Having kept a close watch on the five
day weather forecasts
all week, I changed plans and went up to Alderney a couple of days
planned to visit Burhou to assess the breeding season for Lesser
Gulls. This was a wise move, given the dry, calm weather on 14 and 15
which was followed by yet more wet and windy weather over 16-17 July! I
first Aurigny flight up to Alderney at 0745.
As we approached Alderney there was a thin, beautiful white
puffy mist hanging over the west end of the island. As a result we
island several times, and made one aborted effort to land. This gave
aerial views of the harbour and Burhou, which were bathed in sunshine.
only ever going to be a matter of time before the mist burnt off, and
several circuits we came in again and touched down in clear blue skies
– a fine
example of the vagaries of island weather!
Liz Morgan, the Alderney Wildlife Trust Ecologist,
kindly waiting at the airport for me. After a quick visit to the
pick up some supplies we were soon heading for the harbour with the
AWT’s Rib “Sunrise”
in tow. Once again I am grateful to
Roland Gauvain for kindly arranging this and taking us over to Burhou.
We had a
superb calm and fast run out across The Swinge to the islet.
It felt absolutely wonderful to be back on the
island…although I already knew from Liz’s reports from the
previous week that
there appeared to be very few gull chicks on Burhou this summer. Most
adult gulls appeared to still be present, although it was a worrying
see many of them loafing on the grassy ridge slope as we walked up to
Once I’d sorted out my ringing gear, Liz
Morgan, Lyn …. and
I set off to check the whole island for gull chicks. We started at the
not a single chick was found. Working down checking the bracken and the
along the south coast no chicks were seen! Only when we got into the
colony at the west end did we manage to find a few Lesser Black-backed
chicks (eight in total). They were exactly the size I would have
this time of year – perfect for taking colour rings. A couple
were large – and
I did see one fully fledged Lesser Black-backed Gull chick.
The lack of any serious mobbing by the adult gulls
our suspicions that the colony had suffered a mass failure. When I
visited on 11-13
June 2011 the colony was in very good shape, with adults incubating
that time everything looked very normal. However…as elsewhere in
of Guernsey this year, I think several days of unseasonably cool, wet
weather at the critical time when most of the LBBG chicks would have
hatching has been the primary cause of this widespread failure.
The Guernsey Met Office has confirmed that June 2011 was the coolest
here in Guernsey since 2002 and also the windiest for 20 years. There
were also many more day so of rain this year (than last) with
precipitation at some stage on every day from 07 to 21 June. Guernsey
Water also reports 22% more precipitation in June than the monthly
average during the previous decade. Some 2.1 inches (53.3
mm) of rain fell on Guernsey during the month. This unusually wet
and windy weather may well explain the widespread breeding failure of
Lesser Black-backed Gulls across the Bailiwick of Guernsey this year.
What is particularly disappointing
is that this is the third known mass failure of the Burhou Lesser
Gulls in the past five years – with only 2009 and 2010 being
Herring Gulls continue to decline on Burhou. There
been far fewer than 100 pairs this year – and we only found six
chicks to ring.
Only one Great Black-backed Gull chick was found on Little Burhou
other 2011 fledgling was seen in flight). As elsewhere in the
European Shags appear to have done well this year, with many fledged
around the shoreline, along with a smaller number of Cormorants.
Liz told me that some of the
Puffins had already left – in
what has proved to be a very early year for their breeding. Just over 100 adult Puffins could still be
seen rafting in front of the hut, including several birds bringing
ashore (so they must have still been feeding chicks). A pair of
been seen frequently on Burhou his summer, and their young are now
in flights around the island.
Late one evening Liz and Lynne
undertook a playback survey
of the wall in front of the hut, discovering a minimum of 23 Storm
nesting in the wall.
Given the failure of the gull
colony this year, I did have
the time and the opportunity to search through the adult gulls looking
colour ringed birds. I was thrilled to find no fewer than 130 of my
Black-backed Gulls which had original ringing details as follows:-
1992 (one), 2003 (two), 2005
(one), 2008 (one from Burhou
and one from Guernsey), 2009 (43 adults plus three of the chicks ringed
which are now back prospecting Burhou for future breeding, plus three
Guernsey), 2010 (28) and 2011 (37 plus seven from Guernsey). Just over
these birds had been reported outside the Channel Islands last
in Iberia, but some in France and England). I also recorded Black
3.N6, which is the adult Lesser
Black-backed Gull ringed in June 2010 which I saw at Anza,
Agadir, Morocco in December 2010! Amongst the colony again
this year were the three birds seen in 2010 which had been colour
Gloucester landfill in 2004, 2007 and 2008 respectively.
In addition I recorded seven of my cr Herring
ringed originally on Guernsey) and one Great Black-backed Gull –
seen only 100
metres from where it was raised on Little Burhou in the summer of 2009!
Once again there was a very
beautiful sunset on Burhou, and
a pretty moonrise too over Alderney. While this had been a very
trip in terms of the sheer lack of gull chicks, it had been marvellous
able to record so many of my adult gulls, and to observe my favourite
(Lesser Black-backed Gull) at close quarters in its breeding colonies,
the season draws to a close and they start drifting off again.
We can only hope that 2012 sees
the important colony of
Lesser Black-backed Gulls being successful and productive once again.
18 July 2011