Many of you will have become aware of the devastating impact that Avian Flu is having on wild birds, in particular seabirds now, as well as the poultry industry, this spring. Here on Shetland, the disease is spreading most notably among the Northern Gannet & Great Skua populations on the Islands. We have witnessed at first hand the devastating consequences of this disease working through the Noss NNR gannet colony, as this site is a daily fixture on our Noss Boat wildlife tours. Home to over 25,000 northern gannets & thousands of other seabirds during the summer months, Noss cliffs by boat, is hailed as one of Europe’s finest wildlife spectacles, & one we have had pleasure in sharing with thousands of passengers over the years and continue to do so. There are many threats facing our seabirds, many of the current issues are shared as part of our daily live commentary as well as touching on the state & future of the health of the wider marine environment. But to see this new disease at work,  killing hundreds of what has been one of our most resilient, successful seabirds, the northern gannet, is  very upsetting for all to witness & with no obvious help or solution at hand, we watch with a strong sense of helplessness.  All we can do for now is to monitor & hope that this disease will depart as quickly as it arrived, only time will tell. We have liaised & collected samples for NatureScot to initially confirm the disease among Noss gannets, we will continue to offer support where we can.

Hermaness NNR on Unst, also home to a similar number of northern gannets is equally affected, as are apparently, smaller gannet colonies on Foula & Fair Isle. Scotland holds over 40% of the world’s total population of northern gannets, around 180,000 pairs over 14 colonies. Not all colonies have confirmed cases of avian flu at the current time. Icelandic populations have recently confirmed avian flu within their breeding populations, meaning the majority of the endemic northern gannet populations in Europe are now at serious risk of significant losses after years of slow but steady growth.

 

An adult northern gannet on a honeycomb-weathered sandstone nest site, one of over 25,000 northern gannets. Can these usually successful, resilient, seabirds weather this fast moving, devastating disease?

RSPB LATEST STATEMENT:

“The 2021/22 outbreak of HPAI is still affecting wild bird populations in the UK. This has been the worst ever outbreak of HPAI in the UK and has not only affected a large number of birds but is ongoing over a long time period. You can see previous blogs for more information and the story of the unprecedented impact this strain of HPAI has had, causing the loss of a third of the Solway barnacle geese population. We have been in unchartered territory with the disease this year and its effects on wild birds. This is continuing with the focus now being on seabirds in Scotland.

Late last summer, sick and dead great skuas were found in Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda and the Flannan Isles and they tested positive for HPAI. This happened just prior to migration – the species winters off North and West Africa – so the scale of impact on the population was unclear. Now the skuas are back and RSPB Scotland is collating data from colonies to assess impacts, but we were not expected to find great skuas again sick and dying from HPAI. We are also seeing eider ducks and other seabirds including gannets succumbing to HPAI.

Britain’s seabird populations are of global significance with the UK holding 56% of the worlds northern gannet population and Scotland holding 46% of the world’s northern gannets and 60% of the world’s great skuas. Both these species are amber listed in Birds of Conservation Concern 5. Our seabirds are already under massive pressure from human impacts including climate change, lack of prey fish, deaths through entanglement in fishing gear and development pressure. There is great concern for the potential impacts of HPAI on our already beleaguered wild birds.

The RSPB believes that to deal with future HPAI outbreaks in wild birds, improved surveillance, testing and carcass collecting is essential and that an effective plan should be put in place for biosecurity measures and disturbance minimisation to alleviate the pressures on these birds. But this is only the surface of the problem, we must take actions towards effective conservation of our wild bird species“.  – Nick Hawkes June 1st 2022

Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/publications/avian-influenza-bird-flu/

 

A Bonxie (Great Skua) feeding on a dead Northern Gannet at the base of Noss – ©R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, June 2022

 

“Birds can be infected with the avian influenza virus through contact with infected individual birds or waste products. Wild birds including waterfowl can carry and transmit the virus without showing evidence of disease. Movements of poultry around and between countries, and the migrations of wild birds, are both known vectors of the virus.

Although the risk of contracting the disease from a wild bird is very low, we recommend that people do not handle sick or dead wild birds, remain vigilant, and report dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), seabirds or birds of prey to the DEFRA helpline (03459 33 55 77). See DEFRA’s website here for more details” – Nick Hawkes June 2022

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu

 

Bonxie’s (Great Skua) on Shetland mainland & Islands such as Fair Isle & Unst have been hit hard this spring, with hundreds of birds succumbing to Avian Flu over a matter of weeks. Watching healthy Bonxie’s feeding on diseased dead birds is harrowing  – © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat June 2022.

Great Skuas or “bonxies” as they are known in Shetland, one of our most iconic seabirds, were first confirmed with avian flu last year & this year has seen a frightening development in the numbers of affected birds & mortality levels across Shetland this year. Shetland & Orkney hold over 60% of the world population of Great Skua, and 90% of the UK breeding population. They have a very restricted breeding range confined to the northeast Atlantic and migrated to spend the winter in north-west Africa. We have seen many dead bonxies in the water around Noss as well as alive birds clearly showing signs of the disease. We have been bonxies feeding on the infected corpses of northern gannets and of course chasing other seabirds for food, all have a high risk of cross-infection between species. There have been devastating scenes of dead & dying bonxies on Noss & Hermaness in recent weeks. Again at this stage, all we can do is to monitor & wait for any new government guidelines or initiatives but it is expected that Bonxies will have a disastrous breeding season this year with high mortality rates & low productivity. What we can do, as the RSPB & NatureScot have stated, is to call for urgent adoption of policies & conservation action to help maximise the resilience of our seabird populations, which are under enormous threats from climate change, bycatch mortality, the impact of non-native predators & disease outbreaks such as avian flu. 

The pitted sandstone cliffs of Noss are currently alive with thousands of healthy Northern Gannets preparing for the breeding season. However close inspection reveals the dark reality of a highly contagious, often fatal disease, with numerous adult gannets slumped dead on their nest sites alongside seemingly healthy birds. © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat

 

A slumped, dead adult Northern Gannet hanging off its nest site at Noss NNR gannet colony this week – June 2022. An upsetting sight at what should be the start of a productive breeding season for this seabird.

 

The devastating sight of a recently deceased adult Northern Gannet dead on the nest, after succumbing to Avian Flu. © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat June 2022.

www.henleyspiers.com

Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, are delighted to see the photographic side of our business develop so well over the last few years alongside our regular, popular scheduled tours. Since we started our boat tours back in 2016, we have collaborated & enjoyed working with some amazing names in the photographic and film industry, honing out skills to be able to offer a professional, knowledgeable boat platform to help others achieve outstanding results. We have regularly collaborated with the incredible underwater photographer, ecologist and Shetland resident Richard Shucksmith who has brought some outstanding photographers aboard bespoke workshops and tours all catering for different styles and requirements from amateur to professional. In our first of many showcase posts, our first highlights the latest photographic successes of the awesome Henley Spiers, who we welcomed aboard last year for the first time and who will be joining us again in 2022. Henley recently won 1st and 3rd places in the UPY 2021 British Waters Wide Angle category, see below. Henley has also written a fabulous illustrated article on his Shetland experiences last year in this months COAST magazine.

Gannet Success: 

With the @upycontest results just released and now whizzing their way across news outlets worldwide (no joke), I’m glad to report that a couple of my frames made the final collection. Not having left British waters in 2021, it’s great to see a couple of my favourite marine moments appreciated by the judges, picking up 1st and 3rd place in the British Waters Wide Angle category.

The category winner is entitled ‘Gannet Storm’ and as an extra bonus it’s also the cover shot for the UPY 2022 Yearbook:

“A northern gannet swims in an artistic hail of bubbles created by diving seabirds. 40,000 gannets visit the nearby cliffs annually to lay and care for a single egg, fishing for food nearby. Hitting the frigid water faster than an Olympic diver, these incredible birds have evolved airsacs in the head and chest to survive these repeated heavy impacts. From underwater, the sound was thunderous as streamlined, white torpedos pierced the surface. I wanted to create a novel image of these handsome seabirds and resolved to try and capture their movement through a slow exposure. The speed of the gannets led to innumerable failures but in this frame we retain strong eye contact with the gannet, even as the scene is artistically softened. With great thanks to @richardshucksmith , without whom this encounter with the gannets would not have been possible.”

Here’s what judge @alexmustard1 says: “That eye and this moment. A powerful picture. Diving gannets have won this category before, but we’ve never had a portrait like this, that reveals both the personality of this predator and the energy of the action.”

You can read all about Henley’s successful trip to Shetland in 2021 in this months COAST magazine!


ABOUT

Henley Spiers, half British and half French, is a renowned photographer, writer, and trip leader who has fast become one of the most highly decorated underwater shooters in the world.

Starting his professional career in diving as an instructor, working in the Philippines, Indonesia and Saint Lucia, he later fell in love with underwater imagery and made the transition to full-time photographer.

Since then, Henley has amassed a prolific series of award-winning images, including two category wins in the Underwater Photographer of the Year, winning first prize in the Black & White category of Nature Photographer of the Year, and winner of the Ocean Geographic David Doubilet portfolio award.

Henley’s photography has been published in the likes of The Sunday Times, Der Spiegel, and Sierra Magazine, and frequently graces magazine covers.

As an accomplished (and bilingual) writer, Henley’s words often accompany his images, and he is a regular contributor to DIVER magazine (UK), EZ Dive magazine (Taiwan), Plongez magazine (France), and Hakai magazine (Canada). Readers enjoy Henley’s conversational writing style, delivering insight without pretension and usually with a touch of humour. Notably, he has also written for Asian Diver, Outdoor Photography Magazine, bioGraphic, and Black + White Photography magazine.

In 2019, Henley co-authored Black is the New Blue Vol. II, showcasing blackwater diving. His latest book, the Guide to Cebu, co-written with wife and frequent collaborator, Jade, showcases the very best of diving in their former home. Available in the Philippines, the international launch for Guide to Cebu has been delayed due to the current pandemic.

Henley also leads trips to see incredible underwater wildlife encounters, specialising in small-group adventures to rarely seen locations and events. Sought-after as a teacher, Henley’s coaching on these trips has seen a number of attendees go on to become award-winning photographers in their own right.

Although he would be the first to admit that he can still do more to help, Henley has so far enjoyed collaborating in the field of ocean conservation with Blue Marine, Mission Blue, Bertarelli Foundation, Marine Conservation Society, Devon Wildlife Trust, Cornwall Wildlife trust, and Thunnus UK.

In 2019, Henley was honoured to be invited by Blancpain to the Edition Fifty Fathoms Ocean Commitment programme, joining a select group of the world’s foremost underwater photographers.

 

THE No.1 NOSS BOAT  – IT’S OFFICIAL – BEST IN SCOTLAND – COME & JOIN US & SEE WHY!  BOOKINGS NOW BEING TAKEN FOR THE 2022 SEASON….

WOW! 🏆 thank you such! Another award to end the year with……

Shetland Seabird Tours has just been named Scotland’s: ‘Best Wildlife & Photography Boat Tour Company 2021’ at the SME News Scottish Enterprise Awards! What an incredible end to an exceptional Noss Boat season! Thank you so much to all our passengers, followers & supporters! We can’t wait to get back out on the water showcasing Shetland’s rich marine life & supporting Shetland’s tourism industry in 2022 x

 

 

Scotland’s Best Wildlife & Photography Boat Tour Company’ article in local SHETLAND TIMES – December 2021.

Capturing Ecology 2021

Overall Winning Image by Rebecca Nason of Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat

The winning images and an additional eight highly commended images, taken by international ecologists and students, celebrate the diversity of ecology, capturing flora and fauna from across the planet. Subjects range from a blood red snail feeding on dead man’s fingers (a fungus found in the rainforests of India) to a rare sighting of the ‘fairy of the Valencian forests’, a recently discovered cave-dwelling bug in Spain.

The winning images from this year’s will be displayed in our immersive virtual exhibition, which is sponsored by Wiley.

Overall winner: Kumlien’s Gull and Friends, Rebecca Nason.

Overall winner: Kumlien’s Gull & Friends, Rebecca Nason/ShetlandSeabird Tours:

On her winning image, Rebecca Nason – an ecologist and photographer living in Britain’s most northerly harbour town of Lerwick, Shetland – said: “In April 2021, I came across a scarce Kumlien’s Gull as I fed bread to a growing number of Herring Gull sheltering from a Spring storm. A beautiful gull, these birds breed in the Arctic regions of Canada & winter from Labrador west across the Great Lakes.

“When the Kumlien’s gull approached to a good distance to allow for closer full frame shots. I started photographing the eye detail, noting a gorgeous granite coloured iris with dark speckled plumage detail around the eye. It was only when I got home I realised that the speckled patterns were in fact lice clustered around the eye, the Kumlien’s Gull hadn’t travelled alone!

“I am thrilled to win such a prestigious photography competition after entering for the first time this year. I have had a very symbiotic relationship between ecology work & bird photography in my career, so for both to come together in this way to win a competition with a gull image taken on my local patch, is just the icing on the cake.”

THE SHETLAND TIMES: Pg 2: Friday 29th October 2021

MORE LINKS:

BBC NEWS – ‘CAPTURING ECOLOGY’ PHOTOGRAPHY WINNER 2021

DIGITAL CAMERA WORLD NEWS 

SCIENCE FOCUS NEWS

RARE BIRD ALERT – CAPTURING ECOLOGY WINNER