My first day of 'work' yesterday involved joining John (the warden) on his guided walk that he takes visitors on every Wednesday. This is probably the best way to start my time here as I managed to see a fair bit of the island considering we were walking for about 6 hours, quite an achievement for such a small island. One of our stops along the way was just outside John's house conveniently as this allowed him to get his telescope to view a variety of wildlife. These included a pair of cormorants perching on a rock and a few common seals lying in the sun on the rocks just offshore, some with pups. These seals don't congregate in large colonies like the grey seals that breed during the autumn and their breeding season seems less aggressive in a way due to this as there is less competition between the males. We had a lovely half hour when we paused for lunch as the sun came out, followed by the seals venturing off the rocks into the sea to play, truly idyllic.
One of my highlights from this walk was seeing the Arctic terns, a species of bird I have never encountered before. They really are amazing birds in the fact that they travel the furthest out of any animal, including trips ranging from the Arctic all the way to Australia. They were nesting on a group of rocks on the shore and were not best pleased at us disturbing their nests with some adults attempting to dive bomb our heads. We didn't want to disturb them too long so didn't linger, although right at the last minute we managed to spot a chick that was hiding its head from us in the rocks, a strategy many species use as predators often locate chicks through their eyes.
I think my ultimate highlight of this day however was after the walk when John led us into an area of forestry, not informing us of his intention originally when the visitors were around. It turned out that he wanted to check on a hen harrier's nest which is a protected species so he didn't want to reveal its location. On approach of the nest we made a large amount of noise in order to scare the female away and we were able to check on the chicks (see photo). Unfortunately there were only 2 chicks where 4 had been previously recorded. They did seem a good size and weight however so fingers crossed they will survive particularly as the weather looks like it is going to improve which will give them a better chance. Being within touching distance of this chicks was pretty amazing!
The main task of today was a lapwing survey on the moorland which is a red list species as its numbers have decreased by 80% since 1960. This is a similar trend to many farmland birds that used to be common, including skylarks and yellowhammers as agricultural methods have become more intensive. This has resulted in autumn grown crops meaning there is less stubble available which can be an important food source for birds. The drainage of land and application of agrochemicals has also led to the lapwing's decline as this is a wading bird so requires water.
The result of this survey was promising though, with around 30 individuals counted in total, 12 of which were fledged young hinting at a successful breeding season. An unexpected bonus of this survey was the location of 2 very cute snipe chicks which we noticed due to an adult feigning injury which a number of species do to lead predators away from a nest. One of these chicks decided to try and follow its mother's example and stumble after her but John managed to catch it and return it safely to the nest, after allowing me to take a quick photo as seen below.
I'm already overwhelmed at the variety of wildlife I have seen and with a chance of seeing golden eagles tomorrow my excitement continues to grow!