20 June 2013
Merlin and I caught the 0630 cargo sailing (Viking) across to Sark. It was a cool, grey overcast morning with a sea fog, but the forecast promised a fast improvement. The crossing was very smooth (hardly even noticed we were on the sea), and 45 minutes later we were tied up alongside Maseline Pier in Sark. With time to spare before meeting Andy Cook, we walked through to Creux Harbour where we tried to attract some loafing gulls with bread. Amongst the 20+ Herring Gulls were three colour ringed birds (two of which we were able to read successfully). Only half a dozen LBBGs were attracted and none was colour ringed.
Andy appeared in his RIB at 0800, and before setting out on the day’s activities, we enjoyed a quick breakfast at Millie’s Café at the bottom of the harbour hill. Then it was time to set off. The early morning mist was now clearing fast as overhead the sky turned blue. We motored down to begin the ringing work at Bréniere islet (off Little Sark). This islet used to be very good for nesting gulls, but in recent years many of the birds appear to have moved to the adjacent cliff coastline, making them much harder to access. There were c 15 pairs of Herring Gulls and c 25 pairs of LBBGs on the cliffs.
Unperturbed, Merlin and I landed and made a thorough search of the islet, ringing eight Herring Gull chicks (and seeing a couple that were too mobile to ring). We estimated c 15 pairs of Herring Gulls nesting on the islet. Most of the chicks were the perfect age for ringing, being large enough to take the colour ring, but small enough not to wander far. There are still c 10 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls nesting on Bréniere, but all the nests had either eggs or tiny young. Generally it looked like the gull nesting season was c 7-10 later this year than “the norm”.
Judging from the behaviour of adult birds, one pair of Great Black-backed Gulls must be nesting on the islet again this year, but in the limited time available we did not find any youngsters.
After leaving Bréniere we cruised close to the cliff colony to count the birds. A Peregrine hung menacingly above the cliffs, but did not mount any attacks while we were watching. We then motored gently all the way back to Derrible Headland, watching a few Fulmars on their nests in cracks high up the cliffs, along with a few scattered gulls (all three species).
At Derrible we did not go up into the small LBBG colony (smaller this year at c 25 pairs?) on the southern side of the slope. Instead we covered the rocky wave platform at the bottom of this slope and managed to ring another eight Herring Gull chicks. There were another ten pairs of Herring Gulls on the northern slopes, but these nests are too dangerous to work.
We then pottered around past Moie de Lache (only a handful of Herring Gulls and even fewer LBBGs this year), before cruising out to take a look at the auks nesting on Grande Moie. There appeared to be decent numbers of both Common Guillemots and a few Razorbills here. Then we crossed back to Point Robert, where we tried to land to ring a few Herring Gulls in the boulder scree, but the tide was too strong.
Greve de la Ville was far easier to work. Andy dropped us at one end of the rocky platform at the base of the cliffs, and we worked slowly along, ringing another ten Herring Gull chicks along with two GBBG chicks.
The LBBGs at Banquette landing (c 20 pairs) appeared to be on eggs, so we did not land. There were a few Herring Gulls, including some with medium-sized chicks. After motoring as far as La Grune (but not landing as it looked very quiet), we went back to Andy’s yacht for some well-earned lunch and tea. We spent an enjoyable and relaxing couple of hours on the boat, before heading back to the harbour in time to eat an ice-cream at Millie’s before catching the 4 pm return ferry to Guernsey.
It was a very valuable trip to Sark. With a nice sample of Herring Gull chicks ringed (26), along with a couple of GBBG chicks. The non-seabird highlight was watching three Peregrine chicks on their nesting ledge, and later seeing one of them in flight along the coastline – very impressive! I found it hard to estimate productivity amongst the Shags this year, because of the late date of our visit. There were certainly some fledged young in the water, and several nests along the coastline held well-grown youngsters, but at best it looked like a very moderate season (perhaps even below average)?
Our thanks again to Andy for his company and expert seamanship landing us on the necessary rocks.
26 June 2013