During 2003, weather conditions on the Isle of May, like much of the UK, were considerably warmer and drier than in recent years. Most seabird species
experienced a reasonably productive breeding season, with breeding success for all species except common guillemot and razorbill being close to, or above,
the long term average. European shag productivity saw its highest value on record and continued the trend of very high breeding success seen during the
previous three seasons. Black-legged kittiwakes had their second most productive season since 1990. Breeding success of both northern fulmars and Atlantic
puffins was close to the long term average, and similar to 2002. Common guillemot productivity was no higher than in 2002, and was still below the long
term average. Razorbill breeding success was well below the long term average and lower than that of 2002. Timing of breeding was earlier for European
shags and common guillemots, but normal for northern fulmar, black-legged kittiwake, Atlantic puffin and razorbill. Return rates of colour-ringed European
shags, black-legged kittiwake and Atlantic puffins were close to, or above, the long term average, while those for common guillemots and razorbills were
slightly lower. As in previous years, lesser sandeels were the predominant prey species for all species, except for guillemots, which mainly brought back
clupeids for their chicks.
- Northern fulmar breeding success (0.44 chicks per pair) was similar to that of 2002, and close to the long term average.
- European shags had another productive season, with timing of breeding (the first eggs were laid on 23 March) being much earlier than in 2001 and
2002. Breeding success was 1.83 chicks per pair, the highest ever recorded here. As in 2002, return rate was high at 92.7%.
- Timing of breeding for black-legged kittiwakes was normal, but 15% of birds occupying a site did not start nest building. Those pairs that did
complete a nest, however, produced an average of 0.77 chicks per pair. This value is much higher than that for 2002 and the long term
average. Black-legged kittiwake return rate (84.2%) was the highest since 1990.
- Common guillemots began egg laying slightly earlier than in 2002, with the first egg on the island being seen on 17 April and in the study
plots, on 20 April. Breeding success (0.68 chicks per pair) was below the long term average, but similar to 2002. Common guillemot return
rate (87%) was the same as in 2002.
- Razorbill breeding success (0.59 chicks per pair) was below that for 2002, and slightly below the long term average. The return rate of
razorbills (77.8%) was slightly lower than in 2002.
- Atlantic puffin breeding success for 2003 (0.77 chicks per pair) was similar to the long term mean. Return rate (85.2%) was similar to that in
2002 and close to the long term average.
There has been no commercial sandeel fishery on the Wee Bankie since 2000. Studies on the Isle of May in 2000-2002 provided circumstantial evidence that the
closure of the fishery could potentially have an immediate and positive effect on seabird productivity. In particular, breeding success of European shags
has been at record levels and black-legged kittiwake breeding success returned to something approaching the higher levels (0.82-1.38) typical of the
In 2003, breeding success of the European shag, an inshore forager which relies almost completely on older sandeels, was the highest on record and continues
the upward trend, post-fishery closure. Black-legged kittiwakes, which also rely heavily on sandeels but which target the 0-group sandeels during
chick-rearing and forage offshore, experienced increased breeding success from the previous two seasons, although not quite reaching levels of 2000,
immediately after the fishery closure. Breeding success for Atlantic puffins was similar to the previous three years. Common guillemots and razorbills,
which are less reliant on sandeels, continued the recent trend of having low breeding success relative to the long-term average. Northern fulmars, for which
sandeels appear not to be an important prey item, experienced breeding success close to the long-term average, continuing the apparent year to year
It was uncertain in 2000 whether environmental factors, e.g. hydrographic conditions, that potentially affect the growth and life history strategy of
sandeels, were involved in the recovery of the breeding success of European shags and black-legged kittiwakes. An EU-funded interdisciplinary project was
started in 2001 to try to investigate this further and its last field season was completed in 2003.
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