Sark – 28 and 29 July 2006


Arrived in Sark on the 5pm boat on Friday with all our camping gear.  Luckily Phil Perree from the Sablonerie was able to offer us a lift with our gear in the tractor, which he very kindly left outside his cottage.  We plodded up the hill to collect our bikes from the hire shop and then after a bite of delicious supper of scampi and freshly fried chips at the Polygon Restaurant we headed over to Little Sark.

On recovering our tent etc from Phil’s cottage we balanced all the gear on our bikes and headed down the cliff path to the Venus Pool.  With the light already beginning to fade, we set up the poles along a ridge of cliff top which seemed to offer the best advantage, looking out towards L’Etac de Serk with the previously occupied Manx Shearwater burrows in close proximity.  With little rain over the past few months, the ground was impenetrable.  This made the use of stakes impossible and so finding suitably positioned rocks with which to fasten the nets ties was an important challenge.  
Once the three (12 m North Ronaldsey) nets were up, we pitched the tent further up the slope where the formal cliff path peters out and waited for darkness to fall. A slight wind had picked up when we opened the nets and put the Storm Petrel tape on at 10pm but there was still plenty of pocket available.  At 10.30ish Andy Cook turned up eager to get his first view of Storm Petrels/Manx Shearwaters in the hand.  But after a few disappointing checks to the nets and the sharing of a cup of tea they left with no birds seen.  However at half past midnight CK came back with the first Storm Petrel in the hand.  Could this be a prospecting youngster or was it already established in a nest somewhere on L’Etac?  Whatever its reason for being there, this individual is the first Storm Petrel to have been ringed in Sark. 
Over the next few hours we ringed a total of 4 Storm Petrels and heard three calls of over-flying Manx Shearwaters at which point we changed the tape to Manx Shearwater in the hope that this might lure the birds down to check out the noise but to no avail.  PV checked the burrows towards the end of the evening using a lamp but no birds were spotted.  The nets were closed at 0330 by which time the wind had increased slightly.
The next day we took up Andy’s generous offer of breakfast.  Walking down the garden path we couldn’t help but be amazed at the clouds of butterflies, mostly speckled woods and small coppers but also a handful of fritillaries some of which were just too quick to identify.  After a delicious breakfast overlooking the cliffs of Little Sark, we headed back to pack up our tent, only to have to take shelter in it from a rather heavy downpour.  However, after the rain and once the tent was packed up, we mooched around the cliff area looking for suitable burrows, many of which were now precariously close to the edge and pondered on the likeliness of the use of all the possible burrows further along the headland which were out of human reach.  Various visitors asked directions for the Venus Pool which was now submerged below the high tide.
After a scrumptious cream tea at the Sablonerie tearoom, we headed over to the north end of Sark to try our luck at L’Eperquerie.  PV had gained permission from the Seigneur. However, the weather was looking less promising, with winds picking up and a poor forecast for the evening.  We pitched our tent on a rather exposed site well above the Manx Shearwater site and whilst the tide was low we explored the small islet of La Grune.
The islet had obviously been home to a number of Herring Gulls, with evidence of breeding in many places, although all chicks had now fledged and were happily bobbing in the sea watching our progress.  A number of dead chicks were picked up. A few rabbits raced out from under rocks and in places their digging was obvious.  A number of suitable burrows for Manx Shearwaters also existed, and there were many suitable sites also for Storm Petrels, although no firm evidence of these birds was found.  We conjectured that an earlier visit in 2007 might well produce some reasonable gull numbers.
Back on mainland Sark we headed back to the village for some supper, and repeated our scampi and chips feast which had proved so successful the night before.  On our return trip we came across Dave from the Clos de Manage Guesthouse who offered us a spare room should the tent blow away – which it nearly had!  So a minor decamp was undertaken to a more sheltered location, and then two (12 m North Ronaldsey) mist nets were put up, running along the edge of the short cliff.  
Once darkness fell at 10pm we put on the Storm Petrel tape and opened up the nets which were blowing badly to the point that any greater wind velocity and it would not be worth continuing.  We retired to the tent.  PV extracted two Storm Petrels at 11 ish – both directly above the tape recorder.  After several close Manx Shearwater calls we decided to switch the tape over but after a short spell of rain and continued wind CK furled the nets.  By this time PKV (who had worked right through the previous night had fallen asleep). About a dozen Manx Shearwater calls were heard in total during the night although no birds were seen.
The furled nets were taken down at dawn after a pretty restless night (for CK). After a long trudge back up the hill with all the gear in the early morning, we settled for a slap up breakfast at the Avail de Creux where upon both of us managed to fall asleep at the table!
So whilst ringing totals were low for the trip, the birds (both Storm Petrels and Manx Shearwaters) are indeed there which is fantastic. It had been 17 years since PKV had last ringed Manx Shearwater chicks on Little Sark. With better weather there must be a good chance of learning a bit more of the origins of the Storm Petrels which are close offshore at both ends of the island, and with luck there may just be a shearwater chick for CK to ring on a return visit at the end of August.