On Saturday 28th April I went to Pleinmont to try and find some decent migrants. The day before there seemed to be plenty of stuff at Pulias in the afternoon including about 20 Whimbrel and 2 Common Sandpipers as well as quite a few passerines, so I was hoping it might be good on the headland. However, it was very disappointing up there with just a single singing Garden Warbler being of note. There were much better birds in the L'Eree area however, including the Glossy Ibis very briefly first thing. At high tide there was lots of birds feeding on the seaweed at the Shingle Bank, with as many as 40 Whimbrel and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits there. Also there were lots of passerines, approximately 40 White Wagtails, 11 Yellow Wagtails and 10 Wheatears. There was another Yellow Wagtail at Pulias on the way home where Common Sandpipers were up to 3 birds.
During the next work-week it was mainly checking out a few spots for the weekend's bird race. A good record was three Common Scoters which had taken up temporary residence off Port Grat and Pulias, and I managed to see them on 2nd May, and we hoped they'd stick around for the race. I also noted that at least one Purple Sandpiper was still present on the rocks off Rousse - we hadn't seen Purple Sand for years on the race, so another bonus bird we hoped would stick around.
6th MAY - GUERNSEY BIRD RACE 2018
As I had to miss last year's, I was raring to go for the annual island Bird Race, and we had a full team of Sultans, resplendent in their new apparel, and at peak fitness and fighting weight (!)
Weighing up our chances before we started, there were a few negatives: there wasn't a huge amount of migration going on in the preceding few days (although nothing too terrible), we only had one high tide during the day to concentrate the birds, there didn't seem any rain or cloud forecast (which usually helps to ground migrants) and it was also a very late date. However, at least the weather was going to be nice which encourages birding rather than sheltering, the wind was in a NE direction which isn't a bad direction at all, migration seemed to be pretty late this year and so we knew there were still birds on their way, and there had been a few rarities and other 'bonus birds' around the island in the last week which may give our total a boost. Here is a run-down of our day. Unfortunately there are no photos because if you're stopping to take pictures you're doing it wrong!
So we met at first light at Rue des Bergers as is traditional, and we pottered around the Vazon/Claire Mare area as the birds were waking up, the most useful bird being the Cetti's Warbler which sang nice and early for us. We pulled into the car park at the Shingle Bank and were very pleased to see that there had been a bit of migration going on overnight, with a few Bar-tailed Godwits in with the Whimbrel flock and a Wheatear or two on the seaweed. From L'Eree car park we had a Yellow Wagtail fly in off the bay.
These migrants gave us encouragement to race up to Pleinmont to try and any that were passing there and, despite the clear conditions, we did have some flyovers almost immediately with a few Swifts coasting in, a couple of Yellow Wagtails, a few Tree Pipits and best of all, a single Skylark come in from the west. Unfortunately there were not many birds on the deck here and all we managed to come up with was a singing Garden Warbler and a Meadow Pipit or two. As it dried up very quickly on the headland we quickly descended back to the west coast bays.
At Rocquaine we stopped at the 'fish factory' for a scan and had a few Sand Martins come in, but more unusually we heard another singing Cetti's Warbler from the small marshy areas near the orchid fields - another range expansion for this species which appears to be doing very well at the moment. Another glance at L'Eree beach and it had both Dunlin and Ringed Plover trotting across it. A group of at least 10 bright Bar-tailed Godwits fed on the beach at Perelle and a few Sandwich Terns passed Fort le Crocq - can be tricky - but the Vazon/Fort Hommet area was looking bare.
The lack of new species on the coastline prompted us to head inland and we parked up at the rear of Saumarez Park. Here we had an excellent 20 minute blast with both Goldcrest and Firecrest singing away, easy Short-toed Treecreeper and Long-tailed Tits, and the icing on the cake, the Iberian Chiffchaff, was still singing away by the pond! A top rarity to get on the bird race list. We didn't find Great Spotted Woodpecker here but a quick detour to Kings Mills and we had one drumming away within minutes.
Our next target was Glossy Ibis in the Rue des Bergers area, but we checked the pond and favoured fields and it was nowhere to be seen. After spending the whole winter here and it still being present a few days ago, it hadn't scarpered had it just before the race? (spoiler alert : it had!). We always give Grande Mare golf course lake a quick check and we were pleased to see a Common Sandpiper bobbing along the edge. That made 69 species and it was only ten past nine. We had been going at a fair lick in these first few hours it seems.
This meant however that we had another 12 hours to try and pick up 20-odd species at the most! The grind had started early. And it also started badly when we didn't see anything new at the next few stops apart from House Martin (70). We looked out from Pulias and Port Grat - no sign of the Common Scoters. We looked out from Rousse - no sign of the Purple Sandpiper. These were two of our bonus birds and we'd dipped out! However, we quickly recovered our spirits when the Common Scoters (71) suddenly reappeared outside Port Grat bay, visible from our viewpoint at Rousse. We were back on it.
It was pretty much high tide now and we headed to Fort Doyle as it is a good viewpoint for migrants and a nice spot to have a little seawatch from. We picked up a single Raven (72) flying down the coast and a few Guillemots (73) bobbing around offshore. We had maybe hoped for a few other birds here but the bright sun made viewing difficult. As it was bang on the highest tide we thought it was worth giving Rousse another go, and this time, after a tricky search we located the single Purple Sandpiper (74) perched on the edge of the big rock. Bonus!
We called in at Vale Pond hide where, amongst the desolation, we saw a Grey Heron (75) picking through the mud for its lunch. We were currently criss-crossing the Vale and we piled out of the car at Grand Pre and waited in the hide for a Sedge Warbler (76) to pop out of the reedbed which it did in no time. So that was two more almost-guaranteed species ticked off, but we didn't have many more of these left and it had now only just passed midday.
We headed south along the east coast, checking the bays as we went but we couldn't find any new species, not until we were scanning from Salerie when Mark called us over to lean over the wall and look vertically downwards where a Turnstone (77) was picking away literally below us. That bird could have been easily missed. We had a bit of a wait until the Herm ferry and so we drove to the Track area but it was so overgrown that we didn't stand a chance of getting in. We strolled in the lanes behind there a bit looking for migrants but nothing new was seen.
It wasn't until after 2 o'clock that the ferry left to Herm for our round trip to look for seabirds. We had Guillemots again on the way over and we were fortunate that the boat went around the south side of Jethou. This meant that Puffin (78) was quite easy to see but we couldn't find any Razorbill, which is always the most difficult of the three auks to pick up. We debated whether it was worth getting off the boat but there seemed to be loads of people on Herm and it would really wear us out traipsing up to the common in the sun.
So we stayed on the boat and returned to St. Peter Port Harbour - Puffin being quite an expensive single tick for the day! We drove straight up to Jerbourg for a little skywatching and seawatching whilst we relaxed a bit eating some lunch but again, no new species. We really now had to concentrate on the few local species we still hadn't got and headed for the Talbot Valley. After parking up we strolled along the road for a few yards before we could hear the distinctive call of a Bullfinch (79) from the trees above us and we could see it hopping around at the back. Almost immediately, in the same group of trees, we had a Willow Warbler (80) - one we were thinking we may have missed due to the low numbers of grounded migrants today. So that was 80 species and it was still only half-three. In the last four years, the maximum we'd had was 84 so we were gunning now for a decent total.
We tried a couple of spots before heading for the Reservoir. Here I picked up a falcon distantly over the water and we were thinking strongly about an ID of Hobby due to its behaviour and flight, but in the end it came closer and we decided it was just an odd-looking Kestrel. Disappointed with this, as we had been searching for Hobby all day with the perfect weather conditions, we decided to give the bays and coast another check. At least with Guernsey bird racing you can check some locations four or five times during the day. So we headed on down to Vazon, where the tide was very low, but out there over the water, in the heat haze a tern was flying about - the Royal Tern (81)!! We were amazed that we'd just bumped into this unexpectedly. We knew it was still around but didn't expect to get it as it is an elusive blighter. Another big bonus bird.
We then had a long period of treading water. We spent quite a bit of time up at Pleinmont but there was nothing in the valleys or fields and we lost our momentum a little. We then pushed on to Creux Mahie where we were going to search for the Jackdaws that had been present in this area during the week. Here we made our biggest cock-up of the day when there was a bit of a misunderstanding (in other words we didn't listen to Wayne!) and we got split up. We went down to check the cliffs but didn't know Wayne was scanning the rooftops where he'd seen them just a few days ago. He then did see a Jackdaw in flight but we were nowhere to be seen. A few shouts later and we tried to rush back up the path. I managed a brief flyover but the other two missed it completely before it drifted away. We then waited and waited for another fly past, eating up our time. Another team joined us but we eventually decided to move on, kicking ourselves.
However, we'd only just driven a few hundred yards down the road when, we looked across and saw a Jackdaw (82) fly right past us! We were very lucky gits and Wayne forgave us (perhaps). We celebrated by having chippy chips at Forest chip shop, our traditional bird race fare. It was now getting to 7 pm and we really were in the dead zone, not knowing what to do. Our only hope was perhaps a new wader dropping in so we tried the L'Eree area again but nothing new. Driving round the corner, we scanned at Perelle where the Bar-wits were still present, but amongst the birds on the beach was a single, fabulous Black-headed Gull (83) - score!
We stopped at a couple more bays but it was a dead loss and we decided that we'd go straight for a evening seawatch off Chouet. We got there about ten to eight and although the dusk hadn't set in yet, the viewing conditions were not so good, with mist and low sun meaning things were difficult to pick out. However, we persisted, and at almost exactly 8 o'clock, Wayne picked up a heavy, flapping, very dark seabird heading northeasterly into the breeze - a skua! We quickly realised it was actually a Pomarine Skua (84) powering north!! This was an amazing surprise. Spring Poms are almost unheard of in Guernsey and we'd managed one on the race - definitely bird of the day. Then just three minutes later a Razorbill (85) whizzed past and then two minutes later a few distant Manx Shearwaters (86). What a fabulous five minutes! We scanned for a good 20 minutes more and practically saw nothing else. Evening seawatches are very unpredictable but we always see something useful - but never this useful!
It was now getting very late and we drove round the corner setting ourselves up to wait for some owls. We hadn't really checked where and if the owls had been showing recently so we just went to the same spot as last time, although we were a little concerned none of the other teams were visible. Time ticked on to 9 o'clock and it was getting really impossible to see much. But luckily, in the dim light, I managed to pick up a distant owl flapping over the hillside but quite a way away over the golf course. We had good fortune and we all managed to see the bird and identify it as a Long-eared Owl (87).
The Barn Owls were not playing ball though so in the pitch black we visited a known, occupied nest box somewhere in the centre of the island. We pulled up, got out, and immediately from the tree above us a little screech and a Barn Owl (88) flew off a branch. Our final bird of the day and we headed home.
So 88 species counted in the day and we were more than satisfied. We had returned to our previous levels when we nearly always got between 88 and 90. I don't know why the last four years have been poorer than usual. It was looking like a downward trend but maybe just a glitch. We were especially pleased that we did so well this year considering it was not a good day for migrants - especially waders, which were in very short supply, and the only passerines were very early on. So it gave us hope that the record is still obtainable. Perhaps next year!