Vital seabird census survey work to start

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Work is about to start on a vital seabird census across Argyll.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland officers, helped by volunteers, will start the survey work soon as part of a national count of seabirds.

Up to four fieldworkers will be carrying out the work in Argyll, with locally-based RSPB staff and volunteers assisting.

Dave Sexton, RSPB Scotland’s Mull officer, said: ‘Mull and its offshore islands, including Staffa and Lunga, have important seabird colonies. The Treshnish Isles are designated as a Special Protection Area. Some of our seabirds are in serious trouble and some breeding islands are at risk from invasive alien species like rats and mink which can decimate fragile breeding seabird colonies. This vital survey will help us understand how the Argyll colonies are faring, including the famous black guillemots or tysties in Oban Bay.’

The census, Seabirds Count, is the fourth of its kind following Operation Seafarer in 1969-70, the Seabird Colony Register Census in 1985-88 and Seabird 2000.

It is led by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and aims to make an accurate count of 25 species of seabirds that made up an estimated eight million birds when last counted at the turn of the century across more than 10,000 sites in Britain and Ireland.

The survey data helps conservation scientists understand how seabird populations are changing over time and support efforts to protect them.

This latest census started in 2015, with many dedicated volunteers and specialist surveyors taking part. It was due to be completed last year but the covid-19 pandemic led to the postponement of the last year of survey work.

These delayed surveys can now begin in a Covid secure manner and will take place during March to July this year.

To help complete the task in Scotland, 13 fieldworkers have been employed by RSPB Scotland to undertake surveys around the country along with staff and volunteers from the conservation organisation. The visiting RSPB fieldworkers will be living and working together in pairs, staying in self-catering accommodation. Covid safety precautions will include taking a test before travelling to Argyll, followed by a 10-day isolation period avoiding all other people when they arrive. They will be tested again prior to relocating to Mull to continue survey work there.

Surveys will begin with black guillemots, also known as tysties, which are best counted early morning in late March and April when they perform group courtship displays on the sea next to breeding sites.

Later in the season, seabirds including fulmars, shags, auks and gulls will be counted at sites not already surveyed for the census. The work will include boat-based surveys using local boat operators, and with land-based counts for the more easily accessible sites. In most cases, a single survey visit to each site is required.

Caption: Oban’s famous black guillemots, also known as tysties. Photograph: RSPB Images.
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