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 island.

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