Saturday 12 July 2014

Puffin Bingo

The Wick

“42!” “27!” “34!” Apparently random numbers were being called out by overnight guests at the Wick one evening last week. But don’t worry we’ve not had to resort to cruise ship style entertainment for our guests yet on Skomer (though a poker night could be fun). 

It was early evening and fading sun was backlighting our puffins, making their feet glow orange and the sand eels in their beaks flash silver as they came into land. I was about to finish my two hour shift watching the numbered burrows at the Wick. This was part of an all day puffin feeding watch aimed at recording how many times a day adult birds were bringing food to their chicks which were safely tucked away in their burrows.

Holly our volunteer
Holly, our new long term volunteer, had started watching the burrows in the chilly half light at 5am. Several members of staff and volunteers had also taken a shift, and now Holly was returning to keep watch until dark.

If you’re not familiar with the Wick area on Skomer, it is one of the places where people and puffins are at their closest. Puffins will land on the cliff edge and during busy periods have to run the gauntlet of photographers and visitors to reach their burrow on the other side of the path. Our puffin watch results should help us shed some light on the productivity of the puffins which have to deal with the visitors, and let us decide if we’re causing any impact on the birds.

But the really great thing to me, as Visitor Officer, about puffin watch days, is that we can encourage our visitors and guests to get involved and help us out. There are 51 numbered burrows and it’s hard for one person to keep an eye on all of them, especially as some of the adult birds fly in, land and run down their hole at breakneck speed to avoid being mugged by gulls. So I always try to explain what I’m doing there, clipboard in hand, and rope everyone to help. So anytime a puffin is seen delivering freshly caught sand eels to a numbered burrow, that number is proudly shouted and duly recorded. For people just turning up to have some evening puffin-time, it does sound like a game of bingo is underway.

Watching for puffins with sand eels
Feeding rates tend to vary during the day, with mornings and early evenings being the busiest times (another reason that an overnight stay is a must-do on Skomer Island). But it all tends to quiet down around 9pm, with many puffins content to loaf around on cliff tops and engage in some social activity or burrow maintenance.

The results we collect will help shed some light on the success of the puffins at the Wick, but in the meantime our puffin watches have proved a fun and engaging way to raise awareness of our potential impact on these birds.

Andy Bramwell
Skomer Visitor Officer

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