Wednesday 26 June 2019

Seabird Counts 2019- Preliminary results! Guest blog from our Long Term Seabird Volunteer, Gemma

 Hi all! My name is Gemma and I have now been on the island for a month as this year’s seabird monitoring volunteer. I graduated last summer with a degree in Conservation Biology and Ecology from the University of Exeter and am working towards a career in seabird and cetacean research. My role primarily has been to act as an extra pair of hands/eyes during the busy breeding season, particularly for our whole island census and Manx shearwater study plots.

Assisting with the Manx Shearwater monitoring conducted by Viv on behalf of University of Glosestershire
We’ve had a very successful few weeks on the island; despite some tricky weather and strong winds we managed to finish our whole island seabird census last Tuesday - after a few very long days in the field! The island’s coastline is split into 45 sections that are counted, either by boat or from land. In each of these sections we counted breeding pairs of gulls, well built nests of kittiwakes and individual guillemots as well as noting other nests seen e.g. shags and choughs. Next year razorbills and fulmars will be counted alongside the gulls as part of a two-year rotation. The census is performed twice during June, and these are used  to estimate the islands breeding populations. While working with wildlife is an absolute honour, relying on Mother Nature for the right working conditions can put the pressure on, and we are all glad to have got the counts done before chick fledging really began.   
Counting the cliffs from the boat
We’ve had a few comments this spring from regular visitors saying that the auks appear more numerous than the last couple of years. This year’s census of guillemots appears to fit this, with a total of 28,798 individuals counted, up 16% since the last count in 2017.

A Growing Guillemott chick
Our Black-legged Kittiwakes bring more good news! For the past few years we have consistently seen a drop in the breeding population, with last year’s breeding pairs dropping to 1,236 (1546 in 2015). Such a trend has been mirrored around the UK. However this year we are pleased to see our figure has increased by 17% to 1,451. While it's too soon to say if the population has actually increased, this returns our Kittiwake breeding numbers to roughly what it was in 2016 and is a hopefull initial observation.

A cliff face full of Black-legged Kittiwake nests
Now that the counts are complete, the long-term volunteers and I have a bit more time to help out with other jobs around the island. Some days have included assisting with the important monitoring of puffin and razorbill chicks with Viv, the University of Gloucestershire’s fieldworker. Others involved putting up new fences to protect burrows and having the chance to chat more to our lovely day visitors.

Puffin chicks are weighed and their wing length measured for important long term monitoring of the colony
I feel truly lucky to have spent so much time on Skomer and am sad to be coming to the end of my stay. Many of the staff and weekly volunteers have caught the island bug and return year after year and I certainly plan on joining that tradition.

A long hot day - but finally a new fence put in to protect the puffin burrows!
 Gemma Haggar (Seabird LTV 2019)