Saturday, 24 May 2014

C Permit, Degree completion and Skomer continued

I can hardly believe how much life has changed for me in the last month.

The last month

I'm now a C permit holder, and have already started getting extra endorsements (Herring Gull noose carpet)! It's been a little scary having to organise all the seabird ringing for my job. This involves ringing and colour ringing adults and chicks of 6 different species (Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Puffin, Razorbill and Manx Shearwater). Ringing without a trainer in the vicinity is a whole different ball game! 

1st bird ringed as a C permit holder
in charge...and colour ringed too!

I do find forming colour rings quite therapeutic though, and a great way to spend a rainy day.

Preparing Puffin, Kittiwake and Razorbill colour rings
Razorbill colour rings - tricky to form

I just about managed to avoid a big storm and get off the island in time to hand in my last 2 uni assignments, and take my last exam. It was all a bit hectic but I enjoyed being back in Bangor. I got to see all my friends, catch up with Steve (my ringing trainer) and Rachel and a couple of my lecturers, go birding with Zac and Conor, go climbing, do a nest box check, finish the assignments, revise and clear out my uni room. It's a massive relief having all the uni work behind me now. It was getting quite difficult juggling both that and Skomer work. It was also lovely to get back to the island and celebrate my degree completion with all the staff, Pimm's, a 4 course meal and our tame jackdaw (Jack) in the sun

Pimm's outside the house, overlooking North Haven.
Our tame Jackdaw - Jack

Skomer work itself is going well. Almost all my study species have started laying now (except Kittiwake), or are well into incubation. I'm incredibly busy and get very little sleep (except on rainy days), but I'm loving every minute of it. I can't believe how lucky I've been to land this as my first contract! I see incredible things on a day-to-day basis and feel very privileged to experience them. I've had 2 lifers (Little Owl [my bogie bird unlocked] and Black-headed Bunting), ringed/handled 3 new species (Lesser Black-backed Gull, Short-eared Owl and Crow), seen Herring Gull chicks hatch, touched the wing tip of a Fulmar as it flew past, seen Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Lesser Black-backed Gulls mating no more than 10m away from me and seen some great scenery and invertebrates. All in all I'm loving life here.

Little Owl - 1st Island lifer
Adult Short-eared Owl
checking me out as we ringed the chicks
2 cute Crow chicks - they thought I was mum
Herring Gull chick hatching -
wish I'd recorded the exceedingly sweet cheeping
Pair of Fulmar sunning themselves 6ft away
A Guillemot totally missing the point of incubating...
...for 20+ minutes!
Gorgeous Twenty-plume moth
Beautiful sunset over the farm

The Job

Well that sums up the best bits of the last month, but what do I actually do?

I've got 6 study species - Kittiwake, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Puffin, Razorbill and Manx Shearwater - and each has a designated study plot. These are spread across the island. The adult birds in each have been ringed and/or colour ringed for the last 30+ years and adult survival and productivity of each has been monitored long term. It is this monitoring work that I'm continuing. This is a JNCC contract that contributes to the data collected on seabirds around the country.

The 6 species study plots, and their position on Skomer Island

So far the majority of the job has been spent resighting the colour ringed adults from previous years. The Lesser Black-backs and Herring Gulls have darvic rings, but the Puffins, Kittiwakes and Razorbills have unique combinations of 4 colour rings

AK - Darvic ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull
Colour ringed Kittiwake - LSGT
(Light green over Striped red on the left;
Green over BTO on the right)

This is easy enough to do when the birds stand still and are orientated in the right way, but it's quite rare this happens. With the darvic ringed birds I can often see the ring but not the 2 letter code, and with the colour ringed birds I can often see one leg, but not the other! This can be very frustrating after a while, especially in poor light and bad weather. It's frustrating times like that when I make sure I look up from the scope, remind myself of where I am, what species are surrounding me, and how much better being outdoors in bad weather is than being stuck inside all the time!

Standard darvic situation - 1 ring readable, 2 facing the wrong way!

Now that everything has started laying eggs/incubating/hatching, the next few months will be taken up with productivity monitoring, chick ringing, adult colour ringing and further colour ring resighting. It'll keep me busy throughout the daylight hours, so I'm anticipating being pretty exhausted by mid-August, but I'm excited about the challenges ahead


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