Monday, 15 June 2009

The end of 5am alarm calls!

Today is a fairly relaxing sunny day on Skomer after the hectic-ness of work over the last 2 weeks. I've just spent 3 hours doing my hand washing as I had quite a stockpile, unfortunately this coincided with the burning of the islands rubbish so hopefully it won't come out smelling worse than it went in!

My job for the last 2 weeks has involved long hours counting all the 4 main study plots for razorbills and guillemots. These are the Wick, South stream, High cliff and Bullhole, although thankfully Jo has the fun task of counting the guillemots on the Wick. My biggest site for counting guillemots is Bullhole on the north coast of the island which this year has roughly 3500 birds, enough to make you go goggle eyed!Normally you divide the cliff up into sections depending on where the colonies of birds are, then you can differentiate between different areas of the colony by cracks, crevices or ledges. There is one area on the Bullhole cliff that is an area of rock scree with 800 birds on though, where it is near impossible to differentiate between which bird you've counted. You just have to keep your head and the scope very steady and hope the buzzards that are nesting there don't fly past and scare all the non incubating birds off the cliff. You can't do study plot counts in winds higher than force 4, heavy rain or fog so I've only just managed to fit the 10 counts in to the 14 allocated days. So far 2009 results appear to show a slight rise in guillemot and razorbill numbers, which is good news but we are yet to discover how successful they have been at breeding this year. Keep your fingers crossed and watch this space........

At the same time as doing the counts I had to keep up my productivity monitoring on the razorbill and guillemot chicks at 10 sites spread across the island. Some are now at fledging age and are rather adorable. One large chick I saw refused to bring its head out from underneath its parent even when the parent had stood up, its obviously not in the mood for jumping off the cliff just yet! The chicks normally get quite excited a couple of days before departing, walking around near their parents and flapping their wings in preparation. It is amazing how they jump off these high cliffs into the sea with their father at dusk, then swim away despite the fact they've never experienced water before. I always find the thought of bird migration baffling, but I was even more bowled over when thinking about the 1000 painted lady butterflies that appeared on Skomer last week. They had migrated from North Africa which is amazing when you consider how fragile butterflies look. The majority of them have left now so we're left with the rather worn out stragglers.

Jerry and Haf are back on Skokholm for the day, doing a guided walk for the founders. I'm off to look at fulmar productivity, checking which ones are incubating eggs. I use a telescope for all my work, so I don't actually disturb the birds during their important breeding season.

Tessa Cole
Field Assistant

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