Sun 6th March 2011
birds : It is difficult to imagine any early migrants arriving at the moment with the cold northeasterlies blowing across the island. We were very cold indeed this afternoon during our family stroll at L'Eree. A rare bird did turn up today with a Mute Swan at Havelet but this didn't really pump the blood any faster through my veins. The weeks highlight has to be the full breeding-plumaged Med Gull on the beach at Rousse on Friday afternoon - there cannot be a more beautiful gull than a full-plumaged adult Med (except if it was at Eccup, eh Dad?).
Sat 12th March 2011
birds : We seem to have finally turned the corner into Spring. There has been a notable change in the bird populations as birds have started to move north from France. The wagtails and pipits are more visible and are moving at height rather than sticking to the beaches, and the odd White Wagtail seems to be present along with more obvious Scandinavian Rock Pipits than before. Stonechats also have become more visible - I am sure we get a small early-spring passage of this species. I haven't seen any summer migrants yet, although Sand Martin and Wheatear have been seen on the island already. I did see a female Black Redstart at Pulias, no doubt moving through.
Apart from a couple of long-stayers, 2011 has been very quiet so far for rarities. So on Monday afternoon I popped down to Town to twitch the Mute Swan in Havelet Bay. OK, it's not exactly an exciting rarity, but a rarity nonetheless, and only the second I have seen in Guernsey.
Fri 18th March 2011
birds : The joy of seeing a Wheatear. After 4 long months of winter, when you are relying on the weather to bring in new birds, the first Wheatear shows that proper long-distance migration is under way. That vast numbers of birds are presently crossing deserts and seas, trying to find their way home. The first Wheatear injects an expectation that wasn't there before and gives you energy to get out into the field and see what's happening. On Wednesday my first Wheatear was by the car park by Port Grat/Pulias, and it was fabulous to see it.
This is the only summer migrant that I have seen so far. I have not had any of the Sand Martins or LRPs, and I also dipped out on the Richard's Pipit at L'Eree. I hope that my luck is as good as it was last year - but I doubt it.
On Tuesday, driving home from work I passed a small road casualty by Pulias Pond, and I glimpsed that it was a crake or rail from the large feet sticking up, so I stopped and walked back up the road. I thought it was just going to be a Moorhen (but I did have thoughts of Allen's Gallinule or African Crake (!)), so I was pleased to see it was a Water Rail. Of course, not pleased that it was dead, but pleased to be able to study it up close.
Wed 23rd March 2011
birds : The flock of Sand Martins feeding this evening over the gardens opposite indicates the migrants are well and truly in, and it's time to put the birdingmobile into gear and step it up a notch. With the fabulously sunny weather that we are having this week, it may produce an early rarity from the south - quite fancy a Night Heron I reckon. During the last few days I have been popping out in the field more and the L'Eree area was lively this lunchtime with two Buzzards circling with the male Marsh Harrier, which spooked a Ruff from off the L'Eree scrape.
On Monday evening I saw the male Long-tailed Duck which is still hanging around, but it was again very elusive for the camera.
Yesterday on the way back from work, I stopped off to twitch a group of three Garganey that had appeared at the Vale Pond. They were quite beautiful in the low evening sun. I think that this is about the sixth time I have seen Garganey in Guernsey, but the first time I have seen a female here.
Tue 29th March 2011
birds : Well my prediction of a Night Heron wasn't too far off, as a Purple Heron was seen at Grande Mare at the weekend, and also a Hoopoe was on the island. I didn't go for either of them due to family commitments as Rosie was working - I will save my family-abandonments for much rarer birds!
I've not managed to find a great deal this week, although there was a small grebe right out in the middle of Vazon Bay all last week, which I eventually managed to ID as Black-necked Grebe - it was always so far away. The Chiffchaffs seem to have come in in force today and my first Willow Warbler was with them in the willows of Marais Nord this afternoon.
moths : On Saturday the weather was pleasant enough for me to dig the moth trap out of the shed. I scrubbed off all the fungus and mould that was covering it, and gave it a good wash. I even dug out a brand new bulb from the loft since I had used the previous one for at least 3 years. But Sunday morning I only had 6 species in the trap - I never do very well early on in the year, perhaps it is due to the habitat in the local area.
Moth of the week though was the Oak Beauty which was on the window of Perelle Garage - only my second ever sighting.
Mon 4th April 2011
birds : A backward dive in the summer weather at the end of last week halted migration for a short while but a pleasant weekend has got it back on track. The only new species I have seen is Swallow but the reports from the UK have encouraged me to get out as much as humanly possible. More spectacular was the flock of 3 Buzzards that drifted North over the house on Sunday - I'd like to think they were migrating across the Channel but perhaps not. The Marsh Harriers today were showing so amazingly, with both birds at the Claire Mare so so close at lunchtime. Then late afternoon another male was showing at just as close range at a second site. Then at tea time, a bird drifted low over the house. If you get tired of seeing Marsh Harriers then you may as well stop looking at things altogether.
moths : The first migrant moth was sitting in the trap on Sunday morning amongst a very small selection - a rather nice Dark Sword-grass.
Thu 7th April 2011
birds : Came across my first 'decent' migrant of the spring this lunchtime along the lane at Fort Saumarez - a male Pied Flycatcher. Ok, its not a big rarity but it was showing really well flycatching over the road, and it is not a species I tend to see very often in black and white plumage. In fact, despite getting my record Guernsey year list in 2010, I did not see Pied Fly at all. It was a pity I had just 10 minutes before I had to get back to work or I could have got some terrific photos. Swallows and Sand Martins are pretty common now as Spring migration is nearing its peak.
Sun 10th April 2011
birds : A few photos of two Black-winged Stilts at the Claire Mare today. They turned up mid-morning but as Rosie was working last night and I was at home with the kids, I didn't manage to get down there until 7 in the evening. Of course, if I hadn't already seen stilts in Guernsey, I would have bundled everyone in the car and whizzed on down anyway. It was only 10 months ago that there were three BWStilts on exactly the same pond (see here) but the species is so amazing, I would go and see them every time.
I thought that they may have been a pair searching for a site to breed, but as they were both brown-backed birds, neither was an adult male. Such is the nature of birding in Guernsey that I was able to watch these birds all by myself - such a bird in the UK would have birders watching it more or less constantly on the first day at least. I did struggle for great photos as the evening sun was getting low and the birds were constantly moving as they fed.
Fri 15th April 2011
birds : Despite it being the now the Easter holidays, I actually get out in the field less often than when I am at work. During work days, I can - if I feel like it - do short bursts of birding before work, in the lunch hour and after work, but during holidays I am mostly busy with the kids, especially when Rosie is working. Wednesday looked very promising for migrants with the sunny weather breaking, but I took Merlin for an hours walk up Pleinmont and saw just one migrant - a White Wagtail. Today looked also pretty good with a cloudy start to the day and a southerly breeze, so we took the kids for a walk round Lihou. It did look promising, with numerous Willow Warblers in the garden, and lots of White Wagtails and Meadow Pipits in the fields and on the beaches. It was very nice, but nothing uncommmon unfortunately.
I managed half an hour out this afternoon at Marais Nord and I soon heard that the Reed Warblers had arrived. I was listening out for a Wood Warbler that had been singing there but I couldn't hear it. But I did listen to a great "Northern Nightingale" singing above my head (clip below).
When I got back to the car, I heard an odd call coming from the edge of the reedbed.
It wasn't clear what it was until it suddenly burst into song and revealed that it was another Reed Warbler sounding a bit funny.
moths : With the aforementioned southerly breeze, I thought it would be an idea to get the trap out and I caught a migrant Dark Sword-grass. In the rest of the pitiful selection of moths was a Powdered Quaker - only my third record.
A little bit of microscope work last week revealed something more exciting - well perhaps that's not the word to use - with what appears to be the first confirmed record of Tinea dubiella for Guernsey, which is a type of clothes moth.
It is no doubt not that uncommon here but is more or less identical tothe more common clothes moth, Tinea pellionella. This group of moths are becoming more and more rare with the modern obsession for sanitisation and the increasing use of man-made fibres. There seems to be up to three species living in my shed however!
Sat 16th April 2011
birds : Mid-morning I scuttled off for a quick twitch down to Rocquaine to see a Woodchat Shrike that turned up yesterday evening. Not a surprise that one turned up since there seems to be about 5 or 6 on Scilly and quite a few others in the SW and Ireland. When I arrived by the "Fish Factory" though there were no birders around and no sign of the bird. It took 20 minutes or so of searching before I flushed it from a hedge behind the industrial complex - no way I'd have seen it from the road so a good job the field wasn't fenced off. It showed well for a few minutes before flying across the field to a further-away spot. Shrikes always seem to look smaller in flight than they do perched up. This was the first adult bird I had seen in 'Britain' - my other three records all being of juveniles in autumn.
Tue 19th April 2011
birds : I had two 'firsts' today. Blue-headed Wagtails are not massively rare here in the spring - I am sure that most active birders see one or two every April/May. However, in all these years I have never seen one in Guernsey - I have managed to avoid them for some reason. Today though, I took the kids for a wee wander round Pleinmont (where I had my first singing Whitethroats of the year) and there was a flock of Meadow Pipits in the Societe fields, which had a few Yellow Wagtails with them. And two of these wagtails were 'flava' - a female and a splendid male. It seemed quite pale-headed and pale-'eared', and with a broad white super, but it wasn't pale enough to be one of these 'Channel' Wagtails. I think (?) that, although named after the English Channel, these are more associated with the Channel further East.
The other first was a new bird for the house list. It was about 10 pm and from inside the house I heard a very loud wader call, and going outside it called again really loud, low over the house - an Oystercatcher. Although common here, they are very coastal and I had never had one fly over the house before.
moths : The full moon and clear, chilly nights have not encouraged a lot of moths to be trapped during the last week.
Norfolk BUBO Trip 2011 - day one
Since Rich was back from Australia for a few weeks, we arranged a BUBO reunion for the Easter weekend. Unfortunately Mike wasn't able to return from India but the rest of us headed for Andy's place in Norfolk for our get together. As I was on school holidays, I arranged to get there a couple of days early to make the most of it, so late morning I took the plane to Stansted. After buying my train ticket to Thetford, the guy sent me to platform 2, but the train said Birmingham on the front, and so I was reluctant to get on. The driver seemed to purposely ignore me but luckily I managed to find another staff member just as it was about to leave who told me I had to change trains in Cambridge - the ticket fella should have told me the fool.
Andy picked me up from Thetford Station and as he still had a couple of hours work to do at BTO HQ, I spent a while wandering around the Nunnery Lakes reserve. I didn't get very far in that time really as I kept getting distracted by exotic species like Orange-tip and Brimstone butterflies.
The Little Ouse river at Thetford
The riverside trees had lots of birds in them including a few excellent Marsh Tits - a species that I hadn't seen for years. This river was apparently good for Otter but the only mammal of note that I saw was a Muntjac deer, which are so common nowadays in the Brecks that they are almost a pest.
Muntjac, Nunnery Lakes, 20 April 2011
Elsewhere on the reserve I had my first Garden Warbler and Sedge Warblers of the year, and Jays were relatively common. I had excellent views of a Green Woodpecker which was calling loudly from the side of a tree.
Green Woodpecker call and spectogram, Nunnery Lakes, 20 April 2011
The Nunnery Lakes Reserve
We drove home to Andy's place in Shotesham. This is a pictureskew village just south of Norwich and quite an idyllic place to live it seems. After tea I went along to the "Shotesham Gardening and Conservation Group" meeting in the village hall where Andy was doing a short talk. This amused me somewhat and during the proceedings I was half expecting Dawn French to walk in wearing a vicar's outfit - "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no . . . . ."
Norfolk BUBO Trip 2011 - day two
Andy very kindly put his moth trap on each night I was there and even though the nights were clear and chilly, I had plenty of new species.
Lunar Marbled Brown, Shotesham, 20 April 2011
Red Chestnut, Shotesham, 20 April 2011
Andy was again working today so I decided to have a day in The Brecks. He dropped me off by the roadside and I was to spend the day wandering back into Thetford. This turned out to be a lot tougher than planned. It was sunny and warm and it was about a 9 mile trek in total. My tripod was getting heavier and heavier and I struggled a lot near the end. I didn't see lots and lots of birds but it was a very pleasant walk and it was nice to get some proper peace and quiet.
my forest trek
The start of the walk was at Grimes Graves, which is a sandy heathy area. Lots of Yellowhammers and Skylarks singing, but I couldn't find any Woodlarks despite the habitat looking great for them. I had great views of a Cuckoo - the first I have seen for a long time. A Tree Pipit was singing from the top of a pine.
Tree Pipit, Grimes Graves, 21 April 2011
One of my main targets was to see an Adder. I may have seen one years ago but I cannot remember it. They are quite common in the Brecks apparently and I soon heard one beside the path and saw it wriggle under a gorse bush - only brief views though. It was a lot smaller than I expected.
Grimes Graves - the haunt of serpents!
Dropping down into the pine forests, the bird numbers dropped, but when I reached the sunny glade (above) I noticed what I thought were a swarming of midges/flies around the leaves of sunlit trees. When I got closer, I could see that they were actually a small, metallic longhorn moth, which I later looked up and found was Adela reaumurella. The males were terrific dancing around on their 'leks' with their ridiculous antennae bouncing around, whilst the shorter-horned females sat there looking unimpressed. During the day there were various trees along the path with similar going on - I must have seen over a thousand of these moths.
lekking male Adela reaumurella, Thetford Forest, 21 Apr 2011
Adela reaumurella - male, above - female, below
At Santon Downham I dropped down to the riverine woodland which was clearly rich in birds. I found it difficult to find areas that I could go in and explore the woods and so I was mostly just watching from the edges. I had regular Marsh Tits along the river, woodpeckers were very vocal, and there were plenty of Siskin, plus a few flocks of Crossbill. I managed to make a brief recording of one of the Crossbill flocks' flight calls.
flight calls of Crossbill, Santon Downham, 21 Apr 2011
The vocalisations of Crossbills have been studied extensively recently and different 'types' have been identified which, although identical in plumage, can be identified by their calls. Reading the 'Sound Approach' book, I think that this is the 'Parakeet Crossbill', with the flight calls making an 'n' shape on the spectogram.
I had another two Adders along the walk and had excellent views of a Grass Snake as it swam across the river and up the bank. I also had this large millipede, nearly 2 inch long, with orange stripes down its back.
Striped Millipede, Thetford Forest, 21 Apr 2011
And that was it really - not a massive return for the efforts. I didn't see any Woodlarks, Goshawks, Lesser Spots etc, but I suppose these are elusive creatures.
Willow Warbler, Thetford Forest, 21st Apr 2011
Norfolk BUBO Trip 2011 - day three
Again there were a few new species of moths in the trap in the morning. Whilst looking through the catch we listened to a singing Cuckoo, and saw a Green Sandpiper flying overhead.
Sallow Kitten, Shotesham, 21st April 2011
Brindled Beauty, Shotesham, 21st April 2011
Frosted Green, Shotesham, 21st April 2011, showing its devil-horns
After breakfast, Andy and I opted for a stroll around STRUMPSHAW FEN RSPB Reserve, one of the better local sites for Andy. There had been a Ferruginous Duck here for a while but we couldn't find it. There was the typical selection of species that you would expect at a Norfolk reedbed reserve. There were lots of singing warblers - including Cetti's which were everywhere - and it was nice to see lots of Reed Buntings well. In the Black-headed Gull colony we saw an unusual bird with bright red legs and white outer wings. We thought that it may have been a hybrid with a Med Gull, but it was probably a partial albino or similar. There were a few migrants new in with a couple of Common Terns present and a Hobby soared distantly over the reeds. Whilst in the hide we heard a Bittern booming from somewhere in the vast beds. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day and it was great just to be constantly surrounded by wildlife.
Common Terns, Strumpshaw, 22 April 2011
Egyptian Goose, Strumpshaw, 22 April 2011 - pretty or what!
Orange-tip, Strumpshaw, 22 April 2011
We returned to Shotesham for lunch and Rich and Claire arrived. We spent the afternoon wandering the paths and lanes around the village which was very pleasant in the sunshine. Lots of wildlife around the parish - insects, plants and birds. I flushed the Green Sandpiper from the stream on the common below Andy's house and we had a Lesser Whitethroat singing from a hedge. A Scorched Carpet was disturbed from a lane.
We retired to the pub for a few beers as we waited for Ian to arrive. He eventually did, after dipping spectacularly on the Black Scoter in Northumberland on the way down from Scotland. The largest flock of BUBO lads that we had had for many a year. It was twenty years ago - in early 1991 - that we formed Bristol University Birding Organisation. Oh, to be 18 again . . . . .
Norfolk BUBO Trip 2011 - day four
The day dawned with another new moth in the trap for me - Pale Prominent.
Pale Prominent, Shotesham, 22 April 2011
It also dawned rather late to say it was meant to be a hardcore birding day - perhaps it was the beers consumed the previous evening. So over breakfast we decided to head for the Suffolk coast for some relaxing birding in the Minsmere area. This is probably the best area in the country to head for to see a large variety of species in just one visit.
After checking a few fields of gulls, our first stop was WESTLETON HEATH, and the first birds we saw after getting out were a couple of Woodlarks running around the short turf.
Woodlarks, Westleton Heath, 23 April 2011
It was difficult to get very good photos of these birds since the light wasn't helpful and we were soon joined by some other birdwatchers so i couldn't get a better spot to shoot from. It had been quite a while since I had seen Woodlark and the plumage feature that stood out most was the very distinct malar and moustachial stripes. I don't know what the weird swirls are on the bottom two photos - I presume it is a heat haze effect. We had a further look round the area but apart from 2 Dartford Warblers and a few Common Heath moths, there was little else.
So we went straight down to MINSMERE, the Vegas of British birding. I had not been here for ages and ages - it has changed quite a bit in the reception area but no so much around the reserve. For some reason we all managed to get in free using Andy's family membership - I don't know what kind of nightmarish family we were supposed to be! I was actually expecting it to be really busy since it was bank holiday weekend in April, but it sursprisingly wasn't. Of course there was plenty of the day-tripper semi-birdwatchers just out for a nice walk, but the one thing that was noticeable to me was the number of mega-cameras compared to scopes. There seems to have been quite an obvious sea-change since I have been away. Walking around a reserve like this there would be loads of birders with scopes, but today there were just 4 or 5. And in the old days, cameras were a rare sight, whereas now it seemed every other person had one as long as his arm. But if people are coming into wildlife through photography then it can't be a bad thing for conservation in the long run, but the number of out and out birders may decline.
But anyway, it gave us a chance to snigger at people with Scopacs. The scrubby area by the first hide had a Nightingale singing away, but as usual seeing it was impossible. I did record it but due to computer problems all recording from this day were lost. Another great sight was a Stoat running across the path and later we saw it again carrying a small rabbit. Along the northern bank we watched a male Bearded Tit fly about the tops of the reeds, and Cetti's Warblers were very common here.
BUBO at Minsmere East hide looking resplendent in matching T-shirts. Has there ever been a more handsomer collection of fellows? However, BUBO without Mike, is like Take That without Robbie - can still do the business, but not quite the whole shebang.
It was a very sunny day and viewing was difficult with everything rather hazy by midday. In the East hide we searched for Caspian Gulls since it was a good site for them, and I had never seen one before. I picked up the bird below because it seemed to have long legs, a small head and was standing oddly. However after a while we decided that it probably wasn't one.
Larus howdthihellshudeyenow, Minsmere, 23 April 2011
Sandwich Terns, Minsmere, 23 April 2011
I was surprised how few waders were present and there seemed less variety on the scrapes as I remember it. We did see at least 10 Med Gulls on one island which were clearly part of a small colony. We returned to the centre for lunch and had some massive cakes and then headed down to the reedbed hide. The walk produced some decent woodland birds and a Hairy Dragonfly perched up.
Hairy Dragonfly, Minsmere, 23 April 2011
We reached the Reedbed hide and looked across the vast beds - truly gigantic. Although we had a distant Hobby, the highlight was a Bittern which flew slowly across the tops of the reeds. Walking back to the car we had a few more woodland birds including a terrific Nuthatch showing well. We had spent quite a few hours here and it was really enjoyable and a good laugh.
Part of the Minsmere reedbeds - slightly larger than the Claire Mare.
We returned to Shotesham after another failed attempt at Caspian Gull but a more successful game of Yellow Pirate. A fine chinese soon followed and an evening stroll round the village resulted in about 4 hooting Tawny Owls. Ian's attempts at 'encouraging' one to show itself using his phone-tunes were rather successful, when we saw one fly right towards us, hissing at us before it flew back again.
Norfolk BUBO Trip 2011 - day five
Semioscopis steinkellneriana, Shotesham, 23 April 11 - a new species for me
We did manage to get out at a more decent birding hour this morning (but it was hardly hard-core first-light like it used to be) and we headed for the north-east Norfolk coast to search for downed migrants and flyovers following the coast. So we went to HORSEY DUNES and had an enjoyable hour or so in the coastal bushes. It actually looked a very good spot to have as a local patch. There were lots of Willow Warblers in the bushes and I happened to bump into a Lesser Whitethroat by the car park. A Cuckoo showed well and a Tree Pipit went over, but migrants were tricky to find. At the north end of our walk, a distant raptor was a Red Kite, which was the top sighting here.
Then Ian got a phone call from his dad - "male Citrine Wag at East Runton". This was not actually too far away from where we were standing. About 3/4 hour drive plus the walk back to the car Andy estimated. As well as it being a nice bird to see, I needed Citrine for my British List and so we decided to go twitching! Yay!!
As soon as we rounded the corner and hit the north-facing side of Norfolk, the weather changed. The sun gave way to misty, cloudy weather clinging onto the coastline - much better for dropping in migrants. Upon reaching EAST RUNTON we easily found the field that the wagtail was feeding in since it was right by the main road and there was a gaggle of birder-types there. Hopping out and strolling across, I was still looking for it when the shout went "it's flying" and after a couple of worrying minutes I managed to see it feeding with a few Yellow Wagtails amongst the cows' feet. And it was indeed a real dappa-male - CITRINE WAGTAIL, 'British' tick no. 386.
Citrine Wagtail, East Runton, 24 April
BUBO goes twitching
We celebrated with a quick burst of the BUBO song (NSFW) and a fry-up in the slowest serving cafe in Sheringham (but most delicious). Since we were so close, we decided that the legend that is CLEY & SALTHOUSE would be our next port of call.
BUBO searching Gramborough Hill, Salthouse for migrants
The highlight at Salthouse was the two Med Gulls that drifted across, but a Willow Warbler was all we could find a Gramborough. We moved down to Cley proper and popped into the rather spectacular new visitor centre they have there. It is all rather organised with cafe, bookshop, optics shop and reserve guides to show you round if you have the cash and lack of shame. The large windows here offer views across the whole reserve and I picked up 2 Spoonbills flying around. I turned round to tell the others but they had disappeared to the toilets and missed them.
Woodpigeon, Cley, 24 April 2011
One of our number decided that he should buy a new scope since he had a bit of loose change in his pocket, so the three of us headed out to the hides. There was a selection of waders on the scrapes, but nothing out of the ordinary. A Barn Owl showed very well out in the daytime and a pair of Garganeys fed in front of Bishops Hide. These hides do get you very close and so here are a few gratuitous wader shots.
Avocet, Cley, 24 April 2011
Redshank, Cley, 24 April 2011
Ruff, Cley, 24 April 2011
Golden Plover, Cley, 24 April 2011
Returning to the cafe for more cake we did see another distant Spoonbill on North Scrape. We had a little time seawatching off coastguards and there were Wheatears, Golden Plovers and a few Pink-footed Geese in the Eye fields. We headed back home and I was really pleased with an unexpected tick.
Norfolk BUBO Trip 2011 - day six
No proper birding today as it was time to return home. I didn't need to take the train back to the airport since Rich was passing nearby and was able to drop me off which was handy. On the way south we called at a top Stone Curlew spot in the Brecks that Andy had genned us up on and saw three birds from the roadside. After a quick coffee in Cambridge - the first time I had ever visited there - I was soon at the airport and away. So a superb trip with excellent craic. Plenty of good birds seen including a British tick.
Lesser Swallow Prominent, Shotesham, 24 April 2011 - my final new species
N.B. from this point photos need to be inserted - this will be done whenever (if ever) I get enough time
moths : On Friday night the trap was put out for the first time in two weeks and it collected a mega - the second record of Chocolate-tip for Guernsey. A splendid species with unusual markings, which I suppose are meant to resemble a dead twig. Also a Pebble Hook-tip was caught, which was only the 8th Guernsey record, although I suspect that this species is colonising. Not bad at all!
Chocolate-tip, St. Etienne, 29 April 2011 - 2nd for Guernsey
Pebble Hook-tip, St. Etienne, 29 April 2011 - 8th for Guernsey
Red Admiral, St. Etienne, 30 April 2011 - resting on the grape-vine
GUERNSEY BIRD RACE
Today was the annual Guernsey Bird Race, and as usual the "Sultans of String" met up before dawn to thrash the island until dusk. It has got to the point now that there is no way that we can take a break for a year just in case we miss 'the big one'. And you can't even make a last-minute decision based on the weather forecast, as it always seems pretty random. When the weather looks good for a large total, it can end up being poor, and visa versa. As it happens the weather looked OK for today, with a cloudy night and not too much sun in the day, with perhaps a bit of rain. The main thing was that it wasn't really rainy or exceptionally windy which can spoil the days birding.
So at 4:50 we were in the dark at the Reservoir searching for owls. The other 3 had a Barn Owl whilst I was sorting out the car, but no Long-eareds were showing as the light started to appear. We quickly headed down to the Claire Mare lane as dawn broke and in the half-light we saw a Green Sandpiper feeding on the back pool - a bird we have rarely had on a race and a great start. We then scanned the bay across from Claire Mare and had a distant Buzzard sat on Lihou.
Dawn breaks on the Sultans by the Claire Mare.
Down at the hide we were surprised by a male Garganey swimming out from behind the reeds which wasn't here yesterday and a new species for our bird race. It became apparent that waders were quite visible today and species like Grey Plover were easy to find whereas sometimes they can be a bit tricky. In L'Eree Bay, the long-staying and very late Slavonian Grebe was present - another first for the bird race list.
We headed up to Pleinmont hoping for newly arriving migrants but unfortunately it was very very quiet. We did have a briefly singing Grasshopper Warbler by the car park but there was little else. We did have a bit of good fortune when we drove the track by Mont Herault and luckily had a brief flash of a thrush which we thought might be a Ring Ouzel, and getting out we found it again on the cliff top, along with a Jackdaw. Back to L'Eree and the Claire Mare, and the waders were again coming up trumps with Lapwing, LRP and Knot all within half an hour, the latter bird being a rare species on race day. We then headed on up the coast checking bays and headlands.
the team, having just ticked off Stonechat and Willow Warbler at Fort Hommet
We headed inland and were surprised to see a female Teal in front of the hide at Rue des Bergers, which brought us up to 70 species before 10 o'clock, which was very good progress. But as usual, it slowed down somewhat and after dipping on Great Spotted Woodpecker in the Talbot we headed North. We had a boost when a Hobby soared over Marais Nord Lake and there were lots of Sedge Warblers in the northern reedbeds, much more than usual. Then after a Swift flew by the car at L'Ancresse to bring us to 80, we had a very dry spell and there were no new birds for 2 hours! Our "birders'-block" was removed by two Common Terns chasing each other around the Town Harbour as we waited to buy our Herm Ferry tickets. We decided that if we managed to get 3 of the "Herm 4" then we would just stay on the boat and come straight back to save time.
The Herm boat
(note a rival team's 'enforcer' attempting to feed Wayne to the fishes).
As usual, Guillemot was seen just outside the harbour and we were lucky that the captain decided to take a route around Jethou, right through the area the auks like to hang out. Pretty soon we had Razorbills bobbing around just off Jethou, and the other three had Puffins fly past which I missed. Then as we got close to the Herm cliffs, I picked up a gull just off the boat and I immediately shouted "Common Gull!". I had to take a second look to be sure but it was indeed a first-year Common Gull - a major surprise since I have never seen one in Guernsey after March or before late July - the most unexpected sighting of the day and probably a first-ever on the Bird Race. Of course I was shouting really loud over the engines and the others had to hush me so the other teams wouldn't see it. So we decided that Red-legged Partridge was not worth getting off for and we stayed on the boat, and I saw Puffins well and also had a Hobby heading East over Jethou towards Herm.
leaving Jethou behind and heading back to Guernsey
It was very slow for the rest of the day however. Ticking off a few things we had missed like Raven and Little Grebe, but there seemed to have been very little arriving during the day. We were frustrated that we hadn't seen Yellow Wagtail as we always get one, but luckily at 7 pm we had a bird on the golf course as we drove past. A fruitless search of the quarries for Tufted Ducks followed (I won't mention the "Kite!" someone called) and we ended up at Chouet seawatching for Manxies. We missed out on shearwaters but we did see a superb Storm Petrel pass several times as it fed offshore. This was actually the best 'in-the-field' Storm Petrel I've ever seen - any previous have been very brief views, or silhouettes, or in-the-hand birds, so I was really chuffed. We saw the white rump well and even the underwing stripe. We then failed on LEO at dusk and headed home.
Our final total of 90 species was really good. Only the third time we had hit 90, and definitely in the top ten scores ever on a Guernsey bird race. It was a good day for waders but a poor one for land migrants - the two groups which make or break the day. We have to believe that one year we will hit the perfect storm and reach our Everest of 100 species. Such stuff as dreams are made on
birds : The only interesting bird sighting this week was the Hobby that I watched drift slowly North from the hide at the Vale Pond. Here are a few general wildlife photos from the last few days.
Peppered Moth trying to do what it is famous for.
However, a foot away, a Willow Beauty is rather more successful.
Nursery-web Spider on the shed - this was quite the biggest spider I have seen in the garden.
Little Robin - common in Guernsey, very rare in the UK.
birds : Quite a splendid Liberation Day for me today. After the previous two weekends of family abandonment, this was a weekend with no birding, spent relaxing at home. Late afternoon today, I took the kids out in the car to drop Rosie off at her friends house, and was slowly driving home along the coast road. As I passed Pulias Pond, I casually glanced out of the car window to see if there was anything obvious there, just as I always do, twice a day, to and from work. Of course there never is anything there, so I was pretty gobsmacked to see, wading around in the shallows, a superb BLACK-WINGED STILT! Incredulous, and thinking I was perhaps just daydreaming, I span the car round at Ronez and there it certainly was - a chuffing Stilt!
A fabulous bird for the self-found list, although as I have seen it twice in Guernsey in the last 12 months, not quite as mind-scrambling as it might have been. We pulled into the car park and I managed to get Abigail to look at it through the bins - "It looks like a tiny flamingo with black wings" was her assessment which isn't a bad description of a Stilt. Whilst this was happening, Anais had sprinted off down the path and Aidan was having a grump, so I couldn't really stay long to study it. So I snapped a few record shots with the phone before heading back. It was nice to find a rare bird that a) wasn't a pain to ID, and b) didn't scarper straight away. The first self-found tick I have had for about a year, and a total cracker!
Black-winged Stilt, Pulias Pond, 9th May 2011 - Self-found tickage baby!!
birds : On the way back from work I called in at Pulias and was pleased to see that the Black-winged Stilt was still present. I managed to take a few decent photos but the sun was so bright it was rather difficult.
Black-winged Stilt, Pulias Pond, 10th May 2011
birds : The constant sunny weather and clear nights mean that migrants have been passing over the island and not thinking of stopping. I have been out and about but only half-heartedly and with little reward. I did get a report of a Nightjar seen at dusk at Chouet, but is was already dark when I received the news. But I went out to look for it anyway armed with a torch - bit of a long shot, but you never know. Predictably, it wasn't there but I did see a nice Barn Owl.
moths : A mega sighting this evening, resting below the house outside light was a Scalloped Hook-tip - a first for Guernsey. This was rather jammy of me since I didn't get round to putting the trap out tonight. A new macro for the island is rather nice.
Scalloped Hook-tip, the garden, 20th May 2011 - new for Guernsey
birds : Today I went to check out some gull-ringing at Mont Cuet Landfill Tip. This is part of Paul Veron's excellent project, darvic-ringing as many gulls as possible in the Bailiwick to find out where they head for when they leave the islands, and he kindly invited me to help. It takes quite a few people to carry out the task so a team of expert gull-ringers came over from England. They had been doing it all week and Saturday was the last half-day session and the only one I could attend due to work. So at 6:30 this morning I donned hard-hat and high-vis jacket and Paul drove me into the site.
early morning at Mont Cuet
As we waited, gull numbers gradually built up on the rubbish tip. I was very pleased that the place was not very smelly today - perhaps the wind was in the right direction - but it was rather sunny. The method used is cannon-netting. This is using a large net, spread out in a line with 'rockets' attached to one end, which when set off, fling the net over a wide area and on top of a group of feeding gulls. To do this, a flat area is needed which was in the corner of the site, and this is baited with tasty, cordon bleu gull-food (a.k.a. putrified rank).
baiting the trapping site with tasty morsels
And then it is simply waiting for the gulls to arrive. And that's what we did. Waiting. Then waiting some more. Then some more . . . The tip closes early on Saturday and the gulls had not been anywhere near the trapping area. Some of the guys thought that perhaps the gulls had learnt over the last 5 days that that part of the tip was a danger zone and wouldn't go back. On the rest of the tip there were hundreds of gulls swarming (below)
It was nearing 9 am and we had been waiting a couple of hours but the birds refused to come down. The others were contemplating packing up and going home without catching any birds. But luckily, at the last moment, a few gulls started to land in the trapping arena.
gulls start to descend into the trapping zone
But of course it is not just a case of flinging it over whenever. If there are too few birds on the deck, it isn't worth it - if there are too many, it becomes unmanageable. If there are too many birds flying over the spot, they will get hit by the rockets and perhaps get injured. So the guy had to choose just the correct moment to fire.
BANG! The net hurtles over the gull flock.
Then it suddenly happened and I jumped, hence the wonky photo above. The net flew across and over the feeding gulls - quite spectacular. I stood there admiring the sight when suddenly, they were off!! Not the birds, but the ringers, sprinting towards the net before the gulls could escape. I was not prepared for this sudden burst of activity so I was lagging behind.
And they're off! The gull team run in to pounce on the gulls.
First job was to secure the edges of the net with piles of sacks so that the gulls couldn't crawl out. I am not sure how many were under there but I would estimate about 100. Due to the time constraints, they decided to just quickly put simple metal rings on the Herring Gulls - "Ring and Fling" apparently - and just keep the Lesser Black-backs for the proper Darvic ringing, since this species is the most interesting as it is a long-distant migrant, with some of Paul's birds reaching as far as Morocco in the winter.
As I am not an experienced ringer at all, I left the team to grab the birds and pull them out. My job was to keep hold of the rings and dish them out to whoever needed them. I was impressed by the efficiency of the team and the speed that they processed the birds so they were not trapped for very long at all.
"So What did you do at the weekend?" - "Oh, I was on my knees rummaging around the rubbish at the tip and wrestling seagulls."
The funniest thing was the LBB Gulls which had been put in sacks in the shade, ready for ringing and measuring etc when all the gulls had been freed from the net. But some of these LBB's were having none of that and every now and then you could spot a sack rolling across the floor trying to get away. Pretty hilarious to me. So the birds were all ringed, and the next job was to pack away and the unpleasant job of untangling the net from the rubbish.
It was very interesting to see what went on and I was impressed by the whole procedure. I don't know how these guys can do this all the time, they must be really keen to do this on rubbish tips every week or so. All credit to them.
birds/moths : A quiet end to the month, I mostly looked for birds of prey over the Fauxquets, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. Whilst there I did see the bluest female Common Blue I can ever remember seeing, and even wondered whether it was something rarer.
female Common Blue, Raptor Ridge, May 2011
other stuff : I also went this week on my first ever plant twitch. One of my goals this summer is to find some of the more unusual plants of Guernsey. I know I have seen about 150-200 species of the regular plants and so I am searching for the unfamiliar and rare. To help me, the Biological Records Centre have, on their website, a terrific atlas of Guernsey plants and you can zoom in to more or less the exact spot that they have been recorded growing. It is an amazing resource and well worth a look. I knew there is only one spot where the rare plant Field Eryngo grows on the island, on the edge of L'Ancresse Common, and I bowled up and ticked it off - easy as pie! It wasn't flowering, but being a close relative of Sea Holly, it was easy to pick out.
Field Eryngo, L'Ancresse, May 2011
Well tomorrow is the start of an epic voyage. We have never been away as a whole family before, but since Grandma is 90 in a weeks time, we decided to go to her party - madness! So a ferry ride to Weymouth, followed by a 5+ hour drive to Palgrave, Diss on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, where we have booked a holiday home for the week. I am a bit concerned that, when we drove down to L'Eree the other day, Aidan pipes up "Are we nearly there yet?". I would not be at all surprised if I had to make a phone call tomorrow - "Er, hi Grandma. You know we were coming to see you next week? Well, we have just booked ourselves into a TravelLodge in Dorset since we have totally gone round the twist. Maybe next year . . ."