17 July 2012

Somewhat later than planned (due mainly to weather problems) Catherine and I went over to Sark on the 11.30 hrs ferry to meet up with Andy Cook to complete the gull breeding season monitoring. With a stiff westerly breeze and misty overcast conditions it was not an ideal day…but it was pretty much now or never as the season was drawing to a close!

On the ferry over we had to stop several times in the mist to let the Trinity House ship (Patricia) pass, and then a yacht. Eventually we reached Maseline harbour. We raced through the tunnel to meet Andy in Creux Harbour. Once aboard the little RIB Sea mouse 2 we made good progress along Sark’s east coast to reach Breniere. Andy dropped us on the land here and we climbed up the steep path to reach the top of the cliff (somewhat out of breath!). Here we followed some sheep tracks to enter the small gull colony above the bay. This was my first visit to this newly establishing colony. I think many of the gulls which used to nest on Breniere have now swapped over to the mainland cliff.

 We were soon amongst the gorse bushes, where a few Lesser Black-backed Gull nests were located. A couple still contained tiny chicks and in one case eggs (presumably from re-laid clutches). On the cliff edge half a dozen fully grown LBBG chicks took one look at us then raised their wings and flew off! – proof that we were really rather too late to hope to ring many chicks! Notwithstanding this, it was really good to be able to prove successful breeding in 2012 in this “newish” colony. We estimated about a dozen or so pairs of LBBGs in this colony and perhaps slightly less Herring Gulls further down. The Herring Gull chicks were all very confidently on the wing by now.

 A quick check of Breniere afterwards revealed no chicks, and very few gulls. It is peculiar how the gulls seem to have largely deserted this rather attractive (one would think) breeding site.

 All the way along the east coast we could see small numbers of fledged Herring Gulls and a few fledged Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The next landing was at Derrible Headland, where there appeared to be 30+ pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Landing on the sheltered side of the bay we had to scramble up through brambles and nettles to reach the vegetated slope holding the colony. There were quite a few juvenile Herring Gulls in the air, very confidently on the wing, and also some Lesser Black-backed Gulls. On the slope Catherine located four LBBG chicks – nearly all of which were large enough to fly (they just hadn’t realised it yet). We colour ringed these birds then climbed back down the “chimney”, where Andy picked us up.

 There were half a dozen fledged Herring Gulls resting on Moie de Lache, but with no signs of younger chicks we did not land on this small rock. Instead we carried on to Banquette landing, where the small mixed gull colony still contained a couple of ring-able LBBG chicks (one large and one small).

 Then…that was that…the completion of the monitoring. In contrast to 2011 when the gull productivity on Sark had been very poor with few Herring Gulls raised and even fewer Lesser Black-backed Gulls, this year had seen a surprising amount of success (given the persistently wet, windy and cool weather).

 All along the coastline there were fledged gulls – mostly Herring Gulls, but also some Lesser Black-backed Gulls – perhaps as many as 80 Herring Gulls and 20 LBBGs.

 After the work had been completed there was time for several cups of tea on board Andy’s yacht moored in Greve de la Ville, and a ice-cream in Minny’s Harbour café, before Catherine and I caught the 18.00 hrs ferry back to Guernsey.

 Once again I am indebted to Andy, without whose help it would be very difficult to monitor the breeding success of Sark’s seabirds. The lesson’s from this year are that the Herring Gulls should be ringed around 15 June and the Lesser Black-backed Gulls around 5th July – assuming the breeding season is a successful one.




Paul K Veron


19 July 2012