25 Jun 2012

Puffin Island

I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to ring with the SCAN ringing group as part of the long term study of seabirds on Puffin Island off Anglesey this weekend. For information about this study see here

The purpose of this particular visit was to ring Cormorant chicks in the morning and then move onto to ring auk chicks in the afternoon.

Meeting up with the team led by Dr Rachel Taylor and Steve Dodd we boarded our boat at Beaumaris and headed off in the rain (whats new there then) to Puffin Island where we landed on the only shingle beach and worked our way up through the steaming undergrowth towards the nationally important Cormorant colony.

Wear your oldest closed advised Steve and he was right to do so. With a target of 200 Cormorant chicks to ring we were soon covered in regurgitated fish and whitewash. These Cormorant chicks have tremendous range when squirting sh1t from their rear ends! The smell and noise was indescribable and the whole colony had a Jurassic feel  - it almost felt you were in a colony of pterodactyls. Young Cormorants certainly don't win any prizes in the beauty stakes -see below.

Moving through the colony I took the opportunity to grab a couple of scenic shots with the compact.. The big camera definitely stayed at home!

The good news is that since the rats were eradicated 10 years ago Puffin numbers have increased to around 40 pairs!

Reaching our lunch point we sheltered from a stray shower in the ruins of an old building that reinforced the historic ties between this island and Hilbre. Both have buildings originally built and owned by the Liverpool Dock company around the 1840's

By now were were all covered in evil smelling guano and regurgitated fish paste. I'm so glad I didn't pack tuna sandwiches! As lunch finished the sun came out and we started exploring the cliff ledges and boulder fields for auk chicks. Razorbill chicks lead solitary existences under boulders whilst Guillemots have creches where a few adults look after a large group of youngsters whilst other adults are out fishing. With large numbers of Herring, Lesser-black backed and Greater black-backed Gulls nesting and marauding its a sensible strategy.

With auks living to over 40 years and having odd shaped tarsi special 'auk' rings are required and Rachel patiently showed us how to fit them checking each one to ensure we'd done it correctly.These rings are incredibly hard and take a fair bit of effort to close properly and by the end of the days ringing my arm muscles were pumped like Popeye on his 4th can of spinach.

Amongst the young birds we caught a few adults  - mainly re-traps but some new ones to ring like this adult Razorbill. By name and by nature - it caught me nicely through three layers of clothing and drew blood just below my left nipple! It hurt like hell. Hence the very apprehensive look. You can see the evil gleam in its eye. It had tasted blood and wanted more. I was also very fortunate to handle a 'bridled' Guillemot but unfortunately the camera was stuffed in the ruck sack at the top of the cliff.

By  contrast the chicks were impossibly cute and I soon became immune to the overpowering stench and noise and thoroughly enjoyed the process of clambering down cliffs and dangling on ledges surrounded by thousands of calling Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins and Kittiwakes. Its really good to see this colony is doing well and productivity is high. I wonder if it has anything to do with the marine conservation area surrounding it........... the relevant authorities please take note!

Cute Razorbill chick and shit covered ringer.

Before we left the island there was also the chance for me to ring a few Shag chicks - a bit smaller than the Cormorants but just as deadly from both ends.

Finally it was time to head back to the beach where we'd stashed the rest of our gear and head back to Beaumarisl eaving the, by now sun, soaked island and its birds in peace. What a magic place and I hope I have the good fortune to go again.

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