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Old Friday 30th July 2004, 10:44   #1
Chris Monk
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Disastrous year for Scotland's seabirds

From the RSPB's web site:

Disastrous year for Scotland's seabirds

Unexpected breeding failures make this year the worst on record for Shetland and Orkney's teaming seabird colonies. They have produced fewer young than in any previous year because of a severe shortage of food.

Almost all seabirds breeding in Shetland's internationally important colonies feed on sandeels, a small silvery shoaling fish, which spends part of the time buried in the sandy seabed. Recently, however, these fish have become increasingly scarce.

For the second year running, guillemots have been devastatingly affected. Guillemots can fly tens of kilometres from their breeding colonies on Shetland's steep cliffs to find shoals of sandeels and can dive to more than 100 metres below the surface to catch them. Now they are returning with empty beaks and stomachs.

Species such as Arctic terns and kittiwakes, which catch the sandeels near the surface of the sea were again severely affected, with no tern or kittiwake chicks being reared in the south of Shetland. These two species have been suffering from food shortages since the mid 1980s.

The scale of the breeding failure of guillemots is unprecedented in EuropeGreat skuas (called bonxies in Shetland) have suffered unprecedented breeding failure. This large sometimes predatory species often prefers to feed its young on fish, but food shortage over the last 20 years has resulted in more turning to feeding on other seabirds and even eating each other's young. This year many bonxies have turned cannibal and at most colonies, no young are expected to fledge.

Pete Ellis the RSPB's Shetland Area Manager said, 'The situation is still getting worse for our struggling seabirds. The failure of almost all great skuas to rear young is unprecedented, and the populations of some species such as Arctic skuas are now reaching critical levels and the future for them looks bleak here.'

Martin Heubeck of Aberdeen University (who has recorded seabird breeding success at Sumburgh Head for almost 30 years) said, 'This has been an almost unbelievably bad breeding season. The scale of the breeding failure of guillemots is unprecedented in Europe.'

Shetland has a very small fishery for sandeels. This is now sensitively managed by an agreement between the Shetland Fishermen's Association, RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. This year the fishery was closed in the south of Shetland, and although a small fishery was permitted in the north of the islands, no fishing has taken place.

One possible explanation for shortages of sandeels may be that changes in climate have affected sea temperatures and currents. This may have affected the plankton on which the sandeels feed forcing these small fish to move out of reach for many of our seabirds. It's thought that many of the small fish are not surviving or growing to full size as a result too.

RSPB Scotland believes that there is an urgent requirement for research into these problems for improving marine protection legislation.

Summary of breeding at specific sites:

At the RSPB nature reserve at Sumburgh Head:

Guillemot breeding numbers are the lowest since monitoring began in 1977 and fewer pairs than ever before laid eggs, with no more than eight chicks being reared by the 108 pairs which tried to breed in the study plot. Egg laying began almost four weeks later than normal.
Kittiwake data is incomplete, but few if any chicks are likely to fledge.
Shags that have nested seem to have fared better than most other seabirds, but even fewer pairs nested than in 2003. Shags are the only breeding seabird that are thought to be capable of digging the last few sandeels out of the seabed. It may be this ability, which is allowing them to breed more successfully.
In Fair Isle:

Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust reported that the situation was very similar to that at Sumburgh Head. Guillemots nested late and in low numbers and no young have been reared. Kittiwakes, Arctic skuas, great skuas and Arctic terns are not expected to rear any young. Shags seem to have fared better than other species.
In Foula:

Arctic terns did not even manage to lay eggs.
Exceptionally low numbers of Arctic skuas nested and no young have been reared.
Great skuas have suffered unprecedented losses of young, and few if any are expected to fledge.
Guillemots have failed almost completely.
Although the numbers of breeding shags was very low, a few young are expected to fledge.
At the RSPB's Mousa nature reserve:

Although hundreds of Arctic terns arrived in the spring and some laid eggs, no young have been reared.
About half the usual number of pairs of Arctic skuas was present and these reared no young.
Great skuas are expected to rear few if any young.
In Orkney
All the large Arctic tern colonies in the north isles have failed and for the first time in living memory, none nested at the famous colony on the RSPB reserve on the North Hill of Papa Westray. Arctic and great skuas are also having a very poor breeding season and numbers of guillemots and kittiwakes are very low.

Shetland Fishermen's Association, Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland agreed new management arrangements for the Shetland sandeel fishery for 2004. New precautionary measures were brought in to help protect Shetland's internationally famous seabird colonies. The waters around the south of Shetland were closed to sandeel fishing altogether, with a reduced Total Allowable Catch available to be caught in the north. While this has helped, climate change is another major threat.


Source: RSPB Scotland
29 July 2004
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Old Friday 30th July 2004, 11:00   #2
StuartReeves
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This issue has already appeared in a recent thread - see http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=20540
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Old Friday 30th July 2004, 11:05   #3
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Sorry for the duplication
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Old Friday 30th July 2004, 11:18   #4
Edward woodwood
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don't apologise Chris

I'm sure Stuart was only pointing the thread out to anyone who has come to this late

there is much more in depth info on the breeding failures in your post

thanks
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Old Friday 30th July 2004, 11:53   #5
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Tim is right, no criticism was intended.

Does anyone have any info on seabird breeding success this year away from the Northern Isles ? I note that Nigel Blake's excellent photo : http://www.birdforum.net/pp_gallery/...cat/all/page/2
was taken in the Farnes in June and suggests both that young sandeels were available in that area and that at least one Puffin was feeding young at that time.
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Old Friday 30th July 2004, 14:43   #6
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I picked up The Independant this morning coz the Headline was about the breeding disasters in Orkney and Shetland. It makes for grim reading.
As Stuart says, lets hope there was more success elsewhere.
The article blames global warming on pushing sandeels North into colder water.
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Old Tuesday 3rd August 2004, 11:13   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StuartReeves
Does anyone have any info on seabird breeding success this year away from the Northern Isles?
I've spoken to a few people in different parts of Iceland and in the north they say they've never seen as many Arctic Tern fledglings and also report excellent numbers of auks. In the south Great Skuas seem to have had a normal year. These are not scientific observations but just locals' impressions (which must count for something).

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Old Tuesday 3rd August 2004, 12:18   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StuartReeves
Tim is right, no criticism was intended.

Does anyone have any info on seabird breeding success this year away from the Northern Isles ? I note that Nigel Blake's excellent photo : http://www.birdforum.net/pp_gallery/...cat/all/page/2
was taken in the Farnes in June and suggests both that young sandeels were available in that area and that at least one Puffin was feeding young at that time.
Watch this space, the figures mostly apply to Shetland and north Sea coasts but I am awaiting an overview of Irish Sea records. The populations are smaller in the Irish Sea but the general impression from South Stack was that there were more birds around. This does not really compare to Shetland and the North Sea for two reasons:

1. I was there in June when most of the auks had not even hatched let alone fledged and the crucial phase is just prior to fledging when the food demand is highest. Of course if the fishery has collapsed, nest failure will occur much earlier in the development of the chicks.

2. The sandeel and other small fish fisheries are not so extensive in the Irish Sea for a number of reasons. Also, the Irish Sea is semi-enclosed and may not be quite so energetic in terms of fluctuating sea temperatures etc. This could mean that there is a time lag of a few years before the Irish Sea ecosystem collapses. The Irish Sea is not isolated but the sea currents are complex and there may be a case for considering this to be the reason why there have not been the same problems as elsewhere.

Having said all this, some species have declined significantly even in the Irish Sea and even if there have been slight increases this year, the trend is to a decline. The kittiwake is the prime example with Irish Sea numbers being well down on past records despite a very slight increase in pairs at South Stack this year. The Irish Sea could even prove to be a useful test situation if the ecosystem is slightly different because we can look at species trends across a braod range. The auks have been generally stable in the Irish Sea but kittiwakes have shown a downward population trend and this is almost certainly related to how (or more to the point, where) each species forages. Anyway, I will let you know if I learn anything different but we must take this issue seriously as it has far-reaching implications.
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Old Tuesday 3rd August 2004, 13:06   #9
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There is an article on Birdguides from the RSPB at the moment which outlines a similar fall in breeding success of Kittiwakes at RSPB Bempton Cliffs (1 chick per pair last year, and 1 chick per four pairs this year). Lots of nest abandonment and some which did not begin to breed. Sand Eel numbers are being proposed again here.

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