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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:10   #1
Fat Paul Scholes
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Ile D'Ouessant 2 - 8 October 2011

First of all...some Logistics

The trip starts with the 2.5 hour crossing from Brest to Ouessant, which stops to pick folk up at Le Conquet and on Ile de Molene, leaving at 08:30, so perhaps the most comfortable course of action is to travel to Brest the day before and spend the night in a hotel on the waterfront. We always stay in le Gens de Mer http://www.lesgensdemer.fr/hotel-restaurant-2.php which is perfectly adequate and has an OK restaurant.

There is usually some sort of discount running between this hotel and the ferry company http://www.pennarbed.fr/ giving you a reduction on either your accommodation or your tickets. However, the main attraction with this hotel is that if you ask nicely they will let you leave your car in the secure parking for the week, free of charge.

On arrival, we usually take our pre-arranged taxi (see here: http://www.ot-ouessant.fr/fr/tourism...axi-mauve.html ) up to the house where we were staying. In the autumn there is plenty of accommodation available on Ouessant as the island needs to cope with large amounts of tourists during the summer. Most accommodation is self-catered rented house type stuff, but there are also a few hotels (see tripadvisor) and for those who want to mix with the birders, there is cheap and basic accommodation at the CEMO (Used to function as an observatory, now it’s the place where most of the birders stay) It can be useful to at least visit, to pick up maps and get some bird news, and is located among some of the islands best migrant spots. http://www.cemo-ouessant.fr/index.ph...d=61&Itemid=65

Accommodation is spread throughout the island, but it pays to be relatively close to Lampaul, the islands main (only?!) town. Lampaul has several advantages: it is central, only being a max of 15 minutes cycle to anywhere else on the island; most of the decent bars and restaurants are there (with the exception of L’arrive, which is located where you jump ship and does excellent and authentic crepes): all of the food shops are there, and there is some pretty good birding there too. Shops are open every day apart from Sundays.
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:10   #2
Fat Paul Scholes
My real name is Mark Lewis

 
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Some notes on birding the island

Ouessant is a small island, being about 4km by 7km. Visitors are expected to get around by bike, plenty of which are available for hire both at the ‘ferry terminal’ and in Lampaul. Folks who live on the island are allowed to use cars, but there aren’t all that many of them, meaning that roads are generally quiet and well maintained, and are a joy to cycle round as you listen for flyover migrants…

There are plenty of places that deserve a look. However, the best advice I could give would be to just go and bird as much as you can…Maps are available at the CEMO and in many of the shops.

There are plenty of very wet areas so waterproof boots, or even better, wellies are advised. Very few areas are out of bounds, apart from gardens obviously, but use your common sense if you are in any doubt whether you can go somewhere. Dotted around the island are a few fields planted up with some sort of non-commercial crops…these are owned and maintained by hunters for pheasants (there are quite a few hunters on the island) but birders are certainly tolerated in these fields, which is handy as they can be rather good…

If you want rare bird news you could check these two sites:

http://www.ornithomedia.com/view/observ_tbweek.php?pa=0

http://ouessant.observado.org/waarne...amily=0&page=1

In general, most birders are happy to stop and chat and exchange news. A lot of them are rather humblingly fluent in English but it does make a difference if you at least try to speak in French. I have found taking a French language field guide with me useful when trying to pass on information!
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:12   #3
Fat Paul Scholes
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Day one – Oct 2nd

Before I start, I best get my disclaimer in…although everyone I visit this special island is very birder tolerant and I usually get to do my own thing, it is not a birding holiday, and I would say that perhaps less than half of my time is spent birding. Obviously this is not ideal, but if I want to go back next year I have to reign it in a little bit!

Day one – Oct 2nd

Usually Balearic shearwaters can be seen on the crossing (especially in the sections between Ouessant and Le Conquet) but there were none available on this particular trip. The undoubted highlight of this crossing was a great northern diver seen in flight not too far out of Le Conquet. Also seen were an ad w little gull, several Mediterranean gulls, and a few commoner seabirds such as guillemot, gannet, common and Sandwich tern, and plenty of shags.

After getting settled in I had a quick look at the area around the house – where there were Ouessant staples such as marsh harrier, Dartford warbler and chough, as well as some signs migrant life in the forms of common redstart, northern wheatear, and a rather late and excitement inducing common swift.

As is always the case on these trips with the in laws, lunch was a protracted affair, comprising what were, at least in my opinion, two unnecessary courses! I cycled out to the west of the island afterwards where I checked over a few of my favourite spots.

At Kun – between Lampaul and Phare du C’reach (the big lighthouse) – an area of bushes and open land had 3 common redstart, 3 pied flycatcher, a single reed warbler, and loads of common chiffchaff. Just a little around the corner, at Ar Reun, there were the aforementioned species, as well as willow warbler and whinchat, and from Ar Reun I cycled to the lighthouse at C’reach where the open ground had loads of northern wheatears, meadow pipits, the odd stonechat, and a clouded yellow.

I anticipated being summoned back to Lampaul at some point to drink some delicious Breton cidre (ohh the hardships of a non-birding holiday…) so I headed back that way to get a little birding in at Prad Meur, a boggy row of trees adjacent to the islands cemetery. Here there were further common chiffchaffs, with a couple of firecrests thrown in and a flyover grey wagtail.

I was going to call it a day birding wise and try and be sociable, but in the early evening I noticed a large flock of gulls hawking for insects over the house. They were mostly black-headed gulls, with a few Mediterranean as well. As I watched the gulls going about their business I latched onto a flock of starlings and was rather pleasantly surprised to see a lone juv rosy starling among them. Also during that short period, I got brief views of a water rail and even briefer views of a ringtail harrier species that turned out later in the week to be a hen harrier. Not a bad start at all…
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:13   #4
Fat Paul Scholes
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Day two – Oct 3rd

Day two started rather slowly. At dawn I had a wander around the two reservoirs in the centre of the island and then headed down towards Lampaul via Prad Meur. The reservoirs were very quiet apart from the usual coots and a couple of grey herons, with common chiffchaffs, chaffinches (migrants here) and a couple of firecrests in the bushes. Things picked up a little as I explored the gardens and open areas around the house, where I picked up a reed warbler, 3 pied flycatcher and my first spotted flycatcher of the trip. As it was a Monday we needed to take advantage of the shops being open to stock up on food,. Somehow this took us through to lunchtime, again a drawn out affair which rather curtailed my birding, but just as I was beginning to get a teensy wee bit frustrated, a Richard’s pipit bounded over the garden schreeping away through the fog, which cheered me up no end!

After lunch I got my leave for the afternoon and headed out west again. In the area behind the Ecomusee (called Niou Izella) there were common redstart, bullfinch, whinchat, and flyover whimbrel, and from there I headed back towards Ar Reun. On the way I very nearly cycled over a wryneck! Having eventually obtained some decent views of this bird, I headed out towards Cost Ar Reun (ie the promontory beyond Ar Reun) and decided to bird the scrub and the last garden along that road. There was clearly some sort of fall happening, as there were whinchats all over the place, but it had also been raining wrynecks it seemed, with at least 5 different birds on view from the garden. Also here were a few common chiffchaffs and blackcaps, and my only common whitethroat of the trip.

In the evening I got a text from a helpful Belgian birder informing me of a little bunting in some hunters fields just north of where I was staying. In the fading light (and in the company of the islands entire birding populace – all 14 of us!) I got acceptable view of the little bunting as it flew over and showed briefly in the crop. Also here was another reed warbler. Not a bad second day either…
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:13   #5
Fat Paul Scholes
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Day 3 – Oct 4th

Most of the day was spent pottering around with the family, despite an obvious arrival the day before. I got out first thing and checked the fields and bushes around Porz Doun, in the far south west of the island. Here there is also a beach that accumulates a lot of seaweed and is therefore a magnet for ground feeding passerines. Among the meadow pipits, rock pipits and white wagtail were a few indeterminable yellow wagtails, and along another nearby stretch of coastline were 3 little egrets. The cover here contained a few whinchats and good numbers of song thrush that were new in.

From here I headed back to the house via Lampaul (where there were firecrest and pied flycatcher) and while lunch was being prepared, I was treated to point blank views of a wryneck through the kitchen window, as it fed in the garden.

In the afternoon, I walked off another large lunch around Stang a Stiff in the east of the island (firecrest and long-tailed tit), and in the evening I strolled round the patch around the house and picked up blackcap, spotted flycatcher, common chiffchaff, whinchat, pied flycatcher, willow warbler and yellow wagtail.
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:14   #6
Fat Paul Scholes
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Day 4 – Oct 5th

Up with the lark again to get my morning birding fix. I decided to head north to Plage Yusin, where an American golden plover had taken up residence the week before my arrival. I took the long way round, and enjoyed some flyover Lapland buntings as I struggled to drag my bike along the coastal path. Other birds noted en route included reed warbler (it was a very good year for this species), Dartford warbler, sparrowhawk, and yet more whinchats and common chiffchaffs.

The beach was a rather similar set up to the one at Porz Doun, being covered in stinky seaweed and rather a lot of migrants. One major difference was that Plage Yusin had a rather confiding American golden plover plonked in the middle of it, with a few other waders such as common sandpiper and turnstone. Choughs and a few Mediterranean gulls flew over and a kingfisher perched up on the rocks.

The seaweed was alive with migrants, mainly consisting of meadow and rock pipits, white wagtails and wheatears, but with an added bonus in the shape of an ortolan bunting, which is just about annual on the island and probably shaded my other self found goodies thus far…

The afternoon was always going to struggle to match that, so with low expectations I did the loop around Lampaul and the reservoirs. Migrants seen included yellow wagtail, pied flycatcher, my first skylarks of the trip, and further tantalizing glimpses of a ringtail harrier species. I got slightly more on it this time and was beginning to come round to the fact that it looked like a hen harrier…but with every man and his dog turning up pallid harriers this autumn, I felt it was prudent to keep an open mind!

In the evening I went back up to Plage Yusin with the missus, as she wanted to get some pictures of the American golden plover and the other confiding birds using the beach. The plover was still present, as were many of the passerines, but there was no sign of the ortolan. An Arctic tern flying over the island on the way back to the house was unexpected, but I was not entirely surprised to get yet another glance of the elusive harrier…
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:15   #7
Fat Paul Scholes
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Day 5 – Oct 6th

The winds were wild and from the north west this morning, so despite the fact that I hadn’t taken my scope with me, I thought a seawatch might be in order. From Point de Pern in the far west, in amongst the thousands of gannets streaming past, I picked out a few great skuas and sooty shearwaters, but it was a little frustrating as most of the more interesting stuff seemed to be further out. It was also a little uncomfortable lying on the rock I was lying on so I didn’t give it too long. Other birders with the right kit and a more sensible seating arrangement had great shearwater and sabines gull that morning.

The strong winds were never going to make it easy to see migrants that day, and I spent long periods of the afternoon aimlessly wandering the centre of the island to no avail, unless you consider me seeing my first ever gatekeeper on the island some sort of an avail. Before that at Penn Arland (in the far south east) there were firecrests and common chiffchaffs, and I added Eurasian golden plover and snow bunting to the weeks list.

Again in the evening I did the Lampaul loop, which was seriously devoid of birds in the wind until I got back towards the house, where spotted flycatcher, lesser black-backed gull (the only one of the week) and a black redstart were noted.
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:16   #8
Fat Paul Scholes
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Day 6 – Oct 7th

Another early morning trip to Plage Yusin this morning, but aside from the continued presence of the AGP, it was pretty quiet. Niou Izella was similarly unrewarding, possibly due to the continued strong westerly winds. In fact, the strong winds all day made seeing any birds hard work. The only respite from this was a calling yellow-browed warbler in a garden in the centre of the island. An Arctic skua was seen on a very brief seawatch, and a few common chiffchaffs were noted around Cost Ar Reun in the afternoon. Most of the day was spent doing family holiday type stuff, which I was more than happy to do in the conditions.
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 18:16   #9
Fat Paul Scholes
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Day 7 – Oct 8th

Instead of spending the early morning birding we headed straight for the pub to take in a hapless performance from the English rugby team, which the French fans seemed to enjoy an awful lot.

After the game I got out with the bins (having packed in seconds flat) and was disappointed to see that I was leaving the island the day lots of birds had turned up. Firecrest numbers were up, and for the first time in the week there were goldcrests among them. At Prad Meur, I bumped into a couple of British birders (the first time this has happened to me here) and I spent my last hour or so on the island showing them around Lampaul, Prad Meur and the area around the house at Poull Brac. As well as the aforementioned goldcrests, also new in were good numbers of chaffinches and other finches, but a common rosefinch feeding in a garden was most unexpected and seemed like a very fitting way to end the trip, with a full blown French rarities committee bird.

The last throw of the dice then, was as always, the ferry trip back to the mainland. Shearwaters at last put in an appearance, with a total of 7 sooties and a single Balearic, and skuas were also well represented with multiple Arctic and greats, and a single dark immature pomarine. As is often the case though, the birds on the journey back were overshadowed by a single bottlenose dolphin that rode our bow wave as we sped in towards Brest, giving those on board a spectacular show and provoking much oohing and shrieking from the back of the boat.
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 20:06   #10
StuartReeves
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Interesting stuff Mark, not least because I and a couple of friends have been discussing an autumn trip there for a while now.
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 21:50   #11
Fat Paul Scholes
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I don't think you'd regret it! I've never managed to score a proper rarity there in 5 years, but with some more focus it would definitely be possible. This year it also had swainsons thrush, a couple of olive-backed pipit, dusky warblers, spotted sand, franklins gull and a few Pallas warblers....
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Old Thursday 15th December 2011, 14:16   #12
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Fab. Brought back memories of the three weeks I spent there in Sep 1990. It was regularly dripping with passerine migrants (wrynecks, shrike, hippos, one ortolan, barred warbler), the sea was hot (little shear plus the rest) and westerlies blew in decent waders (american goldie, buffbreast). And with just four birders total including us on the island the whole time we were there, god knows what got missed.
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Old Thursday 15th December 2011, 18:19   #13
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It seems to have been a quiet autumn for the islands off north west france - compared to last year. Still you managed to get a few things.

It's on the list of things to do/places to go.....
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Old Saturday 24th December 2011, 15:18   #14
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Sounds like an enjoyable trip, with lots of good food built around the birding. There are certainly many less interesting spots to spend a week with the in-laws!

Cheers
Mike
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