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posted 6 Jun 2014, 03:32 by Philip Collins

The 2014 field season is progressing well.

In my last post I mentioned the gull nest mapping being carried out by Nicola. All the data has now been collected, so hopefully soon we will be seeing some detailed maps of nest distribution (by species) across the island. And it looks like we got the timing spot on for the survey. Shortly after completion, a lot of the eggs started hatching, resulting in small chicks littering the paths and the undergrowth on the island. And I hate to say it, but they are rather cute.

A young gull chick. 

Aside from the gull census, a lot of time on the island has been dedicated to Razorbill tracking recently. This has been carried out by Steve Dodd for the RSPB, specifically for the Seabird Tracking And Research (STAR) project, a continuation of the FAME project (the RSPB seem to be quite good at acronyms). Essentially, Steve captures razorbills, deploys a small GPS device on their backs, waits a few days and then recaptures them. That makes it seem a lot easier than it is. The end product is a dataset with an accurate (5m) positional fix once every 100 seconds for each bird throughout the deployment. This can then be used to map the foraging distributions of these birds. An example track is shown below.

An example of a Razorbill foraging track.

Elsewhere on the island, things are going in the right direction.  It’s still relatively early in the Kittiwake season, but some of the birds are on eggs, with others looking likely to be on eggs soon (I hope). Given the poor breeding season last year, I'm hoping that this year is much better, both for the birds and my own sanity.

The remote cameras we have pointed at the kittiwakes are functioning well, and have been recording a wealth of early breeding behaviour.  To maximise the information we gain from these cameras we have started to mark one individual from each pair with a small spot of yellow dye. This allows us to identify nest attendance of each individual in the pair so we can look at adult changeover rates and hopefully see how/if this effects their reproductive success.

An image from one of the remote cameras. 
The cameras also occasionally pick up interesting behaviour; including this pair going for it. 

We've also been carrying out our regular monitoring of the Shag nests, with some of the chicks starting to reach a decent size. Over the last few weeks a lot of them have transformed from reptilian looking lumps (in my opinion), to slightly more functional looking birds. Still a way for them to go yet though, especially as the shags seem to be slightly later than last year. 


Shag chicks - from useless lump to slightly less useless lump.  

The usual distractions are also present on the island, with lots of seals loafing around the eastern end. And I'm a sucker for a seal photo. Other sightings around the island recently include a pod of Bottlenose dolphins, which we were fortunate enough to see on one of our boat trips back from the island. So all in all, Puffin Island is a pretty good place to be working!