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August's (sea)bird and marine life

28 August 2015

What happened in August? Well, there's a definite change of pace as the busy summer breeding season draws to an end. Most of the seabirds have headed back out to sea leaving the towering cliffs virtually empty with just a few fulmars to fledge.  The nocturnal petrels are still busy feeding their chicks but unless you're out wandering at night you would never know they are still here.  It was a mixed month in terms of weather but a fairly predictable pattern emerged with a few days of nice weather each week followed by wind, rain or mist. August - Mist engulfing The Gap


I made another trip to Dun to check on the Puffins and was pleased to see that most of the chicks were in good condition.  Overall, it seems that productivity was below average for the colony but was slightly higher than recent years.  This coupled with a relatively good season in 2014 could have given the colony a much needed boost.August - last visit to Dun to check on puffins


Puffin chicks leave their burrows at night and with no young to feed the parent birds follow soon after.  However, sometimes it doesn’t go quite to plan; some chicks get lost and end up tucked away in dark corners the base.  Early every morning and sometimes at night when the weather is particularly disgusting (which was quite frequent this year!) I patrolled the buildings to gather up stray birds.  Over a four week period I only found six birds; all were in good condition and very eager to head out to sea. August - Puffling

August - Puffin

Unlike July, there were few marine sightings with only one pod of dolphins spotted near Levenish.  We didn’t see large numbers of Jellyfish washing ashore like we have in the past few years but on a couple of the calmer days we saw some fairly large specimens alongside the jetty.August - Jellyfish appearing in greater numbers


While out collecting bonxie pellets I found a three letter engraved yellow flag attached to a leg bone.   I was fairly sure that the bird would have been ringed with additional markers and that without them it would be difficult to identify the species, but I sent an email to the International Wader Study Group and hoped for the best.  Turns out that ‘VME’ was a Red Knot that was marked in NW Iceland on 14 May 2014 as part of an 11 year project investigating the migration patterns of this species. To date, only 100 of 1265 birds have been sighted outside of Iceland which makes it even more of a shame to have found this one dead on Hirta.   August - Icelandic Red Knot flag

The only Kittiwake to nest in the Village Bay plots successfully fledged its chick. As did the Skua nesting low down in the Village.August-Kittiwake chick in Village Bay plot

August - The bonxie near the head dyke fledged its chick 

Fulmar monitoring continued; this photograph shows one small section of a plot where pink dots indicate the location of chicks.  It can be quite difficult to spot the chicks later on in the season as without any grazing pressure on Dun the vegetation soon obscures the hollows the fulmars nest within.August - Fulmar plot on north end of DunAugust - young fulmar hidden in vegetation


In the natural world August is technically Autumn and over the last week or so the island has seen a sprinkling of small birds and waders passing through including Sanderling, Dunlin, Plovers, Ruff, Godwit, Red Knot and more! August - Waders passing throughAugust - Waders passing throughAugust - Waders passing throughAugust - Waders passing throughAugust - Waders passing throughAugust - Waders passing throughAugust - Waders passing through

September will be filled with visitor based activities, checking for fledgling shearwaters, recording migrants and some time at my desk processing and interpreting data which I will include in the next end of month summary.


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