Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Back to basics

Relentless force 6-7 south-westerly winds have not helped the 2011 field season get off to an easy start. Stuck on mainland Shetland for the first 10 days or so after arriving, the forced imprisonment in a caravan at least provided plenty of time to crunch data (groan). The hammering of the rain on the roof and the unsettling rocking of the caravan, however, was not particularly comforting or conducive to focusing on statistics. Terrified that the caravan and I might be blown to Norway at any given moment, I breathed a sigh of relief when the wind eventually abated...though only just for long enough for us to get ourselves to Mousa and settle into some more stable accommodation, albeit not very water-tight!

The Mousa bothy...home sweet home

Needless to say, the bothy needed a bit of a clean and tidy following the accumulation of a winter’s worth of dust and grime and having been providing shelter to wheelbarrows, sheep-shearing gear, fencing etc. It soon felt like home again, though we’ve already spent more time than desirable being enclosed by its four dull, grey, windowless (well, there is just one small window) walls. I would say it could only get better, apart from after only a couple of days off Mousa, we already find ourselves once again stuck on the mainland.

Spring-cleaning of the bothy

In between the showers, we’ve been blown around Mousa for the last two weeks, trying to relocate nests which were monitored last year...not so easy when one boulder looks much like any other. Automated cameras and motion sensors have been re-installed to continue monitoring visitor pressure in different areas of Storm Petrel nesting habitat around the island. On our first full day back (26th May), we checked 47 nests and found 6 of them were occupied by birds. The birds haven’t laid an egg yet, but daytime occupancy suggests these will be early breeders. Last year, I recorded the first egg on 10th June, so, any day now, we might see our first egg. The fortunes of Shetland’s other seabirds this season are not looking too rosy. Gales and large swells have washed out many Guillemot nests at Sumburgh Head, the Arctic Terns (tirricks) at Grutness don’t seem to be doing anything, and even the Bonxies aren’t numbering as many as last year. Fingers crossed, the season holds more promise for the Storm Petrels. The fact that Storm Petrels feed lower in the food chain than other seabirds (mainly feeding on plankton) and can forage at such great distances from the colony, might be expected to make them more resilient to locally-unfavourable environmental conditions. The story will slowly (remember Storm Petrels incubate their eggs for 40 days and rear their chicks for about 60 days!) unfold over the course of the next few months...