Monday, 4 February 2013

My project in Plett

The Kelp Gull. Scavenger. Pest. Beach polluter. And my new study species. When I tell people in Plettenberg Bay that I have moved her to study Kelp Gulls, I get curious looks and amused smiles. Strange girl. But I am excited! To be working in a most beautiful part of South Africa, and to be on the beach (minimal lab work!), and to be working with seabirds and gaining experience about a whole different variety of birds and definitely excited for all the opportunities that await me!

My MSc project aims to look at a few questions regarding the Kelp Gulls, Larus dominicanus, nesting at two breeding sites in Plettenberg Bay, Keurbooms River (fondly known as Bird Island) and Robberg Peninsular. Firstly I will be looking at how successful the colonies at both breeding sites are, and hope to do regular aerial counts during the breeding season. Secondly, I will be looking at the foraging habits of the birds; to what extent do the birds forage in a mosaic of urban and natural areas, how important are human refuse and fishery discards as sources of food and does foraging behaviour and diet composition change with chick age? And finally, I will be investigating whether nest microclimate affects the breeding success of the gulls and the development of thermoregulation in gull chicks. I also have thoughts about looking at the stats of Kelp Gulls being taken to wildlife sanctuaries and vets in the area but that aspect is still a thought roaming the recesses of my mind at the moment.

This is my first field-based project, and I am somewhat daunted by the work that lies ahead, but I am so excited for the next two years as I delve into the lives of these birds!

One of my study sites, and the birds! Photo by Suzette Witteveen.

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