Friday 12th October 2018

The winds this autumn had not been kind to the seawatcher and so a sudden northerly shift on a Sunday afternoon meant that I gave it a shot from the rocks at Jaonneuse on 23rd September. Afternoon seawatches are pretty rare here, as passage isn’t usually good enough for people to do an “all-dayer” and why wouldn’t you go out birding in the morning first if you could? But the sudden change today and the rain stopping meant I gave it a go between half-one and half-four. It was really good with birds regularly going past. I had 30 Arctic Skuas and 14 Bonxies, a few inside the reef, and a tantalising pale, greyish, long-tailed-a-like which I got onto too late. Sooty Shearwaters were going past far out with 21 recorded, plus about 13 Manxies. Commic Tern flocks passed with regularity totalling about 170 birds. A really nice seawatch, a pity nothing rare was nailed.

During the working week, passage birds were regularly recorded on the patch’s headlands between 24th and 28th. There were at least 3 Whinchat, the first Grey Wagtail, a Firecrest, a couple of Common Sandpipers and 2 juvenile Common Terns past Pulias. I also had a large hawker dragonfly flying round the pond one afternoon which I hoped was a rarity but turned out to be just a very late Emperor from photos. A Greenshank spent a few days at Pulias Pond and wasn’t scared off at the first sign of a dog-walker, unlike most waders which drop into the pond. I was pleased with the photo of it below, perched on a dark rock above the flat calm water, flanked by two Redshanks, which I titled “King of the Shanks”.

 Greenshank with Redshanks - Pulias Pond, 25 Sep 18

Greenshank with Redshanks - Pulias Pond, 25 Sep 18

 Emperor Dragonfly - Pulias, 27 Sep 18

Emperor Dragonfly - Pulias, 27 Sep 18

On the last day of September I went up to Pleinmont and started off with an early morning Barn Owl hunting the fields at Mont Herault. Apart from a few Skylarks there wasn’t a great deal else over that side so I made my way back to the Societe seed fields where both Corn and Ortolan Bunting had been seen the previous day. A few other birders were around and we ‘worked’ the crop field and saw what we all thought was the Corn Bunting fly out and into the top field. We went up to that field and saw it fly past again and again thought it was the Corn Bunting, and were pretty happy with it. I decided to try the valleys but came up with nothing new apart from a flyover Green Sandpiper and a couple of Siskins.

Returning to the seed fields, people were still looking for the buntings and, again we had a bird fly up which we were thinking was the Corn Bunting again but it perched up distantly on top of a weed this time, and I took a couple of snaps, and it wasn’t the Corn after all, but was an Ortolan. After confirming the ID of this bird, I now couldn’t be sure that we had Corn Bunt earlier, as it gave a similar appearance in flight - looking pale and plain faced in the bright light. Whilst we were scanning the field we saw a Merlin motor past at the bottom of the field, probably a juvenile male from the miniature size.

 Ortolan - Pleinmont, 30 Sep 18

Ortolan - Pleinmont, 30 Sep 18

 Fieldcraft in action!

Fieldcraft in action!

The first week of October was typically quite quiet on the island, but I had the odd migrant on the patch. The Greenshank was still at Pulias where I had a late Willow Warbler on 11th. A Redstart and Firecrest were present at Fort Hommet on the 9th. Moth trapping conditions were not good in this period but on 5th I managed both Vestal and Blair’s Mocha in the trap.

Best thing of the week was a species I’d been wanting to see for ages - a Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle, walking along the grass path by Pulias lower car park. What a chunky brute it was, rearing up at me when I crouched down to see it. Didn’t manage to get my camera on it before it hid in the vegetation. They are clearly pretty rare here or I’d have seen one before now, and looking at the database there is only one or two official records on the island. Most reported Devil’s Coach Horses seem to be similar but slightly smaller species.

 Devil’s Coach Horse - Pulias, 5 Oct 18

Devil’s Coach Horse - Pulias, 5 Oct 18

 Linnet - Rousse, 4 Oct 18

Linnet - Rousse, 4 Oct 18

Friday 21st September 2018

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.

 Rose-coloured Starling - Rousse, 8 Sep 18

Rose-coloured Starling - Rousse, 8 Sep 18

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.

 Wheatear - Pleinmont, 15 Sep 18

Wheatear - Pleinmont, 15 Sep 18

 Wheatear - Pleinmont, 15 Sep 18

Wheatear - Pleinmont, 15 Sep 18

 Whinchat - Pleinmont, 15 Sep 18

Whinchat - Pleinmont, 15 Sep 18

 Sedge Warbler - Pleinmont, 15 Sep 18

Sedge Warbler - Pleinmont, 15 Sep 18

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.

 Caspian Gull - Perelle, 18 Sep 18

Caspian Gull - Perelle, 18 Sep 18

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.

 Caspian Gull - Perelle, 18 Sep 18

Caspian Gull - Perelle, 18 Sep 18

 Caspian Gull - Perelle, 18 Sep 18

Caspian Gull - Perelle, 18 Sep 18

 Caspian Gull - Perelle, 18 Sep 18

Caspian Gull - Perelle, 18 Sep 18

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.