Familiar faces at the coastal places

By Cristina Sellarés 

If you head to the north-west of the Island today, and you stop by Grève de Lecq, you might want to pop in to Colleens Cafe, where a familiar face is waiting to greet you. Not a human face mind you, but that of one of our local puffins in fact.

The puffin in question is one of Jersey’s breeding birds, a population of only four pairs, and its photo, featured in a new information board, was taken by a local photographer just around the corner from the cafe. The board, produced by Birds On The Edge as a part of our seabird conservation  campaign, is really the brainchild of puffin enthusiast and owner of Colleens Cafe, Emma Machon. When we heard that Emma was thinking of having a board about puffins at the cafe, we approached her to offer our input, which she graciously accepted (to our delight!).

The board provides global and local insights about puffins and other seabirds breeding in the area, with information on their ecology, populations and present threats, as well as measures to stop their declines (you can look at the sign here). We have used photos taken locally in most cases, so you’re looking at our actual birds from Jersey, and in the settings and behaviours we are most likely to observe: flying, standing on the rocks or bobbing on the water. In Jersey we are not likely to see puffins perched on the rocks or walking about on the slopes and burrows, like we might in the large colonies of the north. The slopes in Jersey are too accessible to potential predators, such as rats and ferrets, so our puffins only breed in rock crevices on the cliffs, below the slopes.

On the board you will also find a small map of the Seabird Protection Zone, which is the area to avoid between March and July in order to keep puffins and other endangered birds safe from disturbance; and the Seabird Trail (coming soon!), which is the route to follow in order to observe the puffins in a safe and unobtrusive way.

Map showing Seabird Protection Zone (red) and Seabird Trail (green line)

At the other end of the trail you will find another copy of the board, just outside Plémont Cafe. As it happened, only a few weeks ago we were approached by the cafe’s owner Paul McDermott , who was wondering if we had any nice puffin pictures or posters that he could put up, and as you can guess, now there are two boards, one at either end of the forthcoming Seabird Trail.

So here’s a little plan for you: pick a sunny day, grab your binoculars and head to Plémont. Have a nice breakfast at the cafe, whilst admiring the beach from the bar. Take a quick look at the seabird board (it’s behind you…!). Once you’ve brushed up on identifying puffins and other birds, find your way up to the top car park and start on the Seabird Trail, following the public footpath to Grève. Keep your eyes on the sea below for puffins, razorbills, gulls and fulmars, and see how many you can identify of each. Once you arrive at Grève de Lecq, you deserve a good lunch, so treat yourself at Colleens, where you can check on their seabird board how many birds you got right.  After enjoying the food and the views, and maybe even the beach too, make your way back to Plémont, noticing the other side of the cliffs and the changing views, and don’t forget to keep scanning the water with your binoculars, as seals or dolphins are a common sight in this area too.

Now that you’ve made it back to Plémont, having learnt about our seabirds and tested your skills, you deserve an ice cream, slice of cake or a cool drink.  What better way to celebrate some time well spent with our beautiful seabirds.

Thanks go to: Emma from Colleens Café for her initial idea, and for allowing the Birds On The Edge takeover of the seabird board; Paul from Plémont Cafe for jumping on the board bandwagon; graphic artists at Durrell (Will and Rich) for their inspired design; and the photographers Romano da Costa and Mick Dryden for letting us use their beautiful photos.

Have a sneaky look at the full sign here

Plastic found lining UK seabird nests on a worrying scale

From The Conversation

From the packaging our food comes in to the clothes we wear, plastic is everywhere. We know that seabirds eat it and get tangled in it, but we are only just beginning to explore the impacts this has on their health and survival. This is really important, particularly in the UK and Channel Islands where many species, such as the northern gannet and Manx shearwater, breed in greater numbers than anywhere else in the world.

Many seabird species are in drastic decline. A recent report found that in the last 18 years, the UK population of European shags has fallen by 24%, kittiwakes have reduced by half and Arctic skua populations have shrunk by 70%.

But what is behind these declines remains something of a mystery. Overfishing and climate change are thought to be key drivers, but despite knowing that plastic is widespread in their environment, we currently lack even the most basic data on which seabird species are affected by this pollution and how.

Before we can effectively deal with any threat posed by plastic pollution, we need to understand the scale and type of effects it’s having. A new study is a first step towards this, uncovering evidence that Scottish seabirds are not only ingesting plastic, but they appear to be accumulating it in their nests.

Unpicking the impact of plastic

The study looked at five European seabird species – cormorants, European shags, great black-backed gulls, herring and lesser black-backed gulls. The latter four of these are of “Conservation Concern” in the UK according to the RSPB, while cormorant, shag and herring gull are included in Jersey’s ‘red list’ due to their declining or vulnerable populations.

Plastic pollution was intimately intertwined with the nesting behaviour and daily lives of these species, possibly affecting their breeding success and survival. 32% of herring gull nests, 53% of great black-backed gull nests and, worryingly, 80% of European shag nests contained plastic. Even worse, 39% of herring gull pellets – regurgitated bits of indigestible food – also contained plastic.

Plastic in nests is known to ensnare adults and chicks, often with fatal consequences. For some species, the nest must keep the egg warm and dry. It’s not clear whether plastic could be altering how well the nest warms its occupants or allows liquids to drain, but any changes could affect hatching success. Equally, the range of colours plastic comes in may affect the nest’s camouflage, making eggs and chicks more vulnerable to predators.

The study found clear differences in the type of plastic in herring gull nests from that contained in their pellets. This may reflect differences in where this species collects its food and its nest material. The ingested plastic was a variety of colours and types, including fibres, packaging and hard fragments, suggesting it might be found in an urban environment or in a landfill. But the nest plastic found was only sheet packaging, the sort more likely to wash up on the shore closer to their home.

This kind of information can help us begin to understand how effective different efforts might be. If the plastic used for making nests is collected from the shore before nest building begins in early spring, like during beach cleans, it could limit the impact on particular seabird species.

As nationwide lockdowns have eased during the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented levels of plastic waste have been left on UK beaches. We’re only just peeling back the surface on how this pollution harms wildlife. But as the evidence mounts, the urgent need to prevent plastic entering the environment becomes ever clearer.

The study The prevalence and source of plastic incorporated into nests of five seabird species on a small offshore island can be seen here