A few Fridays ago brought an unusual phone call and an unexpected trip to the vets.
It was proving to be a fairly average Friday in the office until I got a phone call from a local Stromness family saying they had just rescued a bird of prey from the sea just off Hoy! The lad spotted it and they couldn’t quite believe what it was until they took it out of the water, totally exhausted and water logged.
Half an hour later they brought it in to the office, wrapped in a towel, beginning to dry out and shivering to stay warm. It turned out to be a young male peregrine falcon who had come out on the wrong side of an argument with a fulmar (fulmars spit their oily fishy stomach contents on anything that comes a little too close for comfort- a disaster for other birds as it strips their feathers of their waterproof coating), and had somehow ended up in the water.
We don’t normally deal with injured birds, passing calls on to the SSPCA but occasionally the rules have to be bent and this occasion was one of them! So there was a quick phone call to a local vets, a trip to Kirkwall and the peregrine was left in the hands of the professionals to get cleaned up and rehydrated. A local birder, who has experience in rehabilitating birds of prey, took it on for a few days to see if it would recover from its ordeal. During this time it was given a few food options and showed a particular preference to supermarket chicken! A few days later it was released on the Birsay moors and it made a successful first short flight.
Lets hope it doesn’t meet any more fulmars ...
In a previous blog I mentioned how the reserve at Brodgar is currently looking fantastic with wildflowers and bird crops in bloom. A lunchtime walk today, in search of great yellow bumblebees, proved that the same is still true – if anything it’s looking more spectacular.
The yellow flowering mustard is one of the main species in the bird crop
Orkney is one of the few places left that the great yellow bumblebee can still be found in the British Isles. It used to be found all over the UK but is now restricted to parts of north and west Scotland. They mostly live on areas of open grassland habitats rich in flowers which provide food for them throughout their nesting season. Areas like machair on the Hebrides and Orkneys rich agricultural land are very important for the great yellow bumblebees continuing survival.
At Brodgar, we manage the land for traditional Orkney farmland bird species –corncrake, lapwing, curlew, oystercatchers, redshank, skylarks and meadow pipits, to name a few! By creating species rich grasslands, not only can we provide great habitat for the birds but also for bumblebees! We also have several areas of wild bird crops here, which could provide cover for any potential corncrakes that may decide they like the look of the area, but they also provide an important food source for small farmland birds in the winter. The plants chosen to go in the mix produce seed that birds like twite, linnet, reed buntings, greenfinches liek to eat and to complement this the crop mix also has some species that are important food plants for bumblebees. This means there are a large variety of plants at Brodgar for the bumblebees throughout the spring/summer flowering at different times so they always have some food available for them.
Phacelia - a great food plant for bumblebees
Corn spurry - provides seed for wintering birds
Bush vetch along with red clover are improtant food sources for bumblebees
My search today for great yellow bumblebees was unsuccessful (it wasn’t great conditions for them – the best days to look are warm & sunny) but the show of flowers certainly made up for it!
I was hoping that this post about counting the seabird colony at Marwick would have been a bit more positive ALAS not. Back in June, Lorna and I counted the Marwick Head colony and at the time our feeling was of lower numbers than previously obtained during Seabird 2000. The results proved our feelings to be correct with 64% decline in Kittiwakes (down from 3,761 apparently occupied nests to only 1,372), 54% decline in Guillemots (down from 26,469inds to 12,421inds!), Razorbill showed a smaller decline of 7% with 626inds recorded while Fulmar numbers increased by 7% to 455 apparently occupied sites. Puffin were present in small numbers only with 28 inds recorded on the day and the small colony of Herring Gulls held 15 territories. The colony as a whole has declined by over 50% since Seabird 2000 survey in 1999. I wonder what the cliffs will look like in 12 years time from now? Productivity around the seabird colonies of Orkney has been poor in recent years. 2011 is no exception with Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills suffering the most. A few chicks of these species may have fledged but it will certainly be the lucky few.
RSPB seabird researchers on Orkney & Shetland are fitting small GPS units onto Shag, Fulmar, Guillemot, Razorbill & Kittiwakes in an attempt to find out more about these birds when they are off foraging in the Atlantic or indeed North Sea. Some initial results have been staggering read more information below from a recent press release from Leinna Padgett.
Pioneering seabird project reveals surprising resultsEarly findings shed new light on feeding habits of Scotland’s seabirds - Initial findings of a ground-breaking project that tracks Scotland’s seabirds using technology akin to car ‘sat-navs’ reveal some seabirds are flying much further for food than scientists had previously thought. The Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment (FAME) project, which tracks guillemots, kittiwakes, and other species in an attempt to identify crucial at-sea locations where birds feed to ensure they are adequately protected, tracked several birds from the northern isles looking for food vast distances from the colony, while others stayed closer to home. This information comes as early reports of seabird breeding performance on RSPB Scotland’s reserves in the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland - together home to some of Scotland’s most important “seabird cities”- indicate continuing problems for some of the country’s internationally important seabird populations. FAME project data showed one guillemot from Fair Isle (between Orkney and Shetland) travelled as far south as the waters off Dundee in search of sandeels and other small fish: an epic 350km journey for a species that was previously thought to forage almost entirely in waters closer to home during the breeding season.In an even more intriguing twist, individuals of the same species – from colonies just 9 kilometres apart - have been found to feed in completely different locations. One razorbill, tracked at the start of June from Swona in Orkney, made about 12 foraging trips over 3 days, all within 31km of its nest. Another razorbill, tracked from Muckle Skerry went on only 2 feeding trips over 60 hours, but flew up to 144km from the colony in search of food.
Commenting on the initial data, Rory Crawford, RSPB Scotland Seabird Policy Officer said:
" Although it is still early days for this project, we are already seeing some fascinating outcomes. While some birds are displaying what we think of as more characteristic feeding habits - staying nearer their colonies to feed during the breeding season - other birds are travelling huge distances in search of food. By carrying out this tracking work, we hope to discover whether birds having to travel further to find food is contributing to the dramatic declines we’ve seen.
"What is most important is that this information is used to improve conservation measures for our seabird colonies. These birds need vastly improved protection at sea if they are to have any hope of weathering this storm of decline.”
The FAME project is a transnational partnership between RSPB, and BirdLife International partner organisations in France, Portugal, Spain and Ireland, as well as the University of Minho in Portugal and WavEC. It is aimed at supporting informed decision-making in the marine environment along Europe’s Atlantic seaboard and is funded 65% by the European Regional Development Fund Atlantic Area Transnational Programme.