Blog

Sun 2nd May 2010

Posted on May 3, 2010 at 4:55 PM

GUERNSEY BIRD RACE 2010

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0400

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Successful bird races are made by planning, planning, and more planning - strategy meetings and trial runs are a must - tide tables, ferry times, weather reports to be printed off for reference. But the Sultans of String don't go in for all that malarky - this year's planning was "see you at the Barn Owl site at 4:30".

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4:20 - waiting for Mark & Chris in the lanes, scanning above for migrants

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The weather forecast was giving rain in the morning, heavy at times, then stopping later on to make way for strong northerly winds - awful conditions for a Guernsey Bird Race, but you've got to give it a go just in case it's "the One".

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So just after half-past, we started on a high note with a superb Barn Owl in the torchlight flying across a field near an occupied owl box near the Fauxquets.

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0500

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After dumping Mark's car at Rue des Bergers for the day we headed straight down to the hide at the Claire Mare. Even though it was still technically dark, we thought that the Spoonbill seen the previous day might head off on migration at first light. So we were pleased to see it in front of the hide. And it was quite a beautiful sight as it fed energetically in the moonlight, jumping around, knee-deep in the water, chasing its prey.

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During the next hour we moved up to Pleinmont and found out that the wind was far too blustery for many migrants to be around, but we were happy the predicted rain hadn't occurred. A Greenshank was an excellent bird to tick off when it drew our attention by calling a few times as it migrated past the headland. Also a Raven was a useful addition.

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0600

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After nearly an hour up on the headland our migrant total was one Wheatear, so we decided to give it up and try the bays. A Peregrine showed well at Mont Herault as we drove jeep across the tracks. The common bird species were being ticked off and we reached 40 with Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel on the Shingle Bank.

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0700

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Round the back of the Claire Mare we had already seen the Marsh Harriers, and then we had quite a few Yellow Wagtails fly in and land in the field by the pond. This encouraged us to try the hide again which was a good choice because as we pulled up, a Lapwing flew in from the sea and headed inland. The Spoonbill had decided to stay and was resting up in front of the hide.

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Spoonbill, Claire Mare

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We then looked in the field and saw that the Yellow Wagtails were feeding on the grassy area to the left. Then suddenly one popped out with what looked like a black head! The wagtails were being very nervous and flighty and not showing well at all and this bird disappeared as soon as we saw it. The flock constantly was moving, and we saw the bird again out in the open this time and through the bins we noted that the throat was yellow and, although the head was very dark, it was actually grey-tinged on the nape and crown, which pointed to Grey-headed Wagtail (race 'thunbergi'). We were amazed at this bird as it was a real stunner and very rare - I don't think it has been recorded in Guernsey before. But it did give up somewhat of a dilemma as we needed to really record this bird properly for the files, but we were supposed to be rushing round on a bird race. In the end we got out the scopes and cameras to try and look at it properly and record it for posterity, but it was having none of it, and we only saw it in brief moments. In the end we wasted the good part of an hour before we gave up and moved on. But it was worth it - what a bird!

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0800

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A few Dunlin on the beach at Vazon were to be the only ones of the day, and disappointed by the lack of waders so far, we saw very little for the next hour. We bumped into Vic, Tony and Rob who told us of a couple of good birds they'd seen - a diver, possibly the Pacific and Wood Warbler. We couldn't find the diver.

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0900

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Into Saumarez Park, we quickly found they fellas' Wood Warbler high in the trees and there was also a showy Garden Warbler - a species we more often miss than get. Short-toed Treecreeper and Goldcrest were easily lopped off there, followed by Tufted Duck at the Grande Mare and Buzzard over the ridge. Grey Wagtail was quickly seen close to last year's breeding site and we then headed up the Talbot Valley to check a few spots. We knew that there had been a few sightings in the Talbot this year, but to just bump into a Great Spotted Woodpecker in trees at the side of the road really was amazing and gave us a real boost, as this was not even predicted as a possible. We headed up towards the Reservoir and as we turned the corner towards the dam a falcon flew high across the road. We watched it slowly fly west across the valley - a superb Hobby! We were really flying at the moment.

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1000

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At the Reservoir itself for Little Grebe, we had two Turtle Doves chasing each other, which brought us up to 70 where it always starts to slow down. We checked various sites on the way back to Town, but no new species.

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1100

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Most of the next hour was spent trudging round the Track Marais which was very quiet, although we did tick off both Long-tailed Tit and Bullfinch which was useful as they can sometimes be tricky. We did have a probable Willow Warbler here but we couldn't be sure and we didn't have another all day.

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1200-1500

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These hours were spent on the trip to Herm. One of the key things to do here is to try and get all three auks before the boat docks, so that you don't have to waste time scanning or walking the wrong way. We did this easily which was great which gave us time to yomp right up to the Common. It was well worth it with single Brent Goose and Sanderling on the beaches. Red-legged Partridge was ticked off but still there were very few migrants to be found. We even gave ourselves time for a cuppa at the Mermaid before we headed back on the ferry. Up to 82 species.

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1600

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It was then we hit the wall. Just like the marathon runners, no matter what effort we were putting in, we were getting very little out of it. Also by now,of course, the general public is out in force getting in your way and being noisy. So it was 2 hours before our next tick - a surprising pair of Shovelers on the Vale Pond. The Black-tailed Godwit that I'd seen here the previous evening had gone it seems. To boost our flagging efforts we then went for the only easy bird we still needed with Stonechat at Fort Hommet - number 84.

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1700

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We were waiting for the tide to rise so we went for Jackdaws on the south coast which we found easily, but we were unsure what to do next. The wind had gotten somewhat fresher and was blowing Pleinmont to pieces and there was little new in the L'Eree area. We decided that the most likely species that we could get was Turnstone because there was always Turnstones around wasn't there?

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1730 - 1900

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So, an hour and a half later and after looking at a few thousand rocks, we thought that there may not be any Turnstones on Guernsey after all! We ate our bags of chips and envisaged the embarassment of admitting to everyone that we didn't see a Turnstone.

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1900 - 2000

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We knew we still had a couple of species we were quite confident of getting and due to the northerly winds, Manx Shearwater was passing regularly off Chouet, some of them quite close. No other species was moving though, so we popped into our Long-eared Owl spot close by - and as soon as we arrived one popped out of a tree and flew a short way - an easy number 87.

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2000 - 2100

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We really wanted to get one more to equal last year's total, so we raced on back to L'Eree to see if there was any sign of Golden Plover that had been seen earlier that day - but no. We waved hello to the Spoonbill for the fourth time that day and just as the darkness was setting in, we made out some movement on the beach. Was it really? Could it be? Number 88? Yes! Never had we been so excited to see a Turnstone!

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Epilogue

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We are being amazingly consistant recently with our last five years' totals being 87, 88, 89, 88, 88. The migration conditions in each of these years have been between poor and average, so we are happy that next time the conditions are right, we can break the record of 96. And if we catch it just right, the magical 100 is on the cards. Long live the Sultans!!

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Categories: Self-found Rarities, 2010 Spring