1 Jul 2013

Puffin Island

This years trips to ring seabirds on Puffin Island as part of a long term study has been delayed until quite late in the season as the birds have bee nesting late due to the poor spring weather. Luckily the weather forecast was good this weekend and an email Friday evening confirmed we were on schedule to leave Beaumaris pier at 07.00 Saturday morning.

A team of 11 convened just before 07.00 and loaded the boat for the short journey to another world. A totally undisturbed island inhabited by thousands of seabirds and visited by humans only a few times a year.

The landing was uneventful in an almost flat calm. Birds were obvious everywhere with Eiders loafing on the beach and auks & gulls filling the air. The first thing that hits you is the noise, then the smell. Guano and lots of it. There's nothing like a strong whiff of ammonia to clear sinuses blocked through flying long haul.

The group split in two with a small team of 4 going with Rachel to ring a sample of 200 Cormorant pullus whilst the bigger team led by Steve made a start on the auk colonies. I was with the team about to be puked and shat on by the cormorant pullus. They really are disgusting smelly creatures even fi the parents try and make the nest smell a bit better with fresh flowers!

Dom ringing a nest of cormorant pullus.
Roz and Gary checking other nests.
Cormorant pullus - not the most beautiful chicks in the world. Note the shite covered trousers already and the days hardly begun.
With the 200 Cormorant chicks duly ringed and the sun now beating down we fought an epic battle with the undergrowth to the ruin of old Telegraph station for a well earned break before heading down the cliffs to ring Razorbill pullus and hopefully re-catch some ringed adults to provide data for the adult survival study being carried out.
Razobill chicks are impossibly cute:

Note the glove - its important to keep at least one hand relatively clean to eat sandwiches with!
Whereas the adults are a bit less amenable to being handled:
Since rats were removed from the Island a few years ago birds such as Eider and Puffin have made a comeback. Puffins are every ones favourite bird and we found a few loafing on the cliffs and one burrow containing an adult and a puffling.

Catching an adult Puffin is not an every day event on trips to Puffin Island. They're like little moles and dig their way several metres into the soil. My day was well and truly made when Steve handed me an adult Puffin he'd managed to catch and told me to ring it! I think he felt sorry for me in my shit covered state.It was interesting to see the feet close up. Unlike the other species of auk on Puffin Island Puffins actually dig their burrows so their claws are like little needles. Compared to Razorbills & Guillemots Puffins are positively tiny.

Two more adults were caught and duly ringed - a memorable day for Louisa who'd only ever seen a dead Puffin before.

With time pressing on we carried on ringing Razorbills and Shags until the boat came to collect us at 18.00.  Dirty outer clothing was removed and put in a bin bag to be washed separately when Jan was out the house...........By now I was feeling well and truly burnt as the sun broke through the cloud. I arrived home filthy, knackered and desperate for a cold beer! An hour in the shower and copious quantities of sweet smelling shower gel got rid of most of the smell! I wouldn't have missed it for anything though and can't wait until the next trip.

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