Monday, 5 September 2016

Storm Petrels ahoy!

We arrive in the dusk and stand on the clifftop looking out to sea. Out there the lights of fishing vessels grow brighter and then fade, and all is momentarily lit by the regular turning beam of the big lighthouse to the north. It is in this darkness that storm petrels dare to venture to land when sharp eyes and beaks of marauding gulls are safely tucked under wings. Storm petrels come ashore only to breed and so spend the rest of their lives out at sea, feeding on "planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering."  Highly vocal in their breeding burrows and around the colony, storm petrels sound so strange - here is a fine example - quite eerie to say the least! We play recordings of these calls to entice any birds to visit and they are then carefully ringed, weighed, measured and then released back out into the night, to flutter off like a large bats, visible for a fraction of a second and then gone. These passing birds may have bred in Shetland, islands off the west coast of Scotland, or even as far as Portugal 

In the quiet spells we watch shooting stars and the constellations, and a trawler heads out to sea, all lights blazing: we watch it until it is a tiny stuttering flicker on the southern horizon. 17 of these beautiful birds come a-visiting, and they now each carry a tiny unique BTO ring. We are still learning so much about the movements of even common birds and this data is vital to help us understand how and what to conserve. As we pack up just before the sky gets light, it is wonderful to know that out there there are storm petrels ahoy! See blog from last year for photos of stormies.