Studying colonisation is crucial to understand metapopulations, evolutionary ecology and species resilience to global change. Unfortunately, few empirical data are available because field monitoring that includes empty patches at large spatiotemporal scales is required. We examine the colonisation dynamics of a long-lived seabird over 34 years in the western Mediterranean by comparing population and individual data from both source colony and the newly-formed colonies. Since social information is not available, we hypothesize that colonisation should follow particular dispersal dynamics and personal information must be crucial in decision making. We test if adverse breeding conditions trigger colonisation events, if personal information plays a role in colonisation and if colonisers experience greater fitness. Our results show a temporal mismatch between colonisation events and both density-dependence and perturbations at the source colony, probably because colonisers needed a longer prospecting period to compensate for the lack of public information. Colonisers were mostly experienced individuals gaining higher breeding success in the new colony. Our results highlight the demographic value that experienced individuals can have on metapopulation dynamics of social long-lived organisms.