I had a fun morning yesterday with Mark and Carrie, the 2 long-term CEH seabird researchers that work on the May. We were out to catch and ring kittiwake chicks. Kittiwakes has not being doing very well across the whole of the UK and on the Isle of May they have dropped from 8000 pairs 20 years ago to 2000 pairs now, leaving the cliffs emptier and quieter than they once were. It is important to know why they have decreased so much, so ringing chicks can provide important information about where Isle of May born birds go and how many survive.
Some people classify kittiwakes as the “nice ” gulls as they don’t range around landfill sites or mug people outside fish and chips shops but instead have kind faces and just eat sandeels caught out at sea. In my opinion they are quite beautiful, having an long-winged elegance with clean lines and make lovely noises. But after the mornings work I wasn’t sure that they were “nice”. Their chicks are quite unresponsive and tend to just sit there with a blank expression on their face. They sit on nest platforms that are constructed from mud and grass but they liberally iced by their dropping give it a look of a wedding cake from hell. And they also vomit freely. It seems you only need to pick up a chick and if it has recently eaten it parks its meal on your hand, feet, overalls or whatever is nearest. Semi-digested sandeels are a potent brew but even these fishy pukes have a scientific value. We collected every puke produced and bagged it as they give an important clue as to what the kittiwakes have been able to find in the sea to feed their chicks and therefore what state the fishery is. As these have been collected over many years it can give a picture of changing food for kittiwakes and so add a piece of information to the puzzle of why kittiwakes are declining. But as I scrapped yet another puke off my overalls “nice” wasn’t the word that sprang to mind. And I can no longer hang my overalls in my cottage.