Peter Stronach, an ecologist and wildlife photographer, couldn’t believe what he was witnessing as he went along the coastline of a Highland lake on a beautiful May evening. Male eider ducks, numerous species of gulls, a gannet, a puffin, and no fewer than 26 pink-footed geese, all of which should have been on their way back to their Icelandic breeding grounds, littered the shoreline.
On that single day, Stronach counted 72 individual birds of 17 species at Loch Fleet national nature reserve on Scotland’s east coast, plus many more in the days that followed.
These birds, on the other hand, had not been slain by a passing predator or the unfortunate victims of a violent storm at sea. A highly infectious – and frequently fatal – virus was the cause of these deaths. The avian influenza H5N1 virus, also known as bird flu, has returned with a vengeance.
Stronach is more concerned about the diversity of species he discovered. “We first observed avian flu in geese earlier this spring; however, it has since spread to other wildfowl, raptors, and seabirds.”
It used to just happen in the winter, but now, he claims, it’s harming the breeding populations of iconic coastal animals like the eider.
Lead Image: One of the dead birds found by Peter Stronach at Loch Fleet nature reserve, near Dornoch, Scotland. Photograph: Peter Stronach.
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