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Channel Islands

Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata ©Paul Hillion

Birding the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. They include two Crown dependencies: the Bailiwick of Jersey, the largest of the islands; and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, consisting of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and some smaller islands. They are considered the remnants of the Duchy of Normandy and, although they are not part of the United Kingdom, the UK is responsible for the defence and international relations of the islands. The Crown dependencies are not members of the Commonwealth of Nations or of the European Union. They have a total population of about 164,541, and the bailiwicks' capitals, Saint Helier and Saint Peter Port, have populations of 33,500 and 16,488, respectively. The total area of the islands is 198 km2.

The Channel Islands consist of two independent countries: the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is the northern group of islands, including Alderney, Sark, Brecqhou, Herm and Jethou, and the Bailiwick of Jersey to the south. They lie within the Gulf of St Malo and in places are less than 12 km from the coast of Normandy.

The very large tidal variation provides an environmentally rich inter-tidal zone around the islands, and some islands such as Burhou, the Écréhous, and the Minquiers have been designated Ramsar sites. The close proximity of continental Europe is reflected in the islands' flora and fauna. The Channel Islands are a huge motorway cafe for migrating and over wintering birds. Falls of birds occur during the spring and autumn migrations and during hard winter weather huge movements of birds pass through when they are escaping frozen conditions on mainland Europe and Britain.

Around 200 bird species are recorded every year (although the list differs annually) despite the fact that the islands have only about 80 species breeding. Some species which are scarce, or absent, as breeding birds on the mainland of the United Kingdom. Short-toed Treecreeper, Serin, Dartford Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Bearded Tit, Zitting Cisticola and Cirl Bunting have all bred in recent years. Resident birds are augmented during the nesting season when, in addition to the passerine summer visitors, thousands of seabirds nest on cliffs and rock islets. Spring and Autumn can produce overshooting continental birds with species such as Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Zitting Cisticola and shrike species all seen regularly. Seabirds feature strongly in the annual records. Apart from the breeding such as Northern Fulmar, Atlantic Puffin, Razorbills etc., there are good autumn passages (mainly October to December) of three species of divers, sea-ducks, Brent Geese, auks and Little Gulls, amongst many others.

Top Sites

(Alderney) Le Giffoine

Satellite View

Coastal heath on the west end of Alderney, dominated by heather, gorse and scrub. Together with Trois Vaux has supported 15 pairs of Dartford Warblers. An excellent site for witnessing the thrills of migration, including raptors such as Osprey, Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Hobby and Black Kite, against a backdrop of 3,500 pairs of breeding Northern Gannets on Les Etacs just 200m offshore.

(Alderney) Les Etacs (The Garden Rocks)

Satellite View

Surely the most exciting place in Britain to watch Northern Gannets on their breeding grounds without the need for a boat. A small group of igneous rocks rising 39m above sea-level, lying 200m off the west coast of Alderney. With the wind in the west one can see, hear and smell the birds. The colony was established during the Second World War after Alderney had been completely evacuated. It now holds 3,500 pairs of Gannets and is growing. Common Guillemots also breed on Les Etacs.

(Alderney) Mainland Alderney

Satellite View

A fabulous island for birding. Virtually all the important seabird colonies occur on the cliffs and offshore islets of the south-west corner. They comprise Northern Fulmar (40 pairs); European Shag (200 pairs); Lesser Black-backed Gull (55 pairs); Black-legged Kittiwakes (95 pairs). In addition there are 170 Common Guillemot, 80 Razorbill and about 50 pairs of Puffins. The main colony of Common Terns (30 pairs) nest on islets off the north-east cost of Alderney. Peregrine Falcon, Common Buzzard and Eurasian Sparrowhawk nest, and the island is easily the best of all the Channel Islands for its passage of raptors (a consequence of its close proximity to the French mainland). The island is seriously under-watched. Almost every visit by birders in spring and autumn turns up scarce and/or rare birds.

(Alderney) Trois Vaux

Satellite View

Coastal heath on the south coast of Alderney, dominated by heather and gorse. Has held breeding Dartford Warblers.

(Guernsey) Fort le Crocq

Satellite View

A west coast rocky headland with several sandy areas and off-lying islands. Premier site for waders with 22 species recorded to date. Roost offshore for Little Egrets, Grey Herons and waders. Regular hunting territory of Peregrine Falcons and Merlin (winter).

(Guernsey) Grand Havre Bay

Satellite View

A large natural bay with several sandy beaches. A freshwater outlet from the Vale Pond runs into the bay. Another very good bay for waders with good numbers of Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone. Divers, grebes and occasional sea ducks in winter. Sea-watching in north-westerly winds from Chouet Headland (and nearby Jaonneusse Bay headland) can be superb with reasonable numbers of Manx, Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters, Cory`s and Great Shearwater (both rare); Arctic, Great and Pomarine Skuas, impressive movements of Northern gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes.

(Guernsey) Guernsey Shoreline

Satellite View

A rocky shoreline which runs north from St Peter Port Harbour, around the north coast and down the west coast to Pleinmont, with numerous small bays of both sand and shingle. There are a number of low-lying reefs and islets which greatly increase the area of habitat available. The shoreline is of national importance for wintering Ringed Plover (330) and of international importance for Ruddy Turnstones (730). Many other wading birds occur. During migration up to 25 species of wader can be found and observed at close range. The principal feeding areas are centred on Richmond, Rocquaine, Belle Greve and Grand Havre. There are also a number of roosts at Pecqueries, Miellete and Portinfer. The offshore islets of Houmet Paradis, Omptolle, La Capelle and the rocks off Fort le Crocq also provide safe and undisturbed roost sites.

(Guernsey) L'Ancresse, Vale

Satellite View

A low lying area of heath-land-common with gorse. A golf course has been created over the western end of the area. During spring and autumn migration the position of the site on the island’s north coast often allows for the build up of migrants. This is the first landfall after the 70-mile crossing of the English Channel. Common Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail can be abundant. Waders also use the area with Whimbrel every spring and autumn, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers and Dotterels on a regular basis.

(Guernsey) L'Eree

Satellite View

Open low lying grassland. An area of open water and phragmites reeds forms the northern boundary. A maturing reserve, which is producing scarce and rare birds on an annual basis. Regular Curlew roost of up to 140 birds, Little Egrets (20 birds). Excellent site for passage hirundines and warblers. Aquatic Warblers are annual autumn migrants.

(Guernsey) Les Landes Vale

Satellite View

A modestly sized reed bed with pools of standing water. Good for freshwater waders on passage, breeding Reed Warblers and passage Sedge Warblers. Aquatic warblers have been regular at this site. Probably the best site for Cetti's Warbler.

(Guernsey) Pleinmont, Torteval

Satellite View

A cliff-top headland forming the south-west corner of Guernsey. Remnant heath-land with a mixture of small fields and non-cultivated land makes this the largest open area on the south coast. Many of the passerine migrants occur in their highest numbers at Pleinmont. More than 150 species have been recorded on this site alone. Breeding birds include Long-eared Owl, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Stonechat, Linnet, Dartford Warbler and (occasionally) Black Redstart.

(Guernsey) South Coast Cliffs

Satellite View

Cliff and heath-land dominated by gorse. Scenically stunning, the cliffs are also home to low numbers of breeding Dartford Warblers. Also good for breeding seabirds- Northern Fulmars (15 pairs); European Shag (100 pairs); Lesser Black-backed Gull (35 pairs); Herring Gull (550 pairs) and Great Black-backed Gull (20 pairs). There is also one pair each of Ravens and Peregrine Falcons.

(Guernsey) St Saviour's Reservoir

Satellite View

Largest surface area of freshwater on island, surrounded by conifer and deciduous plantations. Open water is attractive to diving ducks in winter. Also good for gull roosts (including Glaucous and Kumlien’s Gulls in recent years).

(Guernsey) Vale Marais

Satellite View

A private site, which has been the subject of an intensive ornithological study. A freshwater pond, surrounded by small areas of reed and willow beds. Two unimproved meadows to the south provide additional valuable habitat. This is one of the best sites remaining in Guernsey. 161 species recorded to date. Scarce/rare birds recorded annually.

(Guernsey) Vale Pond

Satellite View

The largest area of brackish water on the island. Fringed with reeds and subject to tidal influence. This is another of the most important ornithological sites in Guernsey. More than 140 species have been recorded, including many rarities. Water birds, waders and reed-bed birds.

(Guernsey) Wooded Valleys

Satellite View

A number of small valleys with mixed woodland. The best of these are:-Fauxquets Valley (WV293785 to WV299772); Talbot Valley (WV 294786 to WV 301782); Havilland, Foulon, St Andrew’s (WV 322780 to WV 322788); Petit Bot (WV 300752 to WV 308754); Fermain/Bouvee (WV 332762 to WV 339769 and WV 337755 to WV 340755); and Silbe/La Rue des Vinaires (WV 263765 to WV 265767). These valleys provide breeding sites for a variety of species which are found in broad-leaved woodland, including Short-toed Treecreeper, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Long-eared Owl. Other summering birds have included Eurasian Golden-oriole, Great Spotted Woodpecker and the occasional Honey-buzzard. Firecrest breeds in some years.

Burhou

Satellite View

Burhou island, 5 km to the north of Alderney, is about one kilometre long by half a kilometre wide. At one time its population of European Storm-petrels was estimated to be 1,000 plus pairs. Today this figure is put closer to 150 pairs, although it is difficult to census the birds. Manx Shearwaters are frequently seen near to the island, and they have been trapped (for ringing) at night over the island. The breeding colony of 275 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls is stable, but Puffin numbers have decreased from 50,000 pairs in 1950 to around 300 currently. In order to minimise disturbance to the breeding Puffins the island is closed to visitors until mid-July each year.

Herm, Jethou & Offshore Islets

Satellite View

Herm, and its offshore islets, are important for their colonies of breeding seabirds which include Puffins (85 birds); Manx Shearwaters (10 pairs on Jethou); Common Terns (50 pairs); Fulmar (40 pairs); Lesser Black-backed Gull (110 pairs); Herring Gull (200 pairs); Great Black-backed gull (85 pairs); Razorbill (35 birds); Common Guillemot (120 birds) and European Shag (330 pairs). Other breeding species include single pairs of Raven and Long-eared Owl. Sadly the excellent boat trip, the RSPB Puffin Patrol, that used to run around Herm and Jethou twice each week during the summer to show people Puffins and other seabirds, no longer operates. The island can be very exciting during the migrations. Herm also has a wintering population of around 100 dark-bellied Brent Geese.

Ortac

Satellite View

A small isolated sandstone stack, located 4.5 km off the north-west coast of Alderney. It rises 24m above the sea and has a colony of just over 2,000 pairs of Northern Gannets. A few Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Guillemots also breed on this rock.

Sark, Brecqhou & Offshore Islets

Satellite View

Sark and its offshore islands and islets (including the private island of Brecqhou) lie 12 km east of Guernsey, and 35 km from the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy. Sark is almost divided into two islands by a sheer-sided isthmus 3m wide and 90m high. The island is basically a plateau about 90 metres high with steep granite cliffs rising out of the sea. The island has a special rural character (with no motor cars). Its coastal scenery is spectacular and beautiful. It is about 6.5 km by 3.5 km in size. The shallower slopes at the tops of the cliffs are covered with bracken, gorse or scrub consisting mostly of hawthorn or blackthorn. There are a number of islets off both the east and west coasts which support breeding seabirds. There are two small colonies of Manx Shearwaters (c 30 pairs each); but these are highly vulnerable to predation from feral cats. Peregrine Falcons are breeding again on the cliffs, and the largest colony of Common Guillemots in the Channel Islands (120 birds) can be viewed on Les Autelets. Ringing studies carried out at a site on the north coast have shown that the island’s scrub and common habitats are widely used by significant numbers of migratory birds during both spring and autumn passages. The site also turned up scarce birds and national rarities annually.

Contributor

County Recorder

Jersey - Tony Paintin

1 Ficquet House, La Verte Rue, St Brelade, Jersey JE3 8EL

01534 741928

cavokjersey@hotmail.com

Alderney - Alderney Wildlife Trust

ecologist@alderneywildlife.org

Guernsey - Mark Lawlor

St Etienne, Les Effards, St Sampsons,, Guernsey, Channel Islands, GY2 4TU

01481 258168

mplawlor@cwgsy.net

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 348

Useful Reading

Important Sites for Birds in the Channel Islands: Including Recognised Important Bird Areas

Edited By Paul K Veron | Société Guernesaise | 1997 | Paperback | 83 pages, B/w illus, maps |

ISBN: 0951807579

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Birds of Alderney

By J G Sanders | J G Sanders Esq | 2007 | Hardback | 318 pages, 102 illus |

ISBN: 9780946760619

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Useful Information

Guernsey College of Further Education

Ornithology night-classes are held throughout the year by the Guernsey College of Further Education (tutor Tim Earl Tel: 01481 264504). Visitors are welcome to join their Sunday morning field trips.

Organisations

Guernsey Bird Report 2002

Website

The Guernsey Bird Report 2002 is available (for free for anyone to copy) online at the Societe Guernesiaise website

Guernsey Birds - Ornithological Section - La Societe Guernesiaise

Website

This site is dedicated to birds in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Here you can catch up on the latest bird news, read species accounts in our ever expanding 'Birds of Guernsey', view past records and see the latest (& older!) photos of birds Guernsey. Registered users can submit their records and upload photos…

La Société Jersiaise

Website

The La Société Jersiaise was founded in 1873, and promotes and encourages - The study of the history, the archaeology, the natural history, the language and many other subjects of interest in the Island of Jersey…

La Societe Guernesiaise

Website

A Victorian research society and Guernsey`s natural history society is affiliated to the UK county naturalists trusts. La Societe has a number of active sections, including Ornithology which meets at the society`s headquarters at the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, Candie Gardens, St Peter Port, at 8 p.m. on the first Thursday in each month (Secretary Mr Vic Froome tel: 01481 254841). A monthly field-trip is arranged by the Ornithological Section. Other sections include Conservation, Entomology, Botany and Marine Biology.
La Société Guernesiaise was founded in 1882 to encourage the study of the history, natural history, geography and geology of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the conservation of the Bailiwick`s natural environment and the preservation of its historic buildings and monuments…

RSPB Guernsey Bailiwick Local Group

Website

The Guernsey RSPB welcomes both members and non-members and runs an active programme of walks, slide shows, boat trips and fundraising activities. The scenery is superb, not only on Guernsey but also on nearby Herm, Sark, Lihou and the northerly island of Alderney. All the islands act as fuelling stations for wintering waders and passage migrants, whilst the resident tree-creepers are short-toed and the wagtails mainly white. The flora also has a continental flavour and the rocks are colourful and old!

Reserves

Abbreviations Key: See the appropriate Continent Page (or Country Page of those used on country sub-divisions)

La Société Guernesiaise - Nature Reserves

Website

e.g. Vale Pond - Park in the car park by the pumping station at Grand Havre, and walk across the road to the viewing hide. This can be entered through a hole in the wall which runs alongside the road. It is primarily a reserve for birds, and as such is particularly good during the spring and autumn migrations.

NTJ - Jersey Wetland Centre

Webpage

Satellite View

The Wetland Centre is perfectly situated overlooking La Mare au Seigneur (St Ouen’s Pond) nature reserve and acts as both a state-of-the-art bird hide as well as a wetland interpretation centre.

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Birding Tours - Jersey

Tour Operator

Visit the best bird watching sites in Jersey (Channel Islands) and see local resident species and visiting migrants. Bird song ID included.

Trip Reports

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

Places to Stay

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Belle Vue Hotel - Alderney

Accommodation

The mature gardens at the Belle Vue Hotel Alderney complement our Bar, Bistro, Coffee Shop and A la Carte Restaurant affording alfresco dining on fine summer days. Or just use it as a quiet haven, a special somewhere to relax with a drink under the shade of the apple tree.

Millbrook House - Jersey

Accommodation

A much extended Georgian mansion peacefully located in ten acres of grounds. Bright, well appointed bedrooms are comfortably furnished. There are two cosy lounges, one for non-smokers, and a separate bar. Good home-cooked meals are accompanied by an extensive range of wines.

Observatories

Alderney Bird Observatory

Observatory Website

Satellite View

Alderney Bird Observatory (ABO) received official accreditation at a recent (2018) meeting of the Bird Observatories Council (BOC), a gathering of all of the bird observatories, making it the twentieth in the country. John Horton (Warden, Alderney Bird Observatory) - 07815 549191 or 01841 824134 - The development of the bird observatory and field centre accommodation at the Nunnery are well under way. The current renovations and refurbishment should see us able to offer an outstanding facility for staying guests from April 2018. Life here is a wonderful combination of totally hectic and tantalisingly tranquil as we strive to become the Channel Islands first ever accredited Bird Observatory’.

Blogs

Chris Bale - The Bird Box

BLOG

I have been exhibiting and selling my work for four years through local markets, galleries my website (www.guernseybirdnerd.com) and social media. I am a member of the Master's Guild here in Guernsey which is a quality assurance guide for those who have conducted two, or more, solo exhibitions. It guarantees quality and shows a substantial and high quality catalog of work.

Mark Lawlor - Just A Bird

BLOG

Greetings everyone. My name is Mark Lawlor. I am primarily a birder, but I'm very interested in all wildlife. I am a Yorkshireman, but I now live on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

Other Links

Alderney Birdlife

Webpage

Alderney is a magnet for birdwatchers. The island's proximity to France means that species found on mainland Europe but not in Britain, are sometimes seen here…

Guernsey Gulls

Website

Sightings of Guernsey colour ringed Gulls can be entered here for an instant life history, or sent to pkv@cwgsy.net for a life history to be returned by e-mail to observers.

Jersey Birds

Website

The Island of Jersey sits in the Golfe de St Malo, off the west coast of Normandy, France. Despite its small size of 45 square miles, it has an amazing diversity of habitats from coastal cliffs heathlands and dunes, to marshes and wooded inland valleys. Its strategic position, mild winter climate and extremely wide tidal range act as a magnet to both migrating and wintering birds and, to date, over 300 species have been recorded within the Bailiwick.