25 June 2013

Phil Alexander, Catherine and I caught the 0730 work boat across to Jethou on a perfect day for seabird monitoring, with calm, warm and dry weather. With the tide still rising as we arrived, we set off for the south-west corner of the island to check the small Great Black-backed Gull colony there.  Passing the beach opposite Grande Fauconniere, we could see several Herring Gull chicks wandering around the boulders.

We carefully worked up through the mallow and tall grasses finding 15 Great Black-backed Gull chicks, which were the perfect size for ringing. This was a fantastic result for this small GBBG colony (c 10 pairs). Last year there was hardly a chick to be found here! A raft of 14 Puffins offshore was also a good sign.

Once at the top of the island, we worked around the east coast checking the Shag nests. This visit was really a bit too late to gain a good idea of Shag productivity his year. Many nests were empty, but looked as if they had been used, although quite a few did not look mucky enough to have been successful. A minority of nests still contained young (ranging from small to virtually fledged). Several large gatherings of Shags were observed on the rocks around the coastline, but these were very largely comprised of adult birds, with only a very few first year present (dampening hopes that it had been a productive season).

Returning to the landing pier, we stopped at the house to thank Dr Ogden for enabling the continuing seabird monitoring and to let him know what we had discovered so far. A Herring Gull nesting just below the house was tending small chicks.

With the high spring tide ebbing fast, we were able to work our way along the Burner Beach, ringing 20 Herring Gull chicks – a good indicator of a productive season. Oystercatchers were once again nesting on the beach, (also beside the pier and near the burner), but we did not chance upon any of the very well camouflaged chicks.  A raft of 13 Atlantic Puffins was bobbing offshore.

We then raced back to Fauconniere Beach. Working methodically across the beach always from the bottom to the top of the beach, we found another 19 Herring Gull chicks (all old enough to take colour rings too). There were also a few Shag youngsters still in the nests under the boulders, and we were able to ring a few of them.

The next stop was a quick trip up Grande Fauconniere, where the number of Shag nests seemed very modest, but a pale reflection of the glory days on the rocky islet. Some youngsters were still in nests, but with time marching on we concentrated on finding GBBG chicks. We found three, but two were too large and close to the edge of a significant drop to be able to capture. While on Grande Fauconniere I saw two Brown Rats and there were also plenty of rat droppings. It is quite likely that the presence of a large number of rats on the islet is having a negative effect on seabird breeding productivity. Razorbills were present in the usual two places on the islet – perhaps 6-8 pairs?

A very quick check of Little Fauconniere revealed the usual pair of Oystercatchers and a Herring Gull. If there was a GBBG nesting there this year I did not find the young.

With time evaporating all too fast, we walked briskly back to the pier, and started to work the rocky beaches opposite Crevichon and in front of the house. As hoped, this proved to be an excellent area for Herring Gulls. We managed to work along the beaches to the corner, ringing another 42 Herring Gull chicks. With only an hour left we could not continue to record the gulls on Summerhouse Beach, instead we quickly crossed to Crevichon.

In contrast to 2012, when only a small handful of GBBG chicks were found on Crevichon, we managed to locate and ring another ten GBBG chicks (without even getting to the NE or NW points). The picture for Shag looked very similar to the rest of Jethou (mostly empty nests with very uncertain success, but also a minority of nests still occupied by young of varying ages). We did not have time to count the egrets, but there were certainly well grown youngsters in the trees indicating at least some success again this year.

With the monitoring cut short on Crevichon we got back to the pier in time to catch the 17.00 return boat to Guernsey. This had been a very enjoyable visit, witnessing the most productive year for GBBGs and Herring Gulls for some considerable time. The day’s ringing totals of 81 Herring Gulls, 26 Great Black-backed Gulls and six Shag were just rewards for a really hard day’s work.

Once again, we are most grateful to Dr Ogden for his continued interest in the seabirds nesting on Jethou, and for enabling our monitoring and ringing work on the island. We are also grateful to Bill and Doune Bayley for help arranging the visit.



26 June 2013