The Channel Islands are situated more than 130km from the south coast of England and lie much closer to north-western France giving them a milder climate than any part of mainland Britain.
There are four main islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark), together totalling less than 200 sq km with a range of habitats including sandy beaches and rocky cliffs with much farmland and hedgerows in the interior as well as small areas of heath and grassland, sand-dunes and freshwater wetlands.
Important numbers of Northern Gannet breed in the Channel Islands in addition to Northern Fulmar, Manx Shearwater and European Storm-petrel. Other breeding seabirds include Great Cormorant and Shag, Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake and Common Tern, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin. Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover breed in good numbers on the islands and Kentish Plover formerly nested on Alderney, Guernsey and Herm. Little Egret is a recent arrival on the islands and is now present all year and Peregrine Falcon bred for the first time since the 1950s on Jersey in 2000.
Birds typical of Continental Europe but rare in Britain can be found in the Channel Islands including Cetti's Warbler and Dartford Warbler, European Serin and Cirl Bunting. However, the major attraction for birders is the presence of Short-toed Treecreeper, a Continental bird that occurs in mainland Britain only as a very rare vagrant. However, care must be taken as the Common Treecreeper has been recorded as a vagrant in the Channel Islands. Bearded Tit have recently begun to breed in very small numbers. A wide range of more widespread farmland and woodland birds breeds in the Channel Islands and include Barn Owl, Common Kestrel, and Northern Raven.
Migrants occur in good numbers both on land at sea. Offshore in autumn, regular shearwaters include Sooty Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater and Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua are also regular. Little Gull occurs in thousands at the end of October and Black Tern and Little Tern occur on passage. Many species of wader occur during passage periods and, as well as the more common passerine migrants, the globally rare Aquatic Warbler has occurred with some regularity.
In winter the seas around the Channel Islands attract Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver with small numbers of Black-throated Diver and various grebes. Northern Lapwing and Golden Plover can be seen on farmland in winter and Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper on rocky shores. Scarce passerine species such as Common Firecrest and Black Redstart regularly winter on the islands and wintering Blackcap and Common Chiffchaff are fairly common.
Rarities seen in these islands over the years have included Green Heron, Upland Sandpiper, Northern Waterthrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak from North America and Asian species such as Red-flanked Bluetail. However, the most famous Channel Islands rarity was a female Siberian Blue Robin in October 1975 which remained the only European record until October 2000. An immature Griffon Vulture was present on Sark and Guernsey in August 2000.
Birds you can see here include:
Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Northern Fulmar, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, European Storm Petrel, Great Cormorant, European Shag, Northern Gannet, Great Bittern, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Hen Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Grey Partridge, Common Pheasant, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Ringed Plover, Eurasian or European Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Northern Lapwing, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Eurasian Woodcock, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Tern, Little Tern, Black Tern, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Stock Dove, Feral Pigeon, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, European Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl, Common Swift, Common Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Common Wren, Dunnock, European Robin, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Eurasian Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Common Grasshopper Warbler, Aquatic Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Common Reed Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Wood Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Common Firecrest, Spotted Flycatcher, European Pied Flycatcher, Bearded Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Eurasian Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Northern Raven, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, European Serin, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin, Eurasian Linnet, Eurasian Bullfinch, Snow Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting
Birds apart, the Channel Islands hold much of interest for the travelling naturalist. For herpetologists there are small populations of Agile Frog Rana dalmatina, Green Lizard Lacerta viridis and Common Wall Lizard Lacerta muralis, all widespread on the adjacent Continent but absent from mainland Britain.
Similarly, there are mammals common in Europe but rare or absent elsewhere in Britain. The Greater White-toothed Shrew Crocidura russula is found only in the Channel Islands, the Lesser White-toothed Shrew Crocidura suaveolens only in the Channel Islands and Isles of Scilly and Millet's Shrew Sorex coronatus only occurs on Jersey. The Common Vole Microtus arvalis is abundant and widespread in Europe but its British range is confined to Guernsey and the Orkney Islands.
For botanists the Channel Islands are a true paradise with a flora richer and more varied than anywhere in mainland Britain. The position of the islands and the mild climate, the range of habitats and the influence of man on the land has resulted in a remarkably diverse flora. Jersey has about 1000 species of flowering plant, many of which are very rare elsewhere, and even the smaller islands can boast impressive plant lists with 600 species on Sark and 700 on Alderney.
The islands are not noted as ornithological hotspots and generally remain underwatched compared to neighbouring Scilly but the list of vagrants recorded here shows that extreme rarities can and do occur.
Areas of Interest
Access and Facilities
Jersey is the largest and most often visited of the islands, followed by Guernsey to the north-west. Sark, at only 5km2, is the smallest of the main islands and Alderney the most northerly and remote with the two Channel Islands gannetries found on small islets off its shores.
Accommodation is plentiful throughout the main islands and particularly on Jersey which can be reached by air or sea from England or by sea from St Malo in France. There are frequent inter-island flights and boats. Cars are prohibited on Sark.
Content and images originally posted by Steve