Saturday, 27 August 2011

Non-stop work, visitors, changeover of field assistants and a dead laptop are all to blame for the lack of recent updates...apologies! The first chick hatched on the 23rd of July and, since then, there’s been 2 or 3 new hatches most days, which has meant we've been busy, busy, busy. A total of 58 chicks have hatched over the last 4 weeks. Given the abysmal breeding season experienced by most of Shetland’s other seabirds, we were prepared for a poor season for the Stormies too. While Storm Petrels are generally more resilient, since they can travel much further to forage and feed lower in the food chain, the indication from other seabirds was that environmental conditions must be especially bad this year. Early indications from the Stormies were not great with some chicks being left unattended at only 2 or 3 days old, by which time they may not be capable of thermoregulating and need the warmth of a brooding parent to maintain their body temperature. By 10th August, 8 out of 34 chicks hatched so far had died. That’s almost a quarter and a far lower survival rate than in 2010!

A healthy, well-growing chick, aged ~25 days

Prospects have looked a little brighter in the last couple of weeks, with parents brooding chicks for longer and we haven’t seen any limp and lifeless-looking chicks which seemed to be a recurring theme. The need to replenish body reserves and bring back sufficient food for their chick may have forced parents to leave a young chick unattended. It is expected that later hatching nests have a lower survival rate, since these later breeding birds are usually young inexperienced birds; so, it seems interesting that in fact survival seems to be improving. Perhaps the mild ‘summer’ weather that has finally arrived in Shetland over the last week has made life easier for those birds whose young have hatched just recently. However, there are still many chicks less than 10 days old, so we wait to see how many survive this most critical period of life...

A young chick, aged ~10 days