Red Deer on Ulva

To diverge from our typically seal-oriented posts, we’re happy to tell you a bit about another project that is being conducted in our lab by Hagen, a first year PhD student. Hagen is looking at the behaviour, spatial usage and effects of human visitors on Red Deer on ‘Ulva’, a small island in the Scottish Hebrides. Ulva is a particularly spectacular place. Compared to the single species focus we typically have when watching seals during the breeding season, Ulva is a biodiversity hotspot where with a trained eye, you can’t go a few steps without stopping to look at a bird or a frog or butterfly (though it does also have a nice population of harbor seals (or common seals if you prefer: Phoca vitulina)).

View of the South Side of Ulva (photo credit: S. Twiss)

View of the South Side of Ulva (photo credit: S. Twiss)

Harbour seals on Ulva (Photo credit: A. Bishop)

Harbour seals on Ulva (Photo credit: A. Bishop)

Hagen of course is most interested in the population of Red Deer that are on the island: how they move, forage, form groups and help shape the habitats for other species such as butterflies and moths. After a long 6 months cooped up in the office, Hagen set off two weeks ago for his first field season. Taking another masters student from Durham with for assistance, the two spent their first week getting to know the study site in the best way possible–walking around the entire island! A week later, Sean and Amy arrived to help with the set up of some of Hagen’s experiments. This mainly consisted of lugging heavy timbers and deer fencing up and down steep cliffs, and certainly resulted in a few hammered fingers. While it was hard work, the extra hands made for speedy progress and they were happy to report the view was well worth the struggle (definitely an improvement from the windowless offices we’ve been constrained to since our own field-work ended).

The crew Left to Right: Sean, Hagen, Jamie, Amy and Barley in front. (Photo credit: S. Twiss).

The crew Left to Right: Sean, Hagen, Jamie, Amy and Barley in front. (Photo credit: S. Twiss).

Hagen hard at work (Photo credit: S. Twiss).

Hagen hard at work (Photo credit: S. Twiss).

Photo Credit: S.Twiss

Its a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. (Photo Credit: S.Twiss)

Building at some fairly hard to get to places!! (Photo credit: S. Twiss)

Building at some fairly hard to get to places!! (Photo credit: S. Twiss)

After a week the three of us left Hagen in high spirits and returned to Durham. Hagen will stay for another 4 weeks, and is now starting to do the most important part of any behavioural study: getting to know his animals. Many people think animal behaviour is all high-energy action behaviours (as seen on David Attenborough programs) when, as we’ve mentioned before, truly understanding your animals requries understanding that 90% of the time you will be watching them sleep or eat or just walking. These careful observations of the ‘less exciting behaviours’ helps us determine the subtle differences and behaviours that will lead to meaningful research questions. After a few weeks of watching quietly, Hagen will definitely have a great start to his project!

Red deer up on the cliff (Photo credit: A. Bishop)

Red deer up on the cliff (Photo credit: A. Bishop)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s