Fri 5th March 2010

birds : A big surprise today. Earlier in the day Liz & Bob had seen the first Wheatear of the year at L'Eree, so I stopped on the way home from work for a brief look at one of my most reliable Wheatear spots - at Pulias Headland. It was bright and sunny with a chilly easterly wind and I was confident of picking one up. However, the first bird I saw, just below the car park, was a pipit crouched in the grass right on the edge of the shingle. I coudn't tell the size but the open face pattern shouted out 'Richard's' and then it flew across the headland, calling out a sparrow-like chirp, confirming that it was indeed a Richard's Pipit. I didn't have a lot of time so I raced back for my scope and camera and chased it round the headland for 15 minutes. It was very flighty but showed well when it did land, so I was able to grab a few quick shots, despite not being able to get close. 

 Richard's Pipit - Pulias - 5 Mar 10

Richard's Pipit - Pulias - 5 Mar 10

I didn't expect my first migrant of the Spring to be a Richard's Pipit. There seems to a recent trend for more and more Richard's being seen in the winter and spring and that is certainly true here in Guernsey. At least March has started off well as it is usually my least favourite month for birding. It starts off with a few Wheatear and Sand Martins and you get a little excited that spring has started . . . and then nothing happens for another 3 weeks.

Tue 9th March 2010

birds : I was quite surprised yesterday to pull into the car park at Pulias and discover that the Richard's Pipit was still present. With the bright sunny weather I thought that it might have moved on straight away but I suppose that the fresh, icy winds from the NE are not encouraging it to brave the sea crossing. We seem stuck in this cold air flow for the moment which is not encouraging the early migrants to arrive. I recorded a colour-ringed Pied Wagtail on the school playground yesterday.

 Darvic-ringed Herring Gull - Rousse

Darvic-ringed Herring Gull - Rousse

Fri 12th March 2010

birds : After a week of sunny weather,and now with the wind dropping quite a bit, I thought it was about time that I saw my first Wheatear of the year. So today after school, I popped up to the number one Wheatear site on the island - Jaonneuse beach. And sure enough, I soon saw a male bird fly across the sand. In an ever-changing and unreliable world, it is a comfort to be so sure that the first Wheatears will be seen in the first half of March. 

 Grey Herons & Little Egrets roosting behind the Claire Mare

Grey Herons & Little Egrets roosting behind the Claire Mare

Last week's Richard's Pipit at Pulias, along with the Ravens that flew over on the same day, brought my Pulias patch list to 100 species. I consider Pulias to be my main local patch as I have been regularly visiting the headland for 10 years now. Despite its small size, and my generally brief visits, I have been quite successful there and all 100 species are self-found including Spoonbill, Short-toed Lark, Water Pipit, Ortolan, Desert Wheatear and multiple Lap Bunts. It is only about a 500m x 200m site but there is quite good diversity of habitat, although it doesn't do very well for arboreal species.

moths : A bit of microscope work revealed an example of Dichrorampha petiverella from July from the grass at Grandes Rocques. This is the 3rd Guernsey record since the 1800's, although I did record the species 10 years ago at my previous house but I consider that one to be somewhat stringy!

Sun 14th March 2010

birds : Today was a superbly sunny spring day on the island, and Abigail and I decided to head off to Lihou to search for the Snowy Owl. This was the bird that spent around 7 months there last year and had surprisingly just reappeared last week. Where it had been during the Autumn and Winter is anyone's guess, but I doubt very much that it had returned North. It was probably hanging around in some quiet area, perhaps the French coast.

 Abigail scans for the Snowy Owl

Abigail scans for the Snowy Owl

I have very rarely been to Lihou which is probably the best migrant trap on Guernsey, mainly because the causeway is covered most of the time, but we were lucky to have a 3 hour window late morning today. Arriving on the island, there were already a few birders looking at the owl which was perched on rocks above the seaweed just below the ruined priory, barely 100 yards from where I photographed it a year ago (see header pic). This time the light was awful - the bird itself was in shade but bright sunlight was glinting off the wet seaweed behind it, and there was also a little heat haze coming off the wet rocks as they dried in the sun. I found it impossible to focus properly and was only able to get average shots.

 Snowy Owl on Lihou

Snowy Owl on Lihou

Abigail was very pleased to see the bird, although she is clearly a tick-and-run merchant. I have not taken her birding a great deal - mainly for selfish reasons as I always prefer birding alone - but she is much more independent now and so I shall probably take her more often (and she already has Desert Wheatear, Franklin's Gull and Woodchat Shrike on her list whether she knows it or not).

After seeing the owl, we had a wander round the island a bit and walking to the rocks at the highest point we found quite a few bones and the like, so I had a quick scrabble round for pellets. I didn't find any but I was well chuffed at finding this . . . .

 Snowy Owl feather

Snowy Owl feather

Unless I have made some major error, this appears to be a Snowy Owl feather complete with a fine black chevron near the tip. It's not obvious on the photo but the basal third was a greyish colour and, apart from the ones at the tip, all the filaments were so fine and "feathered", which is I suppose an adaptation for flying quietly as well as for insulation.

So a most successful wee excursion but the wind is still in the North and there were zero migrants around apart from a few Meadow Pipits. Looking at the forecast though, I forecast the first Sand Martins on Wednesday.    

Wed 17th March 2010

birds : My prediction of Sand Martin today was correct as the first birds of the year were seen - but not by me! Migration still hasn't started properly yet as I have seen no more Wheatears but there is the odd White Wagtail amongst the Pieds. During my lunch hour today I managed 5 species of raptor - Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, a Peregrine soaring over Vazon, two Buzzards found circling high over the sea at Perelle and then again appearing low over L'Eree, and then best of all, a beautiful male Marsh Harrier over the reedbed at the Claire Mare. It was an impressive pale cinnamon colour below with grey upperwing patches - I've not seen one like this for a while.

 Oystercatcher - Fort Hommet - 17 Mar 10

Oystercatcher - Fort Hommet - 17 Mar 10

Also this week, the Richard's Pipit is still hanging on at Pulias. It's been here well over a week now and must be thinking of moving on. It was showing well in the large field but I still found it difficult to get any really good quality photos. I think my camera is really struggling when the sun is very bright - I shall have to tinker with the settings and see if I can make improvements.

 Richard's Pipit - Pulias - 15 Mar 10

Richard's Pipit - Pulias - 15 Mar 10

The Water Pipit at Fort le Crocq is also still here. It has not really started to get any breeding plumage yet - perhaps just a little grey on the nape.

On the second shot here you can see that it has lost its pale fringing to most of the wing feathers and so the wings look a pretty plain colour. There were also a few Scandinavian Rock Pipits present which were quite buffy-orange below and were approaching their breeding-plumage, and looking brighter than the Water, albeit still not white.

I was fooled on Monday when I saw a small bird flutter into some scrub with bright orange wings, and I thought it was a certain Fan-tailed Warbler. But alas, it was a Wren with leucistic wings!

And finally, a Purple Sandpiper at Grandes Rocques was number 100 for the year list. Last year I didn't see 100 species until mid-April so I am clearly doing better. Long may it continue.

 Fri 19th March 2010

birds : All it needs is a slight change in the weather to bring the migrants down. A southerly shift to the wind and a bit of rain, and there was my first migrant Chiffchaff in the gorse at Fort Hommet on Thursday. Then today I picked up at least 6 Wheatear and a Common Sandpiper there. Of course the downside to this is that it is actually wet and miserable now after a week of bright sunshine.

 Wheatear - Fort Hommet - 19 Mar 10

Wheatear - Fort Hommet - 19 Mar 10

Mon 22nd March 2010

birds : Spent the last couple of days with my eyes to the sky searching for swifts. It's not something I usually do in March, but with the southerly airflow there has been an influx of at least 10 Alpine Swifts into the UK, as well as a Pallid and RRSwallow. None of the above seen of course, but this morning I did pick up my first Swallow of the summer early morning racing past Fort Hommet. Looking back at my records, this is actually my second earliest Guernsey Swallow - I had one on 19th March 2005. The first dates in the last ten years range between 19th March and 7th April depending on the weather conditions at the time.

Just received a copy of the latest Birdwatch magazine with another write-up by me of the Pacific Diver. I am now a professional journalist since they are to pay me £33 for my random babblings!

moths : The first butterfly of the year was chased by Aidan at Saumarez Park yesterday - a Red Admiral. Rather a late date for the first one of the year, indicating just what a cold first couple of months it has been.

Wed 24th March 2010

birds : Quite a bit of activity today with a superb Firecrest flycatching from the pines at Fort Hommet first thing with two Chiffchaffs. I did my usual Wednesday lunchtime visit to L'Eree, stopping first at the Shingle Bank as a couple of Black-necked Grebes had just been seen there. I couldn't find those birds but there were 3 Slavonian Grebes bobbing around in the bay.

 Slavonian Grebes - L'Eree Shingle Bank - 24 Mar 10

Slavonian Grebes - L'Eree Shingle Bank - 24 Mar 10

At this time of year Slavonian Grebes can look a bit odd as they are moulting into their breeding plumage. One of the birds looked particularly striking as it had a bright white crescent behind the ear coverts as well as yellow 'horns', rufous neck, white breast and black cheek and crown. The photo above is rather poor as they were pretty far away. Driving home from work in the rain, I noticed a small group of hirundines heading west over Cobo beach, at least one of which was a Sand Martin, my first of the year.

Something that has sent me poring through my bird books in the last week or so is the number of Yellow-legged Gull sightings this spring - a lot more than usual - and Paul has been photographing few of them at the tip. Gull identification is so subtle and tricky it can really leave you with a headache and more confused than when you started. Whilst some of the gulls with bright orangey-yellow legs are clearly Yellow-legged Gulls (michaellis), there seems to be a selection of other birds with 'yellow' legs that are not. If you scour the gull flocks at the moment, you do come across Herring Gulls whose legs appear to be yellow - I snapped this example below at Rousse on Tuesday.

It isn't obvious on the photo but the legs of this bird appeared more yellowish than pink in the field - or yellowish-pink I suppose. Reading the literature, it seems that it isn't that unusual for Herring Gulls to get a yellowish tone to their legs at the start of the breeding season, especially for northern birds of the race argentatus. So it is just something to keep in mond, that in spring, a yellow-legged gull isn't necessarily a Yellow-legged Gull.

Mon 29th March 2010

birds : Unlike most people, I tend to have less time to get out and see birds at the weekend rather than during the week. Monday to Friday, I can pop to places to or from work, or during the lunch break, but at weekends I am playing footie or I'm with the kids or I'm doing housework (yeah, right! says Rosie) etc. So the weekend brought island sightings of Stone Curlew, Red-necked Grebe, a new Richard's Pipit and the return of the Pacific Diver - and I saw none of them - and managed an hour in the field Sunday afternoon, at low low low tide and the rain pouring. Not so good. . .

Today was much better though - the first proper day of the Easter holidays. This morning the sun was shining and so Abigail, Aidan and I circumnavigated the Reservoir. The Chiffchaffs had come in in numbers with at least 10 birds singing round the lake, and the Little Grebes were whinneying manically and showing rather splendidly. Nothing uncommmon though, but there was a Slav Grebe in Perelle as we ate our Opal Fruits (well I ate my Opal Fruits, they ate their Starbursts).

Mid-afternoon, I managed to get out for another hour or so but it seemed quiet in the far NE of the island. So I called in at Marais Nord and soon saw that there were plenty of Chiffchaffs along the back path - at least 10 in the small area of flooded trees and reeds. Quite soon I discovered my first Willow Warbler of the year feeding with them and then I glimpsed a very brown Chiffchaff feeding low down. Straight away it was interesting, as it was plain brown above and dull white below and there was no green on it at all, and there was a clear pale supercilium, and the bill seemed all black, and I thought that it stood a chance for a Siberian Chiffchaff, race 'tristis'. The identification of this taxa is a minefield and any previous possibles I've seen, have never called. But this one did - and it sounded good. It was definitely different to all the other Chiffchaffs calling all around - a shorter, higher pitched, single monosyllabic note. It wasn't as soft and subtle a call as I would expect from a tristis, but did have the right pattern to it, and it repeated this a number of times. But then it changed and started making a call I'd never heard from a Chiffchaff before - a sort of "che-wee" and very disyllbic compared to the usual "houeet" - and again it repeated this. Unfortunately I had to collect Anais and so had to leave somewhat confused.

Researching this evening and listening to calls on the internet, I found that:

Among documented 'alternative' calls, perhaps the most frequent reference is to a downward-inflected and disyllabic 'sweeoo'. This type of call has been associated with 'eastern abietinus'

which may be the disyllabic call I heard. And the tristis-type calls I heard do match pretty well some of the tristis calls on the internet.

So it seems that (probably) it was either a tristis Chiffchaff or a very easterly abietinus Chiffchaff, so hopefully I can get back there soon to investigate it further.

Fri 2nd April 2010

birds : Well the first week of the Easter holidays has been wet and windy, definitely not good for searching for migrants, and Rosie has been working a few days also, so I haven't exactly been giving it some welly. Yesterday afternoon, Mark Guppy found a Crane down at the aerodrome but I was making tea for the kids and so wasn't able to get down to see it. It wasn't an emergency as I'd seen Crane on Guernsey before and I assumed it would still be present today since the weather was looking dodgy and planned to go see it in the afternoon when Rosie came home from work.

However, mid-morning the rain cleared and the sun came out and I thought it was going to bugger off back on its migration. So I cracked and bundled all the kids into the car and headed way down west. The Crane showed very well on the grass by the Claire Mare reedbed but I didn't watch it for long or take proper photos as 3 children take just a few minutes to demolish a distractive packet of crisps. It seemed to be an adult bird with a black and white head, with a small red patch, plus showy plumes of black-tipped feathers at the rear end.

 Crane at L'Eree

Crane at L'Eree

I also saw a male Garganey that had turned up earlier in the morning, on the adjacent pond at the back of the reedbed. No time to watch it though as I got a call from Chris that they were watching a possible Ring-billed Gull round the corner. I drove round and joined them for a quick look at this bird but this unplanned delay did not go down well with the kids waiting in the car and there was an unfortunate rounders bat incident which ended in tears. The gull turned out to probably be just a first-year Common Gull but it was worth getting out there as the Crane had taken off and flew low just over us, and it was calling too - a pretty impressive sight. It went off inland and I was pleased I made the decision to go early for it.

After a brief walk round Lihou Headland with the children where Abigail found a penguin on the beach (Guillemot), we returned home for lunch. At about 12:30 I was preparing our sandwiches in the kitchen when I heard the gulls outside become somewhat vocal and I thought "I wonder if. . ...". And so I ran outside with the bins to be greeted by the Crane drifting East past the house, just to the North of us. What a fab garden tick! I ran in to get the camera, then ran in again to get the memory card for it, by which time the wind had drifted it well east of us, and I only got the crappy unzoomed shots below.

Mon 5th April 2010

birds : I had a couple of hours out today, but birding on a sunny afternoon, on a bank holiday, on Guernsey, is a tiny bit annoying - there are people everywhere! You can avoid the Teds and Freds just by getting out birding early, or by going midweek if you are able, but weekends are packed from late morning. But with a large human population on such a small island, it's inevitable. So I tried three different headlands and there were very few birds down - no Wheatears even. I just had a single Chiffchaff at Chouet and a few White Wagtails, including a few feeding in a puddle in the car park at Jaonneuse that I just drove up to and took photos - no zoom required.

 White Wagtail - Jaonneuse - 5 Apr 10

White Wagtail - Jaonneuse - 5 Apr 10

At Miellette there were 29 Brent Geese and a couple of Sandwich Terns, and Marais Nord had 2 Willow Warblers with the Chiffchaffs.

moths : At Marais Nord there were single Peacock and Comma butterflies, making 4 species for the year. When I got home I noticed a massive red mite crawling into the house. When I say massive I mean about 3-4mm body length and much bigger than the tiny red mites that are common. Looking it up on the net it looks like a Red Velvet Mite, something I have never noticed before,

 red velvet mite - garden

red velvet mite - garden

Sun 11th April 2010

birds : Only casual sightings this week as I have been busy doing family stuff for the last few days. There doesn't seem to be lots of migrants passing through but I have seen the odd small flock of Swallows and Sand Martins. Quite a few Buzzard sightings with a maximum of three together over the house - can't believe I was here for 5 years before I saw one in Guernsey as they are so regular now. Also I have had plenty of Marsh Harrier sightings from the garden.

Tue 13th April 2010

birds : The sun is out and the world looks all summery, then you walk outside and discover a icy cold north-easterly blowing through the island, and it's very difficult to find any suitable sheltered spots on this side of the island. It seems to be putting off any unusual migrants but I did eventually see a new species for the year today - a House Martin. The Swallows are still powering through and I watched a flock of about 10 birds leave Pulias late afternoon and head North into the strong wind and out across the sea, barely a yard above the waves. It seems such an unlikely choice to go for it into such a headwind but I suppose the migratory urge is so strong. The Shingle Bank had about 30 splendid White Wagtails yesterday feeding on the vraic and with them were 3 very nice looking pinky-coloured Scandinavian Rock Pipits. The pair of Marsh Harriers were using the wind today to hang in the air low over the reedbeds and I tried to get photos, but of course they stopped as soon as the 'scope was out. However, this Willow Warbler decided to preen out in the open by the roadside and was a welcome substitute.

 Willow Warbler - Claire Mare - 13Apr10

Willow Warbler - Claire Mare - 13Apr10

moths : An Early Thorn was at the window the other night but the winds are far too icy to think about trapping. Also, an Indian Meal Moth shared the enclosure with the Lovebirds at Le Friquet last week.

Sun 18th April 2010

birds : The cold northeasterlies persisted right up until the weekend, only today have they abated. I had few sightings of note this week, the most weird was on the way to work on Friday. Whilst driving past Vazon Cafe, I noticed a lanky-winged bird flying over the golf course ahead of me, and stopping quickly I used my bins and realised it was a Fulmar. But this bird was heading straight inland and I lost it somewhere over King's Mills! What it was doing I don't know, but it was rather unexpected. I have never seen a Fulmar anywhere other than over or by the sea, although I know that they can nest away from the coast - indeed I remember reading about the birds in Yorkshire breeding on Sutton Bank, a good 25-30 miles from the sea.

Today's sunnier, calmer weather improved conditions for migration, with Swallows passing over the house all day. It was a good raptor day as well with three Buzzards over the garden calling and displaying to each other, then a splendid male Marsh Harrier quite low, plus another Buzzard. This evening my first Greenshank of the year was noted at Vale Pond.

moths : At last, I got my arse into gear and put out the moth trap for the first time. In the past I haven't tended to get much early in the season - hence my late start - and today I had 18 moths of 9 species. The most significant was a very early Cinnabar, my earliest by over a month, and there is no earlier one in the Mapmate database.

 Cinnabar - garden - 17 Apr 10

Cinnabar - garden - 17 Apr 10

Other lepidopteran sightings today were the first Holly Blue of the year as well as the splendid Esperia sulphurella in the garden. Up at Pleinmont a male Emperor Moth flicked by me so close that I could even see its eye spots. It took me a quite a while to realise that the quite large, orangey-coloured, day-flying moths that I often saw whilst out birding at this time of year were in fact Emperor Moths.

Wed 21st April 2010

birds : The birds are finally coming through in better numbers (but not so much a variety) and there was a distinct increase in birds today especially, despite the very cold Northerly breeze. On the Old Aerodrome at lunchtime there were at least 50 Wheatears and I finally got my first Yellow Wagtails and Whitethroat for the year. There were also lots and lots of White Wagtails around and three Marsh Harriers were in the air together over the Claire Mare reeds. Waders are appearing too with Whimbrels and Common Sandpipers on the beach at Pulias. But nothing to get the blood going and still searching for a good April rarity.

 Wheatear - Pulias - 21 Apr 10

Wheatear - Pulias - 21 Apr 10

  white wagtail - PULIAS - 21 APR 10

white wagtail - PULIAS - 21 APR 10

Fri 23rd April 2010

birds : A phone call from Bob last night and he described what sounded very like a Morroccan White Wagtail down at L'Eree. It's not a very likely vagrant as they are resident there, and they have only been seen in nearby Spain previously, but it was intriguing and so I went down at lunchtime to search for it. I saw it straight away by the slipway and it stuck out like a sore thumb as it was much darker-headed than all the White Wagtails feeding on the beach.

I concentrated on getting photos and realised that the head-pattern wasn't right for the 'personata' race. The main feature was that the whole of the rear part of the ear-coverts was black, which gave the head a whole different look to it, with a white spot on the side of the neck and the hint of a supercilium.

The pattern of the head does not match any race of alba wagtail at all and so it is a bit speculative what it may be. I strongly favour just an oddly-plumaged, first-year male Pied Wagtail. The back was a touch darker than the accompanying Whites, and there was distinct darker mottling, and look at the blackish band on the rump. These can only be shown by Pied Wagtail I imagine, all the other westen races being very pale like White. It is a bit of a scruffy bird, with the wing feathers being very brown in places and the tail being a bit moth-eaten. The dark on the ear coverts may be remnants of immature head shading. I can't be sure to be fair, but as it doesn't match any other race, that's what I am left with. But it was a striking and interesting bird and well worth seeing.

There were stack-loads of wagtails on the beach there, with an estimated 50 Whites and 30 Yellow Wagtails, this was easily the most I've seen here.

Sun 25th April 2010

birds : Even though we are smack in the middle of the migration season I was unable to do any proper birding this weekend as Rosie was away with her girlfriends in Jersey. Despite this, I was very pleased with my sightings on Saturday, which started with a Common Sandpiper circling high over the garden mid-morning. This is not my first house record as I have heard 2 or 3 previously fly over after dark, but this is the first one I've seen.

After dropping off Rosie for her trip, I took the kids for a long drive and stopped off at Pleinmont for a quick run round the scramble track. This was quite a big deal as I have recently developed an irrational fear of heights - or more specifically a fear of me and/or my family falling off big heights - and we were very close to the cliffs. There was very little to see apart from a few Wheatears, but my bravery was rewarded when I returned to the car. Just as I strapped the little ones in, I saw a small passerine fly over the gorse towards me, which I initially thought was a warbler as it was so small. When I put my bins on it I saw that it was actually a streaky bird with a bright yellow head. First of all, Yellowhammer sprung to mind, then I realised that it's bill was barely noticeable and it was clearly a male Serin. It continued to fly past me at c.20 yards range and as it flew away I could see its plain yellow rump. It landed on the side of the scramble track but I wasn't able to get after it. Serins have been surprisingly rare here recently and this is only the second Guernsey Serin since 2004, so I was well-chuffed as they say!

After this we drove back via the TV mast field where there were 5 Ring Ouzels feeding on the grass, which made up for the probable I'd had earlier in the week at Fort Hommet.

The mystery wagtail was not to be seen at the Shingle Bank. I have not been able to find any photos on the internet of a similar-looking bird, so it is very interesting indeed. I drew some sketches from my photos:

moths : Also pleasing this morning was getting a new species of macro moth for the garden on only the second night of trapping this year - a Tawny Pinion - which according to the database is only the 6th record for Guernsey. I have seen the species before when I found one in the Herm public toilets (!). The main other thing of interest was an unusually marked Early Grey - very cream-coloured and black, very unlike the greyish colour of most of them.

 Tawny Pinion - garden - 24 Apr 10

Tawny Pinion - garden - 24 Apr 10

 Early Grey - garden - 24 Apr 10

Early Grey - garden - 24 Apr 10

Tue 27th April 2010

birds : A big surprise today when I was munching on my sarnies at the Shingle Bank at L'Eree. An old geezer came up to me and asked me if I'd come down to see the Stone Curlew. After coughing up a piece of sliced white, he explained to me that they had been on a bird walk earlier with some friends and had found this bird plodding around with the Whimbrels. And sure enough a quick scan and there it was sat amongst the pebbles - quite a bright bird. I couldn't get too close as people were on their way to see it but I took a few snaps.

This is the first Stone Curlew I have seen for ages and ages, almost exactly 10 years ago I think, when I found a bird on this very same beach on 15th April 2000. Although, come to think of it, I may have had a few in Norfolk a couple of years later. Still a rarity in Guernsey (despite this being the second this year) they have been seen only 3 times here since the mid-80's.

 Stone Curlew - L'Eree Shingle Bank

Stone Curlew - L'Eree Shingle Bank

Sat 1st May 2010

birds : With the annual Guernsey Bird Race taking place tomorrow, I can neither confirm nor deny that I have seen any birds at all this week. The weather forecast does not look too likely for an epic total, but previous experience has shown that it is all pretty random and difficult to predict. The good thing though is that it isn't going to be sunny all day as that always seems to make it much harder work. So I shall be meeting up with the rest of the "Sultans of String" at 4:30 tomorrow morning for a full day of giving it some welly!

At the moment, the few remaining Little Egrets on the island are in their 'courtship' plumage with the usual greyish coloured facial skin turning to a pale rose-pink colour. Also, instead of their feet being the usual bright golden-yellow colour, they turn a salmon-pink.

 Little Erget - Claire Mare

Little Erget - Claire Mare

moths : It was a rather chilly night so I was not exactly surprised to see a paltry total in the trap - just 9 moths of 8 species.

 Herald - garden - 30 Apr 10

Herald - garden - 30 Apr 10

Sun 2nd May 2010                 GUERNSEY BIRD RACE 2010

0400:  Successful bird races are made by planning, planning, and more planning - strategy meetings and trial runs are a must - tide tables, ferry times, weather reports to be printed off for reference. But the Sultans of String don't go in for all that malarky - this year's planning was "see you at the Barn Owl site at 4:30".

The weather forecast was giving rain in the morning, heavy at times, then stopping later on to make way for strong northerly winds - awful conditions for a Guernsey Bird Race, but you've got to give it a go just in case it's "the One".

So just after half-past, we started on a high note with a superb Barn Owl in the torchlight flying across a field near an occupied owl box near the Fauxquets.

0500:  After dumping Mark's car at Rue des Bergers for the day we headed straight down to the hide at the Claire Mare. Even though it was still technically dark, we thought that the Spoonbill seen the previous day might head off on migration at first light. So we were pleased to see it in front of the hide. And it was quite a beautiful sight as it fed energetically in the moonlight, jumping around, knee-deep in the water, chasing its prey.

During the next hour we moved up to Pleinmont and found out that the wind was far too blustery for many migrants to be around, but we were happy the predicted rain hadn't occurred. A Greenshank was an excellent bird to tick off when it drew our attention by calling a few times as it migrated past the headland. Also a Raven was a useful addition.

0600 :  After nearly an hour up on the headland our migrant total was one Wheatear, so we decided to give it up and try the bays. A Peregrine showed well at Mont Herault as we drove jeep across the tracks. The common bird species were being ticked off and we reached 40 with Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel on the Shingle Bank.

0700:  Round the back of the Claire Mare we had already seen the Marsh Harriers, and then we had quite a few Yellow Wagtails fly in and land in the field by the pond. This encouraged us to try the hide again which was a good choice because as we pulled up, a Lapwing flew in from the sea and headed inland. The Spoonbill had decided to stay and was resting up in front of the hide.

 Spoonbill - Claire Mare

Spoonbill - Claire Mare

We then looked in the field and saw that the Yellow Wagtails were feeding on the grassy area to the left. Then suddenly one popped out with what looked like a black head! The wagtails were being very nervous and flighty and not showing well at all and this bird disappeared as soon as we saw it. The flock constantly was moving, and we saw the bird again out in the open this time and through the bins we noted that the throat was yellow and, although the head was very dark, it was actually grey-tinged on the nape and crown, which pointed to Grey-headed Wagtail (race 'thunbergi'). We were amazed at this bird as it was a real stunner and very rare - I don't think it has been recorded in Guernsey before. But it did give up somewhat of a dilemma as we needed to really record this bird properly for the files, but we were supposed to be rushing round on a bird race. In the end we got out the scopes and cameras to try and look at it properly and record it for posterity, but it was having none of it, and we only saw it in brief moments. In the end we wasted the good part of an hour before we gave up and moved on. But it was worth it - what a bird!

0800:  A few Dunlin on the beach at Vazon were to be the only ones of the day, and disappointed by the lack of waders so far, we saw very little for the next hour. We bumped into Vic, Tony and Rob who told us of a couple of good birds they'd seen - a diver, possibly the Pacific and Wood Warbler. We couldn't find the diver.

0900:  Into Saumarez Park, we quickly found they fellas' Wood Warbler high in the trees and there was also a showy Garden Warbler - a species we more often miss than get. Short-toed Treecreeper and Goldcrest were easily lopped off there, followed by Tufted Duck at the Grande Mare and Buzzard over the ridge. Grey Wagtail was quickly seen close to last year's breeding site and we then headed up the Talbot Valley to check a few spots. We knew that there had been a few sightings in the Talbot this year, but to just bump into a Great Spotted Woodpecker in trees at the side of the road really was amazing and gave us a real boost, as this was not even predicted as a possible. We headed up towards the Reservoir and as we turned the corner towards the dam a falcon flew high across the road. We watched it slowly fly west across the valley - a superb Hobby! We were really flying at the moment.

1000:  At the Reservoir itself for Little Grebe, we had two Turtle Doves chasing each other, which brought us up to 70 where it always starts to slow down. We checked various sites on the way back to Town, but no new species.

1100:  Most of the next hour was spent trudging round the Track Marais which was very quiet, although we did tick off both Long-tailed Tit and Bullfinch which was useful as they can sometimes be tricky. We did have a probable Willow Warbler here but we couldn't be sure and we didn't have another all day.

1200-1500:  These hours were spent on the trip to Herm. One of the key things to do here is to try and get all three auks before the boat docks, so that you don't have to waste time scanning or walking the wrong way. We did this easily which was great which gave us time to yomp right up to the Common. It was well worth it with single Brent Goose and Sanderling on the beaches. Red-legged Partridge was ticked off but still there were very few migrants to be found. We even gave ourselves time for a cuppa at the Mermaid before we headed back on the ferry. Up to 82 species.

1600:  It was then we hit the wall. Just like the marathon runners, no matter what effort we were putting in, we were getting very little out of it. Also by now,of course, the general public is out in force getting in your way and being noisy. So it was 2 hours before our next tick - a surprising pair of Shovelers on the Vale Pond. The Black-tailed Godwit that I'd seen here the previous evening had gone it seems. To boost our flagging efforts we then went for the only easy bird we still needed with Stonechat at Fort Hommet - number 84.

1700:  We were waiting for the tide to rise so we went for Jackdaws on the south coast which we found easily, but we were unsure what to do next. The wind had gotten somewhat fresher and was blowing Pleinmont to pieces and there was little new in the L'Eree area. We decided that the most likely species that we could get was Turnstone because there was always Turnstones around wasn't there?

1730 – 1900  :  So, an hour and a half later and after looking at a few thousand rocks, we thought that there may not be any Turnstones on Guernsey after all! We ate our bags of chips and envisaged the embarassment of admitting to everyone that we didn't see a Turnstone.

1900 – 2000:  We knew we still had a couple of species we were quite confident of getting and due to the northerly winds, Manx Shearwater was passing regularly off Chouet, some of them quite close. No other species was moving though, so we popped into our Long-eared Owl spot close by - and as soon as we arrived one popped out of a tree and flew a short way - an easy number 87.

2000 – 2100:  We really wanted to get one more to equal last year's total, so we raced on back to L'Eree to see if there was any sign of Golden Plover that had been seen earlier that day - but no. We waved hello to the Spoonbill for the fourth time that day and just as the darkness was setting in, we made out some movement on the beach. Was it really? Could it be? Number 88? Yes! Never had we been so excited to see a Turnstone!

Epilogue

We are being amazingly consistant recently with our last five years' totals being 87, 88, 89, 88, 88. The migration conditions in each of these years have been between poor and average, so we are happy that next time the conditions are right, we can break the record of 96. And if we catch it just right, the magical 100 is on the cards. Long live the Sultans!!

Thu 6th May 2010

birds : The volume of bird traffic always reduces in May, with most British migrants having already passed through. But although the numbers aren't there it's important to push on with searching for rare birds as the rarity/common ratio goes up somewhat. And the later it gets in the spring, the rarer the birds are likely to be. There were plenty of Swallows today but I saw little else of interest until I checked the back pond at the Claire Mare and saw a fine male Garganey swimming around. I only had less than 5 minutes to snap a few photos before I had to race back to classes.

 Garganey - Claire Mare - 6th May 10

Garganey - Claire Mare - 6th May 10

Sat 8th May 2010

birds : Friday was a good day for migrants, with the wind in the NE and overnight rain I thought it might be, so I had a 5 min check of Fort Hommet before work and had numerous Whitethroats, a Sedge Warbler and Yellow Wagtail. This encouraged me to make a dash for Lihou Headland in my lunch hour which was excellent. The clump of Tamarisks overhanging the beach there is one of my favourite spots on the island and I had two each of Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher feeding together above the sand. And in the top gardens there were two more Spot Flys plus a Lesser Whitethroat amongst the commoner species. And then on the way home I had 15 Wheatears together and a male Whinchat at Pulias. All this was in less than an hour's birding and I wish I was able to spend all day out. No proper birding this weekend as Rosie is working, but today I had my first Common Tern of the year at Miellette and a Red-legged Partridge at Chouet was a very unusual sighting.

moths : the cold wind is still restricting the number of moths in the trap and there was very little last night of interest.

 Dark Spectacle - garden - May 10

Dark Spectacle - garden - May 10

Wed 12th May 2010

birds : I have visited Lihou Headland the last two lunchtimes and although the number of land migrants has fallen there are still plenty to see and it still feels 'rare' out and about. Calling in at the back pond at the Claire Mare today there were single Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Black-tailed Godwit feeding on the mud - I would not be surprised if this patch of water attracts a good wader in the next couple of weeks.

The most interesting bird for me over the last couple of days was seen yesterday afternoon as I was driving away from Pulias when I saw a small wader fly in and plonk waist-deep in the middle of the pond. This was a bit odd, and so I U-turned and watched it now resting on the side of the pond. At first it wasn't obvious what species it was, and my first thought was a Curlew Sandpiper,as it had a long drooping bill, but it was very plain-plumaged, with the head and back being a browny-grey colour, with just 3 blackish-centred feathers on the scaps. It did appear probably to be a Dunlin, but all the other Dunlins I'd seen recently were in full breeding-plumage, and this bird had no black belly patch at all, just a few fine markings round the vent, and a very distinctive band of streaks across the breast, a la Pec Sand.

It was a confusing bird, but it soon flew showing it certainly wasn't a Curlew Sand and called as it hurtled past me, proving it was certainly a Dunlin. I would like to think that its unusual appearance was because it was an unusual race of Dunlin that we do not usually get here, perhaps even a North American "Hudsonian Dunlin". I cannot find much detailed info about this race and I didn't see it well enough at all to get any detail to even claim it as a possible - it was just an interesting bird. The art of birding is to pick out the subtly-different, and this was I'm sure different from the regular passage Dunlins. It's interesting to read David Sibley's article on "Subspecies by Phenology" (click here for link) as this may have some relevance to this bird as it was still in mostly winter plumage. [Incidentally, Sibley's website is the best birding website in my opinion and is well worth a browse and goes along with my birding philosophy that good birding is more about taking in the whole picture and 'feeling' the bird rather than seeing it.]

Anyway I looked for the bird quickly this morning but it was not there, but a smart Sedge Warbler sang from the Tamarisks by the car park.

moths : A surprise in the northeasterlies today was a Clouded Yellow flying on Lihou Headland - I wasn't expecting any migrant Leps in these conditions. On Monday, I had a couple of very surprising moth sightings, with firstly, a new species for the garden - Incurvaria masculella. I have only ever seen one before and this one was a fine specimen.

 Incurvaria masculella - garden

Incurvaria masculella - garden

Then, on a rather chilly walk round the Reservoir I happened to spot a weird yellow spot on a fence, and closer inspection revealed it to be a tortrix moth I'd never seen before - Pammene regiana. It had clearly just emerged as it was under its foodplant tree (Sycamore) and was another stunner!

 Pammene regiana - Reservoir - 10 May 10

Pammene regiana - Reservoir - 10 May 10

Fri 14th May 2010

birds : The photos below are of two nice-looking birds taken at Fort Hommet today. Please note that neither of these two birds is a Short-toed Lark. Also note that I did not drive within 300 yards of either of these birds yesterday evening without knowing they were there. Grapevine my arse!

 Dunlin - Ft Hommet - 14 May 10

Dunlin - Ft Hommet - 14 May 10

 Ringed Plover - Ft Hommet - 14 May 10

Ringed Plover - Ft Hommet - 14 May 10

Sun 16th May 2010

birds : Managed to get a few hours birding in this morning but the conditions were awful for spring migrants with clear overnight skies and a westerly breeze, but that didn't matter as I was on OPERATION : ROOK. I have been here for 11 years now and have never seen a Rook on Guernsey - never even had a sniff of one. So with Mark G having seen one two days running at Mont Herault, I went there.

I trudged West first all the way to the TV mast - no sign of it, or of anything else of interest - it was very quiet on top. I returned and headed East of the watchhouse and almost reached Tielles before turning back. This side was better with 2 Wheatear and lots of Swallows and Swifts feeding along the cliff edge. Also a male Marsh Harrier was giving excellent views as it hunted the fields here. It was a dark bird and I am pretty sure it was the male from the Claire Mare pair. I suppose there are actually very few areas to hunt around the Claire Mare so it probably regularly visits these undisturbed fields.

So I got back to the car after over 2 hours of walking and thought, 'oh well missed again'. And then a guy appears and says "Oh, I've just seen the Rook, in the field there" - about 30 yards from the car - D'oh!. Luckily the clay pigeon shooters didn't scare it off and I watched it at close range - number 240 for my Guernsey List.

 Rook - Mt Herault - 16 May 10

Rook - Mt Herault - 16 May 10

This was my first ever 5-crow-day in Guernsey, with the local Jackdaws and Ravens showing well.

 Raven - Mt Herault - 16 May 10

Raven - Mt Herault - 16 May 10

moths : National Moth Night last night was terrible with the chilly winds persisting. This Spring the winds have been in the northern sector for nearly every day apart from 1 or 2. The previous night (Friday) wasn't a great deal either but I did have a moth that I didn't recognise. The identification wasn't easy but I am pretty confident that it is a Seraphim - only the 3rd record for Guernsey, and of course a new species for the garden.

 Seraphim - garden - 14 May 10

Seraphim - garden - 14 May 10

Wed 19th May 2010

birds : Nothing much to report, despite the conditions this morning that looked pretty good for migrants, I only had a single Yellow Wagtail at Fort Hommet and even less on Lihou Headland. Below are some nice photos of a Stonechat that I've got round to processing from the weekend. At this time of year the plumage of Stonechat gets very dark, and the brown back feathers are overlayed by black, creating an appealing burgundy colouration.

 Stonechat - Pleinmont 

Stonechat - Pleinmont 

Fri 21st May 2010

birds : An unexpectedly exciting evening today. I had just pulled into the drive after collecting Abigail from Brownies and was just getting out of the car when I noticed a bird swoop in from behind the line of trees behind the house. It was immediately familiar, with its starling-like shape and triangular wings, flying very athletically and gracefully. It swooped in again and I was sure it was a Bee-eater, but it wasn't close enough to be certain. So I ran inside and grabbed my bins. I picked it up again just as it was landing on the highest twig of a nearby tree. The sun was shining, so its bright yellow throat stood out and its black bandit mask contrasted against this.

I then tried to shout to Abigail to get my camera as I tried to get the scope out of the car. Whilst doing this, the Bee-eater had been replaced by a Magpie, which had no doubt chased it off. Despite almost an hour of searching I never saw it again. This is the first Bee-eater I have seen for ages and ages and I've never seen one in Guernsey or even the UK. I've always dreamed of finding a Bee-eater but this cake didn't quite get any icing on it, as my views were far too brief.

Earlier in the day I went to check on the Great Spotted Woodpecker nest site in my lunch hour. After a short while of waiting I heard a bird fly in and a male bird shot into the hole. It kept sticking its head out but I felt that it was aware of my presence and it was reluctant to leave. So after 20 mins I moved away so that it could go about its business in peace. This is only the second pair of Great Spots that have been discovered in Guernsey after last year's first pair.

 Great Spotted Woodpecker - Talbot Valley - 

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Talbot Valley - 

moths : Called in at Rousse where there lots of small moths flying in the coastal grass, mostly Dichrorampha acuminatana, but also a few of Yellow Belle, Elachista argentella, Homoeosoma sinuella. Also at Fort Hommet there were a few Esperia sulphurella flying together.

 Elachista argentella - Rousse

Elachista argentella - Rousse

Mon 24th May 2010

birds : Perhaps the adrenaline of the Bee-eater blew a few of my brain cells as I felt pretty rotten over the weekend and barely left the house, especially as Rosie was working. So I didn't go for the Nightingale that was singing at Pleinmont, despite needing for Guernsey. I did pop into the Talbot this morning briefly to look for Golden Oriole but there was no sign. So no birds of note, but here's another photo from last weekend.

 Whitethroat - Pleinmont

Whitethroat - Pleinmont

moths : I also didn't get the trap out despite the improvement in temperatures, but I did have a new Lep species for the garden when a Small Copper landed briefly on the grass. I have noticed in the last few days that there seems to be a heck of a lot of small moths around and insects in general as I walk around the island. Perhaps the very dry Spring has meant a bumper crop. Today I called in at Pulias on the way home and was very pleased to spot a Thrift Clearwing. These tiny day-flying species are not too uncommon in the right places places but very difficult to see.

This Slow worm lives under the decking and we see it from time to time - although we presume it's the same one, I have no idea of the habits of Slow worms, and perhaps we are seeing different ones each time.

 slow worm in the garden

slow worm in the garden

Fri 28th May 2010

birds : It feels like the migration season has ended now, with just the odd bird trickling through, and the breeding season has sprung into life with baby Stonechats, Starlings and Shelducks appearing all around. So apart from the odd summer-time rarity, that's probably it until the autumn birdwise. The best sighting of the week for me was watching a Hobby soaring over the Petites Vallees on Tuesday lunchtime.

moths : The first Silver Y moths were noted this week on a couple of headlands, so I must get the trap out soon. The weather has been pretty hot this week so insects has emerged in force.

Mon 31st May 2010

birds : As of this weekend, my bins no longer reside round my neck during our walks, but are snug inside my shoulder bag, which indicates that I believe spring migration is over. A lone Wheatear at Fort Doyle yesterday was the only migrant of note.

moths : Spring half-term is usually when I start to trap moths in earnest but this year I have been too busy so far. Saturday we had a family wedding to attend, with the reception in Herm. I managed to nick away for a few minutes and recorded my first Rush Veneer for the year

 Nettle-tap Moth - garden - 31 May 10

Nettle-tap Moth - garden - 31 May 10