We survived. It was a long and busy, and sometimes rather stressful trip, but we managed to get through it unscathed. The journeys were very long and the kids were very good in the car considering. The demon that is Condor did not help matters, with delays both ways - getting back to Guernsey at 12:30 am last night was not ideal! Meeting up with the family was great and the kids got to visit places that they haven't been before, like the Zoo, or Tesco, or MacDonalds.
Aidan perfects his famous Zebra-balancing skills at Banham Zoo
As it was a family-based holiday, I did not spend a large amount of time searching for wildlife. I took the moth net and did a bit of 'dusking' along the riverbank at Palgrave and on the heathland just west of the village. In the half-light I watched a bat fly up and down the river, which may have been a Daubenton's Bat. There were a lot of moths along the river but I saw nothing new for me, although I have a few micros which need investigation.
Silver-ground Carpet - Palgrave, Suffolk, June 2011
Udea olivalis - Palgrave, Suffolk, June 2011
I did manage two visits to a Suffolk Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve just down the road from Palgrave called LOPHAM FEN. I thought it was a super reserve and surprisingly large, one of the largest river valley fens in England apparently. The first visit was a quick visit with the family mid-afternoon, then I returned myself a couple of days later for an hour in the morning.
Lopham Fen Nature Reserve
There were plenty of birds present, but since we were well into the breeding season, it was mainly the usual suspects in the reedbeds, with lots of Acros and Reed Buntings. There were Jays and Treecreepers in the wooded areas, but the highlight was the Hobby circling close above the visitor centre.
male Reed Bunting, Lopham Fen, June 2011
recording of a singing Reed Bunting
The area seemed excellent for invertebrates, with plenty of common butterflies seen and lots of dragonflies - Large Red Damselflies, Four-spotted Chasers and Azure Damselfly all noted.
Azure Damselfly - Lopham Fen, June 2011
The top species for Lopham Fen though is the Fen Raft Spider, which only occurs in 3 small sites in the whole of the UK, this one being where it was first discovered. I thought that I would have less than no chance of seeing any in the massive network of pools and ponds, but we came across an area especially set aside for them. Small pools had been dug out of the peat and signs told you where to look. First pool, no sign - then straight away, on the edge of the second pool there one was!
Fen Raft Spider - Lopham Fen, June 2011
It is quite a large species and easy to id with the bright stripes down the sides. It was difficult to get a clear photo, trying to stretch across the smelly pool, and the family were marching away in the distance. I came back on my second visit and I checked lots of pools in that area to no avail, so it seems I was rather lucky. A top rarity, and probably something I will never see again in Britain.
birds : Just when I thought that Spring had finished and I could relax a bit more on the birding, I get the message on Friday - Subalpine Warbler at Pleinmont! This was only the second record for Guernsey - surprisingly under-recorded - and so it was a definite one to twitch. So after school I quickly got my stuff and headed for the headland.
When I arrived at the furthest car park, it had just recently been seen but had dived into the dense Blackthorn which carpets this part of Pleinmont. After a half-hour-ish, I saw the bird fly out of the bushes away from me and disappear again. And then a short while later, I saw it fly across the path in front of me very briefly. And then a short while after that it flew again away from me. And that was all I got on it! If I hadn't seen one before it would definitely not have been 'tickable'.
I couldn't go down this morning to look but I was pleased to hear it was still present and Mark Guppy managed a photo. Although the observers yesterday were pretty sure it was a Western Subalp due to extensive colour on the underparts, Mark's photo (below) suggested to me that it might be an Eastern race bird.
On this photo the bird appears to have a red throat contrasting with non-red breast, belly and flanks, which is a feature of Eastern Subalp. The reason that this is important is that it is very likely that these two races of Subalpine Warbler may be split into two species very soon like has been done with other similarly-ranged warblers. So I didn't know either way and was none the wiser after spending another two hours searching this afternoon when the bird had become displeasingly elusive.
Discussing the ID with Chris Mourant on the phone, I was telling him of my uncertaincies and asked whether he thought it would be an easy job to catch it, so we could have a proper look at it to be sure of the race. He said he could have a go and this evening I raced down to Pleinmont again, to see it in the hand.
male Subalpine Warbler - Pleinmont, 11 Jun 2011
Even studying the bird so close it was not very clear, but I guess the bird did have orangey colouration along the flanks, albeit paler than one would expect - probably a bit faded as it is getting late in the spring.
The white moustachial stripe was not very broad and the orange rather than brick red colouration below were pointers to Western. There was quite a lot of white on the belly though, which points more towards Eastern.
The clincher though was the wing-length, which at 57mm is too short for the longer-winged Eastern race. So my judgement of the photo was wrong, and the people who had the field views were correct. Shows that "record shots" are no substitute for proper field views and whenever possible one should try and get good, clinching views before snapping with the camera.
moths : The final week of June finally brought some hot weather and some good moths to the island. On 26th the conditions looked excellent and I put out the trap even though it was a school night, and I had 123 species, one of my best ever. And this included what appears to be a new species for the Channel Islands - the rather unspectacularly brownish tortrix moth, Pelochrista caecimaculana.
Pelochrista caecimaculana - St. Etienne, Guernsey, 26 Jun 2011 - first for Channel Islands.
Today I went for a stroll along Rue des Bergers during my lunch hour and the low-lying fields that are along the lane there, and I noticed a small moth flutter onto a Nettle leaf. I presumed it was going to be a Nettle-tap but it looked a rather odd little thing. Bringing it home and studying it, I found out it was Tebanna micalis - only the third record for Guernsey and a very rare migrant to the UK. Quite a lucky encounter it seems! I wonder if there is a small colony near there since there is bound to be quite a lot of its foodplant there - Fleabane.
Tebanna micalis - Rue des Bergers, Guernsey, 30 June 2011
The third good species was discovered walking round the Garenne nature reserve, when I disturbed two Syncopacma larseniella from the side of the path. A new species for me.
Syncopacma larseniella - La Garenne, Guernsey, 15 June 2011
Dark Arches emerging from the garden and drying its wings
other stuff :
Blue-tailed Damselfly - Port Soif Nature Trail Pond, 14 Jun 2011
Pyramidal Orchid - Port Soif dunes, June 2011
moths : There has been a great moth discovery in Guernsey in the last couple of weeks. Rich and Margaret were out and about when they saw a Fiery Clearwing on a Dock leaf. The next week, Peter went out with some pheromones and found there was a small colony in that area. This is a new species for the island, although it has recently been discovered in Alderney. In the UK this species is almost legendary and highly protected. It lives in just one small area of the Kent coast and you are not allowed to disturb it, catch it or even breathe near it. Obsessive moth collectors are getting fewer and fewer but there is a chance that a very ruthless collector may come over here to try and stick a pin in one. Hence, I am not going to reveal where the site is, and since the species feeds on Dock, a very widespread plant, it could be anywhere on the island.
Anyway, I borrowed Peter's pheromones - (well, the pheromones Peter keeps in his freezer, not Peter's own actual pheromones, that would be just weird) - and went out in the heat of the hottest day of the year on Sunday 3rd. The idea is that a tiny pot, full of the species-specific pheromone chemical, is hung on the foodplant, and the male moths come in as they think there is a 'responsive' female present.
the white splodge is the pheromone lure hanging on a dock plant
ithin a minute of hanging up the lure the first Fiery Clearwing came buzzing in. After 5 minutes, the maximum I counted at once was 7, but there was perhaps ten or so. It was amazing to see such a rare moth so easily and at close quarters. However, it was difficult to catch them stationary, and with the exceptionally bright sunshine, photography was difficult,but I managed a few acceptable shots.
Fiery Clearwing - undisclosed site, Guernsey, 3 Jul 2011 - this was by far the brightest one that came in. No other clearwing has such redness on the wings, such orange legs, and that spectacular tiger-stripedtail.
a more worn individual, with the reddish areas a pale orange
Of course this excitement eclipsed a new species of moth for the garden list. The not-so-spectacular brown-coloured tortrix, Celypha striana.
Celypha striana - garden, 2 Jul 2011 - new for garden list
birds : I suppose that, since July has arrived, we can say that Autumn has probably begun - for birds anyway. The early breeders, or non-breeders, or failed-breeders will have started to move away from their nesting sites, and one species that appears mid-summer here in Guernsey is Med Gull. The number of post-breeding birds appearing here is increasing year by year, but this summer the numbers have jumped up and at lunchtime on Thursday I had a single flock of 12 birds on the rocks at Fort le Crocq. This was easily the largest flock I have seen in Guernsey, nine of which were juveniles.
Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls, Fort le Crocq, 7 Jul 11
Also Thursday evening, I was out and about at dusk and popped in to Chouet, where two young Long-eared Owls were showing very well. Also one was giving the 'squeaky-gate' call really loudly and it was so similar to an actual squeaky gate it was quite funny. Unfortunately I did not have my sound recorder with me.
other stuff : The most exciting event this week was the arrival of a new toy. It is about ten years now since I bought my first digital camera - my Nikon Coolpix.
Even after these ten years and probably 100,000 photos it is still great and does a good job. It is great for macro and for digiscoping but it does have its limitations. Flight shots or fast-moving birds, virtually impossible - scenery shots, pretty average - convenience, not so good as I need to spend time to attach to the scope. So I bought a second camera to fill these gaps - a Panasonic Lumix FZ45.
The main reason this was chosen was it can zoom to 21X - which is practically the same as my scope. Of course the quality at this magnification reduces but it is still pretty impressive and excellent for a birder to take out in the field for record shots. It clearly takes better general shots, the colours being noticeably more vivid and it has lots of different settings for different situations. The macro is not as good as the Coolpix but you can use the zoom to get decent field shots of things like butterflies. And it has a viewfinder as well asan LCD screen which I find much easier to use. Technology has advanced a lot since the Coolpix and this camera has lots of "smart" features which make focussing and lighting etc a lot easier. And it can take movies! So I will still need to use both cameras - the Coolpix for digiscoping and macro, and the Lumix for everything else. Here are a few photos taken already.
moths : Last Sunday I went "pheromone-ing" again with the lures, looking for clearwing moths. I spent quite a while at Fort le Marchant with the Six-belted Clearwing lure in amongst the Bird's-foot Trefoil but there was no sign. The main purpose though was to find out if Fiery Clearwing was more widespread rather than just present at the original site. I tried 6 different spots moving north from the original spot but nothing arrived at the lure. I was just giving up and heading back to the car when I noticed a single large dock plant by the side of a lane and gave it a quick go. Two Fiery Clearwings immediately zoomed in!
Fiery Clearwings, undisclosed site, Guernsey, 10 Jul 2011
This spot was only a few hundred metres away from the first spot, but was in a lane with gardens between, so it was not contiguous habitat and I suppose a second site for the species. I would like to do a proper study of the distribution but I clearly won't have time. Although it was quite breezy, there were plenty of insects about, including my first Hummingbird Hawk-moth of the year.
Comma, Guernsey, 10 July 2011
A bit of microscope work has revealed another new tortrix moth for the garden list from last summer - Cnephasia stephensiana (Grey Tortrix)
Cnephasia stephensiana - garden, 13 Jul 2010
birds : The final week of the school year being Activities Week, I was out and about most of each day, although it tipped it down all Wednesday (babrecueing in the rain isn't so splendid). On three separate days a young Peregrine was seen either over school or at Saumarez Park. Whilst the kids were milling around the Park, I positioned myself for supervision by the large pines near the lake. Here a family of Short-toed Treecreepers kept returning and I managed a few shots. I have never photographed the species before which indicates the limitations of my previous camera.
Short-toed Treecreeper, Saumarez Park, 21 July 2011
moths : Recently, the weekends have been poor weather-wise, and since this is the only time I can get the trap on, then I have been missing out a bit onwhat seems like a decent year so far. However, on Friday night, I had what I believe to be a new tortrix moth for the Channel Islands - Eucosma obumbratana.
Eucosma obumbratana - garden, 22 Jul 2011
Dingy Footman f. stramineola - garden, 22 Jul 2011
Dingy Footman is a species which is common in Guernsey and occurs in two colour forms, a grey form and a yellow form (stramineola). This is quite unusual since, although moths vary a lot, these are generally either aberrant individuals or part of a 'continuous' variation. I have been taking a note of the number of each form recorded of this species in the last 4 years and the data is shown below.
birds : The final week of July and looking for birds still seems a bit of a waste. There's a chance of a rare seabird, but the time taken to find one is unreasonable for me. There's a chance of a rare wader but its a case of a quick check of the ponds and then what else to do? Passerines are starting to move through but these are british birds mainly and so little hope of a mega. As you can tell, not my favourite part of the year for birding.
moths : So it's a good job that it's an awesome time for moth hunting! Trying to get the trap out every other night and the week started well with a Chocolate-tip on Monday night. My second this year and yet only the third ever in Guernsey.
Chocolate-tip - garden, 25 July 2011
Tuesday we went on a family walk to the Fairy Ring at Pleinmont. This is the only place that I have seen a Forester moth ever, on the flowers by the cliff edge above the slipway. And indeed I soon found one in just the same place, feeding on a thistle, although it looked pretty old and scruffy.
As I was 'encouraging' it to start feeding on the top of the thistle for better photos, it seemed to jump off and land on my hand. Here it lay on its back looking more like a shiny beetle, and it seemed to have some kind of liquid on its legs. I wonder if this was either nectar from the thistle or perhaps some kind of defensive poison being secreted.
Forester - Pleinmont, 26 Jul 2011
the children indulging in some light paganism
The next day I was visiting Vale Pond briefly in the evening and noticed a gallery mine on a Sycamore tree next to the pond. Looking in the books the only species that seems to do this kind of mining on Sycamore is Stigmella speciosa - this would be a new species for the island. Can't actually add it to my list though since this was a vacated mine, i.e. the larva had long since left.
mine of Stigmella speciosa in Sycamore, Vale Pond, July 2011
On Friday afternoon I had a few hours to myself and so, despite the baking heat, I decided to look for any interesting plants and insects along the south cliffs. I headed first to Saints because in all the years I've been here I have never been down to the old harbour there. I was delighted I did so because it was splendid in the sunshine, and I had about 7 or 8 new plants including Sea Plantain, Tutsan, Enchanter's-nightshade, Rock Sea-lavender and Nipplewort (snort).
Tutsan, Saints valley, 29 Jul 2011
I then headed up to Le Gouffre. This was for a specific reason, because there is a rare type of grasshopper in Guernsey called the Blue-winged Grasshopper which lives on the SW cliffs only and not in the UK at all. I would have assumed that, in the 13 years I have been here that I would have bumped into one, but no. I tramped across the cliff paths for half an hour or so, and was about to give up in the heat, when suddenly a blue flash erupted from my feet.
Blue-winged Grasshopper - Le Gouffre, 29 July 2011
The blue wings cannot be seen at rest (although it also seems to have blue rear legs) so I attempted to get a flight shot by putting the camera on "multi" as I nudged it with my foot. Above is a composite of this. As you can see, it is a very bright blue.
Small Copper, Le Gouffre, 29 Jul 11
Shaggy Mouse-ear Hawkweed - Le Gouffre, 29 Jul 11
This week I have been mostly looking after the children by myself, so little in the way of birds has been seen. I have still been able to catch moths however and last weekend I caught another mega! I thought I had a second Chocolate-tip perched on the wall above the trap, but it looked slightly different and indeed was the first definite Guernsey record of Scarce Chocolate-tip. This is very rare in the UK, but does occur on Alderney and Jersey looking at the records.
Scarce Chocolate-tip - garden, 30 Jul 2011
Dark Spinach - less than 20 records for Guernsey
Also this week we had what I consider to be one of the most exciting events of the year - the emergence of hundreds of winged ants from the main ant-nest in our garden. I always find this exceedingly exciting. It is not something I ever saw when I was younger - maybe the northern ant species don't do this. It's always on a warm, muggy evening when they come out, and to see streams upon streams pouring out of the holes and climbing to a high spot to take flight is superb
I really should read up what exactly is going on. There seems to be three different types: small yellowish ants buzzing around; very large, darker beasts powering up to the launchpads; and smaller, blackish, winged ants in amongst these.
Still looking after the children and now also my wife who has returned from hospital after an operation. I've been out on a few walks with the kids and noted that it has suddenly felt much more autumnal. Swallows were passing Bordeaux regularly yesterday, heading south, where I also disturbed a Vestal moth from the vegetation. My first Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers have been noted also. So pretty quiet here at the moment due to my enforced inactivity, and probably will be the same for a wee while.
Goldfinch - in the garden, Aug 11
Great Dart - garden, 9 Aug 11 - a speciality of the Channel Islands
Icneumonid wasp sp. - garden,10 Aug 11 - these large wasps are common in the garden, and are often in the moth trap. This one was resting on the shed and lowered its rear end over its head at right angles to the shed.
Stigmella speciosa larva - Vale Pond - Aug 11 - I went back to the tree where I found the vacated mines last week, and managed to find one with the larva still inside. So this becomes number 699 for my Guernsey lepidoptera list - what will be number 700?
Another quiet week wildlife-wise as I am still mainly looking after the family - (hence the redesign of the website and the addition of the 'Gyr Crakes' section - click the link in the nav bar above to view).
Last night there was some drizzly rain and some easterly in the breeze and I thought there was a chance of a scarce migrant or something rarer. So I had a couple of hours time out at Fort Doyle/Fort le Marchant this morning. Unfortunately there was not a mass of migrants about but I had a pleasant walk nevertheless (and ticked Nettle-leaved Goosefoot). The highlight was a Hobby that motored in from the north, in off the sea and carried on south. It had probably left Portland or Start Point at dawn.
Willow Warbler - Fort le Marchant, 17 Aug 2011 - these bright autumn Willow Warblers are just splendid and one of my favourites.
The above Willow Warbler was found in the small 'valley' just to the East of Fort le Marchant approach road. It is a clearer area amongst the extensive gorse, with a few small willow trees and a little marsh. It is one spot that I have identified as a 'migrant trap'. These are small areas that always seem to have concentrations of migrants - today, all but two migrants warblers I saw were in these few trees. They are spots which are usually sheltered and often with slightly different habitat than the surrounding area which is more attractive to migrants. The kind of place to check early morning as birds will probably move on quickly. I have not found anything mega there - the best I think is a Wryneck - but I wish I had the chance to check it daily in migration season.
The 'migrant trap' at Fort le Marchant.
In the afternoon I managed an hours walk around Pleinmont but migrants were few. There were still a few Swifts feeding around the cliffs before they made their journey south.
Despite my lack of birding, I have managed two World ticks this week. Apparently the AOU have done some splitting and the American race of Kentish Plover and Moorhen have been split as two new separate species - Snowy Plover and Common Gallinule (?). I have seen these birds years ago on our family holidays to California and Florida respectively.
Snowy Plover - Tijuana Slough beach, San Diego, July 1993
The holidays are flying by, a lot faster than usual. My sister and family have now come for a visit so we are still busy, busy, busy. I had a lot of 'paperwork' I wanted to get done in the break from work but it's not happening! Bird highlight this week was a Tree Pipit going over the house early Sunday morning whilst I was emptying the moth trap.
I have had plenty of excellent moths this week, including a new species for the garden on Saturday night - Pyrausta cingulata - which, not only is a great-looking species but is officially my 700th species of lepidoptera that I have identified in Guernsey. Quite a milestone.
Pyrausta cingulata - garden, 20 Aug 11 - This is an uncommon and very local species in the UK, and with the easterly winds at the time, may have been blown in from France.
Gypsy Moth - garden, 20 Aug 11 - I get a few of these every year and it probably breeds here uncommonly. One of my favourite species, especially when looking at it from the angle shown below.
Orange Swift - garden, 17 Aug 11 - first in the garden for five years. Also shown below with its devil-horns.
When the family come to visit they always stay by Port Soif and so we often spend a few evenings on the beach where we go rockpooling. I am not very good at finding things but my brother-in-law is a Rockpool Ninja and finds lots of interesting stuff. We found a Butterfish and a Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab that I have never seen before, but it is very difficult to identify things that you find.
Aidan doing some "extreme" rockpooling at Port Soif - there was a young Shag feeding in these shallows and it was coming within a couple of yards of him (I deleted photos of this - doh').
Snakelocks Anenome - Port Soif, Aug 2011
Cushion Starfish (Asterina gibbosa) - Port Soif, Aug 2011
Sea Rocket - Port Soif Beach, Aug 2011
The family on the beach. Evenings such as this remind me that it was an excellent decision to move to Guernsey rather than stay in Leeds.
On Monday I had a fabulous seawatch from Jaonneuse. In a couple of hours I saw a Sooty Shearwater, about 5 Bonxies, an Arctic Skua, a handful of Manx Shearwaters, a few terns and a young Peregrine chasing things way out over the sea. You may say that this does not sound like a fabulous seawatch - just a few species, and mostly way off too - but it really was. As a birder who tends to go birding alone, it is a treat to be able to sit back occasionally with a few other guys and just chat about birds for a while. I could have seen no birds at all and would have still enjoyed it - thanks fellas (although you do remind me every time we seawatch that I missed the Tropicbird. . . .)
Expert seawatchers and me - Jaonneuse Point, Aug 11
Less fun though in the afternoon, when I sped over to Pleinmont to look for a Barred Warbler that had been sighted. An hour and a half of searching failed to relocate it, even though I had a brief possible when a greyish rear end dived into the brambles. There was rather a nice young Redstart there however which cheered me up.
A few days previous me and Abigail did some more rockpooling down by Lihou causeway with James and Duncan. We found lots more interesting stuff there - at least 4 species of crab, a Worm Pipefish, a Common Brittlestar, plus other unnamed beasties. The most interesting was something I didn't realise occurred in the UK - a Sea-spider
Sea-spider - Lihou Causeway, Aug 11
Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab - Lihou Causeway, Aug 11
I think I have worked out the mystery plume moth that I caught a week or so ago:
Stenoptilia bipunctidactyla - garden, 19 Aug 11
And finally, we had a cracking sunset one evening last week: