Search

Transatlantic travels take Lowestoft’s kittiwakes to Labrador and beyond

PUBLISHED: 09:00 16 September 2017

A pair of kittiwakes at their nest in Lowestoft. One is fitted with a leg ring as part of the Kessingland Ringing Group's study. Picture: KESSINGLAND RINGING GROUP

A pair of kittiwakes at their nest in Lowestoft. One is fitted with a leg ring as part of the Kessingland Ringing Group's study. Picture: KESSINGLAND RINGING GROUP

Archant

It’s well established that bird migration is one of the great marvels of the natural world - but studies in a Suffolk seaside town are showing that it’s even more miraculous than might be thought.

A tiny lightweight geolocator is attached to a colour ring on a kittiwake's leg as part of the Lowestoft study. Picture: KESSINGLAND RINGING GROUP A tiny lightweight geolocator is attached to a colour ring on a kittiwake's leg as part of the Lowestoft study. Picture: KESSINGLAND RINGING GROUP

It’s a long, long way from Lowestoft to the Labrador Sea off icy Greenland’s coast. It’s even further to the chilly waters off New York’s Long Island. And both far-flung locations can be brutally inhospitable in winter.

They wouldn’t be most people’s best guesses as to where delicate gulls that spend the summer rearing young on the Suffolk coast ride out the winter’s depths.

But new research using hi-tech tracking devices has shown that some of the more adventurous kittiwakes that nest in the town wander widely and reach such far-off areas of the Atlantic Ocean during the northern hemisphere’s most inclement season. Meticulous scientific studies by the Kessingland Ringing Group have revealed the wildest of wintering areas of some of the birds that breed on Lowestoft structures that include Claremont Pier, Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church and a concrete “cliff” at the town’s harbour that has been specially provided for them.

Results so far gathered in the ongoing research contradict the conventional concept that all migratory birds fly south from Britain for the winter. Some of Lowestoft’s kittiwakes do indeed head south, to waters off Spain and Portugal. But others head north and east, some to reach the mid-Atlantic area, gale-lashed Greenland’s offshore zone and even the eastern seaboard of the United States before making their oceanic migration back to Suffolk for the spring and summer.

An immature kittiwake from the Lowestoft Harbour colony. Picture: ANDREW EASTON An immature kittiwake from the Lowestoft Harbour colony. Picture: ANDREW EASTON

Details of such epic journeys have emerged thanks to the painstaking efforts of the ringing group, whose members spend much of the time studying birds at Kessingland Sewage Works but who sometimes transfer their attentions to Lowestoft’s kittiwakes when the globetrotting gulls are “at home”.

The group’s work is carried out strictly in accordance with the stringent requirements of members’ bird-ringing licences which are issued and overseen by the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The work is supported by the BTO and is part of its national ornithological research. It is also supported by the conservation and study charity Seabird Group.

Some of the findings were presented by ringing group member Mike Swindells at a Suffolk Wildlife Trust Alde and Blyth Group meeting at Leiston United Church.

Early in the group’s kittiwake research, three in the Lowestoft colony had been fitted with tiny, lightweight GPS tags in addition to their coloured and uniquely coded leg rings. The harmless tags, fitted to the birds’ backs and designed to fall off when the individual moulted its feathers, showed that the birds had foraged at sea to a range of about 60 miles from the coast before returning to their nests, said Mr Swindells.

Further information was then gained by the use of tiny geolocators, of negligible weight, fitted to other birds’ colour rings. Such devices produced data on date and time and, crucially, light levels. Calculations made after the geolocators were recovered when the birds were re-caught at Lowestoft enabled the ringing group to establish where the birds had spent the winter months.

One bird, named Sophie, had wandered in the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea before spending part of January off Spain and Portugal, returning to the North Sea in February and Claremont Pier at the end of March, he said.

Another kittiwake, named Derek, was more adventurous. After wandering in the North Sea and the Irish Sea, by August 22 it was off the southern tip of Greenland. It ventured into the Labrador Sea before re-crossing the Atlantic to the Outer Hebrides and then Iceland and was back in the North Sea at the end of March.

Alan had spent nearly all his winter off Newfoundland before returning to Lowestoft while Carol ventured out to the mid-Atlantic. Scott had reached Long Island while George had stayed much closer to Suffolk, deciding not to leave the North Sea, said Mr Swindells.

Such travels broadly matched those of kittiwakes in other research projects, but there was one element of the ringing group’s research that may break new ground. It was that each bird effectively repeats its journey - whether Transatlantic or less wide-ranging - each winter.

It was assumed that such arduous journeys were made by some kittiwakes because they were exploiting rich food sources, the benefits of which outweighed the demands of such long-distance migrations, said Mr Swindells. The group’s studies were continuing, he added.

More information about bird migration and tracking projects can be found at www.bto.org/

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Gravesend Reporter visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Gravesend Reporter staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Gravesend Reporter account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest News

Yesterday, 08:00

A Gravesend mother-of-four who suffered two strokes and had to re-learn how to walk will be running the London Marathon for The British Heart Foundation on Sunday (April 22).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

This year’s Virgin Money London Marathon follows the usual route from Greenwich Park to the Mall.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Wondering what the weather has in store for us this weekend? Watch our three-minute Met Office video forecast.

Friday, April 20, 2018

A 16-year sentence has been handed to a man from Gravesend for sexually abusing a child.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Planning permission was given yesterday (Wednesday, April 18) for a further 205 homes in Ebbsfleet Garden City.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

An abuser has been jailed for 15 months for sexual activity with a child in Dartford.

Most read

Competitions

Having a brand new kitchen is something that lots of people want but can only dream of. Sadly keeping up to date and making our living spaces as nice as they can be is a costly and incredibly stressful business. Even a fresh coat of paint makes all the difference but isn’t easy or quick.

Who wouldn’t love the chance to go on a shopping spree. Imagine being able to walk into a shop and choose whatever your heart desires without having to worry about how much it costs.

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Gravesend Reporter e-edition today
E-edition

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Show Job Lists

Family Notices 24

Local business directory

Our trusted business finder