13/14 June 2014

Catherine and I caught the 10.00 ferry to Sark for our first trip to land on some of the seabird breeding colonies on Sark. It was a lovely fair day, with light winds and calm seas with no swell at all. After arriving at Maseline Pier we had a couple of hours to try to read some gull colour rings both at Creux Harbour and Maseline Cliffs. This proved to be very rewarding with a total of 21 Herring Gull and three Lesser Black-backed Gull colour rings observed. Many of the Herring Gulls were guarding chicks. It really is particularly valuable to be able to identify the nesting sites for some of the (many) gulls we have now colour ringed in Guernsey.

With this valuable data in the bag, Sue Daly arrived at the harbour, shortly followed by Andy Cook in his RIB Seamouse 2. With the tide nice and low we set off along the east coast to reach Breniere off Little Sark. The gull colony on this rock is once again a little stronger this year, perhaps with some of the birds from the adjacent cliff of Little Sark back on the offshore islet?

Herring Gulls tend to occupy the lower rocky slopes, with some Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the grassy areas on the southern side. Most of the Herring Gull chicks were old enough to ring, and we quickly fitted 13 birds with metal and colour rings. There were c 10 pairs of LBBGs on Breniere, but all the nests contained eggs or young only a very few days old.

One dead Herring Gull was found on Breniere (White 6CL9). This bird had been ringed in Guernsey in May 2011. We also managed to read a couple of colour rings on Herring Gulls on the islet. By the time we left the rock we had ringed 13 HGs and a single GBBG chick.

We crossed to L’Etac de Serk, but once again it was remarkably quiet with very few auks. Three Atlantic Puffins were seen on the sea, and a single Razorbill on land. Several GBBGs, LBBGs and Herring Gulls are nesting on the islet, along with a very few European Shags.

We motored back north along the cliff coastline of Sark. Gulls are fairly sparse along this coastline, and those that do nest are in the main in inaccessible areas. A Peregrine Falcon was seen near Pot Bay, and there were 10+ pairs of Northern Fulmars high up the cliffs.

Our next stop was Derrible Headland. Here we only worked the lower wave-cut platform where a few Herring Gulls nest. We quickly found and ringed four chicks, but did not go up into the LBBG colony on the grassy slopes as these birds will certainly still be sitting on eggs or tiny chicks. We’ll visit this area on the next trip.

We then passed close by Moie de Lache which looked quieter than usual with c 10-12 Herring Gulls and a couple of LBBGs nesting. Les Burons also looked quiet with a very few shag perhaps nesting along with a handful of gulls (including at least one pair of GBBGs).

Grande Moie was excellent for Razorbills with 15 birds on the rock and another ten or so in the water, along with a few Common Guillemots. Shags were very few in number though.

The lighthouse colony again was very quiet for breeding shags (perhaps five or six pairs at most), but there were a few Guillemots and Herring Gulls and the usual tiny colony of c 10 pairs of LBBGs on the grassy slope to the east of the light.

While the wave-cut platform at Greve de la Ville held plenty of loafing gulls, there were comparatively few chicks. We only ringed one GBBG chick and two Herring Gull chicks along this stretch, although several other Herring Gull chicks were too small to ring.

At Banquette Landing the LBBG colony appeared to be smaller than usual with c 15 pairs, although more pairs have spread further along the cliffs in this area. There were several Herring Gull chicks in precarious positions at the bottom of the colony so we did not land. Instead we carried on around the corner to view the new LBBG colony of perhaps 15 pairs on the grassy slopes about a third of the way up the cliffs. This colony has only been in this location for a couple of years, and careful observation from the sea revealed at least one chick and several birds sitting tight. Other LBBGs were landing in the bracken implying they too were on nests.

With the monitoring complete we headed back in time to get back for a shower ahead of a fish and chip supper at the Island Hall.

The following day we enjoyed La Seigneurie Gardens and a good walk out to La Sablonerie in Little Sark. Finally we managed to read a good number of colour rings on gulls resting in a field at the top of the cliffs at Le Fort, La Retraite in the north of Big Sark. Back at the harbour we also added a few more colour ring observations both at Creux Harbour and Maseline Steps, before catching the 16.00 ferry back to Guernsey.

All in all a very useful and enjoyable visit monitoring the success (or not!) of the 2014 seabird breeding season on Sark. Herring Gulls appear to be doing well, but while LBBGs are in the usual places on nests containing eggs or small chicks, they appear to be down in number by c 20% on recent years. There were very few signs of puffins on L’Etac de Serk (or any other auks), although Grande Moie appeared to be strong for razorbill, with more Guillemots at the north end of the island. We did not visit Les Autelets on this visit although note that George Guille’s acquaintance had recorded 280 plus Guillemots on Les Autelets using a telescope from Sark that month. George had also recorded 30 Puffins on L’Etac earlier in the season and noted 100 plus guillemots and 30 pairs of Razorbills on Grand Moie. As elsewhere in the Bailiwick, shags appear to have had a dire breeding season on Sark in 2014 with relatively few birds nesting.

In addition to colour ringing 21 gull chicks we also recorded 52 previously colour ringed gulls on this visit, establishing the nesting colonies for these gulls. A summary of the origins of these gulls can be found in the Appendix.



17 June 2014

Summary of Colour Ringed Gulls recorded on Sark on 13 and 14 June 2014 Appendix A
Herring Gull - Ringed on Guernsey as Full-Grown Birds
2009 4
2010 3
2011 11
2012 6
2013 9
2014 9
Total 42
Herring Gull -Ringed on Guernsey as Chicks
2004 1
2005 1
Total 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull -Ringed on Guernsey as Full-Grown Birds
2010 1
2011 3
2012 2
2013 1
2014 0
Total 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull -Ringed in Gloucester, England as Full-Grown Bird
2007 1
Total 1
Herring Gull - Grand Total 44
Lesser Black-backed Gull - Grand Total 8
Total Birds 52