Les Etacs and Ortac, Alderney

22 June 2009

On Monday 22 June 2009, the Guernsey Seabird Ringing Team set out for Alderney in Richard Keen’s vessel, the Margaret K.  The team this year consisted of Chris Mourant, Jamie Hooper, Paul and Catherine Veron.  In addition, Vic Froome, Paul Hillion and Chris Bale accompanied the team in order to take photographs (and kindly contribute to the costs of the trip).  With cloudy skies, but the promise of sunshine and flat seas, the day promised to be good although if the temperatures rose too much this may prove problematic for Gannet pulli on the rocks keeping cool.  The trip took approximately an hour and a half up to Les Etacs (Garden Rocks) where the team was joined by Alderney Wildlife Trust who were dropping Afra Skene, on the rock at the same time as the ringers with the aim of trying to record ringed adults using binoculars. 

Calm seas made for a relatively easy landing with no wet feet!  Just the ringers and Afra were landed on the rock from 11am – 12.30.  The colony had yet again expanded with nests with young stretching further down the rock than ever before.  Most pulli were the perfect age for ringing – i.e. small to medium size with white down. Very few were larger, with their brown flight and tail feathers just beginning to poke through. There were some eggs and tiny young – but all in all this was just about as well-timed a visit as it is possible to make to a gannetry for ringing purposes.

 The team split in two with Jamie and Chris working the south end and gulley, while Catherine and Paul headed through the gulley towards the top plateau.  The team conjectured that less chicks/adults were caught in the netting this year with four rings being recovered from dead adults caught in netting/rope -  F28256, F24032, F10916, F24032 and F25302.  All of these birds were ringed as chicks on Les Etacs as follows:-

F 10916 – 1989 (to be checked)

F 24032 - ?

F 25302 – 23 June 2001

F 28256 – 14 June 2003

With a light breeze ruffling their feathers the adult Gannets seemed relatively relaxed with our presence on the rock.  However, edges were avoided and great care taken when walking through the colony to keep disturbance to a minimum.  

All too soon Richard Keen was calling time, and the team had to make a slow and careful descent back to the base of the rock for their pick up.  A total of 515 Gannet pulli were ringed and one adult (which had been cut free from netting) on the Garden Rocks.

After a short boat journey across the Swinge towing the rowing boat, the team were clambering onto Ortac.  Although a harder landing place for the boat man, Ortac is a much easier rock than Les Etacs to ascend.  The ringers were accompanied by Afra and Vic Froome, who were photographing on the lower platform by the landing site only.  The other two photographers had declined the offer to land in order to minimise disturbance.   The team again split into two with Jamie and Chris working the rock clockwise and Paul and Catherine working anticlockwise.  As with the Garden Rocks breeding was noted on lower ledges than previous years – the team conjectured that a lack of recent storms had probably aided the birds in nesting on lower ledges.  Catherine cut free a chick on the lower ledge from yellow netting (F37562).  A dead adult (F25923) was also found tangled in netting on Ortac.  This bird had originally been ringed as a chick on Ortac in June 2004. Paul and Catherine watched an adult regurgitating a fish before deciding to re-swallow it – unusual behaviour!  In total 462 pulli were ringed.

The team was delighted with the results of the day with a grand total of 978 Gannet ringed. After the very windy and difficult summers of 2007 and 2008, it was a real pleasure to be able to ring both colonies on the same day, with a beautifully calm sea and very pleasant working conditions.


 Catherine Veron

23 June 2009