Surveying Seabirds

On Friday I took a day off from my standard activity of striding round the perimeter of St Mary’s by escaping the island to Annet, in order to help with the yearly seabird survey. I spent a lot of time on Annet last year as part of my own work (See the field diary) as well as helping out with last year’s seabird survey and was very interested to see how the birds were now doing.


This year also marks the beginning of the Seabird Recovery Project here on the Scillies (The website is currently unpopulated, but I’m pretty sure there’ll be some content soon!). As such there was a lot of filming and interviewing going on in order to explain how the work we were doing was vital for seabird recovery. At some point I’m sure some of this material will be available on their website.


The basic method of surveying was for us to spread out and walk transects, often around the perimeter of the islands. When we found a nest we should shout out and then report the contents. This was easy in the case of most gull nests, which were simply on the ground (though often hidden in the deep thrift that covers Annet), but became trickier in the case of shag nests which are often hidden under boulders or in other nooks and crannies. Or oyster catcher nests, which are basically a scrape on a beach.


Handily though, I could remember the location of many of the nests from the previous year. I even remembered where I’d once stumbled across a razorbill hidden high up in a cairn, and was pleased to discover a razorbill and its egg in the same location this year. I spent quite a lot of time clambering about in some of the more inaccessible areas hunting for nests, making sure I avoided disturbing fulmars that would surely react badly to my being there.


The general report seems to be much more positive than last year. Pretty much every nest had eggs or chicks in as opposed to the mainly empty nests we found last year. Also most birds seemed to be at more or less the same stage of breeding, as opposed to last year where the occasional nest seemed to be well ahead of the rest of the birds which seemed to have trouble getting started.

At one point I climbed onto a ledge to discover this happening:


This wasn’t the only chick I saw in the process of hatching. Several eggs were starting to crack, leading to the conundrum of whether to report them as eggs or chicks! We also discovered the first greater black backed gull chick of the season:


It was great to get back to Annet, as my own work hasn’t taken me there this year. Especially with the weather being so fantastic. I may even continue to venture out in shorts over the next few days.

If you are interested in further developments in the Seabird Recovery Project, check out their website.


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