It is Tristan albatross hatching time on Gough Island! It would be hard for anyone to resist photographing these small, fluffy albatross, so Fabrice, Kate and Jaimie (our Gough Island team) took the opportunity to show us the first few days of a young albatross’s life through this photo blog.
But before the chicks, it all started with a courtship dance…
And for those too young to breed, hatching time is a chance to show off the moves they’ll one day use for courtship… even if no one is watching
Once the adults have settled down to nest, the team starts checking all the nests for eggs and chicks...
and it wasn't long before Jaimie found a male Tristan albatross watching as his egg started to hatch!
This little albatross has only been in the world for a few hours.
The new born chicks are brooded by their parents, keeping them warm and guarded from danger.
Tristan albatross chicks grow quickly – this parent is proudly showing off their one day old chick!
So quickly in fact that in just 10 months’ time this little chick will have grown a 3 meter wingspan and will be ready to explore the open ocean of the South Atlantic and beyond!
But, for now, being a baby albatross is tiring…
...so there's just time for a quick scratch...
…before it’s time to snuggle up again.
Welcome to your Gough Island home little Tristan albatross chicks!
Sadly, these chicks are at risk from mouse predation. Not all of them will reach fledgling age and this is loss is driving Tristan albatross population numbers down every year. The planned mouse eradication operation in 2019 will remove the threat of invasive alien mice from the island, and restore Gough as a safe, secure home for albatross chicks to thrive.
Follow the Gough Island Restoration on Facebook and Twitter to help us secure the future of Gough's Tristan albatross!
The Gough Island Restoration Programme is being carried out by the RSPB in partnership with Tristan da Cunha, BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa.
The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations.
If you would like to support our efforts to save the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross and Gough bunting, please contact John Kelly, or you can donate using our online form
Although our main focus on Gough Island is monitoring seabirds leading up to the rodent eradication in 2019, we support other research projects by gathering data on key species living here. The remoteness of Gough Island means there are few opportunities for researchers to visit the island. By working together we ensure that important data on Gough’s unique species is collected and available to inform conservation strategies needed to protect them.
As well as stunning seabirds, the low rocky shores of Gough Island are home to around 300,000 sub-antarctic fur seals. The large males arrive as early as October to mark out a territory, with the females returning to breed shortly after. Their presence doesn’t go unnoticed with their charismatic calls and wails, easily heard from our home at the island’s weather station on the cliffs above!
The large harems are now starting to leave Gough Island (Jaimie Cleeland)
Pups are born in mid-December and are soon crawling around on the rocks playing together. Being huddled together like this makes them easy to find!
It's not hard to find a pup to weigh! (Jaimie Cleeland)
In mid January and mid February, when the pups were 35 and 71 days old, Kate, Fabrice and I took to the beaches to weigh 100 of them for the long term monitoring program conducted by scientists at the Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria. Pups are easily caught by hand, with care not to get bitten! They are weighed using a sling and scale and marked with dye, to prevent the same pup being weighed twice, before being released back to their playmates.
Senior Field Assistant Fabrice holding a seal pup, ready to be weighed (Jaimie Cleeland)
The data collected is compared with previous seasons and results from other breeding sites. This important data helps scientists to understand what drives population trends, an important step to ensure the protection of this charismatic species.
By Jaimie Cleeland, Gough Island Field Assistant
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Blog post by Sabine Schmitt, Senior Resarch Assistant, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.
Volunteers out in force
Over the last two weeks almost 600 volunteers have braved the elements and surveyed around 2,000 km of UK and Channel Island beaches. Why?
It’s all part of the UK Beached Bird survey. The intrepid volunteers have been recording the numbers and species of seabirds found dead on these beaches. Added to this, they record the presence of oil on the birds and/or if there was any oil on the beaches they surveyed.
Once surveyed, they send their findings to us, and these are collated giving a picture across the whole UK. While this year’s results won’t be available for some time, we are hopeful that the trend of a decline in dead and oiled seabirds found during the survey will continue.
Last year’s survey found the fifth lowest density of dead seabirds since 1991 and the third lowest oiling rate in 27 years.
Trends in overall density of dead auks, gulls and cormorants/shags recorded between 1991 and 2017 – note the mass-mortality events of 1994, 1996 and 2014
Chronic oil pollution
In early January this year the collision of the Sanchi and the CF Crystal in the East China Sea led to an oil slick of more than 300 sq km. Major shipping accidents such as this, where a relatively large amount of oil is released at one site, grab the headlines and have unfortunately happened off the UK’s shores in the past.
However, the analysis of oil samples taken from oiled birds shows that most oil pollution in the North Sea can be assigned to illegal discharges of oil-sludge during shipping operations and leakages of oil by off-shore installations. And it is this chronic oil pollution which the UK Beached Bird Survey was set up to monitor in the 1970s.
The survey has been running in its current format of one annual mid-winter survey since 1991, and is organised by the RSPB and in Shetland by the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG).
A shag, one of the species recorded during the Beached Bird Survey
Monitoring contributing to a reduction in oil pollution
Systematic surveys of beached bird corpses have documented the effect of oil pollution around the North Sea coast for decades.
They have delivered useful information on the state, causes and extent of marine pollution and contributed to a number of measures to reduce oil pollution in the marine environment. These include the installation of oil reception facilities in all major ports around the North Sea and the designation of the North Sea as a Special Area according to MARPOL Annex 1 in 1999.
A gannet in flight, another one of the species looked for during the Beached Bird Survey
When the systematic beached bird surveys started along the Belgian North Sea coast in 1962 the oiling rate of all seabirds washed ashore there was over 90%. According to a recent study, this has now fallen to less than 20%. A similarly drastic decline was noted in The Netherlands.
For the whole of the UK coast oiling rates were never that high as the survey includes large areas of coast less polluted than the English Channel, the busiest shipping lane in the world. Nevertheless, the reduction in UK oiling rates from an average of 15% throughout the 1990s to now less than 5% of all dead seabirds found is still remarkable.
We will continue to monitor chronic oil pollution through the Beached Bird Survey and hope to see a further reduction in the number of oiled seabirds washed ashore in future.