A visit to a seabird colony should be a memorable experience, an immersion in one of the wonders of the natural world. Britain’s seabird cliffs and islands are of global significance, and Wales alone holds half of all the Manx Shearwaters on the planet. But for experts monitoring seabirds this summer, it’s a worrying time. Images of sick and dying Great Skuas on Scottish islands were followed by hundreds of dead birds, including Eider ducks and Pink-footed Geese, on the Sutherland coast, and now ornithologists visiting a Gannet colony at Hermaness, Shetland, have shared photographs of dozens of dead birds, their carcasses picked over by scavengers such as Great Skuas and gulls. Last winter, up to one-third of the Svalbard Barnacle Goose population is estimated to have died of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on the Solway Firth.
Wardens and ornithologists at Welsh seabird colonies such as South Stack, the Skerries and Ynys Seiriol/Puffin Island are keeping a close eye on the health of seabirds such as Kittiwakes, Guillemots and terns, while in Pembrokeshire checks are being made on one of the world’s largest Gannet colonies, on Grassholm. Seabirds are already under pressure from human activities including climate change, rat infestations, recreational disturbance and construction developments at sea, and the United Nations has declared that wild birds are the victims of HPAI viruses. The virus has already had devastating consequences for some poultry farms and, according to some reports, reduced by 40% the number of gamebirds released this summer following outbreaks in France, where many Pheasants and Partridges are bred.
It’s a critical time for seabirds, with the first Sandwich Terns at Cemlyn ready to hatch their eggs this week and a pair of Mediterranean Gulls incubating a clutch there. At Gronant, wardens are appealing for public help to stay away from the nesting colony of Little Terns and for more volunteers to help protect the birds.
Unusual sightings this week include Little Gulls off the Great Orme and Cemlyn, six Mediterranean Gulls on Porthmadog’s Llyn Bach, three Spoonbills reported near Rhyl and two Siberian Chiffchaffs singing on Bardsey, although a rarer visitor was the first Jay on the island for more than 28 years. The week has seen three Osprey chicks hatch at Glaslyn, bringing the total hatched by female ‘Mrs G’ to 52 since she first nested there in 2004. Osprey nests on the Dyfi estuary and Clywedog Reservoir also have three chicks.
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A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales.