The other day however, I was asked by some ringing friends if I'd be interested on going on an overnight ringing trip for Storm Petrels. Of course, I jumped at the chance, especially as it involved going to an island I've seen many many times but have never actually visited, Islas Hormigas, off the east side of Cabo de Palos.
I call them islands, but in fact they are a group of rock outgrowths in the Mediterranean, best known to divers for the sealife. The largest of the islands has a lighthouse on it, and it was this island that we were going to.
So last friday 7pm found me waiting for the rest of the crew at Cabo de Palos harbour. I was a little concerned when the first of the people showed up with two canoes strapped to the roof of his car, but my mind was put to rest when I was told that WASN'T our means of transport out to the island!
Eventually there were enough of us to make the first trip out in a zodiac, and on route on the 20 minutes or so journey, I managed to take a few photos. On our way, we saw a couple of Balearic Shearwaters and a Cory's Shearwater cut across our bows, and a real surprise considering the time of year, a Razorbill.
Our departure point, Cabo de Palos harbour
The first time I've got to see Cabo de Palos cliffs from below
Our destination - Islas Hormigas ...
... and a closer view
Once on the island, while we waited for the rest of the group, we explored. The island is pure rock but with various fissures in it, and it is in these fissures that the Storm Petrels breed. In a couple of places we could here the chicks calling, and in one hole in the rock could actually see a chick.
Not easy to make out, but this ball of feathers is actually a Storm Petrel chick
Another view of the lighthouse
Inside was very basic, but was somewhere dry to put our sleeping bags should we get the opportunity
Mist-nets up ...
... then it's a matter of waiting for dark
Looking back towards Cabo de Palos in the dusk
Slowly but surely the sun dropped
By about 10-30pm it was completely dark and we had our first catch, and slowly but surely the later it got, the more birds we caught. The trapping was pretty continuous, but by 3am things started to slow down - which was OK by us as we were all pretty knackered by then.
Each bird was ringed and measured, and feather samples were taken. If a bird did the typical petrel-vomit, this was also collected, and the tail feathers dyed. This was to give an easy indication as to which island the petrel had been ringed on - a couple were retrapped from other islands in the Cartagena area.
Processing the birds
The object of the exercise - European Storm Petrel ...
... and another
We actually took the nets down at 4am having captured, ringed, measured and marked around 140 Storm Petrels, and we managed to grab a couple of hours sleep in sleeping bags before getting woken up at 6am sharp as our transport back to Cabo de Palos had arrived - this time in the form of the zodiac and a small fishery protection patrol boat which can often be seen off Cabo de Palos.
Before dawn, we were on our way back to Cabo de Palos ...
... thankfully on a more secure, powerful boat
Back at Cabo de Palos, and sunrise!
Then back at Cabo de Palos it was a case of off to Cala Flores to a cafe open there for breakfast, before (in my case at least) spending the rest of the day recovering!