Blog

Sun 3rd March 2013

Posted on March 5, 2013 at 4:55 PM

The end of the winter has arrived and the sun appeared to welcome us into March. The birding highlight for me was the Barn Owl that I saw along my road - the first one I have ever seen in our immediate neighbourhood. Driving out at dusk on Tuesday I spotted one feeding over the large sloping field towards Capelles School. I couldn't stop but I returned two evenings later and positioned myself tucked in a hedge. As I was so well hidden and I barely moved, when the owl came in to hunt, it stopped and hovered just 10 yards in front of me. Definitely my closest ever Barn Owl - superb.

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Apart from that it was my usual no-birding February, but I did see the Black Brant at Fort le Crocq one day when I was chomping on my sandwiches.

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Black Brant - Fort le Crocq, 19 Feb 2013

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 Pied Wagtail - Cobo, 1 March 2013

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My pan-species listing is going along fine and I have got up to 232 species so far, which I think is pretty good progress. A few highlights below. More detail on the challenge, and also lots of interesting posts from other people on the 1000for1KSQ website HERE.

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 Parophonus maculicornis - garden, 20 Feb 13 - a beetle, notable because this is a non-british species [not identified by me I hasten to add!]

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Silverfish - kitchen, 25 Feb 2013

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Schrenkensteinia festaliella - garden, 2 Mar 2013

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Nothing else to report, so here's a Youtube combining the double genius of Zlatan and Partridge - Mega!

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Sun 17th February 2013

Posted on February 19, 2013 at 5:40 PM

I appear to have given up birding for Lent. Typically, nothing new has arrived at all in this late winter period and I have had trouble dragging my ass out into the field. I suppose that is why I am a birder and definitely not a birdwatcher. I am not satisfied with watching common species pottering around - it's not what I want out of my birding. I need to see rare and uncommon birds. I need to see migrants. I need to see the unexpected. 

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Chiffchaff - in the garden, Feb 2013

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At the moment though I am getting my fix of the unexpected by looking at the very small. As, due to circumstance, I am currently unable extend my horizons towards distant lands, I am exploring the the mysterious macro-world and I am finding some great discoveries. My 1000for1KSQ challenge is going great guns and I have hit 200 species already in my home 1K square. It really is a tough challenge which has involved poring over books and the internet. Here are a few of some recent finds.

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 Heliophanus tribulosus - inside the house, Feb 2013 - a super jumping spider. This species does not occur in Britain but lives on the Continent. There is at least one old record for Guernsey I think.

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 Garlic Snail - Baubigny, Feb 2013 - it stunk of garlic!

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 Grey-cushioned Grimmia - Les Effards, Feb 2013 - mosses can be a nightmare to identify.

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 Bristly Millipede - garden, Feb 2013 - these freaks are common on our garden walls. I always wondered what they were. I thought they maybe were baby woodlice!

 

Thu 31st January 2013

Posted on February 3, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Due to "lots-o'-work"-related issues, I have not updated here for a few weeks but I have been quite busy on the wildlife front. I usually spend mid-Jan to mid-March pretty much hibernating but I have been out and about as much as possible this year, spurred on by the challenges I have set myself.

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The snow which arrived (and disappeared) here on Friday 18th brought many, many birds to the island, pushed from colder climes abroad. After work on that day, I called in at Pulias on the way home and there were winter thrushes arriving in from the sea, some of them feeding amongst the seaweed. There were also flocks of Lapwings coming through and a few Skylarks going overhead, which is quite unusual to see at this time of year. Also there were two Firecrests feeding in the bushes just yards away. A superb 15 minutes burst of birding.

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Over the next few days these winter species could be seen everywhere, the main species was Redwing and there were literally thousands and thousands on the island. Every suitable field seemed to have hundreds feeding in there.

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Redwings on Vale Rec football pitch, which was covered in hundreds of these plus Fieldfares.

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This was quite useful for my "Footit" challenge and I added Fieldfare, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Wigeon to my total over the weekend of the 19th and 20th. The Golden Plover was on the school playing field nearby. But that was the peak of the action, because when the weather became a little warmer, the new arrivals stopped and birds became scarce again. So last weekend's "Footit" walk was a little more tame with few interesting birds noted and no additions to the list. However, a cancelled meeting after school today meant I could have a quick dash to the Garenne NR where I luckily picked up both Bullfinch and Siskin, just squeezing them in before the final whistle.

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So here is my final "Footit" checklist. I managed 76 out of my target of 80. I am very pleased to have found 76 species within just one mile of home and I am sure that I would have passed the 80 if I had the time. Reading the "Footit" blog, many of the birders on there seem to have spent days and days out in the field. I have added up my hours to just 12, so I think hitting 95% of my target is a pleasing effort. I don't think that many birders will have got better than 6.3 bpmph (birds per mile per hour).

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Other birds seen have been few, but I have been enjoying watching a Grey Wagtail feeding in the puddles below my classroom window all month. On the 24th I saw the Black Brant again at Vazon and there has been a fine-looking 2nd-winter Med Gull showing well at Cobo.

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2nd-winter Med Gull - Cobo, 22 Jan 13

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I have also been spending my time searching the area for ticks for the "1000 for 1KSQ" challenge. It really is amazing what variety there is out there when you go searching for it. I have just reached 150 species of organism in my home 1km-square, mainly by trying to identify groups that I have never really looked at before. The worms in the garden are not just 'worms', they are Redhead Worm and Blue Worm. The moss growing in the hanging baskets isn't just 'moss', it's Capillary Thread-moss. Those manky bits of scabby-stuff on the garden weeds are not just 'manky bits of scabby-stuff', they are different types of rust fungus. Looking closely opens up a whole new world you never knew was there.

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Common Green Shieldbug - garden, 26 Jan 13 - species number 150

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Of course, identifying some of these organisms is very, very difficult. I have bought a few books, but these can be somewhat daunting. Working your way through a Lichen key is like one of the choose-your-own adventure books where you keep getting killed and have to keep starting again. However, you can only learn when you set yourself challenges and with the help of the other guys on the 1000for1KSQ website, I am learning a lot (although snails are particularly troublesome at the moment). For some groups, the information on the internet is truly amazing. For example, if you find a species of bug wandering around, you stand a good chance of identifying it on the British Bugs website which seems to have all the species in Britain. I am constantly astounded what resources there are out there for the amateur naturalist.

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A tiny 3mm long snail which is found in our garden that I have provisionally identified as Pupilla muscorum.

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Pachygnatha clercki - Garden, Jan 13

Sun 13th January 2013

Posted on January 14, 2013 at 2:05 PM

My New Year's birding has been focussed on the "Foot it" challenge and, after three sessions of walking from the front door, I have found 70 species, which I am satisfied with as my target was 80 by the end of January. On 2nd Jan I walked out southwards from the house and you can read about it on the Foot it website here. The highlights were both Black-throated and Great Northern Diver in Belle Greve Bay, plus a bonus of finding a Water Pipit feeding on the seaweed at the Halfway. Still officially a rarity and my first find of 2013.

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Water Pipit - Belle Greve Bay, 2 Jan 2013 - a poor photo in the rain but you can see the bright white underparts and paler, browner upperparts compared to Rock Pipits. It also had bright white outertail feathers.

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On 4th Jan, I did a northern loop and got the total up to 67 (read about it here) but I missed a few species I wanted to get. Then work happened! And then on Saturday (12th) I had a quick walk specifically to search for Woodcock at the Garenne, and I put one up within 2 yards of crossing the stream. With Long-tailed Tit and Peregrine seen also, that brought me to 70. There are two more weekends of January left and so I am quite confident of hitting the 80, especially as there are a few species that I know are currently within the 1 mile radius of the house. Here's the total list.

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I've not been throwing myself into the "Patchwork challenge" yet but I have stopped at Pulias a few times on the way back from work, mainly because there seems to be lots of waders in Baie des Pecqueries at the moment. Both Sanderling and Golden Plover have been ticked off and I counted 80 Grey Plovers there in the week. Apart from that, on the first day of term, I used the more casual lunch hour to go see the flock of Pink-footed Geese at L'Eree, that I have inexplicably not been to see, even though they've been there for over two months.

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Pink-footed Geese - L'Eree, 7 Jan 2013 - the first ever flock of this species in Guernsey.

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I have been spending quite a bit of time on the "1000 for 1KSQ" challenge because this is something that you can do mostly at home and the immediate surroundings. As I have said, one of the benefits of doing this challenge is to identify species from groups that I have never looked at before. I had bought a few new books in preparation and have a selection of excellent websites to look at, which means that I have identified, for example, my first ever species of Moss, Liverwort and Lichen. It is rather tricky starting from scratch but I guess that's how you learn, and I have a mini-army of experts involved with the challenge which help to ID my photos and offer advice. [see the challenge website here]. Up to now I have identified 134 species in my km-square, and here are a selection of a few new species:

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Opegrapha atra - a species of lichen, on a twig by St. Sampsons School.

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Earth-tongue - a fungus growing out of a mossy bank on Epinelle Rd

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Rosy Woodlouse - in the garden. A bright pink woodlouse. Who'd of thought it!

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Cellar Snail - in the garden. I think that the only time ever that I have sniffed an animal to help identify it! (a similar species smells of garlic apparently)

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Empicoris culiciformis - this is probably the best thing I have found so far, crawling along the outside wall of the house after dark, it may be the first (or p/h second) record for Guernsey. It hasn't a full vernacular name but it should be the "Lesser Thread-legged Assassin Bug" and it is a 4mm long killing machine! 

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Pholcus phalangioides - not a new species because this is a close up of the very long-legged spider that is common inside houses in these parts, but I absolutely love everything about this photo! It has to be one of my favourite wildlife photos I've ever taken - with the evil eyes, transparent head and limbs, and the hairy legs just reaching out of focus, it looks like something from a sci-fi horror movie!

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Mon 31st December 2012

Posted on December 29, 2012 at 7:00 AM

The last post of the year and it is traditional for a blog to give a detailed summary of the year just gone - the highs, the lows, the laughs, the tears...... But that sounds a bit tedious so I will just sum up in a few sentences. On balance, I consider 2012 a poor year overall, especially for rarities. Most disappointingly I didn't find anything good - not a sausage. And the rare birds that did turn up on the island, and I actually saw, were either stuff we've had recently anyway (Desert Wheatear, Waxwing) or things that I didn't see very well (Greenish Warbler, RBFly). The Red-rumped Swallow was my highlight amongst the rares. So the bird highlights for me were the days when there was amazing passage of migrants - eg the Bird Race day when there were warblers everywhere, the October day with hundreds and hundreds of finches. Moth-wise, the year was really really terrible, and I hardley put the trap out at all. I have enjoyed though finding lots and lots of new plants that I've never seen before and also starting to get into new orders such as flies and beetles.

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female Blackcap - a Christmas Day visitor to the garden

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Looking ahead to 2013, the start of the year can often be quite slow, but I have a few projects lined up which should give me some fresh impetus to my wildlife-watching. I have signed up to three "challenges" which I have heard about mostly through Twitter. These challenges have all come about because of a move towards local birding and finding out what wildlife there is in your local area. One reason for this is the increase in petrol prices and the increase in travel costs in general. Traditionally, keen birders travel all round the country either to see rare birds or to go birding at famous sites, but this is becoming economically difficult for many. Each of the challenges is officially a competition, but I am sure they will be very frendly competitions. So the challenges are:

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1. The FOOT-IT challenge [website here].

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This is a short challenge just for the month of January and it is about how many species of bird you can find on foot from your front door. How far you travel is up to you but you must make it there and back on foot. Theoretically I could yomp all around the island on foot but realistically, thinking of family and time, I have chosen a radius of approx one mile from the house. You then work out a list of birds that you know will typically be present somewhere in that area during January. This will include some species that will be very difficult to find but, from experience, you know that there'll definitely be one somewhere in the area. I have come up with a list of 80 species that regularly occur in my area (see below) and I shall try to tick off them all. See my post on the Foot It website here.

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2. The PATCHWORK challenge [website here]

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This is a full year challenge and it is about how many species you can find in your local patch. I don't have a definite local patch as I visit a wide range of sites but, as the site I probably visit most often in the year, I have chosen Pulias Headland as my patch for 2013. A lot of birders have a local patch that they spend hours at a time covering, but because I don't have that luxury, I have chosen Pulias - I pass it twice a day to and from work, it is a very small area so I can cover it all in a short visit, it is close enough to home that I can 'pop-out' there quickly. Of course, every patch in the UK is very different, so the scoring system is worked out from which species you have previously seen there. It's complicated, but is explained on the website. The area I have chosen is probably one of, if not the smallest patches in the challenge, and is shown below.

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3. The 1000 for 1KSQ challenge [website here]

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This is of course the most important because it is the brainchild of my good mate Mr Muzza and I designed the logo for the challenge.

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This is not just a bird challenge but a "pan-species" challenge, which means any species at all be it plant, animal or whatever. This is even more local, because it is about how many species you can find in the 1km square in which you live, and the ultimate target is 1000 species. This sounds rather a lot, but really finding 1000 species in a km square isn't too hard a task. What IS hard though is identifying them to species level. You need the right equipment, enough knowledge, all the useful literature, and of course the big limiting factor is the time. I am certain that 1000 species is beyond me but I will be interested to see how close I get. This will involve many little walks round my local area and so, like the Foot It challenge, will be good exercise.

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So the end of the year is nigh. Out with the old man of 2012, and in with the bouncing baby of 2013. Rosie is at work tonight so I shall be seeing in the New Year with our own new baby - Mister Pickles! Happy New Year everyone.

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