23 Jul 2021

Huffin & Puffin

It was our last seabird ringing trip to Puffin island of the year last Saturday and the weather was scorching!  The hottest I've ever experienced on the island and the small team did well to continue in the blistering heat - plenty of water was taken with spare bottles stashed on the beach incase they were required. With Steve & Rachel enjoying a well earned holiday it was up to Ros to ably lead the expedition.

The target species were Cormorant and Kittiwakes as on a previous visit not all the Cormorants could be ringed. We also planned to ring any auk chicks and adults that were still around and also any gulls.

The Cormorant colony was its usual busy primeval place with the youngsters doing their best Pterodactyl impressions. Luckily a lot of the youngsters hadn't got to the running stage yet and most were still in the nest so we managed to ring the required number of birds fairly quickly.

Baby Pterodactyls! 

After a quick water break it was on to the Kittiwakes. We'd been remarking as we crossed the island that we couldn't hear any Kittiwakes and were getting a bit worried. Even so we were surprised to find not one single occupied nest. Whether some had fledged since we'd last been across to the island or whether they'd all failed we don't know but the population is just spiralling into oblivion. There wasn't even an adult around. We did manage to catch an adult Fulmar though and ring a chick on its nest. 
Fulmar chick

Me using the noose pole to catch adult Fulmar.

We then moved to another part of the island to try and ring a few gull chicks and any auks that might still be lingering. The Puffin population is increasing and it was nice to be able to catch a couple of adults for those two of the team that hadn't been to the Island before.
Me with Herring Gull chick

Chris ringing his 1st Lesser black-backed Gull chick

Holding adult Puffin so Claire could ring it under supervision from Ros.

Chris ringing his 1st  Razorbill under supervision from Ros whilst Gary supervises Claire.

Although not a huge number of birds were ringed we managed to do everything we set out to achieve (apart from Kittiwakes) and the fewer birds meant it was a bit more relaxed - essential in the heat! 

Sadly there are rats again present on the island after they were eradicated in 1998 and we saw several. See here for details of the eradication programme. This is bad news for the islands seabird population and efforts are again being made to control them. Historically the island was teeming with rabbits and visitors in the 19th century commented on the short sward of grass and number of Puffins using the rabbit burrows to nest in. Myxomatosis killed the rabbits  (although these have now been introduced again) and the vegetation took over. This coupled with the rats meant the Puffin population declined rapidly. The picture below shows an artists impression of Puffin Island in 1815. Various landmarks are still recognisable today but the vegetation has certainly taken over! 

With time pressing it was time to hit the beach for a quick wash and swim before getting our lift back to Penmon Point and a well deserved ice-cream followed by a cold beer! 

A great day and nice to meet up with a few familiar faces again.

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