More seabird surveys: shearwaters and black backs


Recently I returned to the island of Annet for more seabird surveys. This time it was a bit different as we were surveying manx shearwaters. Manx shearwaters nest in burrows, making it trickier to find their nests. There are quite a lot of holes in the ground on Annet, only some of which will be occupied by shearwaters. Others might contain rabbits, puffins or nothing at all.


In order to work out which burrows are occupied we use tape recorders (yes, very high-tech, and surprisingly difficult to find these days!) to play shearwater calls down the burrows and then wait for a response.

A shearwater call can be found on the RSPB page here.

I heard this call quite often in the middle of the night as shearwaters pass overhead.

If we get a response we add a little marker to remind future surveys where the burrow is, and this year we used a GPS logger to mark some of the nests. Here are (some) of the shearwater burrows on Annet:


We also carried out a survey of lesser black-backed gulls on Gugh (a small island attached to St. Agnes.


This was carried out in much the same way as our previous surveys of the gull colonies on Annet, namely that we formed a cordon and move through the colony shouting out nests, eggs and chicks!

lessersurveyYou may notice that we are carrying sticks. This is partly so we can record the progress of our transect through the colony and partly because lesser black-backed gulls get very upset when you walk through their nests. This is also the reason for the woolly hats on an incredibly hot day, in order to protect our skulls! As it was, one of us lowered her stick for a second and immediately got hit in the back of the head by a diving gull, knocking her hat off.


One of the many reasons the gulls get cross because quite a lot of their chicks have hatched. The chicks lurk in the grass, a little distance from the nest, meaning we have to move very slowly through the colony in order to spot them all and avoid treading on them!


Good news is that seabird numbers seem to be up from last year, but keep an eye on the Seabird recovery project for further info and even some video from these surveys.


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