Well I am back for another season, and it is well underway. I have been extremely busy setting up the seabird monitoring plots at England's largest seabird colony Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head and organising an army of enthusiastic volunteers!
Well where do I start.... a lot has happened since the start of the season, there are already plenty of gannet, guillemot, razorbill and kittiwake chicks, and so far the season feels promising, the first gannet chick was a couple of weeks earlier than 2009, the guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes are about a week ahead of last year.
This year we have recieved so much support from the local community and from further afield, with around 25 volunteers helping to monitor the seabirds, and extra funding fully equip the team. I have been out and about checking the plots we used last year and updating photos and showing new volunteers the ropes. I myself have already started my own plots monitoring guillemots, razorbills and gannets, and got very emotional a few weeks ago when the first gannet chick my own plot hatched!
We are already in the peak of the season, with the first guillemot and razorbill chicks ready to fledge over the next week or so, where is the time going??!! Throughout June we will be completing plot counts for kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, working on diet study plots to establish which fish the guillemots are feeding on, and repeating the kittiwake GPS tagging that we trialled last year. All these studies contribute to our understanding of the changes taking place within the seas around the UK. The abundance of sandeels over the past few years have lead to some seabird species declining rapidly, at Bempton the kittiwake has been particularly affected by these changes with population counts falling from 86,000 pairs in 1987 to around 37,000 pairs in 2008. Diet study work is critical in understanding which species of fish are available for the adults to feed their chicks and helps us work out how far the adults are having to travel to forage for food.
The kittiwake tagging this year is really exciting, by the end of July we hope to know where some of the colonies kittiwakes go to feed and hopefully where some of our gannets go to feed, with an ambitious attempt to satellite tag 15 gannets. The tagging information from the Flamborough Head colony will provide important data for off shore wind farm proposals and potentially provide support data towards the establishment of Marine Protected Areas to help protect marine life.
On Saturday we finally managed to get out and complete the herring gull count after days of delays due to the weather, a team of four went out at 6am and counted the whole colony finally completing the count at about 2pm, one volunteer down with nausea! Whilst out on the boat we were treated to a rare spectacle at Bempton - a gannet feeding frenzy! It was one of the most amazing sights I have seen in my life - what spectacular birds. Unfortunately though the survey revealed a further decline in the herring gull population by around 70 pairs in just two years, highlighting the national decline in herring gull populations over the past 25 years leading to them being added to the Birds of Conservation Concern red list in 2009.
Well today I have been out working hard since 5am, and my colleague and I successfully fitted five GPS tags to kittiwakes, we now have to leave the tags on for at least 24 hours and hope that we can retrieve them again tomorrow or Thursday and then find out the exciting news of where the bird has been. I have been battling the elements along with many determined and enthsiastic volunteers, getting completely soaked, but trying to keep our spirits high - wet weather is all part of being a seabird field worker!
I couldn't finish the entry without a cute puffin (and friends) picture!