Sunday, 28 July 2013

Night time islanders - stormies and pufflings

 Last night we got a glimpse of what happens n the island under the cover of darkness.
It was a stormy netting night. This means we were after storm petrels, probably the most mysterious seabird found in the UK. These are tiny seabirds, only about the size of a house martin and they spend the day far out at sea out of sight of land and their biggest danger, gulls. Under the cover of darkness they come closer to land and that is when we can catch them. By playing a tape of their calls we can attract them into mist nets to ring and release them.
So midnight found us lying on a tarp under a mist net listening to the island sounds of the night while desperately trying to keep eyes open and brain awake. Suddenly a silent shadow appeared in the net and our first stormy was caught. Once up in the ringing hut and in the light of a head torch we could see the dark chocolate black colour, a clear white rump, an eye like a black bead, a shiny black beak and the smallest webbed feet you can imagine.
Six birds were caught over a 3 hour period, 5 were ringed but the sixth was most interesting. This bird already had a ring and this small marker showed the benefit of all this night netting. By looking back in the records we found that this bird was known to us. It had first been ringed in August 2010 on the island. It was then caught again on the island in August 2011, 4 times in 5 days and one of those times by myself!. In 2012 it was back and caught 4 times in 6 days and here it was again in 2013. There are no records of storm petrels breeding on the Forth islands that have been confirmed but in 1904 a bird was found in a cleft on the Bass Rock and a pair flushed from a crack on the Isle of May in 1922. So more investigation is needed to see if this bird is part of a vanguard of birds starting to breed on the island but regardless it was great to meet up again with this tiny bird  2 years later that in the meantime has clocked up thousands of miles across the  oceans including twice to the coast of Namibia in the winter.
Tossing pufflings
But stormys weren't the only island inhabitant out and about. Pufflings on mass were making their way from their burrows to the sea. They leave their burrows at night to avoid the gulls but those that head towards Kirkhaven has a gauntlet of hungry gulls to brave so those we caught up and took to the west cliffs to toss so giving them a better head start to get away from the predators. The puffins started breeding very late this year but when they did start they must have all laid at the same time as there seemed to be puffins everywhere. By the time we went to bed we must have tossed 20 missed a few and boxed up another 6 for releasing the next day. It is nice to know that we have given them as good a head start as possible for what is a hazardous life. And it they make it, they will be back in 4 years time to start thinking about breeding.

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