Wildlife sightings 26 Feb

Sightings – Maggie Sheddan

The Bass Rock – Yes, the gannets have landed!

It’s like a countdown each morning waiting for the 10:00 switch on. Have they landed yet? We’ve been seeing them out there, most of the week but just wonderful to finally see them sitting on site. As I’m watching at home I can’t see how many have come in but the ones down by the railing are quite often the first birds we see with an egg. Obviously, they have just returned so they await their partner. Will they return? It’s a waiting game for them but they will defend their site if challenged. I remember several years ago watching two birds engaged in a relentless skirmish, that lasted over 20 minutes, which can be quite normal as they defend their territory but they were the only two birds on the rock! The fun, displaying, disputes and devotion, we shall see it all unfold. The season has begun.

They will come and go but this is an excellent time to look for any that have darvick rings. Most are blue and start with B followed by three letters. Please if you see any note them and let me know. These are the study birds. We know there are only about 60 now which I why it is so important that this study continues particularly in light of today’s news confirming that the Firth of Forth wind farm has been awarded UK government contracts to supply electricity.

For whatever reason some birds will not return. Two years ago there were several lone study birds. Their partners had not returned. That was a ferocious winter, first the shag wreck and then the puffin wreck.

Last summer was just observation and noting the returns, but this year the researchers will be adding more darvicks (which is important as the population ages.) They will also deploy more loggers. This is vital as analysis of three-dimensional foraging behaviour, (just completed) shows that gannets fly higher when they’re actively foraging than when they’re simply commuting between sites, therefore placing them at much greater potential risk of mortality from offshore wind turbines than people had previously thought. It is also hoped that for the first time in many years that young will also be ringed to try to find out where these birds will locate to given the limited space now available on the Rock.

Fulmars Fulmar studies continue. Recently I recounted the autopsies we undertook several years back showing the plastic ingested. Very briefly from a paper just received and undertaken by Norwegian Polar Institute, IMARES, Texel, The Netherlands and University Centre of the Westfjords, Ísafjörður, Iceland: “Plastic pollution is of worldwide concern; however, increases in international commercial activity in the Arctic are occurring without the knowledge of the existing threat posed to the local marine environment by plastic litter. Here, we quantify plastic ingestion by northern fulmars, Fulmarusglacialis, from Svalbard, at the gateway to future shipping routes in the high Arctic. Plastic ingestion by Svalbard fulmars does not follow the established decreasing trend away from human marine impact. Of 40 sampled individuals, 35 fulmars (87.5 %) had plastic in their stomachs, averaging at 0.08 g or 15.3 pieces per individual. Plastic ingestion levels on Svalbard exceed the ecological quality objective defined by OSPAR for European seas. This highlights an urgent need for mitigation of plastic pollution in the Arctic as well as international regulation of future commercial activity.”

I can’t help but recount a paper I read by W.J Bourne identifying that plastic in the oceans could become a major concern for the future. Written in 1976!

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