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
As we gear up for a new season the big news is that earlier this month on the 2nd February Alderney Bird Observatory, as an independent organisation, company and locally registered charity have been awarded national accreditation status by the British Bird observatories Council. A concise report of the birds recorded by the ABO during 2019 is pictured below, visit the BOC website to read the full 3 page article along with the 2019 reports and research work of all the other accredited British Isles Bird Observatories. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in achieving this goal embarked upon as a pilot scheme in 2016, and look forward to hosting all of the birders, ringers and naturalists coming to stay at our wonderful bird observatory accommodation & field centre this year.
5 new bird species were added to the list of the birds of Alderney during 2019, taking the island total to over 300. All of the 2019 additions were discovered by ABO staff and our visitors. The 2019 annual total was our best yet at 183 species and once again more than 10,000 birds were ringed. The ABO team also added a never before recorded mammal species for our island, the Barbastelle Bat. 2020 see’s the launch of the ABO’s first ‘moth Weekend’ with attendees and speakers set for a ‘moth fest’ in July as we empty traps set island wide. With over 1200 moth species recorded here this focussed effort should be eventful (contact John on [email protected] for further details). Alderneys increasing reputation as a cracking location for flora and fauna sees wildlife tour operator Naturetrek increase its wildlife dedicated holidays to the Channel Isles, all lead by ABO staff, to 7 separate trips this year, including the first dedicated wildlife holiday company tour to the islands of Herm and Sark.
Having just returned to Alderney ahead of storm Ciara, and with storm Dennis is just around the corner, I’m off out to start recording the birds of Alderney for another exciting year!
Regular updates of sightings will appear on this website, our facebook page and on twitter, updated by myself and our new assistant warden Elliot Monteith.
Ending our 4th autumn monitoring migration in Alderney we have consistently seen a notable increase in new Dunnocks ringed during the month of October. This species is certainly not famous for its migrational movement records, Dunnocks wearing any kind of European scheme ring caught in the British Isles, are rare records indeed. Our initial thoughts were that we were witnessing local dispersal during the autumn months but our local retrap data has evidenced that movements across Alderney between our ringing sites are far and few between despite us ringing over 600 Dunnocks since April 2016. So some excitement 19th Oct 18′ when we caught a Dunnock sporting a French ring! It’s taken some time to obtain the original ringing data but worth the wait as we discover the bird was processed at Dunes du Fort Vert near Calais, the bird travelling just over 200 miles SW to Alderney in 7 days! This record goes some way to confirming our suspicions that in Alderney we are indeed seeing annual seasonal movements of Dunnocks heading south ahead of the colder months.
With some major projects to get our teeth into during 2020 we would be grateful if you would consider this easy way to donate to the ABO whilst it WON’T COST YOU A PENNY!
We’ve just joined #easyfundraising! It’s a great site where you can raise money for FREE when you shop online. All you have to do is create a FREE account and choose to support Alderney Bird Observatory Ltd. Then 4,000 shops and sites (including all the BIG names like eBay, John Lewis and Partners, ASOS, Expedia, M&S, Just Eat and many more) will donate to us for FREE every time you use #easyfundraising to shop with them.
See how it works by watching this 60 second video: http://efraising.org/Cqr4I6Ucy8
This is a great way to support the developing ABO project for FREE, to create an account just visit our page: https://www.easyfundraising.org.uk/causes/
The ABO is a registered charity Reg No. CH624
Alderney Bird Observatory
This summer the ABO were again able deliver the annual seabird ringing program. The only significant change was to use Dave Venn and his boat ‘Avanti’ to take our research teams and equipment to and from the various island throughout the seabird ringing season. The ABO would like to thank Dave for his excellent work transporting and landing us all safely on several occasions. Alderney tides can be challenging and a local experienced expert seaman is an entirely essential ingredient for these trips.
Storm Petrels have been ringed on Burhou island off Alderney island in the Channel Isles since 1962. This recording effort has historically been completed by the Channel Island Bird Ringing Scheme (CIBRS) members who’s bird ringers have been until the launch of the ABO in 2016 had come extensively from Guernsey. In recent years some of Alderneys islets have become part of the national RAMSAR scheme recognising the importance of Burhou in terms of its conservation and especially its various nesting seabird colonies. Since the ABO took the helm of the seabird ringing effort we have sort to standardise the work undertaken, consistency in the ringing methods and strategy produces annual data that allows us to more acurately understand and estimate the size of the breeding population of our Petrel colony along with insights into the fluctuations in the fortunes of this species over periods of years.
Burhou Island NW of Alderney
There is opportunity to land a bird ringing team of up to nine researchers. The ABO progress and experience has enabled us to include not only Channel Ilsands ringers but also to UK ringers for these trips, 4 UK based bird ringers joined us for this years group. We spend 2 nights on Burhou island on which there is an adequate stone hut with gas cooking facilities and bunks for sleeping, though tents are an option so long as they are within the walled garden area surrounding the hut ( and with permission from the Alderney harbour master). Getting to Burhou, 1.4 miles NW of Alderney, involves a 10-15 minute boat journey on a fishing charter vessel, from this we transfer a couple at a time to a smaller rib-type dinghy boat taking us and our equipment to shore.
First job is to move the equipment the short walk to the Burhou hut, then its on to set up the nets at the SE corner of the island. Here specified locations for net rides have been established. This years team soon had everything ready for our return in a couple of hours to open the nets at dusk. As we set up the nets and ringing base we were treated to great views of a Large Tortoiseshell butterfly. Two 18m nets can keep an experienced team of ringers busy for several hours, so it is important to keep the nets separate so that one or both can be closed should the numbers of birds exceed the capability of the team.
Setting up the nets soon after landing on Burhou island, in the background the SW corner of Alderney and Les Etacs Gannet colony
We do not deploy tapes of any kind, as darkness falls the birds are soon active and abundant. Walky-talky radios are deployed between the ringers and the ringing base to ensure resources are best deployed. Close attention is paid to the birds (and bird ringers) ensuring welfare and safety is maintained throughout. As with most forms of bird ringing, weather conditions play a major role, the nets are in fairly exposed positions so wind speeds need to be fairly low combined with no rain. Sophisticated weather apps now allow us to observe weather patterns in advance of the ringing sessions and this year conditions for our first night looked very promising against a potential second night predicting much stronger winds. In consideration of disturbance to the colony, the 2nd nights effort should it go ahead would take us to the NW corner of the island.
After a meal back at the hut we headed out and opened the nets as the light began to fall away at 9.40pm. Whilst our group waited in anticipation of the privilege of working with these wonderful little birds sometimes referred to as the Swallows of the sea, we were treated to a magnificent fly-by from a pair of Peregrines and their recently fledged chick.
Our first customer in the nets was a Rock Pipit. Burhou has a very strong breeding population of Rock Pipits, there is excellent potential here to obtain some important baseline data on this little studied species, something we hope to progress with next year. Soon after 10pm the Petrels were active and the team worked diligently through into the early hours packing up the nets towards 4am. Conditions had remained favourable and a combination of tired and exhilarated ringers/researchers returned to the hut to sleep having processed over 360 individual Storm Petrels.
Most of the team had surfaced by early afternoon and we then turned our attention to building on the work completed July this year; the annual program of colour ringing the Lesser black-backed Gull colony. The primary work on these Gulls is undertaken annually around the 9th July and we had completed this task this year returning 144 new ringed birds. This 2nd effort effectively mops up birds too young to be ringed during the earlier visit along with those that had been overlooked. As the afternoon temperature dropped we moved through the colony that consisted mainly of well grown fledged and flying 2019 hatch birds. We still managed to colour ring another 20 Lesser black backed Gulls along with 2 Great black backed and 1 Herring Gull.
The forecast early evening was of increasing winds and the decision was made to pull the team off the island ahead of the inclement weather, and head back to the bird observatory.
Despite our program being cut short the nominate site for data gathering was amply covered. We processed 360 birds during a single session and this included an impressive 8 foreign controls (birds originally ringed in a country other than Alderney) usually we see several French ringed birds but this time around all were UK ringed birds. The histories of these 8 individuals have been extremely interesting. 6 of the birds were ringed along the SW coast of the UK between Portland Bill Dorset and Porthgwara Corwall, but one bird was originally ringed as pullus (a chick in the nest) in the nest on Lundy island. A further bird was originally ringed in NE England in Tyne & Wear. We had over 20 local retraps that included a bird first ringed on Burhou in July 2000!
Further data and information and will be available to ABO members in the ABO annual report.
Above (left) Sexing of Storm Petrel looking at the extent of the white feathering on the underwing, and (right) ageing looking at feather wear & primary feather shape.
These unusual and exciting annual research trips are open to UK ringers, whilst experienced ringers are required for these teams the door is also open to one or two Trainee ringers each year. If you are interested in joining us for the 2020 seabird season contact John Horton the ABO Warden on TEL 07815 549191 or email [email protected]
Thanks to this years Burhou team who did a sterling and professional job gathering the data and to Carl Hunter Roach for providing photos included here.