I thought autumn migration was probably over but there were a few signs of new birds arriving during the middle week of November. On 13th a Black Redstart appeared at Pulias where a Blackcap was present two days later. Also on 15th a very late Whimbrel flew around Baie des Pecqueries. In the pines at Fort Hommet on 16th there was a Chiffchaff, a Firecrest and a Redwing. These were indicators that there may be a final chance for something new and good to turn up.
So on Saturday 17th I made a further trip up to Pleinmont to try and eke a final rarity out of the autumn. Walking round the top fields there did appear to be new birds in with a single Fieldfare, 2 Golden Plover and at least 3 Bramblings going overhead. There seemed to be more Skylarks around so I drove towards Mont Herault to check that area out. Just as I got out of the car to check the bare field, I received a message from Wayne that he had just had a brief sighting of a swift sp. over Valniquets Valley which was just behind me. By now there had been lots of Pallid Swift sightings in the UK and there had clearly been something of an influx (our previous bird was one of the very first of this influx). So it was almost certain that this swift would turn out to be a Pallid.
So I drove down the valley and chatted with Wayne from the car for a bit but he hadn’t seen it again. I parked down by the Imperial and started back towards the bottom of the valley. As I reached the end of the car park I saw a swift quickly zip behind the hotel building and go up the valley, so I quickened my stride. As I rounded the corner and reached the bottom of the Valniquets I looked up and saw that there were actually TWO swifts flying about above me! I hurried further up and found Wayne and we were able to watch these two PALLID SWIFTS from a gateway.
However, these birds were not giving hugely helpful views since it was very cloudy, they were always against the sky and kept appearing and disappearing. At the moment we were presuming they were Pallid Swifts - which was logically the case - but we weren’t sure how we were going to prove that they were Pallid Swift from our rather dodgy photos. The two photos below show the two birds - the top pic is a more pristine bird and the second was a clearly raggedy individual which stood out due to its uneven primaries. We knew that we would have difficulty proving the pallidity of these birds and basically crossed our fingers that one of our top photographers would be able to take a good enough photo to ID the birds with certain.
As before, the birds did keep disappearing and sometimes for 10 minutes at a time. As we weren’t getting much more from the birds we moved on and I walked back down to the Imperial. I saw the two swifts again, however this time they had moved across one valley and were feeding over the main road up Pleinmont Hill. It looked like they might be moving on and we might not get any definitive pics. After disappearing again, I scanned the area and saw a single bird way further north, feeding above the houses close to Fort Grey. That bird looked like it was on its way. Luckily though, the second bird appeared right above me and was flying low above me back near the original spot. That was the last sighting of both birds together, and the scruffy individual wasn’t seen again.
A small spanner in the “getting some good photos” works was, whilst all this was going on, a photo was posted of a Yellowhammer taken at Pleinmont just a short time ago. Yellowhammer is pretty rare in Guernsey and so, because we’d just had a Pallid Swift, everyone was more interested in the bloney Yellowhammer! So we had the strange sight of birders literally driving underneath a flying Pallid Swift to try and get up to see a Yellowhammer. That’s island birding for you! But in the end we were lucky, because whilst a few of the photographers were up on the headland searching for the ‘ammer, the neater of the Pallid Swifts decided to make some close fly-bys and some people got a few definitive photos. You can see better photos of the bird by Tony L (HERE) and Andy M (HERE).
Since I had parked down the bottom, I decided to have a wander round the woods to see what else I could find. There appeared to be quite a lot of birds in the trees and it was very good birding - lots of tits and Goldcrests flocking in the trees, lots of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes on the floor. It looked like there might be something to find in there - and I was betting on a Dusky Warbler - but a few Firecrests and a Chiffchaff were the only warblers I managed. The best thing I saw was an excellent Woodcock which flushed from my feet as I went off piste at Vau de Monel, and I watched it fly away low through the woodland.
Returning to the car, I drove back up to the top of the headland to see if I could see this Yellowhammer but nobody had seen it again since the original sighting. Whilst up there, a Lapwing flew over a few times and I managed to get my last brief sighting of the Pallid Swift as it swooped around the Scramble Track a few times. I now had to get home and as I drove past I stopped to look at a flock of 20 Brent Geese that were in the bay. Scanning the water I also noticed a group of 3 Pochards swimming around with a Teal - what a surprise. Pochards are pretty scarce here and I can’t remember when there was a small flock of them on the island. These birds didn’t stay at all and I don’t think anyone else saw them - bonus birds.
Returning home to look closely at my photos, I was interested in whether we could reasonably ID the scruffy bird as a Pallid. Tring to improve the lighting on the bird, the picture below seems to be the best I could do, and it does give the impression of being a bit ‘pallidy’. The composite pic below that of many more rubbish pics (which are all the same bird) also gives the overall impression of a Pallid Swift rather than Common, but it is difficult to pick out definitive differences.
However, a final interesting aspect of this sighting was that, after I posted the picture below on twitter, a few people pointed out that there was a sighting of a Pallid Swift with “displaced” right primaries in Norfolk on 14th November, and then probably the same bird in Kent on 15th and 16th November. Looking at the pics it looks highly likely that this bird is the same bird that me and Wayne saw at Pleinmont.
Now it did seem definitely the end of the autumn. I had a Red-breasted Merganser in Vazon Bay on 26th and a Teal at Pulias on 24th, the latter only I think the third record for the patch. The moth trap was now in storage for the winter but I did have a crackingly-marked Acleris hastiana at the window one warmer evening along with a couple of Feathered Thorns, a species I don’t see very often. The best moth though was found high above the entrance door to school on 23rd November - a Red-green Carpet, a new one for my Guernsey list (seen once before in UK). It was too high to grab but I managed a couple of zoomed in photos.