12/13 July 2008
With the winds lighter than
forecast, Sophie and I flew out to Alderney at 0830 confident of
to Burhou to fit the Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks with colour rings.
other ringers able to make the trip, we envisaged a very hard
searching the bracken for the chicks.
Roland Gauvain and Lyndsey Pyne
kindly picked us up from the airport and drove us out to the Alderney
(AWT) field centre at Essex Castle. Here Roland picked up the boat
we went straight to the harbour. As the forecast was for a moderate
had arranged for a qualified boatman (Tim) to take us over to Burhou.
all loaded and on our way by 1030. Although the sea was slight-moderate
still some rollers crossing the Swinge.
As soon as Sophie and I had
settled into the hut, and grabbed a bite to eat we set off to the West
the island to start searching for the gull chicks. I had not done this
Burhou since 1994, but with my new colour ringing project underway I
keen to try to get at least 100 rings fitted. I knew that previous
ringed c 300 Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks at this time of year
in the previous decade, and was therefore hopeful of a good
result. However, once Sophie and I began
to search through the bracken at the West End, we knew that the gulls
big trouble this year. Far from the usual picture of many large gulls
the bracken, or wandering at the edge of the colony all we could find
nests or nests still containing eggs (several which were just
A careful search of the whole of
the West End colony resulted in our finding only three well grown L B B
chicks (which we duly fitted with colour rings). We located another
with eggs or tiny chicks. It was also very noticeable that there were
Herring Gull chicks visible on the Island. Again by this time of year
gulls should have been very visible on the beaches and in the air. As
it was we
only found one well-grown Herring Gull chick on the North End of the
At first I speculated that
perhaps a fierce storm earlier in the season could have drenched the
West End colony and caused breeding failure. However, when the picture
same across the whole island this seemed like a less probable
the desperately poor breeding season. Somewhat disheartened we retuned
to the hut after a largely fruitless two hour search. After a brief
searched the colony around the hut, but with the same very poor
beaches along the north held only one Herring Gull chick, and a second
that was too young to identify.
The L B B Gull adults that were
still sitting on eggs/small young returned to their nests very quickly,
soon became obvious that the majority of adult gulls on the island were
spending large parts of the day loafing on the grass. They were not
feeding chicks, and for the duration of our stay we saw no chicks
edges of the colonies as is usually the case by mid July.
Having checked all the gull
colonies, and confirmed the same picture it can only be concluded that
gulls on Burhou have had a disastrous breeding season in 2008. Whether
relatively few pairs which are still sitting on eggs or tiny young can
these successfully this late in the season is not (yet) known, but even
are successful the recruitment into the population from 2008 is going
The shags on the island had failed
earlier in the summer, and no young could be found on the main island.
not cross to Little Burhou because of the neap tide. The Puffin
raft in the bay in
front of the hut contained c 160 birds during the early evening, with
birds seen flying ashore with beaks full of sandeels.
With the gull work cut short by a
lack of chicks we had time on our hands, so we went to examine the area
predator had recently been killing and eating Storm Petrels.
found wings from another seven or eight birds and a pellet, indicating
predation problem is continuing. The next day we found the wings of
three or four petrels at the West End of the island. We photographed
remains and collected them to take back to Roland. In all more than 20
Petrels have now been found dead on the Island this summer.
Other birds found dead on the
island, which had been predated, included several Feral Pigeons and two
Oystercatchers. When we left the island on Sunday we saw a Feral Pigeon
in mid-air by one of two hunting Peregrines. One of the falcons hit the
which then dropped like a stone with the second falcon chasing after
think this was an adult Peregrine teaching a fledged youngster hunting
Whatever, the presence of at least two Peregrines on Burhou may be
“mixed blessing”…especially if these birds are found
to be hunting on moonlight
nights! In this context it is important to establish the
facts and confirm what is hunting the Storm Petrels. Hopefully the
camera being set up by AWT will solve the mystery.
After a restful Sunday morning,
Sophie and I were picked up by Roland in Nomad at 1230 pm.
We swapped over with Mel and Bill who were
arriving to undertake their next Puffin survey counts.
The very poor breeding season for
Lesser Black-backed Gulls must be cause for concern. If this is the
result of a
natural phenomenon, and is short-lived, it will not impact too greatly
population. However, the situation should be monitored in the years
if repeated priority should be given to identifying the causes and (if
possible) trying to improve the productivity of the Lesser Black-backed
has, historically, been a stronghold in the Channel Islands for this
more so over the past decade. While there has been success in other
Islands gull colonies this year, the birds on Burhou have largely
produce young this year.
Our thanks to Roland for his hard
work and great assistance in making sure that we could visit Burhou to
work on the Lesser Black-backed Gulls.