During lockdown field observations have been somewhat limited with just Elliot and I the only observers spending our 2hrs exercise working independently completing the daily census as far as is possible. Alderney remains a virus free zone as I type this blog and it is a huge credit to the local authorities and community that this has been achieved to date.
Some interesting Gull ring reads in the field 20th March included 2 Great Black backed Gulls originally ringed at Portland Bill Bird Observatory. Other excellent research data was received from the Channel islands birds ringing scheme with news of a Dunlin ringed by a visiting Jersey ringer in Longis Bay Alderney in October 2016, re-trapped last year in Poland.
35 Dark bellied Brent Geese 5th Apr preceded a single on the 14th that may well be our last this spring. Common Shelduck peaked at 5 in Longis Bay 14th Apr. The male European Teal still present to at least the 18th Apr is looking very fine but may have to move on if he is to find a lady friend. Elliot spotted 2 Great Crested Grebes offshore on the afternoon of the 3rd Apr (an irregular and not annual visitor here – the Grebes that is, not Elliot). A movement of at least 22 Grey Herons passed over Alderney 5th April all headed NE.
European Teal – Longis pond – photo JH An amazing run of birds of prey began on 31st March when Elliot observed a heavily mobbed adult White tailed Eagle over the bird observatory, our last island record of this species was in 1908. Some 8 Merlins have been recorded during this blog reporting period and on the 15th April our first Black Kite this spring spent the afternoon with us having been seen in off the sea earlier that afternoon. It was great to see it perched in a tree on Longis reserve. The same day we had our first Hobby this year.
Black Kite Longis reserve – photo JH
Black Kite – Longis reserve – photo – JH A red letter day for birds of prey came on 16th April. A female Hobby rifled across Longis Common, a pair of Peregrines hunted the NE coastline and 2 Ospreys were spotted both headed north towards the UK. Pottering in my garden at the lighthouse during lockdown (bins always to hand), mid afternoon I noticed a bird that looked interesting offshore headed straight towards us. Lifting my bins only one option was immediately obvious, it was a spectacular Black winged Kite! First spotted about 100 meters out, it was one of those magical birding moments I will never forget. This is a first record for Alderney and a species not recorded on mainland UK. The bird came in very low and drifted (mainly gliding on long wings) across Mannez quarry where upon reaching the quarry edge it rose to overlook the plateau of low vegetation above where it stopped and hovered (Kestrel like) taking up 3 or 4 positions hunting during a tantalising minute or so before heading SW in the direction of the observatory about half a mile away. I was already on the phone to Elliot who charged into the observatory courtyard and managed a couple of record shot photos of the kite (good man) before it again headed SW and out of sight. My lasting memory of this event will be this Kite’s Owl like face looking straight at me as it approached dry land, and turning to my father (who is birder who was stood beside me) and squeaking the words ‘Black winged Kite’ with whom this became an even more priceless moment.
Black winged Kite – over the bird observatory Longis Bay – photo – Elliot Monteith Water Rail is still being recorded on Longis pond during our census work at least until the 16th Apr so high hopes of another breeding success for this species at this location. A single Redshank (uncommon here) was in Longis Bay 1st & 2nd Apr. Whimbrel numbers are picking up slowly with increasing single records and 3 on the 17th Apr. Yellow legged Gull sightings have involved at least 3 birds, the latest a 2nd Summer in Saye Bay on the 17th. On an exceptionally low tide 10th Apr there were 418 Herring Gulls in Braye Bay. A Common Tern fishing off the lighthouse in company with two Sandwich Terns 5th April pre-empted some interesting movements at sea on the 6th & 13th Apr. On the 6th, 11 Little Gulls, 6 Common, 4 Arctic & 23 Sandwich Terns and on the latter date 1 Little Gull, 6 Sandwich Terns and a Pomarine Skua. Our first Cuckoo this year was seen and heard on the golf course on the 10th Apr. Swallows and Martins have been coming through but not yet into 3 figures on any given day. 20 Tree Pipits have been recorded since 6th April and Elliot is bravely taking on the challenge of Yellow Wagtail sub species identification, recording 2 Blue-headed and several Channel so far with a single day high count so far of 28 Yellow Wagtails on the 11th Apr. Our first Common Redstart of the year were 2 on the 6th April, Black Redstarts have seen 18 records this reporting window but none since the 12th. Wheatears continue to ebb and flow with 35 on the 5th Apr including 4 ‘Greenland’ birds. Our first 2020 Pied Flycather was a fine male in Barackmasters Lane 15th Apr and the first Whinchat the day after a Whitegates. The persistent east winds brought us a fall of Song Thrushes 4th April with at least 62 birds recorded (all the nominate European birds). Sporadic records of winter thrushes were trumped on the 2nd Apr with an estimated 380 Redwings and 420 Fieldfares. 11 Ring Ouzels have been seen, the lastest 2 males on the 16th Apr. First spring records were of Garden Warbler 17th Apr, Common Whitethroat & Sedge Warbler 5th Apr, Reed Warbler 10th Apr and Grasshopper Warbler reeling on the 6th Apr. Fan-tailed Warblers have become a fixture at Longis reserve since early March and certainly 3 birds were present 8th Apr. A Rook 5th Apr was only the 2nd one since the obs launched in spring 2016. 2 female Serins were at Barrackmasters lane 5th & 6th Apr.
Yellow Wagtail – Whitegates – photo -Elliot Monteith Moth trapping has been a slow start with Powdered Quaker probably our best local record thus far as this species is scarce here unlike the UK. Also a female Emperor moth in the Obs moth trap 12th April. Our 2nd Large Tortoiseshell butterfly was on the 4th April and 1st Green Hairstreak on the 12th. Sadly with the annual spring Naturetrek holiday group visit unable to go ahead I missed the delight of showing off one particular area carpeted with the Green Winged Orchid. Somehow this Palmate newt managed to get into out bird bath that is 2ft off the ground… and just about wraps up this blog leaving me only to say stay safe everybody, we hope you enjoy the ABO blog and don’t forget for all those who live in the Bailiwick the Big Garden Birdwatch week starts on the 24th April.
Palmate Newt – Mannez Lighthouse Garden – photo JH
Green-winged Orchid – NE Alderney 16th April photo – JH
Emperor moth (female) NE Alderney – photo – JH
A Singe Brent Goose joined a high count of 5 Shelduck in Longis Bay on the 14th and the lone male Teal remains on Corbletts quarry. Black-throated Diver was on the sea off Mannez Lighthouse on the early morning high tide on the 11th, and probably the same bird off fort Razz on the 15th. 4 Whimbrel and 5 Turnstone on fort Houme Herb 11th were the high counts for these species during this blog period. 3 Purple Sandpipers at Fort Razz on the 16th was a rare sight here adding to records of only 2 individuals since we began recording in April 2016. A Snipe seen on the 17th was surprisingly our first of the year and an indication of the very mild winter. An Osprey passed over the ABO census area on the 16th. Water Rails remain in good numbers especially at Longis pond where up to 6 make themselves heard towards dusk. A Yellow Legged Gull was spotted on the 10th and on the 19th a Bonxie offshore at Houme Herbe.
Purple Sandpiper, Fort Razz, Photo Elliot Monteith
A Barn Owl is still favouring hunting between the target wall and Longis common during calmer weather and 2 Kingfishers were confirmed on the 16th. 4 Sand Martins passed by Corbletts Bay 11th, 3 on the 16th & 12 at Longis (18th) our first Swallow was at Mannez (19th). A Black Redstart (photo below) was at the obs on the 17th on the ‘new’ roof of the old armoury building, a pair of White Wagtails were present at the same spot surveying it for nesting opportunities. No large movements of Wheatears yet, recorded daily during our census, 9 seen on the 19th will likely soon become a very low day total. A rare for Alderney spring record of Mistle Thrush was of a single bird about the conifer tops close the Nunnery on the 11th.
Black Redstart – The Nunnery (ABO) photo JH
White Wagtail – The Nunnery (ABO) Photo JH
The first fair movement of Chiffchaffs was of around 100 birds on the 16th and on the same afternoon we ringed a Fan-tailed Warbler (zitting Cisticola) at Longis Nature reserve. Also of note locally, a spring record of Reed Bunting at Longis on the 19th.
Fan-tailed Warbler – Longis Reserve – Photo JH
On the 16th our first Peacock butterfly records of the year, 6 were seen during the daily census, on the same day our first Humingbird Hawkmoth of 2020. Unfavourable conditions have largely curtailed moth trapping thus far limiting us to just two sessions. Below photo a fine ‘Oak Beauty’ on the 17th.
Oak Beauty – Biston strataria, Photo- JH
Though we are recording birds at every opportunity, the official 2020 Alderney bird observatory census begins 1st March focusing on the designated ABO recording area. Effectively the entire north-east end of the island is checked every day, on average the census takes 3 to 4 hours to complete. Our spring census continues until mid May, then after a few weeks break the autumn daily census starts early July and continues right through to November. All 20 of the accredited British bird observatories complete this research resulting in one of Europe’s most comprehensive and long standing databases recording bird migration.
A single Greylag Goose was at Kiln Farm, the origins of these birds are always questioned as many are feral. This bird appeared very weary and easily spooked as it flew off immediately when a farm tractor entered the field some 200 meters away, at the same time large numbers of Gulls and Crows barely batted an eye-lid at the approaching farmer, there were no further sightings. A fine gaggle of 35 Dark bellied Brent Geese were in Longis Bay on the afternoon of the 5th. The single Shelduck that arrived 28th Feb was joined by a 2nd male on the 3rd Mar, both had departed by the 7th, a drake Teal was on Corbletts quarry (8th). A Black throated Diver was on the sea just off Fort Razz on the 5th, the Great Northern Diver present in Braye bay since the 17th Feb was last seen on the 2nd Mar.
Greylag Goose – Kiln Farm – Photo JH
Dark-bellied Brent Geese – Longis Bay – photo JH
On the 29th a Catte Egret was reported seen flying west up the island over arrackmasters lane, it was soon relocated at Kiln Farm from where it again flew west towards dusk. Water rail has been recorded daily with at least 4 birds present at Longis pond and 2 at Mannez quarry pond.
Western Cattle Egret – Kiln Farm – Photo JH
A single Redshank (uncommon here) was on flooded fields at Kiln farm on the 5th and Turnstone numbers peaked at 14 the same day. Whimbrels are passing through the island, 5 along the north east coast line on the 3rd the high count so far. An adult Yellow legged Gull was amongst a flock of Lesser black backed Gulls sheltering from high winds at Whitegates field on the 5th. A female Kingfisher was on Corbeltts quarry (1st ). A Water Pipit was found in Longis Bay on the 7th, present at the same spot the following day. 43 White, and 19 Pied Wagtails were recorded on the 3rd. Our first 3 Sand Martins were on the 7th. Late arriving this spring was first confirmed Northern Wheatear in the Channel Islands for this year (and only the 2nd confirmed Wheatear in the British Isles in 2020) was at Whitegates fields on the 8th. Some 31 Stonechats were seen in the Obs recording area on the 3rd. A single and vocal Fieldfare was spotted close to the lighthouse on the 6th and a Cetti’s warbler remains at Longis reserve. 2 Dartford Warblers were seen on the south cliffs path the Firecrest high count so far was 9 individuals on the 3rd. Our bird ringing got off to a good start with 2 UK ringed chiffchaffs amongst our first 20 processed.
Water Pipit – Longis Bay – Photo JH
Northern Wheatear (male) – Whitegates fields – Photo EM
Firecrest – Essex Farm – Photo – EM
Two Small White Butterflies feeding close to the observatory were confirmed by the British Butterfly Conservation Trust as the first records in the British Isles for 2020! These delicate insects are usually recorded from early May so this really is an exceptional record. A further excellent butterfly record was of a Large Tortoiseshell at Houme Herbe on the 3rd. The stormy seas have encouraged our Grey seals to seek sheltered bays, up to 4 seals frequenting cats bay included an enormous Bull Grey Seal on the 2nd.
Small White Butterfly x2 – The Nunnery – photo JH
The second half of Feb has seen continued tough conditions for birding but fieldwork efforts produced some interesting records. We are delighted to welcome Elliot Montieth our new assistant warden. Elliot has obtained valuable experience volunteering at other prominent British Bird observatories Bardsey and Fair Isle. Since arriving last week Elliot has already been working hard on our new for 2020 ‘Young Birders Camps’, taking place over two weeks this autumn. See below flyer.
The Great Northern Diver remained in Braye Bay until at least 24th. A drake Shelduck was briefly in Longis bay at first light this morning (28th). The rough seas have seen more Cormorants (generally marine here) taking to the quarry pools.
Cormorant – Waterworks quarry – photo JH
A female Peregrine Falcon rocketed past the lighthouse on 25th. At least 3 Water Rails declared there locations at dusk at Longis pond on 27th, the wintering Whimbrel still about on the 26th. Small numbers of Lesser black backed Gulls continued to appear daily with our first significant movement of 115 on the 27th. Information in this week of a colour ring being read in the field in Morrocco North Africa on 15th Feb, belonging to one of the Lesser black backed Gulls the ABO ringed on Burhou in July last year. 2 Mediterranean Gulls have been seen sporadically between Crabby and Braye Bay, Sandwich Terns have been seen in Braye Harbour (2 on 26th) and in Longis bay singles 21st & 27th. A Great Skua passed fort Razz on the 24th and on the 21st over 100 auks almost an even split between Razorbill and Guillemot, were recorded during an hours sea-watch. A very smart Barn Owl was taking full advantage of a brief let up in the weather conditions hunting in the vicinity of the target wall during the late afternoon of the 26th. A Great spotted Woodpecker ( very uncommon here) was in the conifer plantation near Blanchards on the 23rd. The Kingfisher was again at the waterworks quarry on the 20th (observe from behind the gate). A Grey Wagtail continues to frequent St.Annes High Street and there were 12 Pied Wagtails around Kiln Farm on the 27th. It was very interesting on the 26th to come across a species I’ve never seen in a flock before, with no fewer that 14 Stonechats together feeding along a single hedgerow along the west coast, the birds were all intent on feeding suggesting they were recent arrivals on the island.
Male Stonechat – west coast, photo – JH
Cettis Warbler was singing at Longis nature reserve 21st, a single Chiffchaff at the same location also that day. A Firecrest was near the football pitch on the 27th. A flock of around 60 finches, mostly Greenfinches with a few Goldfinches, is frequenting Longis common. Seals are being spotted regularly, especially along the NE coastline and in Braye Bay. Photo below 1 of 2 animals together in Cats Bay on the 26th. A bottle nose Dolphin was also seen off the NE coast on the 25th.
Atlantic Grey Seal – Cats Bay- Photo -JH
The predominantly hard weather has had any self respecting song bird sheltering in dense undergrowth. Fieldwork has involved observing birds being blown by rather than them flying by. During these storms we do tend to record more shoreline waders, numbers of Ringed Plovers, Turnstones and Grey Plovers otherwise passing us by are driven ashore seeking shelter. This is also a great time to look out for less common species avoiding the high seas seeking calmer waters, such as Divers and Grebes. A Great Northern Diver was feeding in Braye Bay (17th) diving for crabs with repeated success. Wader high counts included 30 Ringed Plovers & 5 Grey Plovers (9th) and 12 Turnstone (11th). An unseasonal and vocal Whimbrel flew by Mannez lighthouse (10th) was roosting with 92 Oystercatchers on fort Razz (11th). 2 Mediterranean Gulls were in Braye Bay (14th) and numbers of returning Lesser black backed Gulls have been slowly increasing. Island wide on the 9th crowds of huddled sheltering Herring Gulls totalled 305 birds in keeping with 44 Great black-backed Gulls. A Kingfisher was at the waterworks quarry (9th) and at Corbletts quarry (17th). 14 Rock Pipits were together tucking into insects on the seaweed left behind by the high tide at the north end of Longis bay (11th). 11 Pied Wagtails were on Kiln farm fields (12th) and a Grey Wagtail in St.Anne (17th). Crow numbers acheived the highest the obs have recorded to date with 127 at Kiln farm.
Great Northern Diver – Braye Bay photo JH
Turnstone – Longis Bay photo JH
Lesser black backed Gull – Crabby Bay
Rock Pipit – Longis Bay