Thursday, September 21, 2006

West Wales adventures

In late August, five intrepid storm petrellers headed west from Cardiff, to look for stormies in the wild west of Wales. Personnel were: Rob Thomas, Renata Medeiros, Alex Pollard, Sara Roda (all familiar names from the Earthwatch project), plus Viola Ross-Smith, who is studying for a PhD in seabird biology at Cardiff University. The aim was to spend 2 nights tape-luring stormies on the mainland, and to spend one night in the storm petrel colony on Skomer island. Photos by Sara.

The most westerly campsite in West Wales

After setting up camp, we took a walk down to the petrel-ringing point at Wooltack point -looking out over Skomer Island, to check out the wind conditions (howling) and wildlife (baby seals).

"Wild horses wouldn't drag me onto a boat to that island"

Night 1: we met up with Steve & Anna Sutcliffe of the Pembrokeshire ringing group, who brought along a young Manx Shearwater which had taken a wrong turn and ended up hiding under a car in Broad Haven! Alex got to ring it -she was so pleased that she almost didn't mind its sharp beak!

Tape-luring with Portuguese tapes works in the UK! We caught 17 stormies at Wooltack point. Hopefully we will be able to find out whether we get the same strong sex-ratio bias as we find among the Portuguese birds. Thanks very much to Steve and Anna for their enthusiastic help with the equipment and catching.

The team hard at work

At about 4am, the wind turned and strengthened, forcing us to pack up. Somehow, we managed to get lost in the dark amongst the gorse on Marloes deer park! It felt like a long walk home lugging the heavy equipment!

Day 2: Looking for feathers at the storm petrel colonies on Skomer. We found plenty of feathersfor Sara's mercury contamination study, as well as a storm petrel skull and various egg shells. The nest holes were quite easy to identify by the stormies' distinctive musky smell! One burrow held a bird churring away deep underground.

Night 2: A night in a storm petrel colony.
A very informative night -we secreted ourselves among the huge boulders of the Mew Stone colony, and waited as night fell. Against the night sky, we saw a series of stormies circling silently around the colony, and even crash-landing into a rock next to Sara! We didn't spot any stormies crawling into their burrows, but we did spot several toads crawling out!

Sometime in the middle of the night, we adjourned to the Skomer farm buildings to get some sleep without the risk of rolling off the cliff. On the way, we made our aquaintences with a few of the hunderds of thousands of Manx Shearwaters who breed on Skomer.

A very cold and uncomfortable few hours ensued, trying to sleep on bare flagstone floors in a draughty barn with no roof!

Night 3: Another night of tape-luring.
Back on the mainland, with the weather looking increasingly grim, we decided to try tape-luring in the shelter of Martin's Haven.

Debating whether to venture out for another night on the cliffs

However, by 2am we had not seen any birds let alone caught any, and with the drizzle starting up again we decided to call it a night and get some sleep before heading back to Cardiff and on up to Aberdeen for the Seabird Group Conference.

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