February 21, 2014

Alderney hosts many wintering birds all over the Island and these are the main wildlife assets during the winter season.

Common waterfowl such as moorhen, coots and little grebe spend the winter in Longis and Mannez ponds. Water rail and common snipe are seen quite often in this season and there is a chance that a few jack snipe, woodcock and bittern may choose Longis pond to practice the art of camouflage.

Corblet’s quarry, Mannez and Longis pond offer food and a shelter for many ducks. Mallard and common teal are the more common. However, gadwall, shoveler, Eurasian widgeon, pochard and tufted duck may also be there.

Many waders: ruddy turnstone, redshank, dunlin, oystercatcher, grey plover, ringed plover, curlew, bar-tailed godwit, even a rarer purple sandpiper or green sandpiper and some grey herons and little egrets  can be seen during winter around the Island, feeding in the rock pools and on the sandy beaches. Clonque bay is an excellent spot to practise waders’ identification, Braye and Longis bays are not bad at all at low tide. A large number of great black-backed gull, herring gull, and black-headed gull, sometimes with Mediterranean gull and yellow-legged gull visit these beaches (particularly Crabby Bay) for a rest. After a windy day or a storm Alderney’s bays can host unusual birds such as great crested grebe, Slavonian grebe, black-necked Grebe, red-throated diver, great northern diver, eider, common scoter and red-breasted merganser.

Bird feeders put out in gardens, including the one at the Longis birdhide, provide an extra source of food for a wide number of passerines. Fieldfare, song thrush, redwing, goldcrest, firecrest, coal tit, brambling, stonechat, blackcap and long-tailed tit, together with the more common greenfinch, blackbird, chaffinch, linnet, dunnock, robin, blue tit, great tit and wren, animate all bushes and trees around the island, while wheatear and pied and grey wagtails hunt small crustaceans on the strand line.

Fields also have some winter visitors: they are golden plover, Northern lapwing, meadow pipits and large flocks of starlings.

In La Vallee or around Essex Hill, you may hear a great-spotted woodpecker hammer at a tree hoping to find some insects and in heathlands and scrub meadows you may observe the silent flight of a short-eared Owl.

At the end of the winter, the first breeding seabirds arrive back to their nesting place. So it is possible to see fulmars and gannets from “the Guns” in the Giffoine from February onwards.

It is not the best season to enjoy plants on Alderney. However, some of them come into flower late winter – early spring. One of the earliest, often appearing in December, is the fragrant winter heliotrope, which can be seen in La Vallee and at Ladysmith, and summer snowflake can sometimes be found as early as February in the Valley Terrace.  From February, the coastal tracks are strewn with the bright yellow flowers of lesser celandine and blackthorn is covered by a cloud of  white flowers, followed closely by the appearance of early scurvy-grass and three-corned leek. Finally, when primroses and native bluebells appear in Bonne Terre and Vau de Saou, early forget-me-not on Longis Common, cowslips in the Strangers cemetery and alexanders (which is much less common on Alderney than Guernsey) on York Hill, and when the strange looking fertile cones of greater horsetail begin to poke up along the airport road by Rose Farm, that means that the winter is ending…

Whilst Red Admirals can often be seen as late as December, feeding on ivy, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies wait until warmer days to come out.  In Alderney this is because they make use of disused German bunkers to overwinter at a constant temperature.

During the second half of March, the vernal equinox tide will, at low tide, uncover wide areas allowing rock pools, crawling with life, to appear. A wide variety of marine invertebrates live stuck to rocks:  for instance strawberry anemone, starfish, sponges, limpets and winkles, while many species of shrimp and crab, including the impressive edible crab, hide under these rocks. Some fish use pools and the huge diversity of seaweed as a shelter, waiting for the tide to come back in. The biggest Equinox tides offer the best opportunity for rock pooling and it is possible to find ormers which are not so rare on Alderney.