Up in the air

During the breeding season of Storm Petrels, the Malta Seabird Project team carried out aerial radio-tracking flights. The transects were performed to pick up the signals from radio-tags previously attached to 40 Storm Petrels. Each tag emits a signal in a unique radio frequency allowing the identification of each  individual bird. The receiver unit on board the plane scans through all these 40 different frequencies to pick up the tags’ radio-signals. Each scan takes approximately 2 minutes. As soon as a tagged bird is entering the detection range (ca. 6km), the receiver starts beeping and the corresponding frequency and bird number is stored together with the gps-position and the time. Like this, the members of the team could get the positions of individuals using the area surveyed.

Member of the team radiotracking the storm petrels.

Member of the team radiotracking the Storm Petrels.

view from the aircraft of the Mediterranean sea

View from the aircraft of the Mediterranean sea

Every flight lasted 4 hours with up to two observers of the Seabird Project on board. The antennas that received the signal were attached and fixed to the wings of the small aircraft. Inside the tiny plane, researchers listened tirelessly for the sound of the radio-transmitters, which broadcast their signals up to several kilometres distance. The team flew in an altitude of 4.500 feet (1.500 meters) for up to 8 hours, with morning and afternoon shifts. From the aircraft it was also possible to spot pods of marine mammals and to benefit of the great views of the Southern Sicilian coast.

The aircraft approaching the Maltese coast during the radio-tracking observations

The aircraft approaching the Maltese coast during the radio-tracking observations

Radio-tracking of Storm Petrels in the aircraft

Radio-tracking of Storm Petrels in the aircraft

Radio-tracking is one of the actions which are part of the project. Its aims is to find out the distribution of Storm Petrels at sea and to assess their movements during their foraging trips throughout their breeding season.

Aerial_radiotracking with the view of Filfla.

Aerial radiotracking with the view of Filfla.

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