Sark

7th/8th July 2007

Catherine, Paul, Sophie and Merlin all went over on the 8 am service boat to Sark. With a good weather forecast of light winds and sunny skies hopes were high of completing the seabird work. Met Andy Cook in the harbour café…and enjoyed a hearty breakfast before starting work! Andy dropped Catherine and Paul on Moie de Lache before taking Sophie and Merlin to fetch his yacht. This was the first time either Paul or Catherine had landed on Moie de Lache, which is just outside the entrance to Creux Harbour. Although there were c 30 Herring Gulls apparently nesting along with a few L B B Gulls, the chicks were very large. Several took off as we landed and flew around the bay before settling on the water. As a result we could only ring a few of the youngsters (five Herring Gulls and one LBBG Gull).

When Andy appeared with the yacht he took us in the Avon dinghy out to the Burons. However, although there were a few gulls - they were too large to allow a safe landing. By contrast the one Oystercatcher chick we saw from the boat was too small to ring. Next we all cruised down the coast – passing close inshore. We were once again fortunate to see a Peregrine falcon flying along the cliff, landing in the area where there is a known nesting site.

Having moored just off Breniere, Andy once again dropped Catherine and me on the rock, while the children practised their boating skills with Andy. Herring Gulls had clearly done well on Breniere, and there were also some Lesser Black-backed Gulls and at least one pair of Great Black-backed Gulls. Most of the Herring Gulls were too large to ring. The visit would have been better timed one week earlier, but wet and windy weather then prevented any landings on the colonies. Lunch was taken just past Derrible Bay, where we fed 15+ adult Herring Gulls, one of which took bread from our hands. Although a small gull colony could be observed on the grassy slope above the bay, the size of the youngsters prevented any attempts to ring them.

After lunch we set off back to Andy’s yacht mooring at Greve de la Ville. Once here we set off in the Avon so that Merlin could try his luck at Mackerel and Bass fishing. The former didn’t go too well, as we soon snagged a crab pot and lost the feathers! A switch to the bass lure resulted in fun and anticipation of a catch – but it was not to be! After this exploit we headed back for the shoreline and cruised along the north-east coast. On one of the beaches, where there is now no public access (as the steps have collapsed), we landed and ringed three Herring Gull chicks. We then landed at the base of the small mixed gull colony at Banquette Landing. After a steep ascent Catherine and I managed to ring five LBBGulls hiding in the vegetation in addition to one Herring Gull. Other larger chicks had to be left unringed as they wandered close to the edge of the cliff.

In view of the size of the gulls we decided not to land on Petit or Grand Moies. Instead we returned to the yacht for a cup of tea, before heading back to Creux Harbour. Tea and Ice creams in the harbour café – after another thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing day with Andy boating around the Sark coastline making several landings on the rocks.

Lucky to hire bicycles at the top of the hill, before enjoying supper at the Polygon (Polly used to be the owner…but now she is “gone” – hence the name ….boom boom!). Cycled out to Little Sark – pausing to enjoy the fabulous view across from Le Coupe back to Guernsey with Brecqhou in foreground and Jethou and Herm in mid-ground! The cliff above the Venus Pool was deserted (no people… and no sheep this year!). Put the tent up, and the wandered down to erect three 12m North Ronaldsey nets. The ground was a little softer this year (all the summer rain)…so it wasn’t too difficult to get the nets to stand up safely.

Wonderful dark starry night – the Milky Way could be seen easily. Also the French and Jersey coasts were crystal clear with their lights. For the first couple of hours of the night there was no moon, then about 1 pm a half moon slowly rose in the eastern sky – it cast a wonderful yellowy/orange hue across the calm sea. No wind resulted in perfect catching conditions. Around mid-night we heard the first Manx Shearwater calling several times as it came over the shore. We changed the tape over from Storm Petrel to Manx Shearwater and in the first check after doing this Catherine returned with our only catch of the night – a new (and very beautiful) Storm Petrel. We woke both the children up and Sophie ringed the bird before releasing it just outside the tent. It sat, in typical petrel fashion, for several minutes before lifting gently up and off back into the night.

It was a fabulous moment to achieve this dream of mine for both the children to witness the cliffs of Little Sark with their mysterious nocturnal seabirds. Although we only caught the one Storm Petrel it was enough to show the children what a special bird this is, and of course they also heard at close range the unearthly, emotionally-tugging calls of the Manx Shearwaters – surely one of the most evocative sounds of nature to be heard around European shores. During the night we heard at least five birds calling as they came across the cliffs – hopefully returning to their burrows to feed youngsters.

We finally furled the nets at 2.40 am, and grabbed a few hours sleep before waking again at 6 am.  Took the furled nets down and then at 8.30 am went across to enjoy a hearty breakfast with Andy at Cider Press Cottage. The tea and food went down very well, and we enjoyed the views from Andy’s cliff-top garden before cycling back to take the tent down. Before doing this, Catherine had a swim in the Venus Pool which was just being covered by the in-coming tide. Sophie and Merlin came down to watch but it was not really suitable for them to jump in.

Bumped into Phil Perree as we cycled past La Moserie Cottage. He very kindly arranged for all our camping/netting gear to be taken back to the harbour for us later in the day. Lunch in the garden of La Sablonnerie – wonderful food, washed down with a small bottle of Macon Lugny – decadence! Off for a cycle around the island, before returning the bikes and walking back down the hill. Catherine, Sophie and Merlin all had a swim in Creux harbour. Back to Guernsey on the 5 pm boat. A really enjoyable and relaxing weekend in Sark – not only with the seabird work completed, but with the feel of a little mini-holiday to boot! Of course this would not have been possible without the wonderful help given by Andy Cook and Philip Perree. Our sincere thanks to both!

13th July 2007