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Gull Chicks and GPS Trips

posted 19 Jun 2015, 06:39 by Ruth Dunn   [ updated 19 Jun 2015, 09:01 ]

My name is Ruth and I am an MRes student at Imperial College London who is excited to be working with the Seabird Ecology Group at the University of Liverpool on Puffin Island this summer!

So far this season I have not had a hugely high success rate in accessing the island due to poor weather and high winds. Thankfully, that changed this week and I have survived two early mornings followed by productive days of seabird surveying, with another planned for the weekend. This is my first experience of working on a wild, bird covered island – a place very different to a lot of the British Isles where human influence is extremely evident.

Looking over at Puffin Island

As I push through the guano-splattered vegetation to reach our areas of monitoring, the gulls are always the first to make their presence known. There are three groups of calls: the herring gull, which is commonly heard within coastal towns and cities, the high barking and ‘kaw’ of the lesser black-backed gull and the deeper tone of the greater black-backed gull.

These gulls build their nests on the ground amidst the undergrowth and therefore often seem unimpressed with human disturbance. I find this strange due to the apparent indifference that they show to neighbouring adults when they cannibalise each other’s eggs.

Many of the eggs that have survived predation so far have now hatched and the chicks have increased in size and decreased in cuteness: from soft, fluffy bundles of small feathers to inquisitive, tottering dumplings. Should any of these wander too far into another gull’s territory, they may again suffer at the beak of a neighbouring adult.

I move quickly across the island, past the gulls, trying to avoid stepping on chicks and receiving too many dollops of bird poo to the head.

Swarming Gulls

Despite witnessing a warm April, the breeding season at Puffin Island is once again quite late – an unexpected observation which reiterates the fact that there is still so much that we don’t know about the natural world that surrounds us.

Despite this, work on the island is now well underway: Steve Dodd, RSPB, deployed 20 GPS devices on both Razorbills and Guillemots, many of which are now on chicks. We have recaptured 14 of the guillemot tags and 9 razorbill tags - a great total when the recapture aim is generally around 50%. Data from these tags will be used within the RSPB’s Seabird Tracking and Research (STAR) project. It will reveal information about the birds' foraging trips and help seek to answer questions about seabird population declines.

GPS Tracking: equipment and a guillemot

University of Liverpool research is also progressing well, and I will talk more about another time.

I have already fallen in love with the island and look forward to sharing the work that we are getting up to this breeding season with you!