Stormies over Souter

A storm petrel which has landed on the ground at The Leas at night
Published : 13 Jul 2017 Last update : 18 Jul 2017

During July and August, a small team of passionate ornithologists can be spotted working through the night to ring storm petrels on The Leas.

It takes dedication and cunning methods to capture the elusive birds

To lure the birds inland once darkness falls, rangers and coastal conservation volunteers transmit the sound of a storm petrel breeding colony out to sea through two high powered speakers. The birds, which don’t usually come inland in the daytime as they’re easily predated by gulls, are caught in mist nets before being ringed, recorded and set free again.

The data is passed onto the British Trust for Ornithology and provides vital information in understanding the survival rates, population sizes and movement of storm petrels.

" A small team of us regularly monitor storm petrels in July and August. We construct 120 foot of fine netting on the beach and begin playing the sound of the breeding colony as soon as it gets dark, usually around 10pm at this time of year. When the birds fly inland they are caught in the net and trained handlers ring the birds and record their data. We prefer the weather conditions to be a little overcast as the nets are more visible to the birds on a clear moonlit night."
- Dougie Holden, Ranger, Souter Lighthouse and The Leas
A storm petrel waits to be ringed
A storm petrel waiting to be ringed is held gently in a volunteer's hand
A storm petrel waits to be ringed

Storm petrels (often known as 'stormies' for short) spend the winter months off the coast of South West Africa and begin their long journey back to their UK breeding grounds in spring. Birds over the age of four are usually paired up and sitting on single eggs by early June. It is thought that the majority of birds ringed on The Leas are under the age of four and spend the summer moving up and down the east coast, feeding rather than breeding.

Years of stormie surveys

The Whitburn Coastal Conservation Group has been monitoring storm petrels on The Leas for 15 years. In that time they’ve had some notable results, including one bird which was caught in 2015 having been ringed off the Portuguese coast in 2004; another bird ringed at Whitburn in 2009 was caught in The Faroe Islands in 2010.

In 2015 the rangers and the Coastal Conservation Group carried out an intensive eight week survey of storm petrels. During that time they ringed 514 storm petrels and two rare Leach’s storm petrels.

" The information we gather through bird ringing and monitoring provides a small part of a much bigger picture when it comes to understanding how a species lives and thrives. The National Trust is passionate about wildlife conservation. We work closely with volunteers and other like-minded organisations to care for our natural world."
- Dougie Holden, Ranger, Souter Lighthouse and The Leas