ABO Spring 2019 review


This spring was probably the best one we have had so far in terms of field observations. The daily migration census research maintained 100% coverage 1st March to 31st May, a marked improvement on last year. Along-side helping us to continue our work building a picture of Alderneys role as a major flyway, a number of species rarely recorded in Alderney were seen, including two species added to the expanding birds of Alderney list. The spring effort owes much to the enthusiasm and birding skills of the 2019 spring migration assistant Joe England, who whilst not birding was ringing, and whilst not ringing was birding!
This spring of course saw us become an independent organisation; Alderney Bird Observatory Trust Ltd. Whilst updates and features have been regular on both our facebook and Twitter blog pages, the recovery and updating of our website has taken some time, but we are delighted to be back!
The following is an overview of the spring highlights, a comprehensive compilation of 2019 will of course appear in the annual report.

When perfect conditions overnight presented themselves we took a punt at catching Storm Petrels along the NE coastline of Alderney, we were delighted to land 5 individuals on the 22nd May. The annual ringing effort for this species traditionally takes place on the last weekend of July on the islet of Burhou. This year we are set to be joined by a strong team of qualified UK ringers for our dedicated Petrel ringing expedition. So long as the weather is with us we are set for a couple of cracking nights monitoring of these otherwise hard to see birds.

It was a good winter for Divers and the last Great Northern Diver, a summer plumage bird was seen from the observatory across Longis Bay 1 on 25th Apr. A Black-throated Diver on 24th March was a fly-by observed from Chateau L’etoc. Great Crested Grebe is not annual for us here and very likely the only record for the year was of a winter plumage bird in Saye Bay on 27th March. Visiting Guernsey birders Jamie Hooper et al found a Cattle Egret in Longs Bay 26th April.  Great White Egret was seen on 16th April & 29th May, both over Longis Common. A visiting Hampshire ringing group were delighted to see a Black Stork passing over Essex Hill 13th April. A White Stork was observed from a fishing boat off our West coast and on the 5th May. Also joining us on E & NE winds from the nearby French coast each spring are Birds of prey. Some are heading due north but it seems many of these records are of individuals that drift across on the late morning thermals, traversing the Alderney south facing coast they then drift back to the continent again. Three Ospreys were spotted this spring, 5th April, 8th & 13th May. We get a lot more Black Kites here than we do Red’ and this spring sightings involved at least 4 individuals during April; 1 on 8th, 1 on 15th, 1 on 20th into 21st and 1 on 23rd. The latter in off sea spotted by visiting ringer Katie Ford). There were also 4 Honey Buzzards all in May; 5th, 16th, 19th & 22nd. Goshawks was reported 13th April & 19th May. Our first Hobby was 19th April, one of 6 April and 10 May records. Below photos Joe England Black Kite (left) Honey Buzzard (right).

A Common Crane drifted over Longis Common 24th Mar. With little habitat for waders, records of fresh water waders are particularly hard to come by. We had a Jack Snipe on Longis nature reserve 2nd Apr
and a fly over record of a passing Wood Sandpiper on 13th May. A single Great Skua was seen off Mannez lighthouse 13th March. Turtle Doves records here are becoming far and few between as with mainland UK, just 2 birds this spring, 24th & 26th April of likely the same bird in Barrackmasters Lane, then 1 further bird at Mannez 5th May. Our first Cuckoo made itself heard 16th April and we had a good spring here on with 7 further April records and May recording up to 24 birds, the increase in Cuckoos saw the unusual opportunity of one caught and ringed 1st May.

Cuckoo – Photo John Horton

A single Short eared Owl was seen at Giffoine 18th April and then the mesmorising sight of one in off the sea a Houme Herbe took place on the 31st May. A rare Nightjar record was stumbled upon by Joe England when he went into the observatory courtyard for a late evening cigarette on 27th April only to find Nightjar swooping around above his head! Our first Swift was over Barrackmaster’s Lane 29th April. A fine Hoopoe was found by visiting ringer Phil Clay on 17th April, Phil also took the photo in this review.


Hoopoe, photo Phil Clay
We recorded Wrynecks into double figures last August but spring records are far less common.  One was found by visiting Guernsey birders Mark Guppy and Wayne Turner on 23rd Apr at Mannez Garrenne, the bird was present at the same spot on 24th, photo Mark Guppy.

Wryneck – Photo Mark Guppy
Great Spotted Woodpecker is becoming annual with one at Barrackmaster’s Lane 2nd-23rd March and a different individual 9th – 11th Apr. Our first 3 Sand Martins arrived 19th March and on the same day our first spring Swallow. We went on to experience a very poor year for Swallows, something echoed by many this year. House Martin however was considerably earlier with one present at Corblett’s quarry 4th-6th March. On 16th April Joe found the first new species for Alderney of the year, a cracking Olive backed Pipit in Mannez quarry at the green waste site. Joe managed the below record shot. A UK rarity most often seen during the late autum, only a tiny percentage of British Isles records of this species occur in spring. This one appears to be the first spring record for The Channel Isles.

Olive-backed Pipit – Photo Joe England
Tree Pipit had an impressive spring with over 50 recorded, 16 of which were ringed between 9th Apr-1st May. Water Pipit records were 1st March and 7th May. A Blue headed Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) was at Whitegates fields amongst some 30 Yellow Wagtails on 16th May. Our first Wheatear of the spring was on Longis Common 6th Mar. 1st May brought our 2nd first for Alderney of the year when we caught and ringed a Thrush Nightingale at Mannez quarry. I must admit had I not been present for the ringing of 20+ Nightingales in Israel in March, several of which I had extracted, I may not have immediately got the impression that this bird was far less contrasting in colour between the upperparts and tail, prompting me to look much more closely at the possibility of a Thrush Nightingale. Retreating to the ringers bible and more recent French ringers guide, we were soon identifying a number of features that left us in no doubt.

Thrush Nightingale – photo John Horton

The first incoming Common Redstart was 3rd April, a species we annually do very well with, 22nd were ringed before the last migrant record on 5th May. The last moving Redwing record was 3 on 19th Apr. The last Fieldfare 24th April. An amazing run of Ring Ouzels began with 1 on 24th March, over 70 individuals were recorded during April, I was lucky enough to be present when a single flock of 5 flew over mannez quarry and soon after present for a memorable 26 that came in off the sea a Mannez, the whole chattering flock landing and feeing amongst Blackthorn. The last Ring Ouzel of the sping was on the 9th of May, a first year female located by a visiting Naturetrek wildlife holiday group. First spring Garden Warbler was on 18th April , Lesser Whitethroat was 24th Apr, ahead of both species the first Common Whitethroat on the 9th April. First Sedge Warbler 6th April, Reed Warbler 16th April respectively. We are seeing increasing records of Fan-tailed Warbler with a single was displaying at Longis reserve 28th & 29th April. Grasshopper Warbler saw a dip in records this spring with a single singing near the airport 29th of April one of only two birds reported. Willow Warbler arrived 21st Mar at Essex sewage pans and was  recorded through to 31st May. Wood Warbler is never common, this year records of 3 birds (2 ringed) 28th April, 4th and 20th May.

Wood Warbler – photo Joe England
Spotted Flycatcher was first observed by Lee Sanders along the South Coast Cliffs 19th Apr, the popular Pied Flycatcher 1st of April near to the airport and last seen 14th May in the bonne Terre valley. Our first
Woodchat Shrike, surprisingly since 1996 was found at Mannez Garrenne 30th April and last seen 3rd May

Woodchat Shrike – photo Joe England

Two very vocal but elusive Golden Orioles were in the Bonne Terre valley 12th May. A male Serin was seen near Essex farm 8th May, and two unusual local records were of 2 Lesser Repolls 29th April. Hawfinch was reported from two separate locations 3rd. 7th, 14th & 16th April. Probably my spring highlight was this wonderful male Common/Scarlet Rosefinch ringed at Longis nature reserve 27th May. And finally, one lucky observer saw a singing male Cirl Bunting at Giffione 26th March, sadly the bird did not hang around.

John Horton

ABO Warden.