Strangers in the Night
Hebrides Wildwatch recently took up the offer to join an island based bird ringer on a night time outing to look for Storm Petrels on the North Eastern tip of Lewis. These tiny sea birds which are also known as Mother Carey's Chickens, are strictly pelagic and little is known about there distribution and behaviour while they are at sea. Feeding on plankton, and tiny crustaceans often while hovering at the waters surface, there flight has been described as bat like, but when we watched them they seemed more akin to large moths.
The licensed ringer set up his mist net almost at right angles to the wind, and used a taped call to attract the birds. His experience of the petrels was that they wouldn't show up before total darkness had fallen and this proved to be the case. In a strengthening wind they came in from the Minch and were silhouetted against a stormy sky by the regular sweep of a nearby lighthouse. Captured birds were weighted, aged, measured for wing length and most importantly ringed before being released. The process was quick and the birds did not seem unduly stressed by the experience. With an average weight of just 24 grams its hard to reconcile how nature has allowed them to adapt to cope with the harsh oceanic conditions of the North Atlantic. All in all an interesting glimpse of this fascinating little bird, which seldom crosses our path here on the island.