Alderney Gannetries

Monday 14 July

A reduced ringing team of Chris Mourant and Catherine Kinnersly set out for Alderney on Richard Keen’s boat, the Margaret K, at 05.30 on Monday 14th July (almost the same date as in 2007).  Calm seas and a beautiful sunrise set the day off to a good start with the bonus of spotting a Guillemot escorting its chick in the sea just off the Humps north of Herm. Paul and Sophie Veron were picked up from Alderney harbour at 07.25 with additional breakfast supplies.  Paul and Sophie had spent the previous 24 hours on Burhou assessing the gull breeding season there.

There was still a limited swell around the Garden Rocks (Les Etacs) when the Margaret K anchored but with the tide still dropping, Richard decided that he would row Paul ashore first.  With this successfully completed, Catherine and Chris were then also dropped ashore and the work began.  The rock was dry making the climb up straight forward.  It was immediately obvious that, despite the breeding failures of other seabirds in 2008, Gannets were once again having a very successful season. There was the usual distribution of birds across the rock. 

The colony seemed to be about ten days behind its normal development with less than a dozen or so chicks being fully grown, with dark chocolate brown feathering with white spots (by this date, the team would expect far more).  Certainly in 2007 there were hundreds of such well grown young by this date, so many in fact that the team could not enter the main part of the colony for fear of these birds panicking and wandering to the edges of the rock. This year, the majority of chicks were still covered in white fluffy down, but many were large and relatively mobile, making ringing slower and harder work. Chris worked the right hand side whilst Catherine and Paul aimed for the valley and then worked slowly up the main face shortly after to be joined by Chris. 

There were up to a dozen pulli caught in fishing line/netting which had to be cut free, a few with disfigured legs or wings due to the time spent caught.  An adult was also set free with ring number F 28302. Another ringed adult was found dead tangled in netting (F 23469). The amount of orange and blue nylon rope/netting on the Les Etacs (in particular) this year was very bad – in fact about as bad as PKV had ever seen in his c 20 visits over the years since 1978. Clearly the message about the dangers to wildlife of discarding nylon netting/rope at sea has not got through over the years.

There were very few young too small to ring, and very few eggs (although a few chicks were chipping out). No attempt was made to ring any adults.  With time limited (1.5 hours on the rock) and only three ringers, not all available pulli were ringed.  Richard sounded the boat horn after approximately an hour and a half and the team, who had been working across the first half of the top slope, returned to the boat with 317 pulli ringed.

A short journey across to Ortac and the team were soon heads down again ringing Gannet pulli.  As expected, given its more remote, exposed location,  this colony was slightly behind Les Etacs in its development, making ringing easier and hence the grand total of 432 pulli were ringed.  The nest material on this rock was noticeably of more natural material (i.e. seaweed) and only a few young and no adults had to be cut from netting/rope. With 90 minutes on the rock the team worked most of the colony, but did not go down to the lowest face (which often has more than 100 nestlings). After an hour and a half the team were picked up by Richard, exhausted but extremely satisfied with a grand total of 749 pulli ringed.

N.B a large ray had been spotted swimming past the boat when she first anchored at Ortac.  And on the return journey to Guernsey two Manx Shearwaters were seen.

For the second year running, the annual ringing trip to both gannetries had been very difficult. A long run of windy weather with sea swells had dogged efforts to get to the colonies. The first attempt on 20th June had been thwarted by swell, although 47 pulli were ringed on the adjacent stack to the main colony at Les Etacs.

With the number of gannets being ringed in the UK falling in recent years, and the recovery rates of birds also dropping, the scientific value of continuing the very well covered colonies off Alderney cannot be underestimated. The total of 796 ringed in 2008 is a superb result.

The Seabird Team is very grateful to Roland Gauvain (and the Alderney Wildlife Trust) for the flexibility shown in the licensing to land on the rocks, to the administrators of the Channel Island Ringing Scheme – Margaret and Rich Austin and Ian Buxton (for similar flexibility in response to circumstances beyond the control of the ringers) and in particular to Richard Keen for his persistence and patience in (finally) getting the Team up to and onto both rocks.