Late year at Slettnes Arctic skua colony

Late season at Slettnes

Sometimes a biologist feels like Sherlock Holmes. Every breeding year in the Arctic is different, but how come the skuas are so late this year? We are here for over a week now and only today at 19th June the majority of the skuas start to lay eggs, roughly two weeks later than on average. Did they really only start now or did they try before, but were their eggs taken by foxes or other predators and is this the second wave? It is difficult to find out, but given the high predation rates the latter may well be the case. Also the food situation does not seem to be brilliant, with low feeding concentrations of seabirds at sea indicating that there is not a lot of fish out there. It does not resemble last year at all  when masses of birds were feeding out at sea.

To discover who is taking skua eggs we placed eight camera traps at different nests. The camera responds to movement, that can be either cause by the incubating bird, a predator or a reindeer moving through the area. Somehow the camera traps seem to protect the nests as we have the impression that nests with camera traps survive longer than those without. At the only one (so far) in which the egg disappeared the picture says it all and gives a nice summary of life at Slettnes: the midnight sun, a skua taking off and a red fox stealing the egg in the middle of the night. If skuas have no nest, catching them to retrieve loggers is practically impossible. But despite high predation rates, we managed to catch back three birds, of which one has a logger that contains data since 2015! Now that more birds with loggers started breeding we have more opportunities to retrieve loggers of birds that we failed to catch last year because they lost their clutch.

caught by cameratrap: fox taking egg of Arctic skua nest in the reflection of the midnight sun. Time of the crime: 01:38

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