The first post.

Welcome to the official blog of the Shag Project! The first post of a blog is important to establish what this is all about.. so without further ado:

  • What is the Shag Project?

The shag project is a collaboration between myself and Fourth Element. My research is investigating the diving and foraging behaviour of the European shag, one of the UK’s most efficient diving birds. Fourth Element is a diving company with a keen interest in science and the environment. They will be providing support, tech and expertise for the research.

I’ll be updating this blog and our official website with stories of my adventures, articles about marine science and general science things that interest me.

One of my upcoming adventures is that I’m going to be learning to dive. This is going to be completely new to me, and I’ll be writing about my experiences here. Hopefully this will provide new techniques into how I study diving birds.

  • Who are you and what are you doing?

My name is Julian Evans and I am starting the second year of my Phd. As mentioned above I am studying the diving and foraging behaviour of European shags. I am particularly interested in how social information at the colony or on the water could affect a birds diving behaviour and strategy.

  • Why study shags?

Shags are one of the UK’s most efficient diving birds. These birds can be seen on rocky outcrops all around the British coastline or sometimes swiftly disappearing under the water. They are remarkable underwater hunters, pursuing and catching their prey in extremely challenging conditions.

Out in the Scillies, shags form absolutely enormous foraging rafts, diving and fishing together. How and why these rafts form is a mystery. What benefit do they give? Do they speed up the process of finding prey? Are the shags using other birds as is indicators of the presence or absence of fish under the water? Do they change the length of depths of their dives when in groups?

The honest answer is that we don’t know, and this is why they are an interesting species to study. Over the next two years I hope to use a variety of methods to attempt to provide answers. Methods may include things high tech as attaching small cameras to the birds to capture video and still images of a bird’s eye view of diving and fishing, to simply collecting huge amounts of behavioural data.

  • So what have you done so far?

In my first field season I attempted to examine broad foraging behaviours of the birds. Things such as:

– Are certain sites favoured consistently or is prey randomly distributed?

– Do birds from different colonies favour different sites?

– How do birds search for prey patches?

– Where do rafts form, do they form in certain places and times?

We used a combination of GPS tagging and observation to answer these questions. To find out how this went check out the field diary at the main website. (It’s a tale of woe)

Also on the main website are some articles I’ve written and a gallery of photos from the first field season.

More on the way soon!

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