Monday, 22 April 2013

Auk news and harriers

Last week we heard about wrecked auks on the east coast, see the Skomer blog and the Blakeney Point blog There were over 1,100 Puffins, 318 Guillemots, 143 Razorbills (over 80 Razorbills found dead on Blakeney Point alone) and 3 Little Auks that succumbed to natural conditions in late March and early April along the east coast of Britain. There have also been fresh cases of birds (particularly auks) washing up on south coast beaches with Polyisobutylene clogging their feathers - see Skokholm blog. Colonies from many different areas could be effected by these two mortality events, between the west coast of Britain and Northern Europe. 

On Skomer, however, at least we can give some good news. On Saturday we did an all island Puffin count to try and ascertain the maximum number of Puffins using Skomer Island at any one time. This is one of the main ways in which we estimate our breeding population and it is important to do the count when the maximum number of birds are present around the island. We counted over 19,000 Puffins, many more than have ever been counted on Skomer before and we think that as well as some possible overcounting there is also an increase in the numbers of Puffins around Skomer. In any case there are plenty of Puffins coming close to Skomer this spring and this should be celebrated. We will try another count as soon as the weather permits and hope to come up with an accurate estimate of individuals using the island this space.

On another good note I realised today (I can be a bit slow sometimes) that an amazing coincidence took place as we moved from Norfolk to Skomer. On my last day of work at Blakeney, which was the 8th of February, I spotted a wing tagged Marsh Harrier on Blakeney Fresh Marshes with green wing tags and the code AD. I rang the ringer (Phill Littler from the North West Norfolk Ringing Group), who told me that the bird had been ringed and tagged as a chick on Sculthorpe moor, Norfolk, in 2011 and that after visiting Sheppy Marshes in Kent it had spent the 2012/13 winter in Wales. It then flew back to Norfolk in February 2013 but amazingly then followed us from Norfolk to south west Wales in spring this year. The bird was seen and photographed on Marloes Mere - see Pembs Birds on the 4th of April. If confirmed this demonstrates an amazing back and forth movement of Marsh Harriers between east and west Britain and is extremely interesting.

Juenile Pallid Harrier, Skomer Island 21st/22nd April 2013
And so, to boot, on Saturday we had a first for Skomer, and possibly Wales, with a beautiful juvenile Pallid  Harrier. These Steppe breeding birds are becoming more common as digital photography improves and as they move further to the west, breeding as close as Finland.

Todays highlights: 3 Blackcaps, Sedge Warbler (first of the year), 7+ Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Common Redstart, 1+ Whimbrel.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden

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