Les Etacs, Alderney 

28 June 2010

I suppose it had to happen, but in 2010 I finally met my nemesis and did not succeed in ringing a single Gannet chick! This was, fortunately, not the whole story of the trip because we did manage to land two ringers (Ian Buxton and Chris Mourant) on one of the small stacks, but despite taking a good look at close range the other four ringers present (Jamie and Mish Hooper and Paul and Catherine Veron) could only look on from Richard Keen’s boat – the Margaret K.

 Having said this, it is always a great privilege to be in such close proximity to a gannetry – surely one of the most dramatic and charismatic sights of the avian world?

 The day started extremely well, with the ringing team (including Ian Buxton who flew over from Jersey) all assembled at the St Peter Port Harbour Fish Quay at 0830. The weather looked absolutely perfect with only the gentlest of breezes, a clear sky and what appeared to be a calm sea. Passing Jethou, Herm and The Humps in such good conditions resulted in high spirits for a very successful day out.

 The only seabird of interest on the one and a half hour journey up was a single Manx Shearwater passing at fairly close range near Alderney. Just over half way we could not fail to notice the swell on the sea. It was pretty large and regular – but where it had come from, given our long run of calm weather, was a real mystery.

 At this stage we were still very confident of landing, even if we had to wait an extra hour before the tide and swell had dropped sufficiently. Upon arrival at Les Etacs the swell was very large (6-8 foot) and the base of the rocks was washed white with breaking water. After a quick look at the spectacle of thousands of Gannets, we motored out to a nearby sand bank to try to catch some fish for supper.

 Despite having seven rods in the water only two Turbot were caught – both by Catherine. The first was small so we returned it. However, the second was larger and it had swallowed the hook, so we kept that one. It provided a large meal for both Catherine and me that evening.

 After an hour and a half, Richard took two of the team and landed them on one of the small stacks, where they ringed 150 gannet chicks. Ian and Chris confirmed that many of the chicks were large but still in white fluffy plumage. No doubt the main colony would have had some even more advanced birds on the main plateau. On the little stack there were also a few nests with eggs and small chicks. One imagines that the older more experienced birds, which tend to be the earlier breeders, would be on the main stack.

 After another half hour Richard took Jamie and me to look at a landing on the main rock. We took our time to assess the conditions at the landing spot, but reluctantly we decided that conditions were not suitable for a landing. We still hoped that at low tide we may be able to land four of the party to spend an hour ringing, but in the event even this proved impossible.

 Watching and listening to the gannets flying around the rock, and along the cliff coastline of Alderney is a truly marvellous experience, and so it was difficult to be too disappointed with our very limited success in 2010. I also had to accept that after so many years of success (one way or another) it was inevitable that one year we would simply not be able to land – and so it proved in 2010 (at least for the majority of the team and on either of the main colonies – Les Etacs or Ortac).

 What it certain now though is that it will seem like a very long wait for 2011.

 On the motor back to Guernsey several gulls kept us company – again demonstrating their wonderful flying skills.  While in the Little Russell a Herring Gull landed on the boat and it came to the window to take a mackerel from skipper Richard Keen’s hand. It then proceeded to eat the fish on the bow of the boat. It looked very much like this gull knows Richard’s boat, and where it can get a very nutritious handout!




 28 June 2010