TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Alderney 2003

Thursday 24 - Sunday 27 April 2003


Leaders:
Mike Stentiford, Jersey
Jamie McMillan, Dorset

SHOULD there ever be a lucky number attached to a spell of benign weather then the number nine should come high in the fortune ratings.

Despite being surrounded by an assortment of inclement weather fronts, the Channel Island of Alderney delivered far more sunshine than showers to the goodly nine-some of enthusiasts during their four-day visit to this wild and splendid island.

TRIP DIARY

DAY ONE - Thursday April 24th.

After a punctual arrival at the tiny airport and the short journey to the hospitable Belle Vue Hotel, no time was lost in gaining a quick acquaintance with this, the most northerly of the Channel Islands.

A grassy track adjacent to the hotel, with its overpowering scent of three-cornered garlic, led down to Braye Harbour from where an easy meander was taken to the coastal strips of Crabby Bay and Platte Saline. As expected, these stretches of open water quickly yielded scores of offshore Gannets, Shags and a scattering of Common Terns. Wading birds were also well represented although a scattered flock of Common Sandpipers were well ticked and appreciated by our group of keen enthusiasts. The return to the hotel for lunch was further enjoyed thanks to some sporadic sightings of Blackcap and Sedge, Garden and Willow Warblers.

After a most satisfying lunch, introductions were exchanged with Roland Gauvain, the newly appointed officer of the Alderney Wildlife Trust. Roland is obviously, and naturally, extremely proud of his island and its special wildlife.

In his relaxed and knowledgeable company, the group was taken during the afternoon to one of Alderney's south coast headlands to visit the newly established 'Wildlife Bunker'. Built by the German Occupying Forces as a World War II, Radio Communications bunker, this previously austere building is now proving popular as Alderney's Countryside Interpretation Centre.

On the Braye fields near the airfield we were entertained by several smart Whinchats as well as Wheatear, and a pair of Ravens repeatedly flying past.

A late afternoon return to the hotel for evening dinner was followed by yet another diversion, again in the company of Roland. On the still and starry night, we were taken to Longis Common where, armed with a duo of bat detectors, a handful of Common Pipistrelle bats were wonderfully considerate in loudly 'clicking' their close proximity. Our detectors told us that these were indeed Common, and not the recently discovered Soprano Pipistrelle, that also occurs here and can be told only by its higher-pitched click!

DAY TWO - Friday April 25th.

DESPITE a rather grey start to the day, no time was lost in further exploration of this 3.5 x 1.5 mile wildlife paradise. Jamie started the day by spluttering into his tea as a Marsh Harrier flew past his window and the pre-breakfast walkers saw several Wheatears on the cricket pitch and shore.

A leisurely post-breakfast stroll down to Braye and Platte Saline gave us a good selection of waders, including Sanderling and the trip's only Turnstone. We were met once again by Roland who explained the environmental significance of a sheltered valley known as Bonne Terre, with its old Watermill being restored by local volunteers.It was here, and much to everyone's delight, that a Common Buzzard made the first of two such impressive appearances during the four-day visit.

Also inspected during the morning's diversion was the dreadfully neglected 19th century Fort Tourgis, the object of many a grand project that sadly failed to materialise due to lack of finances.

Then the groups' sea legs were put to the maritime test with a midday boat trip around the island of Burhou and Les Etacs, a stack more familiarly known as the Garden Rocks. A heavy rainshower was hardly noticed as expectations were fulfilled with splendidly close sightings of Puffins, Gannets and Fulmars.

After quickly gaining our land-legs, and fortified (in a truer sense) once again with a more than adequate lunch, the afternoon was enjoyed with a visit to Longis Bay and the comparatively new bird-hide.

From the comfort of its interior, some newly hatched youngsters of Mallard and Coot greatly animated the large pond while Cetti's, Reed and Sedge Warblers - not to mention an acrobatic brown rat - all made a valid contribution to the afternoon's watching. The Cetti's Warbler was the first our groups had seen here in eight spring visits.

We then made our way up Barrackmasters lane, where a fine Wood Warbler gave good views as it sheltered from the rain. Somewhat damp, but certainly not disheartened, the contented group then made their return to the warmth of the Belle Vue Hotel to reflect on the day's successes - and to the evening's menu.

DAY THREE - Saturday April 26th.

THE third of four pre-breakfast bird-walks with our illustrious leader Jamie McMillan was fully enjoyed by the participating majority of the group. Sadly, not by yours truly who was nursing an abnormally thick head cold - I know! any excuse!

During this particular 'listening hour', however, the group were blessed with the call of a Golden Oriole, a really special tick to be sure! Sadly, they failed to gain a glimpse of this smart bird.

The bright and sunny morning was enjoyed by another opportunity to view the gannet colony of Les Etacs but this time from the impressive grassy headland of the Giffoine. The constant activity and guttural chattering of some 3,000 pairs of nesting gannets never fails to impress the watcher, even those who have witnessed the spectacle several times over. Here we also saw our only pair of Razorbill of the trip.

After seizing some excellent photographic opportunities, the group set off back to the hotel for lunch via a delightful footpath appropriately known as the Zig-Zag. On the way, a Grasshopper warbler was heard reeling from a sheltered valley.

It was here, in the surrounding patches of dense gorse and undergrowth, that a splendid pair of Dartford Warblers, plus a bevy of performing Whitethroats, delighted the well-pleased onlookers. We headed back via Clonque Bay, where a Little Egret graced the rocks.

After a late lunch in one of St Anne's fine hostelries, we set out in the rain for a 'short' walk to the northern shore - but decided to charter a train instead! The esteemed Alderney Railway Company was running up to Mannez Quarry that afternoon, so The Travelling Naturalist's private train was duly set in motion for the approx. 2-mile ride. We actually managed to see some birds from the train in the rain - a group of 12 Whimbrel on the Fort Albert sports field.

When we got there, the sun came out, so we had a breezy walk back over the golf course, with few new birds, but a fine female Emperor Moth in pristine condition found on the road verge.

DAY FOUR - Sunday April 27th.

OUR final day on this 'bird-friendly' Channel Island when the group appeared happy to put themselves in a distinctly relaxed mode. A pre-breakfast walk produced our first Alderney Golden Plover - a northern-race bird just going into summer plumage - on Platte Saline.

With all departures scheduled for the afternoon, a gentle return to familiar territory was deemed a pleasant way of easing ourselves into the day. With this in mind, a most pleasing meander to the Longis Common bird-hide, via the pretty little Barrack Master's Lane, filled the bright and sunny morning perfectly.

A 'couple of doubles' were well appreciated at the quite splendid bird-hide with the overhead appearance of a Peregrine, our second Common Buzzard, a repeat of the loud, sharp and erratic call of a Cetti's Warbler, and not to mention our old friend the acrobatic rat! We finished with a walk in sunshine around the lighthouse and north-east corner of this varied and beautiful isle.

After a light lunch, farewells were exchanged, flight-times were checked, and a final overview of Alderney was enjoyed from the small and noisy Trilander aircraft as it made its way back to the UK mainland.

The four-day visit went far too quickly and, despite a consistently heavy cold, another return visit to my northerly sister isle was greatly enhanced by your cheerful and delightful company.

I sincerely hope that you have all taken home some warm and cherished memories.

Mike Stentiford.

April 30th 2003.

SPECIES LISTS

BIRDS

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Two at Longis Pond; one at Mannez Quarry

Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis A few seen offshore each day. Breeding pairs at the Giffoine.

Northern Gannet Sula bassana Constantly in view offshore. Fabulous views of the Garden Rocks colony (approx 3000 pairs off Alderney) on the boat trip. Many birds carrying nesting material.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Up to 4 each day seen off Platte Saline.

European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis Many noted offshore each day.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta One in Fort Clonque Bay on 26th.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna One on Burhou seen from the boat on 25th. One past the lighthouse on 27th.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Up to 30 noted daily. Ducklings seen on Longis Pond.

Eurasian Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus One over the hotel in the early morning of 25th.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Two seen in Val de Sud, 24th. Two regularly seen near the hotel and in le Val. One at Longis Pond, 27th.

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo One in Bonne Terre Valley on 25th. One Longis Pond, 27th.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Two or three noted daily.

Peregrine Falco peregrinus One over Longis Pond, 27th.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus All too abundant.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Pairs seen Platte Saline, Longis Pond and Mannez Quarry.

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Pair with young on Longis Pond. Two pairs on Mannez Quarry pools.

Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus Common around the coast and on Burhou. Up to 70 noted daily.

European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria A northern-race bird in summer plumage on Platte Saline Beach on 27th was a new species for us on Alderney.

Greater Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula A pair seen on Platte Saline beach on two days.

Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica One Braye Bay on 25th with two there on 26th; one Longis Bay on 27th.

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus Noted 25th- 27th usually on short turf; max 15 on 26th included a remarkable 12 on Fort Albert football pitch seen from the train.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata One over the Golf Course on 25th; one Fort Clonque, 26th.

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia One on Longis Bay on 25th was a new species for us on Alderney.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos Five in Crabby Bay on 24th.

(Ruddy) Turnstone Arenaria interpres One on Platte Saline, 25th.

Sanderling Calidris alba One on Platte Saline, 25th.

Dunlin Calidris alpina Two, Platte Saline, and five, Longis Bay on 25th.

Herring Gull Larus argentatus Common; noted daily

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus Common; noted daily

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus Common; noted daily

Common Tern Sterna hirundo Four off Platte Saline, 24th, with one off Braye Harbour, 25th.

Common Guillemot Uria aalge A few off Val de Sud on 24th, with just two from the boat by Garden Rocks, 25th.

Razorbill Alca torda Two off the Giffoine, 26th.

(Atlantic) Puffin Fratercula arctica Wonderful views from the boat of at least 50 off Burhou on 25th; one off the Giffoine on 26th.

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Noted daily.

Stock Dove Columba oenas Two in fields by Barrackmasters Lane, 26th, with one there on 27th.

(Common) Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Noted sparsely around the island, with the greatest concentration (30+) near Barrackmasters Lane.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Noted daily in St Anne's.

Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Disappointingly, only heard in Longis Valley on 25th.

Common Swift Apus apus Singles noted on 25th and 27th, with two seen on 26th.

(Eurasian) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis Up to 10 noted on the Braye fields.

European Sand Martin Riparia riparia Noted daily; max 4 on 26th.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Up to 30 noted daily.

Common House Martin Delichon urbica Up to five noted 25th- 27th.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba Up to three noted daily.

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Common. 50+ noted daily.

Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus Remarkably scarce. Two seen from the boat on Garden Rocks on 25th, with one on the Giffoine Cliffs, 26th.

Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Abundant - the most numerous bird on the islands apart from Gannet??

Hedge Accentor (Dunnock) Prunella modularis Common. Noted daily.

Common Blackbird Turdus merula Common. Noted daily.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Common in the sheltered valleys on the north side.

European Robin Erithacus rubecula Oddly scarce. Up to three noted daily.

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra Six on the Braye fields on 24th.

Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata Up to four noted daily. Longis Common and Giffoine/Zigzag were the favoured sites.

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Up to 10 noted daily.

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti A male singing at Longis Pond was unexpected, and a new species for us on Alderney. According to the notebook it had been in about a week

Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia One heard reeling in a sheltered valley between the Giffoine and the airfield on 26th.

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus One near the hotel on 24th. About five Longis Pond on 25th with a few still there on 27th.

(Eurasian) Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus About two Longis Pond, 25th and 27th. One singing from near the old watermill 26th.

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus Remarkably scarce this year. One on 24th with two on 25th.

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Common. 20+ noted each day.

Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix One Barrackmasters Lane on 25th performed well for us in the damp weather.

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Common. 20+ noted each day.

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin Just one near the hotel on 24th.

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis Up to five noted daily.

Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata One on the Giffoine was followed by splendid views of a pair displaying at the Zigzag on 26th.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus Heard singing in conifers near the hotel on a couple of occasions.

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus One seen by Jamie from the hotel window (while on the phone to Beijing!) on 27th.

Great Tit Parus major Common. Noted daily.

Blue Tit Parus caeruleus Nothing like as numerous as the previous species. Up to five noted per day, 25th - 27th.

(Western) Jackdaw Corvus monedula One or two birds seen around the western end of the island and on Garden Rocks.

Carrion Crow Corvus corone Common. Noted daily.

Common Raven Corvus corax A pair seen sevral times along the south coast on 24th.

(Eurasian) Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus One singing before breakfast in Le Val was almost tracked down by the pre-breakfast walkers, but in the end we failed to see it. A new species for us on Alderney - and an excellent find!

Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris Common. Noted daily.

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Common. Noted daily.

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Common. Noted daily.

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Up to 10 noted daily.

Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina Up to 40 noted daily.

Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula A male and two females in Barrackmasters Lane on 27th.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus Common. Noted daily.

MAMMALS

Western Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus Corpse seen on the road near Longis Pond

European Mole Talpa europaea Molehills seen in many places.

Common Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus Just seen and positively identified as this species with Roland's bat detectors around the Nunnery/Longis Pond on the evening of 24th.

Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus A particularly acrobatic and determined individual seen on - and falling off - the Longis Pond feeder.

Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus Noted daily.

BUTTERFLIES

Small white Artogeia rapae Singles noted on 24th and 26th.

Green-veined white Artogeia napi One by Nunnery on 27th.

Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines One reported on 24th.

Red admiral Vanessa atalanta One Watermill on 25th.

Speckled wood Pararge aegeria One near the hotel on 24th.

MOTHS

Drinker moth Philudoria potatoria Caterpillars noted amongst the grass on two days.

Emperor moth Saturnia pavonia A superb female at the edge of the golf course on 26th.

Brown-tail Moth Euproctis chrysorrhoea Abundant caterpillars and nests noted.

OTHER INSECTS

7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata One at the Nunnery

Wow! This trip has certainly come on a bit since I was last on it. Bat-detecting, converted bunkers, fort history, a boat trip, and a real train ride - I think our first ever 'chartered train'! Good birding this year too. Well, it always is!

Many thanks to Roland Gauvain for showing us his excellent and surely unique wildlife bunker (we were greeted with 'have you seen Roland's bunker?' by almost every local we met), taking us to parts of the island we might have missed, like a tiny wet meadow, and for taking us out on the exciting bat-detecting evening. And the Land Rover ride was even more exciting!

Many thanks indeed to Mike for his relaxed, friendly and considerate leadership, and many thanks to the group for your excellent good company on an all-too-short trip.

Jamie McMillan

Dorchester, April 2003


© The Travelling Naturalist 2003