16 Aug 2009
I receive a mailout from the Copeland Bird Observatory and there was the offer of an evening out by boat to go round the Copeland Islands and for a brief visit to the Copeland Bird Observatory. So I rang Neville McKee and booked a place on the boat.
I do not on the whole do much in the evenings as I get up for work at 2.15 each day and like to be in bed by 9.30. But anyway I arrived at Donaghadee (The top right hand corner of Co.Down) to meet the boat at 6 O'Clock.I have not visited Donaghadee for a few years. The last time I was there I was looking at gravestones at a church in the centre of the town. My mothers side of the family came from Scotland to Northern Ireland in 1608 and settled just outside Donaghadee. There are gravestones in the church in Donaghadee that go back to the early 1800's for our family.
On the pier there was Neville McKee (Who has been ringing birds on the Copelands since the 1950's) There was also one of the Belfast Harbour ex volunteers , a couple of other faces that I didn't know and Anthony McGeehan. We all got into this lobster boat and headed out of the Harbour. The Copeland Islands are only a few miles from the coast.They consist of three Islands Copeland, Mew and Lighthouse Island. It is Lighthouse where the bird observatory is situated. We headed out towards Mew Island with the present day lighthouse.
There wasnt much activity on the water a few Gannets flying past , a couple of Fulmars and far off in the distance a few Manxies shearing the water but nothing close up. As we were rounding the Light house a Peregrine flew up and perched in one of the lighthouse windows. This is a heavily cropped image.
There were a few seals on the rocks and lots of Kittiwakes and a couple of Sanderling.
We then landed on the Lighthouse Island where the the Copeland Bird Observatory is based.
We all made our way upto the observatory at the top of the island. There were lots of wildflowers, a few rabbits and quite a number of gulls. The views were great here is a photo looking towards Kilroot Power Sation on the North side of Belfast Lough.
and looking down on Mew Island and the lighthouse you can just make out Scotland in the background..At the top Neville McKee introduced those of us that hadnt been before to the Observatory. The kitchen, Sitting Room,(A fab library of bird books!) The showers!!!! Basically Hand pump sprayers!!! and then to the ringing room and all its paraphernalia. He showed us a couple of tracking devices which are being used on three manxies at the moment.
On the island at the moment is Kerry Leonard (see update at bottom of page) and an Oxford PHD Student Holly, who was studying the Manx Shearwaters. They had been tracking three Shearwaters and she showed us the results of where they had been feeding in the Irish Sea. One had been going up to the Firth of Forth in Scotland another had been feeding off the eastern side of the Isle of Man and the other more locally. Anthony was saying that it was surprising none were feeding down towards St John's Point in South Down as one can quite often see hundreds of them from there. Holly usually does her studies on Skomer Island in Wales and had tracked the Manxies from there and alot came over from Wales to the east coast of Ireland and made their way up the coast with some surprisingly feeding just off the Copeland Islands before returning to Skomer. So from that I must assume that many of the Manxies I see from Killard NR are probably from Skomer!! and not the Copelands as I had always thought.
After showing us the results we went down the Island to some of the study burrows that is to say a burrow that has a concrete block over the nesting area so that the block is removed and the ringers can easily access the chicks and adults.
Kerry Leonard showed us a couple of chicks.
At the mouth of some of the study burrows particularly the ones where the birds have tracking devices there are little markers to tell them that the Adult has returned. So when the stick has been knocked over they know the adult has returned.
The chicks were lovely and had the softest down on them and they even smelled wonderful.
The chicks were returned to their burrows to await the adults returning with food during the night. Whereas we headed back to the boat and went to look for some Shearwaters on the water. George Henderson another ringer directed us from the Island.
There was a small flock on the water
As we got closer they started to take off and flyby. The light was really poor for photography and I was using a high iso to get any decent shutter speed. These were the two best efforts
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable evening apart from the fact I got to bed at 11.15pm and had to be up again in three hours time!!
UPDATE: Kerry Leonard is in charge of the Copeland end of the shearwater tracking studies. He obtained the funding from the NIEA for the study and is a cooperative venture between the Zoology Department of Oxford University (headed by Prof Tim Guilford, who was not on the island last week), The Copeland Bird Observatory and Sterna Environmental (Kerry Leonards company name)