Friday 27 April 2012

Special Kittiwakes Return

Once again the Kittiwakes which have been fitted with Geo-locators have returned to breed. Here you can see one of the small devices attached to a Darvic (plastic) right leg ring of the Kittiwake on the left. This device is a small data logger that can be left on the bird over the winter and it records day length and midday sun. This can be used to estimate the location of the bird and does not require much battery power. The devices weigh approx. 2.5g. This is particularly interesting for the non-breeding distribution (or winter migration)
Kittiwake pair with Geolocator attached to leg ring. Chris Taylor
The data from the "Skomer" birds was included in a multi-colony tracking study that pulled together data from 19 colonies around the North-east Atlantic over a couple of years - 2008/9 and 2009/10 and included data from a total of 236 loggers.

Kittiwake - Chris Taylor
The results showed that "most tracked birds spent the winter in the West Atlantic, between Newfoundland and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, including in offshore, deep-water areas. Some birds (mainly local breeders) wintered in the North Sea and west of the British Isles. There was a large overlap in winter distributions of birds from different colonies, and colonies closer to each other showed larger overlap. We estimated that 80% of the 4.5 million adult kittiwakes in the Atlantic wintered west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, with only birds from Ireland and western Britain staying mainly on the European side."

So it would seem that Skomer birds tend to stay more locally after breeding and not really venturing that far. These types of studies are in their early days. It is vital that this data collection is continued to enable us to further understand and appreciate certain areas of the ocean which need extra care and attention to avoid food shortages/pollution. A relatively small area in the mid-atlandtic has the potential to have large impact on breeding kittiwake population.

Full results published in:

Frederiksen, M., Moe, B., Daunt, F., Phillips, R. A., Barrett, R. T., Bogdanova, M. I., Boulinier, T., Chardine, J. W., Chastel, O., Chivers, L. S., Christensen-Dalsgaard, S., Clément-Chastel, C., Colhoun, K., Freeman, R., Gaston, A. J., González-Solís, J., Goutte, A., Grémillet, D., Guilford, T., Jensen, G. H., Krasnov, Y., Lorentsen, S.-H., Mallory, M. L., Newell, M., Olsen, B., Shaw, D., Steen, H., Strøm, H., Systad, G. H., Thórarinsson, T. L. and Anker-Nilssen, T. (2011), Multicolony tracking reveals the winter distribution of a pelagic seabird on an ocean basin scale. Diversity and Distributions. doi: 10.1111/j.1472-4642.2011.00864.x

Study on Skomer carried out by Oxford University

Friday 20 April 2012

Skomer Nightlife Competition and Bird highlights

Bird highlights 20/04/2011
110+ Willow Warblers
1 Grasshopper Warbler
1 Sedge Warbler
1 Whimbrel

First Razorbill egg
(Dave Boyle)

6 Blackcaps (Chris)

For those who want to know what the island sounds like at night why not listen to our latest "video" (no pictures just sound). 

There is actually another bird hidden among the chorus.......£10 goes to the first person who can spot the other species also recorded in this video! Please leave your answer in the comments sections


Wednesday 18 April 2012

What it is like to volunteer on Skomer by Sandra Young

Guest blogger and volunteer Sandra Young reflects on her weeks' volunteering on Skomer

Allen making some repairs to Bull Hole Research Hide
Anyone can do it. What does it entail​​​? We arrived last Saturday and was our best weather day even though it was rainy and cold. It is now Wednesday and so long as you keep adding layers of clothing it's OK. But it does mean that you walk around like a robot inhibited by layers. The invigorating wind has meant less sighting of birds but we have seen some birds that you rarely see on the mainland for example the short-eared owl and the water rail. It's nesting time and there are lots of birds displaying or have mouths full of nesting material. Some have already had chicks. Raven chicks perched on a large rock were being fed constantly by parent for almost an hour. Each time the parent approached the nest 3 heads would appear squawking in anticipation. The puffins pad and scurry along the ground, bob out of their burrows, decide that it is far too cold and go back under ground for comfort. Tube nosed fulmars line the cliffs near the top. A few guillemots further down and at the bottom the kittiwakes quark their high pitched gaggle. All over the island rabbits abound sometimes being chased by gulls – the most prolific species on the island. However, it is the Manx Shearwaters that steel the show for me. More than 120,000 pairs come to the island each year and their presence is profound. Only visible at night these creatures are soft, warm when held and clumsy on land but their noise is eerily comforting as you realise that you are indeed in the minority. It's a humbling and privilege to realise the trust they expend the guardians of their summer home. There was little visible moonlight but the stars, especially Venus guided us up the hill whereupon we advised some visitors to keep their torch lights off or low so as not to disturb the Manxies.

Geoff sharing his pictures.
Day time starts with observations at the hides. Even though you may see the same birds day after day there is always something to attract attention. Our jobs are varied from cleaning guest accommodation to repairing rabbit enclosures, fencing and beach cleaning. Working as a team is the key ingredient despite age difference, experiences, abilities or sex. Six of us share a kitchen but sleep two per room. The kitchen routine can be the most challenging but at the same time the most entertaining as each person brings his or her life's experience or lack of to the fore. As this is the warmest room in the complex, unless of course you go to bed, everyone congregates in this small space. This year's mixed bag of people has provided laughter, information exchanging and so on. Bird song and information extricated from an ipod was the most sought after device. A whole array of wild life stuff could be accessed at the press of a button. Another get-together included dining with the full-time Island staff. A four course meal starting with vegetable curry with potatoes and rice followed by pizza and then melon with fruit and last of all bread and butter pudding just before bird log.

Tea is always essential to happy volunteering
Bird Log regularly occurs around 8.30 when Day visitors, volunteers and Island staff relate birds and wildlife they have seen and observed that day. This means that you meet other people with different skills and life's experiences. Everyone's contribution is valued no matter how unrealistic or realistic the sighting. It always surprises me how I can be in the same place and the same time as some people and not see the same bird but very often it is because experienced birders know what and where to expect to see a specific bird. They are also, understandably, better at identifying them. What is most relevant is the care and the consideration afforded to the birds. Feet are carefully placed when walking off the beaten track in order to avoid trampling over someone's home. Even though Manx Shearwater carcases litter the island the loss is compensated by their sheer numbers. Greater Blacked-backed are the chief predators but the male Peregrine Falcon will take the weakest puffin.

What a perfect place to be! 

Back of the volunteer accommodation.
Volunteering always brings together a mixture of people


Sunday 15 April 2012

Some interesting birds and new arrivals

We have had some interesting birds over the last week including Mealy Redpoll (Dave Boyle) and Nightingale (Dave Boyle....again, it is good to have his rare bird attracting skills back on the island!).

Annette and Akiko (PhD students) have also arrived for their first solo season of fieldwork.

They are settling in well, as has been very well summarised in Annette's blog:

"......Transferring thousands of pounds worth of research equipment, as well as all our stuff and enough food for a couple of weeks on the island using a small zodiac was quite an adventure, but we eventually reached the house without having lost anything (or anyone) to the ocean and just in time to watch the sunset with a wel-deserved ale in hand.........."

Wednesday 4 April 2012

March Highlights

Strong North winds means we have time to look back on the Month. Here is a summary for MARCH

This month we have seen the beginning of migration with many ‘firsts for the year’ arriving back from wintering grounds, along with the presence of species which overwinter on Skomer. Merlins are one of these ‘overwintering’ birds and were seen on four dates through the month. Excitingly, two Barn Owls were watched flying low over the Bracken east of the farm on the 3rd, will they breed on the island this year? The first Chiffchaff of the year was spotted on the 3rd and numbers continued to rise, with 15 counted on the 26th and 27th. Some even had pollen on their faces, clumping their feathers together, a sign they’ve just arrived from a warmer climate.

Large flocks of Starling were seen at the beginning of the month with a peak count of 324 on the 3rd. Common Snipe were recorded on five days in March and are often difficult to detect unless flushed by the observer!

There were 34 Puffins noted at sea on the 10th and just five days later 1877 were recorded. Numbers continued to increase and they first landed on the island on the 26th. Up to three Fieldfare were observed on 6 days mid-month, the first of which on the 12th. A Grey Heron flew over on the 14th,surprisingly, they are not a frequent visitor Skomer despite their presence on the mainland. A Dunlin was also recorded on 14th at the Amos amongst the roosting Oystercatchers.

The first Manx Shearwater was heard in the evening of the 14thby Chris and 14 were later seen on the 22nd. Numbers continue to rise and birds can occasionally be heard calling from in their burrows during the day. A Sand Martin passed by on the 15thfor that first time this season and have been passing in low numbers ever since.It was a good month for Black Redstarts with single counts on the 15th, 17th, 24th, 25th and 26th, the first adult male of the season was absolutely stunning!! Wheatears returned on the 15th and by the 27th there were 14 noted, favouring the Skomer Head area. Redwings werefirst seen on the 15th, others followed on 17th, 18th and 24th. This month Goldcrest numbers reached 12 on the 15th. Lewis saw a Collared Dove on the island on the 22nd, like the Grey Heron, this species is unusual out on Skomer. Blackcaps were back from the 23rd feasting on large flies, with six seen the 26th. Willow Warblers arrived back from Africa on the 24th with a maximum count for the month of 22 on the 27th. A Red Kite visited briefly on the 25th having visited Skokholm earlier in the day, it was a clear, warm day, perfect conditions for a Kite to explore. Barn Swallows were first noted on the 25th and have been seen sporadically ever since, a true sign of summer!

On the 27th Sarah found a female Ring Ouzel at the Garland Stone during a walk around the island – which was a nice surprise! To finish the month of nicely, two House Sparrows ventured out to the island on the 28th, again, another species common on the mainland but of great excitement to us on Skomer.

Monday 2 April 2012

Puffins, cormorants, raven and strange folk with white boxes

Puffins have been gathering in ever increasing numbers - with c.2,500 in North Haven this evening at 5pm. Encouraged on - land by calm winds. Not sure how much activity we shall see this week given the Northerly winds forecast to hit us for the rest of the week.

Cormorant are breeding on the Mew Stone (South of the island) with at least 3 nests. Lots of displaying around other potential breeding sites.

Raven's on the Mew Stone continue to always be around the nest - sitting on the nest and nearby rocks, ever present. It is not yet confirmed whether they have successfully laid eggs here - the truth will emerge in the next couple of week when we should start to see the pink gapes of the young in the nest.
Meanwhile - there have been strange folk walking around the island carrying strange equipment. This (above) is a a magnetometer. A piece of kit that allows for unobtrusive study of archaeological remains. Looking from afar - it looks like you have to keep the equipment moving forward at a steady pace and roughly the same height from the ground.....not easy when there are burrows to trip up the user. Treading lightly avoids any damage to burrow (which the majority are empty at present).

Skomer Warden

Sunday 1 April 2012

1st April. Log highlights

20 Linnets around the farm AM
3 willow warblers
87 grey seals in north haven
1000+ puffin in north haven at dusk

We anticipate a large return of guillemots tomorrow - will this be true?