The week after the last post was mostly notable for birds I did not see. With a Booted Warbler photographed at Pleinmont on Sunday and then a male Pallid Harrier seen there during the working day on the Monday, I drove up there as quick as possible after work that day, despite the weather being pretty abysmal with regular heavy showers. The Booted hadn’t been seen again so I was 24hrs too late for that bird, but I was very close to getting the Pallid Harrier. Whilst I was searching at Pleinmont, there was a sighting at the airport, so I raced there. Then it was seen behind the airport drifting away and I tried chasing it through the centre of the island but, as it was such a large area, it was to no avail. I visited a few likely raptor spots but the bird was never seen again. Tramping around again at Pleinmont just in case it returned there meant I soaked and muddied my school trousers and skulked home rather grumpy. My first Water Rail of the autumn on patch on 13th, as well as a Greenshank calling, then feeding, off Rousse, didn’t really make up for missing what could possibly be the only new local birds of the autumn.
By the time the next weekend came around, the winds had done the honourable thing and decided to switch round to the east on a Friday night - that almost never happens! So I was up at Pleinmont nice and early at first light on Saturday morning (14th Sep) hoping for a decent arrival of migrants. Immediately, I could tell there was something happening with an invisible crest calling from the bushes by the car park. Strolling down to the lower Societe field, there were at least 4 or 5 Whinchats and a Sedge Warbler and I knew that the morning would be bird-filled, hopefully with a rarity or scarcity thrown in.
And I didn’t have to wait long for the first good bird. I made my way back up the field towards the road and I picked up a large bird over the back of the blackthorns, somewhere over the cliffs. It was heading purposely north-west and when I got my bins on it, it revealed itself to be an Osprey. It carried on round the corner and, despite the distance I managed a record shot. This was the first I’ve seen since 2014.
I carried on scouring the fields and bushes on the top of the headland and there were pockets of Whinchats and Wheatears all over the place. I also had a double-figure flock of Yellow Wagtails fly in and migrant Meadow Pipits were making their first appearance of the autumn. Walking past the weedy corridor I could see a distant raptor being harassed by corvids and I presumed it was going to be a harrier when I glimpsed a longish tail. However, when it banked around, I could see it was actually a Honey Buzzard, probably the same one that had been seen a few times recently here. It was circling over the woods on the north side of the headland and kept appearing a few times, although each time rather a way away. I didn’t think both Osprey and Honey before 8 am was too bad going!
I thought I’d try a few areas with more trees and so I headed to the bottom of the camping field, where there was both Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher, the former actually sticking its head out for a photograph. The initial clouds had now mostly drifted away and the sun was out - it was going to get pretty warm. Looking NW from the National Trust path, more Whinchats dotted the bush-tops against the horizon and a single Redstart flew into the blackthorn ahead of me. I thought I’d return to the centre of the headland via the clifftop path and, looking up, I saw a flock of 17 Grey Herons high above me in the sky, following the coastline south then east along the cliffs. We often see a flock or two of herons go over the headland in the autumn and wonder if they are genuine migrants or just local wanderers. However, looking at the Jersey website, it seems that they also recorded 17 Grey Herons that morning which implies that these birds were moving with intent.
After returning to the car I thought I’d have a good look round Mont Herault for more migrants. In the now sunny weather the Swallows had started to move and many hundreds were moving east along the cliffs. It may seem counterintuitive for there to be an easterly movement against the easterly wind, but I suspect these birds find themselves pushed out over the sea in the Channel when heading south and, when they see the island to their east, they move eastwards to try and get back to land. The only other species noted with them was a single Sand Martin. As I got out of the car there were 6 Whinchats together at the bottom of the field and then walking down ‘Forge Valley’ there were another 10 birds sheltering in there, along with a Tree Pipit plus a few Whitethroats and Willow Warblers.
Walking back up the cliff path to the fields there was a flock of Yellow and White Wagtails feeding round the ponies and ever more Whinchats and Wheatears. In a garden adjacent to these fields, both a Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher were sallying from the fence posts. I walked most of the fields in the area hoping to bump into a rarity, even to the east of the watch house, but nothing new jumped out. Returning back through the “large” field I heard and then saw a migrant Snipe passing overhead and another Tree Pipit. Next I saw a terrific Hobby belt past right in front of me at below head height - superb views. Soon after the Hobby, a Marsh Harrier drifting by, then a Sparrowhawk later on, meant a rather impressive 8 species of raptor in one morning! (I’d only seen 6 species all year up to now!)
It was getting a bit busy and noisy on top of the headland due to a scrambling meeting, so I thought I’d try a couple of the valleys to see if there were similar numbers of migrants in the woods. There did not seem to be as many but down at Pezeries I did find a nice Pied Flycatcher and Firecrest. Around midday I left Pleinmont with an estimated 40+ Whinchat under my belt, the highest day-total I am sure that I have ever had on the island. It was such a good day for migrants, I was surprised that I had had the headland totally to myself. Apart from a few photographers early on, I did not see another birder all morning despite the promising conditions. Of course, I am grateful that there wasn’t birders every few yards like there can be on a good weekend in the UK at certain good migrants spots, but if there had been a few more birders, we might have been able to dig out something better.
I usually head home for lunch after a morning’s birding but today I felt I needed to give it a couple more hours, even though it was now getting pretty warm and most areas were busy with people. I thought I’d give Tielles a try, the next valley east of Pleinmont. There wasn’t anything new but I did see my first Clouded Yellow of the year - it has been ages since we last had a big influx of these. I then thought there may have been something arrived in the fields at Rue des Hougues. And there was - 3 Lapwing - not quite the rarity level I was after.
As the weather was so fine, I thought it would be a great opportunity to go check out the Long-tailed Blues at Jerbourg since they would be out and about flying in the sun. It didn’t take me long to find them as they were in exactly the same spot - to the metre - as when I saw them a few years ago. With the whole south coast to aim for, how did these individuals know exactly where previous butterflies had gone before? It puzzles me because there is no obvious foodplant there - they were just flying round the gorse - and that spot looks just like a whole load of other spots all along the cliffs. Perhaps it is just something that the Long-tailed Blues can detect that we can’t, maybe a specific microclimate, or species mix. Anyway, I manage to locate at least 3 and maybe more, one of which was quite fresh and posed pretty well for photos.
I wasn’t really planning to do any more birding during the weekend but I was sat at my computer on Sunday evening (15th) and just scrolling through Facebook, when I notice a message pop up on the Guernsey Wildlife page “Are these Great Egrets at the Vale Pond?” or words to that effect. There was a nice picture of two Great White Egrets and I noticed it was posted just 1 minute ago. Now Great White Egrets are still very rare in Guernsey with less than ten records. Almost all of these have been very recently, but have all been incredibly elusive - especially for me! They have popped in front of hides for just minutes, one was seen flying over my house, and I missed one going over Pleinmont because I was under some trees! Because of this it was imperative that I saw these as quickly as humanly possible, so I grabbed my field-bag and dashed out in my slippers. I think I arrived in the Vale Pond hide just 5 minutes at the most after the message popped up - at about 7 pm. And they were still there - Guernsey tick number 264 - two GREAT WHITE EGRETS.
It was getting pretty dusky and so it was quite hard to take sharp photos of the birds. I watched them for about twenty minutes and thought that they looked settled. However, it appears that they weren’t that settled and they had disappeared within an hour of them arriving and many people missed them. I was very pleased to fill the rather large hole in my Guernsey list, and they were indeed quite majestic birds.
The rest of the next week was quiet and the weather wasn’t so helpful for migrants. I am well below average for species recorded on the patch this year. I didn’t manage to get the moth trap out until the 20th September, which revealed a new species for the garden - Green Carpet. It is a pretty common moth in the UK but is quite rare here, only seeing it a few times. Other good species that night included a Dusky Thorn, Pearly Underwing and 8 Delicates. The other main species of the month was the mint flowers that have appeared in profusion on the lawn by the car park at school. They looked a little unfamiliar and I finally remembered to take a sample home, where I identified them as Pennyroyal, a species that has not been seen growing in Guernsey for many years apparently. Why they have suddenly appeared on this lawn I don’t know. It is a relatively new school so seeds may have come in with the soil or turf when it was built. I know that it hasn’t been there right from the start and only was visible in the last couple of summers.