We could have Razorbill chicks on the Island until August!
In May’s update we talked about the importance of continuing with the vital seabird monitoring on WTSWW's Skokholm Island and this month we’re going to focus on Razorbills.
The 2020 whole Island count tallied up at 3517 adults on ledges, this an increase of 28% on last year. But to understand just how many of Skokholm’s Razorbills manage to raise a chick to jumpling size, there are three plots on the Island where we follow individual pairs from egg laying to chick jumping.
One of these is an impressive rocky jumble where eggs are laid in dark crevices and under huge, overhanging, lichen covered rocks. The remaining two plots are dramatically positioned on precipitous ledges high along the Old Red Sandstone cliffs.
The Neck plot is one of these and one which we are particularly fond of, having surveyed it since 2013. With all 30 pairs on an egg, as May hurtled by we eagerly awaited the first hatchling to appear. The weather, however, had a different agenda and on the night of 22nd May the wind picked up to gale force, whipping up the sea and creating nine-metre-high waves which pounded the North Coast cliffs, sending cascades of water up and across the auk breeding ledges.
This was devastating for our Razorbill colony on the Neck and 18 of 30 pairs lost their egg, an egg which had almost certainly started to hatch. With pairs sat back on their traditional ledge looking somewhat confused and salt battered we wondered what their fate would be. Razorbills can re-lay if they lose their egg early, but these birds had committed over a month of incubation time; it was probably too late for them to try again. We continued to visit the plot as there was still a small number of birds that had somehow managed to keep their egg and were now feeding rapidly fattening chicks.
Occasionally some of the failed birds would come back to their ledge but on 8th June the plot seemed particularly busy; many of the failed adults were back! They weren’t just back, 15 of them had returned and laid another egg which they were incubating diligently.
These eggs will not hatch until the second week in July, which means for the first time in our eight years we could have Razorbill chicks on the cliffs in August!
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