Blog

Mon 3rd June 2013

Posted on June 5, 2013 at 3:30 PM

Well, that's Spring gone more or less and no more rarities have been found, which is very disappointing. The most interesting personal record was of another Tree Pipit at Pulias, again in the Tamarisks by the car park just this morning. This is exceptionally late for this species and shows just what an odd and late Spring it has been. I can find no documented June records of Tree Pipit for Guernsey, so a pretty good record. Although I haven't seen them, there is also a late influx of Spotted Flycatchers going on and there is still a Short-eared Owl hanging round at L'Eree.

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Last weekend I went away to France on a Jolly-boys outing. It was Murphy's stag weekend and so we spent two riotous days in St. Malo. It was a superb trip of beer, food and laughs in a beautiful old city. I would like to give more details out, but of course we have a strict oath of secrecy.

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Birding was not exactly high on the agenda but I enjoyed watching the Swifts flying round the old city walls, and listening to Black Redstarts singing from the rooftops.

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male Black Redstart singing from a St. Malo rooftop

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female Black Redstart feeding in one of the town squares

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Swift - St. Malo - 27 May 13

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I also took a few photos of the old city, mostly taken early one morning when I was trying to walk off a rather sore head. One is shown below, but you can view the rest HERE.

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On the 1000 for 1KSq challenge I have just passed the 500 species mark with Privet Hawk-moth. Being only half-way there means a long way to go!

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Privet Hawk-moth - species number 500!

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Also, it was good to hear in the news recently, that a new species of bird had been discovered in Britain, which appears to be quite common, especially in the countryside around London and the South-East.

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I can't believe that the country seems to have gone back in time a couple of hundred years and is run by a set of toffs from Eton. This Government's record on nature conservation already is abysmal. First Buzzards secretly "got rid of" on shooting estates and now Badgers to be slaughtered because some farmers want them to be. Seems like the Tories doing favours for their old chums as usual. If you were someone who voted these devious muppets in, then I, and the wildlife of Britain, thank you. Cheers!

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Sun 19th May 2013

Posted on May 19, 2013 at 3:55 PM

We're still awaiting the spring rarity here on the island, the one I need for 250 Guernsey birds. Although the bulk of the migrants have now passed through, I cling on to the age-old birding maxim, "the big one comes late and on its own". Meaning that the very rarest birds often arrive after the main migration has finished - very late May or early June - and so you can be wandering around seeing practically zero migrants, and then something mega pops up in front of you. It's always remembering that when the days are getting warmer and the birds are getting thinner on the ground.

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Rarest bird of the first two weeks of May has been the young Spoonbill that spent a couple of days at the Claire Mare. Although, not so rare any more, it still feels and looks like a proper rarity. On Wednesday 8th, the day it was discovered by Chris B, I popped down to see it in my lunch hour and it was parading back and forth right in front of the hide. It didn't even mind about me noisily chomping on my Quavers as I tried to take some pics.

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Spoonbill - Claire Mare, 8 May 13 - bit of an ugly, big-nosed bugger (don't say it.....)

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My other favourite sighting was of a Tree Pipit at Pulias. Although it isn't exactly a rare species, rarely do I get to watch one at close range on the deck. This bird was feeding in the grass and when the dog walkers disturbed it, it went right into the middle of the Tamarisk clump, hopping around like a Dunnock under there.

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Tree Pipit - Pulias, 16 May 13

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Swallow - Pulias, 15 May 13

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Just this morning, I reached 450 species for my '1000 for 1KSQ' pan-species listing challenge with a Poplar Hawk-moth in the moth trap. But easily the highlight of my insect-hunting was a tiny little moth I found on Friday. I first saw it perched on the kitchen wall in the morning, didn't recognise it, but failed to collect a pot in time as I was running around getting the kids ready for school. Luckily, later that afternoon I saw it again on the wall, just inches from the back door and I caught it, photo below.

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Dryadaula pactolia - inside the house, 17 May 13

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It seemed distinctively-marked and so I was surprised that I couldn't find it in any of my books. So I browsed the internet and soon found it - Dryadaula pactolia - related to the clothes moths. This was definitely a new species for the island and reading about it, there seems to be just a handful of records for the whole of Britain! Apparently, this species originally comes from Australia or New Zealand, but can be rarely found in distilleries and wine cellars in Europe as an adventive species. But what the hell is it doing in my kitchen?! I don't think there are going to be many wine cellars around here. I suspect that it pupated in a case of wine, which was then imported to Guernsey and then hatched out and flew into our kitchen. Nonetheless, a mega record!

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White Woodlouse - garden, 11 May 13 - been looking for this ghost-like species all year. It only lives in ants' nests - it's a wonder how these things evolve for such niches.

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Xanthogramma pedissequum - garden, 12 May 13 - a hoverfly, whose larvae apparently also live in the same ants' nests as the woodlouse.

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Gooden's Nomad Bee - Les Effards, 12 May 13

  

Sun 5th May 2013

Posted on May 9, 2013 at 2:15 AM

GUERNSEY BIRD RACE 2013

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The Sunday before the May Day Bank Holiday is the official day for the Guernsey Bird Race and it has been for 27 years. Last year we didn't take part in the proper race as we did it on a different weekend, but this year we were back in the game. We did pretty well this year, but we are still waiting for the planets to align and us to achieve the magical one hundred species and nirvana.

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The Sultans of String - myself, "5-sites" Mourant, The Gupster, and Sgt-Major Turner - the One Direction of the birding scene.

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I'm just going to give a quick run down of the highlights of the day as I don't have any photos for illustration, because if your stopping to take photos on a bird race, you're doing it wrong!

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Meeting up at half-four, we discover, as usual, that Mark and Chris had a Barn Owl from the car on the way, but it wasn't a problem as we all soon had a bird calling from near a nest box. Heading across to the Claire Mare at first light, we ticked off a couple of Snipe from the hide which can be elusive on bird race day and we lopped off plenty of common species as we slowly made our way south to Pleinmont to catch the early-morning migrants.

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Up on the headland there was clearly not a fall of migrants but a Ring Ouzel perched up in Mabel's Field was a bonus. Here we also had flyover Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtails, and a surprise was a Snipe flushed from the scramble track. Even more surprising was a Kittiwake passing offshore - I've never seen a Kittiwake from Pleinmont before. 49 species.

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This year we didn't have to worry about catching high tide until late in the afternoon so we headed straight to Saumarez Park to try and find some singing warblers. Unfortunately neither Willow or Wood were forthcoming but we had good views of a Garden Warbler near the pond.

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After ticking off Swift and Tufted Duck at Grande Mare we decided to head up to the north of the island, checking Pulias on the way. Just as we were looking for waders on the beach, Mark spotted a magnificent Short-eared Owl flapping in our direction. Definitely a bonus bird and a local patch tick for me too! It seemed to get spooked by the clay-pigeon shooters and appeared to head out to sea. 61.

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After that we slowed down a bit, checking a few sites but nothing unexpected seen. Wayne had a bunting-type bird in flight at Ft Doyle but it disappeared quickly. Both Raven and Jackdaw flying over the Grand Pre were unusual, and a Common Sandpiper flew from Miellette beach. We headed for Town to catch the boat to Herm.

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From the ferry we quite easily saw Guillemot and Puffin but couldn't see the more elusive Razorbills. Whilst waiting at the dock in Herm, we had just decided to leave without them when I managed to pick 3 up through the 'scope, close in against Jethou. So we returned straight away but at £3.83 per tick the auks were quite expensive! 72.

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After a quick break at Jerbourg for a cuppa, the weather was amazing and we watched hirundines piling in off the sea. Next stop was Petit Bot where a male Firecrest was singing and showing excellently. We may have had a brief Wood Warbler here too but we weren't sure. Then whilst ticking off the Peregrines on the south cliffs, the other three saw a large, distant raptor heading inland. They were quite sure it was Osprey but couldn't be 100%. 

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Now it was mid-afternoon, we were on 74 species and we had to start "mopping up". We visited various sites in the west with Claire Mare scoring us Shoveler, Greenshank and the elusive Heron. We spent quite a bit of time at Pleinmont but a Whinchat was the only news species, although we had both Garden Warbler and Firecrest at Vaux de Monel. Again, the other three saw a huge raptor way out over the sea which they thought was Osprey - perhaps the same bird - but they couldn't quite clinch it. 78.

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As the tide had turned and it was starting to drop quickly, we turned our attention to waders and found four new species at Vazon - Bar-wit, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Turnstone - and also (thanks to a kind tip-off from another birder) we raced back to L'Eree and ticked off a superb Golden Plover on the Old Aerodrome, which luckily flew in just as we gave up and were leaving. Now we were on 83.

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Next was the Guet where Goldcrest was easily found calling in the pines, then Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming and seen at a site on the outskirts of St. Peter Port. Bullfinches couldn't be found at Dell Nursery but we easily found them in the Talbot soon after - 86.

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We then went to Port Soif to tick off Stonechat as we knew that there was a pair there. We never used to have to go to a specific site for this species, as we always just bumped into one - clearly in decline. 87.

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Running out of species, we searched unsuccessfully for Grey Plover before grabbing some chips for tea. It was now well after 8 o'clock and the light was dimming so we headed off to Chouet for our usual evening seawatch. We didn't need the Manx Shearwaters we saw as we'd had one off Pleinmont earlier, but in the failing light we did see a few very very distant Storm Petrels way off shore. 88.

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We were quite happy to finish on 88 although we knew that one more species was possible after dark - Long-eared Owl. We waved to one of the other teams who were sat in their car waiting for a LEO to emerge and we decided that we couldn't be bothered to do the same after a long day. So we headed home across L'Ancresse Common, and...... WHAM! A Long-eared Owl almost smashed into our windscreen as we drove away! Lucky is not the word. 89.

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So we finished on 89, which turned out to be the highest score of the day. We felt we'd been quite lucky, so we were quite fortunate I suppose. We have been amazingly consistant in the Bird Race (when we have done it on the official date, and when we have completed a full day). In the last seven races we have had 88, 88, 89, 88, 88, 90, 89. So only two species variation in all those years. All our full races are shown on the graph below.

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Maybe the magical 100 is now beyond us. Maybe it is due to species disappearing as breeders in Guernsey. Maybe it is due to declining numbers of migrant birds countrywide. But for us, the competition with the other teams isn't the important part. Our raison d'etre is always the 100-species Everest and we have to believe that perhaps next year will be the year.

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Fri 3rd May 2013

Posted on May 3, 2013 at 2:55 PM

I have gone well beyond my self-imposed limit of two weeks between posts because our school has been subjected to one of the "surprise" inspections by the school inspectors. Not a total surprise, but three weeks' notice to get all the paperwork in place and to plan (or over-plan) the lessons, has meant that I have spent most of my spare time working. I even went into school on a Sunday!

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I did break off for a few hours though to go look at a Short-toed Lark in a potato field near Rue des Bergers. It showed very well in the scope but wasn't too forthcoming for the camera.

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Short-toed Lark - Rue des Bergers, 20 Apr 2013

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Also my 1000-species challenge has stalled somewhat, but I have been identifying a few species in the garden, including the best one, a jumping spider called Pseudeuophyris lanigera, which as far as I can tell is a new species for Guernsey.

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Pseudeuophyris lanigera - garden, 30 Apr 13

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Silver Y - garden, 27 Apr 2013 - the first migrant moth of the year

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Lasioglossum calceatum/albipes - garden, 20 Apr 2013

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So not a great deal to report, but April continues to be so cold. Even now, as the sun is shining, a nippy breeze is coming in from the NW. Looking at the forecast though, Sunday looks much, much warmer and this is the day of the annual Guernsey Bird Race. So my prediction is that "The Sultans of String" are going to pull out a Bee-eater!

 

Sun 14th April 2013

Posted on April 17, 2013 at 5:10 PM

Thank God. Spring has finally arrived. This year has been the slowest start to spring migration that I can ever remember. Those endless days of cold winds stopped everything in their tracks and they didn't seem especially keen to continue, even after the winds changed.  We don't have many weeks of proper migration to savour in the year, so these couple of weeks wasted are a shame. It's only really been this weekend that there has been an obvious surge of migrants. I had a quick stroll around Fort Doyle this morning and there were scores of tired Wheatears all along the coastline plus a female Black Redstart. Very little variety though for the time of the month.

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male Wheatear - Fort Doyle, 14 Apr 13

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Going back to the final few cold days of the Easter holidays, on 4th April, since nothing was coming in, I went for another look at the Water Pipits at Vazon as they were staying much later than any of our wintering birds usually do. They were looking even more resplendent and I soon realised that I was looking at three birds - an extra bird had appeared. A few days later, on 7th, I looked again and saw that two birds were still present and I think that there may have been a 4th, but one in less obvious, more winter-plumage. It was a real treat studying these "pink and blue"  pipits feeding with the wagtails in the vraic. Water Pipits have always been special birds for me because they were the first "rare" birds I ever found. OK, they aren't that rare, but Yorkshire is quite far North, and the two birds I found on the bank of the River Aire when I was a teenager were the first ever record for Swillington Ings. It's all relative.

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Water Pipit - Vazon, 7 Apr 13 

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This bird (above) was, I think, probably another Water Pipit but I couldn't get a good photo or clear views. It is very unstreaked below and is also very whitish on the underparts, brown above with greyer head, but appeared to lack any pink yet. 

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Rock Pipit - Vazon, 7 Apr 13 

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Garganey - Vale Pond, 11 Apr 13 - still present and a bit closer, and as you can just see on the photo, I was listening to it calling quietly.

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Little Egret - Pulias, 9 Apr 13

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So, as you can see, although it is nice to get a few migrants in at last, it is hardly electrifying stuff. There's usually a few rarities on the island by now. Let's hope things heat up in the second half of the month. My 1000-species challenge is going fine despite the cold and I have hit 300 species, but the most spectacular non-avian beast I have found is shown below - a Black Oil Beetle, seemingly bursting at the abdomen. There were a few of these in the turf on the clifftop at Pleinmont.

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Black Oil Beetle - Pleinmont, 7 Apr 13

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