A birder is like a surfer - always trying to catch that perfect wave. Bird migration is not uniform. It has crests and it has troughs. Birds do not pass through at a constant pace during the migration season, but pass through in waves. If you are lucky, you'll be out in the field just as a massive wave passes, and you can ride it, finding rare birds as you go. Sometimes you can predict when a wave will come, but often it suddenly appears. As a birder, you often get a 'feeling' that its a day for rares - getting clues from the weather and general observations of common birds - and you itch to get out in the field. Just like the surfer, when everything feels just right, you need to be able to drop everything and just go, there and then, to catch that sweet wave. The most successful birders are those who have the flexibility to go birding when they should, rather than when they can.
On 3rd May it felt to me like such a day and this was confirmed when, during the late afternoon, I looked across from the garden into the taller trees next-door and saw Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler feeding voraciously. I had never seen a Garden Warbler anywhere near the garden before and indeed only see one or two a year at the moment of this scarce migrant. This little feeding party indicated to me that migrants were passing through. However, I am a surfer with responsibilities, and I wasn't able to get out and search for possible rares. The next day, on 4th May, a flock of 5 Yellow Wagtails fed on the lawns of the Peninsula Hotel, with a Spotted Flycatcher in the adjacent trees. This was also the evening of a brief and gripping Spotted Sandpiper, photographed on a nearby beach, but I will quickly gloss over that before I get too upset.
On Friday 6th May, I finished work for the week and headed home. There wasn't a great deal of time to go wandering on the patch but I stopped briefly by the boatyard at Rousse to check for waders in the bay. There had not been many waders around on the patch despite it being a good time of year for them, so I was pleased to pick up a few Ringed Plovers scuttling around. Straight away through the bins, I picked out a very pale bird which looked like a juvenile-type Ringed Plover. Of course, this set off alarm bells and I quickly pulled out the 'scope, and confirmed my suspicions that it was a Kentish Plover.
It was very white around the head and paler on the back compared to the Ringed Plovers and did not have a band across the breast. There were side breast patches only, with a large gap between. It appeared small-bodied and large-headed in structure with spindly legs, and had a finer, pointy bill. A group of girls and a dog was walking across the beach, heading straight for the group of plovers, so I managed to get a few phone snaps through the 'scope in case it flew off (below). It did fly with the other waders but thankfully returned straight away and I grapevined the news. I moved a little closer onto the beach to get a better view, but stayed well back so that I wouldn't flush it. My first record for my patch and only the second I'd seen in Guernsey - in fact, this has become so rare recently, that this was the first island record since 2003. Birders arrived and I soon made my way back home, chuffed with an excellent find.
After tea, I drove back up for a second look, especially now that it was high tide and I thought that I may be able to take some photos. Surprisingly, none of the local photographers were there and I was alone. I soon found the bird feeding with other waders on the shingle high up on the beach. I found a spot where I could lie (painfully) on the stones and be partially hidden from the birds and crossed my fingers that they would gradually get closer rather than further away. The birds did get a little bit closer and I managed to get some very passable shots of the Kentish.
After quite a while recently spent away from the family birding, the weekend was then spent mostly at home. I wasn't expecting to see anything but, of course, I was more than satisfied with finding a Kentish Plover on the patch. However, on 8th May, on this Sunday morning, I was standing by the back door gazing outside as I often do, when I noticed a dark raptor appear to the NW of the garden. This is not unusual, as I regularly see Marsh Harriers and Buzzards from the garden, but I always check them. So I strolled inside and grabbed my bins and immediately saw that it was a Black Kite!
As I put my bins on the bird it was already passing me and quite low, but it banked round and I noted the distinctive paler brown crescent on the upperwing coverts contrasting with the blackish flight feathers which identified the bird straight away. It moved slightly SW where it started circling to gain height. It now showed the long wings and forked tail of a kite, and its dull brown-ness ruled out Red Kite. I was unable to get even a quick snap of the bird on the camera before it quickly moved further into the centre of the island, but I grapevined the bird asap. Luckily, a couple of other birders managed to see it as it passed through - over the Talbot and near the Airport - with Andy M managing a couple of helpful record shots.
With two rare birds found in less than 48 hours, I was walking on air, although slightly guilty that neither of the birds took very much effort - the KP whilst sat in my car, and the BK whilst still in my pyjamas!
I have managed to use the Zerene stacking software on a real living animal rather than just dead specimens. The spider below had been standing in the same position all day and so I got my tripod out and gave it a go, and it worked very well. I've never been able to get all of a creature in focus before at such high magnification. But I can't imagine being able to use it without a big effort "setting a scene" which of course takes time.