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Blagdon Lake Birds

March 2021 News

Wednesday 31st March [A warm & sunny Spring day]

I had a look around the lake on a couple of occasions today, but could not find the Black-necked Grebe, or the Aythya hybrid that I wanted to photograph. I guess they've moved on as a result of the boat disturbance. I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam for the first time in a couple of days and a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End, that flew off to Chew to roost at dusk. The male Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti, 2 pairs of Shoveler Spatula clypeata, 2 pairs of Teal Anas crecca and a pair of Wigeon Mareca penelope were at Top End too. There's lots of birdsong in the patches of woodland around the lake now, so I'll start my migrant monitoring walks over the next few weeks to try and capture first dates for summer visitor arrivals, and to gauge the numbers for comparison with previous years. I have a long series of data going back over 25-30 years of such counts that I've conducted, and Andy Davis sent me some for years prior to my arrival in Blagdon. I really need to sit down and analyse the information now. Other signs of Spring included a male Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni, and several Peacock Aglais io and Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae butterflies on the wing in the sunshine.


Tuesday 30th March [A glorious sunny day]

Mark finished work early and spent the afternoon at the lake, while I didn't manage to get there until the evening. Before I arrived, Mark had seen 5 Snipe Gallinago gallinago fly up out of the marginal vegetation when a Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus went in. The Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis was still present until dusk at least, despite the boat angling starting today, and we found a male Lesser Scaup-like hybrid, probably a Pochard x Tufted Duck.  All the hirundines had moved on. As we left, we saw a few Noctule Nyctalus noctula bats hawking over the lakeside meadows with their characteristic fast, straight flight, interrupted by sudden swoops down after insects. They are large and have narrow pointed wings, and fly in the open, above 10 m or so, if you wish to have a look for them.


Monday 29th March [Overcast & breezy]

Mark was at the lake at first light, with all the fishermen, before having to leave for work, and despite getting up at 0556 hrs I only decided to trundle down the hill on foot at 0700 hrs. I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and on reaching the Lodge spotted the grebe a few metres out from the bank, having looked hard for it yesterday to be sure about our identification on Saturday evening in the failing light. I could see it was clearly a Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis after all! I then walked along the south side road, chatting to some of the anglers I know, and looking for migrants. I counted 13 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 6 singing Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, and 3 singing Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus and heard the male Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti give its deafening song on the opposite side of the road from the Top End gate, in the Hatchery grounds. There were nowhere near the number of Sand Martins Riparia riparia over the lake this morning, in comparison to what we'd seen over the weekend, but numbers may grow as the day wears on. I hope to get back to the lake later in the day, when things have quietened down a little; the anglers were catching lots of super looking fish, and with the wind making Chew Valley Lake difficult from the bank, many of the regulars there had apparently swollen the numbers at Blagdon this morning.

A beautiful evening, with the number of Sand Martins Riparia riparia around 100 over Top End, and the Black-necked Grebe out in the middle of the dam end at dusk. I think I'm right in saying the boat anglers will be back out on the lake tomorrow.


Sunday 28th March [Overcast & breezy]

I had a walk around the lake this morning, following footpaths and lanes, but the visit wasn't anywhere near as fruitful as yesterday evening. There was no sign of the grebe, just 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, several hundred Sand Martins Riparia riparia, a male Kestrel Falco tinnunculus at Rugmoor, 15 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 1 singing Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, and Mark heard the Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti.

Tomorrow the lakes open again to birdwatchers and anglers. Permits may be obtained from the Bristol Water website. Please note that the bird hides remain closed for the time being. 


Saturday 27th March [Overcast]

I arranged to meet Mark at Top End around 1615 hrs for a walk along the footpath at Top End where we looked over the gates and hedges and saw approx. 250 Sand Martins Riparia riparia and a single fly-through Swallow Hirundo rustica over the water, 17 Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis in a tree at Hellfire Corner, and I heard a male Cetti's Warbler's Cettia cetti explosive song once as we walked back to the cars. We drove on round to Rugmoor for a look over the gate there and saw Sand Martins feeding all the way up to Rainbow Point and just one Cattle Egret left in the trees at Hellfire Corner, but nothing else of note, before moving on to the dam at dusk, where there were lots of Sand Martins feeding too. I estimated a minimum of 400, which Mark agreed with, but we don't know if they included birds from the other end of the lake or not. I was carrying out one last scan through the flock when I noticed a bird off Green Lawn that I thought was interesting. After a short time, it woke up and we agreed it was a Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritis (well, we got that wrong) Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis after spending some time at various viewpoints watching it. What a couple of hours birding that was - happy days!


Friday 26th March

I didn't get to the lake until dusk and only saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.


Thursday 25th March [Sunshine & occasional light showers]

A mid to late afternoon walk around the lake saw lots of gulls on Holt & Lag Farms again, but I didn't pick out anything unusual through my binoculars, bar 7 Buzzards Buteo buteo circling above. At Top End there were still plenty of Sand Martins Riparia riparia, and when they all went into a close-knit flock as a Buzzard flew over, I estimated there to be about 100. Back at the dam, I saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, one of which had a few unusual white flecks in its plumage.


Wednesday 24th March [Overcast then sun]

I went back to a late afternoon yomp today, and as I walked down the hill over Holt Farm the gulls were on the recently ploughed fields, not because of the ploughing, but because the fields were being injected from the farm slurry tank. Some of the local Buzzards Buteo buteo were also attracted and, close to the farmhouse, one field had over 30 wagtails in it, including at least a couple of smart White Wags Motacilla alba alba. I kept my walk leisurely as I went along the south side, and when I leaned on the gate looking over Bell's Bush listening to a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita singing in my left ear from Hellfire Corner, I finally saw my first Sand Martins Riparia riparia of the year. There were no less than 40 over the lake, but I couldn't see the whole flock from my viewpoint, and there may have been many more along Burmah Road. I totted up 4 singing Chiffchaffs, and when I got back to the dam, after walking briskly around the lanes of Nempnett Thrubwell, there were 3 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam. Finally, spring has arrived!


Tuesday 23rd March [Overcast]

I thought I'd change tack to see if that made a difference to the birding and walked around the lake, following footpaths and lanes, during the morning - it didn't! I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the overspill and heard 5 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and a Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti singing. There have been lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus on the lake over the past few days (several hundred), presumably birds on the move, but they are about the only sign of spring migration so far.


Monday 22nd March [Sunny]

Another walk around the lake this afternoon, following footpaths and lanes, with very little to tell. One of the large fields on Holt Farm was being ploughed as I walked down the hill and there was not a single bird on it - most surprising given that the farm is managed organically. I saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the overspill, and, like yesterday, a goodly number of Grey Wagtails Motacilla cinerea. I heard just 2 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita singing. 

While I was at home during the morning, I saw a kettle of 7 Buzzards overhead when I popped down to my garage.


Sunday 21st March [Cloudy with a light north easterly breeze]

The wait for a hirundine continues. However, a male Kestrel Falco tinnunculus at Rugmoor, a Kingfisher Alcedo atthis  over the road bridge at Top End, and 4 Snipe Gallinago gallinago viewed from the gate behind the hide, provided some interest during the walk around the lake using footpaths and lanes. I heard just 3 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, but rather more surprisingly, a male Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla from the Top End road bridge (I suspect it's overwintering). I saw my first Bluebells Hyacynthoides non-scripta in flower, and noted good numbers of Buzzards Buteo buteo, including a kettle of six during late morning.


Saturday 20th March [Sunny]

I had a walk to Butcombe and back, sticking to the road on the way there because of the numbers of people along Butcombe Bank mid-afternoon and came back along the stream to the head of Butcombe Bay later when the crowds had dispersed. There wasn't much to tell, just 1, possibly 2, Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and later still a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Rugmoor, and Kingfisher Alcedo atthis at Top End while Mark and I rehung a bat box that had come down, and a new one designed by him we hope will be attractive to woodland species.


Friday 19th March [Sunny with a cool breeze]

I walked around the lake again today, following footpaths and lanes, and met Ross who was going in the opposite direction. Neither of us saw any hirundines, so the wait continues, despite both Swallow and House Martin having been recorded in North Somerset already. I didn't even see any egrets during my walk, so just have the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, and a few Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis on Holt Farm to report as far as the birds are concerned. I was, however, pleased to see Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa and Cuckooflower/Lady's-smock Cardamine pratensis in bloom, while the number of black chironomid midges on the wing is increasing dramatically with the good weather.


Wednesday 17th March [Sunny with a period of overcast sky, clearing to a beautiful late afternoon]

It almost felt like Spring was in the air today, as I repeated yesterday's walk around the lake. I managed a 'full house' of egrets, with a Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis disturbed by walkers from Holt Bay, that appeared to fly over to Holt/Lag Farm, and a Great White Ardea alba and Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Top End, that were both inadvertently spooked by me, even though I was on the public footpath behind a hedge! A decent flock of about 30 Redwings Turdus ilaceus flew into the Hatchery grounds at Top End, and the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam as I crossed it and started up the hill back home. 


Tuesday 16th March [Sunny]

I took another stroll around the lake today, following footpaths & lanes, and saw 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, the regular Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, a Snipe Gallinago gallinago from Rugmoor Gate, 4 Teal Anas crecca at Top End and 10 later off The Island. Curiously, as I walked along the lane towards Rugmoor from Top End, what I had assumed to be a domestic Greylag calling at Bill Selway's smallholding was, in fact, a Greylag Anser anser calling from the Indian Country (north) side of Top End. I didn't see it through. 


Monday 15th March [Sunny & mild with a stiff NW breeze]

I carried out the monthly WeBS count today, with permission from BW, and it was a joy to be able to go back on my patch at this time of year. There wasn't a great deal to excite in truth, with the highlights a Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis on Wood Bay Point, 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, a 2nd-summer Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus and the usual Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the Spillway. Other counts were Buzzard 6, Wigeon 2, Gadwall 7, Mallard 45, Shoveler 8, Teal 3, Pochard 4, Tufted Duck 236, Goldeneye 11, Great Crested Grebe 10, Little Grebe 2 (heard), Mute Swan 19, Canada Goose 48, Cormorant 13, Grey Heron 10, Coot 262, Moorhen 18, Black-headed Gull 65 Common Gull 20, Lesser Black-backed Gull 5, Great Black-backed Gull 2, and Herring Gull 9. I also noted a couple of Redwings, a Meadow Pipit, and heard 4 singing Chiffchaffs. 


Sunday 14th March [Pleasantly sunny in the morning]

I went for a morning walk down the hill, across the dam and along Butcombe Bank, then to Butcombe along the footpath following the stream before returning home along Blagdon Lane. I met Mark, and Melanie Patch on the dam, and while we had a quick chat, Melanie said she'd heard a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita singing along Butcombe Bank, which Mark and I heard later as we went that way too. Aside from the Chiffchaff, we saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the dam.


Saturday 13th March

I had a look from the dam late in the afternoon and spotted an adult Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus in transitional plumage from winter to summer - the face was white, but the black hood was growing in on the rest of the head. There was also a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the Spillway.

While I was in the lounge, I noted a Lesser Redpoll on the patio bird table again for the first time since the 1st of March.


Wednesday 10th - Friday 12th March [Stormy]

Sorry for the lack of news, but frankly there wasn't any over this period, at least, not during my visits to the dam and Rugmoor Gate, which I did every day.


Tuesday 9th March [Sunny with a rising breeze]

It was a glorious afternoon, so I decided to risk setting out around the lake, albeit still with some pain in my right achilles tendon. I set off along the south side footpath from Grib Lane, down across Holt Farm, and then alongside the BW boundary hedge to Top End. The Mute Swan Cygnus olor count was 18, as before, and I spotted a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Rugmoor. There were very few ducks on the lake, although most of the usual species were represented. At Top End I walked out left onto the lane and crossed the bridge before making my way to Rugmoor Gate. I spent about 5 minutes peering through my bins there for Sand Martins and anything hiding in the bay, before moving on towards Chapel Hill in Nempnett Thrubwell. I turned left towards Belleview House, where I turned left into a no through lane and crossed the stone stile on the right after a few metres. Following the path through kissing gates I eventually came to the head of Butcombe Bay beside the lake and hoped there weren't too many people around! I saw 3 Goosanders Mergus merganser (one adult drake) in the bay, and either 1 or 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam as the breeze sprang up. The weather is set to take a turn for the worse over the next few days, and some heavy rain will certainly make the walk across the fields very muddy and, frankly, hard going, so I might not get down to the other end of the lake for a few days. 


Monday 8th March [Cool & sunny]

I could barely walk properly today, after going for a 6 mile cross-country run late yesterday afternoon! However, I did hobble very slowly down to and across the dam in the afternoon. I saw 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, and 6 Goosanders Mergus merganser. There was an adult male Goosander and 5 redheads, but I think 2 of the distant redheads may possibly be 1st-winter drakes. 


Saturday 6th March [A cool, but sunny, afternoon.]

I had a late afternoon walk around the lake, using footpaths & lanes, and saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End, and 12 (6 drakes) Goosanders Mergus merganser from the dam at dusk. Earlier in the day, Nick Willcox-Brown contacted me to say there were 2 Greylags Anser anser with the Canada Geese Branta canadensis, and Nigel Crocker saw the Great White Egret at Rugmoor. 


Thursday 4th March [Overcast & cool]

I decided to stroll around the lake this afternoon, along footpaths and lanes, although it was markedly greasier underfoot after last night's rain. I saw 2, probably 3, and possibly 4 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos as I walked along the dam. I think I will settle for 3, given their distribution. They also made me have a little moment when 2 were chasing each other in flight along Cheddar Water bank while I watched from Butcombe Bank - for a few seconds I thought I'd nailed my first Sand Martins of the year! 'Twas not to be. I saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Rugmoor, and a 'blizzard' of small egrets fly out of Flower Corner, 4 of which were definitely Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis, and I believe the flock, of no less than 10, were all Cattle Egrets although my view was brief through trees and over a hedge.

I have been given an update on the angling situation by a friend who says that fishing is currently scheduled to commence on all waters on 29th March. I will confirm when BW let us know. 


Wednesday 3rd March [Chilly & misty, with rain setting in during the afternoon.]

The oppressive looking afternoon made me decide to head out for another 6 mile yomp around the lake, using footpaths and lanes, in the hope that some Sand Martins may have dropped in. I made it down the hill to Holt Farm and light, but steady, rain set in! Still, I thought, good conditions for the martins to feed over the water, but sadly no-one had told the martins. Looking over the hedge, I saw a Great White Egret Ardea alba fly into Flower Corner, and 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos were noted in flight over the dam end as I checked the handful of gulls present. While walking along Butcombe Bank I heard a chorus of Frogs Rana temporaria croaking for all they were worth. They're probably reasonably safe there, unlike those further along the lake that are being stalked and eaten by the Grey Herons Ardea cinerea. Water has stopped flowing down the spillway again, after the recent dry spell. 

When I got home, I learned that 'Buteophile', Robin Prytherch, had died earlier today. I always looked forward to his Christmas cards with his Buzzard drawings on them. Indeed, 1963 was a year that saw Robin leave an indelible mark on the birding history of Blagdon Lake, during which he was co-finder of Britain's first Pied-billed Grebe, and Blagdon's first, and only Purple Heron to date, his sketches of which were given to me after we got together to erect some Osprey nesting platforms locally with Ken Carruthers a few years ago. Unsurprisingly, to local birders at least, I first met him nearly 30 years ago while he was standing in a layby staring out across the Gordano valley through binoculars, watching his beloved Buzzards between Portishead and Clevedon. Of course, I had to stop and speak to him, and his kindness to a complete stranger, and enthusiasm for his subject, came pouring out. Since then, I've spent quite a few days out in the field with him and enjoyed his company immensely. RIP Robin, dear friend, the 'Ornithological World' is a poorer place without you. 


Tuesday 2nd March [Cold & misty much of the day with some sun later]

I walked around the lake, following footpaths and lanes as usual, starting out just before 1600 hrs. When I got to the dam, I saw a cracking adult summer Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus with a few Black-headeds Chroicocephalus ridibundus, and a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos on the overspill (which has nearly stopped flowing again). The rest of my yomp was pretty much just that, although I did see a few Fieldfares Turdus pilaris gathering to roost on Holt Farm, as the watery sun set over the hill.


Monday 1st March [A fine sunny day, if a little chilly.]

I decided to walk around the lake again today, following footpaths and lanes, in the hope of seeing some early spring migrants. However, I was to be disappointed on that front, but pleasantly surprised to see a Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis from the bridge at Ubley Gate, standing alone in a field on the other side of the road. Wildfowl numbers are dropping quickly, as they move off to their breeding grounds, although the Mute Swan Cygnus olor herd grew again, to eighteen (15 adults and three 1st-years). There was a single Great White Egret Ardea alba at Rugmoor, 2 Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, and just before I walked up the hill as the small gull roost gathered, 3 (1 adult drake) Goosanders Mergus merganser also appeared.

Back at the ranch, there were 3 Lesser Redpolls on our patio bird table this morning, trying to get a look in with all the Chaffinches flying in and out. 

Nigel Milbourne © 2009-23. All Rights Reserved.