(24) Tuesday 18th June
This will be another busy week for the Ecology team, with an overnight Burhou trip on Tuesday/Wednesday to continue with puffin counts and then a visit to Les Etacs on Thursday/Friday to remove as many as possible of the 27 GPS tags attached to gannets earlier in the month.
On Wednesday and Thursday Roland and Anne-Isabelle have been invited to attend a roundtable meeting of the regional managers for the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) within the Norman Breton Gulf which is taking place in Mont St Michel. This will give them an opportunity to learn about projects in progress on the other side of Alderney’s waters.
During the week Bill Black and Sandy Robertson have been combining their photographic expertise and enthusiasm and have got some excellent shots of a Peregrine chick. Elsewhere a Shelduck was reported on Longis Beach by Jill Watson on 13th and an opportunistic Moorhen and her 3 chicks were noticed happily swimming in the flooded area on the edge of the cattle’s current grazing plot opposite the Nunnery on Sunday. This morning a Cuckoo was heard at Essex Farm.
David was in Sark last week so there is no moth report for this newsletter; however butterfly numbers are increasing with lots of Common Blues and Walls around and a fair number of Red Admirals now appearing. Less common sightings over the past week include a Green Hairstreak in Trois Vaux, a Green-veined White in the Vau du Saou and a couple of Clouded Yellows on Longis Common this afternoon.
Whilst the floral extravaganza on the south cliffs, although still good, is possibly past its best, in Trois Vaux there are majestic displays of Foxgloves, Red Campion and Wall Pennywort together, and Longis Common and Houmet Herbe are putting on their own floral exhibitions. Particularly exciting are the displays of Kidney Vetch, Pale Flax and Smooth Catsear along the Houmet Herbe path in areas where Hottentot Fig was cleared last year. A little further on, by the Houmet Herbe trenches, you will see mosaics of pale pink English Stonecrop and bright blue Sheepsbit. Bell Heather is just coming into flower and if you look carefully in the long grass you will find a few plants of the dainty, nationally scarce, Small-flowered Catchfly. If you climb down on to the rocky ledges towards Fort Houmet Herbe itself you will now find Sea Milkwort in flower. When in bloom these otherwise inconspicuous low growing plants cover rock crevices and surfaces with a pink carpet. Sea Milkwort only grows by the sea and stores fresh water in its fleshy leaves which helps to counter-act the salt in the environment it inhabits.
As the weather at last warms up bats are becoming more active and Paul Griffin will be leading the first weekly Bat Walk of the season on Thursday 20th June – meet at the Tourism Information Centre at 21.00. Watch will be doing their own bat walk on Saturday 22nd.meeting at St Anne’s School at 21.15.
Last week Alderney Watch was joined by a group of youngsters from Sark, to be known as Sark Watch, allied to the Alderney Wildlife Trust. This is the first time such an amalgamation has occurred, but it has every chance of being a big success.
Finally, the Wildlife Trusts have recently devised three new awards for younger members and on Friday 28th June at 18.00 at the Museum three members of Alderney Watch will each be giving a presentation on a chosen subject to complete the top award, that of Nature Ranger. They will be the first from the Channel Islands to get this far. Come and support them!
(21, 22, 23) 27th May – 10th June
Wildlife Week has kept the Trust staff busy over the past couple of weeks – preparation, the Week itself and then the clear up - hence the lack of newsletter, for which apologies. Wildlife Week started off with a very successful BBQ held at Essex Farm as part of the Alderney Performing Arts Festival starring folk music from France (Les Provisoires) and from Sark’s Peter Gabriel Byrne, as well as music from local bands. During the course of the following week the Trust’s boat, Sula, carried out a number of seabird trips and also a round the island trip with Trevor Davenport to look at Alderney’s fortifications from the sea. Other Wildlife Week events included terrestrial and seashore foraging, a bird race, a history and military heritage walk and kayaking. The Grand Finale was a four course SOS dinner to raise awareness of the recent PIB disaster which has killed at least 4,000 seabirds (and probably many more).
A 3 year Phd seabird GPS tagging project got underway towards the end of May. The project is being run by The University of Liverpool, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Alderney Commission for Renewable Energy (ACRE), with the support of the Alderney Wildlife Trust. A number of Shags (from Coque Lihou and Burhou) and Gannets (from Les Etacs) are being fitted with a small waterproof GPS receiver. This form of GPS tagging should help uncover much about the birds’ lifecycle, their feeding and foraging habits and the potential impacts that marine developments, such as renewable energy installations, may have.
The Puffin season is well under way on Burhou with the puffling chicks now mostly hatched and the adults kept busy taking food back to their nests. As well as monitoring the puffin colony Trust staff has been assisting with the colour ringing of Lesser Black-backed gulls on Burhou. This work will give a lot of very important data on the birds - where they were born, where they travel to, where they breed, how long they live etc.
Bird sightings over the past couple of weeks have included several sightings of Marsh Harrier, including one scanning the reed beds at Longis pond, a Bee-eater on the Giffoine seen by Bill on 26th May, a pair of spotted flycatchers seen by a visitor at Clonque on 2nd and 3rd June and a Hoopoe near Telegraph Tower recorded by Trust staff on 5th June. Dartford Warblers have been recorded from the ZigZag and above Hanaine Bay and there are Mallard ducklings and Coots and Moorhens with chicks galore on Longis and Mannez ponds.
As a result of the poor weather very few of the UKBMS (Butterfly Monitory Scheme) transects have been walked this year and butterfly numbers seem to be well down for the time of year. However the first Glanville Fritillary was seen at the top of the ZigZag on 31st May and on the same day, at Houmet Herbe, Meadow Brown (1), Small Heath (lots), Brown Argus (1) + lots of Common Blue and Wall. Another Glanville Fritillary was seen at Houmet Herbe on 6th June as well as 2 Painted Ladies. Red Admirals began appearing towards the end of last week and there are lots of Walls everywhere – normally the second brood is the more numerous, so it will be interesting to see what happens this year with the first brood over a month late.
Over the past week there has been an Ermine moth caterpillar infestation on the south coastal path and also at the bottom of Butes Lane. Shrubs and hedges, particularly blackthorn and hawthorn are eerily shrouded in white cobweb-like silk. The caterpillars eat every leaf and create these webs making the tree look like “a goth’s bedroom…at Christmas”! The trees will make a full recovery and the caterpillars will turn into ermine moths which are native to Britain and an important part of the ecosystem. This phenomenon has also been occurring in southern Britain and is possibly as a result of cold weather killing off predators such as ladybirds.
Otherwise on the moth front a Small Yellow Underwing was seen at Houmet Herbe in sunshine on 29th May and again subsequently. On 31st May Peach Blossom (2) and Scalloped Hazel came to the Essex Farm light; there were 2 Marbled Coronet at the Fraggle Rock trap and Poplar Hawk at three sites. The Pod Lover was seen in the Valley on three nights and May Highflyer on 1st June, a record late date for first of year. A Pine Beauty was seen at the Blaye trap on 1st June, also very late. Yellow-barred Brindle were recorded at three sites last week and a Lime-speck Pug at Fraggle on 8th June. The first two Small Angle-shades of the year and first Orange Footman and Small Phoenix were in the Valley trap also on 8th June. Thrift Clearwings (by day) first seen on 3rd June (3) at Houmet Herbe out of the wind and lots on 6th at several sites.
There seem to be more Green Tiger Beetles around than usual and at sheltered sites one can sometimes see several at once. Bumble bees seem to be doing quite well, and honey bees have suddenly become more numerous. The strange mining bee Anthopora plumipes has been seen regularly, especially in the Valley and in Water Lane. It is like a small bumble bee but flies much faster, can hover and hums loudly. It plays a big part in the extraordinary life-history of the Oil Beetle (look this up & see!) Oil beetles can be seen trundling awkwardly on waste patches around the island.
Various broomrapes are appearing all over the island; the Greater Broomrape on Prostrate Broom on the south cliffs is probably the most spectacular and the deep purple Yarrow Broomrape probably the most attractive, but there are also some good specimens of both Ivy and Common Broomrape right in the centre of St Anne. Pyramidal Orchids are just beginning to appear and there are a couple of plants of Bee Orchid in bud, but they are very late and few and far between this year. Ragged Robin, on the other hand, is having a good year and there are spreading patches at Blue Bridge, in the quarry along the Clonque Road and behind the Bonne Terre dam. The field alongside Longis Pond is looking fantastic at present, with the flowers dazzling. It is a fitting memorial to the pony Goldie, who was 35 whenhe died just after Easter.
Over the past couple of weeks the conservation volunteers have started ragwort control on Longis Common and have also carried out some remedial work, as well as clearance,on the Bonne Terre footpath, whilst Phil has been out on the tractor cutting paths as everything is suddenly growing like mad.
Three Watch members have completed their Nature Ranger challenge. This is the top award of the series of tests instigated by the Wildlife Trusts at the end of 2012, so it is a real achievement. The new Watch notice board in the Information Centre is attracting a lot of attention. Look in and see it, if you haven’t already. Watch will also be opening the Jubilee Garden during Bloomin’ Alderney week – on Saturday 15th June at 10.30am and on Sunday 16th at 2.30pm. Do offer your support at one of those times, if you can
Finally, this Friday 14th June at 6pm Roland will be giving a talk in the Museum on the recent concern over PIB entitled “Polluting our Seas – PIBs the tip of an iceberg?” as part of the Alderney Society Lecture Series. This presentation is a real eye-opener on the dangers that threaten Alderney’s natural resources, so don’t forget to reserve your seat.