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Are sea birds heralding a sandeel summer around Wester Ross?

Posted: Monday 15 May, 2017 @ 06:12:02

Screenshot of sandeels from video recorded to west of Melvaig on 13th May 2017

Since late April, feeding frenzies of gulls, gannets and auks (razorbills and guillemots) have been seen in Loch Gairloch, Loch Ewe and around other coastal areas nearby.

On Saturday 13th May, Peter Cunningham encountered a feeding frenzy to the west of Melvaig whilst paddling in his kayak. Several bait balls of sandeels were seen on the surface of the sea. Using a GoPro video camera, some of the activity, both above and below the surface of the water, was recorded.

Shoals of sandeels appeared to have been herded to the surface by razorbills and guillemots. Where the birds were feeding many bubbles were seen, possibly causing further confusion amongst the panicking fish. Once on the surface, an assortment of other birds, mostly kittiwakes, herring gulls, greater-black backed gulls and gannets, were able to feed.  

Several people have commented on seeing sea birds feeding in this way elsewhere within the area in recent weeks. There have already been more reports of feeding frenzies in the area than for several years. 

When sandeels have been abundant in the late spring and early summer in previous years, sea trout have grown well at sea, and rates of marine survival have been relatively good.

Sea bird breeding success also varies according to the abundance of small fish. The old WW2 concrete pier at Mellon Charles, near the mouth of Loch Ewe, supports a breeding colony of common terns. Prospects for breeding terns and for sea trout (depending upon sea louse infection pressures . . .) around this part of Wester Ross are currently looking quite good. 

Screenshots from the video can be found in report on the downloads page or by clicking here.