Ornithological Study of the Vale Marais, Guernsey,
This paper is
dedicated to the memory of Maurice O’Rorke, in deep appreciation
kindness and generosity in enabling and encouraging this study over
three and a
My study of the Vale Marais
began in 1971, when as an 11 year old boy I used to sneak across the
my father’s adjacent greenhouses to wander in the phragmites reed
flushing Common Snipe and the occasional Jack Snipe from my feet, and
around the lake with its exciting and colourful ducks.
many times when I was helping my Dad a few years later to pick his
did I spot an interesting bird flying over, and I was lost in
forgotten in a whirr of wings. From these first casual encounters with
on the marsh, my interest grew and developed. Then in 1976 the main
including the house (known as Marais Nord) changed hands when Ruth and
O’Rorke arrived from Ireland.
the outset the O’Rorke’s gave me free access to their land
and encouraged me to
develop my ornithological studies. Maurice helped me to build a number
that would prove instrumental in my bird ringing studies, and also
management of the marsh that was aimed at improving the habitat for
still lives at Marais Nord, although Maurice sadly died early in 2006.
It is in
recognition of Maurice’s help and friendship over some three and
a half decades
that I dedicate this paper to his memory.
paper analyses the records of scarce and rare birds observed at the
over the 36-year period from 1971 to 2006 inclusive. The vast majority
records have accumulated from my regular visits and my extensive
studies operated on the marsh. However, in addition to granting me full
to the site, the O’Rorke’s also encouraged La Societe
Guernesiaise to erect a
hide on the site to enable other observers to enjoy the birds of the
have therefore supplemented my records with those taken by other
who visited the site and entered their records in the logbooks I left
part of my work in recording the birds of the Vale Marais, I have
bird ringing studies at the site since 1976. This has primarily
use of mist nets set in the reed beds or along the hedges of goat
although a variety of wire traps have also been used to catch
the lake and garden birds at Ty Coed.
has taken place in every year of the study since 1976, except the
to 2003 inclusive, when my attentions were focused elsewhere. To date
27,756 birds of 97 species have been ringed at the Vale Marais, and
have resulted in several hundred recoveries, thus adding much useful
only to the Channel Islands Bird Ringing database, but also to the
repository of the European Ringing Schemes.
addition to many local recoveries of birds within the Channel Islands
have been 90 recoveries of birds ringed at the Vale Marais in Africa
Europe. A summary of recoveries outside the Channel Islands, with full
of the most remarkable movements, is included within this report.
part of the ringing activities 56 birds have been caught bearing the
foreign ringing schemes. Again a summary of these
“controls” is included, with
full details of the most interesting movements.
Description & History
The recording area known as
“The Vale Marais” comprises the property of the Marais
Nord, along with my own
house and garden at Ty Coed which is contiguous with the south-western
of the marsh. It also encompasses an orchid-rich field to the west,
2005 was donated to La Societe Guernesiaise by the Ozanne family, and
known as the Ozanne Nature Reserve. Finally, to the south of the main
two seasonally wet fields which are grazed by a small dairy herd run by
Farm in Rue du Closel.
marsh is but a vestige of a once extensive wetland that covered much of
low-lying northern part of Guernsey. Drainage and development for both
and horticulture throughout the 20th Century eventually
the isolation of this remnant patch of wetland.
1968 a private developer dug out a two acres lake from the reed bed and
the property now known as Marais Nord. The lake is fringed with
reeds and there are also other small pockets of reeds. Over the past 40
the site has seen classic reedbed succession with areas drying out as
bullrushes and willowherb, and then goat willow have invaded the
beds. This natural succession has been accompanied by man-made
Maurice O’Rorke and I planted several hundred native trees to
provide cover and
feeding for resident and migrant birds. We have also carried out
pruning and cutting of the goat willows to create dense hedgerows and
their value for wildlife.
the winter of 1982/83 I built my house on my father’s former
Since that time I have planted several hundred trees and dug several
this land to enhance the area for wildlife. The results, as this report
explains have exceeded my wildest dreams.
This study covers the years
1971 to 2006. Coverage has not been even over these 36 years. Initial
was light, but then in 1976 I began my ringing work on the site. By the
following year I was visiting the area on most days during the spring
autumn migrations, although my departure to university the following
that coverage was more limited over the next four years.
Returning to the Island on
a full time basis during the summer of 1981, coverage became more
and then from the spring of 1983 when I was living on the site it
possible to enhance the study even further. The ten-year period 1983 to
inclusive represents the zenith of the study (to date). A change of job
required me to travel widely, and as a consequence I discovered the
birding the world beyond Britain’s shores. In the ensuing 12
years my principal
birding focus lay beyond Guernsey, and I visited some 50 countries and
than 44% of the entire bird species of the planet. The results of these
have been written up in three separate private publications entitled
the Blue Planet Volumes 1 - 3”.
When my personal
circumstances changed again at the end of 2004, I suspended my interest
world birding and returned to my ornithological roots by resuming my
the Vale Marais.
Rare and Scarce Birds At The Vale
Marais 1971 – 2006
The following is an
annotated species list for which ten or fewer Vale Marais records can
to the end of 2006. A full list of all species recorded at the Vale
this period is included as Appendix A.
The common names and order of this list
recommendations of the British Ornithologists’ Union.
record. 2nd record for Guernsey.
to 24th March
record. 2nd record for Guernsey.
29th October to 13th March
1985 Four from 20th
– 29th January 1985; one remained until 24th
over-wintering records presumably relate to the same female bird. 1st
to 4th records for the
9th October 1985 to 14th March 1986
to 31st March
10th October 1987 to 19th March 1988
2nd October 1988 to 21st March 1989
records, involving six birds.
1979 One male on 3rd
One male on 11th, 12th and 29th March
1985 Two males on
1986 One female
February to 1st March
2005 One female
records, involving nine birds – all in spring
1973 One male on
1982 One pair on
1983 One pair
March – 12th April; single male on 15th May
1987 One pair on
1992 One male on
Five records, involving seven birds (all
immature/female plumage) 4th, 5th, 6th,
8th and 9th records for Guernsey.
1977 Two on 26th
September (with one found dead on 2nd October)
1979 Two on 21st
One on 19th/20th December
1985 Singles on 23rd
January and 3rd March
Four records, involving eight birds (all
1973/74 One from 4th
1975/76 One from 24th
December to 7th
1976 Two on 14th
Four records, involving eight birds. 3rd – 6th
records for Guernsey.
1985 Five (one adult
four immatures/females) on 20th January; (three of these
seen on 21st January, with four on 26th January
on 27th January)
1986 One adult
male on 27th
Three records, involving eight birds.
immature/female on 1st
1979 Six flew
over on 6th
1986 One flushed
grass at Ty Coed on 11th May
One flushed on 23rd September
Diver Gavia stellata
One from 22nd December to 1st January.
2005 One on 2nd
1989 One flying over
north-east on 20th April
Four records. All single
September and 18th October
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus
One on 21st January, and one on 5th April and 25th
April 1985 (which was presumably the same bird). The bird seen on 5th
April 1985 was mist-netted. It had been ringed in Jersey on 2nd
March 1985, after having received veterinary treatment for significant
to one of its wings. The bird was subsequently found dead on 3rd
March 1986 at Heemstede, Noord Holland, Netherlands; a distance of 600
One on 28th March and one on 28th November
Bittern Ixobrychus minutus
record. 8th record for Guernsey.
One male on 16th May
Night Heron Nycticorax
record. 6th record for Guernsey; 9th for
One on 19th May.
1999 One on 2nd
1975 One adult feeding
Sacred Ibis Threskiornis
record – presumably of a bird from the feral breeding colony in
France. 1st record for Guernsey – although
bird had previously been seen in Alderney on 10th December
then in Guernsey at several sites from 27th December 2004.
2005 One flying
after dawn on 23rd and 25th March
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
One record. 1st
2006 One flying west,
out north, being mobbed by Herring Gulls and Carrion Crows on 10th
Marsh Harrier Circus
Immature/female over on 10th June
One on 12th May
One on 26th April
One on 28th
1987 One male on
1988 Singles on 8th
immature/female on 5th
One male on 16th
One over heading
1985 One heading west
Coed on 3rd October
One record. 4th record for Guernsey.
1986 One over, being
Herring Gull, on 17th May
One male across garden
Coed on 4th April
1992 One male on
1995 One female
– 23rd April
1985 Singles on
November and 21st December
One on 26th December
One on 23rd May
One on 6th April
Spotted Crake Porzana
One on 15th August, and
found freshly killed (probably by cat) on 14th October
One from 15th to 27th
Two records. 2nd and 4th
records for Guernsey, 2nd and 6th records for
A fine male resting and feeding in
southern fields and in front of Marais Nord from 3rd to 9th
1995 One female
April to 3rd May
record for Guernsey.
One feeding in front of Marais Nord house for half an hour on 5th
Plover Charadrius dubius
One in flooded southern fields on 9th April
1990 One on 23rd
One from 16th – 19th April and one on 2nd
Seven records involving 15 birds.
1976 One on 12th
1979 Six over on 9th
1980 Two on 20th
1989 One from 15th
1990 Three over on 21st
over on 8th
2006 One calling at night
Coed on 14th August
1981 One flying over low,
involving 15 birds.
1981 Nine low over the lake
1985 Six over on 3rd
Four records involving 12 birds.
1983 Two over on 15th
1986 Six over on
1990 Two over on 9th
One record involving two birds.
One from 8th- 11th
September 1983, with a second bird on the 10th September
1979 One in front of Marais Nord
One feeding in front
Nord on 15th September
Four records involving 22
Three on 20th
Nine over on 19th
January and one on 16th February
Nine on 25th
Five records involving 11 birds.
1976 One on 12th
1978 Two pairs from 4th
1981 One on 2nd
1985 One white collared male
Two pairs from 31st
to 2nd April, with three birds remaining to 6th April
Four records involving five
1977 One on 16th/17th
1978 One on 4th
1981 Two on 27th
1988 One on 25th
One record involving three
1995 Three in western field
Whimbrel) from 26th – 29th April
1976 One on 30th/31st
1981 One on 9th
1982 One on 26th
Three records involving four birds.
1976 Two on 6th
1979 One on 21st
1982 One on 7th
Four records involving five birds.
1976 Two birds during August
1979 One on 3rd
1981 One on 11th
1986 One on 16th
1986 One adult at Ty Coed on
February and 2nd March
Tern Childonias niger
1979 One on 26th
and one on 14th October
adult feeding over lake from 25th – 31st
July 1982 (on
this latter date I found the bird suffering from avian botulism –
it into care I ringed and released it on the 7th August)
One in garden at Ty
Coed on 9th
1988 One in
garden at Ty Coed
from 22nd – 30th August
1982 One ringed at dusk on 27th
1987 Singles on 30th
April and 6th November
1991 One over Ty Coed on 24th
1979 One feeding by the side
Marais Nord on 12th May
1981 One flying over
south-east on 5th
1987 One feeding at Ty Coed
1987 One ringed on 23rd
1997 One feeing on ants at Ty
from 19th to 24th
One male seen on six occasions between 4th November
and 19th April
One on 3rd January
One male on 14th
One female on 28th
One male on 13th
and one female on 27th March
One female on 8th
Singles on 7th
One on 24th
records. 3rd and 4th records for Guernsey.
Immature birds ringed on 11th
and 19th August
records. 4th, 6th and 7th
Immatures ringed on 20th
and 23rd August and 9th September
One immature male ringed on 5th
One feeding at Ty Coed on 10th
Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus
record. 13th record for Guernsey.
Immature male ringed at Ty
One on 19th
One first year female ringed
first year male trapped on 22nd October, one first year
ringed on 23rd
October and one first year male ringed on 29th October
2005 One first
ringed at Ty Coed on 31st October and one first year
Ty Coed on 14th November 2005 (remained in the
until last seen on 23rd November 2005)
2006 One first
ringed on 21st October, with two more
trapped and ringed on 23rd
October. All at
record. 1st record for Guernsey; 2nd record for
One immature male ringed on 5th
One male from 14th
One female on 15th
One on 8th May
One on 2nd May
Singles on 18th
April and 1st May
One on 24th
One from 11th
One on 26th April
Flycatcher Ficedula parva
One first year ringed on 22nd
One immature male ringed on
Tit Panurus biarmicus
records involving nine birds.
Six from 29th
male (originally ringed in Jersey) caught on 4th April, seen
on 11th April. This bird was retrapped again in Jersey in
pair on 2nd April (the female was trapped and had been
Jersey in April 1979)
Tit Parus ater
Singles on 20th
One on 20th November
Golden Oriole Oriolus
Adult male ringed on 21st
Male singing at Ty Coed on 13th
Shrike Lanius collurio
One immature ringed on 2nd
Tree Sparrow Passer
One ringed on 28th
Redpoll Carduelis cabaret
records involving 13 birds.
Immature ringed on 28th October and adult male ringed on 29th
Two on 15th
One on 14th
one on 18th March
Four on 1st
One female ringed on 5th
April and two on 24th October
One bird flying over Ty Coed calling on 12th July
One from 28th December to 2nd January
Bunting Emberiza hortulana
One drinking from pond at Ty
of Bird Ringing
My ringing studies at the Vale Marais have spanned the
periods 1976 – 1994 and 2004 – 2006 inclusive. Over this
time a total of 27,756
birds of 97 species, has been caught, ringed and released. There is no
that the ringing activities have resulted in bird sightings which would
otherwise gone undetected. In fact eight species have only been seen as
result of such activities, these being: - Aquatic Warbler (2), Marsh
(3), Pallas’ Leaf Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher
Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
totals of birds ringed at the Vale Marais from 1976 – 1994 and
2004 – 2006 are
included within Appendix A.
date these birds have yielded several hundred subsequent recoveries or
(i.e. recaptures by other bird ringers). The majority of such records
within Guernsey or the Channel Islands. However, there have been 90
of Vale Marais ringed birds outside the Channel Islands.
addition 56 birds ringed outside the Channel Islands have been
caught at the Vale Marais.
Recoveries of Birds Ringed at the Vale Marais
A summary of the 90 foreign
recoveries, involving 22 species, is included at Table 1. Some 18
countries have been involved spread across Northern, Western, Eastern
Southern Europe, along with Western Russia and countries in both North
Every recovery is valuable to
the Channel Islands Ringing Scheme, and the centralised European
Schemes databases. There is a high degree of subjectivity to those that
most value. However, details are included below of my personal
“Top 25” Vale
Marais recoveries to date.
ringed on 5th April 1985, and found dead on 3rd
1986 at Heemstede, Noord Holland, NETHERLANDS – a
What makes this recovery even more remarkable is the fact that the bird
originally been ringed in
Jersey on 2nd
March 1985, after having
received veterinary treatment for significant damage to one of its
ringed (adult male) on 4th
October 1981, and found long dead on 18th April 1983 at
distance of 1,100 km.
ringed (first winter) on 17th
January 1988, and found dead on 9th May 1989 at Bogo,
distance of 1,140 km.
ringed (adult male) on 2nd
March 1985, and found dead on 16th April 1985 at Emdem Ot
GERMANY – a distance of
ringed (adult male) on 5th
December 1981, and found dead on 10th January 1984 at Ommel,
distance of 1,125 km.
ringed (adult male) on 3rd
January 1982, and found dead with botulism on 15th August
– a distance of 640 km.
ringed (adult) on 30th
and caught by ringers on 1st April 1991 at Parc National du
SENEGAL – a distance of 3,900 km.
ringed (adult) on 20th
April 1989, and caught by ringers on 1st July 1989 at
Central Region, SCOTLAND – a
distance of 730 km.
ringed (first year) on 13th
October 1981, and killed by cat on 9th June 1983 at Low
– a distance of 550 km.
ringed (adult female) on 18th
and killed by a car on 14th July 1988 at Hainmuehlen,
– a distance of 930 km.
ringed (first year) on 26th
August 1987, and caught by ringers on 8th November 1987 at
Fishponds, Navrongo, GHANA
distance of 4,300 km.
ringed (adult male) on 21st
April 1988, and caught by ringers on 6th January 1992 at
National du Djoudj,
SENEGAL – a distance of 3,900 km.
ringed (adult male) on 8th
May 1991, and caught by ringers on 18th December 1991 at
National du Djoudj,
a distance of 3,900 km.
(first year) on 5th September 1982, and found dead in a trap
September 1986 at Alcantarilha, Algarve,
PORTUGAL – a distance
Eurasian Reed Warbler
ringed 5th August 1982 (adult
caught by ringers on 2nd March 1993 at Ilha Areias, GUINEA-BISSAO
distance of 4,400 km; making this
the most distant recovery to date
from Vale Marais ringing.
ringed (adult) on 15th May 1982, and
by car on 4th May 1983 at Foissac, Aveyron, FRANCE –
distance of 640
(adult female) on 4th May 1990, and caught on 20th
1990 at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, Shetland Islands,
SCOTLAND – a
distance of 1,120 km in 16 days, before moving on to Outer Skerries,
it was also caught by bird ringers on 5th June 1990.
ringed (first year
female) on 7th
November 1992, and caught by bird ringers at Egebaksande, Jylland, DENMARK on
25th April 1993
– a distance of 1,150 km.
ringed (first year male) on 8th August 1986, and found dying
March 1987 at El Kelaa, Des Sraghna,
MOROCCO – a distance
of 2,000 km.
ringed (adult male) on 29th
April 1989, and found dead on 1st June 1989 at Lundin Links,
distance of 740 km.
ringed (adult male) on 8th
1984, and controlled on 21st April 1984 at Bardsey Bird
WALES – a distance of 380 km.
(adult male) on 21st April 1984, and found dead on 15th
June 1986 at Romagne, Vienne, FRANCE - a
distance of 425 km.
ringed (adult male) in the garden at Ty Coed on 2nd March
killed by a fox on 5th April 1988 at Elblag,
POLAND – a
distance of 1,650 km.
ringed (second year female)
garden at Ty Coed on 3rd March 1988, and found dead on 18th
April 1989 at
Ostovertsina, Vitebsk Region, BYELORUSSIA
– a distance of
ringed (first year male) in the garden at Ty Coed on 20th
1992, and found dead on 1st October 1993
at Marieholm, Skane, SWEDEN
– a distance of 1,300 km.
at the Vale Marais of Birds Ringed Outside the
To the end of 2006 there had been 56 birds of 16 species
caught at the Vale Marais which had originally been ringed outside the
Islands. These controls have involved 12 European territories using
different ringing schemes. A summary of these controls is included at
Details of my personal “Top 15” controls are included
ringed as a nestling female on 29th July 1987 at
Braunschweig, GERMANY, and caught at the Vale Marais
September 1988 - a distance of 990 km.
a juvenile on 4th July 1981 at Rye Meads, Hertfordshire, ENGLAND,
and caught at the Vale Marais on 18th
October 1981 – a distance
ringed as a first year female on 4th August 1981 at
Tayside, SCOTLAND, and caught at the Vale Marais on 2nd
1982 – a distance of 770 km.
as a nestling on 7th July 1984 at Berlaar, Antwerp, BELGIUM,
and caught at the Vale Marais on 11th November
1984 – a distance of
ringed as an adult female on 2nd August 1983 at Lagoa de
Andre, Baixo Alentejo, PORTUGAL, and caught at the Vale
Marais on 26th
April 1984 – a distance of 1,360 km.
ringed as first year male on 26th September 1986 at
Anne, West Flanders, BELGIUM, and caught at the Vale
Marais on 5th
October 1986 – a distance of 510 km.
ringed as adult male on 31st May 1992 at Thorpe Marsh,
Yorkshire, ENGLAND, and caught at the Vale Marais on
April 1993 – a distance of 450 km.
Warbler ringed as first
year on 21st October
1988 at Portland Bill Bird Observatory, Dorset, ENGLAND, and
day at the Vale Marais – a distance of 120 km
as first year male on 4th August 1991 at Ballagh, Tipperary,
and caught at the Vale Marais on 21st March
1993 – a
distance of 500
ringed as adult on 21st March 1981 at Rio Guadalhorce,
and caught at the Vale Marais on 2nd April 1981 –
a distance of
1,410 km in 12 days.
ringed as adult male on 14th July 1986 at Leveroge,
IRELAND, and caught at the Vale Marais on 7th
distance of 590 km.
ringed as adult on 5th May 1990 at Carrigullian Lough,
IRELAND, and caught at the Vale Marais on
May 1991 - a
distance of 580 km.
ringed as first year male on 12th October 1983 at
Schiermonnikoog, NETHERLANDS, and caught at the Vale Marais on
October 1983 – a distance
of 780 km.
ringed as nestling male on 14th June 1985 near
Wells, Powys, WALES, and caught at the Vale Marais on 18th
– a distance of 310 km.
ringed as first year female on 19th September 1986 at
More & Romsdale, NORWAY, and caught in the garden at Ty
January 1987 – a distance of 1,640 km.
In an era (particularly in the UK) when local “patch”
studies appear to have been largely eclipsed by “twitching”
birds wherever they
turn up, this paper highlights the value of recording the birds of a
area over a significant period of time. When I began to visit the site
I did not envisage that I would still be watching and recording birds
some 35 years later, although I am very pleased to be still doing this.
The wetland habitat, combined with increasing scrub and
tree cover over the years, has resulted in a very respectable bird list
site, including a fair number of rare and scarce birds.
Combined with these observations have been the hundreds
of days over this period that I have caught birds to identify, age
measure, ring and release. Quite apart from the scientific value of
both within Guernsey and beyond, I have gleened so much enjoyment and
contentment from the privilege not only of being given free access to
but also in being licensed to undertake my bird ringing activities.
My time spent on the marsh has been deeply influential in
kindling and developing my deep love of, and connection with, the
world. My debt to Maurice O’Rorke, who not only permitted me to
study but also encouraged and helped me, is therefore deep. It is but a
gesture, but a satisfying one nonetheless, to acknowledge
by dedicating this paper to his memory.
Paul K Veron
Channel Islands Bird Ringing Permit Number 129
1st March 2007