Sun 27th November 2011

This week has been the first week that, whilst walking around birding, it has felt more like winter than autumn. In the headland bushes there are practically no chiffs or crests calling, any overhead migration seems to be half-hearted and the expectation of rarities has slowly dissolved away. Autumn 2011 has passed and a winter of mourning has begun. Here's hoping that we get another cold spell at some point during the next three months, because otherwise winter in Guernsey can be birdingly dull.

Of course it doesn't stop me getting out searching however, and the highlight of the quiet week was discovering a Water Pipit on the beach at L'Eree. There has been about 4 reported so far this autumn, so perhaps the wintering population is set to expand (or one is moving around a lot).

Water Pipit - L'Eree Shingle Bank, 21 Nov 2011

The habitat choice of the Water Pipits we are getting at the moment is curious. Just a short flit inland from this bird there are various wet marshes and flooded grassy areas which look ideal for Water Pipit, but most of the recent birds, like this one have been sticking to the rocky beaches, feeding in amongst the Rock Pipits. It must just be that the feeding is just so great there, with millions of insects in amongst the vraic, that they are happy to move out of usual habitat.

Teal - Claire Mare, 23 Nov 2011

Ringed Plover - early morning, Vazon Beach, 25 Nov 2011

In the summer I bought an identification book on fungi to expand my knowledge of stuff that grows (and it was a steal at that price). The best time for fungi is the autumn, but the problem is during this time of year I don't hardly look down, as my eyes are always looking up for flyover migrants or for flicks in the bushes. Since it has quietened down though, I have photographed quite a few species whilst out and about, and have discovered that it is bloody hard! There seems to be endless types of 'agaric' species, all pretty much looking the same and trying to match the photos up with the book is a nightmare. I think I will have to be asking for help online for the ID of a lot of these. But there are still a few which are obvious though, and I saw these Candle Snuff Fungus this afternoon by the side of the road at Moulin Huet. It is amazing that when you start looking specifically for things, you wonder why you've never seen them before. Apparently, this species is common, but I have no recollection of seeing anything like it before.

Candle Snuff Fungus - Moulin Huet, 27 Nov 11

Sat 19th November 2011

Busy, busy, busy. I have not been out for a proper birding session at all this month - my football is my weekend activity at the moment. If I had to choose between birding and playing football, then it would be birding every time to be honest. However, with my ever-increasing age, I know that playing 90 minutes of football won't be an option anyway soon, so I am making the most of it while I can.

Since I was unable to play football anyway this afternoon, I managed to get out this morning for a couple of hours in the field. My target bird was Woodlark since November seems to be the best time for it and I still needed it for Guernsey. I headed up to Mont Herault fields and found about 30 Skylarks altogether but no Woodlarks were with them. The highlight though was a Short-eared Owl that I put up from a few yards away as it was roosting invisibly in a potato field I was working through. My first for ages. I also had a wee look in the valleys but warbler migration seems to have halted now and I only found a single Firecrest.

I have seen a few birds this month so far though, including some fine surprises. In my lunch hour on 3rd November I went down to L'Eree to see a Snow Bunting that had been around for a few days, and it was feeding in the bare field when I arrived showing nicely but not closely as I'd hoped

Snow Bunting - L'Eree, 3 Nov 11

Nothing surprising about that bird of course, but I then went for a quick look in the trees at Fort Saumarez for any migrants and I found something skulking in the top of an evergreen oak. It was being very elusive but I eventually got it in the bins and saw it was what appeared to be a young Pied Flycatcher. November is majorly late for this species and I hoped that if I grilled it some more it might actually be something even rarer - (I was praying for Mugimaki!!). But although I only had brief views, the white in the wing was exceedingly Pied-like, but I was very pleased anyway to have seen such a late one.

I had to rush back to school, but as I was driving through Richmond, I saw what was clearly a Swift whizz over the houses. The standard flag then popped up in my head: late Swift = check for Pallid. So I swerved off the road and jumped out. It was nowhere to be seen, so I continued on, and then as I rounded the corner at Vazon, low over the road, now two Swift raced by. Again, I quickly pulled over to look at them in my bins, but both birds looked distinctly sooty-coloured and I sped back to school.

Then during the afternoon a grapevine text informs me that two Swifts had been seen feeding at Mont Saint (near where I saw them) and that Pallid hadn't been ruled out. So after school I needed to re-check them and I went back down to Richmond - they were still there and I watched them for a while. The late afternoon sun made the birds much browner but I couldn't pick up a single feature that indicated Pallid. I tried to take some photos but it was a bit tricky!

Swift - Richmond, Vazon, 3 Nov 11

There has been lots of Pallid Swift claims this November so far around the country, but only one or two have been proven. They are so difficult - even these birds I couldn't say for 100% certain that they definitely weren't Pallids.

A female Black Redstart has kept me entertained in the school quad during the last couple of weeks, but the main rare bird of the month so far has been a Desert Wheatear at Pleinmont which stayed for at least six days. Unfortunately I never got the chance to go look for it. I have seen two previously in Guernsey, hence the lack of urgency - but I would have liked to see it. But last Saturday - the 13th - I did get a Guernsey tick at Fort Hommet. I just managed to get there in time in the late afternoon to twitch a young Red-backed Shrike, and I saw it fly across and land in a Tamarisk. It perched for a minute or so before heading into the bowels of the bush to go to roost, so I was quite lucky to get it at all as it left overnight. Although not massively rare here, with records every 2 or 3 years, this is only the second twitchable one since my arrival, and none have stayed more than a day. Again, this was a very late bird in keeping with the mild conditions that are prevailing. With the late date I was really hoping that it would turn out to be a Brown Shrike!

Sat 29th October 2011

TRIP TO YORKSHIRE - DAY FOUR

Duncan and I went off early to hit the Head at Flamborough. I was very surprised that, despite it being October, we had been birding a full hour before we saw any birders at all, and in the couple of hours that we were there, we only saw about 8 or 9 in total. It was great to walk around the place after so long and I was very impressed with the improved access. All those places that we used to say about, "it'd be good if we could walk along there", mostly seemed to be open. We did not see a great many birds of interest - one or two Great Spotted Woodpeckers may have been immigrants. Thrushes, Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings were common enough but there was nothing out of the ordinary. So we enjoyed a fine breakfast at the Head Cafe.

The white cliffs of Flamborough

The Bay Brambles - a rare bird magnet of the highest order

Yellowhammer - Flamborough Head, 29 Oct 11

We headed over to Filey for another shot at the Olive-backed Pipit since it had been showing the previous day. We passed a massive flock of Golden Plover in the fields which was a new species for Duncan. But at Filey we soon heard that the pipit had not been seen at all today, and there seemed to be little else around which was new so we headed home.

After lunch me and Abigail waved goodbye to our East Yorkshire family and drove back West. It was dark when we arrived in Leeds and Abigail persuaded us that she wanted a second attempt at a MacDonalds. After such fine dining, I watch MOTD and went to sleep. Early next morning we said our goodbyes and headed back to Manchester Airport after a very enjoyable few days, despite the lack of quality birds.

Fri 28th October 2011

Posted on November 10, 2011 at 5:10 PM

TRIP TO YORKSHIRE - DAY THREE

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I woke up early in the morning and at first light the Yorkshire Wolds were a picture. The sun was shining through the hanging mists, creating an odd copper-coloured glow. I managed to take a few photos of the scene that I was very pleased with.

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Whilst I had the camera out, I noticed a Starling bathing in the bird bath and I took a few snaps from the front window. I was dead chuffed to get the terrific photo below as the droplets of water splashed through the air. It's an unusual photo but I think it looks really effective (click it for full size).

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Today's activity was a fun-filled adventure at the magical world of Flamingoland - The DisneyWorld of Yorkshire. I had not been here for ages and ages and so didn't really know what to expect. It was all a bit stressful overall with people in your face at every turn - the biggest demographic seemingly geordie chavs. But of course, I wasn't there for me, I was there for this . . . .

 

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Abigail rather enjoying herself on the mini-rollercoaster.

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So, I really did enjoy myself, but only because I loved watching Abigail, Heidi and James enjoying themselves. Not having been to a theme park for years I was amazed at the 'extremeness' of some of the rides there, with people being strapped to fake motorbikes, dangling their legs and dropping like a stone, all at ridiculous speeds. Despite my hatred of going fast, even I managed to have a go at one of the more extreme rides . . . . .

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Flamingoland sits quite unobtrusively in the Vale of Pickering.

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Also at Flamingoland there is a small zoo section and I had more interest looking at the animals and birds they had there, and taking lots of photos. Although strangely, I saw no Flamingos at Flamingoland! Below are a selection of the pics: Meerkat, thoughtful Baboon, baby Baboon, Rhea, Rhino, Squirrel - I don't think the latter was part of the zoo.

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Thu 27th October 2011

Posted on November 6, 2011 at 5:05 AM

TRIP TO YORKSHIRE - DAY TWO

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In the morning we headed eastwards to my sister's house on the Yorkshire Wolds. They live in a fabulous location - a small village nestling amongst the rolling chalk hills. And, more importantly of course, only 20 minutes from both Filey and Flamborough! It was disappointing that, after some SE winds, there did not seem to be very much on the Yorkshire coast at all - the only rarity was an Olive-backed Pipit at Filey, a species I only saw last week.

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It was a rainy day, but after a soggy drive over and some lunch I headed to Filey with my Dad and my brother-in-law, but it was very quiet. There was the odd Goldcrest and Reed Bunting in the bushes, and quite a few Skylarks going over, but it was not as busy as October should be.

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Tree Sparrow - Filey, 27 Oct 11

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We were having a bite to eat in the cafe when we heard that the Olive-backed Pipit had just been showing, so we walked up to the spot and joined the group of ten or so birders stood in the bushes. After about five minutes or so it was clear that it wasn't showing and so we headed back out of the trees. If a bird disappears then it is better to retreat and see if it returns back to where it was, but no, most of the birders just carried on tramping around its favoured feeding area. Lack of common sense. So we dipped the bird - although if I'd have stayed around I would have probably seen it - and we headed down to Flamborough's South Landing which was deathly quiet. A single Chiffchaff was the only bird of note.

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Me, my Dad and my Brother-in-law at South Landing - Note that my Dad has such highly advanced birding skills that he doesn't even need bins any more, and that Duncan's birding is pretty good to say that he does not have any arms.






Wed 26th October 2011

Posted on November 2, 2011 at 5:00 PM

TRIP TO YORKSHIRE - DAY ONE

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So, half-term holiday and I have taken Abigail for a trip to the land of her forefathers. A few days in Yorkshire with the family and maybe a spot of birding also. The only bird of interest in Guernsey before I set off was a high-flying Swift that went over the house yesterday as I was getting ready to leave. Very late swifts are always of interest but I only saw it for a second or so in the bins. It looked pretty dark and there was nothing to suggest it wasn't Common.

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So late-afternoon we had a super, "tail-wind" of a flight and got to Manchester airport in about an hour. A slight shock on leaving though, when the plane started up the runway and then suddenly made a sharp turn left. After an initial mild panic, I thought that we had broken down and we'd have to trudge back in, but luckily it was just to clear the runway for another plane. I had hired a car on this trip home which would give me a bit more freedom than usual, but this meant a drive across the Pennines on the M62, in the dark, and it had now started to rain. When you haven't driven on a motorway for a while, or travelled above 35 mph for a few months, it can be surprisingly scary suddenly overtaking lorries in the gloom, with spray bouncing off the windscreen, and racers up your arse. I was bricking it a couple of times during the journey but managed to get safely into Garforth and my old home.

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This morning was clear and bright and Skylarks and a few Siskins were passing overhead. After a morning catching up with an old schoolmate, we headed off down the M1 to get the obligatory shopping out of the way. Just outside the town a Red Kite appeared low suddenly over the motorway. These birds appear to have colonised the Garforth area since I last came - Dad now regularly has them over the golf course. The White Rose shopping centre was just about bearable for an hour - the lowlight being the "Food" Court, where Kentucky Fried Donalds, MacChicken, Burger Hut, and Pizza King, compete for the arteries of the masses. A "walk-through" MacD's was a new one on me - I felt like a cow being marshalled into the slaughterhouse. Whilst Abigail scoffed her burger, my cheese and onion pastie made me pleased I am vegetarian.

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I managed to break free from this consumer nightmare and had a couple of hours to myself to go birding in my old haunts in the Lower Aire Valley. I headed straight down to Swillington Ings - my old local patch that between the ages of 16 and 26 I visited literally hundreds of times. During my previous visits home I have never got round to popping down, so I had not been for about ten years. I felt strangely emotional as I drove down Fleet Lane - passing all the spots that were so familiar, yet so unfamiliar. As I climbed the riverbank and looked over Astley Lake though, it was as if I'd never been away.

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The River Aire at Swillington Ings - This unremarkable section of riverbank is a very special spot for me - where I changed from a birdwatcher into a birdfinder. My first ever self-found rarity was just here - a Water Pipit walking around a sandbank. Fair enough, not really, really rare but it was the first record for the site and for me. 

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The hide - When I first started going here this hide had not been built and we had to stretch to peer over the river bank from the ground.

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The view from the hide - looking out of the flaps it reminded me just how far away all the birds were. Those hours and hours sat in the hide gave me a lot of practise at distant ID.

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The species on view were mainly the expected species of common wader and duck, with two male and a female Pintail being the highlight. Over Astley hillside two distant Buzzards soared and a late Swallow flicked eastwards. Then, appearing from behind an island, out strode a Little Egret - only a patch tick!  

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Little Egret - number 178 for my Swilly list, and my first patch tick for 13 years. Obviously, since I left the area, this species has marched northwards at some rate.

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After a short while listening to the discussions in the hide about stringy Ravens, Shrikes and Sakers, I headed further down the valley towards Fairburn Ings, where I used to visit when I was even younger. In fact my first ever birdwatching trip was to here with my dad when I was probably about 9 or 10, and we had a Curlew Sandpiper pointed out to us on the flashes. I took a walk down Lin Dyke, my favourite part of the reserve.

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The hide and ings at Lin Dyke, Fairburn.

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There was a nice selection of ducks on the flashes, with a close Greenshank and a few Dunlins around. A Red Kite was soaring over the trees in the distance and quite a few Fieldfare and Redwing were coming in.

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Fieldfare, Fairburn Ings

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It was starting to get a bit late so I headed back into Garforth. I decided to drive through the estate where I grew up and see how it had changed, and judging from the "End Shops", where we used to pass twice a day, to and from school, the answer was "not much".

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My local row of shops near where I grew up. I was amazed that after 30 years "Roy's Off License" is still there, "Martin's Newsagent" is still there, and the Chemist is still a Chemist. Roy looked pretty old to us when we used to pile in there to buy our Wham bars and Panini football stickers. I hope the poor chap has retired and passed on the business.

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And this is the house that I grew up in, where I lived from the age of 2 to 21. I was the suburban birder. Quite frankly I am quite disappointed that there is not a blue plaque there already. It disappointingly looked quite unfamiliar. We had no wall, no porch and no burglar alarm, and the privet hedge next door wasn't that big. But you can just see the tarmac of the road where I spent hours perfecting my football skills, and winning the FA Cup numerous times for Leeds United.

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Tue 18th October 2011

Posted on October 19, 2011 at 4:25 PM

I was patrolling the school field today at lunchtime, breaking up the odd "pile-on" or teenage slanging match, when I received a call from Jamie H. He tells me that he's just seen a pipit feeding in a garden by the Grand Pre that he first thought was a Tree but now thinks it may be an Olive-backed!! This was massive news. Not only would it be a new species for the Guernsey List, but it would be a total lifer for me, never having seen one anywhere in the world!

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He had a few poor pics of the bird and he emailed them to me. So rushing the pupils out the door at 3 o'clock, I grabbed "Nils" out of the car and opened up the pics. They looked pretty good to me and I suggested he grapevined it as a probable OBP. I packed up quickly, waited for the car park to clear, then sped off towards Grand Pre, about 20 minutes away.

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When I arrived, Jamie was there with a few others but the bird had not been seen again since lunchtime. It had to be still there, but these gardens were well-vegetated and stretched out quite a way where you couldn't get to. Half-an-hour later we still were striking out and I was getting worried since I had to be talking to Abigail's teacher at 5 o'clock. Luckily, Jamie decided to walk into the original garden as he was going to ask the owners of the house if we could look around for it. And as he did so, it suddenly appeared on the grass next to the shed. There was no-one at home so we all piled into the garden and after a couple of disappearings, it eventually fed out in the open on the grass, and I was able to study it through the scope. We checked all the features and there was nothing against it being OBP - superb! Too far away and too dark for any decent photos, but I didn't care. My first new 'life' species since Jan 2010 and it was worth the wait.

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Olive-backed Pipit - Grand Pre, 18 Oct 2011

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Sat 15th October 2011

Posted on October 16, 2011 at 10:40 AM

The eye of the rare bird storm appears to have been passing over Guernsey at the moment. Hopefully we will hit the rear end of the autumn rarity rush soon. It has been good to see the late autumn and winter birds arriving though in the bright, clear conditions. On Wednesday I saw the first Siskins and Grey Wagtail of the season, then on Thursday the first Brent Goose flew past Pulias. This weekend has been especially clear with thrushes going over, including a flock of 10 Redwing over the house.

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The highlight of the week though was on Friday when I was checking one of my favourite little spots - the gardens by the Penisula Hotel - and I had a cracking Yellow-browed Warbler on a bare Sycamore. I only saw it because I went back to look at a Pied Flycatcher that was in the same area. This little corner of the island, barely 5 minutes from my house, has finally come up with something after years of not-that-regular checking.

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Moth-trapping last night was just a selection of the regular late-autumn species, although 24 Flame Brocades was an excellent count, and I have not had very many Red-line Quakers before.

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Red-line Quaker - garden, 14 Oct 11

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Flame Brocades - garden, 14 Oct 11

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Just a pic of the moon behind clouds the other night - I have souped up the colours somewhat!

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Made a new sign to put on my classroom door on Monday. The little guy is Ferb. If you don't know who Ferb is then, well you have not lived.

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One of the most difficult parts of my job is to persuade the kids that there's nothing wrong with being good and working hard at school. There is a strange attitude throughout the country that it is not cool to do well at school - (I don't know about other parts of the world). But you hear it all the time from adults, thinking they are cool saying "Oh yeah. I was soooo naughty at school. We used to have a right laugh. Doing this and doing that, etc etc". Children pick up their attitudes from the adults they know and so grown-ups need to think more carefully about what they say around children. The hard-working, well-behaved children then get labelled as nerds and geeks by their "cool" peers and can feel very left out. So I try to persuade these pupils to embrace their geekiness and nerdiness and be proud of it - like I am - and realise that "coolness" is actually very bad for you. If they can get through High School without moving over to the dark side then they will reap the benefits in the future. I played this video to my Additional Science class last week.

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Sat 8th October 2011

Posted on October 9, 2011 at 12:15 AM

I was so grateful today that I had been in pain all week. Last Saturday, during a penalty-box skirmish, I managed to get a knee in the ribs. It wasn't a problem at the time, but since then it has been pretty much agony - especially when I sneeze - and I think it is cracked. In fact this is the third time I have injured this rib - clearly my Achilles heel. Anyway, there was no way I could play football this morning, and so I had to drop out. And what do all footballers do when they are unable to play due to injury? They go seawatching of course!!

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I don't do a lot of seawatching - I don't like being so inactive - twice a year is about the sum of it, so I never expect to bump into a great day. But today was fabulous. The first bird I saw when I set up the 'scope in the seawatching hide at Chouet was a Manx Shearwater. Mark G arrived, and from then on for the next 3 hours we saw good birds passing all the time. Bonxies were the main species moving, and we had a total of 53 birds go past, in groups of up to 4 birds. About half passed in front of the reef, and some were exceptionally close like the bird below which came into the bay.

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Bonxie - passing just off the rocks at Chouet, 8 Oct 11

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The next most common species was Sooty Shearwater, and we had 25 of those pass by. A few of these were also in front of the reef and we saw a super flock of 5 whizzing through. Other species noted were 8 Kittiwakes (my first ones of the year!), 3 male Common Scoter, a flock of 4 Golden Plover and a nice group of 10 Skylarks flying low over the waves - my first of the autumn.

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There were also a few smaller skuas, and we had 8 Arctics altogether past, but it was getting to 11 o'clock-ish and we were disappointed that we hadn't had a rarer bird in all this passage. However at 11:10 we picked up a juvenile skua that was coming towards us quite close and straight away it seemed too heavy to be an Arctic. As it got level to us it dangled a fat belly below itself and we were starting to think, on jizz, that it had to be a Pom. We tried to have a good look at the underwing and it did seem to have a lot of white there but it was too distant to see the exact pattern. Luckily, the bird must have caught sight of a gull that it liked the look of, and suddenly turned towards us and chased it really quite close. We could then see very clearly the double white underwing mark of a Pomarine Skua. It was bird of the day and, fair enough if you are a regular seawatcher it's not very special, but it was very exciting for me as I hadn't seen a Pom for ages, and this was my best ever view of one.

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Pomarine Skua - Chouet, 8 Oct 11

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Last week was a very busy week for me, with parents evening, report-writing, meetings etc - and so I didn't get a lot of chance for birding. Monday lunchtime I was at Fort le Crocq where I jammed into a Black Tern slowly passing offshore in the sunny weather. Also, I saw fly in and land on the rocks a very small, pale Peregrine. I thought it might have stood a chance at being an odd-raced bird but an adult Peregrine came to join it and so it was most probably a local youngster.

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small, pale Peregrine - Fort le Crocq, 3 Oct 11

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On Wednesday, I finally caught up with a Rose-coloured Starling at the Richmond end of Vazon. This had been there for about 5 days and there were actually 2 birds together on Monday. After two blank years, I was starting to think that my bold claim of Guernsey being "the best place for RCS in North and Western Europe" was false, but I think it stands up (that's 27 birds in last 15 years).

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juvenile Rose-coloured Starling - Richmond, Vazon, 5 Oct 2011

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Last weekend (the nights of 30th Sep and 1st Oct) I had the moth trap out both nights because of the warm southerly breeze that was happening. I did not get many migrants at all which was a shame, but I did get two new species for the garden. Firstly a superb Merveille du Jour which, although quite common in the UK, is quite rare here and this was a tick for me. Great colours. The other one was a rare micro, but I had had one this spring so wasn't anew one - a Tebenna micalis.

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Merveille du Jour - garden, 1 Oct 2011

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Tebenna micalis - garden, 1 Oct 2011

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The final bit of exciting birding news is the arrival of the new Guernsey Grapevine. With UK birders having moved on to finding out bird news via their pagers and mobile phone alerts, joining those is rather irrelevent to us here on the island and we have been still using the archaic phoning-up-and-talking-to-people method of spreading news. But thanks to Phil A's amazing skillz, we now have an automatic text alert system set-up where we can receive texts to our mobiles when someone starts a "grapevine" off. It's really amazing and is now in the testing stage. I designed a logo (below) which has a little bit of the 'crakes' about it. Note the Guernsey flag behind.

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Fri 30th September 2011

Posted on October 2, 2011 at 12:30 AM

The autumn had started great for the birder with hurricanes and fast-moving depressions hurtling themselves across the Atlantic. Then this week it has all gone weird. Just as the waterproofs had been broken out and thoughts had turned to birds arriving from the cold north, the weather went all crazy. It has been incredibly hot and sunny this week - probably the hottest week of the year. In fact too hot. On Thursday I didn't go out for lunchtime birding because it was too uncomfortable. All my colleagues basking in the joy of the Indian summer are a little confused with my grumpy "wish it would rain" comments. It is difficult to predict what might turn up in these hot but late conditions since I can't remember it happening before. But I hoped for a rare raptor from France perhaps.

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It started getting warm last weekend and walking at Fort Saumarez at lunchtime on Monday I started to struggle. I did have my first Firecrest of the autumn in the trees - always a thrill. Of course the butterflies were loving it and there were three or four Commas flying around the ivy with numerous Red Admirals.

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Red Admiral - Fort Saumarez, 26 Sep 2011

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Comma - Fort Saumarez, 26 Sep 2011

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Tuesday was very warm again with a SE breeze and I thought that it would be perfect to find a good raptor so I had a sky-watch from Raptor Ridge at lunchtime. There were at least 7 Buzzards flying around the valleys and a male Marsh Harrier flew through - but nothing rarer. I also had another male Marsh Harrier as I drove past Rue des Frances by the airport. This bird is in the photo below, where you can see the heat haze shimmering off the fields - it looks like it was taken in Spain in mid-summer rather than late-September in Guernsey.

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male Marsh Harrier - Rue des Frances, 27 Sep 2011

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On Wednesday after work I finally caught up with the Wryneck which had been present at Pulias - one of my local patches - for about a week. This bird has been photographed a lot and I also managed a few quick snaps in the baking heat. You really can't see enough Wrynecks - class birds.

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Wryneck - Pulias, 28 Sep 2011

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After Wednesday, I more or less gave up for the week as it got even warmer, but clearly birds were still moving through and two Pec Sands turned up on the Aerodrome today.

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The photo below shows my place of work - Les Beaucamps Academy of Excellence, the pale blue building at the back right - and as can be seen, I love the location. From the school you can see right across the central valleys and over the Grande Mare to Vazon Bay - a really beautiful vista (not dissimilar to the view from the school I first worked at, in Dewsbury......not) but from my classroom I cannot see the view. Since the building is literally falling to pieces though, they are building us a brand new one - the steel structure to the left - which looking at the plans, seems to be pretty awesome. As far as I can tell, the Science Labs are on a top floor on the very left and seem to look right across the great view. Looking forward to September!

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Sun 25th September 2011

Posted on September 25, 2011 at 3:45 PM

The weekend's weather has been too bright and sunny for any rare birds to be dumped on the island so I have been content with staring skyward for rare flyovers. I didn't see any of course but I have noted that there is now the odd Meadow Pipit and Chaffinch going over, which tells me that we have entered the second half of autumn, with birds from the North and East arriving. A Buzzard seems to be hanging around the area and keeps giving low fly-pasts over the house.

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Buzzard being buzzed by a Carrion Crow - over the garden, 25 Sep 11

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With the warm weather I have put the moth trap on both nights this weekend despite the nights being clear. I have put a selection of photos from this weekend below. The highlight of the catches was the Dewick's Plusia on Friday night which is only my second ever - there are about 20 records for Guernsey.

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Dewick's Plusia - garden, 23 Sep 11

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Clancy's Rustic - garden, 24 Sep 11

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Brindled Green - garden, 24 Sep 11 - with the arrival of Sombre Brocade on the island the ID of this species has become less easy. These two species are very similar in markings, although the latter is generally darker, and this one has shorter wings (as far as I can tell!) 

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Large Ranunculus - garden, 24 Sep 11

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Light Emerald - garden, 24 Sep 11

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Sallow - garden, 24 Sep 11

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There are also many species of caddis-fly that are attracted to the moth trap. I have no clue as to their identity but some seem quite distinctive and must be 'doable'. The two below were in last night and were both massive.

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Caddis-flies - garden, 24 Sep 11 

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The weekend did have a low point however, and it was quite distressing to those concerned. I was walking through the utility room when I saw a group of youngsters chatting on the freezer. I knew these kids pretty well - Winnie the Pooh, Violet Flowertot and Boots the Monkey - and they are a really pleasant group. Just as I was about to go over to chat to them, a massive flying Pterosaur swooped down and landed beside them. And before anyone had time to think, this dirty old dinosaur exposed himself in front of the little ones. I wanted to make a citizens arrest but I wasn't close enough. I did manage to take a snapshot of the incident and I hope it will help the police apprehend the heinous pervert. As you can see, Boots and Pooh seem to be laughing it off, but Violet looks pretty shocked. If anyone has any information, or has themself suffered at the hands of this Cretaceous cretin, please let me know or contact PC Plum at Balamory Police Station.

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Thu 22nd September 2011

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 4:10 PM

I do not have a very good track record of finding rare waders. None of the good birds I have ever found have been shorebirds - maybe it's just the type of birding I tend to do. But 2011 has been splendidly different. First there was the Black-winged Stilt I discovered at Pulias in May, then there was last week's Buff-breast, and then this week, I managed to complete the hat-trick!

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Lunchtime on Monday I went down to L'Eree to look for rare waders - I quite fancied finding a Semi-p Sand actually - but  there were zero waders on the Aerodrome and the Shingle Bank just had a single Bar-tailed Godwit feeding with the common stuff. Checking the watch, I had just enough time to have a 5 minute look from the hide at the Claire Mare, so I scuttled down the lane and opened the flap - not a sausage. Not one single bird. Then all of a sudden I heard a wader call from really close below the hide, and I did not recognise this call at all. Immediately a wader took flight from a few yards in front of me. It was pretty plain above as it flew with no really obvious white patches or wing-bar - only a very subtle pattern. It landed on the mud and straight away revealed itself to be a bloomin' Pectoral Sandpiper!

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Quite amazed, I realised that I had just 15 minutes before I had to be back in the classroom and I dashed back to the car and took a few record shots as it fed amongst the glasswort on the far shore of the mare lake.

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juv Pectoral Sandpiper - Claire Mare, 19 Sep 11

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That evening the wind picked up from the North and I had a 10 minute seawatch from the recycling centre at Chouet. A Great Skua soon passed and there was also other bits and bats - I wish I had the time to stay longer as it looked really good.

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On Wednesday lunch I went to see the Pec Sand again at the Claire Mare in the hope of taking some good photos, but it was exceptionally dull and the bird just never stopped moving. My photography skills are not good enough to be succesful under these conditions and the best I got is below.

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The number of quality birds around the country this week has been superb, and I have been yearning to go on a some mega twitches to see them all - but alas, this is impossible. So one has to keep hoping that some crippler manages to turn up here on Guernsey. You've got to keep believing, or it'll never happen. So despite being knackered, I had a half-hour round Lihou Headland today and flushed a Wryneck from the top of the hill exactly where I had two last year. It seems to be a good year for them on the island.

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Just realised that all the three self-found waders this year have been on a Monday afternoon. Surely not a coincidence, eh, eh?. . . .(except of course, like most 'mysterious' things in this world - it is).

Sat 17th September 2011

Posted on September 17, 2011 at 4:15 PM

With finding Osprey and Buff-breasted Sandpiper within three days, the rest of the week could not live up to such standards. On both Tuesday and Wednesday lunchtime I went down to L'Eree to search for the Tawny Pipit but it was nowhere to be seen. The saltmarsh there though was crawling with White and Pied Wagtails - much more than usual, but there was only one young Yellow Wagtail with them. The pipit had probably left in the calm, sunny conditions. The Little Stint was on the wader scrape but too distant to turn it into anything rarer. On Thursday morning I saw a Whinchat at Pulias which, upon checking, turned out to be the only one I have seen this year which is a bit odd. I usually see plenty in the Autumn.

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The most eventful morning was Tuesday when, after doing my usual pre-work circuit at Fort Hommet, I looked down from the hill and saw something odd stood in the grass near the car park.

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It didn't click at first but when I put my bins on it, I could see that it was a Shag - not exactly a typical grassland species. I went over to it and it was clearly a touch confused and allowed a close approach. It was very windy still and I think it must have crash-landed - perhaps it couldn't see where the sea was because of the wall. I thought it may have been injured.

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I was just starting to think "oh crap, I'm gonna have to try and rescue this aren't I ", when further down the path I saw a massive Doberman coming in our direction. Now this dog, which I regularly pass on a morning, frightens the hell out of me - it is the most gigantic beast of an animal that I've ever seen - it wouldn't look out of place patrolling the River Styx. The other day I heard it running towards me from behind and it sounded like a small racehorse pounding down the turf. To be fair, the owner seems to have it really well trained, but I didn't want to take any chances, so I started flapping my arms about trying to "mush" the Shag away, back towards the sea. Luckily it didn't seem injured at all and it made numerous short flappy flights towards the sea wall.

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When it reached the sea wall it looked like it didn't know where to go next (birds are so thick!) but luckily it decided to jump up onto the top of the wall.

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As it seemed safe I took the opportunity for a few pictures and was pleased to see it fly back into the water. So a successful rescue of a stupid bird.

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The late summer and early autumn has been atrocious for getting the moth trap due to the high winds . On Thursday I saw a few Silver Y whilst out and about, and that evening, I saw a tortrix moth on the outside of our bedroom window. I was pretty sure it was Acleris emargana initially from the strange shape of the forewings, which would have been a garden first. But once I got it inside, it clearly wasn't, and the nearest I can get is Acleris logiana which would be even better. Still need to confirm it though but a nice surprise.

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probable Acleris logiana - garden, 15 Sep 11

Mon 12th September 2011

Posted on September 12, 2011 at 5:35 PM

My only birding plan for today was to head out at lunchtime to try and see the Tawny Pipit found yesterday at L'Eree. However, since the weather was again terrible, I agreed to swap lunch duties with a workmate so I was stuck in school for the whole day. At the end bell, the rain had been stopped a while and I saw on Birdguides that there was a flock of 6 Buff-breasted Sandpipers on Scilly. I thought that there just had to be one here on the island.

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So after packing up I set off home in the car and decided I had enough time to go find a Buff-breasted Sand, and I would definitely find it on the golf course at L'Ancresse which has had records before. Of course I always think like this, and I am sure most birders are like me and spend plenty of time predicting what they are about to find.

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The golf course is only 2 or 3 minutes off my route home, and so I pulled into the car park at Les Ammareurs and looked across the closest fairway to see what appeared to be a pale bird running around on the grass. I put my bins on it and could see it was definitely a wader, and the colouration appeared quite. . . well, buff! No it couldn't be surely? I scrambled out and retrieved my scope from the boot, rested on the car, and focussed it to reveal - a superb BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER!

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I grabbed all my gear, and jogging past some rather confused golfers, I managed to get pretty close. I only had about 5 minutes to get some snaps as I had to be home by 4 to take Abigail to her club. I tried digiscoping but was failing terribly in the now quite windy conditions. So I dropped to the floor and crawled commando-style towards it with the Lumix - I don't think my work trousers were very impressed with this, nor were the golfers who pinged their drives over my head as I lay on the ground in front of them. In the end I managed a few pleasing shots before I had to rush away and grapevine the news.

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Buff-breasted Sandpiper - L'Ancresse Golf Course, 12 Sep 2011

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I really couldn't believe that I just went to look for one and found one within 10 seconds. This is the first Buff-breast that I have found myself, and as usual with this species, it was a real cracker.

Sat 10th September 2011

Posted on September 11, 2011 at 6:00 PM

The first football match of the season was this afternoon. So at two o'clock on Cambridge Park, I got myself into my position as the dark clouds gathered overhead. A little bit nervous having not played for a few months, wondering whether there was still any life left in the old legs. This was especially worrying today since this other team were new, appeared to consist of a group of teenagers and I was the oldest I have ever been. I would have literally been their age before they were born.

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A few minutes after kick-off they got a free kick just into our half, and I marked their winger on the edge of our box. Looking up the field towards their free-kick taker, a large bird appeared from behind the tree just over his left shoulder. It was immediately obvious what it was - an awesome Osprey! It was at about tree-top height and it flapped lazily southwards above the opposition's goalmouth and disappeared behind the next line of trees. I was totally shocked and when I regained concentration, I realised that the free-kick had been taken and we were clearing our lines. Luckily the ball went nowhere near me. I do not think my team-mates would have accepted my excuse for poor marking. I did survive the game despite the regular deluges from above, and it finished as a 4-4 thriller. Easily the best bird on my "whilst playing football list" (if I had one).

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It was the first week back at school/work this week and so it has been rather busy as it always is. Unfortunately I do not have any Games lessons this year which is a shame, but the best news is that I have a new classroom - only the biggest in the whole school I tell ya!

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me in my new classroom - check out the massive disco-ball in the corner - maybe I should start a disco-dancing club at lunchtimes, hmmm.......

The weather during the week has been atrocious with strong winds and regular heavy rain. On Wednesday there was a bit of a break and before work I had a few Bar-tailed Godwits and a Greenshank at Vazon, plus a Manx Shearwater out to sea. So that lunchtime, I did a wee seawatch from Fort le Crocq and had a superb Balearic Shearwater drift past pretty close in for Guernsey standards. Other than that, Wheatears are very visible at the moment and the Greenshank continues to be present at Pulias Pond.

Greenshank - Pulias Pond, 9 Sep 11

Wheatear - Fort Hommet, 9 Sep 11

The main news this week was that Charlie Moores invited me onto the "Talking Naturally - Conference Calls" podcast to mainly talk about the stuff I've done with Gyr Crakes and about birding in Guernsey. It is not something I have ever done before but it went very well and I enjoyed it. You can listen to the show by clicking the picture below. I listen to the show every week and it is informative and a good laugh. If you are interested in birding and conservation it is well worth a listen

Sat 3rd September 2011

For the last few days of the summer holidays Rosie took little Anais away to visit Peppa Pig World in the UK, so I was home alone with the older two kiddiwinks. After one day spent teaching them how to become experts at lounging around the house (it was rainy), we visited the woods at Petit Bot, which I haven't been to for ages. There were very few birds around, which one would expect at the time of year - just calling Bullfinches, Long-tailed Tits and Short-toed Treecreepers in the tree tops. I did see lots of Water-Pepper which is a new plant for me, and Abigail discovered some pretty cool fungi on a fallen branch, which she identified herself as King Alfred's Cakes when she got home and looked on the internet - and when I looked them up in my new fungi book, she was totally correct.

King Alfred's Cakes - Petit Bot, Sep 2011

For the last week, whilst relaxing in the garden in the afternoons, we have been accompanied by the distinctive melody of fairground music. This is because a mini-fairground had decided that it would mop up the last few pounds of parents' summer cash by plonking itself literally at the end of our road. With this constant musical backdrop continually calling the children towards it, I eventually gave in, especially because Abigail adores Merry-go-rounds.

Aidan & Abigail on the Merry-go-round (a.k.a Money-go-down)

As you can see, Aidan is rather wary and looks a bit pensive as he sits atop his rooster. The actual Merry-go-round was pretty fantastic to be fair. It looked like a real old-style one. The pot-bellied guy who was operating it said that it had been restored but was originally built in 1881 and, although it isn't generally wise to take the word of a fairground worker, I could well believe it.

This morning, the conditions looked pretty good for some arriving migrants and indeed I had a Yellow Wagtail go low over the house. Late morning, I saw on the website that Chris had trapped a Bluethroat at the Claire Mare. Although nationally not that rare, the last record in Guernsey was in 1996 so this was quite a big deal. But the bird had flown from the hand and had not been seen again. Since Rosie had returned from England, I thought that it was worth a punt and late afternoon I gave it a go. Searching the whole reedbed would have been madness, so I considered that the ditch below the Tamarisks by the path to be my only chance. The habitat there looks great for a skulking Bluethroat.

The Tamarisks at the Claire Mare - couldn't you just imagine a Bluethroat hopping around underneath there?

So I walked the trees a few times then found a gap where I could see underneath and sat down and waited. And of course, what came hopping into view? Yes, a Wren. There were 2 Chiffchaffs and a Blackbird in there but no Bluethroat. It had clearly found a better spot to hide. Whilst lying in the grass a few Greenshank called overhead and a Schreckensteinia festaliella landed on my trousers. Well at least I gave it a shot. You certainly won't see things if you don't try. Back at the hide, a Little Stint was feeding at the far side of the pond. I haven't seen one in Guernsey for ages, but it does seem to have been a good year for them nationally.

Little Stint - Claire Mare, 3 Sep 11

So another dip then. That's two in a row. Back to work on Monday though, and with it, more regular birding. Hopefully this September will produce out a top rarity.