Thursday 15th September 2016

Sometimes it's simply a combination of unlikely events and coincidences which results in the finding of a rare bird. Such was the case on 15th September, when I popped out for some birding at Fort Hommet in my lunch hour. That is not the unusual part of it, nor was the fact that I didn't really see anything, but just as I got into my car to leave I heard a bird fly over which gave a call which was not unlike a Citrine Wagtail. However, I had to dash back to class, and I also had to go somewhere after school so could not check it out then either.

However, that evening I had to go back to school for a meeting - which practically never happens - and as Rosie was working that night, her friend came round to babysit. She arrived at the house really early, and so I left them to it and I set off early also, with plans of a quick look at Fort Hommet just in case the Citrine Wag really was one (although I didn't think so tbh).

I arrived at the car park with half an hour to spare and the tide was high and so any wagtails would be up on the land. I looked around and saw a couple of alba wagtails on the grass by the sea wall and wandered over there. I scanned the grassy triangle between the sea wall and the road and considered that there was a chance it might be in the longish grass (not that Citrine Wags generally are in long grass!) so I, untypically, went for a walk through it to see if I would flush anything.

Almost immediately from the first little depression, I put up a Lapland Bunting, which flew round in a big circle and landed again 20 yards ahead of me hidden in the grass and rushes. This was a great find and something I had not seen on my patch for ages, and was notably very early for the species, I think the second earliest ever for Guernsey. However it fits in with a decent influx of Lap Bunts into northern and western Britain in the few days before. I could barely see the bird, but managed to snap a couple of photos of its head through the vegetation.

 Lapland Bunting - Fort Hommet - 15 Sep 16

Lapland Bunting - Fort Hommet - 15 Sep 16

However, I didn't get very close to the bird when it flew up again and went high and far to the west over the Grande Mare Hotel. I thought that the bird may have been a recent arrival during the evening since it did not look very settled.

(the bird apparently reappeared the next day in the same general area and many better photos were taken, although I am not totally convinced it is the same bird as the photos seem to show a less heavily-marked head-pattern. See HERE for a nice pic from Mark G.)

Obviously totally chuffed by this sighting of a very scarce species, I thought about where else I may see some wagtails and climbed to the top of the "plateau". I immediately flushed a small group of birds who were feeding on the flat top of the hill, most of which were Linnets, but I noticed straight away a different, less-familiar bird with them. My first thought was Tree Pipit due to the general size and colouration, but it flew directly away from me. I sneaked up towards where they landed and from behind a small tussock, a super little Short-toed Lark emerged!

This was even more coincidental as was standing within about 3 yards of where I was when I found the last Short-toed Lark here back in October 2010. Also, there was another in exactly the same spot the previous spring, which makes a total three Short-toed Larks seen on the plateau at Fort Hommet inthe last few years.     

 Short-toed Lark - Fort Hommet - 15 Sep 16

Short-toed Lark - Fort Hommet - 15 Sep 16

I was shocked - two great birds found within ten minutes of each other, at a time when I would never usually be there! The planets had aligned for me and I was very grateful. The STL almost immediately flew again and it was a real cat and mouse game to try and get even a record photo. It seemed to prefer to sit on the grassy paths surrounding the hilltop and of course, as soon as you rounded a corner to see it, it flew up again. There were also two Whinchat perching up on the vegetation which were definitely not here at lunchtime, which again indicated that all these birds had maybe just arrived.

I did eventually get a record shot before the first few birders arrived to see it. Most people did manage to get a good view but not very closely and not for very long, and so there were not very many pics taken of this bird. (but see HERE for a good one from Tony L. which was taken the next day when it was seen again for a short time). I had to quickly dash off to get to the meeting on time but was exceedingly satisfied with an excellent half hour on the patch.


The STL was the culmination of a pretty good few days on my little stretch of the coast. Two days earlier, on 13th Sep, in just ten minutes early one morning at Pulias I managed to see Water Rail, Bar-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and a Wryneck. I was especially pleased to find the latter as I missed it on patch last year.

Then, on 14th Sep I had a first-yr Common Gull fly over Fort Hommet, and a Pied Flycatcher feeding in a Sycamore at Le Guet, two more uncommon migrants. There were not a great deal of migrants around but the quality was clearly there, and I was surprised that something a bit more exciting wasn't discovered on the island.

 Buzzards - over garden - 1 Sep 16

Buzzards - over garden - 1 Sep 16

 Med Gull - Cobo - 10 Sep 16

Med Gull - Cobo - 10 Sep 16

 Raven - Pulias - 13 Sep 16

Raven - Pulias - 13 Sep 16

 Grey Seal - Pulias - 13 Sep 16

Grey Seal - Pulias - 13 Sep 16