Late May through to early July are always busy months for seabird surveyors, and this year was no exception. In the last couple of months, I’ve set up a plot for studying the breeding success of puffins, carried out an island-wide survey of kittiwakes by boat (thank you Orca crew!), surveyed all the gull colonies on Hirta, counted all the oystercatcher territories, monitored fulmars nesting within the Village area, carried out feeding studies on a guillemot colony and surveyed storm petrels nesting within the Bay area. Early indications are that some of the seabird species on St Kilda are continuing to struggle – guillemots are bringing in the nutritionally-poor pipefish or fish that are far too big to feed their chicks, and kittiwake numbers are hugely down since the last count in 1999. It’s not all bad news though – for the first time this year we have a petrel nesting in one of the specially built artificial nest boxes we’ve installed in some of the cleits, which will allow us to study more about their breeding biology without causing too much disturbance. After three years of checking the nest boxes weekly, it’s wonderful to finally see birds taking to them.
It’s not been all hard work and no play though. As well as the usual ways of passing the time, such as badminton, volleyball, kayaking, Puffin Racing (a traditional Kilda game in which wooden puffins are hotly contended for by auction and then raced around an increasingly difficult circuit), pub quizzes and Bingo (yes, really!), early summer heralds the arrival of both new and returning visitors. Late May saw the welcome return of the Grigory Mikheev, a cruise ship which makes a couple of annual pilgrimages to Kilda and provides us each year with an increasingly surreal entertainment programme at their evening on-board barbeque. This year, they surpassed themselves with a Russian belly dancer, a very energetic jive dancer and the most shambolic rendition of a Strip the Willow ever to grace Scottish waters, all set against a backdrop of the puffin colony on Dun. A real evening to remember, and one of those uniquely Kilda moments.
A final survey on Kilda that must be mentioned is that requested by a researcher from Nottingham University. He is looking into the possible Viking origin of snails on the Western Isles and had asked us to look out for a particular species on St Kilda. Work Party 3 were tasked with the survey, and on their departure from the jetty on the final day informed us that they had found what they thought may be evidence of the aforesaid Viking snails by the Ablutions Block. Hmmm, not sure we’ll be passing that sighting on!
Diary by Sarah, Seabird and Marine Ranger