16 Jun 2014

1st Puffin Island ringing trip of the year.

A team of seven met up in the Beaumaris carpark at 07.45 Saturday morning for the 20 minute boat trip across to Puffin Island. Although still a bit chilly it was obvious it was going to be a glorious day and the sea was like the proverbial mill pond.

Landing on the only beach on the island it was first things first as Steve gave us a briefing of the days programme and we stashed clean clothes and wellies for later use!

This years 1st trip was  slightly delayed as the birds were late arriving back on the breeding ledges probably due to the severe storms we had last November meaning many of them  hadn't reached breeding condition until later in the year. Its to early to say how breeding numbers have been affected and that analysis will have  to wait until the end of the season when numbers can be computed.

Today's trip was mainly to ring Razorbill and Shag pullus with the additional aim of catching as many adults as we could without losing too many digits!

We soon encountered our first Shag chicks and got our first coverings of guano! I was lucky enough to ring an adult male Shag - the first I'd been able to ring.

Jamie & Noah ringing Shag pullus.

As we reached the boulder fields we started finding Razorbill chicks and nest still with eggs  in holes beneath the rocks. Razorbill nests aren't really nests at all but at least they lay their eggs beneath boulders and not on exposed ledges like the Guillemots. One of the evolutionary consequences of this is that Razorbill eggs are more rounded and less pointed than Guillemot eggs. A pointed egg won't roll off the ledge but will spin on its axis.

Razorbill chick just emerging from its egg - the egg tooth at the tip of the bill is clearly visible.

Adult Razorbills are well armed to fend for themselves and I've got a fair few scars inflicted whilst trying to pass them to others to process in such away that they didn't get 'razored'. The chicks are impossibly cute though.

Razorbill (and Guillemot) chicks don't stay on their natal cliffs until they're fully grown but head for the sea before they can fully fly. The young bird below will soon be off and join its parents at sea where it'll complete its transition from fluffy toy to stunning adult. Note the filthy state of the ringer (me). A seabird colony isn't the place to be if you're fastidious about keeping clean!

Hopefully this bird will return to breed in 4-5 years once its reached maturity.

After a hectic few hours of hard graft climbing up and down cliffs and lying flat on your belly peering under boulders or grappling with Razorbills & Shag chicks (also well armed to defend themselves and always make a stab for your eyes) a lunch break is welcome and we always head up to the old telegraph station at the top of the island for a chance to refuel. This is always a reminder of 'my' other island, Hilbre, as both were used by the Liverpool Dock & Harbour  Company as telegraph stations. Today the view was stunning with sail boats passing beneath us and the Great Ormes Head in the distance and surrounded by calling gulls.

Lesser black-backed, Greater and Herring Gulls bred hear and there were some good sized chicks roaming around in the long grass as well as some nests still with eggs. Including some which were just 'pipping' as the youngsters use their egg tooth to escape from the shell.

With time running out the team split up with Steve asking me to take a stick of rings and work one small area of cliff for Razorbills before joining the rest of the team on the final accessible area before heading back to the beach. We were on the island for 10 hours and in that time had probably covered more vertical miles than horizontal, ringed at least 150 Shag chicks and probably the same number of Razorbills, recaptured or ringed about 20 adult Razorbills and (personally) drunk 4 litres of water! 

However, here was time for one more stunning surprise and a ringing tick for Rachel when Steve caught a female Eider by hand. Only the 2nd to be ringed on Puffin Island. What a gorgeous bird to see close up.

A close examination showed her to have at least three generations of feathers meaning she has undertaken at least one 'eclipse' suggesting she is as least 3 calender years old. The plumage patterning was very suggestive of Woodcock  - another bird superbly equipped for cryptic camouflage.

Arriving on the beach we cleaned up as best as we could and changed into cleaner cloths for the boat journey back to Beaumaris - a tired but happy team. The weather had been kind to us and there were plenty of birds to ring. Leaving the island behind us to its avian inhabitants until the next trip in a few weeks time.

I arrived home around 20.45, grabbed a well needed shower, some dinner and sat down for a well deserved beer. Halfway down the 2nd I fell asleep on the couch and missed the end of the film we were watching before crawling, feeling battered and bruised, to bed - at least this time I wasn't sun burnt as I'd remembered both the sunscreen and a hat!


Findlay Wilde said...

What a brilliant day, that would be my idea of a perfect day. From Findlay

DaveE said...

Hi Phil, always enjoy your blog.
The ravens I've mentioned in the past have produced 4 young this year. It was great to see the whole family wheeling high above the nest site today in clear blue skies. Also a pair of spotted flycatcher very close by.

Phil Woollen. said...

Cheers Dave (and Findlay!)
Unfortunately my local Spotted Flycatchers haven't returned this year.Are yours up Ledsham way?