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September for the seabird warden

29 September 2015
September started with me leaving that's the end of this entry!    Only joking,  I was back in plenty of time to actually have something to write about here!   Staff normally travel by helicopter; it's a quick run back to Benbecula and once out of the bay is virtually turbulence free, but this time I travelled by sea as a bank of fog kept the whirly-bird grounded at its base in Kyle  With no onward travel planned I was quite happy to bob about on the sea for a few hours and enjoyed seeing Hirta from a different perspective. 
September - off for a quick break by sea

There was a shift change on my return; the Ranger and I only managed a few words at the helipad as I climbed out of my survival suit and waved him off as he started his migration home. The visitor season was nearly, but not quite over so Kevin and I covered visitor duties, including meeting the last tourists of the year and serving in the shop.
September - last boats of the season

I was also responsible for biosecurity and on a particularly calm day the landing craft made a whirl wind trip.  The effiency of the QinetiQ team was outstanding which allowed the craft to leave 45 minutes after arrivial.  Rat traps were set before the vessel arrived and checked at least twice a day for five days after.  There were no rats and no bycatch of mice, or anything else for that matter.
September - landing craft makes a quick visit
The focus of the midnight and morning patrols has changed from puffins to shearwaters.  In three days I found five birds, as many puffins as I found in five weeks. Thankfully, the little flurry of birds didn't last long as I was seriously starting to look rather soul less from a lack of sleep!  Like the pufflings, the shearwaters are measured and weighed and then released at the jetty.  This year I was joined by Graeme (QFM) and Janice (Elior) - I think both were surprised at how big and fiesty the birds were.

The plus side of the checks is that I am out at hours of the night and day that most people usually avoid.  It's dark, but by torchlight I've seen jellyfish and bioluminescence at the jetty, pied wagtails hovering at head height, mice scurrying about and some glorious sunrises and starscapes.  Unfortunately, I'm usually too bleary eyed to be able to operate a camera so photos are few!
September - sheep gather at dawn

As expected at this time of year sightings of cetaceans are few but I was delighted to see a pod of dolphins in the bay at the start of the month.  
September - dolphins feeding in Village Bay

A sustained amount of activity by Gannets in the bay was also quite the spectacle.  We might typically see a few birds plunge diving in Village Bay, more often than not when the sea is churned up and the bay relatively sheltered in comparison.  Recently, it didn't seem to matter the conditions as birds were dropping like missles out of the sky or swooping around in preparation for re-entry.  Most of us staying on Hirta rarely get a chance to see these birds up close so it was great to see residents stopping for a look and commenting on the behaviour of the birds.
September - Gannets gathering in Village Bay

Keeping to the marine theme; in August, SNH visited to conduct a survey of the sea caves at the archipelago.  Monitoring work on the island can be quite extreme at times so this team had their work cut out.   A run of terrible weather and a large and changing swell often  made it simply too dangerous to enter their sites of interest. They managed to survey five areas and while we don't have access to the data just yet we have seen a blog entry and I would encourage everyone to stop by as the imagery alone is breathtaking.  For those who think they don't have time maybe these images will whet your appetite... Sept - SNH cave survey (Photo: George Stoyle)September - SNH cave survey, anemones (Photo: George Stoyle)September - SNH cave survey, jellyfish (Photo: George Stoyle)(Photos: Underwater imagery (c) George Stoyle)

Richard Castro, 'chief nest box engineer' from the Men's Shed in Inverness, visited St Kilda with the idea of helping inspect nest boxes and measure petrel chicks. No chicks in the boxes slightly scuppered those plans but we visited the site anyway and I had great pleasure seeing Richard catch his first glimpse of the next boxes in situ. He was rather impressed!
September - Richard Castro checking nest boxes

When I haven't been looking after visitors, patrolling for shearwaters, checking rat traps or keeping an eye out for migrant birds, I have been anchored to my desk looking at data.  Granted, that might sound...well...dull in comparison, but it is a part of my job that I enjoy.  I spend a lot of time and effort collecting data throughout the summer and by this stage in the season I am very eager to  crunch some numbers and see how the birds are faring.  But, when my concentration wanes I don't have far to go to get some fresh air - as offices go, this isn't bad!
September - crisp blue sky mornings

ps:  we've just had another day boat stop by... I wonder if these folk are the last visitors of the season?!

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