Tuesday 29th November comments: We need your help! Shag expert Sarah Burthe explains how you can help in a long-term study looking at the dispersal of Shags on the east coast, as she explains…
The colour-ringed scheme: The scheme is a joint venture between the University of Aberdeen and Central for Ecology and Hydrology who have been looking at the dispersal of the breeding Shags from the Isle of May and other east coast breeding sites. During the summer, breeding adults and chicks are fitted with a unique colour ring with three digits – which makes it easy to read at distance with binoculars or telescopes.
Background: The scheme has been running since 2008 and in that time over 40,000 re-sightings of almost 8,000 individual birds. This allows the team to look at where birds disperse to, where birds spend their winters and it also can help us understand the effects of climate change.
What does it show? Interestingly birds hatched on the Isle of May tend to remain and breed in the Forth, mainly on the Isle of May but also sometimes on the other Forth islands. However, birds have also turned up as far afield as Orkney and even the Netherlands. A proportion of shags that breed on the Isle of May also stay around the Isle of May in the winter but some also migrate away. Most of these migrant birds tend to go north to overwinter up near Aberdeen and Portknockie, with some going to Caithness whilst a few will winter south at the Farne Islands.
So why do it? The work is important as we can use the data to understand how climate change is affecting the birds. Climate change doesn’t just lead to warming but also to more frequent and severe storms. These can have really bad impacts on the birds as in 2012-13 and 2013-14 we had two really bad winters with high winds and many shags were washed up dead on beaches along the east and coast. The winter sightings data and ring recovery data really help us to understand how storms affect the birds; which birds survive and whether this depends on where they overwinter.
How can you help? We welcome shag resightings from any time of the year, but especially in winter time and also especially from areas like the Farne Islands and Northumberland where we don’t tend to get so many resightings. If anyone is out with a pair of binoculars or telescope, it’s easy – just check any birds sitting out of the sea, read the ring number and send us the details!
Sightings: To report any sightings please e-mail: email@example.com