THE NIGHT SKY IS THE LIMIT FOR MANX SHEARWATERS
More than 30 young Manx shearwaters have been seen ‘star-gazing’ on St Agnes and Gugh.
During September, chicks come out of their burrows in the dark and stare at the night sky, which is believed to the bird’s way of fixing their location, so they can navigate their way home after spending the next two or three years of their lives off South America.
Both St Agnes and Gugh were declared rat-free earlier this year and seventy-three pairs of Manx shearwaters have been recorded breeding this year.
This number is up from 22 in 2013, when the seabird’s future was in doubt owing to predation by rats.
There were also nine apparently occupied storm petrel nests recorded on the two islands; the sparrow-sized seabird returned for the first time in living memory last year.
Jaclyn Pearson, the RSPB’s Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project manager, said: “It is truly amazing to observe the behaviour of these star-gazing Manx shearwater chicks. Often fledging Manx shearwaters can only be seen on islands where wardens and research teams carry out surveys, but there is a community of 84 people here and they can actually see it where they live, which is incredible.”
Manx shearwaters, which nest in burrows, have colonised new areas on the islands since rats were removed, as well as increasing their breeding numbers.
Storm petrels, which nest in tiny crevices among rocks have returned to breed after a long absence; they spend most of their time at sea and are very rare in England, where they are confined to the South West.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director of conservation, who visited the islands recently, said: “The local community is rightly proud about what it has achieved for its seabirds. The UK government is committed to restoring nature in a generation, and it can take inspiration from what has been achieved through the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project."
Anybody who thinks they have seen a rat on St Agnes or Gugh should call the project’s ‘Rat on a Rat’ hotline on 01720 422153. The project team and islanders will then inspect the area, set up surveillance and respond if necessary.