After spending the first couple of days at South Walney settling in and finding my feet, I decided it was time to get down to some fieldwork and assess the state of the gull colonies on the reserve. Therefore on Wednesday I accompanied Sarah and Pete Jones, the southwestern reserves manager, down to the spit where they were performing maintenance work on the electric fence surrounding the gull colony. The work involved driving the truck around the perimeter of the fence and from the passenger seat I was able to get my bearings and take in the topography of the colony. There were good numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls loafing around within the colony however very few appeared to be showing any signs of nesting behaviour. A brief foray inside the fence, taking extra care not to be shocked by the fence, revealed a number of scrapes likely belonging to Herring Gulls, but a complete dearth of eggs. Herring Gulls, which perform shorter winter movements than Lessers typically nest first and the complete lack of eggs in the colony strongly suggests that both species are late in commencing breeding this year.
Yesterday I spent some time observing the diminished colony at Gull Meadow and searching for colour-rings. As with the birds on the spit there was little evidence of breeding activity with most birds simply loafing around, however a mating pair provided a hint of things to come. Despite the lethargic nature of the gulls, I had a very successful colour-ring re-sighting session with the combinations from three BTO tagged Herring Gulls and three BTO Lesser Black-backed Gulls recorded. More exciting still were a Herring Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull with black colour-rings from the historic colour-ringing project that ended after the 2007 season. Herring Gull “WC8U” was ringed at Walney as a chick on 08/07/2006 and has been seen on several occasions since, including on Walney last summer. Lesser Black-backed Gull “WA6M” was the real highlight of the day however. Ringed as a chick at Walney on 08/07/2005, the bird has been AWOL since with my sighting the first time it has been reported in 12 years! These re-sightings reinforced to me the value of colour-ringing projects for analyses of survival and dispersal – aspects of Lesser Black-backed Gull that I will be investigating further over the course of my PhD.
Today, I made a brief foray onto the spit to look for colour-rings however the heat haze and topography of the colony made this near-impossible, with just one BTO tagged Herring Gull for my efforts. Gull meadow was more productive with a couple of new BTO ringed LBBGs noted and both “WA6M” and “WC8U” still hanging around. There was also another LBBG with colour-rings on both legs that was from a different scheme which I will hopefully find out the origins of in due course. As breeding activity is so delayed, my fieldwork activity will mostly consist of ring re-sighting for the foreseeable future however I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent over the last few days watching the gulls and developing a more in depth understanding of their behaviours. I’ve also been birding the reserve every morning but the prevailing northerly winds seem to have prevented any real migration and the sea has been quiet too. With the wind swinging round to the south this morning and set to remain that way for the next few days there’s a good chance of some new birds dropping in over the weekend and I’ll be spending time scouring the areas of cover in an (almost certainly doomed) attempt to turn up something more unusual!