03 July 2014

With a beautiful, calm and sunny day we decided to take our new boat (Le Troisieme) across to Sark, to meet up with Andy Cook at Greve de la Ville so that we could complete the Sark seabird monitoring for the 2014 breeding season. This would be our first crossing of the Big Russell in our boat!

Merlin joined me on this trip, and we left St Sampson’s Harbour at 0900. With a smooth sea we were soon through the Corbette and Percee passages and passing between Herm and Jethou, before motoring out towards Sark. In just less than 25 minutes we reached Bec du Nez, where I slowed to make sure we were on the correct marks for the approach along Sark’s north-west coast. We’d only learned the transits the previous Monday at our evening class on Local Pilotage, so it was all pretty fresh in my mind.

Cruising in to Greve de la Ville, Andy came out in Seamouse 2 to meet us. We were tied up on a mooring buoy very quickly, before setting off with Andy for Breniere at the southern end of Little Sark. Landing on the south-west corner we saw several large gull chicks running into the vegetation higher up the slope. The four chicks we did find hiding were all advanced Herring Gull chicks, so we quickly colour-ringed them. Several very large Herring Gull chicks flew to the water as we checked the grassy slopes for Lesser Black-backed Gull (LBBG) chicks. Only a couple of tiny LBBG chicks were found, along with a couple of nests which still contained eggs. Several of the nests seemed to have been predated by rats?

Herring Gulls had clearly been productive on Breniere, but the ten plus pairs of LBBGs on the southern slope had fared much worse.

From Breniere we cruised close inshore up to Derrible Headland. The main southern slope of this colony contained c 25 pairs of nesting LBBGs, but it took me a while to find any chicks. However, a careful search revealed seven well-grown LBBG chicks. The largest was only a matter of days off fledging, while the rest were perhaps two thirds grown. This was more what I had hoped to see on this visit.

I took a few panoramic photos form the top of the slope before returning to the RIB. The final landing of the season was going to take place at Banquette Landing, but when we got there we could see eight well-grown juvenile Herring Gulls all on the edge of the slope. A landing here would result in several of these birds entering the water, and while most were big enough to flutter back it was not worth disturbing the gulls, because there appeared to be very few (less than ten) pairs of LBBGs in the colony this year. It looks (rather like on Breniere) that the higher number of Herring Gulls in the colony may have dislodged some of the LBBGs from the main colony. There are more LBBGs further around the coast here this year, but in areas which are not accessible.

With seven LBBG and four Herring Gull chicks ringed, we effectively completed the monitoring on Sark for this season. In general Herring Gulls do seem to have done well, although LBBGs appear less numerous this year and certainly only moderately successful. George Guille estimated LBBG nesting pairs to be down c 20% this year! Oddly adult GBBGs were present in all the usual spots this summer, but they did not appear to be feeding many chicks, so their season also looks rather poor this year.

While Common Guillemots and Razorbills were back in good numbers, we cannot comment on the breeding productivity. Perhaps of most concern is yet another very poor year for breeding European Shag, and less than a third of the usual numbers of adult Atlantic Puffins seen of L’Etac de Serk.

Finally it does seem that there has been a major shift of guillemots and razorbills away from L’Etac de Serk and onto Grande and Petit Moies.

Once again we have no data for European Storm Petrels this year, although I would be surprised if they are not breeding in several areas around Sark, as are perhaps Manx Shearwaters still!




06 July 2014