February 23, 2014

Early summer, in mid-June, common centaury comes into flower in dry and grassy habitat such as heath or quarry. Its pink flowers close during the afternoon like some other members of the Gentian family. Then lady’s bedstraw and common restharrow in Mannez quarry blossom, followed by the everlasting pea and autumn squill from mid-July onwards. Very special because it is endemic, the Alderney sea lavender displays its flowers in July in Houmet Herbé. And finally mid-August – early September, it is the turn of autumn lady’s-tresses to be on flower. Throughout the summer, the heathland of Giffoine and Les Trois Vaux is covered by bell heather and ling.  Dark mullein adds a yellow touch in Longis below Essex Farm.

Butterflies enjoy this diversity of flowers and magnify the festival of colours. The rare (in the UK) long-tailed blue touch down on everlasting pea’s pink flowers from mid-July, with a peak in August. At the same time and until August, grayling and a large number of gatekeepers emerge. The second broods of common blue can be seen in their hundreds at the end of July. Dark green fritillary and ringlet, both rare in Alderney, appear in August. From August and until early autumn, grasslands welcome the clouded yellow.

Of the hundreds of moth species which come to Alderney’s many light traps, the island has twelve recorded types of hawk-moth, with poplar, privet, pine and small elephant all being common during the summer, and the huge convolvulus hawk moth is sometimes numerous in the autumn.   Even more plentiful in Alderney are the tigers, ermines and footman moths.  The brightly coloured tigers appear right through the summer, with cream-spot first, in May and June, garden tiger next in July and the famous Jersey tiger throughout August and September, while the very small ruby tiger appears throughout summer and autumn in three overlapping broods.   Sometimes catches in a single light trap can number several hundred, even a thousand, in a range of species too numerous to list.  Visitors who are interested in seeing what has appeared should mention this at the Information Centre to arrange a date and time (usually early Saturday mornings.)

In early summer, the black-tailed skimmer dragonfly is found breeding in Longis Pond, together with the azure damselfly, the common blue damselfly, the blue-tailed damselfly and the impressive emperor dragonflies.  At the end of the summer the migrant hawker appears and flies widely until late October, as well as the abundant common darter. Every year, the southern hawker is recorded but it is not common.

Summer is the best time to enjoy the mammals on Alderney.  As soon as the sun is down, bats come out of their shelters and offer a spectacular aerial dance as they hunt insects. They can be seen all around the islands. The main species is the common pipistrelle, and the clicks of its echolocation can be heard at 45kHz with a bat detector. Sometimes there’s a rustling in the grass, and it may possible to see a hedgehog, blonde or brown, as it forages.  More often, though it’s the very common black or brown rabbit.

The slow-worm, the only reptile in Alderney, can be seen most readily on the south coast, around Vau du Saou.

Summer is a transition in the avian year. Early summer marks the end of the breeding season except for the gannets which stay on Les Etacs until early autumn.  Puffin and common tern leave at the end of July.  Families of wren feed all together, the young gaining in confidence, and the mewing juvenile gulls pester their parents.  It’s not easy to become independent.  Often, collections of feathers are found in the middle of footpaths, or on the fallen tree close to Mannez bird hide; evidence of sparrowhawk activity, and intensified when they have offspring to feed.  Later in summer, the first passage migrants can be seen over the island, such as marsh harrier or honey buzzard using thermals to fly and conserve energy for their long journeys.  Or perhaps a snipe in Longis Pond, feeding in the mud.  Oystercatchers, curlews and whimbrel increase in number on the coast, as well as the greenfinches around the Longis feeders, and flocks of meadow pipits and starlings appear in the fields.

At the end of September, the autumnal equinoctial tide is one of the biggest of the year, and thus one of the best moments for rock pooling at extreme low tide.