Bird Watching in
by Jill Watson
islandlife.org is very grateful to Jill Watson for writing his
article on bird watching in Alderney. Jill was the official bird
recorder for Alderney up until 1st July 2002.
To get the most out of your birdwatching you will
need a good map. The Ordnance Survey map of Alderney is recommended as it shows details of all the
tracks and footpaths. It can be purchased from several retail outlets
One of the features which makes Alderney so interesting for birdwatchers is the wide
variety of habitats that occur within the confines of such a small island. There are cliffs and offshore stacks,
rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, marine heathland, open fields and farmland, wooded valleys, gardens and small
stretches of inland water. These very different habitats provide home or refuge for over 270 different bird species
from our common residents and regular summer and winter visitors to rare passage migrants.
The Channel Islands lie on the main migratory routes of many species and during the
spring and autumn unusual and even rare birds may be found on Alderney. Rarities over the past few years have
included Red-footed Falcon and Rose-coloured Starling.
The French mainland is only eight miles away and, given favourable wind and weather
conditions , we can expect several visitors from over the water. These include Common and Honey Buzzards, Marsh,
Hen and Montagu’s Harriers, Merlin, Hobby, Peregrine, Black Kite and White Stork.
Alderney is famous for its seabirds, especially the Gannets. Over 6000 pairs
nest on the Channel Islands’ two gannetries Ortac and Les Etacs. The birds on Les Etacs (also called the
Garden Rocks) can be observed from Alderney’s west coast cliffs with the aid of binoculars or telescope. The cliffs
on the west and south coasts of the island, and the offshore stacks, provide breeding sites for Great and Lesser
Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gull, Fulmar, Shag, Common Tern, Jackdaw and Raven. All these species, also small
numbers of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills can be seen from the cliff paths. A boat trip around the island
is well worth taking to get good sightings of the breeding seabirds. Puffin, Storm Petrel and possibly Manx
Shearwater breed on the small rocky islet of Burhou which lies just to the north-west of Alderney.
The rocky bays and sandy beaches are important wintering sites for waders such as
Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Dunlin and Redshank. The striking black and white Oystercatchers are with us all year
round but their numbers increase during the winter months. Many different wader species are seen on migration.
Birds of the marine heathland include Stonechat, Linnet, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and
Dartford Warbler and, in summer, Whitethroat. Wheatear, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart, the occasional
Hoopoe, and large flocks of wagtails, pipits and finches are seen in spring and autumn.
The farmland, wooded valleys and gardens are home to many of the common species
found in similar habitats in Britain. There are no woodpeckers, Rooks, Magpies or Jays on Alderney so if you see
one of those you will have spotted a rarity! Migrants and summer visitors include Pied and Spotted Flycatchers,
Common Redstart, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Wood Warbler and Garden Warbler. Goldcrests are common in
winter and the occasional Firecrest is seen. For the past few years a small flock of Long-tailed Tits has been seen
in various locations.
The freshwater habitats on the island are home to Mallard, Moorhen, Coot and Little
Grebe. Little Egrets and Grey Herons frequent these areas as well as the beaches, and the occasional Kingfisher is
seen. In summer there are Reed and Sedge Warblers and in winter different species of duck arrive and may stay for a
while. Water Rails will probably be heard, and sometimes seen, especially at Longis Pond where there is now a bird
The best months to see spring migrants are March, April and May. The Gannets
arrive in February and leave in October. Puffins arrive during April and have left by the third week in July.
Autumn migrants start passing through as early as July and continue through till the end of October. Good
seawatching can be enjoyed during the migration periods, and good places to watch from are Bibette Head,
Chateau a L’Etoc and near the lighthouse.
Puffin Cam is broadcasting live pictures from the small island of Burhou. http://www.visitalderney.com/puffin-cam and is a way to observe these beautiful birds,
in their natural habitat, as they go about their daily lives.
Burhou Island is 1.5 km off the coast of the channel island of Alderney. Burhou is a paradise for seabirds as there
are no rats or cats and very little human disturbance on the island. Visits are only permitted after the breeding season season (landing prohibited between
15 March and 27 July).