Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Manxies and puffins return, phew!!

To the great relief of the wardens and volunteers on Skomer the seabirds have started to return.

The last few nights have seen large numbers of puffins gathering in North Haven. Watching them come back for the first time is a special moment. The seabirds are clearly nervous of coming on land - a place which is riddled with dangers, gulls, peregrine falcons and possibly a rabbit trying to occupy a burrow once occupied by a puffin. In a fight between a puffin and a rabbit, my money would always be placed on the puffin winning. Something I have not seen before is Jackdaws squabbling with puffins. I can only assume that the jackdaws - which we have seen with nesting material over the past week - have also decided to try and occupy a burrow......IF I were to place money on a jackdaw vs a puffin I would be taking more of a gamble. Beyond the trials of other species of birds there can also be squabbles between individual puffins. There is also a lot of parading around, flapping of wings, shaking of heads and billing. Billing is where two puffins "kiss" with their bills. This often attracts the onlookers and sets other pairs off. We all know what happens next.

Billing puffins by Mel Lewis, 2010

Some of the puffins that have been seen rafting are young ones from last year, they can be seen by their dusty faces and slightly smaller bills. These birds will not breed this year - may visit the colony for several year before starting to breed at the age of four or five.

The Manx Shearwaters are also returning slowly and steadily. Interestingly there has not been a huge rush for the manxies back to their burrow. Normally the first birds are seen on the surface around 14th/15th. This was true to form this year but there has not been any big returns. This has started to change over the last few days. There are several explanations for this. Firstly their was a full moon 19th March (thus dangerous times for Shearwaters to come ashore) or birds have had a tough time crossing the Atlantic on their return trip or there has been plentiful food on the return legs and as a consequence birds have been feeding up before returning to the burrow. All will become clear throughout the season when data from the study birds long term tracking devices are downloaded and analysed. We shall keep you posted.

The accommodation is looking really smart thanks to the hard work of the volunteers and many litres of paint (and new duvets/pillows!). So we are looking forward to welcoming the first Shearwater fans any day now.

The island technically opens on 1st April, but with the current weather this might be postponed a few days!

Skomer Warden

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