moths : I have had a heavy cold all week and the weather conditions have been terrible to venture out so things are pretty quiet on the wildlife front. I did have the trap out last Friday night for probably the last time until Easter. I don't generally bother with the winter months at all as the catches are not worth the time and effort. Two Feathered Thorns were actucally a new species for the garden, which was quite a surprise when I checked. The most spectacular sighting though was the next day when a giant bug was on the front window, which I saw was a Western Conifer Seed Bug, a recent coloniser to Britain and quite a brute! Also early yesterday morning, a tiny moth flying in the kitchen revealed itself to be a Phyllonorycter trifasciata, another new species for the house list. It mines Honeysuckle leaves, which there are plenty of nearby.
birds : I felt much better today and so late afternoon I ventured out in the gales to see if there were any seabirds sheltering in the bays. The gales were in the wrong direction though and so it wasn't hugely likely - I had a Sandwich Tern at Jaonneuse and the first Great Crested Grebe of the winter in Grandes Havres. It was high tide though and it was very nice watching the waves crashing in. I may have been able to see some seabirds with the scope but I didn't fancy getting out of the car!
moths : I noticed that the Brown-tail moth larvae must have had a good time this summer judging from the number of webs on the Blackthorn in the Jaonneuse area. The bushes there were covered.
birds : On Monday I received an email from Tony Bisson that he had found an interesting Aythya duck on the lake at Grande Mare Golf Course. He thought it was a juvenile female Scaup but he wasn't totally happy with the ID. When he sent me some photos later that day it did indeed look interesting and I immediately thought it was a potential candidate for Lesser Scaup, but of course the ID of the species is not straightforward.
So today I whizzed out at lunchtime, shoved on my wellies and found the bird on the small pond swimming with Mallards. I watched it for about 20 minutes and took some photos, but I am not much nearer an identification!
One of the problems is that the bird seems to be a first-winter and so any plumage features are not obvious. The bird did not appear very large in the field but there were no other Aythyas to compare it to. The head seems to be relatively small, unlike the big blobby head of a Greater Scaup, and the head shape looked quite close to Lesser Scaup, peaking behind the eye. A Tufted Duck will often show a white blaize around the bill but should show some longer feathers on the rear crown. This bird shows some degree of 'shagginess' on the crown and I wonder if this is a sign of Tufted Duck.
On an adult bird, the bill pattern should distinguish whether it is a scaup species or not, but with this young bird, the bill is pretty uniformly greyish and of little help. The bill does not seem big and fat enough for Greater Scaup though. From what I have seen, I am pretty convinced that the bird is not a Greater Scaup just on structure alone, but I am not convinced that it is not a Tufted Duck. Of course the key thing is to get a photo or a good view of the wing pattern which is the main ID feature, so hopefully it will stay ages and we can get it sorted.
birds : I had another chance to go look at the mystery Aythya at lunchtime, which has since been joined by a second bird. I suspect that there have been two birds all along, and on Tuesday I briefly saw a second duck on the main lake which I didn't have chance to look at. No-one has sent me any more photos of the birds so I was keen to get snaps of the second bird and hoped for any wing pattern to show. When I arrived, both birds were together on the small pond showing well.
As can be seen from the above photo, the second bird removed any doubts of Tufted Duck as it had grey feathers appearing on the mantle indicating a first-winter male scaup sp. The vermiculations on these feathers, and the ones on the flanks seemed quite strong - Lesser Scaup is more strongly marked than Greater on the grey areas.
Just as I set up the scope, this bird stretched its wing out briefly and I had a quick glimpse of the wing-bar. I know it is difficult to tell on one short view but it did strike me as being Lesser Scaup-like, with the secondaries being bright white, but the primaries being dusky with no white
Of course, I needed to see the wing a few times to be convinced, but it didn't stretch it out again whilst I was there. It did sort of half stretch when I had the camera out as you can see in the photo below. Even on this photo, only the first 6 or 7 secondaries seem clearly white and the outer couple of secondaries look dull and slightly greyish.
Structurally, this second bird was very similar to the first, but probably showed a more obvious peak on the rear crown. I would certainly say Lesser Scaup is at the moment the top of my list of possibilities, but unless I get a pic of the wing pattern, I have a feeling that it will be left as unidentified. Hopefully this weekend I can get a chance to get the money shot!
birds : Since football was cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch, I managed to pop down to the Mare this aftenoon to check out the scaups again. Unfortunately there was a tournament on and this meant that the birds were just sleeping in the middle of the large lake. It also started raining and was very dull, so my plans of getting superb photos were dashed. Nevertheless I waited patiently with the camera for a wing-stretch which was quite tricky with crap golfers peppering the area with golf balls. Julian arrived and we were asked to leave by the course owner, but since Julian is much more charming than me, he persuaded the woman to let us stay for a while to try and confirm the ID. I was there at least an hour overall and one bird stretched its wing once and I snapped a shot (or I "captured an image" as people seem to say nowadays - what's all that about!?). It is a very poor photo, but to me it clearly identifies the bird as Lesser Scaup - score!
birds : The weather continues to batter us. It belts down every day and the wind seems continuously from the South which isn't much use to us. There are plenty of rare and uncommon seabirds in the UK it seems, perhaps when the wind swings at the weekend we may get some benefit. Top marks to my mate John though who only goes and pulls out a Black/White-bellied Storm-Petrel at Severn Beach of all places!! It has been great reading his emails about the excitement of his top find - I just hope he can pin it down to species, but it sounds unlikely.
I have been busy with work this week, catching up with stuff I didn't do when I was feeling grotty. Had a Black Redstart at Rousse today and a colour-ringed Pied Wagtail trotted on the playground outside my classroom earlier in the week. As well as a silver ring it appeared to have a single red one on both legs, although I had no bins and I was supposed to be teaching my year 9s about the phases of the Moon at the time!
Phil Alexander has taken a very useful shot of one of the Lesser Scaups (which are still there it seems) which shows the underwing pattern very well. Lesser Scaup shows bright white wing-linings (axillaries and lesser and median coverts) which contrast quite a bit with dull greyish flight feathers and greater coverts. And the photo appears to match this pattern - thanks Phil!
birds : Rain, rain, rain! It's not even thinking of stopping at the moment. It has rained on 26 of the 28 days this month apparently and often heavy. Every time I've had a thought of popping out for a bit of birding at lunchtimes it has been teeming down. I have checked the bays from the car but nothing doing. The most notable bird item was at school on Friday when I noticed a Rabbit on the playing fields. I pointed it out to Dan and Chris, then Maddie came in and showed her year 7 class, who all came to look at it out of the window. I said under my breath "I wouldn't have done that if I were you - I've a feeling those gulls are gonna peck its eyes out!". No sooner had I said it than a Great Black-backed Gull strolled over to the dopey bunny, picked it up in its bill and hurled in in the air. The girl's "awwwws" soon turned into terrified squeals as they witnessed the anticipated bloodbath. Dan and I ran out in the pouring rain and scared the gulls off and luckily the rabbit was still alive, although clearly quite "mixi". The Animal Shelter took it away and we were temporary heroes.
birds : The winds finally turned North this week and so it was time to seawatch and pull out a Leach's. Not me of course though 'cos I had to be at work! I did manage a few brief efforts from Pulias and saw plenty of Kittiwakes each day. On Thursday I also saw two distant skuas which were probably Poms but I didn't have my 'scope that day. It was very frustrating because that day looked excellent for seabirds and other people did indeed pull out a couple of petrels.
birds : I was hoping to plug a few gaps in my year list during the weekend, but due to circumstance I didn't get out birding at all. I did see a diver fly out of Perelle Bay which was probably a Black-throated, but it was too distant in the bins to be sure.
moths : Not much activity in these chilly months, but I have had another Mediterranean Flour Moth, a regular sighting in the kitchen nowadays. Also at the window this weekend was this rather fresh Winter Moth.
birds : On Tuesday after work, I called in at Pulias as Tony had seen an unusually large group of Black Redstarts on the beach there. I counted 8 birds which is double my previous largest flock size. And they were actually behaving as a proper flock, sallying for insects from the boulders above the beach - quite nice to watch, especially since one bird was a superb male, with a jet black face and striking white wing patch. It was so nice, I popped there again the next day with my camera and managed a reasonable shot in the poor light - one of my favourite species of bird.
birds : Nothing new appearing in the last week on the island, but with the wind swinging to a cold NE in the last day or so, we may get some continental species arriving. The main troubles I've had were with divers - well one in particular. Stopping at Rousse on the way home on Tuesday, there was a distant diver on the far side of Grandes Havres and I was happy it was Great Northern, although it was too dull and dingy to be sure. Then on Wednesday, I saw it again, and again it was dull and distant by Chouet and it looked very different this time - more like Black-throated. Then today I had it close in off Rousse and it was clearly a Great Northern Diver. Although two birds is not that unlikely. A Black Redstart visited the garden at the weekend and there was a juvenile Brent Goose sitting around on the grass by Rousse kiosk on Tuesday. I thought I was going to have to call the Animal Shelter but when I approached it, it flew away strongly although it's leg seemed a bit manky.
birds : Well the new decade has started with a huge bang - and not just one but two massive shocks to the system! It started pretty quietly with a Marsh Harrier over the house on New Year's Day a surprising first raptor of the year. Then we had a couple of family walks noting a Whimbrel wintering at the usual site a Pezeries. The first day back at school today and I went round year-ticking at lunchtime and on the way home, I called in at Grandes Havres to look for the 2 Great Northern and one Black-throated Diver people had seen there recently. It was very low tide so I looked from Les Ammareurs and quickly 'scoped the two Great Northerns feeding in the channel and they were showing well. After a while the Black-throated appeared with them and things didn't quite look right.
Firstly, the bird seemed tiny compared to the other two - there is not usually that much difference between the two species - and the bird itself looked small and delicate, especially round the bill. And then I noticed how dark it looked and, more importantly, I couldn't see any white rear flank patch at all. I started to actually believe that the bird could maybe be a PACIFIC DIVER ! Looking at the clock, I had to dash off to collect Anais from school before I could study it any more and I snapped a couple of record shots.
When I went online in the evening I sent out an email for the local birders to have a good look at this bird, and then I saw Paul Hillion's fabulous photo on the Guernsey Birds website. This confirmed that the bird is dark brown on the rear flanks and would therefore seem to be a Pacific Diver, and the other ID features seem to fit, although it seems to lack an obvious throat strap. If it turns out to be true then this is a mega. Only 3 previous accepted records for Britain as far as I can remember. Input from other people on the internet so far is very positive and I think this is gonna be a Pacific!
This is most likely the bird that I saw on Wednesday 16th December. If you read the post for the day after, I said I thought that I had a Black-throated Diver but it was too distant to be certain. I remember that the bird appeared very small with an uptilted bill - very like this bird - I even considered Red-throated at the time. Also, at the time, I finally decided that it was probably not a Black-throated because I didn't notice a pale flank patch, which makes sense now!
birds : After 24 hours of investigation, the diver appears to be a definite PACIFIC DIVER - absolutely incredible. I have been in touch with Pacific Diver expert Martin Garner and he is happy with the ID from the photos. In fact he kindly annotated Paul's photo with the key ID features.
In a 'British' context, I think this is no doubt the rarest bird that I have ever found/Id'd myself with only a few previous records (although my 2nd for the Western Palearctic is technically rarer on a W Pal scale). Of course, as one may predict, there was no sign of it today and it had in fact been replaced by a 'standard' Black-throated Diver! Even in the dusky light that I saw this one, it was so different from yesterday's bird in jizz - and this one had blazingly white rear flanks too thank goodness. Also the presence of both in Grandes Havres at the moment means that anyone who has seen Black-throated Diver there in the last week or so may have to consult their field notes to decide which they had.
birds : It was a trifle worrying that, despite all the searching, no-one could find the Pacific Diver yesterday, so when I got the call that all the island's schools were closed (yey!), Grandes Havres was my first port of call. I pulled into the car park at Rousse Headland and immediately saw a diver fishing close in just off the rocks. Getting the 'scope out, I soon saw that it was the Pacific and I got back into the car to phone the news round the grapevine as I knew that most people still hadn't seen it. However, when I looked for it again it had disappeared, and it was a good 15 minutes or so before Kevin re-found it way over the other side. And it kept doing this and was exceptionally mobile, and promptly disappeared again just before some people started to arrive. There were the 2 Great Northerns still present and we thought we'd found it again but it was just the Black-throated Diver. Just as I was thinking of giving up since the weather was getting windier and it had started to sleet, I saw a very distant diver swimming in front of Ladies Bay. It was into the light so it was difficult to tell, but we tracked this bird as it swam at such a speed, probably surfing on the incoming tide, right into the bay at Sandy Hook. We drove round there and had close views just off the beach by the Vale Pond car park, but again it swam out of there very quickly. So I was very pleased to get good views in the field, but it was difficult to study the minutiae of the plumage details, since it was constantly diving. Also in the bay I saw a probable Black-necked Grebe but I left it to search for the diver, and at home a pair of Blackcaps were feeding in the bushes opposite.
birds : Two top reasons why cold weather is awesome on Guernsey - 1, it brings in loads of birds from the continent - and 2, they give me the day off work so that I can go look at them! So with another school closure due to icy roads in the upper parishes I was free to go search for some Woodlarks that Tony had found in fields near Rue des Bergers. I gave it about an hour's searching around lunchtime but they had clearly gone, but these fields were full of cold-weather immigrants from the continent, and it was excellent birding. There were hundreds of Redwing and Fieldfare, with small groups of Skylark and flocks of Lapwing. Small groups of Snipe were dropping in or being flushed from the wet grass, and I disturbed an excellent Woodcock from the corner of a field. The best bird was probably a Mistle Thrush which flew across - my first in Guernsey for over a year!
I had a bit more time before I had to be back so I headed down to the Old Aerodrome where an Avocet had been discovered during the morning. It showed well, rather conveniently, on the saltmarsh by the road. There were also many winter birds scattered across the Aerodrome, including plenty of Golden Plovers and a few Common Gulls. Overall an excellent couple of hours in the field. With more cold easterlies predicted over the weekend, perhaps more birds will arrive.
Wed 13th January 2010
birds : With the freezing temperatures and snow throughout the UK sticking for a further week it seems, birds have obviously continued to pile across the Channel, as there is no snow here at the moment, just a bit of sleet yesterday. In the 11 years I have been here, I have never seen so many birds on the island. Every single piece of grass has Redwings and Fieldfares dotted around it, and every suitable field has Lapwings - I even saw 2 Lapwings stood under an apple tree on someone's front lawn the other day. During my lunch hour today I went for a wee drive and, after seeing some Lapwing land in them, I investigated the fields along Rue du Marais, just inland from Vazon. These wet fields were heaving. I counted at least 460 Lapwing but there were probably a couple of hundred more. There were a few Golden Plover with them as well as Snipe and 3 Gadwall on the flooded fields, and at least 50 Skylark flying round. Thrush numbers were astounding with at least 1000 birds present in just a few fields, which was great as Redwing and Fieldfare are two of my favourite species. There always looks even more of them because they tend to space themselves out evenly across the grass, and I desperately scanned and scanned them in the hope of a Black-throated. Just before I left a Mistle Thrush appeared amongst them.
The other main item of note was a surprising new species for the house list at the weekend, when 4 Shoveler flew north, probably moving between the Track Marais and Marais Nord.
moths : The first macro of the year was a Winter Moth on the front door, and I have just potted up an Acleris sp. which I am hoping may be umbrana or cristana rather than hastiana.
birds : It has been a busy week, so my time in the field has been very limited. I managed to get out for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon and I decided to search for Bitterns at a couple of reedbeds in the north but there was no sign. As I arrived at the Grand Pre, I saw a Marsh Harrier perched up in a willow getting a lot of stick from the corvids. It didn't stay there very long and but looking at a few snaps that I took, the bird was ringed and I suspect it may have been one of this year's youngsters from the first ever breeding pair in Guernsey.
There wasn't a great deal else visible in the marsh but it was a nice late afternoon walk in the sun. Nearby there was 7 Gadwall in the quarry at Paradis which was a surprise as it doesn't really seem suitable habitat for the species. Moving onto Marais Nord there was a few more birds with up to 20 Shoveler on the lake and 4 species of warbler round the edge, including Firecrest and a singing Cetti's Warbler.
Today on the way back from school I finally saw the Black-necked Grebe in the Grandes Havres after many times of trying.
birds : Yesterday lunchtime went for another Bittern search down the Claire Mare but again no joy. I was impressed with the back of the reserve where the guys have dug away at the ground, which has flooded in the wet and created an excellent muddy pond right by the roadside. Anything that gets on there will show really well. On the Aerodrome there was still many many Lapwing and the Black-tailed Godwit was amongst them.
This lunchtime I went to visit the Grande Mare hoping to see how the Lesser Scaup has progressed but I couldn't find it (even though it was seen there today). It seems that one bird has disappeared which was quite surprising as I thought that they would stay together. I popped up to the Reservoir to see if it was there but there were just 2 male Pochards.
birds : Just casual records this weekend, with a Marsh Harrier going SW over the house yesterday morning and two Great Northern Divers in Grandes Havres. The Pacific Diver hasn't been seen since 14th January so I would have thought it must have moved on.
moths : On Friday night there was a further Acleris sp. at the lit window, and both these are not of a familiar form to me. They may still be hastiana but I will have to have a good look at them when I get chance. This genus is so variable, that they could be one of a few species.
birds : Just a bit of lunchtime birding this week. It is starting to quieten down a bit - getting ready for the February birding doldrums. Apart from another Mistle Thrush by the Claire Mare, I finally saw a Lesser Scaup at La Grande Mare after the third time of searching in 2010. And I almost missed it since I was already by the exit track when I scanned back for the last time and saw it appear from the corner.
birds : Popped out at lunchtime today and there was a little cluster of birds at the East end of the Reservoir. On the water there were 3 male and 3 female Tufted Duck - never has this been number 3 on my Aythya year list! A Water Rail appeared in the reeds and three Snipe landed in amongst the brambles on the water's edge. Up on the ploughed field overlooking the water, there were plenty of Fieldfares and Redwing, along with 2 Mistle Thrushes together. Also there was a confiding Golden Plover which I could have taken better photos of if I hadn't had to get back to bloody work. Altogether, a very pleasing half hour.
birds : With another 2 Mistle Thrushes noted in the Fauxquets Valley on Wednesday, that makes 7 birds in the last month, which is pretty good to say I'd only seen one bird in the last two years. It would be nice to think that some of these birds will stay to boost the almost-extinct local breeding population but they will no doubt return to Eastern Europe whence no doubt they came.
A beautiful adult Med Gull was with the other gulls on the beach at Rousse on Friday and 4 Great Crested Grebes were together in Belle Greve Bay at high tide today.
The best sighting though was the Great Spotted Woodpecker which flew over the Cambridge Park trees about 10 minutes into the football match I was playing in. It must have been a good omen as we won for the first time since October against one of the top teams. I've only seen Great Spotted Woodpecker 3 times previously in Guernsey but now that they have started to breed here, I suspect they will become more regular.
birds : It has been much the same this week with little new arriving. There are still plenty of winter thrushes in the fields but numbers of other winter birds are already falling. I did manage to finally see the Water Pipit at Fort le Crocq for the year list, plus a Guillemot that was clearly in trouble in Grandes Havres, as it seemed to be able to flap just one wing as it was surrounded by gulls. The Buzzards are now very visible around the central valleys as they prepare for the breeding season - hopefully we can prove breeding this year.
If you look closely at the female-type wagtail above, it has a bright pink ring on its leg, part of a UK colour-ringing project. The other rings were caked in mud so I couldn't see the combination and they never stand still long-enough anyway. I know that they do a lot of colour-ringing of wagtails at Slapton in Devon, and since this is the closest part of the UK to here, I suspect that it will be one of those birds.
birds : Half-term week has been rather pedestrian bird-wise. Just busy doing other things mainly, but also having a cold hasn't given me much enthusiasm to get out and about. Early in the week I had a couple of dark Buzzards drift high NE over the house and a Slavonian Grebe in Grandes Rocques Bay. I have made about 4 attempts to see the Glaucous Gull at Mont Cuet Rubbish Tip and I finally saw it today amongst the rabid hordes devouring the island's putrified crap.
Late morning today I had a wander round the Track Marais (or St. Sampsons Marais). This is the least-disturbed open marshland on the island and would produce more good birds if it wasn't so tricky to get visit - I had to squeeze through a fence, hurdle a stream and climb through barbed wire.
It is the most reliable site for wintering Reed Bunting on the island and I soon saw a single female bird perched on a bush. There were plenty of duck present today, with 33 Teal, 6 Shoveler and 2 Gadwall noted. It is also a good place for Jack Snipe but flushing them is hit and miss - I only flushed 4 Common Snipe and a Water Rail today.
birds : Looking back to last Sunday, I made a brief mid-afternoon excursion to Bulwer Avenue where a Snow Bunting has taken up residence on the grass by the seafront. As is often the case with this species, I scanned the grass all along the bay with no success only to discover the bird was actually scrabbling around in the dirt at my feet. I was hoping to photograph it but as I was extracting my gear a couple of old giffers decided that I wasn't allowed to and chased the bird away with their dog.
The other main bird of interest this week was on the beach at Rousse on Thursday morning. It was a Herring-type gull that stood out from the others because it had a very obvious dark eye.
It seemed to be a full adult bird but it didn't have the typical pale yellow iris of a Herring Gull. Through the scope it was a brown colour and made the bird quite distinctive. Very few species of large gull have dark eyes and this is a common feature of Caspian Gull. But I never really got the feeling it was a "Caspo" as it didn't have the jizz that I'd expect. It wasn't lanky - its legs were short and its bill was not remarkable. Its mantle was not a different shade of grey and it was pretty small overall. The bill colouration though was good for Caspian - quite a pale yellow with a black band.
I waited until I got a snap of the wing pattern before I had to continue to work. Although the wingtip showed some white tongues (!) it wasn't quite right I don't think - and it only had one white mirror.
This was either an unusually dark-eyed Herring Gull - the Gulls book says that less than 1 in 5000 Herring Gulls have dark eyes - or it was an odd hybrid between races. There is some chance it could be Caspian but I don't have the expertise having never knowingly seen the species before.