Les Etacs and Ortac – 24 June 2006

A very gentle breeze boded very well for our second trip up to the gannetries – something that the Team had not done before. Our original visit on 11th June had shown the 2006 breeding season to be unusually late, with the result that the majority of nests contained eggs or young too small to ring. The passage up with Richard Keen was largely uneventful, although a couple of Manx Shearwaters were seen. The ringing team on this occasion was down to four Jamie, Chris, Catherine and Paul. Accompanied by Vic as photographer.
Given the light breeze there was a surprising amount of swell around the base of Les Etacs when we arrived. However, Richard ferried us by wooden dinghy onto the rock one at a time. It was immediately obvious that this trip was perfectly timed. Some nests (mostly on the periphery of the colony) still contained eggs or tiny young, but most had small white fluffy chicks that were big enough to take the rings but small enough not to be able to wander from the nests. We soon worked out that the larger chicks present, which were more mobile, were the ones we had ringed on our previous trip, so we could completely ignore them – thus cutting down disturbance to the colony.
We worked the entire rock, except the lower edge of the main face (which Phil usually does). Pleasantly surprised that there were very few dead chicks on the rock, but a few adult Gannets had died tangled in the nylon netting and rope. Of these three were ringed.
Various fish regurgitated or remains found on rock including long nose, red gurnard and large sand eels. We worked for about two hours in two teams. Catherine and Paul ringed a total of 336 chicks. Jamie and Chris ringed…….. Total =      chicks.
After completing the main stack, Richard rowed us across to the adjacent stack. Jamie and Catherine had done this one last year, but it was the first time on this stack for Paul and Chris. Paul has now finally landed on every stack on which Gannets are nesting.
Several Shag nests also on this stack with a few young ringed (careful to note the numbers used…as it would be embarrassing to have a ”Shag” recovered in Senegal!).
Catherine and Paul ringed 40 Gannet chicks on the Little Stack, with …….more ringed by Jamie and Chris. It was noticeable that the adult Gannets were more skittish and less bold in this small colony than in the heart of the main colony.
With the swell we’d encountered on Les Etacs, Richard expressed some doubt as to whether we would be able to land on Ortac, Rather than continue with the other Little Stacks of Les Etacs we therefore made the decision to try Ortac before the tide turned. We saw a couple of Kittiwake from boat on the passage, but no sign of nesting anywhere around Alderney. The usual landing place on Ortac carried an unhealthy swell, so we motored around to the west side and anchored. Richard then rowed us in and set us ashore on the rocks. It was a great pleasure to work the rock with young at the perfect stage for ringing. This year Paul and Catherine went clockwise, with Jamie and Chris anti-clockwise (a change is as good as a rest!).
Catherine and Paul cut one adult free. It was snared in rope by one of its claws. It was incredibly wound up and could not have broken free. We ringed it and hoped it would soon be back to full health (having had several days without food).  Jamie and Chris also cut free an adult and ringed it before release.
Catherine and Paul ringed 179 chicks and one adult; Jamie and Chris ….chicks. Catherine also ringed her first Guillemot chick which was showing feathers on the wing. In previous years, they had all been too small.  At least two others seen on the rock – guillemot corner!
Just before leaving we had a few minutes to watch the Gannets settling back. Many of the adults come back within a few minutes of moving through the colony, and of course some never leave their young – making ringing the nestlings an interesting experience. 
We looked out across the two rocks to the west of Renonquet, upon which 15-20 adult Gannets have been settling. However, Louise Soanes (the Alderney Wildlife Trust naturalist) had been up to these rocks recently and confirmed that there were no nests. The rocks are, in any case, too low to avoid swells washing over them in gales. So…although not establishing nests yet, there is evidence of adults settling on another couple of rocks. This must bode well for the establishment of another Gannetry in the Channel Islands at some point (hopefully soon!).
We encountered a single Manx Shearwater and a couple of comic and sandwich terns on the motor back to Guernsey.


All photos ©  Vic Froome