When September arrives it becomes simultaneously both exciting and disappointing. Exciting because the autumn has now started proper and I start salivating about all the far-flung vagrants that will almost certainly arrive from distant lands, but disappointing because I’ve got to get back to work and have not-very-much time to search for them. On 2nd Sep, the day before I was due to return to work, Anais and I went for a wander round Mont Herault and we saw the Melodious Warbler that had been present for a few days. It was in the scrub across the other side of Forge Valley so I didn’t see it very close but I’d not seen Melodious here for ages. There were plenty of migrant Whinchats around with at least 10 birds just in this small area of fields. We also had a very early Merlin when a juvenile bird whipped past us at eye level just yards away. A pretty good selection for a mid-afternoon walk in the sun.
The first week back at school was quiet but for a Bar-tailed Godwit at Pulias on 7th. The next day it was Saturday and just before lunch there was a facebook post showing a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling on someone’s bird table at Rousse. This was literally 5 minutes up the road and within the patch, so it would have been rude not to. I was the first birder there and saw it straight away whist driving past perched on the fence. I managed a couple of snaps before it became a little more elusive, but it showed on and off for the next half hour.
Sunday 9th Sep I had a morning round Pleinmont but it was pretty clear and not many migrants were on t’deck, just a few Yellow Wagtails and a Whinchat. The only exception was Blackcap and there was at least 30 present, mostly around Pezeries Wood. I hoped I might pick out a Barred Warbler with these but the best I managed was a single Garden Warbler. Calling at L’Eree on the way back there were loads of wagtails - at least 30 Whites and 20 Yellows.
During the next week there were bits and bats along the coast including a Redstart at Fort Hommet on 13th and a Little Gull at Richmond the next day (which I knew about). I drove round to Fort Hommet to try and ‘scope the gull for my patch year list but it was just too far and wrecked my eyes trying to squint through the scope - serves me right for being such a tart.
On 15th I had another bash round Pleinmont but again found the headland too clear for many migrants. It initially looked promising with a Sedge Warbler in the clifftop scrub and at least 4 Whinchat together at Mabel’s. But this soon passed and I ended up searching through Blackcaps again, which seemed to be having a good autumn at least. My first Firecrest of the autumn was noted in one of the valleys and I managed to stalk a cracker of a Wheatear with jet black lores, for some nice piccies. There were 7 Med Gulls together at Richmond on the way home.
On Tuesday 18th Sep, I glanced at my phone at breaktime to learn that Mark G had found what appeared to be a Caspian Gull down at Perelle. He’d taken some snaps and knowledgeable people on the internet seemed to agree - the first record for Guernsey. It has always been a bit of a theme of my ‘humour’ to scoff at Caspian Gulls and basically claim that I’d rather claw my eyes out than see one. It is really just a mickey-take because people always seem to describe them as “gorgeous” or “beautiful” when they are clearly just another type of scabby grot like other immature large gulls. However, this is tongue-in-cheek and I ain’t gonna pass up a chance of adding to my Guernsey and British* List. So as soon as the lunch bell went I sped down the coast road and pulled up at Perelle. However, there was no sign at all and I had to return to school empty handed (or was it just a lucky escape?!).
No sooner had I got back to the classroom when Jamie texted me to say he’d found it again on the Old Aerodrome. So I had to wait another couple of hours before I tried again after school had finished. I scanned the gulls on the grass at L’Eree but there was nothing similar, so I checked my messages again and realised that the bird was actually back on the beach at Perelle. So a speedy drive later and I was back looking over the wall at Perelle with Jamie who was able to point it out. A bit of a palaver but I finally saw the bird, a new one for Britain* for me, a CASPIAN GULL.
The bird woke up after a while and started showing a few identification features. As is often the case with large gulls, rather than a single obvious field mark, it is a subtle combination of a number of minor differences that can make the bird stand out from the other birds in the flock. The main structural difference from the other gulls were the long, lanky legs which were always obvious. The bill was quite slim and long, as was the neck, and the head was smallish. Plumage-wise it had a tricolour combination of pale grey back, dark brown wings and whitish head. The contrast between the pale grey, anchor-patterned scapulars and the dark chocolate brown, thinly-fringed coverts was striking. The tertials were totally unfringed in the basal half, but with a sudden broader white fringe near the tip. The greater covert bar was very dark towards the outer edge with no real barring. Tail bar was quite broad and rump area was very white in colour, even though it had quite a few spots. Just a few yards further up the beach an adult Yellow-legged Gull was resting up.
On 21st Sep there was a strong westerly wind whipping up the west coast and I stopped at Pulias after work to see a small ‘W’-winged gull disappear round the headland. Even though it looked small compared to the nearby Black-headeds, I only saw it briefly and couldn’t rule out a young Kittiwake, especially since I could barely hold my bins up! Luckily the wind was so strong the bird didn’t make it round the corner and was blown right back into the bay, where it revealed itself to be a definite first-year Little Gull. The gusts blew the bird over my head, right across Pulias Pond and over to the other side of the coast road. It realigned itself and passed behind the cottage before battling its way back to the sea over Pecqueries. Little Gulls are pretty rare on the patch and have mostly been seen in winter offshore. This sighting was much more exciting watching this tiny seabird battle against the elements on its way further south.