Apologies for the lack of blogs of late - coupled with a very busy season we have been battling with some 'island life' internet issues - all seems to be sorted now! (*crosses fingers*)
To kick off the return of the blog here is one from our Ramsey Intern, Sarah Parmor with an update on the Manx shearwater season thus far......
Following the successful fledging of the two nest box Manx Shearwater chicks last September we were keen to expand the artificial nest box colony this year. Thanks to new volunteers Mary and Paul Bullimore along with ‘regulars’ Steve Kuhlman and Pete Ramsey 50 new boxes were made and dug in through April and May.
Pete Ramsey (real name!) and Steve Kuhlman making Manx shearwater nest boxes
Pile of nest boxes waiting to be dug in
The exciting news for us during April was not only had the same birds from last year’s nest boxes returned to the very same nests, but five paired birds were found in new boxes too. We hoped that some of these new pairings would go on to breed, only time would tell.
Time did tell… on the 10th May the first eggs were found. One in a nest box from last year’s birds but also one of the new pairs were found to be incubating! By the 22nd May the five remaining pairs had all laid eggs. Looming ahead for me this summer would potentially be the weekly weighing of seven manxie chicks… not the worst monitoring job I could think of!
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly two of the incubating birds abandoned their eggs after a short time. Although disappointing, it is not unusual for first time breeders to fail in their early attempts. Shearwaters though are long lived birds and can potentially live and breed into their 50’s. Hopefully they will return next year for another go.
The other five pairs remained faithfully incubating their egg, the male and female swapping shifts every 4-5 days or so. They kept this up for about 50 days, religiously incubating that precious egg. Bang on schedule on the 1st July, the news we were hoping for, the first two hatched chicks were found. The adults stay and brood the small chick for up to a week so we wouldn’t start any monitoring until after the adults have left to prevent unnecessary disturbance. Over the next 7 days the remaining chicks hatched. They are just tiny balls of grey down at this stage, weighing less than 50g. They will take around 70 days to fully feather and mature to be ready to leave the safety of the nest box and make the long journey to South America.
Manx shearwater chick at around 2 weeks old
The whole reason for having these nest boxes is so that we can monitor the chicks. This is important as the weight of the growing chicks is an indication of how well they are being fed by the parents. This in turn will allow us to know how healthy local foraging areas are for these birds. We have also moved geolocator deployment to these nest box adults. Greg has been attaching geolocators to Manx Shearwaters on another Ramsey colony for several years. This allows us to know where they travel to over winter and where they feed. Given that these birds spend six months of the year away from the UK it is just as important to know as much about their migration as possible if we are to continue to protect this species.
Greg and Sarah attaching a geolocator to leg ring on adult Manx shearwater
Geolocator on adult shearwater leg ring - this tiny device will track this birds route to Argentina and back!
Adult Manx sporting a new geolocator (visible on left leg) - the devices weight just 1g which, including the weight of the ring, is just 0.5% of an adults average body weight
As word gets around about the success of these nest boxes, they even became a part of a forthcoming BBC programme. A film crew recently spent a day on Ramsey and filmed one of our chick weighing sessions.
I will continue to weigh the chicks once a week through the summer but I can report at this relatively early stage things are looking good so far. All of them are gaining weight nicely and (fingers crossed) are on track for fledging in early September. We will keep you posted!
Sarah filming Manx shearwaters with former Welsh rugby international Richard Parks for his forthcoming 'Extreme Wales' series on BBC ( broadcast date September 2017)