Adventures in seabird monitoring

Firstly – I think it’s appropriate to introduce myself, my name is Gavin Arneill and I am a PhD student in the school of BEES. My project is funded by the NPWS and aims to develop and assess a monitoring strategy for Puffins, Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.

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Why is this important? To use an example close to home, for the past 3 years Marine Biology MSc. students have carried out population censuses on Manx Shearwaters under the supervision of Prof. John Quinn. The results of these projects demonstrated the lack of accurate population estimates for Manx Shearwaters in Ireland. These inaccuracies are largely due to the fact that estimating the population size of burrow nesting seabirds is difficult because (a) you can’t see occupied sites and (b) 2 of the 3 species only come to land at night. My project aims to test the effectiveness of existing methods and develop the most effective strategy for future monitoring.

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The field season has started off great, with the first trip to High island off the Connemara coast. The site hosts a population of both Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels, as well as a number of other seabirds. Dave Whelan, a marine biology MSc student, and myself worked on estimating the size of the Manx shearwater population by carrying out plackback surveys over the entire island. Additionally, acoustic recorders were deployed in areas around the island to record the calls of both Manx Shearwaters and Storm petrels throughout the night.

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Right now, I am on Great Saltee island off the Wexford coast using time-lapse and motion sensor cameras to test how effective they are at determining the size of Puffin populations. This trip has been particularly interesting as the number of Puffins on the island has increased considerably compared to when I carried out my fieldwork for my undergraduate honours project here. On top of the camera work, we are looking at the number of Puffins rafting around the island everyday.

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It’s great that UCC seabird research group (or whatever we decide to call ourselves) is becoming a very solid entity in the school of BEES. The outputs from the current and future projects are going to make a considerable difference in our understanding and conservation of Irish seabirds.

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