Written by Abi McLelland


Bird photos by Bethan Hall-Jones

The bird monitoring project here at Skálanes has been going for 8 years, counting the numbers of Northern Fulmars and Black-Legged Kittiwakes who regularly nest on the cliffs.

In order to count the birds accurately we need to know how to tell them apart. This can be quite difficult, especially looking at the far side of the cliff, as both birds have white heads. Black-Legged Kittiwakes have black legs, black tipped wings, round eyes, and a relatively thin long bright yellow bill. In contrast, Northern Fulmars have pink legs, grey wings, oval shaped eyes, and slightly shorter, darker and thicker bills. Fulmars also have a larger wingspan of up to 112cm while Kittiwakes have a wingspan of 92cm, although we can’t use this as a comparison when they are sitting on the cliff. Another difference in the birds is that they generally prefer different nesting sites. Kittiwakes like to nest on the rock face of the cliff, whereas, fulmars like to nest on greener, flatter parts of the cliff. As you can see there are plenty of differences but from a distance, even with binoculars they often look the same!

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Black Legged Kittiwakes

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Northern Fulmars

This year we are continuing the monitoring, and improving on the previous work, with help from another research team here with us, from Earlham College, USA (@earlham_field_science). Using their drones we were able to get better images of the cliff, hopefully allowing us to collect more accurate data on the bird populations and the location of their nests.


They spent a lot of time putting the images together with their ‘magic’ software, while working closely with me, to ensure we were able to get everything we needed. We were also able to use their camera to get higher resolution pictures of the cliff from the observation platform, as our previous picture was not of the best quality. This work required multiple trips out to the observation platform and two drone runs!


The drone

We are so grateful to the Earlham team for these new photos, which will hopefully give us a better reference from which to count nest sites. It has been great being able to work with other people again, especially when everyone comes from different backgrounds and fields of expertise, coming together to create better research.


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