Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Normandie Visual Migration - 'VisMig'

After our visit to the East Riding of Yorkshire Jackie and I had some business across the channel and planned a couple of days birding.  So we had a day at home before jumping on the ferry at Poole  to Cherbourg. An hour and a half later we arrived at our B&B chosen as it was just 25 minutes from the coast and from one of Normandie's best vismig watch points, though you will not see this advertised anywhere.  We found out by accident on visiting the little nature reserve some years ago and was told by a local that the two kilometre's of coastline was a good place to see many birds from l'Angleterre passing over.  It took us a few visits before we hit a good passage and boy was it good, so we have visited on and off since.  As the autumn migration had started in the Yorkshire with the thrush movements a week before we thought it was a good time to visit the site again.

Day 1
We breakfasted early enough we thought to get to our watch point in time for dawn but we arrived a little late.  As we were just getting our gear together in the car park I noticed a scattered flock of birds flying towards us, bins up and I could see and hear they were Chaffinch. So we hurried to get to our preposed watchpoint and started counting.  There was a light mist and the birds would come into view about 500m away as they moved towards us.  Chaffinch were the main migrant and they were passing on a narrow front and as the mist started to clear the front broadened and the birds came past higher up.
Chaffinch passing landward 
Chaffinch moving over the sea
To start with the chaffinch were streaming through then as time moved on they came in waves, but when you are in the position with this many birds of one species moving the main thing to do is look and listen for different sounds and block out the Chaffinch.  It didn't take us long before we heard our first Brambling, Greenfinch, the odd Redwing and Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and 'Alba' Wagtail.  Small flocks of Starling also Woodpigeon the latter was something new for us this side of the channel. Then Skylark started to move through mainly in one's and two's but a few small groups were seen later. It was not long after we recorded our first Wood Lark one at a time, we would hear them call and then we would look for them and most were following the line of the cliff south towards Brittany.
Woodlark disappearing towards Brittany
Small flocks of Starling were also moving, also Jackdaw, lesser numbers of Goldfinch, Stock Dove, Blackbird, Linnet were recorded. Two species I never quite get used to seeing is Great and Blue Tit but we had several little groups some passing by others dropping like stones out of the sky and pitching in to the cliff top bushes before moving on again a while later.
Blue Tit passing by our watch point
It always nice when you are vismiging and you here 'tzick' of Hawfinch and we recorded them on seven occasion during the morning the largest group was ten birds but I'm sure we missed seeing some.
Hawfinch migrating
We did have a few raptors, not all migrants, with a pair of Peregrine, two Kestrels and singles of Merlin and Sparrowhawk.  Our watch lasted till 12:30hrs three hours, this was when everything slowed and came to a more or less a stop and all the bushes and trees in the woodland suddenly went quiet.

We went for lunch then sat on a bench on a nearby beach and had a total count of the mornings birds we recorded 3,828 birds of 29 species we considered migrants, plus a few local species such as Cirl Bunting, Peregrine, and Black Woodpecker the latter gave us a nice call and fly around the tree tops before ducking into the trees again which brought the total number of species to 41 for the morning.  

It was whilst doing our count up that Jackie and I became aware of a background sound, in fact I remembered hearing it all morning and we realised it was coming from out to sea.  Then it fell into place it was an enormous number of Common Scoter, we estimated somewhere between 2000+ birds.  They were around a half a mile out and scattered all across the bay. It appeared they were mostly black drakes but I did find a number of females immature types. I took a little recording on my iphone but it was to faint to reproduce here, so I've taken the recording and mixed it with other recordings to produce a sound similar to what we were hearing.  Apologies to the purists amongst you but I wanted to give you a real feel of the sound we were hearing and you could hear it from anywhere along the coastal path for around around 4km at least.



Day 2
After the previous mornings experience we decided to do it all over again, but it was wet and overcast when we left our B&B.  As we drew nearer to the coast it brightened up a tad and we became more hopeful.  This morning we were at least a half hour earlier and the wood and bushes only had the few resident birds present.  We had a short conversation with a local birder who gave us a little heads up of where to stand to vismig that morning with the overnight change in wind direction .  So taking his advice we started out in the field north of the car park.  As we were walking to our proposed spot a couple of Swallow flew over to get us started and then as with our first day the Chaffinch started streaming through and then Starlings started in small flocks then came several large flocks one after the other, higher than the Chaffinch.

Starling migrating
As the morning progressed we realised like the previous day as it became brighter and the birds could then see the Brittany coast the birds started to move direction more over the sea.  So Jackie and I returned to the previous watch point on the coastal path but not before we had added Grey Heron, Great White Egret, Serin, Ring Ouzel, Siskin and Redpoll to the morning list.

After our move It was then we found we had been missing a few species which we had recorded the day before, Blue and Great Tit and Goldcrests also Alba Wagtail, as they were moving along the clifftop out of sight of us on the field by the car park. By lunch time we had doubled our previous days count and recorded 8065 birds of 35 migrant species six more than the previous day and two extra species considered local Buzzard and Cetti's Warbler.

Those species considered to be migrants over both days:-
Species highlighted were seen on second day not on day one.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose (39 - 18) flying past out to sea.
Common Scoter (2000+ - 3000+) not in counted in final numbers as not migrating through.
Grey Heron (0 - 2)
Great White Egret (0 - 2)
Sparrowhawk (3)
Lapwing (3 - 5)
Stock Dove (6 - 5)
Woodpigeon (327 - 262)
Merlin (1 - 0)
Jackdaw (96 - 45)
Goldcrest (4+ - 5+)
Blue Tit (34 - 7+)
Great Tit (82 - 10+)
Woodlark (11 - 5+)
Skylark (42 - 132)
Swallow (0 - 2)
Chiffchaff (2 - 3)
Starling (1159 - 3187)
Ring Ouzel (0 - 2)
Blackbird (7 - 9)
Song Thrush (9 - 19)
Redwing (31 - 127)
Mistle Thrush (6 - 16)
Pied/White (alba Wagtail) (21 - 1+)
Meadow Pipit (3 - 6)
Brambling (10 - 62)
Chaffinch (1440 - 3935)
Hawfinch (23 - 4)
Bullfinch (5 - 21)
Greenfinch (49 - 4)
Linnet (30 - 0)
Lesser/Common Redpoll (0 - 6)
Goldfinch (5 - 4+)
Serin (0 - 1)
Siskin (38 - 137+)

Species Considered most likely local residents:-
Cormorant (1 - 3)
Little Egret (1 - 1)
Great Crested Grebe (1 - 2) on sea
Sparrowhawk (2 - 2)
Buzzard (0 - 1)
Black-headed Gull present
Common Gull present
Herring Gull present
Great Black-backed Gull present
Woodpigeon present
Black Woodpecker (1 - 0)*
Green Woodpecker (1+ - 0)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (2)
Kestrel (2+)
Peregrine (2 - 0)
Jay (2 - 2)
Jackdaw present
Cetti's Warbler (0 - 2)
Wren present
Blackbird present
Song Thrush present
Robin present
Stonechat (2 - 0)
Dunnock present
Chaffinch present
Cirl Bunting (2 - 3 heard singing)

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