Thu 31st December 2015

Posted on December 29, 2015 at 12:45 AM

I had been enjoying my year-end slumber, where I usually slow my birding to crawling pace in the final two months of the year, when all of a sudden with just 2 days to go - KA-BAM!! Yesterday (30th Dec), just as we were having our lunch at home, I got this grapevine message on the phone:

"Richmond - 1 unidentified swift. 'Swift with white rump' (Little?) reported 1210 (JB)"

I nearly spat out my mushroom soup! Little Swift would be amazing, and an unlikely grip-back after the one I dipped on in 2000. Although I was secretly hoping that it maybe was a even White-rumped Swift - a mega-mega! Storm Frank had been sweeping in southerly winds from Africa for the last few days and it really seemed like either species was a possibility. Rosie was asleep after a night shift so I had to quickly get Aidan and Anais ready to come out with me, which stalled my exit. It could've taken them a lot quicker to get sorted - it's almost as if they didn't understand the urgency! Finally getting the kids bundled into the car, we headed down the coast, constantly scanning the skies just in case it was already heading northwards. These swifts can disappear in a flash and so I was nervous that it may already have gone.

Arriving at Richmond, a brief stop saw no swift and no birders, so I drove on to look for either of the two. At Fort le Crocq I immediately saw Mark G by the horse field and I abandoned the car at the long driveway entrance as he started to point towards the house down the slope. I ran over and saw that the swift was flying back and forth, low over the garden and in the shelter of the trees. I still didn't know for certain which species it was and started getting all giddy! Soon though it became obvious that it was indeed a Little Swift - a hugely wanted bird for my British List.

It was flying so fast back and forth, it was difficult to keep it in the bins most of the time, never mind trying to get a photo (as can be sen from the poor efforts below). It was so windy that the bird was keeping very low behind a stand of conifers and often at ground floor height. Its sheltered feeding area was mostly a private property and so the birders which were now starting to arrive couldn't get very close to the bird, although every now and again, it came closer where you could see all the salient features.

Little Swift - Fort Le Crocq, 30 Dec 15

The most obvious feature was the large white rump patch which was even visible when the bird was quite high up. It was clearly smaller than a Common Swift, but still larger than I expected - when it is called "Little" Swift, you imagine it is really small, House Martin-sized or similar. I had seen the species before, about 21 years ago in Israel, but I've not seen one since as it is a bloney rare bird in the UK still. I had written off this species as one I would never get back on the handful of people who saw the last one in Guernsey, but this is now the third for the Channel Islands, in just 15 years.

After a while I returned to the car where the kids were being exceptionally patient and drove to the proper car park where we all got out for a wander. I pointed out the swift to Aidan and he saw it flying around. He's not up to speed with birding yet, but it's now the rarest bird he's seen.

On this photo you can see that the tail on the Little Swift is not forked at all but square-ended, and when fully-spread looks rounded. Also the wings are obviously pinched-in close to the body.

The rump on a Little Swift is very extensive and spreads onto the rear flanks a little way, which means it is visible even from below like in the photo above.

Just as I was getting the kids sorted for a quick walk along the rocky beach off the end of the headland, the gathered crowd started gesticulating towards me. I span round and round and then realised that the swift was right above my head, just a few metres away! It looked me right in the eye and seemed to be saying "respect bro'. It was just so exciting - I've not had a proper twitch like this for ages - not for anything I needed for Britain anyway. As I played with the kids on the sand, the swift continued feeding low over the exposed rocks and rockpools below where we all stood. Unfortunately I couldn't stay much longer, although I would have liked to and headed back home.

You can't really see it on any of the photos but the bird had quite a bit of white around the face, quite obvious in the bins, more so than in a Common Swift.

So how had this bird got here? Little Swifts are of course really rare and don't breed any closer than Morrocco, which is quite a way to go. Also, this is the middle of winter and swifts are summer birds, there has never been one in December in Britain before, so what is going on? The most obvious thing is to blame Frank the Storm. apparently, Frank is one of the deepest lows ever to cross the Atlantic and, although the centre of the storm went north of the UK, the winds caused by this vortex start way, way down south. This is the reason it is so mild this winter so far - the air above us was, not long ago, above the desert. There has been lots of African moths been blown to the UK in the last couple of weeks, so why not an African bird? These recent crazy weather patterns may not be good for the world, but they do bring interesting birds!

The Little Swift has eclipsed everything else in November and December, but I have been seeing a few good birds, even though I haven't spent many hours in the field. The day after I arrived home from England (31st Oct) Rosie was leaving the drive in the car and saw something belt across in front of her and towards our house. I investigated and found a Water Rail cowering underneath our electric box and across the driveway a cat looking on with interest! The cat had been clearly chasing it. I tried to reach my hand under the box, but before I was even close, it shot out at great speed, running out of the drive and into the road! Then the cat shot out after it! - then I belted out after them both! - then a car appeared coming down the street! It was like some kind of Benny Hill sketch. Luckily I shouted at the cat and it scarpered, the car overtook and missed the rail and I managed, with some good fortune, to reach down and grab the bird one handed! Like I was Harry Potter catching the Golden Snitch. The bird seemed OK, so I took it down to the marshland behind the school. Not a bad bird for the garden list!

Water Rail STE 31Oct15 a

Water Rail - garden, 31 Oct 15

Water Rail STE 31Oct15 b

On 10th Nov I had a late Wheatear on the beach at Pulias and the wintering Great Northern Diver returned to the Rousse area. On the Saturday of 21st Nov there was a big northerly blow and a few of us cowered in the seawatching hide at Chouet to see if anything was passing, despite the regular soaking from the rain coming straight in on us from the sea. As the wind was so strong it was pushing birds very close to land and most of what we saw was closer than the reef . At least 300 Kittiwakes went past us and lots of Gannets of course. We had 5 Sooty Shearwaters, plus 21 Great Skuas and we managed a single dark Pomarine Skua, the highlight of a terrific late seawatch.

Pheasant FtHom 23Nov15 a

Pheasant - Fort Hommet, 23 Nov 15 - pretending to be a Red Grouse

On 29th Nov there was a grapevine message of a Whooper Swan at the Reservoir, and since I was free I went to see it. I had not had one in Guernsey for at least ten years and so it was good to see it, despite it being not very exciting. I was surprised that there were only a couple of us there and that it wasn't twitched by lots of the local birders. Only after a while did I remember that there had been a couple at L'Eree around Easter time, when I was away I think, and so it wouldn't even be a year tick for most people.

Whooper Swan Reservoir 29Nov15

Whooper Swan - Reservoir, 29 Nov 15

Early December is often the quietest time of year for birding and I didn't really see anything. However on 18th, my final day of work, early in the morning I was driving in the dim light past Cobo, when I saw a long-winged, odd-shaped bird over the car, from the direction of the playing fields. Bleary-eyed, I didn't realise what it was at first, but soon identified it as a Short-eared Owl, especially after it started getting some stick from a couple of corvids. It flapped out over the bay but I lost it and didn't know whether it kept going out to sea. There was a Water Pipit at Fort Le Crocq on 21st.

Marsh Harrier RDH 9Dec15

Marsh Harrier - Rue des Hougues, 9 Dec 15

Pholcus phalagioides STE 26Dec15

Pholcus phalagioides - inside house, 26 Dec 15

After a mention on facebook, I looked up some photo stacking software called 'Zerene' and noticed that they had a free month's trial. One of the problems with macro photos is getting all the creature in focus, due to a narrow depth of field. For example, in the spider photo above, although the head is in focus, the legs and the body are nowhere near. So I downloaded the trial version and tried it on a few of my specimens and it works very well - you just take as many photos as possible focussing on different parts of the body, and the program merges them together for you automatically. It seems to work well, although you cannot move the camera even a fraction or the pics don't line up properly, and so a tripod is needed. A couple of examples of my first attempts are below, but it will be difficult with live specimens!

Reticulate Blood Bee SSHS 17Aug15 c

Reticulate Blood Bee - St Sampsons HS area, 17 Aug 15

Great Banded Furrow Bee - St Sampsons HS area, 17 Aug 15

Below is my Patchwork Challenge effort for this year on my 'patch' between Fort Hommet and Rousse. As you can see it was a pitiful score - I can't believe the difference between the two years, 27 points and 13 species less than 2014. Oh well, more determination needed for 2016 then!

Sun 31st May 2015

Posted on June 9, 2015 at 5:30 PM

Yes! It finally happened! My last new bird for Guernsey was in September 2013 - Long-tailed Skua, Jaonneuse - and on Friday 29th May 2015, I finally, FINALLY, saw an island tick - a Temminck's Stint. This has been a very long wait for a Guernsey tick, and hopefully it won't ever be as long again. Also, as for rare birds, my last new bird in Guernsey that was an official, proper rarity was the Greenish Warbler on 26th May 2012, just over three years ago.

The last Temminck's Stint seen on Guernsey was almost 13 years ago, so this was a well-overdue species. It was straightforward in the end, but there was a little bit of jeapardy at first. When I received the grapevine message about Friday lunchtime, I had just under an hour to get there, see the bird, then get back, as Rosie had an appointment. If it wasn't showing immediately, I may miss out. Getting there as quick as possible, I walked into the hide and the guys in there already said they hadn't seen it and they didn't know where it was - nightmare! However, settling down on the seat, I soon found the bird feeding straight out - phew. I was able to watch it for just 10 minutes before I made my way back, so I wasn't able to take decent photos. It was a nicely breeding-plumaged bird with black spots above, and this one seemed to have especially yellowy legs.

So the final throws of spring produced the goods in the end with number 251 for my Guernsey list. Now June is upon us, I will be concentrating on invertebrates, until the itch of migration hits me once again in August.

Temminck's Stint - Claire Mare, 29 May 2015

Coleophora lusciniaepennella

larval case of Coleophora lusciniaepennella on Willow leaf - Les Vicheries, 28 May 2015 - only the second record for the island and the first confirmation of 'breeding'.

Cepero's Groundhopper

Cepero's Groundhopper - garden, 23 May 2015 - a tiny, tiny species of grasshopper

Hoverflies mating

mating hoverflies - Les Vicheries, 28 May 2015

Euophrys frontalis

Euophrys frontalis - Pulias, 1 Jun 2015 - a tiny jumping spider just 3-4mm long.

Sat 23rd May 2015

Posted on May 28, 2015 at 1:40 PM

After the excitement of the Bird Race, the rest of May was predictably desolate for birding. Despite regular birding stops, I failed to find more than a handful of migrants on the coast and it seemed most people were also finding it a struggle.

So it was a little surprising that, last night, a photo of a spanking male Black-headed Bunting was posted on the Guernsey Birds website! What was extra confusing was that the record was sent in by the same person that had found the previous island record back in 2009. And like that bird - which most of the island's birders had enjoyed - this bird was also seen in their garden at Jerbourg. Weird.  I even went as far as checking the date & time stamp on the photo to make sure that this wasn't an old picture, uploaded years after the event. But no, it was indeed taken yesterday afternoon and this was simply a coincidence.

So I arrived at Jerbourg at about 7 am this Saturday morning, 23rd May, and was a little surprised that nobody else was already looking for it, since Black-headed Bunting is bloody rare. I wasn't feeling very certain of finding it because I knew the garden was large and that the feeders are not really visible from the road. However, as I reached the first gap in the roadside hedge, I looked across and it was there hopping on the lawn like a sparrow, right in front of me! I couldn't believe I was that lucky, seeing the bird immediately on arrival, and so close. Such a deep and vivid yellow colour on the underparts, contrasting with a solid black cap and a rich chestnut colour on the mantle, it was a gaudy sight. It was too dark and dingy for proper photography and I phoned out a grapevine message that it was still present. A few other birders arrived and we watched it on and off, feeding amongst the daisies on the massive lawn giving excellent views.

So I have now seen Black-headed Bunting just twice ever in the world, and both times they have been in exactly the same spot, six years apart. This species is a proper rarity and it fabulous to see it, BUT why oh why are we always getting 'repeat' rarities here. And this was almost an identical repeat too - the saying "lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice" is clearly nonsense. (and literally nonsense, of course - that's the reason for lightning conductors)


Black-headed Bunting

Black-headed Bunting - male, Jerbourg, 23 May 2015

Black-headed Bunting

Apart from the excitement of the bunting, the island has been very quiet. I saw a few migrant Wheatears, but few other passerines, then Common Sandpiper and Redshank both visiting Pulias late in the month. But I have to be satisfied with the birds this spring overall, and there is still a chance of something else good in the couple of weeks to come.


Redshank - Pulias, 11 May 2015 - we rarely see breeding-plumaged birds here on the island.

When the Bird Race is over, that is usually the signal for me to start seriously looking for other wildlife again. So I dusted of the moth trap (literally - it always gets covered by some dusty fungus over the winter) and put it out a few times. There had been an influx of Bordered Straw throughout the south of the UK and I managed to catch one also, the first decent migrant of the year. I've also identified quite a few new beetles and have reached about 130 species now. My target this summer is to hit 2000 species for Guernsey, which I should manage with a bit of effort.

Bordered Straw

Bordered Straw - garden, 15 May 2015

I was fortunate to be able to spend a couple of hours on the cliff paths of Jerbourg with visiting expert entomologist Ian Beavis on Thursday. We found plenty of insects in the sheltered spots and he showed me lots of types of bee, explaining the different groups and species, and the differences between them all. It was very interesting and extremely useful to me as a beginner entomologist.

Nomada flava

Nomada flava - Jerbourg, 21 May 2015 - this is a species of 'cuckoo bee' and Ian spotted this individual hanging off a leaf, asleep, holding on just with its jaws. Apparently, many solitary bee species sleep in this way.

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak - Jerbourg, 21 May 2015

Common Broomrape

Broomrape sp. - Fort Hommet, 22 May 2015 - there appeared to be two types of broomrape growing at Fort Hommet. A smaller, more typical brown and whitish variety, and these much larger, purple and pink ones. Identification of broomrapes is probably beyond me, but perhaps they are both forms of the Common Broomrape.

Thu 30th April 2015

Posted on April 30, 2015 at 4:55 PM

Whilst I was away in the UK, I missed quite a few decent days of passage of migrants, but I managed to be here for the back end of it. On 15th April at Pulias, there was a very showy Tree Pipit perched in the brambles first thing in the morning by the top car park, and it was happy just sat there. I reached into my bag to get some awesomeish photos and discovered that I had left the memory card in the computer and not returned it to the camera. What a wally! This also meant I could not take any photos of the splendid male Whinchat nearby later in the day. Both great birds to get on the patch year list already. A couple of days later I had a Common Sandpiper on the pond, my first of 2015.

Unfortunately, by the time I had my first proper local birding session of the month, the numbers and variety had died right down, and on 18th I had a very quiet slog around Pleinmont, with only common species noted across the headland. I consoled myself by popping in to see the Spoonbill that had been present at the Claire Mare for a couple of days. I get to see Spoonbills on Guernsey once or twice a year nowadays. The birds in Holland migrate to winter in western France I think, and so the Channel Islands are sort of on their way if they travel via coasts.


Spoonbill - Claire Mare, 18 Apr 15 - doing what Spoonbills like to do - sleep.

Just after returning home around lunchtime, I received a grapevine text alert that a Short-toed Lark had been found on Vazon beach. A little frustrating news since I had driven past this spot twice that morning and decided not to stop as there were some cars in the car park. As it was probably quite easy to find, I persuaded the family that I should meet them at the park after lunch rather than go with them, and I would have a quick look at the lark. No-one else was there so I had to find it myself and after strolling around a short while, realised it was just below the car park and showing very well. I only had a few minutes however, plus the wind was so strong I could barely keep upright, and my photos were poor. It was nice to see a decent rarity however. Even though there had been 3 or 4 in the last few years on the island, I still class this species as rare and a quality bird to see and find.

Short-toed Lark

Short-toed Lark

Short-toed Lark - Vazon, 18 Apr 15 - This bird was much more orangey than others I had seen, which are generally paler and buffer, not this richly-coloured. It was great to see it raising his crest often.

The final part of the month became chilly and windy, and was not helping migrants' arrival. On 22nd three Common Terns battled their way east offshore at Pulias and a Golden Plover rested on the beach. The next day at lunchtime, I enjoyed watching a couple of hundred hirundines over Rue des Bergers, mostly Sand Martins, and amongst them appeared a singleton of my favourite species, a fabulous Swift. At the weekend, on 26th, I had another bash around Pleinmont, but again there was just the very common migrant species noted, with nothing even uncommon or unexpected, apart from a Snipe flushed from a clifftop field. It may be just rosy-tinted memories, but I am sure that April walks round Pleinmont were always better - more variety, bigger numbers. So with April at the end, nothing rare found and no megas twitched, perhaps May will end this losing streak.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit - Vazon wall, 27 Apr 15

Brassica Shieldbug

Brassica Shieldbug - Fort Hommet, 27 Apr 15

Mon 30th June 2014

Posted on June 30, 2014 at 5:25 PM

With all the time spent sorting out the photos and writing up the Iceland trip, and with all the time spent staring at a screen watching more or less every single World Cup match, I have not mentioned anything about what I've seen in Guernsey during the last month. My birding has been minimal to say the least but considering that, it has been relatively productive.

Just before my trip, the final few days saw a few migrants on my patches - at least 4 Spotted Flycatchers were seen and a handful of Yellow Wagtails.

Yellow Wagtail - Rousse, 23 May 14 - three of these were feeding on a flooded garden lawn.

Whilst I was away there had been an unusually late Rough-legged Buzzard in the centre of the island and I was disappointed that I had missed it. It was still being seen sporadically when I returned, but as I had the little ones to look after and it was hit and miss, I didn't go searching. I didn't need it for my Guernsey list as I had seen the Herm one ages ago. The conditions on 30th May though were excellent for raptor watching over the garden and I racked up at least 12 Common Buzzard sightings during the day, as well as Marsh Harriers and Peregrines, plus a Jackdaw heading SW - the first record for the garden. Then, quarter past four, I picked up another buzzard heading NE just to the south. It was a smashing Honey Buzzard, and I managed a few snaps as it went over.

Honey Buzzard - over the garden, 30 May 14

The next day, 31st May, was equally excellent for soaring birds and there were still numerous Common Buzzards flying to and fro, as well as a male Bullfinch flying across - an unusual sighting for round here. It was very hot, and at 1245 I picked up another buzzard flying very high overhead. As soon as I was able to get the bins on it, I saw that it was the Rough-legged Buzzard, having a wander around the island. It had been doing this yesterday also, and so was clearly thinking about leaving for the north - as it should have done ages ago to be honest - the lazy sod.

Rough-legged Buzzard - over the garden, 31st May 2014

Obviously, poor photos, but you can see the dark carpal patches and dark belly, and also the long, stretched-out wings. So an incredible buzzard hat-trick over the house. Three species of buzzard in 24 hours - very few people will have managed that out in the field, never mind from their garden!

On 2nd Jun I saw a Hobby rocket past the houses at Port Grat from the car, and then on 25th Jun I went to see a Woodchat Shrike that had been present for a few days just off the Pleinmont road. It was a very hot day, and I had an hour spare after work, so I went to look for it. However, very spitefully, it showed itself just minutes before I had to leave to meet the family. This is my 4th Guernsey Woodchat, again continuing the theme of all the rare birds that have been turning up, I have seen before. Just two Guernsey lifers now in the last two years, and neither of those were proper rares.

Woodchat Shrike - Rue des Pointes, 25 Jun 14 - the only photo I could manage, it is not the white thing in the foreground.

I have been racking up quite a lot of new species of other wildlife. Lots of new beetles and plants, some of which are quite rare. I took the pheromones to check on the Fiery Clearwing colony last week and was pleased to find that they are still there, albeit in very small numbers. The last couple of times I have looked for them, I have only found them in one small area of Dock, and none in Dock patches close by. I wish I had time for a more thorough survey to see how extensive the population actually is.

Fiery Clearwing

Fiery Clearwing - Guernsey, Jun 2014 - and below is a video clip of the clearwings attracted to the lure, filed on my phone.

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Muslin Moth

female Muslin Moth - garden, 17 May 14 - the females are not attracted to light so this is only the second I have seen. The transluscent wings showing how the species got its name.

Small Hare's-ear

Small Hare's-ear - L'Ancresse, June 2014 - a very rare plant in the UK

Small-flowered Catchfly

Small-flowered Catchfly - L'Islet, June 2014

The final bit of wildlife excitement recently was a visitor to my daughter's bedroom. She came downstairs at 3 am on 25th Jun, woke me up and said "Dad, there's a bat in my room". In my barely awake state I grunted to her that she was probably dreaming and should go back to sleep. "But seriously - there's a bat flying round my room!". So I got up and climbed the stairs, fully expecting it to be a hawk moth or maybe even a cricket, a large insect anyway that had got in during the night. We turned on the light and there was nothing flying round, then she suddenly saw, perched on the side of her wardrobe, a bloney bat! I raced downstairs and got an ice cream tub, and by the time I went back up it was flapping around on the landing floor, so I easily caught it and took it away. We rested it in the shed for the rest of the night and in the morning it looked fine.

Jerry the Common Pipistrelle - caught in the house, 25 Jun 14

My daughter was pleasingly un-scared by her hairy visitor, and became quite attached to it, naming him "Jerry". I was a little concerned it might be injured so I took it round to Pat, the local bat expert, for a check-up. She confirmed it was a male Common Pipistrelle, and did not seem hurt in any way. Later that evening, she released it near our house and it flew away strongly. How it managed to get in to the house is a mystery. My daughter's bedroom is in the attic space and she did have a skylight open earlier on, but this was shut when it got dark. Maybe it was just out hunting very early and chased a moth inside.