22 Jul 2013

Regurgitated squid and a piratical boarding.

The final ringing  trip of the season to Puffin Island took place Saturday with the objective being to mop up any un-ringed Guillemot and Razorbill chicks from the last two visits, ring some Kittiwake chicks, try to catch a few adults and ring some more gull chicks.

Unfortunately the news from the Island wasn't all good as the regular monitoring by Liverpool University  researchers suggested most of the Kittiwake nests had failed! Kittiwakes are on of the key indicator species of the health of our marine environments. Like terns they can't dive very deep so if there are no small fish near the surface they can't feed. These species are the first indicators of trouble - auks can dive  up to 80 m in search of food.  As Rachel said ' they're the canaries of the seabird colonies'.

In the case of the Puffin Island colonies it could be that the recent hot weather has meant the small fish have gone to deeper cooler water and can't be reached by the Kittiwakes. However, in the on going studies even a poor data set is important s owe duly met up at Beaumaris for the boat trip across in beautiful weather.

I was very sad to see so many Kittiwake nests deserted but we did manage to ring a few pulls and caught some adults to be colour ringed. The chicks have a habit of regurgitating their stomach contents all over you as a defence mechanism  and  I soon became immune to the smell of regurgitated squid! It was quite obvious what the parents had been feeding the youngsters on as you could see the tentacles in the vomit.

Lovely! Just what you need on a hot summers day. A covering of guano and Kittiwake vomit to act as a sun block. Reaching some of the nests required use of ladders and carrying these up and down the cliffs from site to site gave us a good workout.
                                                            Jon Green & Ian Lees with the scaling ladders.
A few Guillemot and Razorbill pullus were also ringed along with some adults although most of the youngsters have left the colonies and headed out to sea with their parents.
This little fella is sporting his shiny new auk ring ad hopefully will survive and return as a breeding adult in the future.
By now it was getting seriously hot and whilst moving between accessible parts of the colonies (some cliffs are to dangerous even for us to attempt!) we passed through the gull colonies so took the opportunity to catch a few gull chicks for ringing whilst getting bombarded by the adults from above. Both Herring Gull & Lesser Black-backed Gulls are species that have declined significantly in recent years so ringing is a vital part of the on going monitoring of these species to determine productivity & survival rates. It also gave us the opportunity to gain a few more scars to add to the collection. Herring & Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks can give a nasty peck but Greater Black-backs are real brutes.
                                           LBB Gull (left) and herring Gull (right)

                                           Me ringing a Herring Gull - notice the finely scarred hands.
The thought of an ice cold beer was getting more and more enticing as the day wore on but unfortunately we got a message through from our boatman to say he couldn't pick us up until 19.30! We'd expected to be off well before then.  Hearts & spirits sank for awhile as everyone was looking forward to getting a good shower and a cold drink but who could stay disheartened for long in such a beautiful spot surrounded by seabirds, blue skies and azure seas.

Suddenly things changed as a phone call came through to say a local fisherman had been asked to pick us up in his rib and transport us to one of the Puffin Island cruise boats where we were to be given a lift back amongst unsuspecting tourists......Rather than having 3 hours to kill we now needed to be ready in minutes.
Piling all our gear aboard the rib we were ferried out to the cruise boat and boarded to sit amongst the tourists very aware of the fact we looked and smelt pretty horrific! Parents held children close as we sat giving off malodorous odours of eau de Kittiwake vomit, gull shit and auk guano with  hint of sunscreen and sweaty feet thrown in. With some of the passengers already looking decidedly sea sick as there was a slight swell running we could only apologise for interrupting their paid trip and then making them feel even worse by having to detour to collect us and then put up with the smell. Calamari anyone?
Luckily I've learned to take a spare set of clothes with me and the smelly ones were consigned to a bin bag once back at the car! A quick wash in the public toilets (note to Beaumaris council - no soap and no towels!), a flask of tea to keep me going on the way home and  I felt almost human again. With the aircon set to minimum I was home within an hour and within and hour and a half I was showered, changed,  shite covered cloths in the washing machine and sitting watching the cricket highlights with a cold beer.

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