Tuesday, 10 September 2019

A Shearwater's World

I'm sure Tim Guilford won’t mind me poaching the title of his wonderful lecture published in British Birds (January 2019). It is lovely read and a fascinating insight into the life of a Manx shearwater. There is something very special about these birds and once you start to learn more about them I guarantee you will be ‘hooked’!
Manx shearwater: A true pelagic (ocean dwelling) seabird

Joe Wynn showing guests one of the younger chicks
The ‘Shearwater Week’ has been running for a few years now, this is an event designed not only learn about the Manx shearwaters we have breeding on Skomer but also to give people a glimpse into the ‘behind the scenes’ research work undertaken on the island. Each guest has a two night stay on the island, during which time they will have a talk by one of the research team, have a night time guided walk through the colony and a very special treat helping with the daily weigh-in of Manx shearwater chicks. The popularity of the event is increasing and this year the whole week was fully booked.

Martyna Syposz overseeing a guest find a chick

As always we had great support from Renate and the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer who helped with extra volunteers for the event. Regular Skomer volunteers Andrew Hughes and Alison Rees were part of this team and it was great to have Mark Burton (Skomer MCZ) and also Professor Chris Perrins on board. Chris has been working on Manx shearwaters of Skokholm and Skomer since the 1960’s and it was a real treat for our guests to hear him speak about his work over the years. Mark not only gave a hugely interesting talk on the marine life of the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve but led night walks, seal watched and even had time for some moth trapping with the guests…what a star! The OxNav research team, based on Skomer for the whole season, are an integral part of this whole event. Particular thanks to PhD students Joe Wynn and Marytna Syposz for their expertise and enthusiastic contributions.
Mark Burton moth trapping with some of the younger guests
I may be proven wrong but I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world where visitors or guests have this ‘up close and personal’experience with Manx shearwaters. Seeing a Manx shearwater chick in the hand is a highlight for many.
Half the world’s Manx shearwaters breed on Skomer Island and together with birds on Skokholm, Ramsey, Middleholm and Bardsey islands, the number of breeding birds in Wales is close to 70% of the world's population! 

Guests immersing themselves in the shearwater experience
Of course an event like this would fall short if it wasn’t for the enthusiastic participation of the guests. This year was no exception and many of the guests have left lovely comments ... some have already pencilled this in their diaries for next year too! 
It makes our job a lot more fun when we can share our knowledge and spread the word about what is arguably the most important bird in Wales…

Stranded shearwater help
Place bird in a ventilated box
On the subject of Wales, the WTSWW alongside the RSPB have initiated a campaign over the past couple of years to promote issues facing the Manx shearwater chicks fledging this time of year. Mainland lights can disorientate these birds as they leave the islands and some may land ashore, somewhere you should never see one of these birds. If you find one please contact one of the numbers on this poster. In most cases the fledglings simply need releasing at dusk from a suitable site.

Next year’s shearwater event will run from September 11th to 19th. Bookings for the event will open in October. Please call 01656 724100 or email islands@welshwildlife.org for more information.
Hope to see you next year!

Sarah Parmor (Skomer Visitor Officer)

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