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.

Sun 3rd May 2015

Posted on May 10, 2015 at 5:15 AM


As is the tradition, The Sultans of String met in the Rue des Bergers car park at 5 am, this year dressed in wet-weather gear to combat the bloney dizzle which was falling on us. This overnight rain, and the recent change to southerly winds, had some potential but with such little migration during the previous week, we were not expecting a massive day. We had no specific plan sorted out, so we planned to just follow our noses and see how it panned out. With no owls showing at RDB or at the Reservoir, we headed for the coast and the rising tides.

From the car, passing L'Eree, we soon had a new species for the bird race, never been recorded before! However, this was not as exciting as I am pretending, as it was feral Greylag Goose, a species just this year re-categorised to category C and so now countable. This should not have any effect on comparative, year-to-year totals since Red-legged Partridge has gone the other way and is no longer countable. Looking over the ridge at L'Eree Shingle Bank, 3 Redshank flew off - a very good species that we haven't seen on the bird race for years, but Mark had had them yesterday, so not a surprise. Teal at the Claire Mare were also very useful.

There were a couple of positive signs at Fort le Crocq, with Wheatears on the beach and 3 Swifts which came in off the sea really low, which is not what one would expect at 6 am. Dunlin, Raven and Fulmar at Vazon before moving into Saumarez Park on 44 species. In the park we very soon heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and, following the sound, it was located in an old tree. We had what was probably my best ever view of a woodpecker pecking, right out in the open - superb.

We moved up the west coast checking most of the bays and headlands with nothing much interesting of note. Helpfully, we didn't have to wait long at Marais Nord for the island's only Cetti's Warbler to start singing, and we hit 60 species with Meadow Pipit at Fort Doyle. By now we were aware of a paucity of migrants on the headlands and relaxed, knowing we would not be going for a record total. A time-consuming tramp round the Track Marais produced very little new and we caught the morning boat to Herm, pleased that the rainy weather had finally ceased. As usual, Guillemot was the first auk seen from the ferry, and Razorbills were showing well off Jethou. Puffins were more difficult but we saw a couple near the base of the cliffs. As the boat was emptying of people we 'scoped up Brent Geese on Herm beach and we headed straight back to Guernsey with 69 species.

Arriving back to the harbour, we checked the list to see what we still needed, to plan our afternoon. We had actually done very well with the 'local' birds and had very few gaps to plug. The fog was lingering on the high ground but it looked like it was soon to burn off, although the wind was still annoyingly fresh. We decided to head to the less foggy and more sheltered side of the island and stopped off in the Talbot Valley and saw Long-tailed Tit (70) and Stock Dove (71), and a Firecrest (72) was singing in a large tree near King's Mills as it had been doing during the last couple of days. Down at Rue des Bergers hide there was nothing new and we umm-ed and ah-red whether to check Grande Mare lake. We decided that we would - good choice!

There were quite a lot of hirundines flying above the golf course and we saw a group of about 20 Yellow Wagtails (73) feeding on the fairways. The daytime migrants were clearly arriving in force now that there was a break in the weather. Upon leaving the golf course, we started walking down the douit-side track towards the road and we noticed even more hirundines flying over the fields in front of us. Wayne said something like "With all these arriving, we really should look out for Red-rumped Swallow" and almost immediately as he did so, I saw through my bins, flying away from me, a pale-rumped hirundine, which immediately banked round to reveal tail-streamers - I shouted out "RED-RUMPED SWALLOW!! I'VE GOT ONE!!!" (74).

It really was that quick. As soon as he said it, we had one! I was so excited by this bird. For years and years and years I had been diligently checking hirundine flocks for this species and I had never found one myself. And as I have said previously, it had been ages since I had had a good self-found bird of any species. I was punching the air in delight! Definitely my birding highlight of the last couple of years. We watched it for a short while feeding above the line of trees between the field and the golf course. It was difficult to keep track of it as it was feeding voraciously and all the flock were being buffeted around by the gusty wind. (It was impossible to try and get any photos, but I did a few sketches from my head when I returned home.)

Red-rumped Swallow sketches - Rue des Bergers, 3 May 15

Of course, we were somewhat buoyed by this terrific find, and after it moved off, we headed back to the lane wondering what else we might find. Over the lane a Peregrine (75) circled in the sunlight, and we relocated the RRS with the hirundine flock over fields just to the west of the hide. It stayed around for a couple of hours at least allowing one of the other teams to see it, but it was not seen again. It must have headed off with the rest of the flock, as there were not many hirundines around later in the day.

We hurried up to Pleinmont with high expectations, as we thought there may be other exciting species coming in from the south also, but this was not to be the case. We barely saw any migrants up on the headland apart from a superb Cuckoo (76) racing past us a couple of times, clearly just arrived from Europe. Disappointed with this and tired from trudging around, we picked up Jackdaw (77) near Torteval Church and were lucky with a Willow Warbler (78 ) and Bullfinch (79) in the valley below St. Peter's Church. Also lucky was a Short-toed Treecreeper (80) by the roadside somewhere in St. Saviours.

We were pleased to get to 80 with plenty of time to go since it was only 3:30. But then we hit the wall. A massive wall. Everywhere we checked there was nothing new. We spent ages looking for Little Grebe at the Reservoir as it was the only obvious species we were missing, but failed miserably. We were finding no extra wader species on the coastline, or migrant landbirds anywhere. Three hours later, we were still on 80 and we despaired where the next bird was coming from. We bought some chips from L'Islet to nourish us for the final burst and we sat in the car park at Grandes Havres to polish them off. Even though we'd checked the Whimbrel on the beach numerous times, Chris suddenly spotted some Bar-tailed Godwit (81) with them, as if appeared from nowhere!

We headed straight up for a half-hour's seawatch from Chouet and we soon saw a few Manx Shearwaters (82) passing by, but there was nothing else to surprise us. As the light was now fading and it was after half-eight, we set ourselves up on the hillside at Chouet to wait for owls. I walked up to chat to another team, and whilst up there, I spotted a Long-eared Owl (83) come out of a conifer. I ran down the hill to the rest of the guys and, luckily, it came out again for everyone to see. Just ten minutes later, from the same spot, we saw a Barn Owl (84) fly low along the lane, our final bird of the day.

84 species is a low total for us on the bird race, as on a decent day, we expect something between 87 and 90 species. We do feel that we are getting better at finding the regular species though, and we shall keep going until we smash the record of 96. The score really didn't matter to me though, as the day was all about the frickin' brilliant Red-rumper!

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

Thu 9th April 2015

Posted on April 19, 2015 at 9:10 AM


I took the two oldest children to Yorkshire to visit the family during the Easter holidays. We were there for most of the two weeks and, although it was mainly family stuff, I did manage to do a little bit of birding. We had a totally fabulous start to the trip when, whilst in the queue ready to get onto the ferry, I receive a text message to tell me that the sailing had just been cancelled! This was confusing since we could see the new Condor in the harbour, and so we presumed it was because of sudden bad weather, since the wind was picking up. Only later did we find out that the numpties had drove the ship straight into the dock, putting a hole in the hull. They could not offer us another decent sailing so we had to fly to Manchester instead, which cost us a lot more money on last-minute flights, a hire car and wasted hotel bookings. To top it off, Rosie and Anais also came for a few days quick visit and their flight was cancelled! The travel gods were definitely on strike for us this week.

Since my previous visit to my home town, only last year, Red Kites seem to have become even more common. I regularly saw them flying around, not just over the fields and copses, but also over the housing estates and supermarkets. As someone who grew up never seeing any larger raptors in our town, it is quite a bizarre sight.

On 2nd April, me and Aidan took a walk around Swillington Ings, my old stomping ground, on what was probably the nicest day of the year. Still astonished by the size of the new place, we took quite a long walk and only managed to cover a small part of it. The best birds were the two full breeding-plumaged Black-necked Grebes floating around one of the reed-fringed pools. The two guys with big lenses on the bank must've been getting terrific photos of these showy individuals. We also had a Bittern booming like last year and in the corner, a Cetti's Warbler was singing. This latter bird was a new species for my old patch list.

Black-necked Grebes

Black-necked Grebes - Swillington Ings, 2 Apr 15

For most of the first week we mostly did family stuff in and around Leeds. I thought I was lucky that Leeds United had a convenient home game against Blackburn, but unfortunately they chose that game to be the start of a terrible run of results and were not very good. But it was great to visit Elland Road and I took my camera along. I didn't get much chance to take photos, especially during the match when I kept elbowing the guy next to me, but I took a few. The album can be seen here :


Sunbittern - Tropical World, Leeds, 1 Apr 15



Elland Road - 4 Apr 15

On 5th April I slipped out for an hour's walk around Temple Newsam Woods but found it quite quiet there. I did enjoy watching three Great Spotted Woodpeckers chasing each other, and a group of 5 Jays picking on a Sparrowhawk. Later on that day we drove east to spend a couple of days with my sister in Wold Newton, a village in the Yorkshire Wolds. I do really love this area and there is lots of wildlife to be seen around the nearby villages. Just a few miles inland from the Yorkshire coast, it is certainly the kind of spot I'd like to live in if I was still in the county. One thing that is especially pleasing is the continued presence of Tree Sparrows breeding in their garden.

Forden Bank, Yorkshire

Forden Valley

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow - Wold Newton, 5 Apr 15

House Sparrow

House Sparrow - Wold Newton, 7 Apr 15


Brimstone - Wold Newton, 5 Apr 15 - nice to see this species really well as we do not get it in Guernsey.


Rook - Forden, 5 Apr 15 - even common birds like this Rook are special when you see them just a couple of times a year.

The next day, the menfolk took a trip out to Flamborough to look for migrants. It seemed a little early (and cold) however and there was not a great deal to see on the headland. A few Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers and Skylarks in the fields, a couple of Chiffchaffs in the hedges, and a probable White Wagtail. On the sea there was a few Eider and a couple of Common Scoter amongst the commoner locally-nesting birds, and a flock of 6 Bar-tailed Godwits flew south over the lighthouse. Not until the next morning did we see a proper summer migrant - a Swallow over Wold Newton.

As for other groups, I didn't see many new species on the trip. Well I saw a few unfamilar things but didn't make much effort in collecting anything. I did get Woundwort Shieldbug, Varied Carpet Beetle and naturalised Flowering Currant as ticks though. I am determined that my next UK trip will be in the summertime so I can tick away.

Returning to Leeds for the rest of the holiday, I managed a final couple of hours around Swilly before I had to return the hire car. It was nice to see a few Goldeneye on the lake, and I managed to find what I had mostly wanted to see - the drake American Wigeon that had wintered in the area, commuting between here and Normanton. It wasn't very close, but it was easy to find, and species number 181 for my Swillington List. A very nice finish to the holiday.

American Wigeon - Swillington Ings, 8 Apr 15