Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Seabird update - July 2010

Sadly, it does not seem like a particularly great year for seabirds in Shetland. Arctic terns appear to have failed across Shetland; the few pairs that I reported as having settled (rather late) onto eggs on Mousa in June, have all failed. Consequently, Arctic Skuas - whose productivity is closely tied in with that of Arctic Terns (the skuas primarily forage by stealing fish from terns!) - do not seem to be doing so well. Only three Arctic Skua chicks have been recorded so far this year, from three pairs. I discovered just a few days ago, that the “mixed” pair (comprising a light morph and a dark morph) that breed close to the Iron Age broch have a large chick. While ambling along the boardwalk, distracted by the calls of stormies from the boulder beach alongside me, I was suddenly aware of a pale morph Arctic Skua virtually on my head. I looked up to see a large, mostly-feathered chick ambling (in much the same manner as myself) on the boardwalk just a short distance from me.

Arctic skua chick - most of the feathers have grown in,
but it still retains some down around the neck and head (Hannah Watson)

After taking some poor photographs (see below - not helped by the howling wind and rain) and sheltering in the broch for 10 minutes from the deluge, I returned to my task of checking storm-petrel nest-boxes on the beach (see Alamootie update), watched closely by the adult Skua who proceeded to stand just 2 metres from me, giving me the evil eye.

A protective parent Arctic Skua watching my every move while I check stormie nest-boxes
(Hannah Watson)

Fulmar chicks started hatching just over a week ago. They seem to be very synchronous this year, with a sudden burst of hatching across the island. Adults brood their chick for about the first 10 days; after this time, the chick has got a little bigger (so hopefully is less likely to be snaffled up by a predator) and is able to regulate its body temperature without the warmth and comfort of a parent to snuggle up to. Most chicks are still being accompanied by an adult, but within the next few days, more and more will be left alone at the nest, allowing both parents to forage and provision the chick at a much higher rate, allowing it to grow rapidly. Despite this however, like all other petrels, the development period of fulmars is very long and the chicks will not fledge until they reach about 57 days old!

Cute fluffy Fulmar chick...until it starts to vomit all over you! (Rob Fray)