saturday 30th November [A cold wind]

I couldn't find the mystery duck today! However, I did manage to spot the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, a Great White Egret Ardea alba, and 2 groups of Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flying east (25 birds) before going home for a hot drink to warm up. Mark decided to see if any Starlings Sturnus vulgaris came in to roost, and said although there was no aerial show, he reckoned about 2000 flew in. It was perishing by the lake.

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