Alderney 9-14 October 2012
With regular visits to well known islands and migration hotspots every autumn I turned my thoughts to trying a new destination. The French islands off Brittany seemed very attractive but I plumped for Alderney. This island is around 3.5 x 1 mile and offered a variety of habitats and the potential of visible migration, a party of seven agreed so it was organised and booked.
A keen party assembled and including me we made a group of eight birders and all were of course scenery and island atmosphere appreciators also. One partner was an independent Atlantic Wall enthusiast who was to spend his time ‘twitching’ bunkers and defensive positions. We birded around the weather which played a huge part in our first day. The forecast had been great for migrant arrivals, a low sat in the channel, thick mist shrouded the Channel Islands which would not budge, I bit nails, kept checking weather reports and crossed my fingers that we could fly.
The day before we travelled the flights were all cancelled, nervously arriving at Bristol airport we checked in, the flight was sadly cancelled. The fog was not going to move we had to start making other plans. The airline Auringny had agents on the case in the airport, it began to transpire that we could take a ferry in the morning to Guernsey , I asked them to re-arrange the flights from Guernsey to Alderney for the same time next day and we were put on a coach to Bournemouth, put up in a hotel, fed, transferred to the ferry port at Poole early in the morning for a 0830 sailing. We arrived on Guernsey where I arranged a taxi to the airport.
They had no information of our re-sheduled flight but re-acted immediately and began putting us onto earlier flights, only Roberta who valiantly volunteered (there were a few volunteers) to stay for a later (or possibly next day) arrival. We all got to Alderney via the Trislander aircraft by evening. The return journey on 14th was straightforward and very efficient as the weather was great.
The island is fabulous, plenty of areas to search, the ageing forts and defences offering cover for birds and something else of interest, the beaches, coves, headlands, moor, cliffs, woods, golf course, gardens, hedges, pools and quarries all providing plenty to do.
A list of the birds recorded on the island can be found via this link. This is not the list we recorded but everything ever recorded. It would have been quite a trip if it was!
9 October 2012
1230 flight cancelled so we were transferred to Bournemouth for the 0830 Poole Ferry sailing. Driving down the weather was horrendous, bad enough for the coach driver and understandable that it was impossible to fly. It was bad luck for all and unavoidable.
Up at 0500 for an early breakfast and load up the coach ready for the ferry, it sailed on time into the murk of the English Channel. We sailed by Brownsea Island which allowed some great birding. The lagoon held four sleeping Spoonbills, 3 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 200 Avocets, 200 Black-tailed Godwits, flocks of Cormorants, Little Egrets and lots more. A Great Crested Grebe, Shags and Cormorants were about the harbour and on entering Studland Bay another party of Brent were feeding on the beach. A reasonably close Black-necked Grebe was feeding in Shell Bay as we cruised by.
Heading out around the chalk cliffs we were seeing Skylark and Meadow Pipts heading across the channel, this was repeated many times during the crossing, true visible migration (vismig). Seabirds were noted during the crossing with a total of seven Great Skuas (two in Alderney waters near Ortac), one Pomarine Skua, 30 Gannets, a 1st winter Kittiwake and a few other gulls. Approaching Burhou Island and getting tantalisingly close to Alderney we steamed by Ortac (rock stack) with resident Gannets atop and all around fishing the sea. Even more were to found at Les Etacs rock stack where an even larger Gannetry is situated, more on that later.
Docking on Guernsey the weather began to clear, we were soon at the airport via a taxi ride and after leaving bags we set off for a walk through a nearby valley and followed a coast path. A number of Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Goldcrest were seen as well as a Peregrine that MJ spotted on a rock stack. Plenty of Swallows fed above the cliffs and the sun came out making it rather warm. Back at the airport were to fly in two parties with a last minute change making it seven of us on the 4.10pm flight and one on the 5.40pm flight.
The flight in to Alderney went directly over the Les Etacs Gannetry, they did not mind at all and carried on with whatever they were doing. A short taxi ride and check in at the hotel and we were ready to go for a birding walk.
It was a calm evening, the mist from earlier now gone, sun and a light breeze from the east. A few steps from the hotel and we walked into at least three gems…Firecrests accompanied by Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. Further along the road a few Goldcrest were found. Braye beach was our next stop, scanning the rather attractive harbour a flock of 19 Ringed Plover and a Turnstone were noted with Curlew and Oystercatcher. A roost of mainly Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls with lesser numbers of Black-headed and Lesser Black backed Gulls was centrally placed on the beach. Best of all were a first winter and three adult Mediterranean Gulls among a roost of c25 Black-headed Gulls on the rocks at the east (Mount Hale) end with two Little Egrets.
On the road and rocks a Wheatear hopped and it was soon apparent that large numbers of Chiffchaff were present. About 30 had been logged so far. Following the road to a track beneath Fort Albert we saw about 10 Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler plus the Blackcap tally had gone up to c20. A couple of likely Ring Ouzel sneaked off whilst the Blackbirds were more obvious. A Kestrel swooped in and dispersed the birds and Buzzard sat on the fence posts. The sun began to drop and we thought it time to head back, a dark thrush was spotted on the wall and my attention drawn to it, a Ring Ouzel showing to everyone but still nervous. It was a productive wander. In the dark we saw a few Wrens and Stonechats on the way back. We ate at the Harbour Lights Hotel where we stayed and all enjoyed the food very much.
Up for breakfast at 0800, out by 0900 and the overnight weather front and easterly winds got the imagination going. Only 50 yards down the road around the Cotil de Val it was very clear that a large fall had taken place, dozens of Chiffchaff, Blackcap with other species flying over or dropping into the trees such as Chaffinch (40) and Redwing (30) in flocks, lots of Song Thrush (20), Blackbird (12) and Woodpigeon (50) were also noted. Some of the group (Anne and Mick) saw a Jay on the slopes above the town. A few glimpses of a Hobby eventually turned into a perched view of a bedraggled juvenile. This bird spent the whole day flying up and down the island and was probably the same seen daily to our departure on 14th.
Two Firecrest were among the Goldcrest and Chiffchaff in the pine plantation and we logged our first Common Redstart here near the railway and sand/soil quarry. A heavy rain shower made seek shelter under the pines. A couple of Stonechat fed near the beach.
After the rain we set off again to Braye Beach and headed east seeing the Wheatear again and at least three adult Mediterranean Gulls were bathing on the sea nearby and flew to the east end of the beach with the Black-headed Gulls. Across the road on a scramble track our first Whinchat appeared but was chased off by a grumpy Robin, this being a recurring theme of the week. We followed the railway line (not used in winter) and checked the hillside scrub logging warblers as we went. Arriving at the ‘bandstage’ quarry we found it alive with birds, a Ring Ouzel, maybe two, a Redstart, Common Whitethroat, 8 Chiffchaff, 6 Blackcap and plenty of common migrants. Another Redstart flicked along the track. Moving on we checked Mount Hale Battery and footie pitch where two more Whinchats were seen and then Fort Albert where the Hobby was putting on quite a show as it plucked insects on the updrafts. It disappeared now and again, reaching the highest part where a gun position once was this falcon gave me a shock appearing a few feet in front of me on the ground. It swooped around us and darted up the slope below us to our eye line, it stalled a few feet away, a magic view.
The views were pretty special across to the sunny Saye Bay and lighthouse. It was a sheltered spot for a sit-down break. A Small Copper was in the bracken on the slopes and moving on we carried on with the stroll carefully checking everything. The campsite had a weedy chicken run patch where a few pipits sprang. Mick had a Tree Pipit on the fence, I missed it as I was distracted by yet another Whinchat #4 and a few Greenfinches. Another small flock of Starling fed on Corblets Bay beach. We checked the Corblets quarry, now a pond where 5 Coot and 7 Mallard fed, a sheltered area behind a wall held two more Redstarts and a streaky dark brown bird flew a short way and dropped into low brambles below the cliff and fort. Despite surround it a few feet away and waiting, pishing and searching, it never re-appeared.
Moving on to the lighthouse another Redstart flew off toward Mannez pond, at the lighthouse a further four were noted with Stonechats and another Ring Ouzel that was initially close. Checking the bushes and gardens gave us more Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. At the point I had walked everyone far enough trying to make the most of the day. Another sit down rest, Shags sat on the rocks and the tide race looked very dangerous out in the ‘roads’ . I picked up a flock of geese coming in from the east, they were Pink-footed Geese, 21 of them heading to Fort Houme Herbe point and then flying south along the island never stopping. We did point them out to one resident walking a dog.
A breezy stroll around the headlands then up onto Longis Common above Mannez Pond, another two Ring Ouzels, maybe three ‘chack-chacked’ from the bushes, one dared show itself a few times in short, nervous flights before diving into cover. We followed a route through the brambles and gorse and dropped to Longis Pond, Water Rail was heard and Moorhen. A Raven, two Kestrel and three Buzzards hung in the wind. A Coot fed on the pool and another Whinchat was on the brambles outside. Another sit down by the sewage works (or nearby Roman Fort, if you like) and the Longis Beach was scanned as well as the bushes and sallows. Little Egrets and Mallard could be seen. We walked back up and over the hill past the golf course seeing Redwings and Song Thrushes and dropped back down to the hotel for the night. Most of us ate at the Mai Thai restaurant, some the Braye Chippy.
Selected species day totals were
Ring Ouzel minimum of 5
A bright and very breezy day saw us heading to Braye Beach and a route following the coast path to view the Gannetry. A Whinchat was in the dunes, a couple of Wheatears, White Wagtails and Meadow Pipits all noted while we sheltered from a rain shower. A Turnstone and Ringed Plover were on the beach with a few Oystercatchers and Rock Pipits. Mick had seen a number of Wheatear in the same area pre-breakfast. At the harbour wall we surprised a Merlin which had made a kill.
At Crabby Bay a party of 10 Ringed Plover were accompanied by a Sanderling. A sheltered cliff held a Whinchat, Whitethroat, 6 Chiffchaff, 5 Blackcap, Wren, Song Thrush and Dunnock. The blustery Platte Saline beach had two Wheatear and three White Wagtails in the tideline, Mick spotted a grebe offshore which turned out to be a Slavonian. The westerly wind was blowing in onto the shore but underterred we pressed on in the sunshine and checked every nook and cranny until reaching the viewpoint for the Gannet colony. We had passed a few flocks of Linnet (40) and Goldfinch (6) and 4 Stonechat. A Merlin buzzed the finches. The views of the Gannet colony were excellent, bill fencing, squabbles and nests of fresh looking seaweed, rope and netting adorned the stacks. Returning we saw 6 Stonechat together, a pair and 4 juveniles, a family?
We headed for the airport, a hot drink and a taxi to the other end of the island, back to the quarry near Mannez Pond. Finding the comfortable and promising hide it was rather quiet here, only a calling Water Rail and a Migrant Hawker of note. Another route up and over Longis Common, we saw the Whinchat here again. Another check of Longis Bay revealed a Black Redstart on a bunker wall, it performed in the sunshine for us.
Spot the Black Red on the bunker (top right)
We bumped into one of the Alderney Wildlife Trust staff here (James) who told us of a couple of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and a few Hobbies had been around a day or two before. We eventually headed back across the island and back to the hotel but stopped at the ‘bandstage’ quarry where a Ring Ouzel played hide and seek and plenty of warblers fed. That evening most of us ate at Rea’s and all enjoyed the meal. Two headed for the Braye Chippy.
Another day out birding, this time starting along the lanes on the way to Braye Beach, a few Greenfinch and Goldfinches, Chiffchaffs, Starlings and Goldcrest were all seen. A Peregrine with a few primaries missing soared around the bay, a Raven flew over. On the beach the Whinchat was seen again as was two Stonechat. We walked to the campsite area again passing Linnets and Stonechats, at Saye Bay the Rock Pipits were directly compared to a different bird. It was very windy and eye watering so we had to get into a better position to study this bird. It was being chased around by the ‘Rockits’ but gave good views close by before disappearing. The strong westerlies raised hopes of Buff-bellied Pipit but it was a Water Pipit. A Wheatear and three White Wagtails fed on a nearby beach with Rock and Meadow Pipits. Two adult winter Mediterranean Gulls flew in from out to sea and headed toward the lighthouse. We moved to the next bay where three adult winter Mediterranean Gulls fed around the bouys. The same birds as seen on previous days?
Another walk across the Longis Common to the bay watching two Wheatears and a Raven on the short rabbit grazed turf, a Little Grebe on the pond, followed by a very intensive search of the sallows and the streamside trees revealed two Migrant Hawkers, plenty of Chiffchaff, a brief Firecrest. Mick and Roberta saw a Yellow-browed Warbler when we were searching through the Chiffchaffs high up the valley. No other sightings were made so we headed back to the garden centre cafe for a sit down and drink. We did see a lot of Speckled Wood Butterflies in the sheltered spots. When I went into the cafe to use the loos Mick saw a Yellow-browed Warbler in the sallows next to the cafe but it was chased off by a Chiffchaff and despite searching we never relocated it.
A walk from here past the Essex Castle and following clifftop paths gave us a Wheatear on top of a car, a neat and tidy Peregrine Falcon, male Sparrowhawk fresh off a kill and approaching the farms 7 Blackcap, 2 Chiffchaff and 12 Pied/White Wagtails. Two Skylark were in the cattle field and two Stock Dove flew over. It rained again so we sheltered, it was decided that we would drop off the scopes and bags and head for St Anne, the town for an hour. A few Collared Doves and the Hobby were seen before we walked to Platte Saline, Crabby Bay where 3 White Wagtails skipped about, checking Braye Bay it was a very high tide so nothing could be found so we gave up for the day. We ate Rea’s in the evening, great meal.
Outside the hotel in the morning we noted the Hobby, two Sparrowhawks, 3 Siskin, 3 Long-tailed Tits, 10 Chiffchaffs and 4 Redwing. Two Firecrest were again in the hawthorns and gardens near the hotel. We had a 0930 flight to Guernsey but Mick saw a Dartford Warbler just as we were boarding the plane, on take off a flock of c20 Lapwing flew up from one of the fields. At Guernsey we remained in the lounge as we had a 1130 flight to Bristol, clear and sunny all went to plan and we arrived back in only 50 minutes.
A very enjoyable trip, great laid back group who all loved the island.
Species seen/heard on Alderney
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Guillemot (MJM only)
Tree Pipit (Mick only)
Pied Wagtail/White Wagtail
Dartford Warbler (Mick only)
Yellow-browed Warbler (Mick and Roberta only)
Jay ( Anne and Mick only)