A  Sparrowhawk over St Annes today and a high tide roost at the north end of Longis Bay of 41 Oystercatchers are my only sightings today as other ABO commitments took precedence.

Back to the seabird ringing last weekend, and the final total was 819 new ringed birds as follows Gannet 777, Guillemot 16, Razorbill 7, Shag 12,  Herring Gull 3, Great Black-backed Gull 1 and Oystercatcher 3.

As we were lucky enough to have highly experienced seabird ringers organising and overseeing our 3 days visiting Alderney’s seabird colonies it was a great privilege for me in my first year here to not only take part but most importantly to see how things are done and how they should be done in the future to ensure best practice in continuing this internationally important research.The plan was to visit Les Etacs Gannet colony on Day 1, Ortac Gannet colony on Day 2 and Cocque Lihou for auks, Shag and gulls on Day 3. So with a team consisting of local long-standing seabird ringers, AWT staff, the BTO’s Phil Atkinson and also ringers joining us from Jersey and from the UK, all we needed was the weather to be kind… it could hardly have worked out better.

DAY 1 . Les Etacs: Some 24,602 Gannets have now been ringed in Alderney’s colonies since 1947. The Gannet colony on Les Etacs sustains around 5,500 pairs.


Gannets following our boat in on the approach to Les Etacs

On arrival at the rock, the team had to climb from our fishing boat into an inflatable rubber dinghy which was expertly manoeuvred by Roland Guavain of the AWT to the most suitable landing point against the rock face. Each team member then had to jump from the dinghy onto the rock and then climb up the rock face (not for the faint hearted) into the Gannet colony. Once the whole team completed this, we worked methodically up and around the rock ringing hundreds of chicks as we went. Getting everyone ferried onto the rock, ringing the birds and getting everyone off again had to be completed in less than 3hrs! Outside this window of opportunity the tides are simply too strong to attempt to land on or leave the rock safely.


Ringing Gannet chicks on Les Etacs


Coordinated by the ABO’s Paul Veron, who first ringed Gannets here 40 years ago, we worked closely together as a group to keep any disturbance to the birds a minimum. I was however amazed that while some adult birds moved away from their respective chick whilst it was quickly ringed, they would only move a few feet. The birds were extremely confiding and appeared to have little or no fear of us, returning to their nests the moment we took a step away from them. Further, many of the adult birds just sat on their nests whilst we ringed the chick at their feet !


Colour-ringed Gannet and chick on Les Etacs

Gannets are attracted by the brightly-coloured fishing lines that they find discarded in the sea and on the shoreline. They use them to decorate their nests as in the shot above. This inevitably leads to some birds getting entangled in thier own nest material and there was evidence of a few dead birds which had sadly met their demise in this way. On a brighter note, several of the team were able to cut plastic and fishing lines off entangled trapped adult birds which was very satisfying.

The views from the very top of Les Etacs, sitting amongst this magnificent colony, have been admired by a privileged few, though there was precious little time to take it all in as we methodically worked our way across the rock, always keeping a close eye on the birds welfare and of course on the cliff edge!


Gannets on the very top of Les Etacs

So, a successful day resulted in over 500 Gannets ringed and our team leaving the rock with the same number of bird ringers and scientists we arrived with!

Day 2 in tomorrows blog.