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Sun 5th May 2013

Posted on May 9, 2013 at 2:15 AM

GUERNSEY BIRD RACE 2013

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The Sunday before the May Day Bank Holiday is the official day for the Guernsey Bird Race and it has been for 27 years. Last year we didn't take part in the proper race as we did it on a different weekend, but this year we were back in the game. We did pretty well this year, but we are still waiting for the planets to align and us to achieve the magical one hundred species and nirvana.

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The Sultans of String - myself, "5-sites" Mourant, The Gupster, and Sgt-Major Turner - the One Direction of the birding scene.

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I'm just going to give a quick run down of the highlights of the day as I don't have any photos for illustration, because if your stopping to take photos on a bird race, you're doing it wrong!

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Meeting up at half-four, we discover, as usual, that Mark and Chris had a Barn Owl from the car on the way, but it wasn't a problem as we all soon had a bird calling from near a nest box. Heading across to the Claire Mare at first light, we ticked off a couple of Snipe from the hide which can be elusive on bird race day and we lopped off plenty of common species as we slowly made our way south to Pleinmont to catch the early-morning migrants.

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Up on the headland there was clearly not a fall of migrants but a Ring Ouzel perched up in Mabel's Field was a bonus. Here we also had flyover Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtails, and a surprise was a Snipe flushed from the scramble track. Even more surprising was a Kittiwake passing offshore - I've never seen a Kittiwake from Pleinmont before. 49 species.

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This year we didn't have to worry about catching high tide until late in the afternoon so we headed straight to Saumarez Park to try and find some singing warblers. Unfortunately neither Willow or Wood were forthcoming but we had good views of a Garden Warbler near the pond.

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After ticking off Swift and Tufted Duck at Grande Mare we decided to head up to the north of the island, checking Pulias on the way. Just as we were looking for waders on the beach, Mark spotted a magnificent Short-eared Owl flapping in our direction. Definitely a bonus bird and a local patch tick for me too! It seemed to get spooked by the clay-pigeon shooters and appeared to head out to sea. 61.

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After that we slowed down a bit, checking a few sites but nothing unexpected seen. Wayne had a bunting-type bird in flight at Ft Doyle but it disappeared quickly. Both Raven and Jackdaw flying over the Grand Pre were unusual, and a Common Sandpiper flew from Miellette beach. We headed for Town to catch the boat to Herm.

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From the ferry we quite easily saw Guillemot and Puffin but couldn't see the more elusive Razorbills. Whilst waiting at the dock in Herm, we had just decided to leave without them when I managed to pick 3 up through the 'scope, close in against Jethou. So we returned straight away but at £3.83 per tick the auks were quite expensive! 72.

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After a quick break at Jerbourg for a cuppa, the weather was amazing and we watched hirundines piling in off the sea. Next stop was Petit Bot where a male Firecrest was singing and showing excellently. We may have had a brief Wood Warbler here too but we weren't sure. Then whilst ticking off the Peregrines on the south cliffs, the other three saw a large, distant raptor heading inland. They were quite sure it was Osprey but couldn't be 100%. 

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Now it was mid-afternoon, we were on 74 species and we had to start "mopping up". We visited various sites in the west with Claire Mare scoring us Shoveler, Greenshank and the elusive Heron. We spent quite a bit of time at Pleinmont but a Whinchat was the only news species, although we had both Garden Warbler and Firecrest at Vaux de Monel. Again, the other three saw a huge raptor way out over the sea which they thought was Osprey - perhaps the same bird - but they couldn't quite clinch it. 78.

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As the tide had turned and it was starting to drop quickly, we turned our attention to waders and found four new species at Vazon - Bar-wit, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Turnstone - and also (thanks to a kind tip-off from another birder) we raced back to L'Eree and ticked off a superb Golden Plover on the Old Aerodrome, which luckily flew in just as we gave up and were leaving. Now we were on 83.

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Next was the Guet where Goldcrest was easily found calling in the pines, then Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming and seen at a site on the outskirts of St. Peter Port. Bullfinches couldn't be found at Dell Nursery but we easily found them in the Talbot soon after - 86.

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We then went to Port Soif to tick off Stonechat as we knew that there was a pair there. We never used to have to go to a specific site for this species, as we always just bumped into one - clearly in decline. 87.

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Running out of species, we searched unsuccessfully for Grey Plover before grabbing some chips for tea. It was now well after 8 o'clock and the light was dimming so we headed off to Chouet for our usual evening seawatch. We didn't need the Manx Shearwaters we saw as we'd had one off Pleinmont earlier, but in the failing light we did see a few very very distant Storm Petrels way off shore. 88.

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We were quite happy to finish on 88 although we knew that one more species was possible after dark - Long-eared Owl. We waved to one of the other teams who were sat in their car waiting for a LEO to emerge and we decided that we couldn't be bothered to do the same after a long day. So we headed home across L'Ancresse Common, and...... WHAM! A Long-eared Owl almost smashed into our windscreen as we drove away! Lucky is not the word. 89.

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So we finished on 89, which turned out to be the highest score of the day. We felt we'd been quite lucky, so we were quite fortunate I suppose. We have been amazingly consistant in the Bird Race (when we have done it on the official date, and when we have completed a full day). In the last seven races we have had 88, 88, 89, 88, 88, 90, 89. So only two species variation in all those years. All our full races are shown on the graph below.

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Maybe the magical 100 is now beyond us. Maybe it is due to species disappearing as breeders in Guernsey. Maybe it is due to declining numbers of migrant birds countrywide. But for us, the competition with the other teams isn't the important part. Our raison d'etre is always the 100-species Everest and we have to believe that perhaps next year will be the year.

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Categories: 2013 Spring