Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

Île d'Ouessant 7th - 12th & 14th - 19th October 2010,

Chris hall

Bienvenue à Ouessant. At this westernmost point in France, it is barely light at 8am, as we sit down to breakfast with the rosy glow of the sunrise seeping across the sky, and then at the end of le petit dejeuner, a Sparrowhawk zooms past the window. Heading for the north coast, the island is alive with Meadow Pïpits and singing Robins, while a Hobby makes a brief appearance, followed by the first of many posing Whinchats, and out to sea, there are thousands of Gannets! The seaweed strewn Plage de Yusin attracts Rock Pipits, Stonechats, Common Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers, and further west along the rocky shore we see Curlew, Oystercatcher, loads of Wheatears, and also enjoy fabulous views of a glossy looking Chough sitting on an outcrop of granite. Our picnic lunch is cut short by the arrival of two Snow Buntings and as we scope them, a Kingfisher perched by a rock pool distracts us. Further west, we stumble on a goose stepping Yellow Wagtail and at the Phare de Créac'h an lbj catches our eye, flitting to and fro in a rocky gulley. It turns out to be a Pied Flycatcher, eventually showing very well, when suddenly a Wryneck pops into view on a sunny rock, showing every detail of its finely patterned plumage, soon to be joined by two Snow Buntings! During the frenzy, all three species show superbly, within a few feet of each other, and eventually we have to move on, leaving the show still in full swing for others to enjoy. A great first day, with lovely weather and some fabulous sightings on this special island.

A Saturday morning cake stall in the Place de l’Eglise proves irresistible to some, who stock up for the day before we head east to the Phare du Stiff. Newly arrived Song Thrushes zip nervously to and fro by the dozen, just like the first Redwings of Autumn at Spurn Point, a Marsh Harrier quarters low in the distance and then we spot three male Blackcaps together in one bush, followed by close views of a very yellow-fronted Willow Warbler. Next, on the Pointe de Cadoran, a couple of dozen flocking Snow Buntings quickly melt away without trace. Returning westwards along the north coast after a seaside picnic, we have a brief encounter with a ringtail Hen Harrier and eventually nail a pair of Black Redstarts, while a nearby Wood Warbler shows its yellow supercilium and clean white underparts very nicely. The robust and gritty outcrops along the coast here are reminiscent of Dartmoor and the Edges of the Dark Peak and so ‘our’ Ring Ouzels look very much at home here, even though they are only passing through. Of the many good sightings today, Ring Ouzel was probably star bird, even though we found a flock of Lapland Buntings late on, but too flighty and distant to be worth a tick.

Today it is blowing a gale and we are grounded by mist until after lunch, when we go bunting hunting, but there is no sign as it is far too breezy, so we make for the shelter of more bushy areas, which seem to be alive with Chiffchaffs and Pied Flycatchers. With a few birders about, we get word of “un oiseau Americain avec yeux rouges”, and so we make a bee line for La Chapelle de Notre Dame de Bon Voyage, an ironic location as this bird has just crossed the Atlantic from North America! During our stake out of the bushes, a Pied Flycatcher sits almost permanently on show and then voila, out pops the megatick, a Red-eyed Vireo, with a striking white supercilium bordered above and below by black stripes and with a smoky grey cap.

The fast moving air is crystal clear today, and as we explore the southwest corner of the island, garden birds include Goldcrest and Firecrest in the same tree, and then come our first Redwings of the season. On the headland we find a Little Egret, and a first winter Mediterranean Gull, with a stubbier beak than that of the Black-heads. Suddenly, three Stock Doves hurtle by, quickly followed by two Peregrines, which single out one of the Doves for lunch, and as we follow the action, the Dove twists and turns as the Falcons chase and swoop, before giving up and peeling away empty-taloned. After our picnic on the beach, more garden birds include female Common and Black Redstarts, as well as the amazing sight of a Wryneck perched on the top of a washing line post, in full sun just 15 yards away from us!

So, here we go again with group B and the target to match is 74 species in the next four days. It’s a clear blue sky and calm by island standards, so we start with a crack at Dartford Warbler in the gorse, and are soon rewarded with super views of a smart male singing from an open perch on top of the gorse, with a ruby red eye glinting in the sun, a definite contender for bird of the day even though it is only 10.15am! Now for Operation Bunting along the north coast, with Little Egret and Chough along the way, and once the flighty bunting flock has landed with the sun behind us, we move in. By quiet stalking toward the area of thick turf they land in, we initially find two Snow Buntings with black-tipped yellow beaks and ginger heads, and as we close in carefully the flock takes off, but one Lapland Bunting remains and amazingly continues to feed, while we get to within 5 yards of it! Feeling pleased with the morning’s ‘work’, we settle down to a picnic overlooking the sea, with a Whimbrel out on the rocks. Next we go inland to a boggy thicket hoping for Water Rail and after a patient game of hide and seek with at least two of these ultra-shy birds, we get a view of one of them on top of a wall!

Another fine day and one of our own Pied Wagtails, with jet black back, in contrast to the grey backs of the local White Wags, is enjoying some foreign seaside sunshine, as are some newly arrived Redwings and Fieldfares. Apart from the usual Marsh Harriers, Kestrels, another Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine, it is a very quiet day, as most of the Wheatears and all of the Whinchats and Pied Flycatchers seem to have left the island in exchange for flocks of Siskins and Chaffinches.

Today the fine weather continues, and as it is so calm and gloriously sunny all day long, there seems little hope of new arrivals. Heading southwest, there are 17 Ringed Plovers and a lone Lapwing on the Plage de Corz and as we follow the rocky shore, we find a very handsome male Black Redstart. During elevenses overlooking the circular bay of Porz Goret, we try to make a lonely looking Little Grebe into a Pied-billed Grebe from North America, but the bill is too thin. Around noon on the southwest tip of the island, we find the first winter Mediterranean Gull, a couple of sparring bull Grey Seals and a Redshank with incredibly bright orange legs. After lunch, raptors include the usual Marsh Harriers and Kestrels, plus a ringtail Hen Harrier and a Hobby. We also add Coot, Wigeon and Firecrest to the list, but still no Vireo, so we settle for a nice glass of cider on the way back into town.

At last we find a Blue Tit and its partner, but at the Vireo site we only spot Great Tit, Chiffchaff and Firecrest and by the end of the day our list has reached 71 with the addition of Blackcap.

It’s now time to go home, but with the engine warmed up and ready for take off, we are delayed by a Pheasant on the airstrip! Ouessant really is a lovely little sleepy island.

Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?