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First outing of 2019 for seabird citizen scientists



I am a retired GP and now spend my time doing volunteer wildlife surveys as a Citizen Scientist with conservation organisations. I also love the islands and seascapes of the west of Scotland and therefore jumped at the chance to combine these interests under the CalMac Marine Awareness Programme. 

Last year I undertook three Marine Awareness Programme/ORCA whale and dolphin surveys and also undertook training for the Marine Awareness Programme/JNCC Volunteer Seabirds at Sea project. This project went live on 13 April this year and I was fortunate enough to be a member of the team on the Kennacraig-Islay return crossing that day.

It was a sunny but windy morning when I met up with my mentor Gus for a brief introduction to the new tablet-based recording system. We were relieved that the Master of MV Finlaggan had deemed that the crossing was feasible despite the rough conditions, but nevertheless we donned many layers of clothing before heading out onto the open observation deck. 

Picture of Hugh Tooby

In fact, with a following wind the outward trip was very comfortable, and we had stunning views across to Jura and Islay combined with lots of birdlife to enjoy and record. The highlights included Great Northern Diver at the mouth of West Loch Tarbert and Manx Shearwater further out, impressing us with their aerobatic displays above the waves.

The return trip into the wind was a rather different challenge, with waves breaking over our observation area. Fortunately, the Master invited us onto the bridge to continue surveying, where in warmth and comfort we enjoyed a grandstand view as the ship sent up plumes of spray from some of the bigger waves whilst continuing to enjoy the birds. These included patrolling Fulmar and high-speed squadrons of Guillemot crossing in front of us. 

We arrived back at Kennacraig tired but happy after a dramatic afternoon of stunning views and great bird encounters. Most importantly we also had a load of data ready to be analysed by the experts at JNCC as they continue to monitor the health of the ecosystems on which we ultimately all depend.

- This blog was written by Hugh Tooby, CalMac Marine Awareness Programme/JNCC Citizen Scientist



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