Loch Lomond NNR
Last week Steve and Ellen took a trip out to the islands that are part of Loch Lomond NNR. There was hardly any wind, the loch was flat and they noticed strange birds dotted over the surface of the loch. Guillemots. Which is not what you would expect. Guillemots are birds of the sea, only coming ashore to maritime cliffs to nest in the summer. These birds seemed to be fishing though it wasn’t clear if they were actually catching anything. Also they were in their winter plumage with white patches on their checks and under the chin.
They weren’t the only people to notice strange guillemot happenings as there have been reports of dead guillemots washed up on shores all along the south west coast of Scotland. And Mark Stephens, the Radio Scotland ‘Out of Doors’ radio journalist even found a dead one while walking on the West Highland Way at Crianlarich. So something was going on and though we didn’t know what, I knew people who did.
UK CEH are one of the top seabird research organizations in the world and they have been carrying out most of the seabird researcher on NatureScot’s Isle of May NNR. They have been doing this for nearly 50 years and researchers come from all over the world to see it. So I asked them what might be going on.
The word from their top researchers is that this is what is called a ‘wreck’. Sometimes in the autumn there is a combination of bad weather and a food shortage and this can catch out young and moulting birds. Some will starve as they can’t find enough food in rough seas while others are driven inland. The birds that Steve and Ellen saw were luckier than some and hopefully will find enough fish to keep going and eventually find their way back out to sea.
A single ‘wreck’ isn’t an indication of climate change; they have probably always happened. However there is a worrying trend that they are happening more often as a result of there being bigger and more frequent bad weather events. More wrecks increase the death rate of the seabirds like guillemots and then their breeding rate can’t make up the difference and the population goes down. For some seabirds this is already happening.
So this is an indicator, just as David Attenborough was explaining on his latest TV programme, that everyone’s lifestyles can affect wildlife. Carbon-rich lives causing a changing climate that reduces wildlife populations is something that is happening right now across the planet.