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Blagdon Lake Birds

January 2021 News

Saturday 30th January [A fierce & chilly east wind. Dull & damp.]

As I walked across the dam this afternoon, I saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End which confirmed its ID, as I walked back, by taking flight.


Friday 29th January

The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam wall when I went for my daily exercise walk.


Sunday 24th January [An overnight dusting of snow]

Today's walk produced the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam wall and a Greylag Goose Anser anser with the Canada Branta canadensis flock on Holt Farm fields.


Thursday 21st January [Chilly]

The wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was back on the dam wall at the south end again today when I walked past.


Friday 15th January [Cold]

I slipped and stumbled my way around the lake using very wet and muddy footpaths and lanes this morning. I was hesitant owing to a nasty fall late last Sunday afternoon while running around the same route. Bruised ribs, and ego, have limited my desire to go out and exercise much in the meantime!

Anyway, I had my binoculars around my neck today and spotted the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos beneath the overspill, a Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea in Butcombe Bay, a distant adult Pintail Anas acuta off Rugmoor, where I also noted a Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto on Rugmoor Farm, and then as I walked back across Holt Farm, 13 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and circa 45 Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis, 206 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, and 5 Mute Swans Cygnus olor were in the meadows with the usual Redwings Turdus iliacus, Fieldfares Turdus pilaris and Starlings Sturnus vulgaris. Sadly, BW have got the contractors in trashing the boundary hedges again, despite repeated representations to cut them less frequently and more sympathetically. There is little food or shelter left for those creatures that use them, and because such huge tractors are used, the ground next to them is churned to a quagmire and damages the floral value of the SSSI year on year. Still, the place has got to look tidy!


Wednesday 13th January

I had to drive over the dam today and saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos underneath the overspill.


Sunday 10th January

Having discharged my care duties and taken my mother for her second Covid vaccination, I drove home from Clevedon via the dam during mid-afternoon. There were no fewer than 26 cars parked there and lots of people walking. As I drove down towards the dam from the north end, a Peregrine Falco peregrinus flew over the car. 


Friday 8th January [Cold]

Having been stuck in the house all day yesterday, I decided I had to go for a walk today as part of my exercise regime, so set off around the lake along very muddy and flooded public footpaths and lanes. It wasn't a particularly easy or enjoyable experience, although nice to breathe in some fresh air. I saw a pair of Stonechats Saxicola rubicola when I looked over the gate at Rugmoor, and there were 7 adult and 2 juvenile Mute Swans Cygnus olor with a flock of Canada Geese Branta canadensis at the bottom of the hill on Holt Farm. As I walked across Holt Farm there were also good numbers of Redwings Turdus iliacus and Fieldfares Turdus pilaris feeding in the sward flying up in front of me.

I was reading an interesting article (Great bird reserves: Abberton Reservoir, Holt et al) in the November 2020 edition of British Birds last night, and specifically about the duck ringing that has been conducted there almost continually since 1948. Two paragraphs that really struck a chord with me concerned moult and disturbance. I was amazed to read the following about moult "the Abberton data have been analysed to examine the ecology and mass dynamics of moulting ducks, five species having been looked at in detail: Mallard, Pochard and Tufted Duck, and Gadwall and Wigeon. These studies show that ducks lose up to a quarter of their body weight while they are flightless, confirming that most species accumulate fat stores prior to the moult; there is also protein loss through muscle shrinkage during the eclipse period." Research on disturbance was conducted before and during re-profiling works at the reservoir to assess the extent and magnitude of disturbance and the success of mitigation measures instigated by looking at focal Special Protection Area (SPA) species of waterfowl. "Results from this study indicated a 200 metre disturbance zone, with the most significant effects on waterfowl observed for the smaller central section." "Distributions varied throughout the study period but increased significantly on the Main section during the construction period. This was attributed to the size of the main section (itself acting as a mitigating factor), the availability of newly created shoreline habitat, and the phasing and zoning of activity which enabled waterfowl to distribute to undisturbed areas of the reservoir."

I have long raised the issue of angling disturbance and mitigation at Blagdon Lake, particularly since the boats were fitted with petrol engines. Discussions with Bristol Water and Natural England at the time resulted in the engines being speed-limited, primarily to reduce the effects of the boat wash on those nesting waterfowl that build floating nests eg. Coot Fulica atra and Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus, as well as to give sleeping/moulting flocks of eg. sleeping Pochards Aythya ferina and moulting Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula time to swim out of the way of an approaching boat rather than having to career over the water in panic. In addition, guidance asking anglers not to motor straight into flocks of waterfowl in the autumn has generally resulted in compliance and a better outcome, although the match angling fraternity have yet to buy into it. As regards the disturbance caused by the approach of people on foot at the lake, there has been a long-standing rule that no one is to be on the north shore outside of the fishing season (historically March/April to mid-/end of October) , but the fishing season has been extended by BW in recent years, albeit with the agreement of Natural England so the winter period has been significantly shortened. In this instance though, one would have to say that bank angling isn't the cause of the most disturbance of wintering waterfowl, it is the trespass by people who do not have permits to bird watch and walkers who pretend they are birdwatchers - an increasing problem it seems to me in recent years. Blagdon is a narrow reservoir, and walking along the south side road will inevitably result in the flushing of dabbling ducks, especially Teal Anas crecca, plus herons and egrets. By keeping just one bank open for permit holders, the waterfowl have the option of sleeping and feeding undisturbed along the north shore, but not when trespassers are forever walking along there - many with dogs (strictly not allowed) off the lead.

Why then, am I raising these issues again? Well, I don't think it is too much of a secret to say that I am concerned for the immediate future of bird watching and wildlife in general at the lake since it became known that BW are putting the angling up for lease on all their waters, and have apparently depleted their Fisheries Department staff. What this will mean going forward I have yet to hear from BW.  Up until now we, as wardens and birders, have not been involved in any of the discussions and my third-hand understanding is that season 2021 may be the last - what happens then, is of great concern.


Tuesday 5th January [Bright with a piercingly cold wind]

Inevitably, Bristol Water have announced that the permit-only areas of the lakes are now closed. As a result, I guess this means that I am unlikely to have any regular bird news updates for the foreseeable future. My regular exercise walks may result in some sightings from the dam or footpaths, but I wouldn't hold your breath, I shan't be out using Butcombe Bank for a walk anytime soon - it is too busy and narrow to ensure I can be confident of social distancing. Please stay safe everyone, and hopefully we'll be able to enjoy being out birdwatching in time for the arrival of Spring migrants, although I'm not optimistic. In the meantime, thanks to the healthcare professionals for your amazing work and dedication in the face of this pandemic - we owe you so much.


Monday 4th January [Overcast with a cold breeze]

I walked down to the lake again today, checked the feeders, and set off for Top End. I met Mark at Rainbow Point feeding the Stonechat Saxicola rubicola pair there with mealworms, although he said a Wren Troglodytes troglodytes and Robin Erithacus rubecula have become wise to the feeding station now as well. He was telling me that the female Stonechat has priority, and the male has to wait close by until she is sated before he takes his turn! Anyway, I saw the 'other' Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at Green Lawn along the way, and while watching the Stonechats, added Raven to my site year list. Aside from a few Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita calls and two sightings, there was little else to tell. I did, however, have the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Tina Bath who was using her amazing hedge laying skills around a meadow she recently bought at the Ubley end. I haven't seen her very often since she left post with the AONB at Charterhouse, and I gave up as manager/warden of Ubley Warren for the Somerset Wildlife Trust after 25 years as a volunteer. So it was great to catch up. Mike Moxon kindly sent me news of Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and yet another Stonechat he saw at Rugmoor - leading to speculation that we might have five pairs wintering! Cheers Mike, I'll follow that one up. We added Nuthatch Sitta europaea to the site list today.

This evening the Prime Minister has announced another national covid lockdown, so it remains to be seen whether or not I will be able to continue birding and reporting from the lake, irrespective of whether I drive or walk there from my house. Watch this space.


Sunday 3rd January [Overcast & cold with mizzle in the air]

I met Mark just before midday for a walk to Top End and back from the Lodge. It took us about 3 hours, birding as we went, and I racked up 46 species in the miserable conditions before we spotted two young ladies, one in an inflatable canoe and the other on a paddle board out in the middle of the dam end of the lake! We'd already spoken with 11 walkers (just the one dog today), and we had both had enough by then. We informed BW, and kept a watching brief for the safety of the two young ladies out on the lake until they were back ashore, before calling it a day and leaving site - although not before Mark had retraced his steps in the van to go and feed the tame Stonechats Saxicola rubicola some mealworms! There weren't any notable birds to tell you about, although I will mention the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, 2 pairs of Stonechat, and a couple of Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita.

I will contact Bristol Water and Ubley Parish Council to try and get something done about the public footpath closest to the south side of the lake. There were lots of walkers who were doing the right thing and keeping out of the lake confines to be fair this weekend. However, since the level of the reservoir was raised, and because the culverts under the south side road are not kept clear, the footpath regularly floods. Some of those low-lying parts of the path could usefully be built up a bit too. As it is, the flooding drives many of the walkers who aren't wearing sensible footwear off the path and onto the BW road. We need to have a permanent solution to what has become an annual problem when the lake fills up. If you use the path regularly please feel free to add your voice.


Saturday 2nd January  [A sunny morning turning to sleet showers in the afternoon]

A leisurely walk out to Top End from the house enabled me to log 48 bird species and 24 walkers (there were undoubtedly many more than I spoke to though). There were over 50 cars parked down by the dam as people continue to flock to the countryside in the pandemic. I added a few more bird species to the year list, and met Mark and Mike while I was there. Mark had also seen a few species that I haven't so far, so I'll put together the combined list and post it sometime later (see panel on right hand side of page). I saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba, 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, and between us Mark and I accounted for 4 pairs of Stonechat Saxicola rubicola, while Mike and I saw an adult drake Goosander Mergus merganser at the dam before we left. 


Friday 1st January [Cold & icy start. Overcast.]

I made it to the lake at 0715 hrs, an hour before sunrise, and my first task after unfreezing the padlock on the gate, was to fill the bird feeders at the Lodge in anticipation of some heavy use later. I heard my first Tawny Owl Strix aluco, and peered out into the half-light to try and add some water birds. It was pretty cold on the hands with all the constant listing and holding up of binoculars, but by sunrise I'd already amassed 38 species, and by the time I got to the other end of the lake I'd notched up 49 species. I made my way back to the Lodge quickly in order to warm up a bit, and after stopping off at the dam to look for the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, I went up the hill at 1030 hrs with a total of 58 species seen or heard. The pick of them was a single Little Egret Egretta garzetta flying west along the lake, probably heading downstream to look for some flowing water to feed in as the lakeside margins were all frozen, and a surprise lone Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis that flew just over my head at Top End towards Bickfield Lane. It took about an hour to thaw out when I got home...!

Happy New Year! 

Nigel Milbourne © 2009-23. All Rights Reserved.