Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Recommended reading

Wow, what a fantastic book! This is an exhilarating combination of travel writing, field guide, "surround-sound" audioguide and scholarly research. Its beautifully produced, with high-quality reproduction of paintings by Killian Mullarney and photos by lots of seabird explorers including our very own Mark Bolton. Congratulations to Magnus Robb, the main author, on a ground-breaking publication which I'm sure will keep us all thinking, discussing and researching for years to come. Highly recommended reading for all storm petrel enthusiasts!

If you want to read a detailed review, click here.

To order a copy, click here.

New arrival

Apologies for the recent break in transmission -I have an excellent excuse, namely Bryony Kate Thomas, who arrived into the world on July 21st. Seen here taking a nap after a busy day being born.

Friday, June 13, 2008

2008 catches

May 26th-27th: 28 stormies
May 27th-28th: 20 stormies, 1 carrying a Norwegian ring
May 28th-29th: 58 stormies
May 29th-30th: 23 stormies
May 30th-31st: 33 stormies, 1 Spanish ring
May 31st-June 1st: 34 stormies
June 1st-2nd: Night off
June 2nd-3rd: 14 stormies, 1 UK ring
June 3rd-4th: 10 stormies
June 4th-5th: 30 stormies, 1 UK ring
June 5th-6th, 28 stormies, 1 French ring
June 6th-7th: 32 stormies, 1 UK ring
June 7th-8th: 30 stormies
June 8th-9th: Night off!
June 9th-10th: 2 stormies caught and ringed at sea, 6 nautical miles S of Portimao
June 10th-11th: 102 stormies, 2 UK rings, 1 MADEIRAN PETREL
June 11th-12th: 46 stormies
June 12th-13th: 38 stormies
June 13th-14th: Night off!
June 14th-15th: 21 stormies, 1 UK ring
June 15th-16th: 16 stormies
June 16th-17th: 38 stormies, 1 French ring & 1 Norwegian ring
June 17th-18th: 17 stormies
June 18th-19th: 6 stormies, 1 recapture from the 26th May
June 19th-20th: Night off!
June 20th-21th: 10 stormies

End of 2008 season!

Year total: 636 stormies, 11 controls + 1 Madeiran petrel

On nights in green, the Secret Weapon was deployed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Secret Weapon

Our secret weapon for catching stormies is a small bottle of Dimethyl Sulphide -which is the chemical released when phytoplankton are grazed by zooplankton. Amazingly, the smell of this can be detected by petrels over large distances at sea, and used to home in on patches of high productivity in which larger zooplankton and fish (storm petrel prey) are likely to be found. Whether this actually lures petrels in to our nets is a topic of much debate at Cruzinha -Renata is healthily sceptical while Rob is a True Believer. Only time and an end-of-season stats test will tell us the answer...
The end of season stats were rather ambiguous (there either is, or is not, a Secret Weapon Effect, depending on which stats test one chooses), so we are keen to continue this experiment over the summer, at other points along the migration route. If you are a petreller and would like to take part in this experiment by using the Secret Weapon on 50% of your catching nights, please contact Rob Thomas ( to be sent a bottle of dimethyl sulphate (with accompanying risk assessment).
Thanks to those who have volunteered so far to join in with this experiment:
Bob Harris (Eilan Nan Ron, Scotland)
-Adrian George (Anglesey, Wales / Tyne & Wear, England)
-John Brown (Tyne & Wear, England)
-Declan Clarke (Sheepland, Northern Ireland)
-Kieran Foster (North Wales)
Here are some additional notes on the method:
1. In Portugal, we simply alternated nights with and nights without the dimethyl sulphate scent-lure, to test whether we caught more stormies on nights with the scent-lure in operation.
2. On the long Portuguese summer nights (7 hours of catching), we set up the scent lure at dusk, but further North with much shorter nights it may be worth setting up the scent lure some time before dusk, so that a downwind odour trail is already well established by the time catching begins.
3. In Portugal, we simply took the lid off the container to let the smell drift downwind, but it may be worth experimenting with some sort of absorbent wick, to increase the rate of evaporation.
4. We had the impression that our pot of dimethyl sulphate became less smelly over time, so for the last few nights of our field season we used a fresh bottle. Let us know if you need fresh supplies sent to you!
By way of encouragement, here is a reference suggesting that the secret weapon effect really does work on land, at least in the middle of a Leach's petrel colony!
Nevitt, G.A. & Habermann, K. 2003. Behavioral attraction of Leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) to dimethyl sulfide. Journal of Experimental Biology 206: 1497-1501.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Madeiran storm petrel!

On a very busy first night for team 3, a Madeiran petrel was ringed by some very tired petrellers... here are some photos of a great bird -only the 3rd Madeiran petrel ringed at Almadena in 19 years of ringing stormies.

10th primary growing on both wings
1 tail feather growing
Primary coverts, secondaries & alula all fresh
Active body moult
Wing 156mm
Tarsus 23.1mm
Mass 41.7g

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

News from the 2008 field season

May 26th-27th: A wet first night by all accounts, but Renata and Jaime report 28 birds caught -a great start to the season!

A small flock of stormies ready for take-off

May 27th-28th: More rain, but another 20 birds. A Norwegian ringed bird was the highlight.

May 28th-29th: Rob's first night on the cliffs (having just finished all his exam marking). 58 birds caught -a remarkable catch for this stage in the season, perhaps due to the trial run of our "secret weapon" - more news on this to follow...

Renata releasing the 100th bird of the year

May 29th-30th: a Fishermens' strike meant no boats offshore, but still 23 stormies caught.

Jaime & Gui ringing stormies in front of this year's deluxe accommodation. Note the Jo Lello Memorial Picnic Blanket.

May 30th-31st: The fishermens' strike continues, but the Secret Weapon was deployed and 33 stormies were caught. Highlights on another soggy night were a Spanish-ringed bird, and some dramatic lightning flashes over the sea. Thanks to Jaime, who departs today (after eating record amounts of strawberry jam), for his hard work and enthusiasm.

May 31st-June 1st: Another 34 stormies, bringing the total to 196 birds in just 6 nights. Volunteer reinforcements arriving this afternoon :)

June 1st-2nd: Our new volunteers have arrived! Left to Right: Ida, Jenny, Lucy, Ingrid, Esther & Vanessa. A night off from the cliffs was much appreciated by Rob & Renata.

At the Cape

June 2nd-3rd: Fewer birds around tonight -a British ringed bird was a highlight. The fishermens' strike continues so no boats inshore to bring us stormies.

June 3rd-4th: Even fewer birds on a breezy night -we all got a bit of sleep. A Cory's shearwater was heard calling to our storm petrel tape in the darkness.

Continuing the tradition of eating enormous meals at Cruzinha

June 4th-5th: A cool night in the sea breeze, but the fishing boats were back and 30 stormies were caught, including a UK-ringed bird. Other highlights included Gui's candlelit birthday celebration on the cliffs at midnight, at which he was presented with his own sponsored storm petrel. Lowlights included someone sitting on a teabag.

Gui with his sponsored stormie:

June 5th-6th: Local bird ringers Leila and Anna joined us for another productive night with 28 stormies caught and several others bouncing out of the nets. Another Cory's shearwater was heard and highlights included a French ringed bird and the re-filming of the Blair Witch Project using the infra-red video camera.

June 6th-7th: A strange night, which got off to a bad start for Rob when a stray dog ran off with his sardine sandwiches! With the Cardiff students on their Big Night Out in Portimao, we were a joined on the cliff by Sara Roda -a long time friend of the project -and Bebe and her foster daughter Diana. Once darkness fell and in perfect conditions, we got off to a busy start with 11 birds in the first hour, but then the rate fell and we finished on 32 birds including 1 from the UK. Other highlights included a mole cricket that flew into the net at dusk, and a lot of sleep for Rob and Tim later in the night.

The mole cricket.

June 7th: Daytime boat trip -Mike Whale!

European storm petrel & Cory's shearwater, by Renata

Yes its a whale, its just not a good photo -Ida, can you send me a bt=etter one?

June 7th-8th: Last night on the cliff for the Cardiff students, some of whom got straight onto the train at 6am! 30 stormies and no sardine sandwich problems -a good night!

Esther with storm petrel

June 8th-9th: We are all exausted -a much needed night off :) Our new vols have arrived; Rosie, John, Melissa, Sarah and Ricardo. We spent the evening hatching plans for tomorrow's voyages of discovery...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

International Updates

Here is the latest batch of ringing information on storm petrels that we ringed in Portugal in 2007 and have since been recaptured further north along the migration route. See also a previous posting for 6 other recaptures of stormies ringed during the 2007 field season.

CEMPA N03322. Ringed on the night of 23-24/05/2007 at Ponta da Alamadena, Algarve, Portugal. Recaptured at C. Touriñan, NW SPAIN on 29/06/2007.

CEMPA N03356. Ringed on the night of 01-02/06/2007 at Ponta da Almadena, Algarve, Portugal, when it weighed just 23.9g. Recaptured by Margaret & David Thorne & Denis White on the Isle of May, Firth of Forth, SCOTLAND, on the night of 06-07/08/2007, weighing 30.1g.

CEMPA N03496. Ringed on the night of 09-10/06/2007 at Ponta da Alamadena, Algarve, Portugal. Recaptured at C. Touriñan, NW SPAIN on 23/06/2007, then recaptured AGAIN at Ferrol, NW SPAIN on 04/07/2007.

CEMPA N03523.
Ringed on the night of 09-10/06/2007 at Ponta da Alamadena, Algarve, Portugal. Recaptured at C. Touriñan, NW SPAIN on 23/06/2007.

CEMPA N03856. Ringed on the night of 16-17/06/2007 at Ponta da Alamadena, Algarve, Portugal. Recaptured at C. Touriñan, NW SPAIN on 25/07/2007.

CEMPA N03896. Ringed on the night of 17-18/06/2007 at Ponta da Almadena, Algarve, Portugal. Recaptured by Yann Kolbeinsson at the island of Elliðaey in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, South ICELAND on the night of 17-18/08/2007.

These details have all been submitted to the national ringing schemes in the normal way.

A Map of the Portuguese ringing site and the Spanish recapture sites, from Google Earth.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Volunteers wanted for 2008

Storm Petrels are tiny sparrow-sized seabirds that traverse the globe on their long-distance migrations. They are the focus of one of Cardiff University and A Rocha Portugal's long-running research projects on the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems.

A unique opportunity exists to take part in the next field season of Storm Petrel research hosted by the A Rocha Bird Observatory on the Algarve coast of Portugal, in collaboration with Cardiff University. During May-June 2008, paying volunteers are being sought to join one of four teams spending 7 days and nights on the southern Portuguese coast, catching and studying these remarkable little seabirds. No previous experience is needed, just enthusiasm and a reasonable level of fitness.

For more details of costs & logistics, or to hear more about the project, please contact Dr Rob Thomas, Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Museum Avenue, Cardiff CF103US.
Tel. / answerphone: 0044 (0)29 20757226
Mobile: 0044 (0)790 4565448

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Developments on the stormy coast

This advert was spotted recently in a glossy magazine -click on the image for a larger version. The view may look familiar to those of you who have been storm petrelling with A Rocha teams before...

...yes, that cliff in the background is where we walk out to the mist-netting site to catch our storm petrels! In fact, if you look very closely maybe you can make out a small band of exhausted biologists staggering back to their minibus.

The luxury accommodation is being built at the top of the bumpy track down to the beach where we park the van. It is also at the end of our daily little-owl survey route, a breeding site for red-necked nightjars and southern grey shrikes, and where we had glimpses of eagle owls on several occasions last summer.

Is this development -complete with yet another 18-hole golf course- what is needed in a National Park? Or is it the latest stage in the ongoing urbanisation of a wild and beautiful coastline? Or is it just the perfect retirement home for ageing storm petrellers with an interest in golf? Answers on a holiday postcard please! Or click on the link below to add a comment.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Storm petrels at sea

These are some pen and ink drawings of foraging storm petrels. The drawings were made from freeze-frame video images taken at sea off the Portuguese coast. You can click on the image for a larger version.