Wandering Shags


Stunning summer-plumage Shag

Thursday 25th January comments: The Isle of May NNR is very important for its Seabird assemblage and Grey Seal nurseries. It is recognised as one of only four nationally monitored sites for seabird breeding performance in the UK and the only easterly site in this exclusive list.  Our friends at CEH study the breeding Shags intensely on the island as Mark Newell takes up the story…

Winter months for the seabird team at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology are generally spent analysing the previous season’s data however there is still some information to collect at this time of the year and it involves shags. With several thousand colour marked individual shags scattered along the coast we spend many weeks of the winter searching for these birds.

So far this winter a monumental 2,800 individuals have been seen amongst over 9,000 sightings. This will allow us to examine how migration links with how well individuals survive and breed, and to try and understand why some birds migrate while others stay in the same location year round.  A large proportion of birds remain around the Isle of May while other birds head north up to Aberdeenshire and beyond while others migrate to the south as far as North Yorkshire.

Each year a small number of birds make a more epic journey reaching southern England and the continent. This winter has been especially interesting with an Isle of May bird reaching inland Cambridgeshire and another in Ramsgate, Kent.  The first bird to cross the Channel this winter turned up in Dunkirk Harbour in early December and is still present.

However more strangely a bird appeared in central Amsterdam and was found roosting several floors up on a residential building overlooking the main canal and this bird was seen into the New Year. It maybe not a Seacliff but it’s a safe place to roost! However this strange inland sighting was eclipsed by another but more on that individual on tomorrow’s blog…. The wonders of bird study.

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