Plettenberg Bay Kelp Gull Project – Minke Witteveen.
(This report originally appeared in the April 2013 newsletter of BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and is used with the permission of the Editor. - Ed.)
The Kelp Gull. [aka - Refuse rummage, Beach bum, awakening alarm] -and my new study species!
I am sure that many are familiar with the strident ‘kee-ah’ call of the Kelp Gull, one of 51 gull species worldwide. With many seabirds on the Red Data List, the Kelp Gull, along with a variety of other gull species are increasing in numbers due to their ability to adapt to human activities. The Kelp Gull has a wide distribution throughout the southern hemisphere, and is increasing in various areas of the Cape provinces of South Africa.
The human population is increasing rapidly, and demands urban landscape development. Contemporary urbanization is expanding in such a way that previously natural areas are usurped for expansive growth resulting in protected and natural areas becoming islands embedded in an urban mosaic. This increases the interactions between humans and wildlife in the area.
My Masters Research project is entitled ‘The influence of urbanization and disturbance on the breeding biology, foraging behaviour and thermoregulation of Kelp Gulls nesting at Keurbooms River and Robberg Peninsula’. The project aims to look at a few questions regarding the Kelp Gulls, Larus dominicanus, nesting at three breeding colonies in Plettenberg Bay. Firstly, I will be doing regular aerial counts using a drone during the breeding season and measuring the success of the breeding. Secondly, I will be looking at the foraging habits of the birds; to what extent do the birds use urban, fisheries, and natural foods? And finally, I will be investigating whether nest microclimate affects the breeding success of the gulls and the development of thermoregulation in gull chicks.
Human refuse, and plastics in particular, has become an increasing concern with seabirds, and I also plan to look at what rubbish the gulls take onto the colony to use as nesting material, what human refuse they eat, and whether the mortality of the chicks during the breeding season was caused by being fed indigestible and harmful plastics and other refuse. I also have thoughts about looking at the stats of Kelp Gulls being taken to wildlife rehabilitation centres and vets in the area, and whether the causes are human related.
I will have an intense fieldwork season, and I am somewhat daunted by everything that will need to be organised and implemented 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!