11 January 2020

French Shag on Looe Island

Recently we've been going back through some records and making sure that all of the French colour-ringed gulls seen on Looe Island (or more correctly St George's Island) over the years have been processed at the BTO end, thanks to the efforts of Claire the Warden's Assistant. There's been a Great Black-backed Gull colour-ringing project on the island since 2010 and Claire's efforts reading the colour rings are key to the success of the project. More details of the project can be found on the Cornwall Birds website.

But in amongst the gull records was a sighting of a colour-ringed Shag which is pretty unusual in the southwest. Claire photographed the bird by the jetty in December and it turns out it belonged to a French project, perhaps not surprising considering the closest UK projects are in west Wales and southern Ireland. K26 had been ringed as a chick in 2015 on Chausey, a small group of islands off the Normandy coast, geographically part of the Channel Islands group and managed as a bird reserve by the Groupe Ornithologique Normand.



It turns out that this is just the seventh record of a French-ringed Shag to be found in the UK. Of the previous six, three have been in Cornwall, sadly all young birds found dead in fishing nets (in 1982, 1984 and 1985). Of the other three, two were also in the southwest, found dead on the Isles of Scilly in 1981 and in Devon in 1989 (actually ringed 11 years earlier).


The only other record was also from the same French colour-ringing project, of a bird ringed as a chick in 2017 and seen later that year in Sheringham, Norfolk. The project on Chausey has ringed 1550 Shag chicks and remarkably these are the only two birds to have been seen in the UK, with the only other 'international' movements being two birds seen in The Netherlands. It's quite remarkable that these birds don't wander more widely, but know we all know what to look for we can hopefully find some more!

Thanks to Claire on Looe Island for sorting out all the records (and spending hours reading colour rings) and to Fabrice Gallien in France for the information on the birds and the project.

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