During the 2021 Darwin 200 UK Voyage, working with City to Sea, the science team completed seabird surveys.
Watching and recording seabirds was the most interesting around St Kilda, an isolated archipelago, the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides and internationally recognised for its rich bird diversity, with 210 different species! So, if you’re as much of a seabird fanatic as our science team, these findings will excite you, too!
The sea birds typically known to be sighted at St Kilda are puffins, gannets and shearwaters. With that in mind, the scientists knew what to keep their eyes peeled for in particular, with their bird IDing books at the ready.
Within their time in St Kilda, the 24th to 30th of June, the science team spotted 151 fulmars, 21 puffins, 3 gannets and 3 guillemots.
Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) are the largest and most widespread tubenoses of the British Isles, currently with a fairly stable population. Fulmars breed around most of the British coastline and offshore islands with around 500,000 breeding pairs in the British Isles, typically in colonies near cliff tops, which could be why the scientists saw so many of them at St Kilda.
Puffins are lots of people’s favourite birds, most probably due to their cuteness, bright clown-like face and small size. One of the scientists said that the best way to identify a puffin from a distance in flight are the vigorously flapping wings, very rapid wing beat, as they are not all that great at flying. Although puffins may be seen as rare and almost mythical, they are not endangered and, alike many other sea birds, they are threatened by the consequences of human activities, such as plastic litter at sea and diminishing food sources.
Guillemots’ main populations are in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, totalling in about one million! They have no true migration, but cover great distances, wandering within Europe during the year.
The data of our seabird surveys goes to the British Trust of Ornithology and their partners of the Seabird Monitoring Programme, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). Their work focuses on understanding seabird behaviour and, in particular, how and why bird populations are changing. The data will be passed on once we have completed our circumnavigation of the British Isles later in August.
The map of Scotland shows that St Kilda is a truly wonderful place to explore seabirds and is rightly recognised for its birdlife.
As we continue our voyage through the Scottish islands and in the North Sea, we are looking forward to recording more seabirds to cover most of the seas areas around the UK with dedicated surveys.