Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Counting the birds

View of one of the guillemot and razorbill plots.

Guillemots making it difficult, how many ?

Beautiful, elegant guillemots, the one in sunglasses is actually the same species but with a plumage variation called a bridled guillemot.

Razorbills making it easy.

A bit of a razorbill.

Another bit of a razorbill.


Well both Jeremy and I are in the middle of counting the cliff nesting birds on the Isle of May we can now how they are doing from year to year. Jeremy has the hard job of working his way round all the cliffs systematically counting every shag, guillemot, razorbill and kittiwake on the island while I the easier job of counting all the guillemots and razorbills in 20 plots on cliff faces around the island. These I count 5 times over a 2 week period so giving 100 plot counts.
And I love doing it. It is a wonderfully intensive exercise that drives everything else out of your mind except for the cliff face that you are focused on. For each plot there is a photograph on the cliff face with the boundary of the plot marked in pen. So the first thing you do when you arrive at the plot counting view point is to sit down and make yourself comfortable and then work around the cliff face with your binoculars matching the plot boundary photograph to what you see in front of you . Once you are confident that you can work your way round the plot while looking through the binoculars you can start counting.It is easy to get lost as you move across the face so you have to keep 1/2 an eye on the boundaries and what you have counted already. You might think just counting birds is easy but they do their best to make things difficult for you. The razorbills are rather grumpy anti-social birds and wedge themselves in to cracks and holes so often you only have wing tips and and bit of a tail to identify them. The guillemots are more gregarious and meld themselves into a tight knot so you are counting bits of birds, trying to work out exactly how many heads are in that tangle of bodies. All of this is done while sitting on the lip of a 100 foot drop, with birds zooming in front of your binoculars and the wind buffeting you but it is amazing how hard you can grip the rock while holding your binoculars with both hands!
But by being in the midst of thousands of these fantastic birds, enveloped by the smell of the guano, deafened by the growling of the razorbills, braying of the guillemots, honking of the shags, cackling of the fulmars and the kittiwakes saying their name, all brings you a little closer to being a part of the island ecosystem and enables you to gain a little better understanding of what you are looking at.
But it does give you funny dreams !

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