Monday, 22 July 2013

Petrel Prizes

The summer means many things to many people; here at FIBO our thoughts don’t turn to barbeques, beaches or cricket but to Storm Petrels (amongst other things admittedly). Saturday night provided our best catch of the season so far, with around 25 Storm Petrels and 2 Leach’s Petrels trapped, so Sunday night was keenly anticipated.

Sure enough, things ticked along nicely, with around 40 Stormies trapped and, impressively, another two Leach’s Petrels (we’d normally only expect four or five or so of these larger Petrels during the summer, so we’ve certainly started well this year).
Things were getting a bit quieter by around 2.40am, until Will wandered out of the ringing hut with Billy (our current JHMF volunteer) and started yelling ‘THERE’S A SWINHOE’S CALLING!’ Noa and I ran to the far end of the net where Will was and, sure enough, chattering away just offshore was the distinctive call of Swinhoe’s Petrel (prior to that, the speakers had been between the bird and us, pumping out the calls of various petrel species). At this stage, Richard had seen the gathering (but not heard the shouts as he’d been too close to the other speakers!) and started heading towards us from the other net when he also recognised the call as Swinhoe’s. Although the call was heard several times, apparently from the same place (possibly on a small shelf of exposed, flat rocks a few metres offshore from the net site on South Haven), the bird was not seen. At one point, it was answering back directly to the call of Swinhoe’s Petrel coming from the speakers! I ran to the Obs to get sound recording equipment, but by the time I returned, the bird had flown and was not heard again or seen.
Well done to Will for having the optimism to persist with playing Swinhoe’s calls during the Stormie sessions for the last three years, although he’s as amazed as the rest of us that it has worked! Congratulations also to former Assistant Warden Jason Moss, who used his inside knowledge to predict it as a first for Fair Isle in the Prediction Competition and earn himself eight points to move to joint first place!

We’ll be trying again tonight, and there is some hope for a repeat performance (the last of the famous Tynemouth Swinhoe’s Petrels was caught on several occasions during its last two years visiting the site). Although everyone agreed it would be great to get the bird in the hand, there was no real disappointment it hadn’t flown into the nets, as the six of us present were more than happy to have been involved in such a remarkable record.

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