Saturday 21st September 2019

The week after the last post was mostly notable for birds I did not see. With a Booted Warbler photographed at Pleinmont on Sunday and then a male Pallid Harrier seen there during the working day on the Monday, I drove up there as quick as possible after work that day, despite the weather being pretty abysmal with regular heavy showers. The Booted hadn’t been seen again so I was 24hrs too late for that bird, but I was very close to getting the Pallid Harrier. Whilst I was searching at Pleinmont, there was a sighting at the airport, so I raced there. Then it was seen behind the airport drifting away and I tried chasing it through the centre of the island but, as it was such a large area, it was to no avail. I visited a few likely raptor spots but the bird was never seen again. Tramping around again at Pleinmont just in case it returned there meant I soaked and muddied my school trousers and skulked home rather grumpy. My first Water Rail of the autumn on patch on 13th, as well as a Greenshank calling, then feeding, off Rousse, didn’t really make up for missing what could possibly be the only new local birds of the autumn.

By the time the next weekend came around, the winds had done the honourable thing and decided to switch round to the east on a Friday night - that almost never happens! So I was up at Pleinmont nice and early at first light on Saturday morning (14th Sep) hoping for a decent arrival of migrants. Immediately, I could tell there was something happening with an invisible crest calling from the bushes by the car park. Strolling down to the lower Societe field, there were at least 4 or 5 Whinchats and a Sedge Warbler and I knew that the morning would be bird-filled, hopefully with a rarity or scarcity thrown in.

Whinchat - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Whinchat - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

And I didn’t have to wait long for the first good bird. I made my way back up the field towards the road and I picked up a large bird over the back of the blackthorns, somewhere over the cliffs. It was heading purposely north-west and when I got my bins on it, it revealed itself to be an Osprey. It carried on round the corner and, despite the distance I managed a record shot. This was the first I’ve seen since 2014.

Osprey - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Osprey - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

I carried on scouring the fields and bushes on the top of the headland and there were pockets of Whinchats and Wheatears all over the place. I also had a double-figure flock of Yellow Wagtails fly in and migrant Meadow Pipits were making their first appearance of the autumn. Walking past the weedy corridor I could see a distant raptor being harassed by corvids and I presumed it was going to be a harrier when I glimpsed a longish tail. However, when it banked around, I could see it was actually a Honey Buzzard, probably the same one that had been seen a few times recently here. It was circling over the woods on the north side of the headland and kept appearing a few times, although each time rather a way away. I didn’t think both Osprey and Honey before 8 am was too bad going!

Honey Buzzard - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Honey Buzzard - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Honey Buzzard - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Honey Buzzard - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

I thought I’d try a few areas with more trees and so I headed to the bottom of the camping field, where there was both Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher, the former actually sticking its head out for a photograph. The initial clouds had now mostly drifted away and the sun was out - it was going to get pretty warm. Looking NW from the National Trust path, more Whinchats dotted the bush-tops against the horizon and a single Redstart flew into the blackthorn ahead of me. I thought I’d return to the centre of the headland via the clifftop path and, looking up, I saw a flock of 17 Grey Herons high above me in the sky, following the coastline south then east along the cliffs. We often see a flock or two of herons go over the headland in the autumn and wonder if they are genuine migrants or just local wanderers. However, looking at the Jersey website, it seems that they also recorded 17 Grey Herons that morning which implies that these birds were moving with intent.

Garden Warbler - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Garden Warbler - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Grey Herons - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Grey Herons - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

After returning to the car I thought I’d have a good look round Mont Herault for more migrants. In the now sunny weather the Swallows had started to move and many hundreds were moving east along the cliffs. It may seem counterintuitive for there to be an easterly movement against the easterly wind, but I suspect these birds find themselves pushed out over the sea in the Channel when heading south and, when they see the island to their east, they move eastwards to try and get back to land. The only other species noted with them was a single Sand Martin. As I got out of the car there were 6 Whinchats together at the bottom of the field and then walking down ‘Forge Valley’ there were another 10 birds sheltering in there, along with a Tree Pipit plus a few Whitethroats and Willow Warblers.

Whinchats queueing up at Mont Herault, 14 Sep 19

Whinchats queueing up at Mont Herault, 14 Sep 19

Walking back up the cliff path to the fields there was a flock of Yellow and White Wagtails feeding round the ponies and ever more Whinchats and Wheatears. In a garden adjacent to these fields, both a Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher were sallying from the fence posts. I walked most of the fields in the area hoping to bump into a rarity, even to the east of the watch house, but nothing new jumped out. Returning back through the “large” field I heard and then saw a migrant Snipe passing overhead and another Tree Pipit. Next I saw a terrific Hobby belt past right in front of me at below head height - superb views. Soon after the Hobby, a Marsh Harrier drifting by, then a Sparrowhawk later on, meant a rather impressive 8 species of raptor in one morning! (I’d only seen 6 species all year up to now!)

Redstart - Mont Herault, 14 Sep 19

Redstart - Mont Herault, 14 Sep 19

7 Wheatears in a line - Mont Herault, 14 Sep 19

7 Wheatears in a line - Mont Herault, 14 Sep 19

It was getting a bit busy and noisy on top of the headland due to a scrambling meeting, so I thought I’d try a couple of the valleys to see if there were similar numbers of migrants in the woods. There did not seem to be as many but down at Pezeries I did find a nice Pied Flycatcher and Firecrest. Around midday I left Pleinmont with an estimated 40+ Whinchat under my belt, the highest day-total I am sure that I have ever had on the island. It was such a good day for migrants, I was surprised that I had had the headland totally to myself. Apart from a few photographers early on, I did not see another birder all morning despite the promising conditions. Of course, I am grateful that there wasn’t birders every few yards like there can be on a good weekend in the UK at certain good migrants spots, but if there had been a few more birders, we might have been able to dig out something better.

Marsh Harrier - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

Marsh Harrier - Pleinmont, 14 Sep 19

I usually head home for lunch after a morning’s birding but today I felt I needed to give it a couple more hours, even though it was now getting pretty warm and most areas were busy with people. I thought I’d give Tielles a try, the next valley east of Pleinmont. There wasn’t anything new but I did see my first Clouded Yellow of the year - it has been ages since we last had a big influx of these. I then thought there may have been something arrived in the fields at Rue des Hougues. And there was - 3 Lapwing - not quite the rarity level I was after.

Colours on the cliffs - Les Tielles - 14 Sep 19

Colours on the cliffs - Les Tielles - 14 Sep 19

As the weather was so fine, I thought it would be a great opportunity to go check out the Long-tailed Blues at Jerbourg since they would be out and about flying in the sun. It didn’t take me long to find them as they were in exactly the same spot - to the metre - as when I saw them a few years ago. With the whole south coast to aim for, how did these individuals know exactly where previous butterflies had gone before? It puzzles me because there is no obvious foodplant there - they were just flying round the gorse - and that spot looks just like a whole load of other spots all along the cliffs. Perhaps it is just something that the Long-tailed Blues can detect that we can’t, maybe a specific microclimate, or species mix. Anyway, I manage to locate at least 3 and maybe more, one of which was quite fresh and posed pretty well for photos.

Long-tailed Blue - Jerbourg, 14 Sep 19

Long-tailed Blue - Jerbourg, 14 Sep 19

Long-tailed Blue - Jerbourg, 14 Sep 19

Long-tailed Blue - Jerbourg, 14 Sep 19

I wasn’t really planning to do any more birding during the weekend but I was sat at my computer on Sunday evening (15th) and just scrolling through Facebook, when I notice a message pop up on the Guernsey Wildlife page “Are these Great Egrets at the Vale Pond?” or words to that effect. There was a nice picture of two Great White Egrets and I noticed it was posted just 1 minute ago. Now Great White Egrets are still very rare in Guernsey with less than ten records. Almost all of these have been very recently, but have all been incredibly elusive - especially for me! They have popped in front of hides for just minutes, one was seen flying over my house, and I missed one going over Pleinmont because I was under some trees! Because of this it was imperative that I saw these as quickly as humanly possible, so I grabbed my field-bag and dashed out in my slippers. I think I arrived in the Vale Pond hide just 5 minutes at the most after the message popped up - at about 7 pm. And they were still there - Guernsey tick number 264 - two GREAT WHITE EGRETS.

Great White Egrets - Vale Pond, 15 Sep 19

Great White Egrets - Vale Pond, 15 Sep 19

It was getting pretty dusky and so it was quite hard to take sharp photos of the birds. I watched them for about twenty minutes and thought that they looked settled. However, it appears that they weren’t that settled and they had disappeared within an hour of them arriving and many people missed them. I was very pleased to fill the rather large hole in my Guernsey list, and they were indeed quite majestic birds.

Great White Egret - Vale Pond, 15 Sep 19

Great White Egret - Vale Pond, 15 Sep 19

Great White Egret (second bird) - Vale Pond, 15 Sep 19

Great White Egret (second bird) - Vale Pond, 15 Sep 19

Great White Egrets - Vale Pond, 15 Sep 19

Great White Egrets - Vale Pond, 15 Sep 19

The rest of the next week was quiet and the weather wasn’t so helpful for migrants. I am well below average for species recorded on the patch this year. I didn’t manage to get the moth trap out until the 20th September, which revealed a new species for the garden - Green Carpet. It is a pretty common moth in the UK but is quite rare here, only seeing it a few times. Other good species that night included a Dusky Thorn, Pearly Underwing and 8 Delicates. The other main species of the month was the mint flowers that have appeared in profusion on the lawn by the car park at school. They looked a little unfamiliar and I finally remembered to take a sample home, where I identified them as Pennyroyal, a species that has not been seen growing in Guernsey for many years apparently. Why they have suddenly appeared on this lawn I don’t know. It is a relatively new school so seeds may have come in with the soil or turf when it was built. I know that it hasn’t been there right from the start and only was visible in the last couple of summers.

Med Gull - Cobo, 19 Sep 19

Med Gull - Cobo, 19 Sep 19

Green Carpet - garden, 20 Sep 19

Green Carpet - garden, 20 Sep 19

Pennyroyal - LBHSchool, Sep 19

Pennyroyal - LBHSchool, Sep 19

Pennyroyal - LBHSchool, Sep 19

Pennyroyal - LBHSchool, Sep 19

Pennyroyal - LBHSchool, Sep 19 - through microscope, showing the calyx’s hairy throat and two out of the five spikes being narrower than the others.

Pennyroyal - LBHSchool, Sep 19 - through microscope, showing the calyx’s hairy throat and two out of the five spikes being narrower than the others.

Horse at Vazon

Horse at Vazon

Saturday 7th September 2019

Early autumn on Guernsey can be really great for migrants but it really depends on the wind direction. Most of the time the wind is not coming from the right place but every now and then it switches to an easterly or south-easterly direction which pushes the restless birds out into the Channel and onto our island. However you have to be quick, because it usually seems to be the first morning after the change which is best - it almost seems to catch the birds by surprise. If the winds stay easterly the birds appear to have time to re-set and continue on their usual migration routes. This is why changeable weather is the best here. Some recent autumns have had days and days of easterlies which look good but haven’t produced anything. So when the wind shifted round to the south-east on my birthday, I was out at first light at Pleinmont on 24th August, fully expecting to see some birds that had been displaced from nearby France.

Walking to the Societe fields, I quickly saw at least 4 Whinchat and a Pied Flycatcher around the lower field which gave me an indication that some birds had arrived at least, which was a relief. I crossed the road and skirted the edge of the upper field and I picked up a bird flying in from the east. I couldn’t see any detail on it against the sky but it was bunting-like and, given the date and conditions, was clearly going to be an Ortolan Bunting, which was the number one prediction for today so not at all a surprise. It dropped into the crops and I followed it but it was very flighty and crossed the road again back to the lower field. After a couple more flights it dropped onto a bramble and rested where I could definitely confirm its identity (and take risible photos!). Even though it was predictable, I was very pleased since it was the first Ortolan I had seen for a while, and the first I had found for years.

Ortolan - Pleinmont, 24 Aug 19

Ortolan - Pleinmont, 24 Aug 19

I put the news out on the WhatsApp group in case anybody was nearby and wanted to have a look. Wayne and Dave appeared soon after as they were just round the corner, but the bird was rather elusive and had disappeared somewhere in the crops. We waited for a bit and we suddenly had a bird flying around which looked like the Ortolan, and then we realised there was a second bird with it which also looked like an Ortolan. Yes, there were two Ortolans flying around. We think that this second bird had just arrived and perhaps the first bird had flown up to join it - no doubt calling to make themselves aware of each other. The birds wouldn’t settle and quickly flew off towards Mabel’s field, where we wandered off to see if they had landed. It was very confusing as there were lots of finches flying round everywhere, the birds all being very restless. We thought we might have seen them go back to the original seed field so we returned there again. Scanning the lower Societe field again, we did see the two Ortolans again briefly very low down in the back of the field.

So we were on the roadside looking across the field and hoping that the 2 Ortolans would give better views, when we picked up a pair of birds high above the field, against the sky, which we thought may be the buntings reappearing. However, immediately as we put our bins on them we were confused, as they were obviously a pair of small warblers, and I thought they were so small that they could have been Wrens. Obviously this was unusual behaviour for warblers, gaining height above us, and not really going anywhere, just seemingly hanging about in the sky. We couldn’t get any detail on them as they were quite high up and silhouetted but, we finally noticed that they were also calling, and then the rather large penny dropped - “zit, zit, zit, zit…..” - the two birds were FAN-TAILED WARBLERS.

We realised that we were so focussed on relocating the Ortolans that we had actually already heard the distinctive Fan-tailed Warbler call a few minutes ago but it didn’t really click in our heads because we were listening for bunting calls. It goes to show that context can really trick you - if we had been in the Med, we’d have probably noticed these birds ages ago. Anyway, the birds dived down from the sky and into the hedge at the back of the field where they were being very elusive. We kept seeing a bird pop out and perch up for a short period but it never stayed out for very long at all. Sometimes one or the other came into the centre of the field but they were always so distant for anything other than rubbish photos.

After a while of enjoying these birds, I decided that I’d make the most of the morning and see what other migrants I could dig out on the ‘top’ of Pleinmont. I didn’t walk far but I saw about 5 Pied Flycatchers, 6 Whinchats, 4 Yellow Wagtails, a Tree Pipit, a Wheatear and a Swift. Returning to the Societe fields I managed to get a bit closer to the Fan-taileds and took a few better, identifiable photos. This was only the 5th record of the species for Guernsey and almost exactly 10 years since the ‘famous’ pair bred in the Port Soif scrub. After those birds, we were sure that the species was about to colonise the island but, perhaps a run of colder winters thereafter, put the blocks on. It may not be a surprise that the species may be coming back after the last couple of exceptionally warm years.

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 24 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 24 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 24 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 24 Aug 19

The next day a few people saw a third Fan-tailed Warbler with the original birds, but this was only a temporary situation and, when I went to see them the day after (26th) there were just the original two birds there. They showed a little better this time and I managed a few (debatably) better shots, and I was especially pleased to get a photo with both birds in the same frame - just. (incidentally, click here to see a much better photo taken by Dave through his scope). One of the birds had obvious white tips to the tail, whilst the other one seemed to have none. I also managed a little sound recording. There didn’t seem to have been any new arrivals on the headland, just smaller numbers of the same species as last time. Later the same day I saw a Greenshank at Pulias feeding in Baie des Pecqueries, the first of the year on the patch.

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warbler - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warblers - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Fan-tailed Warblers - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Whinchat - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Whinchat - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Kestrel - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

Kestrel - Pleinmont, 26 Aug 19

After a whole summer holidays with poor seawatching winds, on the very final day of the holiday (1st Sep) the direction finally swung to the north and so I headed to Jaonneuse rocks. It was an OK seawatch but most of the birds were pretty far away for me which meant most views were unsatisfying. A single Pomarine Skua went past distantly which was really just a jizz job, and we also had about 5 Sooty Shearwaters amongst the 75+ smaller shearwaters, plus 5 Bonxies. However, easily the best bird of the morning wasn’t distant at all - in fact the opposite. I was just having a wee stretch and, out of the corner of my eye, saw a brief speck of dark colour, flick past the rock below us. I thought it may have been a very low incoming Swallow, but it never came out of the crevice. Puzzled, I got up and peered over the rock in front of us, coming face to face with a newly-arrived adult Purple Sandpiper - I didn’t even need bins for an ID. I beckoned the others to take a look but it flew back up onto the higher rocks to our left. Nevertheless, it gave excellent views. This was a pretty early sighting for this mainly wintering species, although there has been a few similar records recently.

Purple Sandpiper - Jaonneuse, 1 Sep 19

Purple Sandpiper - Jaonneuse, 1 Sep 19

Myself clambering to get the above Purple Sand shot (courtesy of Wayne)

Myself clambering to get the above Purple Sand shot (courtesy of Wayne)

Back to work then, and my week-day birding was back to brief snatches. On 3rd I stopped off at Pulias and saw the Wryneck which had been discovered the day before (well, I say “saw”, if you count flushing a wryneck-coloured shape from your feet “seeing”). However, whilst trying to re-find that, I found something much better, a Dune Bee-fly (Villa modesta) buzzing round a patch of sand on the path, the first bee-fly I have ever seen in Guernsey.

Dune Bee-fly (Villa modesta) - Pulias, 3 Sep 19

Dune Bee-fly (Villa modesta) - Pulias, 3 Sep 19

Dune Bee-fly (Villa modesta) - Pulias, 3 Sep 19

Dune Bee-fly (Villa modesta) - Pulias, 3 Sep 19

Juvenile Stonechat - Pulias, 3 Sep 19

Juvenile Stonechat - Pulias, 3 Sep 19

The next weekend arrived and coincided with another suitable seawatching day on 7th Sep at Jaonneuse. Again, it wasn’t really spectacular, but we did see a few things pretty close, the highlight being a superb pale-phase Pomarine Skua with some visible, albeit not very spatulate, ‘spoons’, easily the best I’ve seen in Guernsey. Below is a poor photo (I always fail to remember that I should take video rather than still pics when seawatching). We had already had one more distant Pom earlier in the morning and we also saw 2 Arctic Skuas, 12 Bonxies and a Sooty Shearwater. So nothing super-rare again or any huge movement but seawatching here is so unpredictable. Not only does the wind have to be N or NW on the day itself, but the number of birds also seems to depend on the conditions in the upper channel the day before, as well as the weather in the North Sea a few days previously.

Pomarine Skua - Jaonneuse, 7 Sep 19

Pomarine Skua - Jaonneuse, 7 Sep 19

Choosing not to trim the garden Buddleja and letting it grow with abandon has been great this year and we had at least 5 Painted Ladies at once on occasion during the period.

Painted Lady - garden, 28 Aug 19

Painted Lady - garden, 28 Aug 19

Painted Lady - garden, 28 Aug 19

Painted Lady - garden, 28 Aug 19

Painted Lady - garden, 28 Aug 19

Painted Lady - garden, 28 Aug 19

Red Admiral - garden, 28 Aug 19

Red Admiral - garden, 28 Aug 19

We went for a picnic on Herm - it was not the nicest of days…

We went for a picnic on Herm - it was not the nicest of days…

Tiny Sunflower growing through the sand on Fisherman’s beach

Tiny Sunflower growing through the sand on Fisherman’s beach

Condor resting in the harbour

Condor resting in the harbour

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