Exciting camera deployment photo!

In early-September, Adrift Lab teamed up with the Tjaltjraak Indigenous Rangers, and together, they made a thrilling discovery - what was it? Read on to learn more:

White-faced Storm-petrels are tiny (roughly walnut-sized) seabirds that breed on islands in the Recherche Archipelago off the coast of Kepa Kurl/Esperance in south-west WA. Storm-petrels are famous for ‘dancing’ on the surface of the water, dipping their tiny, webbed feet just below the surface to stir up krill and other prey. But like their larger cousins (shearwaters and albatross), storm-petrels also undertake epic migrations. During the non-breeding season (Esperance winter), you won’t believe where our White-faced Storm-petrels travel to – the northern Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea (about 7000 km away)!

One of the great mysteries for this species, however, is when they return to Australia in Spring – the few estimates that exist are hugely variable (June to October) with one research article stating the return date is “unknown”. From a planning perspective, this isn’t helpful, so Adrift Lab and the Rangers decided to deploy a motion sensor camera on a breeding island hoping the photos would capture the precise moment the birds set foot back on the island.

And wow, did we time things perfectly: scrolling through the photos, there were no birds recorded for 3 nights, but on the fourth night – bingo, a single adult storm-petrel can be seen! (see photo linked with this news article). Over the next few nights, the same bird (we think) is observed again and again in photos, suggesting this really is the start of the breeding season.

This single data point might not seem like much, but it’s the first time we’re able to say with confidence when this species returns to southern WA. Over the coming months, the Rangers will work with Dr Jenn (from Adrift Lab) to write up this finding in a scientific journal article that will also include data on storm-petrel breeding success and the proportion of chicks that contain plastic. Stay tuned for updates in early-2024!

#seabirds #MarineScience #IndigenousRangers #RechercheArchipelago #ProtectWhatYouLove #SeaCountryRangers #AdriftLab #EsperanceTjaltjraak

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