Calf Blog - Week 2

Sugarloaf colony 

The second week on the Calf of Man, by MWT Volunteer Assistant Warden, Mollie Kirk.
Lara and Rob Calf

Lara and Rob setting up the puffin decoys

Week 2 began with the arrival of some familiar faces as more of our fantastic volunteers gave up their time and skills to help out with our long list of jobs. First to arrive was MWT Marine Officer, Lara Howe, along with boxes and boxes of decoy Puffins and speakers to put along the coastline. This project has been ongoing for 6 years at three sites along the East & West Coast. Puffins are one of a number of seabirds that were killed off by the accidentally introduced long tail population, but despite eradication of longtails they have not yet returned as they are incredibly site faithful. They breed in colonies and are proving very difficult to encourage back. Despite this, birds are spotted around the Calf from May-July and it is hoped that the Puffin calls and decoys will encourage more birds to come ashore.

Lara giving Rob a haircut

Rob bravely letting Lara give him a haircut!

 The setting up of the decoys is a big job with up to 30 Puffins at each site, it can be especially challenging to find the pre drilled holes in the cliffs, so it took a couple of days to get everything set up. Once up, they are rather realistic (from a distance), and Aron shared his experience of watching day visitors slowly crawl up to them from the bracken to get a good picture before realising they were plastic! Lara also completed a chunk of our longtail monitoring routes and thankfully tried her hand at hairdressing after Rob was unable to get a haircut throughout lockdown.

Mollie and Paul at the Hide  on the Calf

Mollie and Paul at the Hide

Later in the week we were joined by Paul Corrin and Mike Prior who came fully equipped with essential tools to build a brand new bird hide by the Millpond. We started with breeze blocks and concrete to make a level surface for the hide.

The new hide Calf

The new bird hid at the Mill Pond

We then built the frame, attached the cladding and roof and by day 4 Mike was adding the finishing touches with removable windows that double as a table for the bird ringers. Whilst building the hide we were visited by a Cuckoo that was spotted by estate warden Daniel Woollard earlier in the morning.

Cuckoo on the Calf

The cuckoo caught in the mist net

Cuckoos are only seen on the Calf once or twice in a year but this one happily sat on a fencepost overlooking our work before flying into Rob’s mist nest. We were very lucky to be able to see it so close up!

Christa Polaris training

Christa doing Polaris training

Also on the setup agenda was training for myself and Christa to learn to drive the Polaris.  After going over some basics with our instructor Juan and begrudgingly finding myself a makeshift booster seat from a few old cushions, we set off for an island excursion which included a lot of off-roading. We were both anxious about going off track.

Mollie doing Polaris training

Mollie doing Polaris training

After several stories about past wardens getting stuck and Dan’s famous ditch, we were wondering which parts of the Island would shortly become our legacy of destruction. Thankfully Juan was a pro, and despite his occasional disturbing comment about keeping our arms in when the vehicle rolls, we picked it up fairly quickly with no accidents as of yet!

Dan looking for cetaceans

Dan looking for cetaceans

On Saturday, myself and Dan braved the early morning and beat the bird ringers to breakfast so we could complete the Island-wide breeding bird survey. The survey took us along two parallel transects for every kilometre across the Island, so we split it into two days to avoid counting migrants passing through. We surveyed the area and made notes when we saw a potential breeding pair and any key evidence, such as if they were carrying nesting material, or exhibiting courtship displays.

The Calf team heading to Kitterland

The Calf team heading to Kitterland

An interesting example of this is the courtship display of a meadow pipit, called parachuting. The males fly up to 4 meters into the air and only occasionally flutter their wings on descent so it appears to glide back down to the ground using its wings like a parachute to impress females. We will complete one each month until July hopefully tracking progress on the pairs we spotted this week. 

Kitterland

Kitterland

While I was undertaking tractor training this week, the rest of the team headed out to Kitterland (thanks once again to Phil and Caroline from Isle of Man & Calf Boat Trips) to check on the nesting bird population and monitor the longtail baits, including installing a camera trap for any photographic evidence of longtails swimming over. They found no evidence of any longtails and managed to record an eider and an oystercatcher nest.

Eider nest

The eider nest found on Kitterland

Unfortunately this year’s Great Black-backed Gull nest count followed in the same vein as previous years, diminishing from 70 in its prime to only 10 this year. This is reflective of their general UK population numbers diminishing since the 1980s, putting them in the Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC4) amber conservation list. To keep up the theme of bitter ends the weather turned in the afternoon and the poor wardens and volunteers were driven into rather large hailstones for the duration of the journey back at a painful 20 knots, which helped curb my jealousy somewhat.

Sugarloaf colony

Sugarloaf colony 

On Sunday after another early start with the breeding bird survey, myself and Dan left the Observatory in the capable hands of Rob, Aron and Christa while we went to receive our COVID 19 vaccinations.

Bottlenose dolphin

Spotted! A bottle nosed dolphin

The sea was flat calm and beautiful, and before we left I ventured down to Gibdale for a picnic with Christa just as a Bottlenose Dolphin swam through breaching a couple of times so I could capture a photo. The journey back to the mainland also gave us a great opportunity to see the sugarloaf with its Guillemot and Kittiwake colonies back in full force.

Sugarloaf colony

Sugarloaf colony

While we were on the mainland, Christa accompanied Rob and Aron to hunt for more Shag nests down at Kione ny Halby. On the way, Rob found another Eider nest and decided to take a chance and catch the adult despite not having a net. Unfortunately Eiders have a defence mechanism to prevent predators from eating their eggs.

Rob ringing a shag

Rob ringing a shag

As Rob reached out to grab the eider, it projectile pooed over the eggs and all over poor Rob’s legs and feet.  Not a great start, but bird poo is a standard part of any good bird ringer’s uniform. The rest of the mission was a success with 4 ringed adult Shags and 2 nests with young chicks not yet big enough to be ringed as they were only a week old. In total they found 18 active nests with eggs, so there should be many more adventures to check on their progress in the near future! Watch this space…