Monday, 13 July 2015

Sodden Season

It feels like summer still hasn't arrived. A brief few days of sunshine where I managed to burn my legs (their first exposure to sun since Argentina in December) and then it was gone and the rains returned. This is just a minor inconvenience for us but for the seabirds around the islands it can mean life or death. We are in the middle of compiling and analysing breeding numbers for the year, and while the majority of species were on the islands in good numbers to breed, productivity has been a different story. It is still just too early to tell how bad it has been, but the signs on the ground aren't good. It's not all doom and gloom however, as we have been seeing chicks of certain species in good numbers, like this adorable Guillemot for example. And despite the flooding, Puffins are bringing Sandeels in in good numbers for those chicks that have survived.

Puffin with a good haul

The chicks that have survived are all nearing their first milestone in their lives, leaving the nest. Whether that be Kittiwakes taking their first flight, Guillemots jumping from the cliffs or Pufflings sneaking off out to sea in the middle of the night. And before all this happens, we attempt to get round and ring as many of them as we can to carry on the research that the Farnes is so important for. Ringing recoveries can provide fascinating and important information into the migration, longevity and nest site fidelity of all our birds.

We started the day with Sandwich Terns. This particular species is well known for its infidelity to nesting sites, and to try and learn more about these movements we are darvic ringing chicks that hatch on the island to make it easier to track them, not only to their eventual nest sites but also on their migration.

UDA, ready to go (in a few weeks)

Next onto the Puffins. They are easy to catch; it's simply a case of plunging your hand into a burrow to see what is in there. If you get a Puffling then all is well, if there is an adult as well then it can be a different story. Quite understandably they aren't pleased when you pull them from their burrows, and boy do they let you know. Not only are their beaks sharp, they also have incredibly sharp claws for digging their burrows which are equally adept at getting through skin. In the hand they are remarkably hardy birds, all muscle and dense feathers and of course adorable, particularly the Pufflings.

A Puffling, beat that for cuteness.

Check out those claws

Involuntary cuddle for an adult Puffin

Also on our hit list were any juvenile Kittiwakes within reach and any Shags we could get close to as well. We Darvic ring our shags as well, and for similar reasons to the Sandwich Terns. Just as with the Puffins, the Shags possess a sharp beak and a nasty bite, and particular care has to be taken as they tend to go for your eyes if they can get close enough. Of course, this young one was far more placid. It really is a privilege to live on these islands and share them with these birds.

Both looking a bit fluffy......

The skies are still grey today but luckily it's mild. A lot of the chicks we have now are hopefully large enough to survive whatever the rest of July has to throw at them, but only time will tell.