Becoming a Project Warden: the first steps working with Yelkouan Shearwaters

December 7, 2016 10:22 am

Living on a tiny, overpopulated group of islands it is easy to get disheartened if you treasure nature and wildlife. The environmental problems found worldwide are all the more concentrated on Malta and facing them can be daunting. Luckily there are people that do; BirdLife Malta researchers and conservationists for example, who for decades have dedicated time to learning more about the birds found on the islands and how they can be better protected. Not only do they help birds, they also encourage young people growing up on the islands to get involved and do their part for nature. That is probably how I got to join BirdLife Malta’s latest conservation project, LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija, focusing on the red-listed Yelkouan Shearwater.

dscn2212The job of warden is definitely very varied, tasks ranging from putting together nest boxes at the breeding colonies, to analysing sound recordings of birds calling deep inside caves. Not to mention balancing on narrow cliff ledges and dangling in ropes to access the breeding areas in steep cliffs, to explaining to the members of the public about our work at events like Science in the City. Driven by curiosity to know more about one of Malta’s most secretive birds and a wish that in the future one can still hear their eerie calls from rugged coastal cliffs. Of course it is not only about the Yelkouan Shearwater, we believe that improving the situation for one species will have positive effects on others too.

The first three months I have spent as part of the project team have flown. However, there are many challenges ahead to look forward to. The first Yelkouan Shearwaters have been recorded back in their burrows and soon a busy breeding season will kick off. We will be monitoring the colonies we know about and trying to find nimg-20161005-wa0000ew ones by listening into the night for calls as birds enter unexplored crevices and sniffing between boulders in search of the distinctive smell of shearwater burrows. Just last week we found a crevice with a strong smell of Yelkouan Shearwaters in an area with no known colonies. We are excitedly waiting to check the sound recorder and trail camera we deployed to find out how many birds might be nesting here. Finally, with the right technology we hope to find out whether lighting up the cliffs artificially, reduces the time Yelkouan Shearwaters spend at their nests and feeding their chicks.

By Martin Austad, LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija Project Warden at BirdLife Malta

(Martin Austad is from Malta, where he developed a strong interest in birds and birdwatching. From volunteering with BirdLife Malta, he is now Project Warden for LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija, a conservation and research project on the secretive Yelkouan Shearwater.)