Friday, 15 June 2012

The life and times of Beer Shag

 Apologies in the delay in postings - more internet problems.
Long term followers of the blog will remember last year one of the older shags on the island, who is ringed and marked as yellow YY (see the ring on his leg in the picture), got stuck in a piece of marine litter, one of the plastic loops that holds beer cans together. Luckily he was rescued by one of the researchers and it was removed. Though unharmed by this experience, the lasting effect is that he now goes by the name of "Beer Shag". And just a few days I saw him heroically trying to keep his chicks dry in the pouring rain and I thought I would find out a bit more about him. Here on the island there is an amazing resource called "the shag database" which has details of the lives of a large numbers of the island shags, those ringed,  collected by the researchers over the years. From this I was able to find that Beer Shag was ringed as a chick in 1995 so he is quite an old shag (18 years old). He was quick out of the blocks and started quite young, finding a partner in 1997 which is unusual for a 2 year old but this union was ultimately unsuccessful with no fledged chicks produced.. In fact he also failed to breed successfully in 1998, and also every year from 2002 to 2005 and 2007. It was only in 2006 at the age of 11 that he finally produced 3 fledged chicks. He had success in 2008 (2 chicks fledged), 2009 (2 chicks), 2010 (2 chicks), and 2011 (3 chicks) and finally seemed to have got the hang of this breeding business and so far in 2012 he has 3 chicks well on the way to fledging. But the database has more detail about his life and we can see that he always returned to the same part of the island, 50% of the time to the same nest site but the other half of the time to sites close by.  He not only swapped nest sites but also partners, in 2006 and 2008 he was with yellow DDJ before falling to yellow ZUU. But it didn't last with her either as for 2010 and 2011 he was with yellow CUA. But there must have been something about yellow ZUU as this year he is back with her.
But the database had one last sad fact about Beer Shag and that is that of the 12 chicks that he has produced and sent out into the world over his 18 years, none have come back to breed at the Isle of May. This doesn't mean top say that one or two might not have moved to other islands but it seems likely that most have perished perhaps illustrating just how hard a life being a shag is.

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