Burhou

13 - 17 June 2012



This was the fourth successive annual trip to Burhou in early/mid June to colour ring a sample of breeding adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Helping me this year were James Allison, Assistant Ecologist, Alderney Wildlife Trust, and Chris Mourant. The unsettled late spring and early summer this year was cause for concern both in relation to the affects this may have on the breeding seabirds and also in terms of getting over to the islet.

In the event, Chris and I got a lift over to Alderney in a fast RIB, with Roland Gauvain, manager, AWT on Wednesday 13th June in the afternoon. On a smooth sea we made excellent progress on what must have been my fastest ever sea crossing to Alderney! Once ashore, however, things didn’t go so well. A small jump down from a  trailer left me with strained muscles in the lower back, which made walking difficult and painful, and left me in considerable doubt for the trip over to Burhou. Fortunately after an overnight stay at the AWT hostel, and a trip to the pharmacy to get some excellent heat pads, I was fit enough to make the trip.

Mid-morning Chris, James and I boarded the AWT’s impressive new boat “Morus of Braye” for the short ride across to Burhou. As we crossed the Swinge parties of Northern Gannets scythed past on their purposeful journeys to and from the two gannetries offshore (Les Etacs and Ortac). Landing on Burhou we managed to tip two of the six traps into the sea, never to be seen again! This was a blow to our ringing efforts, but at least we still had four traps, and with me not 100% fit this may not have been a bad thing.

As ever, it was absolutely wonderful to be back on Burhou, amidst a thriving Lesser Black-backed Gull colony. The gulls looked to be in similar number to the past few seasons (c 1,100 pairs)…but we were not able to undertake a full island census of apparently occupied nests this year. As soon as we had settled in to the hut we got the four traps working. Over the next three days we operated the traps only for three or four hours in the warmest part of the day, so as to avoid leaving nests exposed in cool windy conditions. Luckily the rain that fell during our stay was mainly overnight.

We managed to trap and colour ring 51 new Lesser Black-backed Gulls, five of which were already carrying metal rings, having been ringed as chicks on Burhou in the 2000s! We also caught two adult LBBGs that had been colour ringed originally in June 2009 in the colony, and one new Herring Gull.

This was the latest I have been on Burhou trapping adults, and as the days progressed we entered the peak hatching period limiting the trapping even further. It was very encouraging to see the large number of clutches hatching successfully, although the next week to 10 days will be a crucial time in the development of the chicks, until they have grown large enough to survive the vagaries of the summer’s poor weather!

On the positive side the adults handled were in really excellent condition with high body mass, and they were all feeding exclusively on fish (as opposed to any landfill waste). While things were looking encouraging for the Lesser Black-backed Gulls this season, the same could not be said for Herring Gulls, whose population appears to have reduced even further than in 2011.

In between the gull research, we also visited the Shag nests that James has been monitoring. Productivity was reasonable with two young in most nests. 29 chicks were ringed on Burhou and Little Burhou. Ten Great Cormorant nests were counted on Little Burhou, but the young had already fledged, several being seen on the sea and on rocks on the west end of the islets.

A pair of Shelduck was present on the Burhou, and a pair of Northern Wheatears was nesting (for the 2nd consecutive year). Rock Pipits were much in evidence. The Puffin raft was impressive again in the evenings (>150 birds), and a Grey Seal also put in an appearance to the north of the landing gulley. A Peregrine was seen hunting over Burhou.

Strong winds and a high sea delayed our return to Alderney for 24 hours (the first time I’ve ever been stuck on Burhou in all the years I’ve been going!). I was able to use some of this time to continue my efforts to read colour ringed gulls. With the breeding season still in full swing most of the adult LBBGs were in deep grass cover preventing me from being able to read any rings, but at times some of the adults loafed on the rocks. I managed 54 gull cr reads on Burhou, including immature birds which had been ringed as chicks on Burhou in both 2009 and 2010. Many of these birds will have interesting life histories already!

On Sunday Roland came out to pick us up, with Catherine onboard too. Once back on Alderney we had a few hours to enjoy a cream tea and also to check out Crabby Bay for cr gulls – thus adding another 16 valuable records of ringed LBBGs to the trip file.

This had been my most difficult visit to Burhou to colour ring a sample of adult breeding LBBGs, but 53 birds caught (and lone Herring Gull) was a very creditable result in all the circumstances. I owe Chris and James my hearty thanks for their hard work and good cheer under somewhat testing conditions! Given the circumstances, it is even more satisfying now to have completed the work on adult gulls successfully for another summer.








PKV