Senior Research Assistant, Rob Hughes and Aberdeen University PhD student, Marianna Chimienti are back with an update from Fair Isle as part of the RSPB’s Seabird Tracking and Research (STAR) project. 

What a brilliant breeding season!

Here we are again, Rob and Marianna, the Fair Isle team updating you about the amazing breeding season that we have had this year!

Despite the bad weather, the strong wind and the fog, we managed to keep our tracking work going and to enjoy the beautiful views that Fair Isle is able to give after a day of heavy rain.

View from the harbour - Marianna Chimienti

By the beginning of July we managed to get 17 Razorbill and 5 Guillemot tracks back. They were all feeding much closer to Fair Isle than in recent years. One Guillemot only foraged about 15 miles South of Fair Isle. Lots of fish are being brought into the colony (mostly Gadoids). It is no surprise that this has been one of the most successful breeding seasons for Auks in quite a few years. Most Razorbills at the Easter Lother and South Gunnawark tracking colonies have fledged a chick this year. The observatory has ringed more Guillemot chicks this year, than the previous four years put together! 

Common guillemots (Uria aalge) displaying fish at the colony - Rob Hughes

Rob is doing a Research Masters at Bangor University studying the diving behaviour of Razorbills, using the time/depth recorders. The time/depth recorders (TDR’s), record pressure and temperature every one second. A comparison is being made between Colonsay (with relatively good breeding success) and Fair Isle (with poor breeding success years). In particular, dive duration, dive profiles, diel patterns and tide patterns are being compared.

As part of Marianna`s PhD, this year on Fair Isle we started to deploy a new type of tag on Razorbills, a 3-axis accelerometer. These devices aim to highlight the underwater behaviour and the searching strategy of these diving predators. Recording the acceleration of the diving seabirds while foraging it will be possible to have new information about how and when they look for their prey and their movements in three dimensions.

Example of the tracking loggers that we are using. From left to right: combination GPS + TDR, GPS only, combination GPS + Accelerometer - Marianna Chimienti

From the two tracks we have so far, kittiwakes are also feeding closer to Fair Isle, it is still a bit too soon to see if they have been successful yet. However, Rob did see a fledged bird flying about this week. Elsewhere on the island, non-tracked species such as Arctic Skua seems to be having much better success than usual. This is perhaps due to the good numbers of fish being brought into the colony by the species they parasitise.

We are currently working on tracking fulmars. We have managed to get four GPS loggers back from these birds so far. They are feeding in similar areas to in previous years one or two may have been taking advantage of the good jellyfish numbers around the island at the moment as fulmar have been known to eat these, though I can’t imagine they taste very good! We still have another couple of weeks work on fulmars until we have to leave the island, so fingers crossed for more information to finally tell us where the birds are feeding so that we can recommend appropriate protection of these areas. 

Check out previous blogs from the team here: