Manx Shearwater Rescue Service – Another busy season!

Releasing Shearwaters with Skokholm in the background. By WTSWW's Lisa Morgan.

Releasing Shearwaters with Skokholm in the background. By WTSWW's Lisa Morgan.

We had so many rescue birds that we ran out of cardboard boxes to keep them in during the day!

WTSWW Volunteer Vicky Pearson helping to rescue and release Manx Shearwaters in 2020.

WTSWW Volunteer Vicky Pearson helping to rescue and release Manx Shearwaters in 2020.

In August, I told you about ‘Team Shearwater’, our fantastic band of Wildlife Trust volunteers and staff who help to rescue grounded Manx shearwaters as they fledge from the Pembrokeshire islands.

2020 turned out to be another busy but rewarding autumn, with our first phone call coming early on 24 August, there were four young birds at Pembroke port, likely to have been disorientated by the bright lights. Two days later a second call came in from the Spa supermarket in Saundersfoot and we were off and running.

By the end of August we had rescued and released 9 shearwaters but it was relatively quiet until the second week of September. Peak fledging arrived and there were no autumn storms in the weather forecast. We thought we could relax. However, we hadn’t factored in the thick fog and drizzle that rolled in and stuck for several days. For 7 days the phone just did not stop ringing. Not surprising due to its proximity to Skomer we collected 45 birds from West Hook Farm over those nights. This is the farm where you may have parked your car for a stay on Skomer or Skokholm.

Campers there did a fine job of boxing-up birds at night for us to collect the following morning. Further north 13 birds were picked up from the road at Newgale and 16 from the promenade at Broad Haven on just one day, whilst I received a call at 11pm on the same night from concerned patrons leaving the pub in Little Haven, who stumbled out into the darkness to find shearwaters ‘all over the road’. It was the early hours when I finally got to bed.

We had so many birds that we ran out of cardboard boxes to keep them in during the day. A call into the Pets at Home store in Haverfordwest saved the day. The staff made a kind donation of lots and lots of pet carry boxes, which were soon full of shearwaters awaiting release.

Throughout September, everyone rallied round to collect birds, store then safely during the day and release them from a suitable cliff top at dusk. We tried hard this year to build a larger team of people scattered along the coast, cutting travel to a minimum, with the nearest person dispatched to locate the bird, with calls for help coordinated by WTSWW and RSPB, with messages flying back and for on our WhatsApp group.

As last year, there were some amusing stories of disorientated birds turning up in strange places. A bird on a trampoline in Marloes, one at the chocolate factory in Haverfordwest, (I obviously went to collect this one) and the very lucky bird found at Withybush Hospital and taken to the audiology department. When I asked the doctor on the phone if she could keep it somewhere quiet she replied that it was safe in the ‘sound-proof’ room they use for conducting hearing tests. She assured me it was very likely to be the quietest place in west Wales!

We had our usual wayward individuals that made their way inland, one up in the Preseli hills at Maenclochog and another along the river at Llandovery. Our last birds of the season came in on 10 October; 48 days after the first. Rather fittingly Wildlife Trust staff assisted both birds.

First was a lone bird in Newquay was collected by the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre team. The second was picked up on the beach in Borth and taken to a vet Aberystwth. Unharmed it was collected by our Red Squirrel officer, who also happens to be a former Skomer Assistant warden and who used to live on the largest Manx Shearwater colony on the planet!

A total of 161 shearwaters were rescued by our team in 2020, plus 5 guillemots and one very cross gannet. We know that there are other unsung heroes who quietly do the same across south Wales and have done for many years, so the total is likely to be much higher. It’s heartwarming that people go to the trouble to phone for help and that they want to learn all about the mysterious black and white bird in their garden.

Thank you to everyone who put themselves out to help these special birds on their way.

See you all again in 2021.

Lisa Morgan
Head of Islands and Marine