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Puffins, Kittiwakes and other news

9 August 2006

Early each morning since 25th July, Sarah and I have been searching around the outside of all of the buildings at the base for newly fledged puffins. On leaving their burrows at night, some young puffins fly towards the base instead of flying out to sea and can be found in the morning hiding away in corners and behind obstacles such as bins. They are attracted by the lights at the base and possibly by the sound of the generator particularly on dark, misty nights when the young puffins are unable to see the sea. As many of the lights as possible are switched off at night to avoid unnecessary disturbance to the puffins. Once found, the young puffins are boxed up for the day and kept in a dark, quiet place to be released from the jetty at dusk. The weights and wing lengths of all the young puffins found are recorded. Our daily searches will continue until the end of August, by which time all of this year’s puffin chicks should have fledged. We have already found and released 38 young puffins with as many as 16 found on one morning. Only 10 young puffins were found last year altogether. This increase in numbers reflects the puffin’s greatly improved breeding success this year. Recent monitoring of puffin nesting success on Dun revealed that around 58% of burrows contained large chicks compared to just 26% last year.

 Young Puffin

I have also been monitoring the seven kittiwake colonies that have been traditionally monitored on St Kilda for many years. Kittiwake chicks are also in the process of fledging. The colonies are all much reduced in size, containing far fewer nests than they did 10 years ago. Although the final figures have not yet been calculated, it looks as though kittiwake breeding success has been poor again this year. I have not seen a single nest containing more than one large chick throughout any of the colonies, although kittiwakes can lay up to three eggs. One colony at the Cambir produced just one large chick in total, with many of the other nests being abandoned early on.


Over the next few days, I will be making final checks on the two Fulmar colonies that are monitored annually to count the number of large chicks there and I am hoping that they will have faired better than the kittiwakes.


An enormous basking shark was spotted in Village Bay one evening in late July. The shark was so large that its’ tail fin could be clearly seen from near the Factor’s House without binoculars! There had been one other occurrence of a smaller basking shark in the bay earlier in the season.


Our final volunteer workparty of the season left St Kilda on 4th August. Five workparties, each consisting of 12 volunteers, came to St Kilda this summer and achieved a great deal, including essential maintenance work on the cleits, cottages and other buildings. Two of the workparties carried out archaeological excavations in the village area.


The Soay sheep research team have just arrived and have moved into the cottages. The 16-strong team are about to begin the annual summer round-up of all the sheep in the village area.


Two invertebrate specialists recently spent a week on St Kilda recording insects and other invertebrates. They have re-discovered many species for which there are historic records and also found some new species for St Kilda. They have also re-discovered the endangered leaf-mining weevil (Ceutorhynchus contractus v. pallipes) on Dun. The species, which occurs on Sea Scurvygrass, was last recorded on Dun in 1931, but has also been found more recently at Glen Bay.


A BBC film-maker also visited St Kilda recently to record footage for the new ‘Coast’ series. She was keen to interview Sam Dennis (Archaeologist) and Sarah Money (Seabird & Marine Ranger) about their work here.


Jon Easton (St Kilda Ranger)

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