Friday 21st July 2017

This post covers the time between the end of the spring migration and the end of the school year. There is not usually a great amount of birds seen during this period, mainly because I don't actively go out birding at this time of year. However, I usually see some stuff whilst out and about, but the focus is generally on insects. On 4th June, I had a bit of time at Silbe and had about 5 new species of invertebrate and also a singing Firecrest in a traditional spot.

Nowadays, I rarely stumble into a new macro moth during the daytime, but on a dog walk on L'Ancresse Common on 10th June I disturbed something from the grass which, upon investigation, I was not surprised to see was a Mother Shipton moth. I say I wasn't surprised because this was a species that I had planned to search for this summer since there had been a few records recently in the L'Ancresse area. But I didn't have to search because it was just there! I found three individuals in just a short stretch. I believe that this species must be a new arrival to Guernsey in the last few years because if it had been present throughout, then I am sure I would have noticed it. The pattern on the forewing is meant to resemble an old crone, hence the name.

 Mother Shipton - L'Ancresse, 10 Jun 17

Mother Shipton - L'Ancresse, 10 Jun 17

I popped to the pond at the back of Port Soif Nature Trail on 13th June to see if there were any Reed Warblers present. There are a few small patches of reedbed within the borders of my coastal patch, but this is the only place that I've definitely had Reed Warblers breed. However, I couldn't find any here last year, so I was very pleased that there were a few calling and active birds present. I managed to get photos of a very young juvenile, just out of the nest. It shows you how quickly the birds get on with it, since the adult Reed Warblers probably didn't arrive at the pond until late April, and since then they have built a nest, courted, mated, laid, incubated, hatched, fed the young a thousand times and then saw them fledge. They don't hang around.

 Reed Warbler youngster - Port Soif Nature Trail Pond, 13 Jun 17

Reed Warbler youngster - Port Soif Nature Trail Pond, 13 Jun 17

 Blue-tailed Damselflies - Port Soif Nature Trail Pond, 13 Jun 17

Blue-tailed Damselflies - Port Soif Nature Trail Pond, 13 Jun 17

On 20th June, after work, I called in at Ronez Nature Trail to check on the nesting success of 'Species X' and, as it was a hot day, there was lots of bees feeding on the Ox-eye daisies and other flowers. I have been trying to improve my bee knowledge recently but it is very difficult since many species look very similar in the field and it's hard to know which ones to focus attention on. However, I did notice a stumpy little species, with dashes rather than stripes on its abdomen which was clearly something new. Upon investigation, it proved to be a new genus for me - Epeolus variegatus, or the Back-thighed Epeolus Bee. Incidentally, 'Species X' had done very well with 3 well-grown chicks about to be fledged.

 Black-thighed Epeolus Bee (Epeolus variegatus) -  Ronez Nature Trail, 20 Jun 17

Black-thighed Epeolus Bee (Epeolus variegatus) -  Ronez Nature Trail, 20 Jun 17

Each year I am so slow to get the moth trap out and working, and each year I say that I will make more of an effort next year. I think it is that I am so preoccupied with birding during the spring, it doesn't enter my head. Also, it relies on decent weather on a Friday or Saturday night which are the only days I can do it during term time. But I eventually got my bott into gear and on 7th July I got my first new species for the garden, the Small Marbled. This wasn't a surprise as there were lots seen of this migrant in the UK at the time. What was a surprise was that it was so small - it looked more like a micro. As I was more interested in this rarity, I didn't really pay attention to the slightly odd Willow Beauty I popped into the fridge. Only after looking at it properly later, I worked out that it was a Mottled Beauty, another new species for the garden! Two new ones in one night - I can't remember when that happened last. Mottled Beauty is very common in the UK but strangely scarce and local on the island.

 Small Marbled - garden, 7 Jul 17

Small Marbled - garden, 7 Jul 17

One of the first signs of autumn on the island is the appearance of the Mediterranean Gulls post-breeding. On 13th July I drove past two stunning adults on Cobo beach, and then three the next day. They looked so good, I scampered down the beach to take some photos of them against the dark seaweed.

 Mediterranean Gull - Cobo, 14 Jul 17

Mediterranean Gull - Cobo, 14 Jul 17

 Mediterranean Gull - Cobo, 14 Jul 17

Mediterranean Gull - Cobo, 14 Jul 17

Eventually the final week of the working year arrived which, in our school, is always Activities Week. This week can be pretty good for wildlife spotting - (see Black Stork last year) - but it depends on which activities I have been put down for. This year was pretty good as I was helping with the "island-hopping" activity. On the Monday (17th) we had the school's annual sponsored walk. All the way from Petit Bot back to Town - quite a tough one! Birds I had along the way included singing Firecrests in both Petit Bot and Moulin Huet valleys, and a pair of noisy Peregrines around Jerbourg. I really must push for a sponsored walk in migration time.

The next day (18th) was a trip to Herm. Nothing much interesting on the bird front apart from an odd first-summer Kittiwake hanging around Jethou, but I did see a new plant growing right next to a path I'd walked down loads of times before - Carline Thistle. I really don't know how I'd missed it before as there were several in the area. Whilst we were there, a massive storm suddenly appeared and, as we made our way back towards the village from Shell Beach, the sky in front of us was black as coal and cracks of lightning jabbed the water to the south. Many of the kids were genuinely worried and we had to shelter in the pub as the rain viciously pounded the island. Luckily, it was just a passing storm and the boat back was fine. However, later that evening, the skies to the north of the island were being constantly lit up by the most persistent and violent lightning storm I've ever witnessed as far as I can remember. The sky-filling flashes were going off every few seconds for twenty minutes or so and, in the gaps in the clouds, we could see forked lightning dancing every which way. I managed a bit of video footage - quite spectacular. 

 Carline Thistle - Herm, 18 Jul 17

Carline Thistle - Herm, 18 Jul 17

 Lightning storm to the north of Guernsey

Lightning storm to the north of Guernsey

The next day (19th) we went to Sark. I had not been there for literally a decade or so, and I had forgotten how great it is. The boat over was great, bouncing across the Little, then Great Russel. I saw the same first-year Kittiwake as we passed Jethou, and then had a close Balearic Shearwater closer to Sark, and also a probable Sooty Shearwater a little further off. Another thing that I hadn't done for a decade or so is ride a bike - but apparently it is something that you will always remember how to do. So we hired some bikes and covered a lot of the island, included my first trip across the famous Coupee to Little Sark. I really enjoyed the biking although my bot-bot became a little tender. As expected, Sark was full of insects - everyone says how much more there are always on this island than elsewhere - but I didn't have chance to stop and look at them. There wasn't much birds to see apart from Swifts flocking over Little Sark and Peregrines by the harbour.

 La Coupee, looking from Little Sark - 19 Jul 17

La Coupee, looking from Little Sark - 19 Jul 17

The next day (20th) was a brief trip to Jersey. Due to Condor's helpful ferry timetabling, we didn't set off until lunchtime and only managed a few hours on the larger island. The trip over was on the Liberation, the first time I'd been on this newer ferry, and I had a whale of a time standing on the top as it bounced around the waves - felt like we were surfing! They may tell us that the Liberation is just as stable a boat as the old one, but it is so obviously not. Things were crashing off the shelves and it wasn't even slightly rough - no wonder it keeps being cancelled. As we approached Jersey I saw one or two Balearic Shearwaters quite well.

After an exciting afternoon of shopping (didn't join in), waterslides (didn't join in) and Pizza Hut (joined in like a maniac), the return journey was not until the evening, and this time on the slow ferry. As one of the year seven boys had a seasick-troubled journey over, he wanted to spend the whole time sat outside, so I volunteered to supervise* him rather than sit inside, even though the wind had picked up and it was quite blowy on deck. (*take my bins and do some seawatching). As Jersey started to get smaller behind us, I started to see a few shearwaters, both Balearic and Manx and so I started scanning with a little more intensity.

When we were approximately two-thirds of the way across, we passed a little pulse of feeding Balearics and also one of the kids spotted a dolphin jump out of the water. I managed to pick it up again behind the boat and saw that there were 3 or 4 Common Dolphins out there. As we got closer to Guernsey and were passing to the south of Sark it was starting to get a little dusky and we sailed through a spread-out feeding group of 20 or so Manx Shearwaters, a few of which were sitting on the water. As I was looking through these, a larger bird caught my eye, flying slightly away from me, just forward of straight out, and pretty close in, which immediately looked interesting. It was clearly shearwater-like but not the same jizz as the Manxies I had been watching. The bird looked larger and rangier, with longer wings, much more gull-like than the Manx. It had a slower movement, with none of the fast flaps and sudden changes of angle that you see with the smaller shearwaters. My immediate thought was "Crikey - that's a Cory's Shearwater!".

The difference in size soon became obvious when it flew right past a Manx Shearwater and was definitely much larger. My first thought was to double-check it wasn't a young Gannet but I couldn't see the head very well from the angle it was flying and also, I was struggling to keep my bins really still. It then swooped round a bit so I could see the underparts well and the plumage indicated it was definitely not a Gannet. From what I could see, the upperparts were quite plain and were looking quite dark in the dusky light, but not dark like a Manx. It had more of a greyer or maybe browner 'frosted' tone to dark upperparts, but not the more obvious deep brown colouration of a Balearic.

The underparts were white throughout, apart from the underwing which had a very obvious dark blackish border all the way round. This was a clear and distinct field mark which could be seen well even in the dusky light conditions. I looked in particular for any dark markings in the 'arm pit' area or the flanks, but these were very clean. The head was difficult to see as the bird was slightly pointing away still and it almost seemed to 'disappear' against the grey of the sea. Unfortunately I was not able to be certain that I saw a pale bill. I was now certain that it wasn't a Great Shearwater since I would have noticed a dark cap and pale collar at such close range, and there were no other markings seen on the underwing.

I shuffled a bit on the deck as the boat rocked a little, and lost the bird temporarily as I had to turn around to admonish some children who were running on deck! I found it again quickly though, but it was now a bit further out and had changed direction flying right to left. It had gained a little speed and was being more of a shearwater, gliding over the surface, dark then light, then dark, then light etc. As I knew what it was now, I just enjoyed it flying around as it got further and further away.

I was pretty shocked, as Cory's Shearwater is something I have never seen before in British or Channel Island waters. Not surprised really, as there had been plenty of large shearwaters seen in the English Channel in recent weeks, but shocked nonetheless. I never expected to get a tick on a school trip. The only Cory's I have seen were the ones we used to see in the evenings off Eilat North Beach, Israel, as well as the Scopoli's we saw in Corsica in April.

When I got home I investigated where I must have been when I saw the bird. I had the time - between 8 45 and 8 50 - so I looked on the sea-vessel tracking website to see where the ferry had got to at that time. I also noted that the sun was just about to disappear behind Jerbourg pine forest, so I looked at a website which shows the direction of sunset from any point, and the location matched very well. On the map below I have circled the approx. position of the bird and as can clearly be seen, it is easily close enough to add Cory's to my Guernsey list.

 Location of Cory's Shearwater sighting

Location of Cory's Shearwater sighting

 Emperor Moth larva - Grandes Rocques, 21 Jul 17

Emperor Moth larva - Grandes Rocques, 21 Jul 17