Day 2: Off to Ortac, our other major Gannet colony. Same team in attendance but a slightly different remit as today we split into small groups with one team ringing Gannet chicks, one colour-ringing adult Gannets and the last fitting GPS tracking systems to 12 individual adult Gannets. It was more tricky to land on Ortac than Les Etacs but, once we had all safely taken our leaps of faith from the rib onto the rock, it was far less steep and much easier to work on than Les Etacs.
The BTO’s GPS tracking system uses the mobile phone networks to transmit data so the birds do not need to be caught again. Over the past few years we have started to understand more about the foraging locations of Alderney’s Gannets and an additional 12 loggers were fitted this year. Little is know about the behaviour of Gannets beyond their nesting husbandry and these transponders, are as I write, are tracking the daily movements of these birds, thus increasing our understanding of their behaviour by the day !
PhD student Harriet Clark fits one of the GPS tags to the central tail feathers of a Gannet held by the BTO’s Dr Phil Atkinson
Along with the exciting GPS program, another 230 Gannet chicks were ringed, and 50 adult Gannets were fitted with individually numbered colour rings so that adult survival can be monitored in the colony in future years.
Channel Island ringers; Alderney’s Paul Veron and Jersey’s Cristina Sellares enjoy the sunshine after a successful days work on Ortac
A majestic Gannet accompanies us as we depart Ortac. The 2016 Gannet monitoring is now complete
DAY 3 on tomorrow’s blog
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.