19 & 20 June 2011
In 2011 I have tried to time our two visits to Sark to focus on colour
ringing gull chicks. This has meant that the European Shag (in
particular) have not been ringed on Sark this year…but the
increasing focus of my birding is gull research. On Sunday 19 June
Catherine and I caught the 1000 ferry across to Sark. My son (Merlin)
had been across the day before to play cricket…and his voyage
had been very rough. Fortunately the wind had abated to a large degree,
although the skies were still overcast. At least this would keep the
temperatures down while we were working the coastline and offshore
rocks and islets.
Andy Cook very kindly met us at Sark harbour, and there was time for a
cup of tea in the café before we set off in Sea Mouse 2 for the
ringing work. We began in Greve de la Ville bay, working all along the
rocky shoreline landing wherever we could see gull chicks that were
safe to catch. We avoided any on steep rocks or in areas where they
could have flopped down into the sea. It took some time to sneak along
the north coast – ringing eight Herring Gull chicks in Greve de
la Ville and three at Fontaine Bay. The timing of the visit was just
about perfect because every gull was large enough to take a colour
ring, without being so large as to flap off or run for the sea.
It was very obvious from this coastline that the shags had been
productive this year. We must have seen c 100 fledged young on the
north and east coasts. We saw three young Shags that were being
predated by Great Black-backed Gulls. Two were already dead, but the
third one was still alive…so we did what we should not have
done…and interfered…chasing the gull off to give the
young shag enough time to get into the water…then it would have
to take its chances.
We motored around Grand Moie and Petit Moie – without landing.
Both rocks had good numbers of fledged or nearly fledged Shag, but few
gulls. We took a good look at Banquette Landing, where there appeared
to be c 30+ pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and c 15 pairs of
Herring Gulls. Several of the Herring Gulls had mobile young on the
edge of the rocks, so we chose not to land. Hopefully when we come back
for the second visit the Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks will be ready
to ring, while the Herring Gulls will be competent in the air.
Finally, before lunch on Andy’s yacht moored in Greve de la
Ville, we landed on one of Les Burons to look for Great Black-backed
Gull chicks. We found one which was just large enough to take a colour
ring. While enjoying lunch a few darker clouds drifted over and I
became a little concerned that it may begin to rain before we had
completed our work. Prompted by this we set off again for Breniere off
the southern end of Little Sark. As we approached the rock there
appeared to be noticeably fewer nesting gulls than in recent years.
Soon after landing we were able to confirm this, with only 11 Herring
Gull chicks being found and ringed. Even the Lesser Black-backed Gulls
on the western side of the islet appeared to be down in number to
around 10 pairs (all on eggs or tiny young).
I am now forming a strengthening view that Herring Gulls in particular
are becoming less and less numerous as breeding birds in all the
islands of the Bailiwick. It is hard to believe this, given the numbers
of adults that can be seen daily at Chouet landfill.
However…perhaps many of these birds are non-breeders?
Whatever…I am convinced that the forthcoming 2013-2016 national
Seabird Census will reveal some very interesting changes in the gull
populations of the various islands of the Bailiwick – and this
even before Chouet landfill is closed for the disposal of organic waste.
With Breniere safely visited we motored slowly back along Sark’s
east coast, commenting on the thinly scattered gulls breeding on the
cliffs, along with a few pairs of Northern Fulmars. We did not land at
Derrible Headland (this will be for the next visit). However…the
Lesser Black-backed Gull colony seemed to be a little down on last
year’s count (c 40 pairs on the main headland, plus another 15 on
the end point).
Our final landing was made on Moie de Lache( just outside Creux
Harbour). We found and ringed a couple of Herring Gull chicks, ignoring
a few others that were too close to the edge. On the grassy top of the
knoll there were eight Lesser Black-backed nests, several of which had
failed. There were several still with eggs and a couple with tiny
young. There were three one third grown youngsters on the far grassy
slope, but they were unreachable. We did however find one LBBG chick
that was just large enough to take a colour ring.
It had been a fascinating, very worthwhile, day’s work –
colour ringing 25 gull chicks (23 Herring, and singles each of Lesser
and Great Black-backed Gulls). We wandered back to Andy Cook and Sue
Daly’s house at the north end of Sark, just as it began to
drizzle slightly. It was really relaxing, after the day’s work,
to be able to stay over in Sark and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of
The following day there was time to enjoy a walk around La Seigneurie
Gardens in the mist, before savouring a very nice lunch at the recently
refurbished Stock’s Hotel. We then caught the 4 pm return boat to
Guernsey. Our thanks again to Andy and Sue for their much appreciated
help with the field work, and their kind hospitality.
21 June 2011