02 JUNE 2011

It was a gorgeous day for our first seabird monitoring trip to Jethou on the early date on Thursday 2nd June. This was about a week earlier than we would normally go to the island to ring and monitor the nesting European Shags. However, our visit to some of The Humps north of Herm on 11 May had shown us what an early season it is this year for this species!

With the kind permission of Dr Peter Ogden the five members of the Guernsey Seabird Team for this visit (Jamie Hooper, Chris Mourant, Chris & Mandy Dee and Paul Veron) caught the 0800 work boat across to the island. We arrived shortly after high tide, so we were able to look for a few colour ringed gulls around the beaches near the landing before making a clockwise circuit of the island, ringing shag chicks in nests on the low cliffs.

Paul was thrilled to get some early success with monitoring colour ringed gulls. With some effort through the day just over 30 colour ringed Herring Gulls and one Lesser Black-backed Gull were recorded, which is a fantastic contribution to the gull studies, as it is particularly valuable to know where these gulls are nesting. All the Herring Gulls had been ringed either at Chouet landfill or in our garden at Ty Coed, Vale Marais, while the single cr Lesser Black-backed Gull had been ringed at Chouet in May 2010.

It soon became  apparent that the Shag have had an incredibly early breeding season. As we worked our way around the island we could see fledged young on the rocky shoreline, and there were also juvenile birds in the sea. Notwithstanding this we managed to ring 35 well grown chicks in their nests. The very early fledging made it very hard this year to assess breeding success, but we all agreed that most of the empty  nests were well trampelled with lots of guano, so the probablity is that most of the chicks from these nests had already successfully fledged. We estimated that productivity in 2011 has been moderate to good. Not a bumper year, but certainly very satisfactory.

Although the Shags had nested very eary - in fact the earliest I have ever seen on my near annual visits since 1980, the gulls appeared to be pretty much on time. Many of the Herring Gull nests had very small chicks, and the Great Black-backed Gulls were either still on full clutches of three eggs, or very small young. The most advanced GBBG young we found were just under half-grown. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were typically scarce and scattered, but were on eggs or tiny young.

Our overall impression of gull numbers was slightly down on "normal". This is consistent with what we have seen elsewhere in the Bailiwick for Herring Gull this year. Why this should be is a mystery, as there is no shortage of food (natural and man-made).

A large male Grey Seal was seen close inshore off the western end of the island. The island itself is not surprisingly very dry around the coastal edge - and especially on Grande Fauconniere and Crevichon. After completing the circuit of the island we enjoyed a cool drink back at the landing, where a late migrant Hobby flew over. We then set off to cross to Grande Fauconniere. Most of the nests on this islet were already empty, with the young having fledged. However, we did manage to ring 21 large youngsters, along with four Great Black-backed Gulls (three of which were large enough to take colour rings).

To complete our work we visited Crevichon on low tide, where we ringed another 32 Shag, along with another couple of Great Black-backed Gulls. The Little Egret colony looked very healthy with a minimum of 12 nests. However, because several of the youngsters were large and mobile we only ringed two chicks before retreating. It was disappointing to see that at least four of the chicks had been predated while half grown.

Back at the landing we watched the Herring Gulls mob a Peregrine, before catching the 1600 boat back to Guernsey,.

It had been a very  valuable visit both from the point of view of monitoring the Shag breeding season, and also in terms of recording colour ringed gulls for the long-term study. 96 seabirds were ringed:- 88 Shag, six Great Black-backed Gulls and two Little Egrets. Our thanks again to Dr Ogden and the staff of Jethou who made this visit possible.