birds : I have been very restrained with the birding these last two weeks. It would be very bad form, after a week birding away from the family, to be spending time in the field. Also my lunchtime and pre/post-work sessions have been restricted due to extra revision lessons, report-writing, detentions and poor weather. All these ramblings are of course excuses why my Guernsey year list is still 160 and three short of beating my record. So my target for the next month is to get these three species lopped off, which should be pretty straightforward since there are some obvious ones I haven't got yet (I won't say which as this will deffo jinx them!). This week I have been out more often but it has been wet and chilly and there's not a lot of life out there.
birds : I am still very pedestrian on the birding at the moment, not helped by my second cold in just over a month. I have been popping into a few places - e.g, the first Great Crested Grebe of the winter at Grandes Havres, a lingering Common Sandpiper at Pulias Pond. I did squeeze in an hour or so in the Pleinmont area Sunday morning but there was just a few Skylark in the fields and regular Chaffinch passage going on. I did finally make headway in the year listing with a few Siskin in the trees by the garden early morning twice during the week. So very slow at the moment but it always is.
birds : I certainly wasn't expecting the sudden arrival of snow on the island last weekend, especially so early. I have never seen November snow in Guernsey before. There does seem to be a bit of a change in the winter weather in the island since I arrived. I saw no snow at all for the first five years I was here, perhaps the odd flake in the sky, but no proper, laying snow. But it has now snowed properly three years in a row, but if there is a change it is just probably cyclical.
So I woke up last Saturday to see snow on the ground, which is always a great sign for local birding since this generally pushes birds off the continent or Britain as it will be even colder there. A second small snowfall in the early morning on Monday, meant that all the schools were closed and I had a 3-day weekend. By lunchtime though it was fine weather and everyone was 'up in arms' about the skiving teachers and having to stay home to look after their children! But I didn't especially care as I was watching a Kingfisher on the rocks at Belle Greve Bay, which brought my year list to 162, which equalled my record! One more to get in a month - easy.
Early Wednesday morning there had been another small fall of snow but here in St. Sampsons it had not laid and I went to school. Up in the highlands of Beaucamps though the snow had laid and it continued to snowonand off all day with the fields all white. Only half the kids managed to make it into school - in one class I had one pupil - and of those lots were going home half-way through the day as it looked like it was getting worse. So if the Education Dept close the schools they get stick from half the people, and if they open them they get stick from everyone else. It was pretty cold and looked like it was to get worse. I stopped at Grandes Havres on the way home and had my first Slavonian Grebe of the winter and also a first-winter Common Gull. The thickest snowfall so far happened during the early hours today and I woke up to a totally white garden, and of course another day off work! Yay!!
I love walking in the snow, so before it all melted, I went for a wander from the house with my bins. I very rarely go birding by foot from home, and I decided to investigate the new footpath to St. Sampsons School. With this new footpath I could now easily walk to the Track Marais from home in just 20 minutes, and it was a wonderfully peaceful walk, well away from any traffic noise.
Immediately it was obvious that this fresh snowfall had brought birds in, with Lapwings being in the sky almost constantly during the morning, with finches and pipits flying about. Arriving at the Marais, it started snowing again and it looked very wild there. Two Marsh Harriers and a Buzzard flew around the marsh, and plenty of Snipe and a couple of Golden Plovers were flushed.
There were plenty of Meadow Pipits feeding on the icy pools and I saw one Reed Bunting fly in. Disappointingly I couldn't find any Jack Snipe. Along the lane on the way back I found a Mistle Thrush perched in a hawthorn, another good winter bird. As I passed the quarry at the end of the road I stuck my head over and saw that there were 4 Tufted Duck feeding there, and more surprisingly, a female Wigeon was with the Mallards.
The most surprising aspect of the day though was that I had not one, not two, but three new species for the house list in just a couple of hours. A Teal flew over with a small flock of Mallards - a Golden Plover went North over the house around lunchtime - and mid-afternoon a group of 5 Snipe shot over also. So that was very odd, but with these sudden cold snaps, anything is possible.
birds : Today dawned with very little snow here in St. Sampsons and so I was expecting a return to work. But no - most of the island's schools were still off. However, we had had a message from the headmaster to listen to the radio at 10 for an update. I was listening to the intellectual giant that is "Island FM" and at 10:15 they broadcast a message that most schools were opening, but schools x, y, z etc were going to stay closed. Ours wasn't listed so I quickly got dressed for work and packed a lunch and hurried off. When I drove up to the top of Beaucamps hill, it was much more snowy and icy but there wasn't exactly many people about. Apparently it was duff gen - it was closed after all!
Since I was out and about and had my birding gear with me I decided to make the most of it and set off for L'Eree where I expected to get the one species I needed for my record year-list. It soon became apparent exactly why the school was shut when I turned the corner to drive down the hill and promptly slid ten yards! Luckily I managed to stop and change to 4-wheel drive and crawled down the hill, where only a few hundred metres away, there was barely any ice or snow.
In L'Eree car park I joined Liz and Bob who were scanning L'Eree bay. Even though the tide was quite low, we had 5 Slavonian Grebes and 2 Great Northern Divers feeding just off the rocks. Then Bob picked up my main target and reason for being there, since they were found the previous day - a flock of 5 redhead Goosanders! Excellent - 163 for the year - my best ever in Guernsey. And a flock of 5 Goosander in local waters is an excellent record, the largest number that I can recall being here since I arrived. Then soon after that, I was looking through the waders on the beach and picked up a Knot - a second year-tick within a few minutes. After that I had a quick look on the Aerodrome before returning home and there were loads of birds feeding on there. Lapwings and Golden Plovers were dotted around and there was a flock of c.30 Dunlin just feeding in the grass, which they very rarely do there. I also found two more Knot along the side of the scrape, and a couple of White-fronted Geese - year-tick number three! White-front records on Guernsey are always a bit suspicious due to the feral flock which we have here, but those birds generally stick to the North of the island, and these two were part of a group of 13 which arrived on the Aerodrome in the cold weather a couple of days ago, so I'd give them the benefit of the doubt. And they looked very smart with superb black barring on the belly - unlike the feral chav ones up in the north.
birds : Another week without being able to get out birding very much. The highlight was on Monday when I had a Great Northern Diver at Grandes Rocques in the morning, followed by a group of three divers at Grandes Havres in the afternoon - 2 Great Northerns and a Black-throated. I am looking closely at the divers this winter to see if the Pacific comes back again, like the Cornish and Welsh birds did.
birds : This week has been a dipping week really. At the weekend I rushed up to Vale Pond to see a Bittern but no sign. I went to Grande Mare to see the Goldeneye but it was nowhere to be seen. I looked for Red-breasted Mergansers to no avail. I couldn't even find the Water Pipit on Wednesday. It is a good job that I have already beaten my year list or I would be panicking at the moment. I did see a female Goosander feeding in Belle Greve Bay on Sunday.
birds : With a short time free after some shopping in town (by shopping I mean visiting a few shops and collecting vouchers), I popped to the Grande Mare to have another look for the Goldeneye that I missed last week. This time it was feeding actively on the main pond and showing well.
One reason that I did want to see the bird was that on some photos I'd seen, it seemed to have an unusually pale bill. There is a lot of pale on the bill but it was not very extensive or obvious in the field, and the head shape was nothing out of the ordinary to be the other species. Nevertheless, a very rare species for Guernsey, this is only the third record in the last ten years. Oddly though it was a regular visitor in the 1970's, 80's and 90's, but suddenly tailed off. Also on the same lake were a flock of 2 male and 2 female Pochard, not a common species here either.
birds : A Merry Christmas to everyone! Although I had a Christmas Day totally at home this year, I enjoyed watching a female Blackcap in the hedges opposite feeding on berries and a small flock of Lapwings flying around. I managed to get out for a couple of hours yesterday morning, and had what will probably be my final new bird for the year, when a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers flew past Chouet. There are lots of gulls around at the moment but I wasn't keen to search through them as the wind was strong and coming straight off the rubbish tip. Just offshore though in the surf were a couple of Common Gulls, which were soon joined by two more - 2 ads and 2 1st-w. Common Gulls are not at all common of course in Guernsey, and such groups only ever arrive during severe weather elsewhere.
After watching the gulls, I checked out Marais Nord,but again the stiff wind was affecting the small birds too and I only found single Firecrest and Chiffchaff.
birds : After three days of being mainly inside doing lots of Christmassing (which mainly involved me elbowing the kids out of the way so I could play on the new Wii), I was pleased to be able to get out this afternoon for some birding. My first port of call was L'Ancresse/Pembroke Bay (I have no idea why this bay seems to have two names, but quite a few sites in Guernsey do) where a Long-tailed Duck had turned up on Boxing Day. The tide was high and viewing conditions were good, but it took me ages before I spotted the bird. This was because it was feeding very actively, diving deeply and only pausing briefly between dives. Also it was not that close inshore, so photographs were almost impossible.
Long-tailed Duck is a major rarity in Guernsey with only 12 previous records, and this is the first twitchable one since 1997 when a male was in this same bay. This was before I arrived in Guernsey, but I did see the next bird when one landed on the sea off Jaonneuse Point in October 1998 whilst I was seawatching. I didn't really appreciate how rare it was at the time. I am presuming that this is a male bird due to the clear pink spot on the bill, and no doubt a first winter. The odd pale grey feather is coming through the brown.I spent the next hour searching various spots in the Vale for the Cattle Egret that had been seen at a couple of sites on Christmas Day. I couldn't find it though and I saw little else apart from a Great Northern Diver off Chouet, but as I returned home I received a tip-off (thanks Dave) that a Bittern was showing exceptionally well at the Grand Pre.
So I headed back out again and yomped down to the hide and straight away I could see the Bittern stalking along the edge of the pond just inside the reed edge, really close to the hide. I scrambled out the camera but I was concerned it was now very late afternoon and the light was going. I then realised that the bird was in fact far too close to get it all in the frame. But I got a few pics in the end despite the problems.
In the above photo you can see the vignetting in the corners as I could only just get it into the scope. It was interesting to watch how the bird fed. It found a new spot a yard or so ahead, then reached down low and dipped its bill into the water.
It then turned its head sideways so that its eye was just above the surface of the water, and it appeared to be peering into the shallows looking for movement, before snapping up any prey that it saw.
Although Bitterns are annual winter visitors at the moment to Guernsey, this was the first one I had seen here since 2002, so it was a very welcome sighting. On the way out of the reserve asit was getting dusky, two Firecrests were showing well and calling beside the path.
Upon returning home, I discovered that the Cattle Egret had been re-found in St. Martins - no wonder I couldn't find it - and also later this evening, a flock of 4 Waxwings had been seen on Christmas Day in a Castel garden. I know where I am going tomorrow!
birds : So this morning I went searching for the Waxwings that were reported a few days ago. I found the little clos and walked in there, bins-less so as to not worry the residents. I couldn't see them in the Highlands Estate clos where they had been, and had a half-hour walk round the general area with no luck. I thought they might still be around though, as Waxwings tend to appear and disappear suddenly in the same trees as they go around their feeding circuits. So I was going to check again later. I also went for a brief search for the Cattle Egret but there was also no sign - so not a terrific start.
Later on in the afternoon I got a call to say that some of the guys were watching a single Waxwing in the same clos and it was showing exceptionally well. I had to wait a while until Rosie came home but I shot back there late in the afternoon. Now with better directions I found the correct garden and straight away saw the Waxwing sat in the centre of a large berry tree. I kicked myself that, this morning I may have seen it first time if I had've walked just 20 yards further into the estate as this tree was hidden behind a wall from where I looked from earlier.
Unfortunately, the bird was not so helpful for photography since it was staying right in the middle of the tree and it was difficult to find a spot where it wasn't obscured. Looking in detail at the wing pattern (below) it appears that it is a first-winter bird since the primaries only have white/yellow in the outer web, which does not curve around the tips to the inner web as on an adult bird. This bird has two very worn, paler brown outer primaries.
It was a superb bird and it was terrific to watch it at such close range. It seems to have lost the rest of the flock, which may mean that it needed to feed up and regain energy compared to the other three. There are plenty of berries left on the tree, so it may stay for quite a few more days.
With this bird and the two yesterday, this brings me up to 170 for the year list, which would be a very nice total to finish on.
birds : There are now 7 Waxwings in the Castel flock and I went down mid-morning to see them. However, I did not see a flock, just another single bird - but a different one than the one I saw the other day. This one was coming down to apples in a garden by the main road next to the Hotel de Beauvoir along Rue Cohu. It showed exceptionally well, but again was difficult to photograph due to the bright sun in the wrong place, and being obscured by hedges or fences or twigs etc. But it was a superb ending to 2010 - a beautiful bird on a beautiful winters day.
Fri 7th January 2011
birds : The first week of the year has been a pretty dreary affair, with rain and cloud dominating the weather and the return to work always cheerful, not. The exciting bird arrivals during the last week of last year have not continued and nothing new has come to the island.
I saw the Long-tailed Duck again - much closer this time feeding in the surf just off the beach, although I didn't have my camera which was a shame. I was with Anais who was so pleased to get LTD on her list, that she decided to run into the sea, forgetting that it was January and she was fully clothed. I also called in to see the Waxwing again - I could go back time and time again to see this species. One bird seems to be sticking to the apples along Rue Cohu which is pretty close to my school. It was showing on the correct side of the tree this time, so I managed a few unobscured photos, although it was exceptionally dull and rainy, and I had to just use the car window as a rest for the 'scope. Still haven't managed what I would call a 'cracking' shot of it yet.
I finally managed to import some Firecrest calls that I recorded at the Grand Pre after I saw the Bittern a week or so ago. They are much more distinct and clear that Goldcrest calls, more of an obvious "peep peep peep".
spectrogram of Firecrest calls, Grand Pre, Dec 2010
moths : The first moth of the year, at the kitchen window on New Years Day evening - a presumed Acleris hastiana.
Fri 14th January 2011
birds : At the moment it is not a great time to be alive if you suffer from S.A.D. It has been bloney miserable all week this week - constant drizzle and wind and fog and rain - the light levels making it seem like evening most of the day. The headline news here in Guernsey is that the Pacific Diver is back again, although I haven't seen it yet. It was terribly elusive last winter and it seems to be keeping up that habit. I did see a Black-necked Grebe at Cobo though which are much scarcer than Slav here.
It was slightly brighter on Tuesday lunchtime so I popped over to St. Andrews to look for the Cattle Egret that was now along the lane behind the church. I couldn't find it there but driving around looking for cows, I found it in a nearby lane.
Fri 21st January 2011
birds : The Winter has warmed up again to typical temperatures, which means no new arrivals escaping the cold. So pretty quiet out and about. I have spent some time searching for the Pacific Diver to no avail. There has been Great Northern at Grandes Havres regularly but no sign of the rare one. Two more Great Northerns were in Cobo Bay mid-week along with a Slav Grebe. The other sighting of interest was an adult Yellow-legged Gull at first light on Vazon Beach on Wednesday morning, but the sun was not high enough for any decent photography.
Fri 28th January 2011
birds : The birding doldrums are upon us. It seems at the moment I am preferring to sit cosily in the staffroom rather than giving it some welly at lunchtimes. And it will probably be so now until April. I did visit the Grande Mare/Rue des Bergers area on Tuesday lunch and was pleased to see that the Goldeneye was still present on the pond.
Fri 4th February 2011
birds : No new rarities arriving here, so pretty much as it was. I saw the wintering Water Pipit at Fort le Crocq yesterday but that's all. Now that they are working on building the new school adjacent to ours, they have cut down the line of trees across the playground from the staffroom. This means that whilst having my numerous cups of tea at breaks and lunch etc, I now have excellent views across the island, right across Grande Mare to Vazon. With the first sunny days for ages this week, I saw two Buzzards soaring one day and a massive Peregrine fly past the next. It is such an excellent viewpoint that during the Spring, it has the potential for some good soaring-bird sightings. I shall have to secrete an old pair of bins in the staffroom somewhere just in case.
Sat 12th February 2011
birds : The less said about the weeks birding the better - year-ticking Stonechat is hardly a highlight. Although, is it just that my 'highlight threshold' is so high nowadays? A beautiful, sunny winters day this morning and, as I finished my cup of tea by the back door, a Peregrine blasted overhead, and then a female Marsh Harrier drifted low northwards. I looked up at both birds, but didn't even reach for my bins which were just a couple of yards away on the fridge. Rewind 20-odd years, and my teenager-self would have been having some kind of fit after such an amazing sighting. Both species would have definitely been classed as magical at the time - the harriers were only ever seen at distance quartering the reedbeds on my annual Norfolk trips, and I'd only ever seen Peregrine once. I guess this is why many birders "phase". You see them around for a while and they are dead keen and birding all the time, then all of a sudden they stop seeing new things all the time and then gradually stop looking. If you don't 'phase' then birding must have taken hold of your DNA, and you have no choice in being a birder. Birdwatchers are into birds - Birders are into birding. It may be a subtle difference, but it's an important difference.
moths : The Entomologist's Record arrived through the post this morning and the main paper was that a new 'British' species had been found in Guernsey, which will be called the "Southern Grass Emerald". Of course I knew that this was the case but I have not been able to mention it until Phil and Peter's paper had come out - Lepidopterists are very secretive. 'Small Grass Emerald' had been recorded from Guernsey on and off for over 100 years, but a few years ago Phil Sterling looked at the habitat and thought it a bit odd. So during the last few summers we have been searching the area (Pleinmont) and catching some individuals and Phil eventually confirmed that the moths were not the 'Small GE' but its more southern counterpart Chlorissa cloraria, which occurs mainly in southern France and the Med. It is only very subtly different but, as in a lot of cases with moths, habitat choice is the key. And it was nice to get an acknowledgement.
Sat 26th February 2011
birds : I've taken a couple of weeks off from updating this diary whilst it has been so quiet. Nothing new seems to be arriving still. By the end of February, I suppose the winter birds have got as far south as they are going to do and are just biding their time before returning north. There are signs of spring though with the thrushes singing and Magpies nest-building across the way.
moths : Moths have started to appear at the windows, so things are starting to emerge - but nothing unusual seen yet. There are more insects flying around the garden, including lots of tiny flies with hairy wings that may be mistaken for micro-moths. These are called Moth-flies or Drain-flies or Owl-midges (I think).