Blog

Sun 26th February 2012

Posted on February 26, 2012 at 8:50 AM

Quiet times here on the island. During the last two weeks the weather has become mild yet again and so nothing new is arriving. It has been very pleasant though some of the time and the spring-like conditions are quite refreshing. The most unusual sighting as far as I'm concerned is the female Red-breasted Merganser that has taken up residence on Vale Pond. Although technically a coastal lagoon, this is the first Merg that I have seen here on Guernsey which has not been on the sea.

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On Monday I went plant-twitching. The Jersey Fern is quite a common southern European species but it does not get as far North as the British Isles. It was discovered in Jersey nearly 200 years ago, and in 1877, a few plants were discovered on a hedgebank, along a lane, here in Guernsey. Despite searching by various botanists, this species has never been found anywhere on the island apart from this one unremarkable lane in Castel, and here it remains after all these years. As it is, unusually, an annual species of Fern, the numbers fluctuate quite a bit and sometimes apparaently it can be very hard to find. So I was not at all sure of being successful when I set out to search in my lunch hour.

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The "Jersey Fern" lane - I shall keep it anonymous as it is a vulnerable species (although I am willing to lead expeditions into the Guernsey wilderness for a reasonable fee)

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It did take a while of 'getting my eye in' but I think I found a few tiny examples of the species. They were all very low down near the tarmac and on the unvegetated part of the bank, in amongst the liverworts. They did not seem very fern-like compared to what I'd normally class as a fern, but they are meant to be an unusual species. I am pretty sure the ID is correct but maybe some expert botanist will tell me I'm a fool.

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Jersey Fern - 20 Feb 2012

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Although I don't usually dust the moth trap off until the Easter holidays at the earliest, there is some insect life appearing already. Apart from a few micros in and around the house, the highlight was the Oak Beauty that was on the wall of the petrol station mid-week - only my second sighting of the species. It was also good to see that the camera on my new phone is pretty OK at taking moth pics so long as the species is big enough.

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Oak Beauty - Perelle Garage - 22 Feb 2012

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A couple of other miscellanea. If you are local to Guernsey no doubt you have seen this already, but a Latvian photographer was visiting the island and created an amazing HD time-lapse photography film. These kind of things are always brilliant anyway, but since this one included places that are so familiar, some that we see daily, it made it even more special. It is well worth a watch (click on the picture below for the link).

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Also the latest Gyr Crakes T-shirt is out, in commemoration of the Spanish Sparrow that has been bossing the bird tables of Hampshire this winter (or is it the one I saw in Cumbria all those years ago?). Click the pic below to access the store and see the other designs.

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Sun 12th February 2012

Posted on February 14, 2012 at 1:30 AM

Well, there has been somewhat of an improvement this week. We totally missed out on any snow at all here on the island - in fact, we had a light frost on just two nights altogether. However, the snow in the UK clearly pushed a few birds further south across the Channel. On Monday lunchtime, I went for a drive round some lanes above the Talbot and bumped into a group of 4 Reed Buntings feeding in a paddock. This does not sound very interesting, but this is the largest flock of Reed Bunts I have ever seen in Guernsey. Also in the skies above a group of 8 Buzzards were circling - a very good count for mid-winter.

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male Reed Bunting, Les Niaux, 6 Feb 2012

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On Wednesday there were at least 5 male Goosanders feeding off the Shingle Bank opposite La Claire Mare. There has been quite a lot of these moving through the UK apparently, as well as a few Smew, so there's a chance of getting one of those here too which would be a Guernsey mega. I just missed out on seeing the Bittern at the Mare but the female Pochard was there.

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drake Goosanders, L'Eree, 8 Feb 2012

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Other interesting sightings have included the Glaucous Gull again at the end of January, a Common Gull at Cobo on Thursday, and a male Bullfinch seen from the front window last weekend - the first house record since our first week here in Dec 2003. Also, a week or so ago, a Woodcock flew across the road early morning on the way to work - something that has never happened before. Apparently Woodcocks are really quite common in the valleys here in wintertime, but I only ever see one or two a year. The rarest personal sighting has to be the two Mottled Umbers that I saw withing a week under the lights at the school entrance - only my second and third records. So nothing majorly exciting, but starting to tick over a bit, and giving me more enthusiasm to get out an about over half-term.

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Snipe, Vale Pond, 10 Feb 12

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Primrose, Les Niaux, 6 Feb 2012 - Spring is on its way.

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To anyone interested in wildlife - especially photographers - a website I would recommend is iSpot. The idea is that you send in photos that they have taken and other, more expert, people will offer identifications for you. I have tried this a few times and it has worked pretty well so far. It is impossible to be able to identify everything you see yourself due to lack of time and literature, so having a bank of experts available to ID things for you is great. For example I sent in the photo below of a weevil that was in the garden a couple of years back and within a couple of hours the ID was sent in. All these identifications will then be used to more accurately map the distribution of species across the UK. It is easy to register and I would suggest you give it a go (click HERE).

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Black Vine Weevil, garden, August 2009

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Mon 23rd January 2012

Posted on January 24, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Just really checking in to report that there's nothing much to report. The weather conditions here are far too warm still and little new has arrived in the last couple of weeks. There was a touch of excitement when a Little Auk was reported at Pembroke, a week ago, but I was on the football field at the time and so didn't see it. There was some debate about the ID from people who did see it, and from the one blurry photo I've seen, it is pretty inconclusive - it could be a Razorbill or a Little Auk. The best bird I have found was a Black-necked Grebe in Perelle Bay - an uncommon species here. So no exciting pics, but here is a pleasant evening shot of a GBBG resting at Grandes Havres.

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Great Black-backed Gull - Grandes Havres, Jan 2012

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The warm weather has brought the resident birds out singing with gusto. Last year I hardly made any sound recordings at all and I intend to do a lot more this year if possible. To start off here is a Great Tit singing at the Claire Mare.

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I find these spectograms really helpful in understanding bird calls and songs. Only when I saw the graph above did I realise that the second note of the song is a 'falling' note. I really find it hard distinguishing bird songs in particular - I'm not so bad at calls, simply due to lots of practice and that they are always the same sound each time. But songs are too variable for me. A lot of bird song recognition is due to rhythm and timing which I cannot read at all (the evidence is in the Gyr Crakes songs!). Play me a Blackbird and a Mistle Thrush song straight after each other and I genuinely cannot notice a definite difference. I really struggle with differentiating Reed and Sedge Warblers even though I have heard lots and lots and lots every single year. Also, I have no "sound memory" - I cannot hear sounds in my head that I heard just a few minutes previously, never mind ones I haven't heard all year. Whereas I can still "see" quite clearly in my head the RBFly I saw on Blakeney Point in 1986. My birding mates who seem to be best at bird songs are also the ones who can play an instrument - I don't think it is coincidence. My lack of skill in bird-song recognition is a massive frustration to me, but I have grown to live with it, and I am trying to improve this using the Remembird as an aid. It is a good job my eyes and my brain are literally super-human to more than make up for this.

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Mon 9th January 2012

Posted on January 11, 2012 at 5:15 PM

Happy New Year folks! I have taken a break from updating this diary over the Christmas and New Year period. Mainly because the year ended with rather a whimper bird-wise, but also because I have been working on some other future projects during the free time I have had. The first part of the Christmas holidays was very dreary and Santa must've found it very difficult finding a few clear windows for his deliveries.

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Christmas Eve, leaving the necessary nourishment for Santa and the reindeer. I have it on good authority that he enjoyed his Raspberry milk-shake and Wagon Wheel - traditional Christmas fair for the big man.

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Modelling my Christmas Day presents.

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So there were no good birds around during the holidays - I had a couple of searches but it was all very predictable everywhere. At the end of last year there was all sorts happening, with Cattle Egret, Waxwings and Long-tailed Duck all turning up within a few days - but the end of 2011 was a disappointment.

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So hopefully 2012 will start a bit better and during the last week or so there has been more interest. The first bird on the year-list was a Mallard quacking at 2am as I strolled home in the rain from a New Years Eve party where, incidentally, people were certainly not following the firework code since a rocket whizzed past my ear and hit the wall behind me! [Remember kids, alcohol and fireworks should never go together].

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It wasn't until I had been back at work a few days that the first good birds turned up, with both Iceland and Glaucous Gull appearing on the same day on Friday. I couldn't find them after school but there were 2 Great Northern Divers and a Slavonian Grebe in Grandes Havres that evening. I went out for another search on Saturday morning and the Iceland Gull was resting on rocks at Chouet, then I discovered the Glaucous Gull briefly feeding on the nearby tip a few minutes later - easy-peasy! I also saw the latter this afternoon swimming by itself in the middle of Grandes Havres. There is a good chance of us getting a few more white-wingers judging from the influx that has happened up North.

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first-winter Iceland Gull - Chouet, 7th Jan 2012

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3rd-winter Glaucous Gull - Grandes Havres, 9 Jan 2012

On Wednesday, as I drove home from work past Cobo, I could see a few GBB Gulls clustering together on the beach, pecking at something. There appeared to be some kind of creature on the waterline and scanning from the roadside, I could see it was a dolphin. I parked up and ran down the shore just in case it was still alive, but alas it was well dead and had just been washed up by the tide.

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dead dolphin, presumed Common Dolphin - Cobo, 4 Jan 2012

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One thing that I did spend along time doing during the holidays was practicing with my new drawing tablet. I made the two pictures below with it. Sir Lala is my 'tag' for an online game that me and some of the guys play against each other - so this is a self-portrait as the brave knight Sir Lala! The other one is my mate "Disco Dave" re-living his youth as a monk.

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Saturday 24th December 2011

Posted on December 24, 2011 at 1:05 PM

The last two weeks have certainly been rather wet, wild and windy - nearly every time I have looked out to sea off the West coast recently I have seen Kittiwakes. But when the weather is bad at this time of the year it does restrict my birding to brief car-based scans of beaches and bays. Birds have just started to arrive in the bays - rather late compared to recent years, probably due to the lack of cold weather. Three Great Crested Grebes were in Grandes Havres last Sunday.

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A stormy morning at Grandes Rocques/Cobo

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One of my greatest simple pleasures is driving to work at high tide - especially when it is stormy. Driving the coast road at Cobo (above) with the waves crashing over the whole car is rather fun.

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But, we broke up for the Christmas holidays on Tuesday so there is a bit more opportunity to get out in the field. On Thursday I went into Town to get the final few presents and I drove back along the coast. Off Bordeaux car park there were three Red-breasted Mergansers feeding in the shallows just off the beach. I tried to get close to them for photos, but with very little cover, they soon swam off. 

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female Red-breasted Merganser, Bordeaux, 22 Dec 11, with Herm in the background.

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The water trickling down the beach at Bordeaux was making these very intricate patterns. The one above reminded me of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical sketches - perhaps an arm or something. (click HERE to see a few more on Flickr)

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Just past Bordeaux, there was a pair of Kestrels showing down to just a few metres along one of the lanes. I struggled to get in a good position though from the driver's seat but managed a few shots. After a few minutes I realised that there was a small line of cars behind me waiting to stop blocking the whole road - people are so polite on Guernsey, no honks or anything.

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Kestrel, Bordeaux, 22 Dec 11

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Other excitements this week have been my goal recorded in the island's historical sporting records (the local paper) . . .

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. . .and that I have got a new toy to play with. I have got used to drawing on the computer screen using my mouse - it comes out OK but is very unsatisfactory. So I decided to fork out for a drawing tablet - sort of an early Christmas present.

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It makes the computer drawing process so much quicker, and I am hoping that, once I have become very practised with it, to be able to draw and "paint" proper bird pictures with it. It has meant that I have been able to rattle off one of my "Just a Bird" cartoons really quickly. (click pic below)

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So Merry Christmas to all that read this, and have a preposterous New Year!