It was a day of contrasts for the seventh day of June: a bright and breezy start with warming sunshine and wispy cirrostratus clouds overhead disintegrated rapidly in the afternoon into driving rain and a tearing southerly gale.
My main activity for 30 Days Wild today involved these charismatic seabirds…
It is of course a Manx Shearwater, or Puffinus puffinus in latin just to confuse matters. These amazing Procellariformes are tube-nosed seabirds in the same family as the more grandeur albatrosses. With some 20, 000 nesting pairs on Bardsey, we arguably house the fourth largest breeding colony of this species in the UK, after Skomer, Rhum and Skokholm. I’ll no doubt be returning to these birds countless times during the 30 Days Wild blog posts, especially as my third year dissertation project is focussed on tracking their foraging movements at sea!
Today’s activity, however, involved helping out with Bardsey Bird Observatory’s ‘Meet the Manxie’ walk and talk. This weekly event invites visitors staying on the island to come along and learn about such fascinating birds, first through an informative half-hour talk at the observatory followed by a look at the birds themselves.
Usually the participating groups are taken out under the cover of darkness to experience the colony in earnest: thousands of birds descending on the island accompanied by an awesome cacophony of their bizarre calls. Since the near-full moon at present drastically reduces the number of birds visiting at night (not to mention the unearthly hour at which darkness descends…), we took today’s group out to show them some adult birds currently ‘at home’ in their burrows. Carefully removing the birds and their incubating egg, we then demonstrated the ringing process and associated measurements also taken.
An exciting addition to today’s walk was the discovery that one of my GPS-tagged birds had returned from its first foraging trip! Steve and I carefully removed the tag, which we fasten to a small clump of feathers on the bird’s back; after removing the device from its waterproof casing, I plugged it in to my laptop and held my breath…
I still need to write a full post outlining my dissertation project and the many facets of the process to deploying the tags. The two images above picture the GPS device a) ‘as bought’ in its plastic casing, b) ready for deployment after being heat-shrinked, and c) safely secured to a shearwater!
And my first results…
The track above shows the shearwater’s path after leaving the burrow during the night of June 4th/5th. It made haste reaching the waters off the Isle of Man, followed by a day’s feeding in that area, before returning rather directly ‘home’ last night. This 370km round trip is actually a relatively short one, with many incubating birds on Skomer often out for six or seven days before returning to their burrow to exchange duties in sitting on their single, white egg.
I am looking forward to retrieving more of the tags we’ve deployed and seeing if other birds utilise the same area – the NE Irish Sea hotspot which has been shown to be so important to Skomer’s birds in other studies. Watch this space!
We look set for another deluge of rain overnight, so a lie-in may be in order for the morning. Looking forward to more wild seas on Day 8 of #3ODaysWild