PART 2. Shorebirds & Terns By ABO Warden & Alderney Island Bird Recorder John Horton Fewer seabird ringing trips to the offshore colonies did present the opportunity to channel resources at the breeding shorebirds, especially those within the ABO dedicated census area. Ringed Plovers bred successfully both inside and outside the RAMSAR site, four chicks were ringed at Platte Saline beach on 22 June
Ringed Plover chick – north west coast
Our field observations noted successful breeding of this species at three other sites. Excitingly, images taken in the field showed that one breeding bird (ring on left leg) was ringed as a chick here in 2019. Our ringing efforts provided the first evidence confirming the retention of individuals hatched on Alderney.
Ringed Plover NE Coast
We had by far our best year monitoring Oystercatcher chicks, ringing 13 birds within the dedicated ABO daily census recording area. Further breeding pairs were located around the remainder of our coastline totting up an impressive 22 pairs on mainland Alderney. It is likely that the number of breeding pairs is in excess of 30 including the offshore islets. Several Oystercatcher nest sites were inaccessible, or chicks could not be located during the window of opportunity to ring them.
Oystercatcher chick NE coast.
A gregarious nester, the fortunes of the Common Tern colony continue to ebb and flow. The ABO continued to work with the States of Alderney and Alderney Wildlife Trust to bring about the return of this species as a regular breeding bird on Alderney’s north east coast. The programme of eradicating rats at the Terns favoured breeding location managed by the ABO in 2016 went on to witness the breeding and successful fledging of Common Terns in Alderney in 2018, this after an absence of many years. It remains one of our most rewarding projects and notable successes. In 2020 the colony moved to utilise Fort Houmet Herbe. This location is tidal, and the Fort privately owned. Frustratingly, this meant we were unable to determine numbers of nests accurately or ring any tern chicks this year. On the plus side the forces of nature rendered the fort tidally marooned each day greatly reducing the potential of disturbance. Field observations were obtained from the adjacent footpath from where we were able to record eight chicks. Several other adults carrying fish were observed regularly dropping into the fort apparently to feed chicks out of our view. A high count of 36 adult birds were present at the colony at the peak of the breeding season and at least 12 birds successfully fledged. Having had a relatively good breeding season it will be extremely interesting to see if the Terns choose the same location in 2021.
The first of this spring ‘prospecting’ Common Terns (left hand bird wearing a ring) settling on Fort Les Hommeaux Florains 18th May.
There is little doubt that the banning of dogs and horses on almost all of Alderney’s beaches between June and September annually has an incredibly positive impact on the breeding success of our shorebirds during this most critical period. We were delighted to complete our most comprehensive study of the coastal breeding birds within the census area monitoring 10 species this year. Details of this study will be available in our 2020 annual report. Having developed close ties with the wildlife and ornithological organisations of our neighbouring Bailiwick Islands (and Isle of Man) I am aware that they would like to emulate our progress in minimising disturbance to nesting shorebirds.
PART 1. Seabirds
The ABO was able to make a significant return by way of our annual contribution to the States of Alderney RAMSAR program despite the obvious difficulties that this year presented.
Our observatory–led seabird ringing research trips have been extremely popular with UK bird ringerssince the ABO began leading this part of the program in 2016. The seabird ringing program on Alderney and its offshore islets began in 1945, undertaken for the Channel Islands Bird Ringing Scheme almost exclusively by bird ringers travelling from Guernsey to complete this important research work.
Alderney has had its own resident bird ringers qualified to manage the programme through the ABO since 2016. We have strived to develop and refine methods and best practice for obtaining data and minimising disturbance of our seabird colonies with each passing year.
Increasing numbers of UK ringers now travel to Alderney annually to assist with this work adding skills and experience to the wealth of knowledgecontributed by Channel Islanders.
Each of the scheduled trips for 2020 was fully booked with licenced bird ringers, an exciting, rich mix of experience and enthusiasm set to gather data in researching and understanding our seabird colonies. Alas Covid-19 saw forced blanket cancellation of our visiting bird ringers from the UK. Things looked bleak in terms of any offshore seabird ringing for this ill-fated year.
However, we were able to adapt and complete some of the most important elements of the RAMSAR seabird ringing program thanks to the small team of Channel Islands-based ringers.
The ringing of Gannet chicks on Les Etacs has been carried out by representatives of the Channel Islands Bird Ringing Scheme almost annually since 1945. Thelocal seabird ringers who have completed the task many times expressed a feeling that it is no longer safe for bird ringers to climb this rock due to the density of the colony and size of the nests.
A review of how to ring Gannet chicks on Les Etacshas been suggested and options to improve the safety of birds and ringers are being considered. Tons of nylon fishing gear is taken to the colony with seaweed nesting-material each season. Chicks and adults get caught in it and the team is often able to free them during the visits, making them all the more useful.
Ortac to the west of Les Etacs is home to a slightly smaller Gannet colony which is altogether a much easier proposition. Although landing can be tricky,moving around the rock is significantly easier.
Sadly, the timing of a local virus lockdown on Alderney prevented us visiting Little Burhou to ring the Cormorant colony. Visiting Ortac and the small auk colony on Coq Lihou were sacrificed this year in favour of pooling all available resources into a focussed effort ringing the Storm Petrel and Lesser Black–backed Gull colonies on the Island of Burhou.
More than 500 Storm Petrels were ringed over two consecutive nights, 17 and 18 July. The first-choicesite for ringing Storm Petrels if conditions allow is at the north–east end of the island at a dedicated location where just two 18-meter nets are deployed.This long-established site allows continuity of annual records and data returned.
The first Petrels begin to arrive soon after dusk (around 10:15pm) on the first night. This is a large colony, and two nets are quite sufficient to keep a team of five experienced ringers employed until 4am when we finish about an hour ahead of dawn. We processed 254 new birds, 29 local retraps and two overseas controls this year.
The weather conditions were good on the second night and we moved a short distance to the other dedicated location in the north west corner of Burhouagain to obtain valuable long-term data. Redeploying our nets we processed 259 new birds, 42 local retrapsand again two foreign controls. The winds began to get up around 3am and the decision was made to finish a little ahead of schedule.
A total of 588 Storm Petrels were processed, 513 new birds, 71 re-traps and 4 foreign controls (three UK and one French) over the two nights.
The first bird to be ringed, however, was a single Rock Pipit. This species does exceptionally well breeding on Burhou. There are well in excess of 50 individuals present in July each year. Rock Pipit is a species that has received precious little international research attention resulting in minimal baseline data. One scientific authority even referred to it as ‘The Grey Man’ of British birds.
Undoubtedly there is local dispersal of Rock Pipits across the Channel Islands besides the more significant migration movements. Though not a rare bird, it is arguably as important to understand why a species is doing well as it is to learn why they may be in decline. The ABO had a request to study these birds rejected by the Alderney Ramsar committee and we hope that a new independent panel of experts, set up to oversee all aspects of conservation and wildlife on Alderney, will recognise the opportunity to obtain data on these ‘forgotten’ birds.
Exciting news received by the Channel Islands ringing scheme this year was of a Storm Petrel ringed on Burhou, 20 July 2014, by Guernsey’s Chris Mourant. The bird was recorded alive and well 382km north during a ringing session on 22 July 2020 at Bardsey Bird Observatory (Great Britain, Gwynedd, Wales). The time elapsed was 6 years 2 days.
Further birds ringed on Burhou by the ABO teams in previous years processed this year outside the Channel Islands are:
– processed 30/07/2020 at Gwennap Head, Cornwall, Great Britain
– processed 19/06/2020 at Plemont Point, St Ouen, Jersey, Channel Islands
This year’s four foreign controls (birds processed on Burhou this year originally ringed outside the Channel Islands) are as follows:
Burhou 18 July
– originally ringed 26/06/2019 – Portland Bill, Dorset, UK – – ~ originally ringed 06/07/2019 – Gwennap Head, Cornwall, UK
Burhou 19 July
– originally ringed 01/08/2019 –Skokholm Island, Pembrokeshire, UK ~ originally ringed 05/06/2018 – Le Conque, Finistère,
In terms of longevity, the oldest birds re-trapped were two individuals originally ringed on Burhou in 2006.
Not wanting to waste precious time on Burhou, the team got on with colour–ringing chicks in the Lesser Back–backed Gull colony during daylight. This was my fifth year observing the productivity of this species and there was little doubt that a bumper year was in progress. In one small area of the colony where we have previously processed a maximum of 20 chicks in a good year, we found 47 birds.
There was, however, evidence of a marked increase in casualties with eight deceased chicks in the same area where in previous years we have recorded a maximum of three. There were fewer addled eggs located this year, only four. Overall, more birds were closer to free flying indicating that the dates for this research work should not be extended (if this is to be considered an average year). It was too hot during the day and scheduled work in the Gull colony wasdelayed until late afternoon rather than risk exposing chicks to the sun.
Combining the Gull and Petrel research was a great success given the difficulties arising from the COVID-19 situation.
Having considered disturbance of the colonies the ABO recommends the combined approach of a single Petrel / Gull visit as preferable. Indeed, a three–night effort would be ideal in terms of gathering data on these two target species. The benefits of less disturbance in a single visit were clear.
Being able to ring Storm Petrels on two consecutive nights was unusual. Winds often prevent ringing in exposed sites. An extra night would greatly improvethe chances of a good annual data return. It will be interesting to see the Gull population estimates from this year’s RAMSAR officer given our teams’observations and colony size estimates.
Two Herring Gull chicks and two Shag chicks were chanced upon and ringed. A further Lesser Black-backed Gull chick that wandered into our camp HQ on 19th was also ringed.
Field observations of passing migrants included a Honey Buzzard, Grey Heron and Common Sandpiper.
The accommodation hut on Burhou – Photo, Dan Scott
Burhou Island just NW of mainland Alderney
Other seabirds ringed on Alderney outside the RAMSAR site this year were two Herring Gull chicksand 28 Storm Petrels (22 new, 6 retraps).
Our mainland Alderney Storm Petrel ringing efforts produced the earliest record of the species (22 May2019). This year we continued to look at Petrel arrival dates and despite efforts from mid-May in good conditions our first birds were processed on 15 June.
Storm Petrel ringing on Alderney’s NE coast. The amount of white on the underwing can often determine the sex of this species, in this case above, substantial white indicates a male. Photo JH.
The first half of May usually sees less in the way of volume of birds passing through the island but usually more diversity that includes rare and scarce records to add to our data. Last year during these two weeks we recorded Alderneys first Thrush Nightingale. As you can see from this blog, this May certainly held some surprises. Breeding birds are in full swing and we hope to bring you news of a first breeding for Alderney in next months blog, for now we can reveal no further information as the welfare of the birds must come first, we want to give them every chance of success. A very good summary of Bailiwick wildlife law and clear guidance in terms of disturbing nesting wild birds at this time of year can be found on Guernseybirds website. This May also saw our assistant warden Elliot achieve a new record for most species recorded in Alderney in a single day with 79 different species spotted on the 8th of the month.
The single male Teal remained until the 19th, it appears he has some identity issues as he has been observed trying very hard to win the attentions of female Mallards. 35 Common Scoter were seen during a sea-watch on the 26th along with 3 Storm Petrels, 23 Manx Shearwaters and 1 Balearic Shearwater, of the latter also 3 on the 20th and 1 on the 22nd. Only our 2nd record (since 2016) of Quail was recorded calling from a meadow at Fosse Herve on the 31st. A memorable spring for birds of prey continued with a first record for The Channel Islands of Bearded Vulture. This magnificent bird was found and photographed by ABO board member Neil Harvey on the 19th with a couple of other lucky locals also noticing this gigantic bird and taking photos using their mobile phones. Though it was thought that the vulture departed high and to the north at 3pm, the following day it was again spotted, this time high over the Bird Observatory descending towards the lighthouse where it turned south west and out across the sea towards France. The bird had no signs of any transmitter, tagging, feather bleaching or rings and is likely wild born from captive released parents as part of the International Vulture Foundation re-introduction program of these birds to the Pyrenees and Alps. Just two posts on the ABO twitter page of this bird attracted over 150,000 views! The photograph below has subsequently featured in local and national newspapers, BBC & ITV news broadcasts and on BBC Countryfile.
A chastened Osprey flew low over the war memorial headed NE on the 31st. After recording Black Kites into double figures in April, there were two May records; over Essex Hill on the 2nd and on the 12th over Burhou Island. Also on the 12th an adult female Hen Harrier was hunting at Kiln Farm. Hobby was recorded on 6 separate dates involving a total of 8 birds. A Merlin passed over Mannez on the 7th. 5 Honey Buzzards were recorded between the 8th & 21st. On the 8th came our 2nd Black winged Kite of the spring (and no we couldn’t believe it either) some 16 days after the April bird this one appears to be a 2nd calendar year and was quite settled along the west coast where it spent the best part of 3hrs.
A Greenshank was in Longis Bay on the 19th. Common Sandpipers were thin on the ground this year with only 7 individuals recorded, all during the first week of the month. Two 2nd calendar year Yellow legged Gulls were in Longis Bay on the 11th. Pomarine Skua was seen offshore on the 2nd and on the 20th. A female Nightjar was hunting over Longis common at dusk on the 15th and a male was heard calling in a garden in St. Anne on the 19th. The Hoopoe ringed on the 26th of last month was still at Longis reserve until the 4th, likely the same bird was seen at Kiln farm on the 6th. Two vocal Bee-eaters flew over Mannez reserve on the 7th, they only hung around for a couple of minutes before heading out to sea to the NE.
Cuckoo was recorded on 8 different days. Just two Turtle Dove records this spring, 1 on the 1st in St. Anne allotments and another over the NE of the island on the 8th. Swifts moved through in small numbers throughout the month with a high count of 20 on the 25th. Migrating Tree Pipits were recorded almost daily until mid month. Single Blue-headed Wagtails were at Whitegates fields on the 2nd and 12th, the high count of Yellow Wagtails was a flock of 22 on the 12th. An estimated 1200 Swallows gathered over Longis reserve on the evening of the 15th, about two thirds moved off to the north east about an hour ahead of dusk. A Wheatear was observed feeding a chick on the 14th, this species has successfully bred on Burhou island in recent years but I am struggling to find any mainland Alderney records of the same. A rare spring record of Mistle Thrush (migrant only here) was on Longis Common on the 16th. A female Pied Flycatcher ringed at Mannez on the 12th is our latest spring record to date. Spotted Flycatcher records involved 12 birds between the 1st & 25th. The last of 3 Common Redstarts was spotted on the 12th. A Nightingale ringed at Mannez on the 3rd was in good voice at the same location on the mornings of the 4th & 5th but not after. A very rare spring record and new for Alderney was a Radde’s Warbler spotted by assisstant warden Elliot on the 3rd along the railway sidings close to the waterworks, the bird was calling and showed briefly but well. Single Lesser Whitethroats were on the 2nd & 3rd. A fine spring plumage Rose-coloured Starling was moving with around 40 Common Starlings between the Fosse Herve fields and adjacent residential gardens on the 31st. Three Serin records were of a female at Val du Sud on the 3rd, a male on the campsite on the 12th, and another over the golf course on the 17th. 4 Common Crossbills were seen flying over Essex farm on the 14th.
Moth trapping has had a slow start but cught up with some bumper sessions towards the end of May with over 30 Small Elephant Hawkmoth and 66 Cream spot Tiger moths over 3 nights.
During lockdown Elliot and I have made good use of our 2hrs exercise completing the census walk, a relaxation of the restrictions locally allowed us to obtain permission to resume bird ringing and have unrestricted census time from the 25th. The last two weeks of April are always a productive and exciting period for us here recording migration and this year didn’t disappoint. On the 23rd Paul Veron found a Canada Goose near the airport, a local rarity. On the 18th, 6 Dark bellied Brent Geese offshore were probably our last spring record for this year. Two pairs of Common Shelduck appear to have settled at the north east end of the island and the male Teal remained present to month end. Single Manx Shearwaters were seen off the NE coast 19th & 21st. Black Kite was present on 8 seperate days between the 18th & 30th, with 2 seen together on the 25th. From photos of individual birds it looks like one of them (most unusually) hung around for a week and that the period saw 4 or 5 individual birds in total. A female Marsh Harrier passed through on the 23rd and a 2nd calendar year Hen Harrier showed well over Whitegates fields 21st. Hobby was seen on the 19th & 25th and a Merlin 21st.
Water Rail was recorded up to the 26th sparking hopes of the repeat breeding of 2016. 4 Lapwing were reported from the Bonne Terre valley 21st. Other wader sightings included a Greenshank in Longis Bay on the 25th, a smart summer plumage Grey Plover 25th & 26th. A high count of 13 Dunlin on the 28th, Green Sandpiper showing well at Mannez reserve on the 21st, 4 single records of Bar-tailed Godwit (19th-28th) 2 Snipe on the 22nd and on the 30th a high count for this reporting period of 17 Whimbrel.
A dark phase Arctic Skua was spotted on the 19th and at least two immature Yellow legged Gulls regularly visited Saye Bay. The 18th brought an ‘observatory list’ (2016 onwards)first record as Elliot recorded a summer plumage Black Tern just offshore on the north east coast. A female Hoopoe ringed at Longis reserve on the 27th was still around on the 30th but very elusive. The 21st saw our first Swift movement with 19 recorded. On the 21st Elliot had brief views of a Red-rumped Swallow, a species I had expected to record before now, this the ABO’s first record although they have been recorded in the Channel Islands annually in recent years.
On the 27th a Tree Pipit trapped at Longis reserve was wearing a Portuguese ring, this transpired to be the first time this species has ever been found sporting a ‘foreign’ ring in the Channel lsands, 8 Tree Pipits were spotted on the 18th and on the same day 17 Yellow Wagtails. On the 22nd at least 6 Common Redstarts were present in the census area and a female Pied Flycatcher was at Longis 30th. 38 Wheatears were counted on the 24th, single Whinchats 23rd & 24th and single Ring Ouzels 23rd & 25th. The first Garden Warbler this spring was on the 23rd and first Wood Warbler the same day. 3 Lesser Whitethroats were seen towards the month end including one ringed on the 25th. The remaining Fan-tailed Warbler at Longis reserve was ringed on the 19th and was present singing and displaying daily to the 30th.
We added Small Copper, Orange-tip and Painted Lady to species of butterfly recorded within our census area, and 6 impressive Emperor moths on the 25th.
The ABO led Bailiwick Garden Birdwatch was a great success and results will appear of the ABO social media pages tomorrow. Thanks to all those who took part.
The local Bailiwick islands newspapers and social media had done us proud publishing our article on Gannet behaviour see https://guernsey.com/news/2020/05/05/birdwatchers-notice-gannets-behaviour-change-due-to-virus/ Also the ABO twitter feed blog page achieved some great publicity for Alderney with an amazing 34,686 views at the time of posting this blog.
Lastly, other welcome news is our observatory field centre accommodation has just received our ‘Quality in Tourism’ certification awarding us 4 STARS! We are enormously proud to have achieved this high standard, all we need now is for you to be allowed to come and visit!
Stay safe everyone.