Sark
24th June 2008



Always one of the birding highlights of the year, Catherine and Paul were really looking forward to the day ringing around Sark with Andy Cook. The pair caught the 0930 boat to Sark, and met Andy at the harbour. With the first boat across being so late there was no time for tea at the harbour café. Instead we took to Seamouse (Avon dinghy) and Andy headed straight out to L’Etac de Serk.
 
Sue Daly was diving with a team around L’Etac so we had to be careful where we landed. It was lovely to be back on this stack, even though it was immediately obvious that, as expected, there were less than half a dozen active shag nests, and all of these had either eggs or young too small to ring.  We worked our way around the south west side of the islet checking some of the auk boulders. Several Razorbills and Guillemots flew from the boulders as we approached, but Paul managed to catch an adult Guillemot under a boulder where there was one egg and a small chick. Further along Catherine managed to find a Puffin under a crack in a large rock. She stuck her arm in and the Puffin attached itself to the end of one of her fingers. It remained attached as she withdrew her arm…resulting in an adult Puffin being ringed.
 
The Puffins appeared to have come to L’Etac very late in 2008, and although present in good numbers (George Guille had counted c 50 birds on some of his recent boat trips around the islet) it wasn’t clear how many of these birds were breeding. Further around an adult Razorbill was caught standing over its chick in a rock crevice at the north end of the stack. Although c 30 Guillemots were present on the water, the general impression was of an unsuccessful season for them on L’Etac, as several broken egg shells were found, and only a couple of active breeding pairs were located on the visit.
 
Working across the ridge of the islet we expected to find a few Great Black-backed Gulls, but were disappointed. In the end the only chick we found was at the southern end just above the sea.  Clearly it had been a very poor seabird season on L’Etac this year, although the ringing of an adult Razorbill, Guillemot and Puffin was very much appreciated.
 
Leaving the dive team behind on their boat, we sped across the narrow sound to reach Breniere. Several well-grown gull chicks could be seen as we approached raising hopes that the gulls, at least, were having a reasonable season. We slowly worked around the rock from the high tide mark to the ridge, ringing a total of 21 Herring and eight Lesser Black-backed gulls. Although the majority of gull pulli were straightforward to identify, some of the birds had wing patterns that were very difficult to determine. We found only one Great Black-backed Gull chick on the rock.
 
After ringing the gulls on Breniere, we worked our way slowly back along Sark’s east coast to the harbour, where we tied up for lunch in the harbour café. Then we headed out to Moie de Lache, just outside the harbour. This small rock was easy to ring – 10 Herring and two Lesser Black-backed gulls. One of the large chicks headed into the sea and paddled strongly away from the rock. This in itself was not a problem, for the sea was very calm and the bird would easily be able to paddle back. However, when it was 80 metres away it attracted the attention of an adult Great Black-backed Gull. Fortunately the parent Herring Gull was with the chick and defended it until we could reach it to pluck it from the sea and return it safely to its natal rock.
 
Next stop was Grande Moie, which is always a pretty difficult stack to cover. There was a flotilla of 18 Razorbills just off the rocks, and several up on inaccessible rock cracks – a really strong showing for the species. On the rock we only found two Herring Gull chicks large enough to ring. Again the shag nests were all empty – the nesting efforts on Grande Moie had come to nothing.
 
La Petite Moie was also pretty barren, with a few small Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks the only youngsters seen. Unfortunately our favourite auk boulders on this rock were totally deserted (just broken egg shells).
 
The final landing place was Banquette Landing, where the Lesser Black-backed Gull colony numbered c 10 pairs. We managed to find three chicks to ring (two of which were large enough to also take colour rings…the first pulli to be so ringed under the project commenced in 2008).
 
With the ringing work done Andy and Paul enjoyed tea and gache on Andy’s yacht in Greve de la Ville, while Catherine braved the waters for a swim.
 
All too soon it was time to return to the harbour to catch the 6 pm boat back to Guernsey.  With 50 birds ringed (47 gulls and one each of the three breeding auk species), the day had been only modestly successful. However, it had been very important to record the 2008 seabird season on the rocks around Sark, and it had, as ever, been a hugely enjoyable day out with Andy in Seamouse.