Friday, 8 January 2016

My 2015

Wow- has it really been over a month since my last blog?! Unfortunately life has gotten in the way with my time being occupied by work, the festive period and what feels like a never ending dose of the common cold! The joys of winter in Scotland! 

As a new year begins I have been reflecting on 2015 and all of the amazing adventures I had so I thought I would share some of my highlights:

When the year began I was volunteering at the Scottish Owl Centre in Whitburn, West Lothian ( The centre is shut to the public over the winter so we could perform essential maintenance tasks and build new aviaries for the start of a new breeding season. One of our main projects was to build a raised aviary for the Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) which included a nest box camera to gain more information on their nesting behaviour. This proved to be a great success with the public enjoying excellent views of the eggs and incubation feeding live from underground during the summer months. For more information follow @ScotOwl or on Facebook Scottish Owl Centre.

Burrowing Owls enjoying their new aviary (photo Scottish Owl Centre, Facebook page)
In March I was appointed the Community Liaison Officer for the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) on the Mull of Galloway- Scotland's Southernmost point. The reserve boosts good numbers of seabirds including 5,000 nesting Gannets (Morus bassanus) on the Scaur Rocks several miles offshore.

The Mull of Galloway (photo Laura Shearer)

RSPB Mull of Galloway team 2015: (left-right) Iain Houston, Robert Conn and Laura Shearer
Counting Manx Shearwaters (photo Gary Prescott @bikingbirder16)
With a keen interest in bird ringing I took a bus man's holiday in June and transferred from one seabird colony to another. I joined a group of other bird ringers aiming to colour ring Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) on the Forth Islands over a few days. These rings can be read from a distance and therefore makes it easier to collect information on the movements of these birds. Aiming for 400 birds over 4 islands we knew we had our work cut out for us. With a lot of determination however we ringed 626 birds including 505 with coloured darvics. Data from these birds has shown young chicks travelling as far as the Netherlands over this winter!

Colour ringing shag chicks on Craigleith (photo Laura Shearer)
Proud as punch ringing an adult shag (photo Elizabeth Morgan)
Back on the Mull of Galloway things were settling down as the seabird season and the summer holidays drew to an end. For migrating birds though- things were just getting started! Because of the location of the reserve, birds travelling South for the winter are filtered down the Rhins and eventually pass overhead. This makes it an excellent spot for visible migration during the correct weather conditions. The highlights were 1,441 Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) on 28th October observed by Pete Berry and myself during a 2.5hr count- the 8th highest UK record. Other highlights included 3,571 Meadow Pipits, Anthus pratensis, (highest site record) and 979 Linnet, Carduelis cannabina, (second highest site record) observed by Dr Clive McKay on the 30th of September. Unfortunately I had picked the wrong day off that week! Check out for full counts.

Juvenile cuckoo on migration (photo Laura Shearer)
Meadow Pipit passing through the Mull of Galloway on migration (photo Laura Shearer)

Other wildlife highlights from my year have been posted previously on my blog so feel free to check them out. My favourites include a Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) at Corsewell Point, Dumfries and Galloway, White-Beaked Dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) off the coast of Northumberland and Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from the Mull of Galloway in October.
I'm excited for 2016 and look forward to continue sharing my wildlife encounters!

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