At work on Thursday 25th October, I glanced at my phone during my breaktime cuppa and almost sprayed it round the office. I was looking at a photo of a Penduline Tit taken at Pleinmont that morning by Andy M. Thursdays are my best days for popping out at lunch because I don’t have a lesson to teach either side of the hour, so I was ready to hit it straight away at 12:25, and it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I wasn’t back dead on the bell. The coast road to Pleinmont was still closed so I had to work out a cunning, cross-island route (which almost worked) and I was soon approaching the headland about 17 minutes later.
With the rarity of the species - not seen on the island for 25 years - I was hoping to pull up and have the bird pointed out to me by the enthusiastic crowd. But, this being Guernsey, there was literally no birders present, despite the bird being found just a few hours ago. This was a bit of a bummer as I had about 15 minutes to try and find it myself before I had to head back to work - I didn’t even know whether it was still around, maybe it had flown off far away and that’s why people weren’t there watching it. I wasn’t confident, realistically expecting a dip.
Nevertheless, I walked down the edge of the field, spotting a couple of Reed Bunting feeding in the tall crops. Then, right in front of me, there was another movement amongst the vegetation, a bit low down to make out what it was. I kept my bins on the trembling stems and waited until a bird became visible, and through a small gap I could see the rufous back and white-fringed wings of a corking PENDULINE TIT. It was generally keeping quite low down in the crop and I was able to get quite close to it getting really good semi-hidden views through the bins, but it was hard to photograph well as the camera constantly focussed on everything else.
I gave it a ten minute watch and made my way back to the car - tick and run merchant extraordinaire - and as I did so the bird flew over my shoulder and into the hedge in front of me. As I walked up it flushed again and flew across the road into the blackthorn behind my car. It stayed here for a couple of minutes to give decent views but was wary and soon flew again. This time it really went off and I watched it gain height, high above the fields and then it started going away heading inland. Blimey I thought, surely I can’t have been that lucky just seeing it immediately before it flew off. But, just as it became a tiny dot in my bins against the sky, it turned around and eventually dropped back into the same crop field. I jumped back in the car and made it back in time for the afternoon bell. Cool as.
Not only was this a first for my Guernsey list but also a first for my British* list. And to make it more notable this bird was officially number 400 for Britain! When we were young birders a list of four hundred was always the threshold which meant you were a proper twitcher and it was always our aim to get to that number. Well its only taken me 28 years to get from 300 to 400 species - pathetic! Nowadays of course, four hundred is paltry and the new threshold is probably more like 500 British species to claim to be a proper twitcher.
The picture below shows the field that the bird was in. I never expected to be ticking Penduline Tit on the top of a coastal headland - I would have guessed the reedbeds of Claire Mare or a similar site. Goes to show the excellent benefits of growing crops for wild birds. Just a few years ago this field was just boring grass but now, after great sowing, it is pulling in the birds and they are sticking around. This field has been excellent this autumn and hopefully will continue to be so.
The next week was very quiet even though it was my week off. I didn’t really have time for much birding due to family commitments and weather and having to do school work. On 30th October the winds looked pretty good for a seawatch but we saw hardly anything from Jaonneuse. I managed a quick run round Pleinmont on the Saturday (3rd Nov) but it was far too windy to see much and a Mistle Thrush was the best of the migrants.
The next week back at school was a nightmare because the school inspectors were in, which means literally constant work from dawn ‘til midnight and not even a second for birding. After the week from hell was over, I managed to get out in the field at the weekend. On Saturday 10th I tried a few local sites, taking in the flock of 6 Cattle Egrets which had taken up residence in the field opposite the Rue des Bergers, where a Cetti’s Warbler was singing away in the sunshine. The next day at Pleinmont, there was not much doing apart from the Reed Bunting and Skylark flocks and it looked like the autumn migration had now finished for 2018.