|Posted on May 10, 2015 at 5:15 AM|
GUERNSEY BIRD RACE 2015
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!