July 31, 2013 • Leave a Comment
I've just got back from a fantastic weekend on the island of Skomer. Although only about a mile in length, it supports a colony of around 10,000 breeding pairs of puffins. These charismatic little birds gather in their thousands along the clifftops of Skomer to raise their young between April and August. With their colourful beaks, friendly faces and amusing fish-carrying habits, I was kept busy snapping the whole time I was there and my memory card filled up pretty quickly
A beakful of eels
We saw lots of other fantastic birds too: guillemots, razorbills, oystercatchers, short eared owls, fulmars, choughs and the rather curious but by no means less enchanting, manx shearwater.
Manx shearwaters breed in burrows much like puffins but they have evolved so that their legs are very far back on their bodies. This is very good for diving but makes it almost impossible for them to walk long distances. This means they are very vulnerable to gulls when they come back to feed their young; they tend to walk a few steps and then fall flat on their faces.
However, the manx shearwaters have a strategy: they only come in to feed their chicks at night which makes it harder for the gulls to prey on them.
I got up both nights during my stay on Skomer to go out to watch and hear these birds arriving. The noise was quite incredible. To locate their partner (who is hidden down the burrow) the shearwaters make a coarse, burbling sound. The shearwater's partner (who is down the burrow) also calls so that their partner can find them. This can be quite alarming because the strange noise appears to be coming straight out of the ground. Manx shearwaters also have no better eyesight than we do so in the dark it is quite likely that they will fly into you. One person I met got hit straight in the face and although my experience wasn't quite as unnerving I still had to duck twice to avoid being hit full on in the stomach.
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