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Blagdon Lake Birds

December 2021 News 

Friday 31st December [Very mild]

I made a short visit to replenish the feeders and look for the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, which I eventually found off Home Bay Point.

2021 has seen disappointing birding at Blagdon, not just because of our being excluded from the site early in the year due to Covid-19, but also due to the lack of migrants through autumn. I will be back tomorrow though, full of hope for a bumper year, my 31st birding at the lake, and my 60th since fishing it for the first time!


Thursday 30th December [Mild with showers]

Typically, one of the first birds I looked at when I reached the dam at the bottom of the hill, was the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis! It was feeding really close into the southern corner of the dam / Cheddar Water (see Tweets on the Home Page), and was still there when I walked home at 1500 hrs. A Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was feeding along the dam wall about 150 metres away, and when I got to Green Lawn to look through the throng of gulls, I saw a Common Sandpiper in flight there too, but I suspect it was probably the same bird. Despite walking to the Top End gate and back, there was nothing else to add to my report.


Wednesday 29th December [Overcast & blustery]

Back on the patch today, but there was precious little to report. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was back on the dam wall at Cheddar Water, and I saw a flock of some 70 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus wheeling around in the air on various occasions, no doubt being spooked by the Peregrine Falco peregrinus over Top End. I couldn't find the Black-necked Grebe and understand it may not have been seen yesterday either. The water level has come up a couple of percentage points since the overnight deluge and is currently around 72-73% I reckon.

The wet sheep field on Holt Farm attracted thousands of gulls, and I would say there were comfortably more than a thousand each of Black-headed Chroicocephalus ridibundus and Common Gulls Larus canus, but I couldn't find a sneaky rarity among them though.


Tuesday 28th December [Wet & windy]

I went on an away day to Lancashire with Alan and Mark, hoping to see the Belted Kingfisher at Roach Bridge near Preston. The drive was easy and uncomplicated in both directions, and we arrived at around 1000 hrs. I spoke to a guy in the preferred car park, who had just returned from site, and he said he'd stood for 3 hours in the rain for two glimpses of a few seconds each! We timed our arrival for the cessation of the overnight downpour and set off full of hope. After paying £10 each to the farmer to stand in the quagmire risking trench foot and the very real possibility of broken bones (none of us are getting any younger), we each managed a glimpse of the bird for a few seconds, at considerably greater distance than we'd have wished for, and in all our cases thanks to other birders letting us have a peek through their scopes (the viewing was very limited). We stood around until nearly 1500 hrs watching the river rise, knowing full well that the bird was almost certainly not going to come back to the swirling brown spate, having moved to a private fishing pond nearby, but hey, we'd gone all that way and we needed to give it a chance to give us a better view. As it turned out we waited in vain. Alan and I were glad we'd seen the species before, in the USA! However, being a 'lifer' for Mark, it wasn't the outcome he might have hoped for, but that's twitching I suppose. You pay your money...


Monday 27th December [Rain early & late]

I walked to the Top End and got a lift home from Mark, who I met there, as rain set in again late afternoon. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was in front of the Lodge, and around 55 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flew in while I was looking through the gulls. Although I checked through the waterfowl and bank side vegetation as I made my way to the hide at Top End, a Great White Egret Ardea alba scoped from Rainbow Point was the only bird of note. However, from the hide, I counted another 175 Lapwings, and no fewer than 47 Snipe Gallinago gallinago on Wookey Point. During my visit, I saw a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus, and 3 Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus, the latter a rarity at the lake these days, although possibly staging a comeback after a number of years with no, or few, sightings.


Sunday 26th December [Some light rain, then improving.]

I didn't get to the lake today. However, the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was reported to still be present near the Lodge.


Saturday 25th December [Mild. Steady light rain. Miserable.] Christmas Day



Mark was down at the lake early this morning hoping to see the Red-crested Pochards, but they weren't there. He saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Green Lawn before heading home cold and wet. I walked down later, across the dam to check out Butcombe Bay, and along to Rainbow Point and back home. I got thoroughly wet through and saw nothing to write in my notebook - not even the grebe! I'm back home now, toweled down, dry clothes on, and starting to help Ce with preparations for dinner. Happy Christmas to all our friends and acquaintances!


Friday 24th December [Increasingly wet]

Disappointingly for Mark and I, there was a report of 3 Red-crested Pochards Netta rufina (plus the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis) at Blagdon today on Avon Birds. I was busy taking mum to see a nurse this morning, so didn't get to the lake until late in the afternoon. It was belting down with rain and neither Mark nor I saw the grebe or pochards. Fingers crossed they stick overnight.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) website is carrying news of the latest update to 'Birds of Conservation Concern', in this instance BOCC5 (the last review was in 2015). It makes for a rather shocking read - a depressingly familiar story. It says:  "At 70 species, the Red list is now longer than ever before, and is almost double the length of that in the first review in 1996. New Red-listed species include Swift, House Martin, Ptarmigan, Purple Sandpiper, Montagu’s Harrier and Greenfinch... We also raise concerns over the status of our wintering wildfowl and wader populations, with Bewick’s Swan, Goldeneye, Smew and Dunlin also joining the Red list... There is also a worrying trend towards more of the UK’s regularly occurring species being classed as threatened with global extinction; with the addition of Leach’s Storm-petrel and Kittiwake, this increases the (Black) list to nine bird species." It goes on: "It is not all bad news. Thanks to successful reintroduction projects, the White-tailed Eagle moves from the Red to Amber list. Song Thrush, Pied Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, Redwing and Black Redstart also moved off the Red list to Amber... The UK has seen continued colonisation by new bird species, and we added four new breeding species (Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Bittern and Black-winged Stilt) and one non-breeding species (Yellow-browed Warbler) to this review. While we welcome these additions to our wildlife, we should simultaneously recognise that the arrival of new species here owes much to man-induced climate change."


Thursday 23rd December [Mild with rain showers]

It was a bit damp for my morning walk to Top End gate and back. I didn't see the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis on the way to Top End but spotted it on the way back in Home Bay. I counted 30 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba but couldn't find anything new among the wildfowl. I spent quite a bit of time looking through the groups of Teal Anas crecca, hoping to see the Green-winged Teal again, but even though I checked 255 or so, there was no sign of it unfortunately.


Wednesday 22nd December [Fairly cold with spitting rain late in the day]

After a morning shopping and running around, I got to the lake in the late afternoon. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was still feeding with the diving ducks between the Lodge and Green Lawn, and despite walking all the way to the Top End gate and back, I only added singles of Great White Ardea alba and Little Egret Egretta garzetta to my notebook in the deteriorating conditions.


Tuesday 21st December [Cold & dry] Winter Solstice

I'm a very unhappy birder today. I've waited all day since 0730 hrs for a British Heart Foundation furniture collection and they didn't turn up! We rang them and they said we told you it had been cancelled. We said no you didn't tell us. They said they'd find out what had happened and ring us back - guess what? They didn't even manage to ring back with an explanation... Rant over.

Obviously, I didn't get to the lake today, as a result of the above, so I was pleased to see and read on Avon Birds that Ian Duncan saw and photographed the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis.


Monday 20th December [Overcast with a strong & cool easterly breeze]

We welcomed Terry back to the WeBS team for the first time since covid restrictions were imposed. Phil, Rob, Terry and I carried out the count between 0930 -1300 hrs. The lake is about 70% full by my reckoning. We recorded: 1218 Coots, 832 Tufted Ducks, circa 350 Lapwings, 235 Canada Geese, 225 Mallards, 129 Gadwall, 103 Wigeon, 89 Pochard, circa 100 Teal (under count), 40 (13m & 27f) Goldeneye, 24 Moorhens, 22 (17 adults & 5 juvs.) Mute Swans, 21 Great Crested Grebes, 18 Shoveler, 12 Cormorants, 10 Little Grebes, 3 Buzzards, 2 Grey Herons, 1 Black-necked Grebe, 1 Great White Egret, and 1 Common Sandpiper. I also added 6 Siskins as I walked along the road at Hellfire Corner.


Sunday 19th December [Temperature inversion in the Yeo valley]

Mark came over to Blagdon early this morning, but he was enveloped in thick fog. He couldn't see more than a few metres off the bank. He came up to the house and we decided to go to Sutton Bingham Reservoir near Yeovil, where a 1st-winter Caspian Gull had been showing very well to admirers for the last few days. After a cuppa, we set off over the Mendips in thick fog, but by the time we arrived at Sutton Bingham the fog was much less of a problem, albeit it was still pretty dismal light. The bird was a few yards off the bank and showing well, especially when the occasional car pulled up and the occupants started throwing bread out to the birds (and spectacular number of sizeable carp that were patrolling in front of us). We took a few pictures and after an hour or so, set off back home. On the way back, the sun broke out and it became a beautiful afternoon. Heading back over the Mendips there were a few pockets of fog still to burn off, but as I turned down Two Trees towards Blagdon we could see the whole Yeo valley was filled with thick fog. What a contrast!


1st-winter Caspian Gull, Sutton Bingham Reservoir, Somerset. 19th December 2021.1st-winter Caspian Gull, Sutton Bingham Reservoir, Somerset. 19th December 2021. 


1st-winter Caspian Gull, Sutton Bingham Reservoir, Somerset. 19th December 2021.1st-winter Caspian Gull, Sutton Bingham Reservoir, Somerset. 19th December 2021.


On reaching base, Mark decided he was going to drive down to the lake on his way home, and I elected to walk to Top End hide and back, although I wasn't sure I was going to see anything. When I got to the dam, I couldn't see the other side of the lake through the gloom, so there was no chance of spotting much. In the event I did see a Great White Egret Ardea alba and some Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Top End, and 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta that looked as if they were going to roost for the night. There were lots of gulls calling, but they were presumably high above the fog as they headed towards the Chew roost. Weather permitting, we will be doing the WeBS count in the morning.


Saturday 18th December [Overcast & cold early, brightening up later.]

Mark was on site at 0730 hrs this morning and found the family of Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii off Rainbow Point. He watched them swim all the way to Home Bay Point looking for somewhere to feed, where they wouldn't get hassle from the resident Mute Swans Cygnus olor.

After that, he came up to the house and had a cuppa to warm up before driving us to Port Talbot in the hope of seeing the Pacific Diver that has been there for a few days. When we got there, unbelievably, Dean and Karen were parked next to us, the third time this autumn period we'd met them on a twitch. They'd had great views of the diver but said all the birders had been escorted off site by Police, so the prospects didn't look good for us. However, we did get to see it, although the views weren't that great. We also saw a Slavonian Grebe while we were there.

After another cuppa when we got back to Blagdon, we went down to the dam for a look through the gull roost. There was nowt unusual to see there, and although I had a scan with my scope, I couldn't spot the Black-necked Grebe anywhere near the Lodge.


Friday 17th December [A pleasant afternoon. Cool.]

I walked from the house to Top End hide and back this afternoon and counted 68 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in front of the Lodge with the usual gull species. As I got to Green Lawn I spotted the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis close to the boat quay. At Rainbow Point I could see a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End and rather surprisingly, the family of Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii in Wood Bay. I presume these are By-brook and Keynell with this year's youngster. From the hide I counted 10 Snipe Gallinago gallinago on Wookey Point and, when they all flew up, over 100 more Lapwings. 


Thursday 16th December [Overcast]

I was too busy to have a look around the lake today, but I did spend 10-15 mins at the dam with my scope and saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis off Home Bay Point, and a flock of circa 100 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in flight off Rugmoor Point.


Wednesday 15th December [Continuing mild & overcast]

I was at the lake from late morning until early afternoon today, in nice conditions for birding. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was still feeding in front of the Lodge when I arrived, and I saw a couple of flocks of Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flying about (over 100 birds in total). I carried out another very thorough search for the mystery 'scaup' seen on Monday and am pretty confident it is no longer present. Perhaps, it was the drake Scaup that has been at Chew? I have seen birds fly in from Chew on occasion, when they get disturbed, before returning there later. The only problem I have with that scenario is that the bird at Blagdon had quite a dark, barred back, more consistent with it being a Lesser Scaup or hybrid. It's a shame, but I guess we'll never know. There wasn't much else to report, apart from the welcome return of the family of Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii, the constant 'cronking' of Ravens Corvus corax throughout my visit, a single Great White Egret Ardea alba and 5 Snipe Gallinago gallinago at Top End.

Update: Rich Mielcarek has been in touch since my posting and has drawn my attention to a picture of a 'scaup' at Chew on Avon Birds which could well be the bird we saw at Blagdon. I haven't seen the bird in good daylight at Chew (just the photo), but Rich is suggesting it may be a hybrid too, and I think he could well be right (with the usual reservations about photo identification). I might have to get my passport out and take a trip to 'the other place' with my camera tomorrow...


Tuesday 14th December [Mild. Grey with some drizzle at times.]

I went down to the lake at 0730 hrs, and met Mark who had popped over before work, hoping to see the Bewick's Swans. Unfortunately, for him they had moved on overnight. My focus was to try and find the 'scaup' noted yesterday. I looked for three and a half hours without luck. I saw the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in front of the Lodge, 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, a Peregrine Falco peregrinus, and 200+ Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. I'd arranged to walk with friends who came over, so we walked around the lake following the footpaths and lanes. In the field with corn stubble behind the Top End hide I saw the flock of Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs again, and when they flew, I spotted at least one Brambling Fringilla montifringilla among them. Back from the walk and after a cuppa, I went back to the lake and had another hour and a quarter look for that elusive 'scaup'. Sadly, it wasn't to be. There were probably over 600 Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula on the lake, and they were widely spread, so it may still be present. I shall be counting ducks to get me to sleep tonight I reckon! I'll try again tomorrow, if I can summon the motivation.


Monday 13th December [Mild. Grey, & wet in the afternoon.]

They're like buses - none for ages then two at once! Today's standout at the lake for me was a family of 2 adults and a juvenile Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii. That's another new species for the year ticked off. I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and heard a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus squeal at Top End too. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was reported again although I didn't see it, because there was a pale-backed drake Aythya that rather grabbed my attention. I spent quite some time watching it and can't really draw any firm conclusion on its identity due to the distant views and poor light. I'm thinking it's probably a hybrid but will have another look tomorrow morning. On today's view, it didn't look quite right structurally, especially around the head. I couldn't get good enough detail in the bill - the difference between Greater and Lesser Scaup is marginal at the kind of distance I was viewing it from. However, in its favour, it didn't have the typical 'dipped in ink' bill tip of many hybrids. I saw three wing flaps. One the wrong way round, and two that suggested to me that the white in the underwing secondary panel bled into the primaries. A photo would be helpful, and weather permitting, I'll do that tomorrow. It reminded me more of a Scaup hybrid that I've seen at the lake in previous winters. If it is still present, I'll hopefully be able to sort it out one way or the other and put the word out. John Lewis saw the bird too and he was unable to draw any firm conclusion on identity with his views either.


Bewick's Swan family, Burmah Road. 13th December 2021.Bewick's Swan family, Burmah Road. 13th December 2021.


Sunday 12th December [Mild]

I received a call from Mark to say that a Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis had been reported on Birdguides this morning, just as I was about to go out of the door for my daily visit. Anyway, when I arrived at the Lodge it didn't take long to spot the grebe in Pipe Bay - the second of the year! The eye looked quite orange and pale, rather than deep ruby red. There was also a Lapwing Vanellus vanellus at Polish Water. Mark arrived, as did a couple of other birders, and we spent a while watching the grebe and checking the other waterfowl from the lawn. Then, I walked to the Top End hide and back, birding as I went, while Mark drove ahead. When I got to Holt Bay, I noticed a Pochard Aythya sp. with a dark back. It appeared to be the regular hybrid that has dropped in during each of the last few winters. At Hellfire Corner, I came across the small flock of Siskins Spinus spinus and Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis in the same trees I saw them yesterday, plus a Nuthatch Sitta europaea. I rang Mark and he told me that he was watching a large flock of Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs in the harvested sweetcorn field behind the hide. When I got there, he was peering into the trees above our heads at the flock, which promptly flew off into another tree a little way off. We scoped them and found a mixture of Chaffinches, Siskins, and Redwings Turdus iliacus. 

We saw 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba from the hide, and watched one spend ages trying to down a sizeable jack Pike Esox lucius. Amazingly, it eventually succeeded. I should think the fish weighed more than the egret! After scanning the Top End, we decided it was time to leave, as it was beginning to get late. I hadn't walked more than 100 metres when I spotted the Chaffinch flock in the field on the other side of the hedge and there, among them, was a spanking male Brambling Fringilla montifringilla. I rang Mark who was just going out through the Top End gate, and he came back just after the birds had flown up, some of them into the trees above me, and some back towards Top End. I was watching a female Brambling in the tree above as he got out of the car, but frustratingly for him it flew back down into the field. We peered over the hedge, and went into the field, but we were unable to find the Bramblings in the stubble before they flew off to roost. The Brambling was the 131st bird species reported at the lake this year, and my 130th - not one of my best by a long way!


Saturday 11th December [Wet. Driving drizzle for much of the day.]

I'd arranged to meet Melanie and Lionel this afternoon to inspect and clean the Barn Owl boxes they put up a year or two ago. We weren't able to do it last year with lock down coming at the critical time, so it was interesting to note that although Mark and I had seen a pair of owls come out of one of the boxes earlier in the year, they had clearly not attempted to breed in the box, for whatever reason. The other box was used last year, but it seems that it has only been used by a single owl this year to roost in. At least another three boxes on private property in close proximity to the lake had Barnies in them during the year, but it doesn't seem to have been one of our better breeding years.

Mark joined us, and he and I had a look around while we were there, but the only notable bird to report was a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End. However, I did see a small mixed flock of, a dozen or so, Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis and Siskins Spinus spinus at Hellfire Corner, and later another of 30-40 Siskins near Top End hide. The Green-winged Teal was found back at Chew Valley Lake during the week, so in retrospect it's hardly surprising I couldn't find it last Wednesday. Apparently, it showed well at times today in front of Moreton Hide.


Wednesday 8th December [Storm Barra overnight, then windy with sunshine later in the day.]

As the sun came out, I went to see if I could find, and photograph, the Green-winged Teal that had been at the lake for the last two days. I spent over an hour and a half looking through several groups of very easily spooked Teal Anas crecca, but was unable to locate the american bird. That's not to say it's gone, but because they are using marginal areas very close to the road, where they are often hidden from view, walking always seems to flush them. So, I tried using my car as a 'hide' today, but the teal always flew when I got closer than 100-200 metres and often reacted to the vehicle long before I'd even seen them. Having carefully scrutinised groups in Long, Holt and Wood Bays without any luck, I didn't wish to prolong the disturbance, so I left them to their own devices.

It was still pretty windy on site this morning and the lake had come up a couple of inches, with the Top End brown with overnight rainwater run-off. However, I noted a drake Pintail Anas acuta at Rugmoor Point, and 18 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa that initially flew past me at Green Lawn, and which I later relocated in front of the Lodge, before I left for home.


Tuesday 7th December [Windy. Wet around the middle of the day.]

Mark and I met at around 0830 hrs this morning to look for the drake Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis. It took us around an hour and a quarter to locate it, in Long Bay as it turned out, but no sooner had we seen it through the scopes and turned to get our cameras out, when it disappeared again! Another quick search failed to locate it, and with the rain coming down harder as the weather deteriorated, we left. I also noted a Great White Egret Ardea alba while we were there.


Monday 6th December [Wet early then dry & sunny]

I walked down the hill from the house this afternoon and saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba at the head of Butcombe Bay while scanning from the dam. At the Lodge a check through the gulls found nowt unusual or any waders. When I got to Green Lawn, I approached the corner carefully to look into Holt Bay hoping to see the Black-tailed Godwits that have been around for so long. No sign of them, but there was a small group of Teal Anas crecca close by and facing me among them was a drake Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis. Christmas had come early! They peered back at me, ever alert to danger, before flying out into the bay. I walked a few more yards along the road as a second, much bigger group of Teal flew out from under the bank and set my scope up. It took me quite a while to re-find the little american visitor again, but after spending some time to check it wasn't a hybrid, I put the news out and moved on. I guess it was the same bird that had recently been at Chew Valley Lake, although I have been checking the Teal with renewed zeal since that bird went missing a while ago. Apart from another Great White Egret at Top End, and a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus, I didn't see anything else of note, although it's worth saying that there are good numbers of winter thrushes about now.

Oh, I nearly forgot, there was a cracking view of Jupiter and its moons high above through my binoculars, and what I assume was Venus just above the Mendip ridge, as I made my way back up the hill towards home.


Sunday 5th December [Mainly overcast with a chilly breeze]

Mark came over to bird at the lake this afternoon and told me he'd been through the flocks of wildfowl without finding anything special, in fact, he didn't even see the Black-tailed Godwits either. However, he did report a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Rugmoor Point, plus a couple of drake Goldeneye Bucephala clangula at Top End. I was pretty busy around the house today before a visit to the recycle centre, so only managed to pop down to go through the gull roost at dusk. It was nearly all Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus with very few medium or large gulls, but I noted 7 Goldeneye in Butcombe Bay. Nevertheless, as Mark pulled up beside me at the dam, one last sweep of the roost saw 3 (an adult drake & 2 redhead) Goosanders Mergus merganser fly in - the first of the winter at the lake, so far as I'm aware.


Saturday 4th December [Sunny with a chilly blast]

It was a cold walk this afternoon, and I was surprised to find 8 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa back in front of the Lodge, with 2 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, among the gulls. The water level has dropped a little over the last week or so, perhaps due to the release of compensation water, or because the lake is being pumped. I haven't had the chance to ask. There was even a stone of the island on Tiny's Shallow showing today. While at the Lodge there was a Raven Corvus corax again, perhaps a pair has taken up residence? When I got to Holt Bay, I inadvertently put up another flock of 20+ Black-wits. They flew off around Green Lawn, presumably to join the others by the Lodge. I didn't scope through flocks of Coots Fulica atra and Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula, although I did go through them using my binoculars as best I could. An adult Pintail Anas acuta was at Wood Bay and either one or two Great White Egrets Ardea alba were were still present.


Wednesday 1st December [Cool & windy]

This afternoon there was a Lapwing Vanellus vanellus at the Lodge, and a Raven Corvus corax calling continually from Home Bay Point. A Kestrel Falco tinnunculus was hovering over Holt Bay, sadly a rare sight these days, and a Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus flew over Bell's Bush and got mobbed by a large flock of Jackdaws Corvus monedula, while singles of Great White Ardea alba and Little Egret Egretta garzetta were at Top End and Burmah Road respectively. It remains quiet!


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