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Blagdon Lake Birds

March 2020 News

Monday 30th March

I saw at least 1, probably 2, Great White Egrets Ardea alba today, and spotted my first Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta in flower along Blagdon Lane.


Thursday 26th March

I had a phone message from Laurence of the Bristol Water Fisheries team to say he and Martin had both seen an Osprey Pandion haliaetus over the lake during the morning. I spent quite a time with my bins scanning the airspace over the lake from my house/garden but didn't manage to connect with it. I did, however, see both Raven and Peregrine over the garden during the day.


Wednesday 25th March

This evening there was a female Goosander Mergus  merganser and a pair of Gadwall Mareca strepera off the dam, plus a very visible Great White Egret Ardea alba standing in a pine tree at the other end of the lake.

While working in my garden I saw a Red Kite drift over Street End and away towards Burrington Ham, had a visit by a female Brambling to the sunflower hearts we put out onto the patio for the finches (feeding on the ground reduces the risk of them passing on disease), and uncovered 2 Hawthorn Shieldbugs in log piles.


Tuesday 24th March

The wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam wall, where I also saw 2 Peacock Aglais io butterflies sunning themselves. The first period of Covid-19 'lock down' is now over, so I have decided to post sightings made on my 2 mile daily exercise walks during the 3 weeks in question. I have followed government advice to stay at home, making only one daily foray to the far end of the dam and back, aside from two longer walks made for my mental well-being! The news is fairly scant as a result, but it has been possible to see the arrival of some of our summer visitors.


Monday 23rd March [Bright & sunny]

The reservoirs are now closed in line with government advice. See this news item on the Bristol Water website issued today:

"We’ve made the decision to close the car parks at our reservoirs and lakes from Monday 23 March. Given the current Government advice around social distancing we feel this is the best thing to do to help stop the spread of coronavirus. It’s with a heavy heart that we do this, as we know being able to go for a walk in nature is very important at this time for well-being. And although lots of people have been responsible around the lakes over the weekend, we’ve seen large numbers of people not keeping the appropriate distance. All of the businesses around the lakes will close for the time being. This includes Salt and Malt and the Woodford at Chew Valley Lake. We’re doing everything we can to encourage people to stay at home in line with the Government advice to help stop the spread of coronavirus."

The following was also posted today by Bristol Water Fisheries team:

"Bank and Boat fishing suspended at all Bristol Water Fisheries. Due to the ever-increasing concerns surrounding the spread of the covid-19 virus we have sadly made the decision to cease all fishing activities at our waters in effect from 7:30pm today. Bank and boat fishing will cease until further notice."


Sunday 22nd March [Mainly sunny but still with that chill wind]

I am absolutely dumbfounded by what I've witnessed this weekend. People, dogs, more people than I've ever seen at the lakeside, many of whom can't read signs in plain English, or who choose to ignore them. I suppose if they're going to ignore the government advice of social distancing in these difficult times, then why should I be surprised that they ignore Bristol Water signs? Fellow warden Mark and I spent about half an hour at the lake this afternoon, and I guess we saw and spoke to at least 30 people who were trespassing. There were 5 dogs on private land, 2 of which weren't even on leads despite signs saying 'strictly no dogs.' I can't enjoy my bird watching in those circumstances so, as of tomorrow, I will be self-isolating with my wife and mother, and as I can't be sure of visiting the lake and being able to stay healthy, I will not be reporting for the foreseeable future - I hope those of you who follow my blog will understand why. To my friends - keep yourselves safe.


Saturday 21st March [Mainly sunny but with a chill wind]

By 'eck there were lots of people about today! Fellow warden Mark and I walked the south side of the lake to Top End, and back to the Lodge. I heard the Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla singing again at Lodge Copse, and we both saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba (yellow bill) at Top End and a Snipe Gallinago gallinago at Holt Bay. But, as usual, all the birds we'd have liked to have seen were everywhere else except Blagdon. It's depressing birding Blagdon - anyone wanna buy some new(ish) bins?

The female Brambling spent quite a bit of time on our patio this morning with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches that come for their daily dose of sunflower hearts.


Friday 20th March [Spring Equinox - pretty windy & chilly]

I wasn't able to spend much time at the lake today, but I did manage a quick look at dusk. It wasn't terribly exciting, I saw 12 Mute Swans Cygnus olor. Phil Smith emailed me some pictures of a pair of Stonechats at Park Batch, saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and a Kingfisher Alcedo atthis fly across Butcombe Bay. 

False Oxlip, Top End, 28th March 2005.False Oxlip, Top End, 28th March 2005.


Wednesday 18th March [Mainly overcast]

I 'wandered lonely as a cloud' this morning from 0730-1000 hrs from the Lodge to Top End and back and heard 11 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and saw another 4 that weren't. I'm pretty sure I heard a couple of bursts from a Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla (wintering?), was serenaded by 2 Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos, a Nuthatch Sitta europaea, and even managed to hear a Treecreeper Certhia familiaris. I counted 54 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, saw 4 grey geese flyover and head SW that I presume were Greylags but couldn't really be sure, 10 Mute Swans Cygnus olor, 5 Sand Martins Riparia riparia, 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major drumming, 3 Wigeon Mareca penelope, and a Great White Egret Ardea alba (black bill). Breeding activity included 40+ Rook Corvus frugilegus nests being built, and a single Coot Fulica atra platform. The Primroses Primula vulgaris have been putting on a show and, as I commented the other day, the Cowslips Primula veris are starting to flower, so it was little surprise to me that I spotted a couple of the hybrids, known as False Oxlips, flowering as well today. I checked the gull roost this evening, such as it was, there were just 40-50 large gulls, mainly Lesser Black-backed Larus fuscus, but sadly no american visitors. I also counted 24 Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and 22 Sand Martins Riparia riparia from the dam in the drizzle and gloom.


Monday 16th March [A lovely sunny day]

I only had time for an hour at the lake before dark. I saw a single Great White Egret Ardea alba with a black bill at Top End, 2 sleeping Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay, and a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus on a couple of occasions. The Rooks Corvus frugilegus are getting busy building their nests now, and we appear to have 2 rookeries in the making this year.

I was keeping an eye on the birds visiting the patio for the sunflower hearts at lunchtime and spotted a female Brambling. It was my first sighting of one this winter.


Sunday 15th March [More pouring rain!]

I spent 2.5 hours in the pouring rain looking for the Slavonian Grebe, and Mark was looking for a bit longer than me, but all to no avail. It seems to have moved on, which is bad news for my Patchwork Challenge list this year. The only birds of note were 4 Great White Egrets Ardea alba. Mark and I saw an American Mink Neovison vison run across the Lodge car park which is bad news for the breeding waterfowl.


Saturday 14th March [Drizzle early & brightening later]

Mark had a look at the lake early this morning and saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba in the wet, gloomy, conditions before stopping by to pick me up. We headed down to the Plym Estuary where we rolled up and saw the Ross's Gull, that had been present for a while, straight away. I'd seen one in the UK before and that was from the same spot 18 yrs earlier! As we'd been so lucky, we decided to head on into Cornwall. We stopped at Philps in Hayle for a pasty (or two), and then headed on to Newlyn Harbour where we saw the wintering Iceland Gull and a couple of Eider Ducks but dipped on the Black Guillemot. The afternoon was wearing on and the tide had turned, so we were hoping to connect with the Ring-billed and Caspian Gulls as it swept back into the Hayle estuary, but despite searching from Lelant Station, Copperhouse Creek and a few other vantage points we didn't spot either before we had to leave for home. Never mind, we'd seen some nice birds, visited a few familiar old haunts, and enjoyed the sight of Three-cornered Leeks lining the Cornish lanes as they herald the arrival of Spring. An amazing effort on Mark's part to drive the whole way and I'm glad he got his ticks. 


Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis, Peg's Point © Paul Williams, 2020Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis, Peg's Point © Paul Williams, 2020


Paul Williams rang me after he'd found the Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis that had gone missing from Chew. His hunch that it might have come over to Blagdon was rewarded when he spotted it off Peg's while scanning from Rainbow Point. He went over to the north shore for a closer look and sent me this nice picture he got there (thanks for the head's-up mate). It's the first reported since 2013. I hope it sticks tonight! He also saw a Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus at Top End as he was leaving. Another update from Mike O'Connor as well; he saw 2 Redshanks Tringa totanus on the dam wall at 1700 hrs yesterday. I think I'll give up this birding lark - I'm always in the wrong place. 


Friday 13th March [Mainly dry & fairly mild.]

I spent the day at the lake with Ken today, checking and cleaning the bat boxes. We found 13 Soprano Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus, a Noctule Nyctalus noctula and 5 Lesser Horseshoes Rhinolophus hipposideros. While we were there, we saw 3 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, and on the way home I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. Among the flowers were the first Cowslips Primula veris of the year, some deep, blue-flowered Sweet Violets Viola odorata, and we also saw a yellow Jelly Fungus Tremella sp. probably T. mesenterica, which has several common names e.g., Yellow Brain, Golden Jelly Fungus, Yellow Trembler, and Witches' Butter. After a swift cuppa when I got home, I got a call to go over to Chew to finally catch up with the Laughing Gull. Thanks to Alan Bone for the call, and while I was there, it was nice to have a chinwag with a few local birders I haven't seen in a while.


Thursday 12th March [Windy. Mainly dry.]

I visited the lake twice this afternoon, spending quite a bit of time checking the couple of hundred gulls that came in later on. They were mainly Black-headed Chroicocephalus ridibundus and Common Gulls Larus canus with a few larger gulls thrown into the mix. I also joined the throng at Heron's Green, Chew Valley Lake for a while, but I didn't catch up with the Laughing Gull. Needless to say, it was found at Woodford Lodge as I sat down for my tea, so I dipped again! There were 3 Great White Egrets Ardea alba at the lake during the afternoon, but I didn't spot anything else of note. The first day of boat angling was cancelled today due to the wind, but I think we can expect them to be out tomorrow. I'm also due to be doing the long-delayed cleaning and inspection round of the bat boxes with Ken Anstey tomorrow.


Wednesday 11th March [Sunny spells]

News of a 1st-winter Laughing Gull photographed at Chew Valley Lake yesterday afternoon, urged me to go to the lake early'ish this morning to see if there was any sign of it there. Two hours of scanning gulls and raptors didn't turn it up unfortunately, but I did see 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, 2 Sand Martins Riparia riparia flying west, and up to 13 Buzzards Buteo buteo in the air at any one time from my chosen vantage point on Green Lawn. I'll go back again later, when the gulls come in to bathe during the afternoon.

No sign of the gull at Blagdon this afternoon, but it did reappear briefly at Heron's Green, Chew Valley Lake, before disappearing into the ether again. I spent time this afternoon looking through the gulls as they came in to bathe, but at around 1600-1615 hrs I was rather taken aback by a pack of foxhounds coming through the woods on the north side of the spillway (Bristol Water land) before spilling into the road in front of my car and making off towards Aldwick and Butcombe at a rate of knots closely followed by a quad bike and several 4x4. It's high time, in this day and age, this illegal activity was stopped. I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam while all the mayhem was going on.

The Laughing Gull was subsequently relocated from Woodford Bank, Chew Valley Lake, at around teatime.


Tuesday 10th March [Rain until mid-morning. Windy.]

It was the 5th consecutive day that I got a lake year-tick after none in February! Today, I saw a Peregrine Falco peregrinus at Top End that was the size of a typical ♀ but quite brown on the back. I didn't manage to get any other ageing plumage details in my brief view, but assume it was probably a 2nd-calendar year bird. And, talking of 2nd-calendar years, I also saw what I presume to be the same Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus noted on the 6th of March, this time at Rugmoor Bay, and think it too was probably this age and not an adult female after all. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam and there were 2, mobile, non-breeding Great White Egrets Ardea alba moving around the top end of the lake.


Monday 9th March [Dry, then rain after lunch.]

Phil, Terry, Rob and I carried out the WeBS Count this morning, luckily finishing just before the rain set in. While we were sitting in the Top End hide, Rob spotted 4 Sand Martins Riparia riparia flying through to the west, that I managed to get on to as well. These were undoubtedly the highlight of the count! Yesterday's Scaup had moved on, leaving just 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos as the other birds of note that we logged. Along Butcombe Bank footpath, I saw Sweet Violet Viola odorata (white form), and Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa in flower. Full count details are on the WeBS Page.


Sunday 8th March [Sunny early morning]

Andy Mears reported a ♂ Scaup Aythya marila off Green Lawn this morning, and it was still there until 1400 hrs at least. There was only a single Great White Egret Ardea alba on Rugmoor Point, and Mute Swans Cygnus olor were up to 10 adults. Mark and I saw a few Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and spent time watching two, one of which had jet black legs and the other had paler, almost brownish legs. There were lots of Buzzards Buteo buteo displaying and soaring in the patchy sunshine, and I'm sure I saw at least 15 while I was on site. We will be doing the WeBS count tomorrow, ahead of the fishermen coming back to site on Tuesday (the season ticket holders) and the general opening day on Thursday when the boats go out for the first time.


Saturday 7th March [Dry]

A busy day started with meeting Mark to have a look for migrants at the lake, and whilst we didn't see anything to set the pulse racing, I saw a pair of Shelduck Tadorna tadorna, that stayed all too briefly, and Mark saw the first Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus of the year at Burmah Road before we saw a pair at Holt Bay later. It appears that things are finally on the move with Spring just around the corner. We saw 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos as well, before meeting up with Ken Anstey to do some bat work.

We have two large hibernation boxes at the lake, which sometimes get used by a Soprano Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pygmaeus for over-wintering, but we wanted to install temperature and humidity loggers in both as one or other is likely to be used by very large maternity or post-maternity groups of Soprano's in the summer. We also wanted to drill holes to enable us to inspect them more easily with an endoscope before opening the door. The first box which Mark opened had a Noctule Nyctalus noctula in it, which we were able to work around to install the logger, but we elected to leave the drilling of a hole in that box for another day. Luckily, the other box was empty, so we carried out the work on that one ready for the new season. Let's hope they get used this coming year in order to allow comparison of the conditions inside the boxes during occupation. We also took the opportunity to clean some of the Dormouse boxes out that we put up a few years ago. Aside from birds, they don't appear to have been used by Dormice despite the coppiced habitat looking ideal, although on this occasion we did see signs of use by a Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus at least.

At lunchtime we decamped to Daniel Hargreaves' farmhouse on the Somerset Levels for a discussion about the National Nathusius' Pipistrelle Project this year, and for a catch up about his bat research trip to Costa Rica that Mark and I were supposed to be joining him on, before other events prevented either of us going. It was an excellent afternoon watching his wild bees using the home created for them and eating lunch while looking out of the window at Great White and Little Egrets with a Grey Heron on the wet meadows outside. Good company, good food, and a surprise birthday cake too! Nom, nom.


Friday 6th March [Sunny & dry]

Standing at the corner of the dam this afternoon, I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and 2 Pied Wagtails Motacilla alba yarrellii on the wall, plus a Great White Egret Ardea alba and Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (probably an adult female) on The Island. The harrier and wagtails were my first of the year at the lake, so that was a promising start, but although I added another 2 Great White Egrets, and saw 4 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, I wasn't able to add any spring migrants yet.

Ken Hall sent me the following news and must have been at the other end of the lake when I arrived: "Just to let you know that I saw a Red Kite Milvus milvus over the lake this afternoon, around 3 pm. It appeared from the Breach Hill direction, came as far as Rainbow Point, and then headed off towards the Mendips, just circling and drifting along in a leisurely manner." He also saw a Chiffchaff at Top End, which if it wasn't at Bell's Bush barrier where I saw 4 and was another on the total.


Tuesday 3rd March [Gloomy, wet & miserable]

I was able to see and count the 'large white birds' in the horrible conditions; 3 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and 6 adult Mute Swans Cygnus olor.  I didn't see much else though. There was a stunning ♂ Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea feeding along the south side road at Holt Copse that I watched for a few minutes, and I noted my first Early Dog-violet Viola reichenbachiana in bloom. However, I saw more Moorhens Gallinula chloropus fly off the wet farmland pastures onto the lake as I drove along, than birds on the lake itself, testament to the dire state of the countryside at present. Ken and I haven't yet been able to do our usual February round of the bat boxes, to clean and spruce them up for the coming year because of the weather and ground conditions. I dread to think what condition the lakeside meadows will be in after the fishermen come back to site on 10th March, unless things dry out pretty quickly.


Monday 2nd March [Dry & sunny]

Just 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba to report in a 45-minute visit at teatime. Nigel Crocker also had a look during the day and noted a Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus near the Spillway.


Sunday 1st March [Sunshine & showers]

Mark found a pair of Stonechats Saxicola torquatus along the hedge line at Long Bay today, and a second-year tick, a Kingfisher Alcedo atthis, flew past the Top End hide while we were there later. The number of Great White Egrets Ardea alba grew to 5 while we watched them. Two pairs, one pair with non-breeding bare part colouration and the other pair assuming breeding bare part colouration, plus a lone non-breeding bird which flew in to Top End. As we left, we saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and a pair of Goosanders Mergus merganser in Butcombe Bay. So, things are on the move - could we see our first Sand Martins this coming week?

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