Do auks get lost in the fog?

04 Jul 2012

It’s been almost a month since I last wrote a blog, with lots happening in the mean time. So far this season, we have ten tags back from shags on Colonsay.  This may not seem a lot when you consider we’ve been working every dry day for the last month, but it just shows how time consuming the process is. Putting a tag on a bird can take a day but retrieving the tag can take three or more if the partner bird is always incubating when you walk out to the site……I’m pretty sure they don’t have a copy of our diary, but who knows!

The data we’re collecting makes it all worthwhile though, it’s already challenged the perceived wisdom of where our seabirds travel to feed. Last year razorbills off Colonsay were going on short foraging trips (e.g. 21 miles) compared with the same species on Fair Isle which had to travel nearly ten times further (e.g. 194 miles) for food. Kittiwakes breeding on Colonsay also carried out short foraging trips compared with their northern neighbours on Orkney, one of which flew 144 miles – double the maximum distance that kittiwakes were thought to fly for food!

Chris, Mara and Ellie are already working with kittiwakes on chicks on the East coast, whilst those on Colonsay (off the West coast of Scotland) have only just started laying their first eggs of the season. We won’t be tagging kittiwakes until the end of June when their eggs are ready to hatch. Yvan and Juliet on Orkney are currently catching shags whilst Rob and Jenny on Fair Isle already have razorbill and guillemot tracks back and their first auk chicks of the year. The auks on Colonsay are still sat on their eggs, a single large white egg for razorbills, and a rather striking large bright turquoise egg for guillemots. Rob and Jenny were rather amused by some recently obtained auk tracks that coincided with a period of thick fog; the birds appeared to be lost, zig zagging all over the place attempting to locate their colony!

Shag, Jane Smith

 Aside from the normal day to day fieldwork on Colonsay, we’ve recently had Jane Smith, our artist in residence visiting. It’s great to see the creativity inspired by a day out on the seabird cliffs. Hopefully we’ll be able to combine the scientific side of the project with an artistic element culminating in an exhibition at the end of the project……keep your eyes peeled! There is never a dull moment here, with the RSPB film unit coming to stay next week too. Hopefully the weather will behave itself as we are planning on starting tagging the auks-keep your fingers crossed for us!

You can find this blog and others from RSPB on their website.

The FAME project is funded by the European Commission through the European Regional Development Fund, Atlantic Area Transnational Programme to the sum of €2.2 million with an additional €1.2 million funded by the project partners.  Investing in our common future

Tessa Cole, RSPB Senior Research Assistant, FAME

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