The start of a new seabird season on Rathlin Island
The LIFE Raft Biodiversity team have been busy over the winter period, working on a variety of tasks. Alongside the work on analysis, planning and preparation, I was honoured to give talks to various groups including the Northern Ireland Ornithology Club, Rathlin Island Community, Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club, and The British Trust for Ornithology. Meanwhile, Ric was out deploying various bits of monitoring equipment across Rathlin Island.
Now the days are lengthening, the sea is warming up as it does every year, leading to the island slowly waking up after winter. These are the cues for Rathlin’s wildlife to begin preparing for another breeding season. Every year, hundreds of thousands of seabirds return to Rathlin Island to breed and raise their young. This year, the birds have surprised us all, with the first shag eggs being spotted on the 20th March. This is a very early start and an encouraging sign that the shags are in good condition after winter.
While this is great news for the species, this means that our carefully laid monitoring plans will need to be brought forward. The team will be out and about over the coming weeks, recording data on a variety of species as we try to capture the baseline for Rathlin’s biodiversity.
This season sees the start of some exciting new work using new and emerging technologies. We have secured permission to install time lapse cameras at the West Light. These cameras will be able to capture images of the breeding birds and provide additional data alongside what Ric and I can manage. They will form an important part of the project’s legacy and you can be involved. Once they are up and running, we will ask for your help to classify the images they record. This will allow us to work out important measures of breeding success, breeding phenology (also known as seasonality) and much more besides. For more information and to get involved, please take a look at Seabirdwatch website.
I am very excited for our newest piece of technology. Our new drone will be used to help us monitor Rathlin’s breeding seabirds in greater detail than ever before. The drone is piloted by licensed personnel following a strict protocol to eliminate any risk of disturbance to the birds. In this way we can access every cliff and every colony to get an even bigger picture of what is happening on Rathlin.
This is just the start of the 2023 seabird season and we will keep you updated with how Rathlin’s seabirds get on this year.