Friday, 25 January 2013

Wintering gannets

Being able to sit a bit closer to the Bishops and Clerks than Malcolm I just want to reassure him that his eyes are not deceiving him! When I get the chance I like to nip up to the hide at the north end of the island and do some winter seawatching. On the ebb tide and to a lesser extent on the flood there can, on some days, be a significant feeding frenzy of  seabirds, mainly kittiwakes and auks, off Carreg Trai, the reef that sits just north of the North Bishop. Like Malcolm I have never seen any winter cetaceans in association (although conditions can be pretty rough a lot of the time). I have seen cetaceans (mainly porpoise) in this region in summer months however but nowhere nearly as frequently as in the Sound.

On the subject of the gannets being seen around here in winter the interesting thing is that most of them are probably our European cousins, although some will probably be Grassholm birds. Tracking work using geolocators carried out by Dr Stephen Votier from Plymouth University over the past 7 years on Grassholm has shown that most of 'our' gannets head south for the winter to the coast of Iberia and north west Africa, although some only make it as far as the English channel and a small number remain in Welsh waters. A wider collaborative study using data from tracking work on colonies from the UK, Norway and France showed that the Norwegian birds (from 2 study colonies at Storstappen and Store Ulvoyholmen) could be found in Pembrokeshire waters in winter months along with some of the French birds (from Rouzic off NW France). (taken from Meta-population evidence of oriented chain migration in northern gannets (Morus bassanus) - Fort et al (2012) - if anyone would like to see a full copy of this paper please email me at and  I will forward it on