It is that time of year that the shag chicks need ringing. On the Isle of May as many of the shags chicks are ringed as part of the research work that is ongoing on the island. In some years, like last year that can mean over a thousand though for this year with there being only a bit over 200 pairs then it will mean considerably less.
A shag ringing expedition takes you part of the island that you would not normally go as usually the birds would be left in peace. A meandering course is taken to the first target nest to avoid disturbing other nesting birds. Each nest site on the island has a code and has already been checked to find out laying times and hatching times so that the researchers will know when the shags are big enough to ring. Once close to the nest mark goes in a catches which ever birds that need to be ringing, usually chicks but this year there has been considerable disruption to the east Scotland shag population so there are unringed birds in greater numbers than usual appearing on the May. Once caught the chicks are ring with a metal BTO ring on one leg and a coloured and coded “darvic ” ring on the other. Shag chicks are covered in flaking skin, feather lice and are full of poo and don’t hesitate to share all three with anyone that spends time handling them. But despite this and the fact that they look a little (or really quite a lot like) dinosauras they are really quite endearing and once processed they are quickly put back on their nests. Though many won’t make it through to breeding age it is still quite exciting to think that some of the birds we rung today might still be breeding on the island in 15 years time with a whole lots of other researchers studying them and unlocking a few more secrets about there lives.
The shag ringing bucket with all the rings and equipment required for a shag ringing expedition.
While out today ringing shags we found 5 coloured and letter coded rings like this one below. These are smaller than shag rings and a different shape and are put on guillemot chicks. These rings found were all around a greater black-backed gull nest and it was obvious that this pair of Geebs (as we call them) had been feasting on guillemot chicks some of which had an indigestible bit on their legs that were left uneaten.
The different coloured “darvic” rings that go over the leg and mean that individual birds can be identified with telescopes from a distance. If you happen to find a shag with a ring on its leg dead or alive write down the colour of the ring and the 3 letters and email this record to firstname.lastname@example.org along with the date seen and the location.