Puffins’ and guillemots’ eyes, new research

This 2009 video says about itself:

In Iceland‘s remote Westman Islands, warming weather is threatening a beloved mascot: the Atlantic puffin.

From Ibis, international journal of avian science:

The visual fields of Common Guillemot Uria aalge and Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica: foraging, vigilance and collision vulnerability

Graham R. Martin and Sarah Wanless


Significant differences in avian visual fields are found between closely related species that differ in their foraging technique. We report marked differences in the visual fields of two auk species.

In air, Common Guillemots Uria aalge have relatively narrow binocular fields typical of those found in non-passerine predatory birds. Atlantic Puffins Fratercula arctica have much broader binocular fields similar to those that have hitherto been recorded in passerines and in a penguin.

In water, visual fields narrow considerably and binocularity in the direction of the bill is probably abolished in both auk species. Although perceptual challenges associated with foraging are similar in both species during the breeding season when they are piscivorous, Puffins (but not Guillemots) face more exacting perceptual challenges when foraging at other times when they take a high proportion of small invertebrate prey.

Capturing this prey probably requires more accurate, visually-guided bill-placement and we argue that this is met by the Puffin‘s broader binocular field, which is retained upon immersion; its upward orientation may enable prey to be seen in silhouette. These visual field configurations have potentially important consequences that render these birds vulnerable to collision with human artefacts underwater, but not in air. They also have consequences for vigilance behaviour.

A sanderling’s life

Sanderling G3BGGW on Texel, 31 December 2014 (photo Micheal Hermes)

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

The life of G3BGGW – 12 February 2015

No, not a character from Star Wars. G3BGGW is a sanderling which was ringed in Iceland in May 2013. He was found dead on February 1, 2015 on Texel. What makes this bird so special is that he was not only seen several times in the past two years, but he was even seen alive a day before his death. So, the day of his death is very accurately known, something bird researcher Jeroen Reneerkens has experienced only a few times. Such small birds are almost never found when they die, let alone so quickly.

What’s in a name?

Thanks to his rings this sanderling was recognizable. When he came in sight of the telescopes of various bird watchers, viewers have noted the series of rings and passed the information on to the ring station. The letters in his name are about the colours: G = green, B = blue, W = white; the numeral 3 indicates that one of the rings is a flag, in this case a green flag, this was on “position 3”: above the rings on the left leg. Bird rings are read from left to right and from top to bottom.

Winter beach guest

Sanderlings are found on Dutch beaches outside the breeding season, so from late July to late May. The largest numbers you see on beaches in the winter months. They breed in the far north. … Those little birds that fast run back and forth with the surf – that are sanderlings. It seems like they are trying to go as close as possible to the water without making their feet wet. But actually they are looking for worms that appear quickly from the sand when the seawater flows over them. In the water there is plankton on which the worms feed. The birds try to catch the worms.


In Iceland G3BGGW was ringed and weighed. He weighed 71 grams and had OK fat stores to fly even further towards Greenland to breed. In winter sanderlings slim to about 50-55 grams. Five months later, he was seen on Texel, north of beach post 12. Then he came back a year later on the island, on November 5, 2014 at beach post 9. Presumably he remained until his death in this environment. Two days before his death he was seen on the parking lot near the beach. That is very strange for such a beach bird. There it cannot find food. The birdwatcher thought that he did not look too healthy there. The next day the bird was seen again on the beach and the next day he lay dead along the road to this beach.


Jeroen Reneerkens for years has been doing research into sanderlings. To do that, he has a large network of people in many countries who help with the rings and retrieval of this species. Except for Iceland also in Greenland, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Portugal, Mauritania, Ghana and Namibia research teams are involved. There are 6,000 birds ringed and 61,000 observations noted. A chore, but it provides a lot of information on which the survival of sanderlings can be mapped accurately. Furthermore, the scientists discovered that while most sanderlings are worm eaters, they eat shellfish only in Ghana! They swallow them in their entirety and so have strong stomach muscles. The life of bird G3BGGW is not over. Jeroen will investigate this bird further. By viewing its organs and fat, he hopes to find out why the animal died: by disease, age, something else? Such a fresh dead bird is an unique opportunity!

Northern lights in Iceland, video

This video from Iceland is called Aurora Borealis, December 7th 2014 over Reykjavik.

See also here.

Northern lights on Terschelling island: here.

Good seabird news from Spain

This video is about Látrabjarg seabird colony in western Iceland.

From BirdLife:

Great step forward for seabirds in Spain

By Elodie Cantaloube, Tue, 22/07/2014 – 16:17

Spanish landmark legislation increases 20-fold marine protected areas

Spain has officially established 39 new marine protection areas. The new sites are ‘Special Protection Areas for Birds’ (SPAs), designated under the European Birds Directive. The SPAs will offer protection to seabirds whilst they are at sea, complementing the existing network of sites on land.

Spain, with its Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines and islands, is extremely important for European seabirds. This includes Europe’s most threatened seabird – Balearic Shearwater, and other species endemic to the Mediterranean, such as the Yelkouan Shearwater and Audouin’s Gull.

The announcement is the culmination of many years of hard work by BirdLife’s Spanish Partner SEO/BirdLife, who has played a major role in this process: each of the 39 sites closely mirrors the Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas identified by the organisation, following nearly a decade of scientific research.

Previously, Spain’s network of protected sites for seabirds was made up mostly of small sites at colonies and along coasts and islands. These sites mostly protect seabirds whilst on land, but do not protect them in the environment where they spend the majority of their time: out at sea. These new sites, many of which are large in size, and include areas offshore, will add an additional 50,000km2 to Spain’s protected area network for birds, a whopping 20-fold increase.

“The announcement is extremely important”, said Asunción Ruiz, Director of SEO/BirdLife “Now seabirds can be protected when they venture away from the Spanish coast. Carefully managed, these sites could make a real difference to the recovery of our threatened seabirds.”

The ground work carried out by SEO/BirdLife to identify these sites, involved many years of research tracking seabirds and understanding their behaviour at sea. The information on Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas is collated on BirdLife’s Marine E-Atlas. Across Europe, these sites act as a ‘shadow list’ of sites which should be protected under EU law.

“It is extremely promising that Spain has moved to designate offshore sites and it is imperative for seabird conservation that other countries in Europe follow their example”, added Marguerite Tarzia, European Marine Conservation Officer at BirdLife “the addition of these sites means that Spain has gone from lagging behind other EU countries, to being one of the regional leaders in seabird protection at sea. It is important that the next steps include strong and effective management of sites, to ensure that the positive gains made today are followed through for real conservation outcomes.”