Blog

Tue 13th May 2014

Posted on May 13, 2014 at 3:20 PM

The first half of May has been decidedly ropey for birding. Last year May was hopeless and, so far, this year has been poor also - even the local bird race (which I had to miss this year) recorded the lowest totals for ages. When I was young, May was definitely my favourite month for birding. This was probably because every year we had a weekend in Norfolk during the month which was easily the most exciting trip of the year for me, full of exotic species. But recently, May has been relegated to at least my 4th favourite birding month, after September, October and April, and perhaps August too. Here on the island, most of the volume of migrant birds has already passed through, but we still keep pounding the headlands searching for rarities even though we are not seeing many birds. It can be quite frustrating, especially when you have very little time available but we try to remind ourselves that if we put in the hard work, eventually we'll get our reward. May is so unpredictable, you could be having a quiet day, then just walk round a corner and see something amazing, Fingers crossed.




Wheatears - Les Effards, 24 Apr 14 - at this time of year, migrants can turn up in unexpected places. There are no open spaces near our garden, so these three Wheatears perched at the top of a tall tree across the road to look around. Only the second garden record I think.



As if to prove that April is the new May, the final day of that month produced a decent rare bird, with a Black-winged Stilt at the Vale Pond. Not that I like to sniff at a rare bird, especially one less than a mile from home, but I ask again - why can't we get something just a little different? This is my fourth sighting in just a few years. I twitched it on the way home from work, but unfortunately it was on the far side of the pond. Just a one day job, it soon disappeared (probably because there is nothing to eat in the manky pond).




Black-winged Stilt - Vale Pond, 30 Apr 14






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Here is a poor-quality video of the Stilt



The final week of April was actually quite good (although I missed the best couple of days). One of the best birds I saw was a fine Tree Pipit perched up at Pulias on the brambles showing really well on 23rd. It was early morning and it was too dull for photos. On the 30th there was a late migrant Firecrest showing in the pines at Fort Hommet, where the pair of Stonechats seem to have a nest since they go mad when anything goes near. You'd have thought they'd be quieter if they have a nest nearby rather than almost advertising the fact by scolding so loudly.



Stonechat

female Stonechat - Fort Hommet, 28 Apr 14


On 3rd May, I had a morning out birding and spent a quiet few hours at Pleinmont, where a singing Sedge Warbler was the best bird seen, not exactly what was hoped for after a 5:30 am start. Also time spent at L'Eree, Claire Mare and Lihou Headland was fruitless.



Pleinmont

Pleinmont in the early morning light



Little Egret

Little Egret - Claire Mare, 3 May 14



Now the temperatures are rising, the wee creatures are becoming more active and I have found a few new species for my pan-species list. I've only been casually recording so far this year and will probably step it up after the month has ended. It has been rather busy for me this spring and I have/will be away for 4 weekends in less than two months, so free-time has been rare. I have got myself a new lighting set-up for my camera however, which means I don't have to rely on natural light or the camera's own unsatisfactory flash any more. Which means I should be able to take decent photos indoors which I have never been able to do before. Below are two of my first efforts, with the new LED attachment..



Arctosa perita

Arctosa perita - Rousse, 24 Apr 14 - a sand-dune species of wolf-spider - this one a very pale colour on the abdomen.



Agrypnus murinus

Agrypnus murinus - Rousse, 24 Apr 14 - a large click-beetle, just about to take flight.



Sat 19th April 2014

Posted on May 4, 2014 at 2:30 AM

TRIP TO YORKSHIRE - part 3


Heading back to West Yorkshire (15th) gave me a chance to visit some of my old local birding haunts. Fairburn Ings was the first place that I ever went birdwatching when I was a nipper, probably 35 years ago now, and it hasn't changed a great deal since then, although the lakes have got gradually larger due to mining subsidence. I used to cycle down a few times as a teenager before I decided that an RSPB Reserve was not the best place to have as a local patch as it was nearly always too well-birded. I stopped first at Parker's Pond and the first bird I laid eyes on was a superb male Garganey swimming into view, really close by.



Garganey

Garganey - Fairburn Ings, 15 Apr 14


[ Go to  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qma6me_FMk8   to see a video of this bird]


The ponds had more wildfowl on them than I'd seen all year. There was a second male Garganey on one of the roadside flashes, and there were Goldeneyes and Goosanders still around, and I can't remember the last time that I saw a Brimstone Butterfly.



Brimstone

Brimstone - Fairburn Ings, 15 Apr 14



The next morning (16th) was devoted to a return to the location of my nascent birder - Swillington Ings. As mentioned previously, I was excited to make my first visit to the site since its new opening as a proper, gigantic reserve. When I used to go, we'd have to strain our eyes to look across the river to try and work out the identification of tiny dots on the private ponds on the other side. Now it seems you can walk everywhere round the site and there are lakes and reedbeds and superb habitats aplenty.



Coal mine drag line

This massive dragline greets you as you enter the reserve from the new entrance - a monument to times past.



I took most of the morning to walk around the network of paths around and in between the lakes. It was a great area but I wondered if it was now too big to have as a proper local patch, where you could quickly pop into when you are passing. This now would take ages to check properly - depends on how much time you have available I guess. It was great to bump into Graham, one of the regulars from back then, and was pleased he recognised me after all these years. There were plenty of wildfowl to be seen incuding a few Goldeneye and Goosander, and there was a decent sized Black-headed Gull colony being somewhat noisy. Three breeding-plumaged Black-necked Grebes were swimming on one of the ponds, but the highlight was definitely the booming Bittern which was calling in the reeds just off the path. As a teenager, if you had told me that there would be booming Bitterns within a few miles of my house I'd have thought you were completely mad.












Here I am looking over Astley Lake, the main part of the original Swilly and the site of many a triumph, but also many hours of staring at nothing much. As an aside, it is incredible to think that, just yards from where I am standing here, I once counted a flock of 280 Ruddy Ducks.



The next day (17th) I had a bit of time in the evening, and so I thought I'd go for a little drive to the north of Garforth to see if I could find any Red Kites. The reintroduction programme had not started properly until after I moved away, and so, despite now clearly dirt-common to British birders nowadays, I still hadn't seen many in the UK. They were surprisingly easy to find despite a chilly wind and I saw one over Aberford village centre and another near Barwick. Also I saw at least 6 Buzzards in the area. I stopped at the site of the Batle of Towton, one of the bloodiest battles of the Wars of the Roses, where Yorkshire kicked Lancashire's butt (I simplify). Just a few miles from where I grew up and I'd never been before (although, I suppose that this kind of thing is more of interest to a middle-aged bloke than a excitable teenager!). A lone, migrant Yellow Wagtail flew low over the battlefield.


Due to appalling planning, we had to drive down from Leeds to Weymouth on Good Friday (18th). From house to hotel it took 9 hours which was an impressively long journey for a couple of kids from Guernsey - they did exceptionally well. We'd only been driving an hour when they decided to close the M1 near Sheffield! I had a total of 6 Red Kites from the roadsides in the Oxfordshire/Berkshire area mainly.  Our hotel was next door to Lodmoor bird reserve and we had Med Gulls, Common Sandpiper and a Cetti's Warbler.

Tue 15th April 2014

Posted on April 28, 2014 at 4:45 PM

TRIP TO YORKSHIRE - part 2



On Sunday 13th, we headed out to East Yorkshire to my sister's village for a few days. Unfortunately I was just about 4 hours too late for a Crag Martin at nearby Flamborough - a further example of my terrible bird-timing of late. The village of Wold Newton is set in the northern Yorkshire Wolds, surrounded by rolling hills of chalk and open spaces. After all this time of them living there, I have only just found out that the largest ever meteorite to crash into Britain (and 2nd largest in Europe) landed in the village in 1795! It is a smashing area for farmland birds and I was especially excited to see that Tree Sparrows were common visitors to the garden and were in fact nesting in a box right over the front door.



Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow - Wold Newton, 14 Apr 14



In the afternoon we all went for a ramble along the headwaters of the Derwent somewhere in the Forge Valley. The habitat was excellent with the floor of the woods covered in Ramsons and Golden Saxifrage. The kids had a paddle in the stream and found some White-clawed Crayfish and Bullhead fish, and there were various plants growing that I never see, a few being new species for me. It really was an idyllic spot where one could take a picnic and while away lazy summer afternoons.



Colt's-foot

Colt's-foot growing on the riverbank - Forge Valley, 13 Apr 14



Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrel growing on a tree stump - Forge Valley, 13 Apr 14



Ecdyonurus mayfly sp larva

Mayfly larva (Ecdyonurus sp.) - Forge Valley, 13 Apr 14



The next day (14th), we spent most of the day at a local "Play-Farm" which was pleasant enough, and I was pleased to see a migrant Redstart on the edge of the Llama enclosure. In the evening I headed out to Flamborough for a relaxing (but pretty darn cold!) amble around the outer Head. With the earlier Redstart, I was hoping for some more migrants, and I thought there may be a very slight chance of the Crag Martin reappearing. However, the only summer migrant I saw was a single Chiffchaff. There had been a Tawny Pipit present in this immediate area during this time but the only day it wasn't seen was, of course, this day. Nevertheless, it was nice to have a stroll and watch the seabirds buzzing around the cliffs.




Flamborough cliffs - 14 Apr 14



Razorbills

Razorbills - Flamborough, 14 Apr 14



Kittiwakes

Kittiwakes - Flamborough, 14 Apr 14



Kittiwake

Kittiwake - Flamborough, 14 Apr 14


Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow - Flamborough, 14 Apr 14


Early next morning (15th), me and my brother-in-law went for a brief walk in the Fordon Valley, the small valley just to the north of their village. The habitat there looked great for later in the summertime, with a south-facing chalk bank overlooking the dead flat valley floor. We saw Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers, a Buzzard and some Hares, plus lots of interesting plants which were not flowering yet in the chilly North so were left unidentified.



Fordon Valley

Fordon Valley, East Yorks - 15 Apr 14


Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer - Fordon Valley, East Yorks - 15 Apr 14


Sat 12th April 2014

Posted on April 22, 2014 at 8:20 AM

TRIP TO YORKSHIRE - part 1


In the Easter holidays, I took my two older children back to Yorkshire to visit the family. This wasn't a wildlife holiday at all but I did see some interesting things. Well, to be honest, any time I leave the island I see some interesting things - Rooks, Swans, Canada Geese - real exotica! We crossed on the ferry Wednesday evening and stayed overnight in a hotel part the way up. This journey was all especially exciting for my son who was too young to remember his last visit to the UK. Just seeing trains, or sheep, or yellow fields, or the amazing bridges - I realised that he has never really seen a proper bridge before, never mind driving over or under one.


The drive North to Leeds the next day (10th) went pretty quick and we relaxed in my parents house in Garforth for the afternoon. After tea, I went for an evening walk along one of my old routes, across the fields to Micklefield. I used to see Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers, Willow Tits and Grey Partridges in these fields but none were to be seen this time. These species are in decline but I suppose that I never used to see these every single time, but after all this time, that's how you remember things I guess. I carried on to the old Micklefield Mine site where, in the past I had found breeding Little Ringed and Ringed Plover, and wondered if they were still there. It was now a business/industrial estate.


The next day (11th), we went up to Roundhay Park for the kids to play, and visited the "Tropical World" place they have there. It is a 'hothouse' where they have some tropical species in tanks and lots lots of birds and butterflies flying free in large aviaries.




Red-billed Leothrix




Meerkat

Meerkat



I have somewhat mixed feelings about zoos and the like. Although it seems inherently wrong to keep creatures caged up, it really is a genuine way to get youngsters to connect with animals and care about what happens to them in the wild. I am sure many a conservationist has first got into nature through visiting zoos. I suppose that what is more important is to make sure that the animals that are in captivity, as inevitably some will always be, are kept in as non-cruel conditions as possible. Although, for some species this may be impossible.


In the evening, we popped out to find the new entrance to Swillington Ings, as I intended to have a proper visit there at some point. This was my old local patch but has changed immensely since I have last been, the old mine and slag heaps having been totally transformed by the RSPB et al. We found the new centre but there was a sign saying it had closed down due to issues over ownership - very peculiar. We had a quick look anyway, and I was amazed at the size of the place. With the massive reedbeds and lakes, it was as if someone had cut a chunk out of Norfolk and dropped it in the Aire Valley. Just as we reached the first lake a male Garganey flew in and landed in front of us - not a bad start. We didn't stay though but I would be returning later in the week.




Aidan with some swans



Saturday 12th, we had a walk at Temple Newsam in the morning, mainly to visit the farm. Was pleased to see two Jays well in the woodland, and we found lots of the micro moth Eriocrania subpurpurella resting on Rhododendron leaves below the oak trees. Sparkling gold in colour, I have never seen any of this genus on Guernsey.



Eriocrania subpurpurella

Eriocrania subpurpurella


In the afternoon me and Dad paid our first visit to watch the mighty Leeds United at Elland Road for many years. Brian McDermott's rag-tag bunch of plodders managed to dig out a 2-0 victory for us which was amazing after their recent run of form. It was good of Blackpool to be even more terrible than us.




Brian McDermott watches his team kick off



A surprise was bumping into top birder and fellow Leeds fan Jonny Mac outside Elland Road


 

Tue 8th April 2014

Posted on April 8, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Spring has only been crawling in slowly and I have seen few summer birds so far. Right at the end of March I saw my first Swallow, passing over the garden on 31st, and the next day at Fort Hommet I had my first Willow Warbler. But apart from that, migration has been very weak until yesterday (7th) when 23 Wheatears were in one flock on the sea wall at Vazon. One of the nicest birds seen was the male Common Scoter off the rocks at Port Grat on 3rd.


So not a very productive early spring so far, but I broke up for the Easter holidays today and so maybe the next couple of weeks will be better. Not much typing today as I sprained my wrist playing football at the weekend and it is restricting my movements somewhat.




Small Bloody-nosed Beetle - Timarcha goettingensis - Fort Hommet, Mar 14




Sand Crocus - Les Ammareurs, Apr 14 - This species is only present at two sites in the UK, but is widespread in coastal turf in Guernsey. They were flowering in adundance in the children's playground by the golf course.




Hairy-footed Flower Bee - Anthophora plumipes - Apr 14 - a female, due to all-black body. I found this individual dead in the car this week.



Below are a few photos from a couple of months ago. I could not publish them at the time because there was a press embargo (seriously). This was because we had some very expensive objects in school which we had to keep pretty secret. Well, not very expensive actually but priceless. These were pieces of The Moon.




Me holding some Moon rocks!



Schools can borrow these objects for a week or so so show the children, and because we are offering GCSE Astronomy at the moment, we applied to do this. They took it very seriously, sending someone on a pre-visit to check on security etc, because if these were stolen they could be sold for big money. Here is the special case they arrived in.






There were other objects in there also, mainly various meteorites. The picture below shows a piece of  the "Parnallee" meteorite (link here). This landed in India in 1857 and it was formed at the same time as our solar system. So I am holding something OLDER than the Earth itself! Amazing.