Our regular blog shares the latest news and updates from the Orkney Native Wildlife Project. If you are new to our blog and want to know more about the project visit our website www.onwp.org
Operations resuming on the islands
Following the COVID-19 lockdown, the Orkney Native Wildlife Project suspended operations. Since the beginning of June, in accordance with the release of lockdown measures across Scotland, trapping operations have resumed on the Orkney Mainland and linked isles. We have now also resumed operations on the islands from early August 2020, strictly adhering to safety protocols to minimise risk from COVID-19.
Once again, a huge thank you to the communities across the islands for your wonderful support in protecting Orkney’s native wildlife. If you do have any concerns or queries, then please feel free to contact our Biodiversity Officer Chris Bell on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to our research assistants
A big thank you to our three research assistants who have now completed the annual bird breeding season field work following the easing of restrictions. Julio, Arturo and Ellie have been regularly monitoring nest sites of oystercatcher, redshank, curlew and snipe and have been up early in the mornings to survey meadow pipit and skylark. Part of this work is to set up motion triggered cameras on nests which has captured some interesting bird behaviour as well as disturbance and predation attempts, including by a stoat.
Protecting native bird species such as these is at the heart of the project, and this field work helps us understand how populations are faring and what a positive difference the stoat eradication will make. We are so grateful to the landowners who have given us access for this work and we look forward to being able to report on the data we have collected.
Setting up a nest camera, Arturo working in the field and oystercatcher nest
Tracks and trails
Staying much closer to home for our outdoor exercise recently has given many of us a chance to get to know the local wildlife around us such as plants, birds and insects. Mammals are usually more difficult to spot as they are often nocturnal, well camouflaged or we are too noisy. A great way to know if they are around is to look closer for tracks and trails such as footprints and droppings. The project uses these field signs to survey Orkney voles by looking for evidence of tunnels, nibbled grass and droppings. Footprints and droppings also show us areas where stoats are active, allowing us to adjust the placement of stoat trap boxes. Stoat footprints are quite distinctive from other small mammals such as mice and voles and from rats. They are 2cm wide and 2.2cm long, about the size of a one-pound coin and each foot has five toes with non-retractable claws.
Stoat footprints (illustration by S.Frimmel)
To record stoat foot prints we use open tunnel tubes with some bait in the middle to encourage stoats to cross over a central ink pad card that records their prints. Tunnels are already being used for our biosecurity work on the non-linked isles as one of the measures to help us confirm stoats are not present here.
Tunnel tube and ink pad card
Like many carnivores, stoat droppings or scats, are deposited singly and have a narrow shape with twisty ends. You may see partially digested food remains in them such as fur, bone or bits of insect and they are black brown in colour with a musky smell. They can often be found in obvious positions as territory markers. Our conservation dogs, arriving later this year, will be trained to locate scat scent and this will become a particularly useful monitoring tool when stoat numbers become low, and we need to focus our efforts to find the remaining individuals.
Stoat scats (illustration by S.Frimmel)
Stoat sightings – where to report them
What is always most useful to us are the reports of sightings by members of the public, so YOU CAN HELP! If you see a stoat anywhere across Orkney please post your sighting on the Stoats in Orkney Facebook page
Details to include in your post are the date, time, grid reference or a good description of the location and if the animal is carrying prey, has kits (young), is using the same run regularly or anything else you may spot.
This Facebook page is specifically for stoat sightings, so anything which is not a sightings report will be deleted. If you have questions or comments about trapping or other aspects of the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, please email email@example.com.
Stoats in Orkney Facebook page
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