St George’s Island gull ringing update

Update on Gull ringing project on St George’s Island Nature Reserve, Looe Oct. 2010

With over 70 breeding pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls, The Cornwall Wildlife Trusts reserve at St. George’s Island supports a significant breeding colony of these magnificent birds. Having a wing span of around 1.5m they truly are one of Britain’s most impressive gulls and following a proposal by Pete Kent (the CWT’s East Cornwall Reserves Officer) this summer saw the start of a ringing project to learn more about these birds. The ringing scheme will last for at least five years and hopefully much longer and is a partnership between CWT and the Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society

For many years Dave Curtis, a local ornithologist and David Conway, CWT’s Loveny warden, have been recording the number of Great Black-backed Gulls breeding on the Island. This new ringing project will help us gain a better understanding of their ecology and life histories. The local ringing co-ordinator, Bruce Taggart, said ‘It’s hoped that analysis of the Great Black-backed Gull data, will allow us to investigate dispersal patterns, site fidelity, survival rates and longevity, as well as monitor long term population trends.

The ringing project started in June when a team of ten volunteers visited the Island on two occasions. Forty nine Great Black-backed Gull chicks were caught and fitted with a BTO ring on the left leg and a white plastic ring engraved with a red identification code on the right leg. The code starts with the letter L, followed by a colon and then two letters and a single figure, eg L:AA1. Bruce requested that anyone seeing a ringed bird report their sighting via email: [email protected]. You will receive a full life history of the bird and receive regular newsletter updates on the progress of the project.

The project has already begun to pay dividends. In August, shortly after fledging 6 juveniles were sighted at Looe. Then in early September another two were seen at Downderry but on the 16th September we received our first foreign report. L:AJ1 was seen on Omaha Beach, Vierville sur Mer, France, 81 days after ringing and a distance of 275 km from St Georges Island.

Three days later L:AK6 was reported from Parelle Beach in Guernsey. This bird was was ringed on the same day as L:AJ1 and had travelled 161 km. Two further Guernsey sightings of L:AK6 followed; at L’Eree Beach on 21st and 23rd September. Interestingly a Guernsey ringed Great Black back was seen at Downderry on 20th September so maybe these birds crossed mid Channel!!

Bruce commented ‘It’s early days yet but it shows how important colour ringing is in understanding what is happening to these gulls. Did L:AK6 and L:AJ1 follow their parents or head out into the English Channel alone? Only continued ringing, monitoring, reporting and time will tell.’

L:AB1 at Looe Beach on a grey August day.
Photos Jerry Lanfear

L:AA3 at Looe Beach, 18th August 2010

 Great Black-backed Gulls on Parelle Beach,  Guernsey,
19th September 2010. Photos Paul Veron
Great Black-backed Gull L:AK6 on L’Eree Beach,
Guernsey, 21st September 2010.