Sark 

02 -03 July

After a busy day at work, Catherine and Paul Veron caught the 5 p.m. ferry to Sark.  This year we had deliberately left the visit to ring gull pulli 10 days later than we would normally have done it. This was because we were trying to target Lesser Black-backed Gull pulli, as opposed to Herring Gull chicks.

 Andy Cook was at the harbour to meet us, and while he re-moored his boat I scoped the rocks outside Creux Harbour – finding five cr gulls in the flock of only 30 birds! Of these two were Lesser Black-backed Gulls: - White 1.T4 and White 0.T2 – both adults which had been ringed in our garden at Ty Coed, Vale Marais, Guernsey in May 2009, and both of which had been seen during the autumn of 2009 in Portugal! It was a very real bonus on this trip to establish that these gulls are almost certainly breeding in Sark.

 Of the three colour ringed Herring Gulls, two had been ringed at Chouet landfill in early June 2009, and both have extensive sightings in Guernsey since, and the remaining bird was ringed at Chouet landfill at the end of May 2010.

 We left the ringing gear in a locked shed at the harbour and then walked to Andy and Sue’s house, where we enjoyed tea while overlooking Jethou, Herm and the Humps – surely one of the most magnificent seascapes in the Bailiwick of Guernsey! That evening a party of eight divers from Ulster University, who had been undertaking survey work on sponges in Sark’s waters, joined us for a fish and chip supper. The group had very much enjoyed their two weeks diving off Sark, and it was fascinating listening to them talking enthusiastically about their work.

 At 9 a.m. the following morning we met Andy at Creux Harbour – he had been up early to run a friend over to Guernsey to catch a flight. It was a warm day with clear skies and a very gentle breeze, and while the sea was calm there was a nasty 3-5 foot swell on the south and east coasts. This made landing on Derrible Headland much more difficult than usual. In fact we had to land on the north side, resulting in a tricky ascent up the grassy slope with broken rocks crumbling underfoot.

 It was immediately obvious that the Herring Gull chicks were huge, with the most advanced already on the wing. The majority were only a matter of days from flying and they ran along the grassy slopes away from us. We ignored them and got to the top, slipping over the ridge to assess the small Lesser Black-backed Gull colony on the southern side.

 The timing of the visit was good, and as expected the Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks were at least a week to 10 days behind the Herring Gulls. None of the chicks could fly and while some were quite mobile, we were able to find chicks hiding in the vegetation. We managed to ring 11 chicks (of which nine took colour rings too).  Wanting to keep the disturbance to this colony as short as possible we then descended again – finding one Herring Gull chick hiding in a rock crevice (so we ringed that one).

 Next we headed south to Breniere. Again it was obvious that the 2010 breeding season had been successful fro Herring Gulls, for there were 20+ large chicks visible as we approached this islet. Concerned that the swell was still high, and this may be a problem for any gull chicks that entered the water, but which could not yet fly, we decided to delay landing until later when the tide (and hopefully the swell) had dropped.

 We therefore went on to L’Etac de Serk, where there was a large swell crashing all around the islet. It was fabulous to see 60+ European Shags, including many youngsters (with rings) standing on the rocks just offshore. After the disastrous breeding season of 2007, and then the very poor one of 2008, and the reasonable one of 2009, it is fantastic to see Shags being even more successful in 2010. The fledging success this year has been very impressive!

 Andy motored all the way around L’Etac – giving us views of well over 100 shags on the rocks. There were also a few Atlantic Puffins flying around the island and some small rafts of Common Guillemots offshore.

 We cruised back up the east coast of Sark, seeing isolated pairs of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, standing over their well-grown chicks, all along this coast. Most of the nesting sites here are inaccessible and those that are approachable were left because the Herring Gull chicks were too large to try to ring. Most would have flown/flapped away!

 A cruise around the periphery of Grand Moie showed many of the Common Guillemots still to be present, and again many young Shags crowded on the rocky outcrops just above the water.  Several large Great Black-backed Gull chicks were seen on this islet, with their parents in close attendance.

 After tea on Andy’s yacht, moored at Greve de la Ville, Any dropped us on Banquette Point – where there is a small sub-colony of c. 20 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Herring Gulls. Most of the Herring Gull chicks were again large and on the lower rocky platform – so we left this area undisturbed and concentrated on the grassy slope – where we managed to ring another nine Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks (all but one large enough to take colour rings). In this colony one LBBG chicks was so large that it actually flew very well on our approach. Although only a tiny colony in a small area, it was interesting to see the adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls returning to land back in the colony, while we were still ashore and above them.

 We rounded up one large Herring Gull chick that had flown down into the water, and shepherded it back to land. It actually flew back up onto the rocks at the base of the colony. We then took a few hours out to have lunch on Andy’s yacht and for Catherine to have a swim. All the while we could hear and see very advanced Herring Gull chicks begging for food from their parents along this coastline.

 By mid-afternoon the tide had dropped enough for us to try once again to land on Breniere at the south-eastern end of Sark. With the swell very much lower we deemed it safe to land. Having to ignore many of the Herring Gull chicks which were large and mobile, we worked around the edge of the islet and then went up into the small Lesser Black-backed Gull colony on the south side. Here we found another six Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks to ring (all with colour rings).  Catherine also managed to find an Oystercatcher chick that was large enough to take a metal ring. Here we also colour ringed six Herring Gull chicks that were found hiding under boulders.

 Keeping the visit short, we were soon back in Andy’s inflatable. We retrieved a couple of Herring Gull chicks that had entered the water, and put them back on dry land – then headed back to the harbour.

 Given the very advanced stage of Herring Gull chicks we decided not to land on Moie de Lache, as it would have been inevitable that on such a small rock several of the Herring Gull chicks would have jumped into the water and swam away. This in itself isn’t too much of a problem, as they will easily get back onto this islet, with its gently sloping rocks on the eastern seaward side. However, with Great Black-backed Gulls always present in this area, and with their own chicks to feed, the Herring Gull chicks would be vulnerable while on the sea.

 This had been a very difficult day – trying to colour ring at least some of the Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks on Sark (and thus have some very valuable data for the gull studies), but at the same time having to avoid most of the Herring Gull chicks that were clearly just too big to try to capture for ringing.

 In the end the 26 Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks that were ringed (23 colour ringed) must be deemed a success, for Sark’s LBBG colonies are fragmented and very difficult to work. The small sub-colonies that are accessible also have Herring Gulls in the same area, making the timing of any visit very difficult to get right.

 Our thanks to Andy Cook and Sue Daly for hosting us on our visit, and for making us so welcome, and to Andy for giving up his time to take us out to the colonies and land us in some difficult to get to locations!

 

 05 July 2010

 PKV