Sun 31st August 2014

Posted on August 7, 2014 at 6:55 PM

This summer, most of my computer time has been used up doing other things rather than updating this birding diary, but since I've seen nothing exciting there has been little point posting anyway. I seem to be writing this kind of thing regularly recently, but it is definitely true that I am going through quite an extensive birding drought at the moment. Even though I have been on my holidays from work all month, I get very little time to be out and about, as my wife carries on working and the kids need looking after. So actually, for me, returning to work means more opportunities for birding.

It is frustrating not finding any rare birds as this is my main raison d'birding, but realistically I can't expect to find much at the moment. I understand why I have such a slow hit rate, and so my priority is to 'keep my eye in' and try to get lucky. Getting a very high British self-found list is often used as a measure of birding skill, but really it's a measure of situation and responsibilities. A decent level of skill is important of course, but the birders who constantly find mega rare birds tend to either live near a rarity hot-spot, or have a job to do with birding, or have few responsibilities so they can go out whenever they want. This was exactly me as a young man, when I was living in Israel. Despite having less knowledge and skill than I do now, I found loads of rarities in just a few months. So, when I skip around the headlands during my lunch hour, I like to think I have things in perspective. [Although it'd be rather nice if other people here would find something good for me to see once in a while!]


juvenile Shelduck - Claire Mare, 15 Aug 14

I have managed to find a few mornings for seawatching off Jaonneuse during the last few weeks (10th, 16th, 23rd). Here on the island there's very little point trying unless the wind is between NW and NE. And even then, it is so frustratingly unpredicatable that you often see little passage, especially early in the season. So just a handful of the regular species were noted passing - I was really hoping for a large shearwater, but no. Another assemblage of Balearic Shearwaters was found just behind the reef, probably a couple of hundred birds.

One of the best things in the month was me and Rosie taking a boat trip along the south coast of the island to celebrate our 16th Anniversary. It was interesting seeing the cliffs from the the perspective of an incoming spring migrant and seeing the Hanois Lighthouse up close, and we also had great views of a big fat seal.

Hanois Lighthouse

Hanois Lighthouse

Hanois Lighthouse - 21 Aug 14

Grey Seal

Grey Seal - Hanois, 21 Aug 14

Autumn Ladies-tresses

Autumn Lady's-tresses - Port Soif, Aug 14 - a new species of orchid for me

The main project I have been working on this month is the 2013 Rarity Report (click on the 'Birds' tab above) and especially the Long-tailed Skua cover drawing. As there were not a lot of rarities last year, the drawing took a lot longer than the text.  This was the most ambitious drawing I've attempted and I was really pleased with it in the end. I wish I had the time to do more than one bird drawing a year! (You can see a step by step animation of it here : -####--)

Long-tailed Skua

Long-tailed Skua passing Jaonneuse in September 2013

Also for our anniversary, I made a wee video (I really could have been a film star I reckon...) :

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

Thu 31st July 2014

Posted on July 28, 2014 at 9:25 AM

With a month since my last entry, there has been lots going on wildlife-wise. However, as this is mainly my birding diary, and with July being the quietest of birding months, there are only a few of days' bird sightings to report. On 13th July I went up to Pleinmont to take a look at a new local phenomenom. A large flock of shearwaters has been discovered loafing off the south-west tip of the island. This flock is apparently mostly Balearic Shearwaters with some Manx Shearwaters also, but I will have to take people's word for that since what I saw was all silhouettes. I noted about 600 birds whilst I was there but other people have reported over a thousand. They are not too far out either - not as far away as the Hanois Lighthouse from the cliffs. I managed a few snaps through the scope but it was into the sun and it was quite windy and difficult to hold the scope still.

The location of the shearwater flocks.

Part of the flock of shearwaters lingering offshore - about 90 birds in this photo out of c.600 present.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

A poor quality video clip of birds flying past the flock - you will definitely have to click to view in Youtube or you may not notice anything!.

Looking back at the records of Balearic Shearwater for the island, there is nothing previously to suggest that there have been flocks summering off our coast. This species has been an autumn migrant and has been increasing in number year on year. Only in the last few years we have been having odd records out of this season and few of these have been in mid-summer. However, this sighting has not been a great surprise, as we have been aware that Balearic Shearwater numbers have increased massively on the north Brittany coast and a few thousand now regularly summer just off the coast there. The main summer distribution has traditionally been in the Bay of Biscay, and French birders have documented that populations have fallen there just as the Channel flocks have been increasing. Why this sudden northerly shift in distribution? It could be climate change, or lack of food, but whatever it is, it will be interesting to see whether they return next year.

I had a very pleasant walk round Silbe on 27th, which was mainly to search for interesting plants and insects, but for the approx two hours I was down there, a Firecrest was singing almost constantly. I saw another one there also, and I wondered if they may be breeding in the valley. There was also a Great Spotted Woodpecker tap-tapping away - the furthest west I have seen one on the island. It is such a superb, wooded spot down there, it is the kind of place I wish I had the time to cover in the late autumn. I can imagine plenty of migrants feeding around the old mill pond.

Recent bird sightings have given glimpses of autumn. On 29th I went for a stroll round the Fontanelles Bay area, and a Green Sandpiper flew low over my head heading towards Fort le Marchant, calling loudly. There's a private pond nearby and it no doubt came up from there. Then yesterday, 30th, I had my first Kingfisher of the autumn at Vale Pond.

Whereas in the past, I would be desperate for the summer to be over so that I could see some decent birds again, now that I am searching for interesting bugs and plants, there are lots of new things to be found every day, and it is great. Despite my casual moth-trapping this year - just out once every few nights this month - I appear to have still done exceptionally well. In just six nights trapping I have managed 8 new species for the garden, and two of these appear to be new for the island. It's amazing that after ten years of doing this, and over 600 species, the garden trap still continually throws up new species.

The first three new garden moths were the micros Pammene regiana, Bucculatrix maritima and Pseudargyrotoza conwagana, all of which I had seen elsewhere on the island previously. A new one for me was an Orthotelia sparganella on 18th, which is a wetland species and probably common here in suitable habitat. On 21st I had a lifer - a Tawny-barred Angle - plus a new species for Guernsey - Water Veneer. This last one was initially passed over since it barely looks like a moth, or a really worn one anyway. Two nights later on 23rd I had another island first, with a Crassa unitella, followed by my first ever Wax Moth on 25th, to finish off this excellent purple patch.

Orthotelia sparganella

Orthotelia sparganella - garden, 18 Jul 14

Tawny-barred Angle

Tawny-barred Angle - garden, 21 Jul 14

Crassa unitella

Crassa unitella - garden, 23 Jul 14

Wax Moth

Wax Moth - garden, 25 Jul 14

I have been working hard to find and identify other wildlife during the month and I have ticked off 17 new plants, 11 beetles, 4 bugs, 3 flies, a wasp, a mite and a jellyfish. The key to finding a good selection of creatures and plants is to visit as many different habitats as possible. We are fortunate on Guernsey that we have a wide range of habitats in quite a small area. I'm not going to list everything I found but some of the highlights were: managing some great shots of a Green Tiger Beetle, successfully twitching the Shore Docks on Pleinmont beach, finding a willow with lots of exit holes from Lunar Hornet Moths which I shall visit next year to try and see the adults, and trying to protect my children from a flock of Blue Jellyfish that came ashore on Chouet beach. Here is a selection of photos, but there are more on my Flickr site [Flickr] .

Small Coppers

mating Small Coppers - L'Ancresse, 2 Jul 14

Syritta pipiens

Syritta pipiens - garden, 24 Jul 14

Dock Bug

Dock Bug nymph - Grand Pre, 22 Jul 14

Blue Jellyfish - Chouet, 22 Jul 14

Shore Dock - Pleinmont beach, 13 Jul 14 - at its only location in Guernsey

Lunar Hornet Moth exuvia - L'Ancresse, 29 Jul 14 - the larvae feed inside the tree trunk and branches and pupate inside. The adults crawl out of the holes, leaving their pupal case sticking out. I have never seen one before and so I shall no doubt be making numerous trips to this tree next spring.

Even though I am used to seeing raptors taking rabbits or birds, or gulls gobbling up the odd duckling, it is only when you start looking closely at the lives of insects that you appreciate just how unforgivingly gruesome and vomit-inducingly disgusting the natural world is. To illustrate with a few examples. Just imagine walking down the street and this thing coming at you, as tall as a house, and faster than a car. That is a reality to many small beasties that live down by the beach. Those toothed jaws would just slice you in half in a second.

Green Tiger Beetle

Green Tiger Beetle - Pleinmont, 13 Jul 14

Down at Silbe, I noticed a small pile of junk crawling along an elm leaf. I couldn't work out what it was at first until I flipped it on its back to see it was some kind of larva. Looking it up at home, I found it was a lacewing larva, a ferocious predator with massive jaws (sticking out on the left). To help protect itself it builds itself some armour over its back and, only when you look closely, you notice that a lot of this debris is in fact husks of small dead insects. The lacewing catches its prey, bites it to death, sucks all the delicious guts out of it, and then places the rotting corpse of its victim on its back, carrying it around as a grisly trophy. He's totally badass and disgusting at the same time - and he don't care!

Lacewing sp. larva - Silbe, 27 Jul 14

Also at Silbe, I absent mindedly reached down and grabbed some grass, only to find I was clasping a handful of dead flies. Upon closer inspection I realised that, on these few spikes of grass seeds, there were well over a hundred dead flies just stuck there.

This weird fly graveyard is caused by a fungus called Entomophthora muscae (or similar species). When a fungal spore lands on the body of the fly, the fungus germinates, finds a crack in the exoskeleton and starts growing into the fly. It doesn't kill it straight away but makes its way to the fly's brain. There it takes control of the fly's body and the fly acts like a possessed zombie! (I exaggerate perhaps....). Most fungi produce fruiting bodies, e.g. mushrooms or toadstools, to get the spores as vertically high up as possible, so that the wind can disperse the spores far and wide. This fungus however, uses its fly minion to get itself high, using its mind-control powers to force the fly to climb up and up and up. When the fly gets high enough, the fungus grows throughout the fly's body, digesting it from the inside and kills the fly, sticking it to wherever it stops. Now the fungus grows out through the body of the fly and the millions of spores burst out in all directions, ready to infect its next victim. Gruesome with a capital 'G'.

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.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

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.