Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, is back with a new blog.

For Those in Peril on the Sea

Autumn has definitely arrived and far from being Keats’ ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, it’s one of storms and rain.  I was up the glen at the weekend and not much was about – a solitary dipper and a glimpse of an eagle, and that was it.  Most everything else has cleared out to more hospitable areas to spend the winter but my thoughts were with two birds in particular and how they were getting on.

I’ve blogged before about Slavonian grebes, how they aren’t doing so well and the work we’re putting in to find out what’s going wrong.  Part of the puzzle is to know where the birds are during the six months or so that they aren’t on the breeding lochs and modern technology may just be the way to find that out.

Just recently, really clever bits of kit called geolocators have been developed.  These are tiny, weigh no more than a mouse’s brain, measure light levels and can tell what the time and date is.  With all that info, it knows when sunrise and sunset are and this, combined with the date, tells it pretty much where it is in the world.  So, you catch your bird, attach the geo, catch it again at some later date, plug the gizmo into your computer and it tells you where it’s been.  Sure, they aren’t as accurate as GPS but if you previously had absolutely no idea where your birds were spending the winter then it’s a huge leap forward.

 And so it is with the Slavs – they leave our lochs in the autumn, spend the winter at sea and come back the following spring but, so far, those missing months have been a mystery.

Back in early July we managed to catch a couple of the grebes and fitted them with their geolocators, and I guess by now they are out battling those storms at sea, somewhere.

The Icelanders have been fitting geolocators to grebes for a few years now and, though the Slavs were nesting just metres apart, they’ve had birds wintering off Iceland, off Norway, round north-west Scotland and in the English Channel so I’m not taking any bets on where our birds go.

We’ll just have to wait and see if they come back next spring having survived the storms - what we find might just be the clue we need to help save these really special birds.