Thursday, January 11, 2007

habits of mating murres and other quandaries

january 11, 2007

So, when you say they’re monogamous, is it a year-round commitment?

Seabird biologist and Canadian Wildlife Service research scientist Greg Robertson didn’t get his feathers in a flap for this (“no, it’s a summer romance”) or any of the other more, well, scientific questions put to him at tonight's lecture, the first of KNL’s 2007 winter series, entitled “bull-birds, tinkers and turrs.”

An entire colony of paddlers turned up to learn about Newfoundland seabirds, their ecology and how to tell them apart. I was fascinated by the talk – and the continuing bombardment of questions from the floor – and learned a whole lot more about species population, trends and problems (e.g. which species are more susceptible to oil spills, ghost nets, hunting, etc.).

And it turns out, kayakers can be hazardous to many of these marine birds. Kayaks allow us to get close to a cliff-dwelling colony without being detected - at first – but chances are a flock of startled seabirds could fatally dislodge their eggs from nooks and crannies. I was startled to learn just how few eggs most of these species lay (1 or 2). Just a few paddles by a few kayakers to an island or cliff colony at the wrong time of year could potentially decimate a local population. Something to think about. Greg suggested approaching islands straight on rather than surprising any nesting birds, and not to lunch at any bird breeding islands. Well, that makes sense. Small things we kayakers can do to help the survival of our feathered friends on the water.

At the same time, the coastline of Newfoundland offers kayakers a marvellous opportunity to observe seabirds - from an appropriate distance. Every year, millions of seabirds travel here.

In the autumn, many come here from the high Canadian arctic and Greenland. In the spring, swarms of them cluster in the bays and along the coastline (Artic terns, for example, arrive after a lengthy trip from Antarctica). Over the spring and summer it's possible to see gannets, murres, guillemots, kittiwakes, herring gulls, black-backed gulls, puffins (the province is home to about 95 per cent of the continent's Atlantic puffins), razorbills, loons, eider ducks, cormorants, bald eagles, ospreys, the list is near endless. Way more than I know.

Above photos: top one is Cape St. Mary's (from Cackle TV) - humungous gorgeous hunk of rock seething with birds on the southern Avalon, Newfoundland - easily accessible by foot - includes one of the largest Gannet colonies in the world. Other two are from website of Dr. Bill Montevecchi, a University Research Professor of Pyschology, Biology and Ocean Sciences at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Hope he doesn't mind my using them!


Michael said...

Gee, I thought 'monogamous' meant 'one-at-a-time', not 'one-each-summer'... I might be in trouble! ;-) Seriously, the point about staying away from nesting birds is well made, and something I should have thought about when paddling around Ile Bonaventure last summer where there is another gannet colony. Thanks for bringing this up!

squidink said...

Michael, I think many of us kayakers have been in this situation (not monogamous or the opposite, necessarily! but getting intruding upon birds!) Because we've been able to get close - it's hard not to do. I know I have and will think about it in the future. We 'self-propelled' people can set an example.

squidink said...

oh - and follow up to the monogamous question. Well, as I understand it, they're life-long partners, only they're only together in summertime. Hey, sounds good to me :)