Counting In My Sleep

This week I have been carrying out the all island cliff counts to get the population numbers of the cliff nesting seabirds that call Isle of May home. This means early starts and high levels of concentration. Some species are tightly packed on the cliffs in large numbers whilst others are tucked away and tricky to spot. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the count is the challenge involved in counting the different species.

For the Kittiwakes and Shags we count their nests, which is usually a quite straight forward task. They are large and obvious and best of all, they don’t move anywhere! Using this method, we know for each occupied nest there is a breeding pair of birds.

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Kittiwakes on their distinctive nest bowls

On the other hand, Guillemots and Razorbills lay their egg straight on to the rock. This means we have to count each individual bird. This isn’t easy as the guillemots huddle together for safety in numbers and the Razorbill prefers small cracks and crevices to hide away and lay their egg. So this means sitting on a high point and look at a cliff side packed full of birds and slowing scanning the rock face with binoculars counting all the birds. It is easy to get lost and I have had to start again a few times after losing my spot on the cliff. The trick is follow the natural fissures of the rock face and patterns of the birds to keep a track of where you are but still it’s not an easy job.

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Guillemots hundled together

There are some parts of the island that are inaccessible and now and again I have to don a harness and walk across to small rock outcrops to complete the count. Not many people get to do that as part of their job. It certainly isn’t a 9 to 5 job here on the May and it is a real privilege to be working with such incredible seabirds. There are times when I’m sat counting the seabirds, with the waves lapping against the shore and the sun shining, when I think how lucky I really am.

Some people count sheep to help them sleep, think I’ll be counting seabirds!

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