Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Seabirds 2016

With so many things effecting our native wildlife, from climate change and increased storm events, to introduced ground predators and overfishing, to pollution and politics, there has never been a more important time to protect and monitor our wild birds. We have just finished the bulk of our seabird monitoring work on Skomer for this year and are ready to announce some of the initial results. Now before you read on don't be alarmed by the above, things on Skomer aren't that gloomy. Obviously there are some ups and downs but generally speaking Skomer is a very special safe haven for a mind boggling number of seabirds.

Our monitoring work has included Puffin counts in April, gull counts in May and cliff counts and Manx Shearwater census plots in June. We also look at productivity and survival for most species to assess how well the breeding season has gone and how many birds have survived the winter period. This year we are also doing a whole island Storm Petrel census, but more on that later. You've see us counting (see: Long-term Volunteers from Australia - a new irruption species?), now read about some of our findings
Huge numbers of birds to count, at Bull Hole.
The counts have only just been completed so the totals may be subject to change after checking etc. but they give an idea of the state of things so far. The productivity and survival studies also take longer to report on. Eventually (usually at the end of the year), all of the results will become available in a full report on seabird monitoring on Skomer Island in 2016 and can be found on the Trusts website along with previous years reports. 

So to run through things; Puffin numbers are up from 21,349 in 2015 to a whopping 22,539 this year, an increase of around 6%. In light of worrying declines elsewhere this is an encouraging trend.

The mighty Puffin, up by 6%
Razorbills counts were a complicated matter. The first count, at the start of June, was down by over 1,500 individuals, but by the time of the second count numbers had increased and surpassed the peak count from 2015, leaving us with an average of 7,250 (3.19% less than 2015).

Razorbills and chick
The diminutive Kittiwake is another species that has suffered declines around the country. After several years of decline on Skomer, the last two (2014 and 2015) had shown signs of recovery. This years count of 1,477 is however a drop of 4.5% on the previous one and leaves cause for concern.   

The Fulmar is doing well on Skomer. The population is at it's highest level since 2005 and is up by 15% on the previous year. Nest sites are well scattered around the island with concentrations on the Neck, the Wick and the cliffs between the Garland Stone and North Haven. This years count was 674 Apparently Occupied Sites.

Feisty Fulmars!
This is just a small selection of the seabird species we have on Skomer. If you visit at this time of year you may also see Cormorants (with large chicks) on the Mew Stone, Shags, Lesser black-backed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls (all with chicks) and Guillemots in their thousands. The most abundant species by far however is the Manx Shearwater and, although you won't see them, they are hatching in their tens of thousands in their underground burrows. The Manx Shearwater chicks will not be ready to fledge until August, September or even October. This is the wonderful thing about Skomer; no matter what time of year you visit there is always something absolutely amazing to see.

Manx Shearwater fledglings, a spectacle yet to come
Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden

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