Saturday, 4 June 2016

Cosmopolitan Skomer

Hello all!

My name is Elisa and this week it is my turn to update the Skomer blog, so here it is. 

I am the Skomer Island Field Worker and this is my second season. My main roll on the island is to monitor seabirds as part of the island seabird long term monitoring program. I am responsible for conducting productivity studies on Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Great Black-backed Gulls. Furthermore I do Guillemot and Razorbill plot counts during June, and at the end of the breeding season I also perform a diet survey of one of our main predators: the Great Back- blacked Gull. 

All the information I gather, together with all the other seabird studies done by other Field Workers, for example studies on adult survival, tell us how our seabirds are doing year after year and allow us to support conservation decisions that will help to preserve the populations of the birds.

Guillemot colony early on in the breeding season

To get the job done, it requires me to spend most of the day outdoors sitting close to very noisy and busy cliffs, while looking through my scope at a great number of birds which are working hard to succeed in their breeding attempts (fighting against predators trying to take their eggs and chicks, as well as against bad weather conditions). Quite an interesting office atmosphere, I have to admit! 

One of my study sites at The Wick

Now in June all the staff are pretty busy with seabird monitoring. Our early breeders (the Guillemots, the Razorbills and the Puffins) have already got chicks and the rest of the island seabirds are on eggs. This is why June is the perfect time for us to perform population counts. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales started to count seabirds back in the sixties, which means that we have over 50 years of seabird data for the island; an incredibly valuable data-set.

Me counting Razorbills with a curious puffin hanging around. ©Phil Kemp

It is a great work experience to be able to contribute to Skomer's long term seabird data-set, but being on Skomer is also a fantastic life experience. It is really cool to have the warden team and volunteers, the field workers and the researchers all together joining efforts in order to learn more about the island wildlife. All living and working close to each other in a small community, very openly sharing duties and knowledge. 

However, I don't live on Skomer all year round; I only spend four months on the island (from mid April to mid August). So, as some seabird species, I winter in warmer areas (Mallorca, where I am from) and come to the island to spend the summer! Definitely, not a bad thing to do! 

Some of you may ask yourself: what is Elisa doing during the rest of the year? Back home, I also have another very exiting field worker seasonal job! I work with Barcelona University tracking Scopoli’s Shearwaters that breed on islets around the Mediterranean.  

Scopoli’s Shearwater nest, adult and its chick. Palomas Island, Murcia, Spain. ©Jason Moss

We deploy GPS loggers on breeding birds and study their uses of the marine environment around the colony (feeding areas, resting areas, and areas they use most to move around). But also, we deploy geolocator devices with two purposes. We use them to learn about the daily activity of the birds when they are out at sea (if the birds are in the water or flying), which allows us to characterise the behaviour of the birds during the GPS tracking. Further to this we follow them during the whole year in order to find out where they spend the non-breeding season. 

Any guesses on where the non-breeding grounds for Scopoli’s shearwaters are? Scopoli’s Shearwaters breed on the Mediterranean coastline, and during the winter most of them migrate offshore to NW Africa, but also some go further South offshore of Namibia and South Africa. They definitely take advantage of the ability to soar, a low cost way of flying which characterises shearwaters.

Scopoli’s Shearwater with a GPS-logger on its back and a geolocator on its leg. ©Jason Moss


I am very excited also about next winter, as I am potentially going to be back on Skomer to assist the wardens with seal monitoring work. Looks like great times are ahead!

Elisa Miquel Riera (Field Worker)


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