11 Jul 2014

Arctic Terns, The Skeries.

The Skerries are a small cluster of islets about 40 minutes boat journey from Holyhead, Anglesey. During the breeding season they're home to Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and one of the biggest colonies of Arctic Terns in the UK. This is wardened by the RSPB during the breeding season and the wardens live in the old lighthouse! No one is allowed to land on the Skerries unless they have permission. Tern colonies further north, along with other seabird colonies, have been having a rough time over the last few years with some Arctic tern colonies on Shetland failing to fledge a single young. The Skerries colony is growing so where are these birds coming from? Are they being recruited from the offspring fledged in previous years returning to breed or are they birds from failed colonies moving south?

Hopefully a new RAS (retrapping adults for survival) will help answer some of these questions and with the cooperation of the RSPB a ringing study has started with a sample of 50 adult birds being ringed with metal BTO rings on one leg and orange flags with a two letter code on the other.

Last time I visited the Skerries was in 2005 when a Sooty Tern arrived among the breeding colony. We chartered a fishing boat from Amlwch and although we were not allowed to land we were allowed to moor in the sheltered bay and had fantastic views of this rare visitor as it flew round our boat.

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited by Rachel & Steve to join them on a trip to ring a sample of 500 Arctic tern chicks. What an experience!

We took a boat from Holyhead harbour that was taking the food supplies across to the wardens and bringing off one of the relief wardens. It turned into a beautiful day with a slight swell. As we got closer to the islands rafts of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills flew off the sea in front of us and terns filled the air.

Landing we had to be very careful where we stood as there were young birds and unhatched eggs everywhere. The boat was waiting for us so Steve quickly organised the ringing as we had 3 hours in which to ring 500 chicks!!!

Panoramic shot below:

 Adult Arctic Tern with orange flag on left leg.

Apologies for the crap shots using the iPhone - next time I'll take the proper camera!
Below is a short video giving you some idea what its like to be in the middle of an Arctic Tern colony!
All to soon our trip was over and we had to leave the island to the birds and the wardens to take the boat back to Holyhead. Gannets and Manx Shearwaters were seen on the trip home and a Black Guillemot in the harbour. Another great island experience. I seem to be making a habit of visiting small remote islands.

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