27 June 2009

With perfect calm weather, Catherine, Sophie and Paul Veron caught the 0800 ferry across to Sark. The only ornithological excitement of the crossing was seeing a Peregrine Falcon perched on the top of Grande Fauconniere’ s “pepper pot” at the top of the islet. IT must be a good vantage point.

As we approached Sark we saw Andy leaving Greve de la Ville bay in his 4.8 m rib, on his way to the harbour to pick us up. However, before the seabirding began there was plenty of time to enjoy a fried egg sandwich and cup of tea in Millie’s Harbour Café.

Fully replete, we boarded the rib and headed out to Moie de Breniere at the southern end of Little Sark. There was hardly a ripple on the sea, and no swell at all on L’Etac (unlike our previous visit two weeks earlier).

Breniere did not look as busty as usual from the sea, with fewer gulls on the eastern grassy slope. However, there were a number of large Herring Gull chicks on the edge of the water. These simply lifted into the air and flew off as we approached. Fortunately not all the chicks were quite so large, and we managed to ring 23 young Herring Gulls (all but four large enough to take colour rings). I was particularly pleased too to colour ring four Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks. Although the presence of a mobbing Great Black-backed Gull overhead indicated that there were young on the rock, we did not stumble across them. Two very large chicks were seen swimming with an adult bird present off the headland of Little Sark.

From Breniere we motored slowly back up the east coast of Sark, admiring the rugged cliff coastline. A scattering of gulls were seen with chicks along this coast, but none were accessible.

The colony of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the end of Derrible Headland looked to have grown again this year, so I was keen to take a look on the ground. Catherine and I climbed up to the colony, where we observed c 25 nests (many with eggs or tiny chicks). In general this colony therefore appeared to be a little later than some others (e.g. Brecqhou). As it is a growing sub-colony, perhaps it is being colonised by younger (less experienced) adults.

Although we were able to metal ring eight Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks son Derrible Headland only three of these were large enough to take colour rings as well.

Continuing around the Sark coastline (anti-clockwise) Andy put Catherine and Paul ashore on the boulder scree just below Point Robert lighthouse. It was not safe to access all areas occupied by seabirds here, but we did manage to get to some of the nesting sites and ringed five Shag chicks and five Herring Gull pulli (all with colour rings).

By now sea fog was rolling around the west coast, but it was very transient in nature and kept clearing. By the time we boarded Andy’s yacht in Greve de la Ville bay for lunch it was clear and sunny again.

Several times while eating our sandwiches the gulls nesting along this stretch of coastline were sent into a frenzy when one of the resident Eurasian Buzzards drifted low overhead.

With most of the gull work completed, we made just two further landings in the afternoon. The first of these was at Banquette Landing, where Sophie also came ashore. The Lesser Black-backed Gull sub-colony here is small (c 25 pairs) and several of the nests still contained eggs or tiny young. We did, however, manage to ring three chicks (two colour-ringed), along with a two Herring Gull nestlings.

The last landing was made on Gros Grune at the very northern tip of Sark. I am always surprised at how few gulls nest on the islet, and this year was no exception. However, it was worth landing just to ring the lone Great Black-backed Gull chick. A sibling, which we had seen from the boat, did a better job at hiding!

With the seabird work on Sark completed for another year, there was plenty of time to return to Andy’s yacht and for Catherine and Sophie to enjoy a long swim – overt o the shore and back. The boat’s deck was a real sun trap, and it was very relaxing to chill out and pass a few hours, before we had to return to the harbour to catch the 6 pm ferry service home.

Although this year we actually ringed a relatively small number of gull chicks, we were concentrating on colour ringing as many as possible. Also we did not try to catch the very large chicks which were already very agile (many of them were able to fly). Although the sight of many gull chicks all around the coastline indicates a good breeding season, I think that again many nests failed this year – so I would estimate that 2009 in Sark has been a reasonably average year for gull productivity.

Our sincere thanks again to Andy Cook, who makes the visits to the Sark seabird colonies both possible and thoroughly enjoyable.

Paul K Veron


30th June 2009