I’m very pleased (and much relieved) that we are nearly at the end of another season’s work monitoring the Seabird Breeding Season in The Bailiwick of Guernsey. Given the terrible seabird mortality in the wreck last winter, this was a particularly valuable season to record. This monitoring falls to a very few dedicated members of La Société Guernesiaise who have been carrying this mantle for many many years, and it is all done on a voluntary basis. This year in particular it has become increasingly obvious that we need more help, and some younger blood…so if you are reading this and have some interest…please get in contact. There is even more work to cover as we look forward to the next couple of years, when we will participate in the next comprehensive seabird census in the British Isles – Seabirds Count 2016-2019.
So what of the season?
It has, perhaps as we should have expected, been one of very mixed fortunes. Let’s start with the good news – most of our seabird colonies were occupied and most species appear to have made breeding attempts. Common Guillemots (one of the species most badly affected in the wreck) did very well in some of their colonies at least. Most gulls seems to have fared well too with reasonable productivity. Great Cormorants continue their reasonable fecundity, although neither Guernsey colony appears to be expanding further. Perhaps given how many Atlantic Puffins are known to have perished in the wreck (c 25,000+) we should have been pleased just to see some birds back, but the small colonies around Herm and Jethou did seem to have lost birds, while those on Sark were most badly affected with two thirds of the adults not returning this year.
I was all set to include the doubling of the Common Tern colony from 20 to 40 pairs as more good news…but as the colony failed completely through unknown predation/disturbance the news slips into the bad news category. As for Northern Gannet…it is still too early as most young are still on the rocks…but this species does appear to be continuing its “bomb proof” status here...and long may it remain so!
Perhaps of most concern is the continual long-term slide of European Shag. Once prolific as a nesting species this bird is at nesting levels which are a pale shadow of its former glory. For example ringing totals for chicks of this species have fallen by c 80% in some colonies over the past decade. The real problem is that Shag are having problems raising young year after year. The missing puffins on Sark and less so on Herm/Jethou can hardly be a surprise…but are very real a concern for the future viability of our vestigial colonies.
For me personally the best news has been the relative success of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls on Burhou. Last weekend we colour ringed 209 chicks from the 1,000 + pairs. This is hardly startling productivity…but when my most depressing year (2008) saw only three chicks ringed (one of which was subsequently known not to fledge), I am happy to see birds being raised successfully from this troubled colony.
And if this is the story in brief in words…Here are a few photos of our work over the past two months! Hard hard work on tired old legs…but would I give it up?…you must be joking!
A few photos from another memorable summer's hard but valuable work by the very small, but highly dedicated Seabird Monitoring Team of La Société Guernesiaise Photos (c) PKV