Once it gets dark on the reserve there is a lot going on out there that we don’t know about. No, this isn’t going to be that sort of post but is actually about some of the wildlife that only comes out under the cover of darkness and that you wouldn’t know was about the reserve.
I was very lucky the other night to go along with a local bird ringer to find out about another nocturnal local visitor. We stumble up to the cliffs just a hundred yards form the reserve in the very last light of the day and made ourselves comfortable looking down towards the sea. Phil the ringer set up 2 specialist mist nets and a tape playing the weirdest call you could imagine. All we then had to do was sit and wait for the night time ocean wanderer who passes this coast on a nearly daily occasions but is hardly even seen. The storm petrel.
These are tiny (the size of a house martin) seabirds that breed in a few places in the far north, usually rocky islands. They are small and slow fliers so are easily caught by gulls so to stay safe they head far out to sea during the daytime and only come closer to the coast once the gulls have gone to bed at night. So to be able to catch them we have to be set up for night. By playing a tape of the call of the storm petrel the birds are attracted in to the shore to investigate and get caught in the mist nets. They are then quickly taken out, have a ring put on and released again. But why do this?
Well there is still much to learn about storm petrels. Being small, secretive and nocturnal means that it can be difficult to learn about their ecology. By ringing them we can find out much more about where they go, how long they live and what places are important to them.
After a bit of waiting suddenly there was a bird in the net. Once in the hand they are lovely birds to look at. Of the 9 we caught one had a ring already on its leg. The number was recorded and put into the data base so that we can find out where it was first caught and if it has been recaught since. The birds that we were catching were most probably young birds, they don’t breed till they are 5 years and until then they wander the oceans. Our catching this bird gives us one more piece of information in the jigsaw of data that creates the bigger picture of a species. After being processed the bird is taken away from the nets and place on an open palm. In the dark it is left to decide when it wants to leave and when ready patters getting across the hand. Being black with just a white rump it makes them seem almost like a wraith, flitting silently and invisible back to the sea. A special chance to see a bird that is a regular visitor to this coast but that we hardly ever see.
A few nights ago in a garden right on the edge of the reserve another nocturnal wanderer turned up. The bedstraw hawkmoth is an immigrant. A few each year come across the North Sea from Europe and this one that turned up in Collieston was delighted to take advantage of some honeysuckle in a garden where it was filling up with nectar from the flowers. So if you have honeysuckle in flower in your gardens it is worth having a look at it on a still, warm night, partly because the perfume is at its best but also because you might get to see moths and other insects that you never expected to see in your gardens.