Sunday 17th September 2017

On the 1st September, as I was standing on the back doorstep slurping my cuppa, a Hobby casually flew by and seemed to just reach out and grab a small bird from the air! It looked like a Meadow Pipit or something. Was nice to see but pity I wasn't holding my bins.

In recent years, September has been a very sunny month, with continuous, stiff easterly airflows - which sounds good, but we've tended to get stuck in week-long bird-less ruts, as there's been no change in the conditions. But this year the winds have been different, they keep returning to northerlies, and so this has meant many opportunities for seawatching. And so I was again on the rocks of Jaonneuse on 2nd. There was a similar selection as the seawatch a couple of days ago - 6 Great and 2 Arctic Skuas - and a Sooty Shearwater was also seen.

After a week with very few migrant land birds seen (although I got only my second patch Teal at Pulias), we tried again seawatching from Jaonneuse the next weekend on 9th. Again, the selection on offer was poor - Bonxies were up to 13 and there were 3 Sooty Shearwaters passing - but we didn't see anything unusual. However, as we sat there staring out to sea, we got a call off Mark G that he had just found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper down on the Old Aerodrome. So I abandoned my post and drove down to have a look at a decent rarity. Arriving, I found that it was right over the far side, not giving very good views at all in the bright sun (as can be seen from the deplorable photos below. Luckily Mark provided me with a couple of decent shots of the bird which he took when it was closer). Always a favourite wader amongst birders, it was present with a Ruff, and was the fifth I've seen on Guernsey.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - L'Eree, 9 Sep 17

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - L'Eree, 9 Sep 17

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - L'Eree, 9 Sep 17

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - L'Eree, 9 Sep 17

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, L'Eree, 9 Sep 17 [Mark Guppy]

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, L'Eree, 9 Sep 17 [Mark Guppy]

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, L'Eree, 9 Sep 17 [Mark Guppy]

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, L'Eree, 9 Sep 17 [Mark Guppy]

Greenshank - Claire Mare, 12 Sep 17

Greenshank - Claire Mare, 12 Sep 17

Greenshank - Claire Mare, 12 Sep 17

Greenshank - Claire Mare, 12 Sep 17

Greenshank - Claire Mare, 12 Sep 17

Greenshank - Claire Mare, 12 Sep 17

We had another seawatch from Jaonneuse on 16th September and the numbers perked up quite a bit. We had 53 Manx and 3 Sooty Shearwaters, as well as 18 Common Scoter and a high number of 11 Fulmars. Bonxies were migrating through nicely and we had a total of 37, some passing quite close. We only had a few smaller skuas - just 2 Arctics - but I was pleased with the Pomarine that passed, despite it not giving the best of views. What this autumn is showing me is that, even with suitable winds, you really do have to put in the hours on Guernsey if you want to see some rare seabirds!

Despite being an island - which you may think means seabirds will pass at random spots -  the seabirds always pass Jaonneuse on (more or less) the same line. We pick them up from the seawatching position just as they are moving towards us, to the right of Alderney, watch them pass in front of that island, then seem to come a bit closer before turning out again and passing behind the reef. When we are lucky, quite a few birds will pass in front of the reef, but there seems very little variation in flight path (see below). I drew a few maps to consider this route.

seawatching stuff 1.jpg

It makes sense that we see the birds passing as described when you consider the possible routes taken (below). We presume that most of the birds we see have passed quite close to the Normandy peninsula - any birds further out in the Channel would have to change direction quite strongly if we were to pick them up. We also think this is the case due to the pattern of sightings. We always get some birds very early after dawn - we consider these are ones that have been in local waters overnight - and then a bit of a gap, before a pulse of sightings an hour or so later - which we presume are birds which have rounded the peninsula after spending the night in the Baie de Seine. Some coast-hugging birds will turn down the French coast and some other birds will pass through the gap between Guernsey and Jersey. These birds will probably turn before they get anywhere near us. There will be plenty of birds which will pass North of Alderney before turning south again. These birds will also be missed from Jaonneuse (unless the winds are so so strong they get blown through the gaps). If the birds we see are only the ones on the pink route below, these birds will need to duck south through the gap between Alderney and France, explaining why a northerly wind is vital to see any birds at all.

seawatching stuff 2.jpg

Below shows what the birds will see as they pass the Normandy peninsula (exaggerated as it is unlikely that they will be as high as shown). But it does show quite a narrow gap to aim for between Guernsey and Alderney, which may explain the very consistent route taken from our seawatching viewpoint.

seawatching stuff 3.jpg

Our route does appear to be the most popular one taken, according to the Channel Islands seawatching records (although we probably have the more extensive records anyway). But it is interesting to note that, if you take Brittany into account, the Guernsey route is indeed the most direct route into the Atlantic. But you can't see the distant Brittany peninsula from here, so perhaps the birds just know that it is the fastest way to go.

seawatching stuff 4.jpg

The final task of my summer holidays was to visit the Guernsey Museum store. Peter C had told me that there was a "Golden Eagle" in a case there which had been shot in Alderney in 1905 (or some similar year) and I had been meaning to check it out for a while now. I wanted to see it because, despite the claim, I was sure that the bird was not a Golden Eagle at all and was mis-labelled. I suspected it was almost certainly going to be a White-tailed Eagle, and a quick inspection revealed it was indeed a young White-tailed, as there a few old Channel Islands records of this species. The main ID features are set out below. Quite a spectacular bird and one that I would love to see soaring over the island nowadays. Whilst there I also took a look at some of the old butterfly and moth collections - many from the 19th Century, and many from the famous Victorian entomologist, W. A. Luff. I especially liked the Bath Whites from the famous 1945 influx. It was amazing that specimens that were so old were still so intact. When money is tight, spending on the curation of such collections is often cut, and that is when things get lost or damaged. It is such a shame we often do not value our natural history as much as we could.

White-tailed Eagle specimen from Alderney, Guernsey Museum stores.

White-tailed Eagle specimen from Alderney, Guernsey Museum stores.

White-tailed Eagle specimen from Alderney, Guernsey Museum stores.

White-tailed Eagle specimen from Alderney, Guernsey Museum stores.

The key features as to why the bird was White-tailed rather than Golden.

The key features as to why the bird was White-tailed rather than Golden.

Polar Bears - Fort le Marchant, Sep 17

Polar Bears - Fort le Marchant, Sep 17

Please click on the "RARE BIRD REPORTS" tab at the top of the page to download the Rare Bird Report for 2016 which is now available.

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Thursday 31st August 2017

After the excitement of the pelagic trip, the pink starling and the shearwater extravaganza, I presumed that the second half of my summer holidays would certainly be an anti-climax. It was not going to reach those heights but, just 2 days after our trip to sea, I was not going to pass up a re-acquaintance with the star of the start of the year, the Royal Tern. We knew it was back in the Channel Islands after its French summer vacation because it had been seen in Alderney, but on 16th August it reappeared here, sat on Houmet Paradis island off Bordeaux. So a nice easy twitch in the afternoon, I had the bird to myself as it rested on the offshore islet, offering good but distant 'scope views. (The photos below were taken pointing my Lumix down my scope - hence the fuzziness.)

Royal Tern - Houmet Paradis, 16 Aug 17 a.jpg

Royal Tern - Houmet Paradis, 16 Aug 17 a.jpg

Royal Tern - Houmet Paradis, 16 Aug 17

Royal Tern - Houmet Paradis, 16 Aug 17

On 22nd August I had my car in the garage for my starter motor to be replaced. As the garage was in Torteval, and the weather looked pretty good for some migrants, I decided to combine this with some birding in the west of the island. Stopping quickly at the Claire Mare, there was a Gadwall and a Cetti's Warbler singing, I then drove up to Pleinmont. Nothing rare but a few Willow Warblers had dropped in, a Firecrest was singing at the top of Vau de Monel, and a total of 3 Tree Pipits were noted passing over. I drove to the garage mid-morning and then walked back to Pleinmont along the coastal path from Creux Mahie. Migration was further evident as I had three more Tree Pipits - one at Creux Mahie, two at Tielles - as well as a few Yellow Wagtails, Wheatears and Sand Martins. A very pleasant early-autumn's birding, plus a nice surprise was a field full of Giant Puffballs.

Tree Pipits - Les Tielles, 22 Aug 17.jpg

Tree Pipits - Les Tielles, 22 Aug 17.jpg

The final week or so of the summer holidays was mostly taken up with invertebrates and, on my birthday I spent a nice afternoon at Grand Pre, mostly taking photos of hoverflies. Studying the photos I identified two new species. Highlights of a few moth-trapping nights were a rather colourful Archer's Dart and a much-wanted species, that I'd been hoping to see for a long time, the pink-and-yellow pyralid, Oncocera semirubella, which I know as the "Rhubarb and Custard Moth". 

Eristalis tenax - Grand Pre, 23 Aug 17.jpg

Eristalis tenax - Grand Pre, 23 Aug 17.jpg

 Eristalis arbustorum- Grand Pre, 23 Aug 17

 Eristalis arbustorum- Grand Pre, 23 Aug 17

Helophilus pendulus - Grand Pre, 23 Aug 17

Helophilus pendulus - Grand Pre, 23 Aug 17

Wasp (Ectemnius sp.) - Grand Pre, 23 Aug 17

Wasp (Ectemnius sp.) - Grand Pre, 23 Aug 17

Archer's Dart - garden, 25 Aug 17

Archer's Dart - garden, 25 Aug 17

Oncocera semirubella - garden, 27 Aug 17 

Oncocera semirubella - garden, 27 Aug 17 

Oncocera semirubella - garden, 27Aug17

Oncocera semirubella - garden, 27Aug17

It looked like another decent migration day on 28th Aug as we walked the dog around Fort le Marchant. We had 2 Whinchat, a Yellow Wagtail and a Green Sandpiper flying overhead. The final birding of the month was a seawatch from Jaonneuse on 31st. There was nothing too remarkable about the birds seen - although I would never complain about 9 Arctic Skuas and 3 Bonxies - but the morning was very memorable because of the brilliant display we had from a pod or two of Bottle-nose Dolphins. We had one group of about 13 and then another of about 7 slowly go west past the headland, feeding voraciously as they went. We were able to watch them feed through the scopes, as they constantly surfaced and occasionally jumped (although really tricky to catch on camera!). One small dolphin was particularly playful and was often seen hurling itself out of the water, flipping itself on its back as it splashed back into the sea (see video below). The main oddity from the seawatch was what looked like a whitish auk zooming past at great distance. The nearest we could get as a possible ID was a winter-plumaged Black Guillemot, but I suppose a leucistic common auk species was also a likely scenario.

Bottle-nose Dolphin - Jaonneuse, 31 Aug 17

Bottle-nose Dolphin - Jaonneuse, 31 Aug 17

Bottle-nose Dolphins - Jaonneuse, 31 Aug 17

Bottle-nose Dolphins - Jaonneuse, 31 Aug 17

Bottle-nose Dolphins - Jaonneuse, 31 Aug 17

Bottle-nose Dolphins - Jaonneuse, 31 Aug 17

Bottle-nose Dolphin - Jaonneuse, 31 Aug 17

Bottle-nose Dolphin - Jaonneuse, 31 Aug 17

Other wildlife-related activities in the summer holidays included more practice in close-up photography of specimens, which I feel I am making progress on (see beetle below). I think I either need to get a new natural light or at least reduce the blue colour on the final photo. Very hairy-round-the-edge specimens are very difficult to do! I also decided that the BUBO logo needed updating and so I designed something new. And finally, my new camera seems to have a much, much better video capability and I have been trying to do some video editing. I am not a huge fan of videos of birds, much preferring to see photos, but they do have numerous advantages to still pics - being much more forgiving about focussing for starters. I finished the summer totally pumped for the autumn's birding ahead! - and then realised that I had to go back to work instead and promptly deflated....

Phylan gibbus L'Ancresse 9Jul17.jpg
BUBO LOGO 2017 small.jpg