Re­liv­ing our past

For the birds — Young Lawn bi­ol­o­gist gets to know area’s Manx shear­wa­ter pop­u­la­tion This ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished in the Sept. 7, 2011, edi­tion of The South­ern Gazette.

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL -

The smile on Sheena Roul’s face in a photo where she’s ten­derly cup­ping a baby seabird sums up how the 23-year-old bi­ol­o­gist from Lawn feels about her seabird re­search.

Green hills and yel­low wild­flow­ers serve as the back­drop for the pic­ture, which was taken on Mid­dle Lawn Is­land in 2009 by Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity’s Dr. Anne Storey.

At the time, Ms. Roul and fel­low stu­dent Michelle Wille were study­ing the Manx shear­wa­ter species of seabirds.

Ms. Roul has since grad­u­ated from Me­mo­rial with a bach­e­lor of sci­ence (hon­ours) de­gree. The re­sults of her study on the sta­tus of Manx shear­wa­ter seabirds at the Lawn Is­lands Ar­chi­pel­ago Pro­vi­sional Ecological Re­serve will be pub­lished in ‘Osprey’, a quar­terly mag­a­zine pub­lished by Na­ture New­found­land and Labrador (for­merly the New­found­land and Labrador Nat­u­ral His­tory So­ci­ety).

Manx shear­wa­ters are medium-sized, long-winged seabirds.

As noc­tur­nal birds, they only re­turn to the is­land at night. They are as amaz­ing as they are mys­te­ri­ous, Ms. Roul said dur­ing a re­cent tele­phone in­ter­view.

Just as re­mark­able as the birds them­selves is the fact that Mid­dle Lawn Is­land is the only known breed­ing colony for the species in North Amer­ica.

“They found their way there in the 1970s, and they be­gan breed­ing there.”

The world’s pop­u­la­tion of th­ese seabirds is es­ti­mated at ap­prox­i­mately 300,000 breed­ing pairs, 94 per cent of which breed in Bri­tain and Ire­land.

Ms. Roul ex­plained that in the 1980s there were about 300 breed­ing pairs of Manx shear­wa­ters at the re­serve.

“In 2009, I only found one chick and for the breed­ing sea­son in 2010, I didn’t find any.”

As a fol­low-up to her 2009 re­search, Ms. Roul con­ducted a study to eval­u­ate the breed­ing ac­tiv­ity of Manx shear­wa­ters on Mid­dle Lawn Is­land and to de­ter­mine if the seabirds con­tinue to visit and prospect on sur­round­ing is­lands.

Her re­search was com­mis­sioned by the Parks and Nat­u­ral Ar­eas Di­vi­sion of the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Con­ser­va­tion.

Dur­ing her vis­its, she placed au­to­mated dig­i­tal acous­tic record­ing de­vices at Mid­dle Lawn, Of­fer and Colom­bier Is­lands.

She mounted the wildlife acous­tics on wooden posts and se­cured them to the ground.

Ms. Roul laughed as she re­called her re­search.

“I’d go there by speed­boat. Some­one in the town would take me to as close as a rock as pos­si­ble, and I’d make a leap for it.”

The record­ing de­vices al­low bi­ol­o­gists like Ms. Roul to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween male and fe­male vo­cal­iza­tions and to get a gen­eral num­ber of their pop­u­la­tions.

Af­ter re­triev­ing and analyzing the data, she con­cluded that Manx shear­wa­ter ac­tiv­ity was only de­tected at Mid­dle Lawn and Of­fer is­lands.

Her pa­per notes that the ma­jor­ity of vo­cal­iza­tions were recorded on Mid­dle Lawn Is­land. Of the 764 ae­rial vo­cal­iza­tions recorded on the two, 52, or 69 per cent were made by fe­males.

Be­cause the seabirds are bur­row nest­ing, Ms. Roul also car­ried out bur­row searches on Mid­dle Lawn Is­land. Her search yielded a few seabird car­casses, in­clud­ing two Leach’s storm pe­trels and two Manx shear­wa­ters.

Sadly, of the bur­rows searches, she noted no Manx shear­wa­ter adults, young or eggs were found.

Ms. Roul feels that habi­tat loss and preda­tors on Mid­dle Lawn, Of­fer and Colom­bier is­lands ap­pears to be the ma­jor fac­tor lim­it­ing the species pop­u­la­tion vi­a­bil­ity.

“I’d go there by speed­boat. Some­one in the town would take me to as close as a rock as pos­si­ble, and I’d make a leap for it.” Sheena Roul

She also be­lieves that, if con­ser­va­tion ef­forts could be im­ple­mented, the Manx shear­wa­ter pop­u­la­tion within the re­serve could in­crease.

“There are storm pe­trels there, and on nearby is­lands, there are kit­ti­wakes, so it’s a great area for species di­ver­sity and a great area for food with a big school of capelin that come in every year.”

Ms. Roul would like to see con­tin­ued re­search so that the birds that have been liv­ing here for over three decades get the pro­tec­tion they de­serve.

She’d also like to see the word ‘pro­vi­sional’ re­moved from the re­serve’s ti­tle and see it es­tab­lished as per­ma­nent.

“I am op­ti­mistic that, in time, and with more re­search, we can help this species thrive in the great seabird sanc­tu­ary of the Lawn Is­lands Ar­chi­pel­ago Ecological Re­serve.”


Dr. Anne Storey pho­tographed Sheena Roul of Lawn with a Manx shear­wa­ter chick on Mid­dle Lawn Is­land in the sum­mer of 2009. Ms. Roul was col­lect­ing data for her Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity hon­ours the­sis at the time.

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