Gull Watching Spots in Guernsey

Chouet landfill

Chouet Landfill site is the latest and quite probably last of a series of sites used to landfill the Island’s putrescible waste. Like many other such sites in Guernsey it occupies the hole left by former quarrying of the island’s granite – largely for the building industry. Although this site lies outside the Island’s water catchment area, it is licensed for putrescible waste disposal by the Guernsey Environmental Health Department using UK codes of best practice. It is located on the northern tip of Guernsey, adjacent to the sea at 49 30N 2 32W.

Chouet Landfill opened in February 1998, with a void space of 1.1 million cubic metres. At the time of writing this void is 60% filled. At its peak in 2001 the Island’s 60,000 residents and multitude of commercial businesses were sending 74,000 tons of waste to the site. With improved recycling, some of the waste being diverted to other sites, and a general slowdown in the construction industry, the volume of waste landfilled at Chouet fell to 36,000 tons in 2008.

The Island’s parliament, the States of Guernsey, is due to consider a report in the summer of 2009 recommending the methods and plant to be used in future to treat Guernsey’s solid waste. If approved at that time, it is likely that existing landfill practice at Chouet will cease early in 2012. From that date it is probable that any waste landfilled at Chouet will be inert residue from whatever waste processing treatment is adopted by the Island.

There can be little doubt that the abundance of food at landfill sites in Guernsey available to gulls has been a major factor in several species being able to increase their populations over the past 40 years (Veron, P in prep.). It will be fascinating to see what effect the closure (or severe curtailment) of landfill in Guernsey has on the gull populations of the Bailiwick as a whole.

It is hoped that colour ringing schemes run on Herring Gulls (1998-2007 and again from 2009), Lesser Black-backed Gulls (from 2008) and Great Black-backed Gulls (from 2009) will make major contributions to understanding this, and other aspects of gull ecology in the Channel Islands.

The site is administered by the States Public Services Department and operated by States Works. Since the inception of my recent gull studies in the summer of 2008, the Department and the landfill staff have been very helpful in enabling me to both observe and catch gulls at Chouet landfill.

Chouet Landfill Beach

A small rocky beach immediately adjacent to the Chouet Landfill site on the north coast of Guernsey. Gulls frequently use the beach to bathe and to loaf, after feeding in the landfill. It is a very good site for reading colour rings, and at the right stage of the tide it is even possible to read metal rings here because the birds can be very close to the car.

Chouet Beach

A small sandy bay, which forms part of the much larger inlet of Grande Havre Bay lying a few hundred metres to the west of Chouet landfill. Although a popular beach for dog walking (and hence disturbance) hundreds of large gulls frequently visit Chouet Beach to bathe early in the morning. They then settle to preen on the sand giving good opportunities for ring reading. When disturbed they often settle again on a rocky island in the mouth of the bay (where it is still just about possible to read colour rings in good light) or on Chouet Landfill Beach.

Rousse Beach

A small sheltered bay virtually opposite Chouet Beach on the western side of the Grandes Havre inlet. A fresh water discharge onto the beach proves popular (mainly for Herring Gulls) for bathing. Most of the sandy/muddy foreshore is taken up with small part-time/amateur fishing boats (which may be a further attraction for the gulls).

L’Ancresse Common

An open area of short grassland, used as a golf course, on the northern tip of Guernsey – just inland from the Chouet area. Large flocks (400+) of large gulls – mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls tend to settle on the short grass very early in the morning (especially when high tide pushes them off the beaches). The gulls gather to wait for the landfill site to open at 0630, but soon get disturbed by golfers. The short turf of the golf course does, however, make it possible to read colour rings on the Common.

Cobo Bay

A popular beach for people to enjoy sun-bathing/swimming/wind surfing etc. It lies half way down the island’s west coast. A chip shop on the coast road just inland from this bay, along with sports playing fields, makes Cobo an attraction for up to 100 Black-headed Gulls in the winter, along with several hundred large gulls. The easiest place to read rings is at the fresh water outfall at the southern end of the bay, which is close to the car park.

Vazon Bay

One of the Island’s largest bays – mostly sandy with some reefs offshore. It is located on the west coast just south of Cobo. Part of this bay often provides the best surfing on the Island. It is very popular with people in the summer, and with dog walkers in the winter. The best ring reading is found in the middle and southern section of the bay, where again a fresh water outfall attracts gulls (particularly Great Black-backed Gulls) to bathe. Ring reading here can be difficult because of the distances involved and the high levels of disturbance, but despite this some very good records have been taken in this bay.

Perelle Bay

A medium sized bay located on the west coast, south of Vazon Bay. It is very rocky, and as such is not popular with people, although there are several boats moored in the bay. Some fishing and bait digging takes place. In the northern section of the beach a freshwater outfall is an excellent attraction for gulls, and further south a large outcrop often provides the location for a daytime roost of several hundred large gulls. Perelle is particularly good for Lesser Black-backed Gulls in late summer/autumn, and Great Black-backed Gulls during the winter.

L’Eree Aerodrome

A large area of open wet grassland, which is an excellent roosting site for large gulls – particularly Great Black-backed Gulls,. However, the tall grass makes ring reading virtually impossible, and I have to date never taken a complete ring read from this site.

L’Eree Bay

Fortunately many of the gulls roosting on L’Eree Aerodrome also visit the adjacent L’Eree Bay, which is at the southern end of the island’s west coast. It is a popular sandy bay, but with good rocky reefs at low tide and offshore. Ring reading here is easy, although it can be frustrated by the frequent high level of human disturbance.

St Peter Port Harbour (Fish Quay)

Guernsey’s largest harbour, which also hosts the Fish Quay. Although small, the Island’s fishing fleet can attract gulls back to the harbour, where ring reading can be a lottery – depending on the state of the tide and the amount of activity at the quay. I usually check it on week day lunchtimes during the winter, as I work close by.

Bellegreve Bay

A large mostly rocky bay on the east coast of Guernsey. The lack of any sandy stretches makes this an unpopular bay for beach goers, although dog walking is now causing much more disturbance in the area than even a few years back. It is probably the best bay in Guernsey for checking Black-headed Gulls and Mediterranean Gulls for rings (but only at mid-high tide; at low tide the birds are dispersed over a very wide (and distant) area). The presence of a sewage outfall a mile or so offshore here is a major feeding attraction for gulls.

Black Rock, St Sampson’s Harbour

A rocky foreshore and reef very close to the coast road on the east coast just north of Bellegreve Bay. Sometimes it has a reasonable flock of roosting large gulls, and because the range is close it is always worth checking for colour rings here.

Banque Imbert Bay

A tiny sandy/rocky beach just north of Black Rock on the north-east coast. The attraction here is the beach kiosk and the car park (where many people eat fish and chips from the nearby chip shop). There is always a gathering of gulls here – including 50+ Black-headed Gulls in the winter and 100+ large gulls all year. A few years back an immature Kumlien’s Gull spent the winter feeding on hand-outs at this site.

Bordeaux Bay

A small sheltered bay – most popular as a mooring spot for amateur fishing boats. Sandy/muddy areas at low tide, and a fresh water outfall often bring gulls to the bay. Its main advantage, however, isn’t the number of gulls, but the very close range of the gulls enabling ring reading from the car.

Pembroke Bay

One of the island’s most attractive long sandy bays on the north coast of Guernsey, just to the east of the landfill site. It is an excellent site where gulls gather early in the morning, before flying to the landfill site to feed. In the summer there is no dog walking on this beach, but in the winter dog walking makes it essential to visit as early as the light allows. After the gulls have been disturbed they often move off to the landfill or to the beaches of the Grande Havre Inlet.