18 June 2012

In what is turning out to be a difficult season for seabird monitoring, largely because of the highly unpredictable weather, Jamie and Mish Hooper and I took the opportunity (with the kind permission of the Island’s owner Sir Peter Ogden)  to undertake the annual seabird monitoring in Jethou on Monday 18 June. We caught the work boat across to the island at 0800, and with low tide at mid-day we began our work on Grande Fauconniere Beach, working clockwise around the coastline to the landing jetty.

The weather was warm and sunny, making working conditions very pleasant, although the long grass remained very wet from the recent rains. Grande Fauconniere Beach was virtually deserted again for the 2nd consecutive summer. Only one Herring Gull chick and a few Shag chicks were found amongst the boulders. It is unknown why this once popular nesting beach has become largely devoid of nesting birds, but perhaps it is weather related given the poor summers of the past two years with frequent high south-westerly winds and rain.

The Great Black-backed colony on the SW corner usually has eight or so nesting pairs, but on this visit only four chicks were ringed (plus one that was too large to approach). There appeared to be no more than four GBBG pairs in the area. Jamie and Mish recorded 17 Puffin off the South-west corner of the island, which is a peak count for the island this year.

By the time we’d reached the end of the Shag colony on the west coast we still hadn’t reached double figures of chicks ringed, although it was obvious that many youngsters had already fledged. The season appears to have been reasonable for them with a good number of breeding attempts, and a usual brood size of two chicks.

A few Herring Gulls were ringed on the Summerhouse Beach, but House Beach and Burner Beach once again proved to be the strongholds with most of the 48 Herring Gull chicks ringed being from these areas. In terms of size the visit was perfectly timed for the chicks were large enough to take the colour rings, but not so big as to wander or fly from the sub-colonies.

We did not have a big enough tidal window to visit both Grande Fauconniere and Crevichon, so we settled for the short walk to Crevichon. 28 Shag chicks were ringed on the islet, as well as only three Great Black-backed Gull pulli (the lowest number I’ve ever recorded there). The egret colony continues to do well. 10+ Little Egrets had already fledged and were confidently on the wing, while other nests held only tiny young. We managed to colour ring another six egret chicks for Jamie’s project, before getting back over to Jethou.

Although too late to ring the majority of Shag chicks this year, this had once again been a very worthwhile visit enabling us to gain a fair impression of the 2012 seabird breeding season on Jethou. Given the protracted inclement weather so far this summer, it was not surprising to find a relatively modest season for the key species. At least this is considerably better than the worst years of 2007 and 2008, when food shortages appeared to be the man problem causing very poor breeding seasons across the seabird colonies of the Bailiwick. We returned to Guernsey on the 4 p.m. work boat. We are, as ever, grateful to Sir Peter Ogden for permitting us to undertake this research and to the Jethou Island staff for their help.

19 June 2012