Yesterday I got the chance to go out for a couple of hours with team shag. This is the crack team of CEH seabird researchers who have amongst many of their task the job of ringing as many as possible of the shags, adults and chicks, that breed on the island. This mission was going down at low tide to the bottom of the cliffs at the south end of the island and the Maidens. Each nest is monitored through the season so that it is known when the chicks are big enough to be ringed. Then they have a metal ring with a number put on one leg and a coloured plastic ring with a 3 letter code on it put on the other. Once caught each chicks is progressed in the minimum of time, ringed, wing length recorded and if they vomit even that is collected as it can give information of what fish the parents are feeding them, and then returned to their nest. The Isle of May shags have had a tough couple of years with the population dropping by over 50% and a number of adult shags have moved from elsewhere onto the island to breed. So if they can be caught the shags are rung as well. The colour coded ring allows the birds to be identified in the field without having to catch them. Team shag, made up of Carrie, Mark and Sarah, ring over 500 chicks a year and work like a well-oiled team .
It was also a chance to go to one of the less visited parts of the island. On the Maidens we found a tree mallow plant. This invasive plant is causing a huge problem on the other Forth islands where it can stop the puffins from breeding so this plant was quickly pulled up and burned. There was time to gaze at the old lighthouse keepers rubbish dump. Several hundreds of years of rubbish was dropped in the gully including whole vehicles.
We also had time to watch a gull chick push its way out of an egg. Apparently my overall were far too clean so I was pleased to be awarded badges of honor from several of the chicks. A few more trips out and maybe I will start to look like one of the team?