Mon 29th February 2016

Posted on March 5, 2016 at 4:45 PM

egrets at fort saumarez

Little Egrets - Fort Saumarez, 11 Feb 16

To be very honest, I have not really done any birding during February. I have had a few cursory attempts, keeping an eye on my local patch spots, but I have effectively taken a break. The wet and windy weather has not helped for pleasantly walking around. The most interesting thing I did was have a quick look on a few of the beaches after the storms to see what has washed up, which was much more interesting than the avian fare on offer. With the increased number of winter storms occurring nowadays, I think this will be something I could do more in the quiet months.

Vazon waves

High tide at Vazon with the tail end of Storm Imogen surging over the sea wall.

Goose Barnacles Vazon 11Feb16

Goose Barnacles (Lepas anatifera) attached to a buoy which may have been washed here from thousands of miles away. These pelagic creatures are very weird and fascinating. They quickly die when washed ashore of course, but these had just been thrown over the wall by the above waves and were still alive.

columbus crab Portinfer 11Feb16

Columbus Crab - Portinfer - this small crab was found, unfortunately dead, in another bunch of Goose Barnacles. This is a tropical species that is only ever recorded here by drifting on flotsam.

Triggerfish Pulias 9Feb16

Grey Triggerfish, washed up at Pulias.

Snakelocks Anenome LihouHdlnd

Snakelocks Anenome - Lihou Headland

Vazon Feb16

Vazon sea wall looking metallic during Storm Imogen

end of the rainbow

Sun 31st January 2016

Posted on February 2, 2016 at 5:45 PM

With no cold snaps at all during the first month of 2016, there wasn't much new arriving on the island but in the first couple of weeks of a new year I'm always keen to get out and about. There was quite a few windy storms rolling in, but seabirds were still surprisingly scarce around the bays, with just a couple of auks affected by the gales.

On New Year's Day I had a short while along the patch despite the poor weather conditions. Black Redstart and Grey Wagtail at Pulias being the highlights. Another, bright male Black Redstart visited the garden on 3rd Jan. On 5th I saw my first official Greylag Geese for the patch list. I have seen them a couple of times previously but it has only been a year or so since Greylag was added to the Guernsey List as a proper wild countable cat C species. So it was a highly underwhelming addition to my local patch bird list.

Much better though was the fine Coal Tit that I discovered feeding in the pines at Le Guet in my lunch hour on 6th Jan. This was a second patch-lifer in two days, and much more pleasing than those manky geese. I've not seen very many Coal Tits in Guernsey before and I can only remember two: at Saumarez Park and at Marais Nord, and not for ages. This was one of the blue-grey-backed continental birds which is typical of the ones we get.

There followed a few seabird sightings blown in by the storms. Nothing too exciting but, during the middle of the month, I had Great Northern Diver, Razorbill, Great Crested Grebe and at Cobo, two Sandwich Terns and a Med Gull. Driving home on 20th Jan, I saw a Guillemot feeding just off the slipway and I parked up and scurried down the slope. It gave great views, and if only I knew how to use my camera, I may have got a much better photo than the one below.

Guillemot - Cobo - 20 Jan 16

On 21st Jan I had a better look at the Coal Tit at Le Guet as I found it feeding on feeders in an adjacent garden. Watching it a while, I soon realised that thee were two birds present. I managed to get a few poor photos, but I was lucky to snap those as I was dangling over the garden's wall at the time. There were also two Firecrests at the other end of the wood.

Continental Coal Tit - Le Guet - 21 Jan 16 - compared to British Coal Tit, these have a larger bib, extending almost to the shoulder, and often obvious dark patches at the breast-sides.

The colour of the back shows a clean blue-grey colouration compared to the olive tones on British birds.

Firecrest - Le Guet - 21 Jan 16

Short-toed Treecreeper LeGuet 28Jan16

Short-toed Treecreeper - Le Guet - 28 Jan 16 - after all this time, I have finally managed a half-decent shot of a STT.

Asparagus Beetle specimen - garden - autumn 2015 - still trying out the photo-stacking software. It looks great for photos of specimens, but rather tricky for live critters!

I have started a new project, or experiment rather, which is a fun podcast about birding. I don't know how easy it will be to keep this going monthly, but I'll never know if I don't try! You can download the "JUST A BIRD PODCAST" through iTunes, or you can listen to it via Soundcloud" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">here.

Fri 1st January 2016

Posted on January 3, 2016 at 2:25 PM

I dislike overly wordy "Review of the Year" posts, so here's a few quick facts about 2015:

1 new bird for Britain - Little Swift, makes 391.

2 new birds for Guernsey - Temminck's Stint, Little Swift, makes 252.

1 new 'self-found' bird - Red-rumped Swallow, makes 270.

1 new Hommet to Rousse 'patch' bird - Woodcock, makes 153.

1 new garden bird - Water Rail, makes 86.

2015 Guernsey year list total - 138, well below average.

Official local rarities found - 2 - Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit.

Official local rarities seen - 8 - Whooper Swan, Temminck's Stint, Little Swift, Short-toed Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit, Rose-coloured Starling, Black-headed Bunting.

End-of-year British Pan-species list - 2344.

End-of-year Guernsey Pan-species list - 2025.

Garden moth list - 621.

New moths & butterflies - 6 - Coleophora lusciniaepennella, Small Seraphim, Bright wave, Black Arches, Clouded Buff, Long-tailed Blue

My ten favourite photographs of the year (in just chronological order). I feel that I didn't take as many photos this year compared to the previous two years, especially since I did not travel away from the UK. Of course, my favourite photos are not necessarily the most technically or asthetically perfect pictures, just the ones which I happen to like.

Ravens Pulias 4Mar15

Ravens at Pulias in March

Anais on beach2

Anais at Pembroke in March

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit at Vazon in April

Nomada flava

Flavous Nomad Bee at Jerbourg in May

Hummingbird Hawk-moth

Hummingbird Hawk-moth in the garden in July

Black Arches

Black Arches in the garden in August


Dunlins at Pulias in August


Whinchat at Pulias in September

Snow Bunting Vaz 19Oct15 b

Snow Bunting at Vazon in October

Water Rail STE 31Oct15 a

Water Rail in the garden in October

My 20 favourite films of 2015. Not necessarily the most critically acclaimed films of the year, but these are the films I  enjoyed the most. This is just from the new films I actually watched during last year, mostly online, rather than ones which were released last year. (not necessarily in this exact order of preference, but more or less so).

My top ten podcasts of the year. I listen to lots of different podcasts and these are the ones I have enjoyed the most over the last 12 months, and I would recommend that you try them out. It's much better than watching TV! (list not in any specific order)

A - The Carl Donnelly & Chris Martin Comedy Podcast - a couple of stand up comedians and usually a mate, just chatting about any old stuff like you're all down the pub.

B - Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo's Film Review Podcast - everybody listens to this don't they?

C - Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast - comedian Richard Herring interviews comedians and other people live on stage. Parky he is not.

D - The Black Tapes Podcast - Scary docudrama-style storytelling. Don't listen by yourself at night!

E - The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe - Science discussion podcast which doesn't sound smug or irritating like many science-based podcasts often do.

F - Elis James & John Robins on Radio X - Just the talky bits from these two comedians' radio show. Funny stuff.

G - Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy - hard rotation of The News Quiz and The Now Show. Classics.

H - Answer Me This - Helen Zaltzman & Olly Mann give amusing answers to listeners questions.

I - The Football Ramble - easily the best football podcast out there and makes me laugh a lot.

J - Adam Buxton Podcast - humerous interviews, amusing jingles, silly songs, what's not to like from this podcasting legend.

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!