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Shag in the Garden?

Beach-walkers needed to look for seabird corpses and Wayward Shags crash-landing on roads and in gardens

These two stories may be linked. What is happening to North Sea seabirds? The BTO has received first reports that dead seabirds have been washing up along the east coast and would like people to look out for corpses this weekend. Coincidentally, the BTO has also received several reports of Shags found in strange inland locations. Both of these unusual events are occurring just a year after a major wreck of Fulmars in the North Sea that preceded one of the worst breeding seasons on record for seabirds in the same area.Dead seabirds

Chris Kelly, a local Norfolk birdwatcher first reported the dead and dying birds to the BTO: I started finding freshly dead Guillemots a week ago (26 January) following pretty strong north or north westerly winds a few days earlier.

Although three Guillemots have been found alive, most of the washed-up seabirds were dead. The live birds are very thin, weighing about 520g, which is 130g below average and about the weight at which one would expect the birds to die.

There are dead Guillemots (and to a much lesser degree Razorbills, Fulmars and Kittiwakes) on all stretches of the coast that I have been to along the north Norfolk coast (Snettisham to Holkham). The numbers are of the same order as the number of Fulmars in last year`s wreck.

Gullemots seem to be the most commonly found dead seabird in this new wreck. Winter Guillemots weigh between 490 and 860 grammes. Each year, about 12,000 Guillemots are ringed around the British and Irish coasts and it is expected that the birds found in Norfolk will have come from colonies along the east coast of Scotland. Worryingly, BTO research shows that most birds in the North Sea in winter are adults, so their deaths can have a big impact on the breeding population. The 2004 Fulmar wreck involved many hundreds of birds found dead along all North Seas coasts. Post-mortem work carried out by BTO staff showed that virtually all of these birds were adult females that had died when their guts started to bleed into themselves, a classic sign of acute starvation.Mark Grantham of the BTO said: The important things to do now are work out the size of the problem and find out where these birds have come from. We are particularly keen to receive reports of any ringed birds that are found via the BTO website http://www.bto.org or by calling 01842 750050. We have already received a report of a bird ringed in The Netherlands that was found walking along the main coast road at Holkham! Sadly this bird too was in poor condition and later died in care. It just shows that it`s worth checking every bird for a ring ? you never know what it might tell us!Shags in gardens

This latest seabird wreck may be linked to an influx of Shags to inland areas in East Anglia. On 27 January, 15-20 birds crash-landed in a garden in Mundford, Norfolk, over 40km from the sea. One of these died, and was found to be carrying a ring. It had originally been ringed on the Isle of May, on the Scottish east coast, in 1996, so wasn`t a lost youngster!

Several other birds have been found inland in Norfolk, including two on the BTO`s own Nature Reserve at Thetford, and one that was found wandering along a forest road at Santon Downham on 1 February! Further afield, birds have been found at inland sites in Kent and Cambridgeshire, and even at Pitsford Reservoir in Northants where six birds were seen (over 100km from the coast). Oddly these birds don`t appear to be starving and are quite active, and dead birds have also been quite fat. Shags are truly coastal birds and it is very unusual to find them at inland locations.

4th July 2014