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Blagdon Lake Birds

March 2023 News

Friday 31st March [Gales & flooding]

T'was pretty wild down by the lake this afternoon. I stopped at the south end of the lake as usual and there were hundreds of hirundines in front of me, mainly Sand Martins Riparia riparia, of course, but also quite a few Swallows Hirundo rustica and at least one House Martin Delichon urbicum. Having just shaken off a head cold I decided to stick with the car rather than walk and at Bell's Bush I spotted a tern feeeding over Top End with a number of gulls. My first impression was that it was a Common Tern Sterna hirundo but viewing was very difficult through the scope in the gale, so I went to the Top End hide. A few brief views made me think my original ID was probably right, but I was looking at it from behind most of the time. So, I put out the news and drove to Wood Bay Point/Rainbow Point to try and get a better, sheltered, view. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I refound it at Green Lawn and Chris Craig joined me. We were both of the opinion it was a Common Tern, and I hope he managed to get a few shots of it. I noted at least 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba with their heads firmly down, and when I got back to the dam the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was in its usual spot.


Wednesday 29th March [Wet & windy most of the day]

I didn't get to the lake today, but Mark rang to tell me fellow ranger Henry saw a Red Kite Milvus milvus overhead at Holt Bay during the day.


Tuesday 28th March [A wet morning followed by a dry, overcast, & windy afternoon.]

It's Osprey time, and I should have been at the lake this morning, but didn't get there until the afternoon and was disappointed not to see one of these majestic birds over the water. It looked like we were going to get a downpour all afternoon, but in the event it stayed dry. I walked from the Lodge to Green Lawn before wimping out and rushing back to the safety of the Lodge and my car. However, I did have a good look around from the car and the Top End hide. There were at least 300 Sand Martins Riparia riparia, 4 Swallows Hirundo rustica  and 4 Great White Egrets Ardea alba between Rainbow Point and Top End. I spent quite a while with the scope looking for the Ring-necked Duck but no luck.


Monday 27th March [Dry & sunny, though a little cool.]

I was at Chew all morning checking a bat roost and looking at some reported bats, before spending the afternoon at Blagdon. There was now't much to report, just the Common Actitis hypoleucos and Green Sandpipers Tringa ochropus on the dam, 4 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and a single Fieldfare Turdus pilaris of note. I saw my first Cowslip Primula veris of the year in flower, so I suppose that was more evidence spring is inexorably on its way.


Sunday 26th March [Mainly overcast with a cold north-easterly wind]

I was at the South-west Bat Conference in Tiverton with Mark and Daniel yesterday so I didn't get to the lake, but this afternoon I had time for a walk from the Lodge to the Hatchery and back. I saw Green Tringa ochropus and Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos on the dam, then started counting singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita as I set out on foot from the Lodge. At the Top End hide I spotted the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris, a Swallow Hirundo rustica among a flock of Sand Martins Riparia riparia that appeared to drop in for a short while then, on the way to the Hatchery, I counted 4 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, and got there having totted-up 10 singing Chiffchaffs. On the way back, I came across 10 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris at Holt Bay, where they often roost during the winter.


Friday 24th March [A dry & sunny morning followed by a wet afternoon with some heavy showers.]

I have no news for yesterday, I'm sorry to report, but this afternoon I was delighted to find an adult Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla feeding over the water on insects between Green Lawn and Rainbow Point at 1530 hrs. It was still present at 1730 hrs. I've only ever seen one Kittiwake at Blagdon previously, on 9th Dec 2011, and have only uncovered six other previous records at the lake during my research.

Other birds noted included 6 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, about 70 Sand Martins Riparia riparia, 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, 20 Shoveler Spatula clypeata, and 3 Pochard Aythya ferina, but I saw no sign of the Ring-necked Duck.


Rainbow over Nempnett Thrubwell. 24th March 2023.Rainbow over Nempnett Thrubwell. 24th March 2023.


Wednesday 22nd March [Sunny spells with showers]

I birded my way around the lake until I got to Top End hide when it poured down! After sitting in the hide for half an hour I managed to dodge the rest of the heavy showers as I made my way rapidly back to the Lodge. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam wall, and the water was going down the spillway again after last night's rain. The Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris was still keeping a low profile around the Bell's Bush area, I saw 3 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, 6 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, 21 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris, a Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, circa 50 Canada Geese Branta canadensis, circa 100 Sand Martins Riparia riparia, 8 Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and heard 9 singing Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita before the rain set in.


Tuesday 21st March [Sunny spells, mainly dry, and breezy by the water.]

I met up with Mark at Chew this morning to finish the checking and servicing of the bat boxes there. We did 14 boxes, of which two were occupied by Soprano Pipistrelles, 3+ in one and 1 in another.

After a cuppa and slice of cake at New Manor Farm I went back to Blagdon and walked the south side. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the dam wall, and there were lots of Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita in the woods and hedges, 6 singing, the rest mainly silent or calling occasionally. It was a surprise to come across a WIllow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus at Holt Bay, and it was still there on my return nearly two hours later. Towards Top End I came across 3 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris at Flower Corner, and a Kestrel Falco tinnunculus. I'd noted a dead adult Mute Swan Cygnus olor in an adjacent field under the new(ish) power lines that have been put in to supply Yeo Valley factory, while I was on the way to Top End, and on the way back I went for a closer look. Sadly, it was a ringed bird, Yellow BJB, that is well known to us at the lake. It was first recorded as an immature on the 2nd Nov. 2014 at Blagdon and ringed, according to Chris Perrins, as a 1st-year female at Abbotsbury in Dorset on 6th October 2011. She was the mother of a brood of two cygnets as recently as 2021 at the lake. 


Monday 20th March [A miserable damp & grey day]

After a routine trip to the dentist, I parked at Top End and birded my way to the Lodge and back in the steady rain. The rain was light for the outward walk, but it got steadily worse on the way back, hurrying me back to my car. There were quite a few Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita in the hedges and I even heard a couple singing in the woodlands despite the rain. At Flower Corner, I could barely believe my eyes when I spotted the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris in the same place I saw it last Thursday. It's ability to apparate and disapparate are truly remarkable...

I noted 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, about 70 Sand Martins Riparia riparia, and heard a Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti singing at Home Bay.


Sunday 19th March [Sunny & dry with a biting wind]

I met up with Daniel Hargreaves this morning at Chew Valley Lake to check and service 30 bat boxes. We came across 23 Soprano Pipistrelles and a Lesser Horseshoe (not in a box) during our visit, saw a Peacock butterfly, a male Sparrowhawk, and heard a few singing Chiffchaffs. After going home for a cuppa, I went down to Blagdon Lake, checked the dam and saw the wintering Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, then walked from the Lodge to the Top End and back after refilling the bird feeder. Once again, I couldn't find the Ring-necked Duck, but saw a male Stonechat Saxicola rubicola at Holt Bay, 2 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, my first flowering Lady's-smock (aka Cuckooflower) Cardamine pratensis and counted 29 Rook Corvus frugilegus nests at Holt Copse (7) and Hellfire Corner (22).


Friday 17th March [Mild. Mainly sunny with an occasional shower.]

With the sun shining, I arrived at the lake at 1100 hrs and walked from the Lodge to the Hatchery and back, only having to shelter on one occasion when we had a short sharp shower. The Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the south end of the dam, and at the Lodge I heard Cetti's Warblers Cettia cetti singing at Pipe and Home Bays, and one of three Reed  Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus. During the walk I also saw one and heard three singing Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, the first this year. At Top End, I saw a male Brimstone butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni. I didn't see the Ring-necked Duck, or any hirundines, but Mark told me later that he'd seen the hirundines first thing at 0700 hrs, and a Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa at the Lodge entrance gate.


Thursday 16th March [Mild with a southerly breeze. Wet in the afternoon.]

I looked over the dam, when I arrived at the lake around 1400 hrs, and to my surprise there were 6 Sand Martins Riparia riparia and a Swallow Hirundo rustica feeding over Cheddar Water a few metres away. I birded my way from the Lodge to the Hatchery and back in the increasingly damp conditions, as steady rain set in. The drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris was still at Flower Corner, and I reckoned I saw 6 Great White Egrets Ardea alba along the way. I'd spotted a sizeable flock of hirundines over the Top End, so I popped into the hide and gave them some careful scrutiny. They all appeared to be Sand Martins and I reckoned there were about 100 present (several counts all came out around that figure). On my rather hasty walk back to the Lodge I spotted the Swallow again off Rainbow Point, by this time with the larger flock, and noted the time at 1605 hrs.


Wednesday 15th March [A pleasant morning turned wet & windy by lunchtime]

My birding was done in the rain this afternoon from the Lodge to the Top End and back. Needless to say many birds were keeping their heads down and my list wasn't all it might have been. I found the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris at Flower Corner (Mark told me he'd seen it earlier at Long Bay), and I counted 60 or so Sand Martins Riparia riparia and 8 Great White Egrets Ardea alba. I didn't see anything new today although Wheatears and an Alpine Swift (Oldbury Power Station where it went to roost at 1715 hrs) were among the new arrivals along the local coastline. We have more southerly winds tomorrow, so the trickle could quickly become a flood of migrants with at least some, I hope, at Blagdon.


Tuesday 14th March [Cooler today. Dry & sunny with a stiff breeze.]

I was on site at 0800 hrs this morning and saw the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris in Long Bay, where it stayed until at least mid-afternoon when I went home. I was watching the tree felling operation for much of the day, which has left a big hole in Holt Copse, but done without causing the few nesting Rooks Corvus frugilegus too much distress because they were soon back building again. I saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, 2 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 5 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, 8 Sand Martins Riparia riparia and a pair of Wigeon Mareca penelope of note during the day.


Monday 13th March [Windy with some showers. Mild.]

Phil, Rob and I did the WeBS count this morning between 0950 and 1330 hrs. The water level was, let's say, 98% (not quite going over the overspill). We recorded: Canada Goose 56, Mute Swan 26, Mallard 83,  Teal 31, Shoveler 8, Gadwall 14,  Tufted Duck 206, Ring-necked Duck 1, Pochard 19, Goosander 1, Goldeneye 10, Great White Egret 8, Grey Heron 3, Cormorant 23, Coot 243, Moorhen 10,  Little Grebe 2, Great Crested Grebe 16, Snipe 9, Redshank 1, Cetti's Warbler 1, Buzzard 1 and Kestrel 1. Phil saw a Red Kite over Ubley Village when we drove from the Lodge to Top End to complete the count, and we also saw a Brown Hare and 2 Roe Deer. 

I went down to the lake again this evening from 1630 to 1820 hrs, I checked the dam end and then drove up to the Top End hide where I met Mark with his camera photographing a Great White Egret. Anyway, while he was busy with that I was scanning the lake for hirundines and briefly, for about 5 minutes during the last sunny spell of the day, a small group came down over the water. We both reckoned there to be at least 5 Sand Martins Riparia riparia and one House Martin Delichon urbicum. I was also interested to see how many Goldeneye gathered at Top End to roost, after Phil found it difficult to count them earlier. The answer was 25 (including 6 adult drakes and two 1st-winters) - of course there may have been more at the dam end.


Sunday 12th March [Mild & pleasant until rain arrived late afternoon]

Another day spent lakeside at Blagdon and t'other place. Mark and I met mid-morning to finish the first round of bat box checks at Blagdon this year, during which we saw 2, probably 3, Red Kites Milvus milvus over Butcombe. Mark thinks he also found a Nathusius' Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii in one of the boxes, but because we're not handling bats at this time of year it'll have to remain a probable rather than a definite, although he's a pretty good judge. When we'd finished, we drove over to Moreton at Chew Valley Lake to check and clean the bat boxes there, during which we found a Noctule and 3 Soprano Pipistrelles. Having done that, it looked like the weather was on the change, so we headed back to Blagdon to have a look around before the rain set in. We found a Redshank Tringa totanus on the dam wall, our second site year tick, but no sign of the drake Ring-necked Duck either in Long Bay, or at Top End where we finished the day. There were certainly 5 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, but probably more, present around the lake - not being able to drive through at present makes it hard to count them more accurately, so I've gone with the maximum we saw from the hide at one time.

With strong winds forecast for the next couple of days, the start of the boat angling season has been postponed until the wind abates. This may also delay the removal of the dangerous tree at Holt Copse, which means the south side road will remain partly closed. Updates will be posted as I get them.


Saturday 11th March [A cold south-easterly with some drizzle]

This morning the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris was in Long Bay. Having seen it with Dave H., Mark and I got on with some planned bat work which didn't go as quickly as we'd hoped, although we finished in time to drive around the lake to Top End and have a look there from the hide. We saw at least 4 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, but no hirundines.

It was disappointing to hear from Bristol Water that three people (we were told they were birders) drove into the Top End late this afternoon, parked on a meadow, and walked through the area from Bell's Bush to Holt Copse that has been very clearly labelled 'No Access...'


Friday 10th March [Dry & cool with a 'watery' sun]

Although it was cooler today than yesterday, I enjoyed a pleasant afternoon birding at the lake and managed to tot-up 51 bird spp. The drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris had moved back to Long Bay and was showing well (but note that boat angling starts at the lake again on Monday). I counted 8 Great White Egrets Ardea alba, and saw one each of Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla and Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita. It was quite charming to stand and listen to the winter thrushes chattering away in the treetops at the Hatchery while I was there, but the regular singing Blackcap was silent. There was no sign of yesterday's House Martins, however, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was back on the dam wall when I left.


Thursday 9th March [Mild with rain showers. Yesterday's snow has melted.]

I walked from the Lodge to the Hatchery and back this afternoon and checked the dam twice. The big news is I saw  2 House Martins Delichon urbicum just before I left site, which is a surprise because we normally see Sand Martins first in the Spring. This is my earliest record by a week. The drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris was still playing hide-and-seek at Flower Corner and I saw him swim out just the once while watching from the left hatch of the hide.  Aside from the above, I saw 7 Great White Ardea alba and 1 Little Egret Egretta garzetta, and none of the sandpipers or wagtails on the dam wall.


Wednesday 8th March [Snow arrived overnight & fell for much of the day, turning to sleet later.]

I had to collect my car from Ubley Motors late this afternoon, the only time I went out, so I drove home via the lake with quick stops at Top End hide and the dam. I saw 4 Great White Ardea alba and 1 Little Egret Egretta garzetta, and on the dam one each of Green Tringa ochropus and Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos.


Tuesday 7th March [Light sleet & drizzle clearing to late afternoon sunshine]

I drove through late in the afternoon having been out walking earlier in the day with friends. There was a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus on the dam, and I counted at least 6 Great White Ardea alba and 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, before spotting the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris at Flower Corner.


Great White Egret, Top End. 12th Apr. 2023Great White Egret, Top End. 12th Apr. 2023


Monday 6th March  [Overcast, with the odd wintery shower. Cool.]

I birded my way from the Lodge to the Hatchery & back having a chat to a few of the season ticket anglers along the way. They seemed to enjoy their first casts of the season and caught some nice fish despite the cold. I saw the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris at Hellfire Corner with a group of Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula. I also saw 7 Great White Ardea alba and one Little Egret Egretta garzetta, a Stonechat Saxicola rubicola.


Sunday 5th March [Mainly overcast. Dry.]

I had a short birding walk this morning from the Lodge to Rainbow Point and back before meeting up with Ken and Mark at Ubley Church to put another bat box up in the churchyard for them. We checked the two we put up last year but didn't find any evidence of bat use yet - although there was evidence of birds having roosted in one of them. Now it's just checking and hoping that some bats decide to move in and avail themselves of the des res provided.

After that, we went to Top End to check a few boxes before moving around to Rugmoor to check some more and rehang two that we wished to lower a bit. At Top End we spotted a ringed male Nathusius' Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii in a Kent box in which there were three other small bats in another compartment. Another Kent box contained three more small bats, probably Soprano Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus

It seems that the drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris has indeed relocated as suggested, and was found by Andy M. towards Top End in flooded trees at Flower Corner, together with a female Goosander Mergus merganser. I counted 5 Great White Ardea alba and 1 Little Egret Egretta garzetta, and saw a Stonechat Saxicola rubicola at Long Bay. Bank fishing starts again tomorrow.


Saturday 4th March [Grey & overcast]

I went for a brief visit to the lake from 1115-1230 hrs. I met Robert K. looking for the Ring-necked Duck but neither of us could spot it. Perhaps all the afternoon knaps its been taking this week were in preparation for a migratory flight? On the other hand, it may just have been displaced by the fisheries team moving boats in readiness for the new fishing season which is nearly upon us. Bank anglers will be on the lakeside on Monday, and the boats will be out the following Monday. During my walk I counted 6 Great White Ardea alba and 1 Little Egret Egretta garzetta, heard the Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti singing in Home Bay reeds, and saw the female Stonechat Saxicola rubicola along the hedge at Long Bay. Robert reported 4 Goosander Mergus merganser in addition.

I drove past Heron's Green, CVL, at 1805 hrs and saw a pretty impressive murmuration of Starlings as I went past. No-one else has been reporting this as far as I know.

Tomorrow, Mark, Ken and I are hoping to finish off the bat box spring-clean, and put up a couple of new ones in Ubley Churchyard, in addition to the two put up last year.


Friday 3rd March [Overcast with a perishing breeze]

I met Mark at 1100hrs in order to clean and carry out safety checks on some more bat boxes. We found quite a few Soprano Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus in Kent boxes and a lone Noctule Nyctalus noctula in a Schwegler box. After doing twenty boxes we popped up the hill for a cuppa and some lunch before going back to bird our way along the south side of the lake to the Hatchery and back. We'd seen a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus while doing the boxes, and at the dam the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was in its usual spot at the south corner. I refilled the feeder, and saw the sleeping drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris and Stonechats Saxicola rubicola at Long Bay. Two Snipe Gallinago gallinago flew up at Top End as we walked past, and we reckoned there to have been 5 Great White Ardea alba and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta around the lake. I logged 47 bird and 5 mammal spp on BirdTrack.


Thursday 2nd March [A glorious sunny day]

It was wall-to-wall sunshine today so I decided to walk from home and have a good afternoon look around at the lake. There was nothing new to be seen, but the pleasant conditions meant it was just nice to be out. The drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris was asleep in Long Bay when I went past, and I think I saw 6 Great White Ardea alba and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, although with them being so mobile it's difficult to be sure. At the north end of the dam, I caught up with both Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos that we saw during the WeBS count, one of which looks to be suffering from some kind of foot deformity.


Wednesday 1st March [Overcast with some drizzle. Cold.]

This afternoon, Mark and I arranged to meet to safety check and clean a few more bat boxes at the lake, after which we spent the remaining daylight birding our way from the Lodge to Top End hide and back. The drake Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris continues to grace Long Bay with it's presence, and the pair of Stonechats Saxicola rubicola were in the roadside hedge there in the easterly breeze. We noted at least 5 Great White Egrets Ardea alba and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, and spent some time looking at and discussing the state of the lakeside hedges - more about which tomorrow. The conversation came about because I commented that during my recent walks I've realised that Blackthorn is in gorgeous full flower at the moment. Why then, isn't the Yeo valley an absolute picture of blossom? After all, most of our local hedgerows contain Blackthorn. This got me thinking about food sources for the insects of early Spring, and how important those early insects are as a food source to fuel bird migration, or indeed, to help rebuild the depleted fat reserves of bats emerging from hibernation. No food for the insects = no insects. No insects = no food for the migrating birds and emerging bats. No food for the birds and bats = no birds and bats. Why then are the custodians of the countryside obsessed with flailing the hedges every year to the point where no Blackthorn in those hedges ever gets the chance to bloom?

Nigel Milbourne © 2009-24. All Rights Reserved.