Early December is a time for relaxed birding, with none of the stress of trying to locate scarce migrants before they move on again quickly. In the early winter, the birds that are here on the island have probably been here a while and, unless an unusually cold snap hits, there won't be much new arriving. So you feel that you have plenty of time to find any unusual birds as they will probably stay a while.
On 1st December, the weather was clear and calm and perfect for looking for birds swimming on the sea. On the way home from work I stopped at Pulias and found a very nice Black-throated Diver floating off Port Grat bay and then, just off Rousse, both Great Northern Diver and Red-breasted Merganser. The first and last of those were patch year ticks, two species which I should have seen - but didn't - earlier in the year. Mental note for 2017 - it is far easier to find winter species between Jan and March, than in December, so pull your finger out! These two brought my Patchwork Challenge points total to 147 which was my record total in the four years I've been doing it.
A Cattle Egret had been seen for a few days at various sites in the west of the island and in my lunch hour on 7th December I went to look at the site of the last sighting near the Reservoir. However, I could not find it, but did see my first Mistle Thrush of the year feeding in the next field. There are so many small random fields in Guernsey that could hold decent birds, it would take months to check them all.
I'd not planned to go out and do any birding really until the Xmas hols, but on Saturday 17th December I got a call from Mark G to tell me he was watching a Whitethroat at Richmond, Vazon. He was very sure of the identification but, as I was free, I went straight down there as it was a very unusual record and wanted to see the bird. Mark was there when I arrived and we watched up to 5 Chiffchaffs feeding in the small gardens at the end of the bay, and pretty soon the Whitethroat appeared. This is the first winter record for Guernsey of a species which should be well south of the Sahara by now, and certainly the only one I have seen at this time of year. There have been records in the UK of Whitethroats wintering but these are few and far between compared to some other species of warbler. We looked at the bird hard but could not find anything unusual about it and it looked like a pretty standard autumn Whitethroat.
Later the same day, a grapevine message alerted me on the phone that a Long-tailed Duck had been found in Pembroke Bay. This was only the second record here since the Millenium started and, even though I had seen the last one, I quickly whizzed down for a look at it. The day had drifted on and it was very late on in the afternoon with the light going, but I was fortunate enough to see the bird really close in where the waves were breaking over the beach. I managed some decent shots despite the dark conditions but I also managed to get wet feet! A terrific bird and in exactly the same place as the last one.
With school over for the holidays and with a free afternoon, on 22nd December I went out for some relaxing birding in the lovely warm and sunny December. The Cattle Egret from earlier in the month had been joined by a few more and there were now six birds poking around the cow fields in the centre of the island. They had been mostly seen around the Fauxquets Valley but I had already dipped out once as they wandered around many different fields, following the cows. However, today just before I set off, there was a message that they were in the field alongside Candie Road and so I went straight there. The Cattle Egrets were still present and Andy M was photographing the birds through the hedge. We actually counted not six but eight of them - another record count for the island! They could be quite flighty if one moved around too much, but if you stayed in one place, they sometimes strolled quite close to the hedge and we got good shots.
With the weather so sunny and clear I drove towards Pembroke to try and get better pictures of the Long-tailed Duck. It was still present but was hanging around a little bit offshore today to get anything better than last time. On the way, as I drove past Cobo, I saw a Guillemot quite close in, just off the beach, and I stopped to take some photos. It looked somewhat tired.
Considering where to go next, I pulled into the car park at Les Amarreurs and scanned across the bay. However, what I didn't notice straight away was the bird fishing right on the waters edge, almost literally on the beach. I couldn't tell what it was straight away as it dived underwater and I was looking right into the low sun, and I thought it may have been a merganser. So I decamped from the car and tried to scurry around the other side of it, utilising the small pier sticking out from Les Ammareurs, so that the light was much more behind me. I now saw, when it surfaced again that the bird was actually a Black-throated Diver, which was even better, and it was still feeding very close to shore albeit moving away from me. Nevertheless, I carried on towards the pier, gambling that the bird would turn back and come into the bay again - there must have been some good feeding there if the bird was coming in that close to shore. I was too busy keeping an eye on the bird that I slipped on some seaweed and fell right onto my shoulder, bins swinging into my face and ended up on my back. D'oh! Luckily, I am a natural athlete and so didn't hurt myself at all and I climbed up onto the pier, plunging my hand in a massive dollop of gull crap as I did so!
Perched up on the pier I was disappointed that the diver had almost exited the small bay and would soon be lost. But, perhaps startled by a crazy swimming lady, it turned round and headed back in, following the shoreline, just a few yards offshore. I realised I needed to get closer to the beach and I scrambled back down onto the rocks just by the water's edge. I managed to find a rock big enough for me to lay down on, in amongst the seaweed, almost hanging over the water, and waited. It surfaced a couple of times a bit too far away and then dived again and was closer. It dived again and I knew that the next time it was up it would either be right in front of me, or it saw me and turned round. I was very lucky as it suddenly surfaced right in front of me, barely six or seven yards away! I managed to rattle off two photos before it dived again. I was especially pleased with the second of these - one of the best photos I have ever taken I reckon!