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Puffin productivity - first, mark a burrow

31 May 2012

It has been a busy week so I have a few diary entries to catch up on. I’ll begin with puffins…

Puffins on a rock on Dun

White water. If there is white water breaking on Dun then it is not safe to land on the island. So, last week, after several days of staring longingly across to Dun the sea conditions calmed enough and we were good to go! I was accompanied by Andy, the archaeologist. It was his first time to the island and thankfully we had a relatively easy landing although not very elegant for me as I momentarily got stuck half in and half out the boat. Ooops!Andy on DunGina on Dunphotos: Andy on the plateau (top); Gina on one of the back slopes (bottom)

The island is vastly different than Hirta, primarily because there is no grazing pressure. The vegetation is long and lush and unbelievably colourful. The climb up from sea level to the plateau is surprisingly strenuous and we had to take care not to disturb the many fulmars that nest on the island.Fulmar resting in a sea of pink flowers on Dun

Our aim was to visit the puffin colony to mark 100 burrows which had eggs laid inside them. The eggs had to be within easy reach because puffins extend their burrows as the season progresses.   Puffin under a rock on Dun
photo: this puffin was nesting under rocks rather than in the grassy slopes

Most of the burrows had an adult inside.  Some merely tickled our fingers with their bill while others were more aggressive and had a good nibble! Puffin head and Hirta from Dun

We worked solidly and successfully found lots of burrows. These were marked with flagged canes which will allow us to go back to the same burrows during our next visit in July.   This trip will be timed to coincide with when the chicks are about ready to fledge.
Marked burrow on Dun in lush vegetationMarked puffin burrows on Dunphotos: canes with red flags mark the location of puffin burrows with an egg

Knowing how many eggs have survived to become healthy chicks provides us with a measure of breeding success that can be used as a general indicator of the health of the colony. The last full productivity survey was carried out in 2007 so it will be interesting to find out how the colony is doing this year.

(Seabird and Marine Ranger)

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