Training in the use of GPS loggers on small seabirds

Christine overseeing a practice session using dummy tags on dummy birds (Photo: Chris Feare)

Having undertaken trials of different methods for attaching tiny Pathtrack (www.pathtrack.co.uk) GPS loggers to small seabirds in Seychelles (see blog post of 12 December 2015), and found the most acceptable method for Sooty Terns, Christine and I have conducted a training course for staff of the Island Conservation Society (ICS) in Seychelles.

ICS is an NGO that owns and manages Aride Island, one of the most spectacular seabird islands in Seychelles. ICS is additionally responsible for managing conservation on more remote islands managed by the parastatal Islands Development Company (IDC). Four of these outer islands, Desroches, Alphonse and Poivre in the Amirantes group and Farquhar Atoll further south towards Madagascar, are targeted in the GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project, which includes, a consultancy to develop monitoring protocols and conservation management plans for seabirds in these sites.

This is a venture whose objectives are broadly to unify monitoring and data recording methodologies for seabirds on all the islands, and to provide training in monitoring and research techniques aimed at conserving the seabirds’ breeding areas when they are on land and to protect their foraging areas during their breeding seasons. This part of the project is being undertaken by a consortium including James Millet (Programme Co-ordination Unit, Seychelles), Rachel Bristol (freelance ornithology specialist in Seychelles) and Chris Feare and Christine Larose.

Irma Dubois measuring head and bill (Photo: Chris Feare)
Said Harrybat weighing a Brown Noddy (Photo: Chris Feare)

The GPS logger training course involved teaching trainees how handle birds and attach loggers using a harness made from a lubricated elastic (slip elastic – www.prestonsinnovations.com), attached around the base of the thighs so that the tags sit centrally on the lower back of the bird. The trainees first fitted dummy loggers, of similar weight and dimensions to working loggers, to dummy birds (soft toys with suitable legs). Once this had been done successfully the trainees were shown how to attach the dummy loggers to Brown Noddies and then remove them safely, and given practice until they were confident in the processes involved. In addition, Christine and I (it is a job that requires two experienced people) fitted four working loggers on to incubating Brown Noddies and recovered them after they had undertaken a forging trip, so that we could demonstrate the procedures for downloading the track data stored by the loggers.

A Pathtrack GPS logger in place on a Brown Noddy

During the course, all the trainees gained confidence in handling live seabirds and attaching the loggers but they should be given opportunities for further practice before using working loggers purchased under the Outer Islands Project. We hope that use of this technique will help to define areas of the Indian Ocean that warrant protection to ensure the welfare of the seabirds of Seychelles’ remarkable outer islands.

We are grateful to ICS for the opportunity to undertake this training on Aride Island, and to the Aride staff (Manager Uzice Samedi, Boatman Jim Uzice and assistant Maria Accouche) who, in addition to their usual duties, kept our stomachs full of the most delicious local food!

Island manager Uzice Samedi, UniSey student Irma Dubois, boatman Jim Uzice and assistant Maria Accouche with the products of the barbecue on the last night of the course (Photo: Chris Feare)
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