30 Jun 2014

Hard graft on Puffin Island

Trip two of the organised trips to Puffin Island to monitor / ring the seabird pullus was scheduled for Saturday morning. The weather was unbelievably cold when I set off with driving rain and a strong breeze. By the time I arrived at Beaumaris at 7.30 am and met up with the rest of the team the rain had stopped but Jason, the boatmen, was worried the swell caused by the NE breeze would prevent us landing on the only beach on the island. We'd have to go in commando style jumping off the front of the boat and into the water if necessary. As it happened although there was a swell we managed to get ashore without anyone getting to wet or losing their dignity by falling in!

The main purpose of the trip was to ring a sample of 250 Cormorant chicks of which 50 were to be colour ringed, ring as many of the Guillemot chicks as we could manage, a few more Razorbills if we could find them and, time allowing, a few gulls.

The Cormorant colony is a noisy smelly place and the whole team were soon covered in guano and regurgitated fish. Its the largest coastal colony in the UK and involves a fair bit of scrambling around on slippery slopes.
Ringing Cormorant chicks definitely isn't for the faint hearted or fastidiously clean. As well as the regurgitated fish suppers and lethally aimed 'whitewash' they have razor sharp bills and inflict serious damage. They also go for your eyes.
 I was part of the colour ringing team along with Rachel & Ollie. Ollie & I fitted the metal BTO rings and Rachel then colour ringed the birds with a green darvic engraved with tree white letters. It took time as fitting the colour rings involves opening them up to get over the birds leg and then gluing them with marley cement to stop them opening up. Sellotape is wrapped round them so they don't spring open until the glues dried.
You're crouched in uncomfortable positions on a slippery slope trying to handle good sized birds that want to harm you. All good fun.

Some of the Cormorants were still on eggs or very small chicks.

Cormorant chicks don't have much going for them and being in the colony is like a scene from the Jurassic period with Pterodactyls all around.

After finishing the Cormorant colony it was time for a brief lunch before Ian & I set off with Mike to ring a few gulls. Herring, Greater Black-backed and lesser Black-backed Gulls all breed on Puffin Island and as with the Cormorants there is a wide age range with newly hatched chicks:

And adolescents looking to start a fight.

They're pretty adept at hiding in the long vegetation - brambles and nettle patches are preferred so you end up with even more scratches and nettle stings.

Once we'd finished with the gulls we joined Steve and the rest of the team to ring the Guillemot chicks. The team was divided into two with the more experienced people joining Steve climbing down the dreaded chimney to a large area of Guillemot nesting ledges. By now it was drizzling slightly - not the best situation weather to be clambering down already slippery cliffs! As well as the Guillemot chicks we ringed whatever Razorbills we found that we'd missed during the previous visit and finished off the rest of the Shag rings. Adult Guillemots are gorgeous looking birds and its always a privilege to see them close up.
The noise in the breeding ledges is deafening and adds to the assault on the senses.
By now we were completely covered in guano and vomit and half deaf. Not only were we getting deafened by the Guillemots and Razorbills but the Kittiwakes were joining in from their ledges and just for good measure crapping on us from above.

With time pressing we yomped back to the beach to find Jason already waiting to ferry us off. A change of cloths back at the Landrover and I was home by 8 pm ready for my curry a beer, a hot shower and the chance to rub some antiseptic into the numerous bites and scratches.

Until the next visit...................

Foot note: Steve sent an email round last night. 690 birds ringed Saturday including 306 Guillemots & another 36 Razorbills. No wonder  I was knackered and felt I had arms like Popeye Sunday.

1 comment :

Justyna Kierat said...

Beautiful birds. The smaller the more adorable (even those without feathers)