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Blagdon Lake Birds

December 2022 News

Saturday 31st December

The year has rather fizzled out for me, having confirmed I'm covid positive this morning, but I am hoping for better next year. Wishing all friends and acquaintances my very best wishes for 2023.


Tuesday 27th December

Mark went to the lake today and had a good look, albeit with his binoculars rather than his scope. He didn't spot either of the Scaup or Ring-necked Duck, but saw a Stonechat Saxicola rubicola in front of the Top End hide, 5 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, 82 Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, a decent flock of 50+ Fieldfares Turdus pilaris and Redwings Turdus iliacus, and a large flock of Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs but no Brambling with them.

I'm sorry I have no lake news at present.

I'm isolating after going out with Frances yesterday, who felt ill later in the evening, then tested positive for covid this afternoon. We decided it'd be okay for the family to go for a walk late afternoon at Aberlady Bay, where we saw hundreds, probably thousands, of Fieldfares in the Sea Buckthorn bushes, a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits, a Woodcock, 5 Pink-footed Geese and a Little Egret among the regulars.


Monday 26th December

Today I met with school friend Frances, who came down to the south-west recently to stay with former work colleagues, giving us a chance to meet up for the first time in 50 years.  We'd arranged then to go for a walk together when I went to Scotland for Christmas. She decided on a walk up Allermuir in the Pentland Hills from her house. As we reached the top we were engulfed in a snowstorm and white-out. No panic though, her local knowledge meant we didn't have to worry about getting lost as we made our way down, even spotting Red Grouse on the way. 


Sunday 25th December [Christmas Day]


 Long-tailed Shrike, Kengkou, Jiangxi, China. 24th Dec 2009.Long-tailed Shrike, Kengkou, Jiangxi, China. 24th Dec 2009.


Saturday 24th December

Having driven to East Lothian to stay with my sister for Christmas, we elected to go for a walk and do some birding just down the road at the Bents and Aberlady Bay after I'd done the morning ParkRun (rather badly on the wet and muddy course in flats). What a terrific spot it is for birders, with waders like Curlew and Redshank feeding just a few metres away from the path. Last time I came was to see a Western Sandpiper many, many years ago.


Tuesday 20th December [Sunny & reasonably mild]

I didn't see much point in going down to the lake with my camera yesterday in the rain, but today dawned sunny with perfect light for photography, so out I went. I didn't have to go far either, I spotted the adult drake Scaup Aythya marila and drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris from the Lodge. I'm much happier about its identity now. I spent 4 hours trying to get some decent shots of the Ring-necked Duck, but the best I could manage was this distant effort:


Ring-necked Duck, Home Bay Point. 20th Dec 2022.Ring-necked Duck, Home Bay Point. 20th Dec 2022.


It spent all the time I was watching it in Home and Long Bays, often on its own, sometimes with a Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula or on one occasion with a Pochard Aythya ferina. It fed most of the time really close in to the bank in shallow water, but not anywhere where it could be approached without causing a deal of disturbance. The Scaup fed between Tiny's Shallow and Green Lawn all morning. At one point I went to Rainbow Point where I saw 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, a female Stonechat Saxicola rubicola and the adult drake Pochard x Ferruginous Duck that has been wintering at Blagdon for several years (first noted in 2014 I believe).


Sunday 18th December [Getting wet & warmer. Ice breaking up.]

A walk to Wood Bay Point from the house and back this lunchtime saw 145 Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo on Tiny's Shallow with another 67 counted on Rugmoor Point, taking the total to over 200 without counting those fishing. While I was present for an hour and a half, the ice broke up by the dam, but the top end was still mainly frozen over. I spotted 4 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, the drake Scaup Aythya marila asleep, and while counting 73 Shoveler Spatula clypeata in Long Bay (about 30 others flew off), I came across the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris again. The field marks look good, but I'm puzzled by the apparent suspended head moult since I first saw it and the photo I've seen of it at Chew Valley Lake. I spent ages looking for it yesterday without any luck, and blow me the first time I've seen it remotely close I only have my binoculars, I'm on foot, I don't have waterproofs on and its raining steadily! Not conditions that encouraged me to stay and try to work out its age and rule out hybrid features I'm afraid. Maybe tomorrow, if I can find it again...


Saturday 17th December [Temperature has risen above freezing but remains cold & cloudy]

After the freezing temperatures of yesterday which only just crept above zero, it was little surprise to find large portions of the lake frozen over this morning. However, there were still sizeable areas of open water, some of which had good numbers of waterfowl crowded in them. An adult drake Scaup Aythya marila was new in, as were more Shoveler (50+) Spatula clypeata, and I counted 5 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, 15 (8 adult drake) Goosanders Mergus merganser, 30 Pintail Anas acuta, 60+ Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flying over, and a Stonechat Saxicola rubicola at Rainbow Point. Mark and I had a brief look for the putative Siberian Chiffchaff I saw a couple of days ago, in less than ideal conditions, but couldn't find it, although we inadvertently spooked a Woodcock Scolopax rusticola from a woodland ditch by the south side road while looking for it. There were still large numbers of Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, presumably from Chew, at the lake. I didn't count them but there were easily three-figures.


Thursday 15th December [Very cold overnight, about minus 8C, & barely over zero by day. Sunny.]

I went out late morning in the beautiful sunshine, but it was perishingly cold! When I got to the lake I estimated that 30-40% of the surface was iced over, and I was told that Chew Valley Lake was pretty well completely iced over too. It quickly became apparent when I peered over the dam wall that this was the case because I counted just over 200 Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo fishing in a huge flock at the dam end of the lake. Not good news for the fish, and by the time I got back to the dam mid-afternoon, there were also 21 (15 adult drakes) Goosanders Mergus merganser on the water. Another fisherman was also getting in on the act, a Kingfisher Alcedo atthis at the dam, the first I've seen for ages. Continuing the piscatorial theme, there were 3 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and a number of Grey Herons Ardea cinerea along the short stretches of bank where open water washed the shore. Other birds that caught the eye included 10 Snipe Gallinago gallinago, 242 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, a Stonechat Saxicola rubicola at a frozen Long Bay, 9 (6 adult drake) Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, 12 Pintail Anas acuta, a pair of Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii and 8 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus.

I walked with Mike O'Connor for a while and we watched a Chiffchaff that looked like quite a good candidate for a Siberian race tristis, but with no camera to hand it'll have to be one that got away unless I can refind it tomorrow. He told me that he'd seen a Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus fly down the lake while I was checking through the wildfowl at Rainbow Point - either a juvenile or female. That's another one that passed me by!


Wednesday 14th December [Temps. remain around zero Celsius by day & colder by night]

I was a bit late going for my walk this afternoon after having to go out first, but made it from the house to Holt Copse before having to turn back as it got dark. I saw 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba at Rugmoor that flew off towards Chew to roost, and 6 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta that were gathered pre-roost at a regular site at the lake. Aside from the above, I noted good numbers of Starlings Sturnus vulgaris flying in to roost at Home Bay reeds, where Mark reckoned at least 1000 left on Sunday morning before we did the WeBS count. The gull roost is a reasonable size, with the usual four-figure count of Black-headed Chroicocephalus ridibundus that we always get in November, but it is becoming more noticeable that we are getting increasing numbers of Herring Gull Larus argentatus roosting at the lake during the last decade as well. 

The water level hasn't changed much in recent days and is about 69%.


Monday 12th December [Still cold but a bit of a thaw]

I went to the lake late morning to look for the Ring-necked Duck and met Rob who came over to bird at the lake at the same time. Once again, it was perishingly cold, mainly due to a light but chilly breeze. I stuck at it for about an hour and a half, but didn't find the duck. Infact, there seemed to have been a real clear out of wildfowl overnight. I saw 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, and Rob saw the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the dam.


Sunday 11th December [Cold...brr)

I wasn't expecting any of the regular WeBS count team to be available tomorrow, so I persuaded Mark to help me today. It was perishing! Anyway, the best birds were a drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris and 4 (1 adult drake) Goosanders Mergus merganser. There seems to have been a cold weather movement judging by the number of Teal Anas crecca, Pintail Anas acuta and Goldeneye Bucephala clangula seen today. Counts details as follows: Mark and I, 0945-1330 hrs, water level approx 68%, Teal c1760, Coot 895, Tufted Duck 423, Mallard 260, Gadwall 203, Wigeon 136, Pochard 83, Great Crested Grebe 45, Pintail 36, Mute Swan 30 (inc. 6 juvs), Moorhen 27, Goldeneye 21, Cormorant 13, Shoveler 10, Grey Heron 9, Little Grebe 8, Lapwing 5, Goosander 4, Snipe 3, Great White Egret 2, Common Sandpiper 1, and Ring-necked Duck 1. Also noted were 3 Buzzards and modest numbers of Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Grey and Pied Wagtails, the male Cetti's Warbler and up to 3 Stonechats. The Canada Geese were out of view in the fields on the north side of the lake today, so I will make a special effort to count them tomorrow as I know there are a good number present.

The Ring-necked Duck is without doubt the same bird that was present at Chew Valley Lake and noted at Blagdon a month ago for a couple of days. I want to get some pictures of it because the views I had of it today were of a bird that wasn't in full breeding plumage and hadn't changed a great deal in the month since I last saw it. The white around the base of the bill didn't appear fully developed and the head shape isn't classic RND yet either. Trouble is, on the three occasions I've seen it, I've been looking at it across the other side of the lake. Today, it was swimming away from us at the Lodge towards the North Shore, and by the time we counted our way to Green Lawn I couldn't relocate it. I feel sure it hasn't been present since November because I looked for it for several days after the last time I saw it, hoping to get some photos. Perhaps I'll have more luck tomorrow.

Mark and I popped down to Apex Ponds in Burnham-on-Sea hoping to see the reported Black-throated Diver after the count, not knowing it had been seen to  fly off! Anyway, it was nice to meet my old birding buddy Steve there, and the female Mandarin Duck among the throng of gulls waiting for bread to be thrown to them...


Saturday 10th December [Another beautiful, if cold, day. Icy in places]

A late morning stroll to the Top End hide and back home was quite pleasant in the sunshine, especially as there was no wind. The Bewick's Swans have moved on again, and I only saw a single Stonechat Saxicola rubicola, one Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, 5 adult Pintail Anas acuta, four of which were drakes, 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, one Little Egret Egretta garzetta and a Peregrine Falco peregrinus of note.


Friday 9th December [Beautiful sunshine but cold with frost on the ground]

Another afternoon walk from the house to Flower Corner and back. There is some light ice forming around the edges of the less exposed parts of the lake, but there are still hundreds of Teal Anas crecca in the margins. The pair of adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were still at  Wookey Point preening while I was there, and I spotted 3 Great White Ardea alba and a Little Egret Egretta garzetta stalking the margins, plus 27 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus flying west along the lake.

Mark told me belatedly that he'd seen a Kingfisher Alcedo atthis at Top End gate when he popped over to see the Bewick's today. I've not seen one for ages.


Thursday 8th December [Frost on the ground all day. Sunny.]

I managed to squeeze a walk in from the house to Flower Corner and back this afternoon and felt well rewarded when I saw the pair of Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were still present there today. I was surprised to see a Little Egret Egretta garzetta at the head of Butcombe Bay and 2 Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa on Home Bay Point, but less so the 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and handful of Lapwings Vanellus vanellus.


Tuesday 6th December [Cold & sunny]

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, so I decided I had to find time for a walk to see what might have dropped in at the lake with the onset of colder weather. There were hundreds of Teal Anas crecca still, but if you're on foot they are very easily spooked, as they were when a helicopter flew over. Anyway, I refilled the feeder so the smaller passerines have somewhere to find sustenance during the upcoming cold spell then set off for Top End. There was a lone Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa feeding among the Teal at Home Bay, about 20 Lapwing Vanellus vanellus in flight over Green Lawn, 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba at Rugmoor Point, an adult drake Goosander Mergus merganser off Rugmoor Bank and then, as I walked back, I heard a Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus columbianus call. I walked out to Bell's Bush and saw a pair of adults swimming across Top End that had either just flown in or were hidden from view earlier when I had a good scan from Rainbow Point.


Sunday 4th December [A cold breeze & overcast]

I had a quick look around this afternoon, met Mark who said he hadn't seen much, and didn't hang around in the cold conditions. I saw 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and 18 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus of note. Mark stayed on to watch the Starlings Sturnus vulgaris come in to roost in the  reeds at Home Bay.


Friday 2nd December [Foggy & cold]

Another cold walk today, and the breeze died late afternoon leaving a mirror flat lake. Mark joined me, and the first bird we saw at the Lodge was a Dunlin Calidris alpina and a few Lapwings Vanellus vanellus among the gulls. At Wood Bay we saw just one of the pair of Stonechats Saxicola rubicola, a Great White Egret Ardea alba at Rugmoor, and from the hide more Lapwings (bringing the total to circa 30), 2 Snipe Gallinago gallinago, 3 adult drake Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and 6 Pintail Anas acuta. At Indian Country/Rugmoor we saw circa 150-200 Woodpigeons Columba palumbus put to flight.


Thursday 1st December [Foggy, dank & grey.]

An afternoon walk peering into the mist over the lake was a rather eerie experience at times, but didn't turn up much by way of new birds. The water level was up again leaving Tiny's Shallow as an island in front of the Lodge. I reckon it to be about 66% now. I noted 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, the pair of Stonechats Saxicola rubicola at Wood Bay, and 5 (3 adult drakes) Goldeneye Bucephala clangula. There were still lots of Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and Teal Anas crecca even with the exposed margins getting smaller day by day.


Melanie Patch received and shared the post mortem report for the Barn Owl I found dead at Long Bay on 4th August. It showed that the owl, a male, was a bird of the previous year (BTO code 5, with complete skull ossification, body condition scored as fair, and weight of 271.92g). It had a haemorrhage in the body cavity and broken ribs on right side, so suffered "unknown trauma - probable collision" as seemed likely when I found it by the roadside. It is such a shame, and in my opinion shouldn't really happen at the lakeside where there is a 15 mph speed limit should it?

The owls body was used for research into the prevalence of Second-generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs) in Barn Owls in Britain for the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU) UK, but there was no evidence of these in this particular owl, although being so young it is unlikely to have accumulated many toxins, I guess.

Nigel Milbourne © 2009-24. All Rights Reserved.