Thursday, 29 August 2013

Island of Death?

It can be a tough time of year on the island.There are always going to be deaths when you have so much wildlife packed onto a small island but at this time of year it just becomes more obvious.
And this year it seems even worse. This is because myxomatosis reached this island about a month ago and is sweeping through the rabbit population. Myxomatosis is a natural rabbit disease originating from South America where it is relatively harmless but in European it is fatal to about 95% of a rabbit population. Previously it came over to the island in autumn 2007 and knocked out most of the rabbits on the island with only a few surviving and having resistance. But rabbits being rabbits the numbers soon recovered and by 2011 numbers were back to the normal level. What is interesting is that in others areas on the mainland rabbits are building up resistance to the disease so each times it comes back fewer die so we will have to wait and see what happen to the population on the May.

We don't know how the disease has reached the island this summer but the suggestion is that it might be gulls that have brought it over. The disease is spread by rabbit fleas so a gull may have been eating a diseased rabbit on the mainland and brought infected fleas over but we will never know for sure. What will be interesting is seeing the changes in the vegetation next year with the removal of most of the grazing animals. It is likely that next year the island will look quite shaggy but with no rabbits eating the thrift flowers it could look absolutely spectacular.

It is also the time of year that young herring and lesser-black backed gulls wander the paths. These are probably the third of three chicks, the runt of the litter, that never fully fledged before being abandoned by its parents. These chicks end up wandering the paths trying to make a living from scraps, some will survive but others won't.

We are also finding some late pufflings but unfortunately some of these are not strong enough to make it. The seabird researchers have found that birds that breed late in the season are often not as successful as early breeders. The older, more experienced birds and those in good condition tend to breed earlier while the less experienced and ones in poor condition breed later and therefore are more likely to be unsuccessful.

It can be tough seeing these youngsters struggling but it is the way nature sorts out its populations and if you want to work somewhere like the Isle of May you have to be able to face the good and the bad.

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