Tue 1st September 2009

birds : It seems that we are stuck in a week of strong southwesterlies for the last week of the summer hols - good for neither passerines or seawatching. During a break in the weather I had an early morning walk to Fort le Marchant with Aidan and we had a super Lesser Whitethroat in the marshy spot behind the shingle bank.

moths : The last night of August was unexpectedly terrific and I had three new species for the garden in one session, which hasn't happened for ages. There was the pyralid Mecya asinalis - the 4th Guernsey record. It is a common species elsewhere but is so rare here because its foodplant, Madder does not occur. Also the beautiful little micro Chrysoesthia drurella - bright orange with metallic silver stripes and dots. Again very rare (the 3rd record), apparently it doesn't come to light very often - I had the previous record a couple of years ago at Aidan's pre-school fluttering round the car park. The last was the less attractive Aproaerema anthyllidella - but this may need double checking. There were plenty of other things of interest over the last 2 night of the month - a Hedge Rustic, an Archer's Dart, 73 Setaceous Hebrew Characters in one night, another Harlequin Ladybird - but no obvious migrant activity.

 Mecyna asinalis - garden

Mecyna asinalis - garden

 chrysoesthia drurella - garden

chrysoesthia drurella - garden

 archer's dart - garden

archer's dart - garden

Sat 5th September 2009

birds : Earlier in the week, looking at the weather forecast in the paper, I planned to seawatch today, but the predicted NW blow arrived a day early (and, as it happens, didn't produce many seabirds). Nevertheless, I decided to keep to my plans and give it a go, and the wind wasn't too bad when I got to the rocks, blowing moderately from the WNW. Julian, Mark & Chris soon joined me and we had an excellent 4 hour session with a constant trickle of shearwaters and skuas. Some of these went past very close indeed, well inside the reef and I especially enjoyed the very close Sooty Shearwaters, one of my favourite species of birds. Not only does it look classy and elegant, it is amazing to think that each one has travelled half-way round the world to get here. The final totals were 85 Manx, 18 Sooty and 6 Balearic Shearwaters, 24 Arctic Skuas and 14 Bonxies.

 seawatchers looking out from jaonneuse

seawatchers looking out from jaonneuse

Fri 11th September 2009

birds : The first week of school is always an organisational nightmare and this year doubly so, since we were all issued with new lap tops. It has taken most of the week to set mine up so that it has been properly useable at home. So little time for birding but it sounds like it has been quiet all week anyway, despite the easterly blow. I have seen some autumn migrants during brief stops on the way to and from work but nothing out of the ordinary. The best bird seen was the Barn Owl hunting at dusk over L'Ancresse Common right by the roadside, which they always seem to do in early Autumn. I also had a colour-ringed Little Egret at Pulias which was almost certainly a locally-bred individual.

Mon 14th September 2009

birds : Late morning yesterday (Sunday) I received a call about a potential Moustached Warbler seen briefly in the Blackthorn at Mont Herault but it had disappeared. As this would be a total mega-crippler, I thought that it would be worth a shot and so I went along just after lunch to see if I could find it. The wind was still blowing quite strongly from the north-east and there seemed to be plenty of migrants around (but no skulky Acros). Numerous Yellow Wagtails were dropping into the maize field, and a Whinchat and Redstart were sheltering on the leeward side of the clump. The highlight was a superb Hobby that appeared from the east, circling and gliding overhead as it drifted in the wind, my first of the year. Giving up on the warbler, I went round the back of the maize field to check the wagtails for Citrine, when I suddenly put up a large pipit. It gave a sparrow-like chirp as it exploded from the grass in front of me, but it appeared very pale, and with the early autumn date, I was going for Tawny. It flew quite a distance, but I saw where it landed and I headed back to the car to collect my scope. Mark G arrived and as I was chatting to him, a dog-walker tramped through the field the pipit was in and we picked it up again as it flew past us, again looking very pale in the bright sun. We saw which field it dropped into, and we drove round and soon saw it's head poking out of the grass. Scoping it up, we could clearly see the pale lores of a Richard's Pipit (and in retrospect, the original call was too drawn out for Tawny). This was quite a surprise as this was probably the earliest there has been one in Guernsey and I had not heard of any in the UK yet. We usually get eastern birds a couple of weeks after they arrive on the east coast. I managed to get a few photos despite looking into the sun, before it was disturbed by a car and was never seen again as far as I know. There were numerous butterflies flying at Mont Herault, including two Clouded Yellows.

 richard's pipit - mont herault - 

richard's pipit - mont herault - 

Thu 17th September 2009

birds : During September one hopes for some easterly winds to bring in a few drift migrants, but doesn't expect a week and a half of non-stop NE'erly gales. It is getting a bit ridiculous now, and it's not as if loads of rarities have been piling in. A Whinchat and 4 Wheatear were literally clinging onto Fort Hommet Headland today for dear life. The oddest report I received was yesterday, of a very large bird dead in a hedge at Capelles - perhaps a bird of prey. But by the time I got there the corpse had been taken away and all I could find were some feathers, some of which were indeed very large. I wouldn't know where to start identifying a species just from a few feathers, but here are a few snaps of them (I'm not 100% that they all are from the same bird, but they were all in the same bit of hedge).

 mysterious found feathers

mysterious found feathers

Sat 19th September 2009

birds : I worked out what the mystery road kill was - a female or a juvenile Peacock! It makes sense as there are Peacocks in this area calling at all hours of the night. In the last couple of days there has been a few migrant species arriving - with plenty of Wheatears and my first Grey Wagtail of the autumn - but nothing rare to see.

moths : It was very good for the wind to die down for National Moth Weekend and it was very good for a Heath Rustic to appear in the trap. Only my second new garden macro of the year and quite a rarity on the island with only 5 previous records and none for 8 years. Also of interest were Acleris sparsana and two Eudonia pallida. I was very impressed that this Garden Spider managed to take down a Red Underwing and spin it up - at least I hope it was Red Underwing and not a Clifden Nonpareil!

 heath rustic - garden

heath rustic - garden

Thu 24th September 2009

birds : Not exactly been a terrific week all told - I've had too much work to do, too little sleep (eg its now 4 am) and I've had a niggly throat/cold to annoy me. And there seems to be a late-September lull in migrant activity which can happen here in Guernsey. The majority of the 'summer' migrants having passed through, and the 'winter' migrants will not arrive until early October. But of course this doesn't stop rarities turning up so one has to keep plugging away just in case.

Last night I spent an hour waiting for Barn Owls to show at Chouet but didn't even get a sniff. The main reason that I wanted to see them was that someone had seen a 'dark-breasted' Barn Owl there with 2 normal ones, and I wanted to study the plumage, since BB has just published an article on the ID of Dark-breasted Barn Owl. We have recorded quite a few dark-breasted Barn Owls recently here in Guernsey (race 'guttata') but I have been thinking that we may have been over-simplifying the situation. The identification criteria that we have been using on the rarities committee is that any Barn Owl which shows dark on the breast and also darker plumage above should be classed as guttata. But the article suggests that there are lots and lots of integrades in central Europe and that if there is any whitish colour below it is not pure guttata. Looking at a couple of photos of recent birds, these both show signs of being integrades and so I think we need to review our records. It's not that vital since DBBOwl is only a race rather than a species and unlikely to be split. Below is a photo from a couple of years ago showing what we thought was a straightforward guttata, it looking very dark in the field, but I now notice the white thighs and very white face so maybe just an integrade.

 rather a dark-coloured barn owl

rather a dark-coloured barn owl

Sat 26th September 2009

birds : After a quiet week it was encouraging to see my first Firecrest of the autumn on Friday, peep-ing away in the pines at Fort Hommet. There were also a few more Robins around so birds had clearly started to arrive again, and I hoped for a bit of quality over the weekend.

Then today, I arrived home from football to get a call from Mark G that he and Julian were watching a Siberian Stonechat up at Pleinmont. I had not seen Siberian Stonechat since I was in Israel and never in the UK, so Rosie very kindly delayed tea and I whizzed up there. After an initial failure on first circuit of the field, I soon found it on top of the Blackthorn bushes and it then showed exceptionally well, coming quite close and allowing excellent photo opportunities. Siberian Stonechat is an eastern race of Common Stonechat and some consider that it should be classed as a species in its own right. Its plumage is indeed quite different from the local Stonechats, being very pale overall, with a white throat and, most importantly a peachy-white rump with no streaking. It was a beautiful bird to see and well worth the effort. 

 siberian stonechat - pleinmont

siberian stonechat - pleinmont

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Wed 30th September 2009

birds : Well it is the end of September and there are officially no birds around - not a single Swallow, Wheatear or Chiffchaff seen on my local headlands today. It was bright sunshine all day and I was wandering around in a t-shirt which may go some way to explain it. If the birds can see France so clearly, why bother making landfall on an overpopulated island.

Sun 4th October 2009

birds : It's still not really autumnal weather - I was in a t-shirt in the garden this afternoon - but I did have a few hours out this morning looking for migrants. I parked at Fort Doyle and walked south to Miellette and was impressed by the varied habitats and numbers of birds in these fields and gardens - it looked 'rare' - certainly a walk I shall try and do a few times this autumn. There were plenty of finches and Robins, with a few Chiffchaffs and Meadow Pipits. The most peculiar things I saw were Goose Barnacles covering a washed up log on one of the beaches. Moving onto Marais Nord there were a few more Chiffchaffs, Blackcap and a Firecrest along the back path, and a Cetti's called briefly. Then a quick look over Jaonneuse Bay, where there were 2 Bar-wits and a Grey Seal.

 bar-tailed godwit - jaonneuse

bar-tailed godwit - jaonneuse

 grey seal - jaonneuse

grey seal - jaonneuse

moths : Had a new species of moth for the house list this week when an Indian Meal Moth was found in the utility room. No doubt this is another escapee from the Guinea Pig food, especially since the last one I saw was on the ceiling of the Guinea Pig food shop. Had the trap out on Friday night but there wasn't too much in the blustery conditions

 indian meal moth - inside the house

indian meal moth - inside the house

Fri 9th October 2009

birds : It's still very quiet here and no-one had reported anything to me since last weekend. A slight change in the weather on Thursday has improved things a bit, with a few Wheatears and Song Thrushes appearing and a Willow Warbler was at Fort Hommet today - but it is hardly a classic October so far. Three Spoonbills were briefly on the Old Aerodrome today but had gone before my lunch hour.

moths : A bit inclement for the trap tonight I think but I did find a Flame Brocade by the outside light this evening. The most notable insect around at the moment is the Crane Fly. There are hundreds of them flying about and even the kids at school have noticed them and are asking about them. They all call them 'Daddy Long-legs' but, as far as I'm concerned, that really is the name for the Harvestman. I call them 'Jimmy Spinners', the name my Grandad taught me when I was a boy. I thought it was just his made-up name for them but looking at the oracle that is Wikipedia, it seems that it is actually widely used.

 flame brocade - garden

flame brocade - garden

Mon 12th October 2009

birds : With megas appearing all over the place, nothing is happening here. Marais Nord still had a solitary Firecrest but that's been it for the weekend, although it was a very blustery couple of days in general. It is a shame because it feels very rare out there and if I had any time, then I am sure I would be able to find something.

moths : With a Hummingbird Hawk-moth in the garden and flushing a Clouded Yellow from the 18-yard box during the footie warm-up, I thought it was worth putting the trap out Saturday night. There was quite a good selection despite it being late in the year - especially late for the 2 Dingy Footmen that were caught.

 blair's shoulder-knot - garden

blair's shoulder-knot - garden

 common marbled carpet - garden

common marbled carpet - garden

 dingy footman (yellow form) - garden

dingy footman (yellow form) - garden

I also caught what may be my third Sombre Brocade (tenebrosa) - a new species that has appeared from the south in the last few years. I am not at all sure though as this one isn't too obvious and there does not seem to be any one unequivocal feature to check. The species is very similar to Brindled Green (eremita) and differs in being darker and a different shape, but this individual appears somewhat intermediate. It will require more studying I think.

 probable sombre brocade - garden

probable sombre brocade - garden

Wed 14th October 2009

birds : Last night, after dark, the first of the winter Redwings were calling as they passed overhead. I find it one of the most exciting sounds in birding, as it tells you things are on the move up above and there could be anything dropping in. At school this morning a few groups went over and this evening there were flocks circling round the house, with one group of at least 100 birds noted. This all gave me impetus to pop out in my lunch hour to Le Guet to see what else had arrived but found there was little in the trees apart from a couple of Firecrests. It was worth the effort however as I picked out a Crossbill calling loudly from above the pines and I managed to get it in the bins as it flew strongly away North-east. I have been very unlucky with this species previously in Guernsey, and have only seen it once before despite regular influxes.

moths : An Oak Rustic at the back door was notable as was a further record of Mediterranean Flour Moth from the kitchen. This one looked like it had just emerged and the photo below shows its weird behaviour. It was protruding something from its nether-regions - now I don't know enough about moths to know what it's doing exactly, but I am thinking perhaps it is a female protruding its bits to release its pheromones into the air to attract the males. Perhaps it isn't but that's my best guess. Pity the nearest male is probably a km away at the pet food shop!

 mediterranean flour moth - inside the house

mediterranean flour moth - inside the house

Fri 16th October 2009

birds : A couple of good sightings at the end of the week. On Thursday during my brief visit to Fort Hommet, there were things moving, with a flock of 22 Skylark flying low past me as they migrated NE up the coast. I've noticed that if you are on the West coast headlands here in Guernsey in Autumn, the vismig birds generally take one of two routes. They either seem to come in high off the sea on an approx SSW heading as one might expect, or they seem to be going in the opposite direction, following the coast NE, generally quite low, like these Skylarks were doing. I suppose these groups of birds find themselves out over the sea, and head to the nearest land, before taking the quickest route back to France. But the main sighting was the female Goosander that powered NE over the headland, which was most unexpected. The last Guernsey record of Goosander that I can find was January 2006 and October is a very early record.

Then today, I whizzed round Fort le Crocq at lunchtime, and discovered a Water Pipit in the same area as last year, on the vraic by the slipway - in fact, it is possibly the same bird that wintered there last year. Water Pipit is still an official rarity on the island with about one per year on average at the moment, and I have found all of the the last six birds! Unfortunately, I had to get back to school so I couldn't take any snaps of it.

Sun 18th October 2009

birds : Wasn't able to get out birding today as Rosie wasn't feeling too well so I spent the day at home. Throughout the day there were migrants passing over in small quantities, mainly Redwings, Chaffinches and alba Wagtails. A party of Long-tailed Tits visited at least twice and mid-afternoon a Marsh Harrier drifted purposefully East very high, so probably a migrant. People were out searching today but no rares were found.

moths : With the cloudy and pretty still night, there was a decent catch in the garden last night. There were 18 Blair's Shoulder-knot which was a record count for the garden (by 14) and 5 Barred Red was also the most ever. A Rush Veneer and a Dark Sword-grass were the only migrants and I had another Brindled Green/Sombre Brocade entity to sort out. A few photos from the garden today .

  Amblyptilia acanthadactyla - garden

Amblyptilia acanthadactyla - garden

 red-line quaker - garden

red-line quaker - garden

 common green shieldbug - garden

common green shieldbug - garden

Thu 22nd October 2009

birds : In October, you definitely do not want the winds set in a southerly or south-westerly direction, blocking any rare migrants arriving from the East or from England. But they have been all week and I hope that they change for the half-term break next week. I heard tonight of an Eastern Crowned Warbler appearing in Durham - a dream-find for whoever did so. There will be plenty of squeaky-bums in the UK right now hoping that it stick 'til Saturday. If I was there right now, there would be a strong chance that I would chuck a sickie to see the first-for-Britain. In fact if I had the money and time, I'd fly over there tomorrow!

I had no luck yesterday searching for last week's briefly-seen Water Pipit at Fort le Crocq, and had to be content with adding some poor Rock Pipit photos to my poor Rock Pipit photo collection, and watching 5 Swallows battling south into the wind. If I don't see it again I won't submit it to the rarities committee as I couldn't make any notes or take photos of it, and so I have no 'evidence' to offer apart from that I know it was one.

 rock pipit - fort le crocq

rock pipit - fort le crocq

Sat 24th October 2009

birds : There were signs that things were looking up on Friday with Goldcrests appearing at Le Guet and a Black Redstart at Pulias. Also Tony Bisson relocated my Water Pipit so I will submit it after all. If I say that it is probably the returning individual from last year, then I won't have to fill in another form

Mon 26th October 2009

birds : After getting the kids breakfasted and Anais off to pre-school, we sat outside with our cuppas at about 9 am since it was a very mild day for the time of year. I soon noticed a few small flocks of Meadow Pipits passing through westwards, notable because they were migrating very low, just above the house roof level. With this "vismig" going on I decided a morning of pruning and clipping in the garden was in order. So for the next 2 or 3 hours as I worked away, I recorded over a hundred each of Meadow Pipit and Chaffinch going over, plus single Skylark and Grey Wagtail. Not massive numbers I know, but I wasn't watching constantly and there were more passing I'm sure. Then, just as I was packing away to have lunch at about 12:30, I heard a call from the other side of the house and I thought "that's the first Redwing of the day". I waited for the bird to appear over the roof and rather than seeing a small thrush, I was very surprised to see a pipit quite low above my head. Then it suddenly called again - a loud and clear "psseeeee" and I knew straight away that it was a RED-THROATED PIPIT. It headed purposefully SW and away and left me pretty shocked.

I have been listening out for this species in Guernsey for a long time as it has not been recorded here before, although it must occur from time to time. The initial thought that it was a Redwing was not surprising as they have a similar-toned call - but Redwings being more subtle and fainter - and I was lucky that it chose to call again when I was watching it other wise I would have assumed they were different birds. So I was well-chuffed as they say and another top bird for the house list. Whether a flyover bird calling twice is acceptable for a first for Guernsey is another question which the rarities committee may have to decide.

Thu 29th October 2009

birds : Wednesday morning looked excellent for migrants with low cloud and drizzle, and indeed it was with about 1000 Fieldfares grounded at Pleinmont according to Tony. Of course, I was at home looking after the kids but did see 3 or 4 small flocks of Fieldfare passing over. I have a mornings birding at Pleinmont tomorrow and I don't expect anything less than a Parula thank you very much.

moths : Even though it is getting very late in the season, I did put the trap out last night. An exceptionally late Swallow-tail Moth was the most unusual record amongst the c.30 species. 

Fri 30th October 2009

birds : Well there wasn't a Parula on Pleinmont this morning and it was quite disappointing to be honest, but I did see a species that I'd not previously seen before in Guernsey. However, since it was Grey Partridge, I was hardly punching the air in delight - put down for shooting no doubt, and there were also 3 Red-legged Partridges in the same area. At first light there was plenty happening with lots of Skylarks and Chaffinches passing through, along with some Fieldfares and plenty of Woodpigeons and a single Snipe. When this initial passage had finished it was clear that there were very few grounded birds. There were at least 6 Firecrests in the valleys but little else apart from the odd Chiffchaff and Blackcap. The local Bullfinches were unusually showing well but too distant for any decent photographs.

 bullfinches - pleinmont

bullfinches - pleinmont

Visible migration at Pleinmont can be somewhat confusing with birds seemingly passing over in random directions. Today most of the Skylarks and Chaffinches were coming in from the West from over the sea, most of the thrushes were arriving from the East and there were many Woodpigeons and the Snipe coming from the North. The annotated map below shows my thoughts on why this occurs.