Monday, 3 May 2010

Guillemot carnage

We walked from Marwick Bay to Birsay today, brilliant sunny day with an icy northerly wind. Of course the subtext to this walk was to count White Wagtails but of that later.

The seabird cliffs at Marwick Head are a real spectacle. You get warmed up to this by the constant stream of Kittiwakes to-ing and fro-ing from the Marwick Bay pond, the fro-ing with huge clumps of weed in their bills. The spectacle of thousands of Guillemots on their ledges at The Head never ceases to amaze. Today though we were distracted by the brutality of the natural world.

A small group of about 20 Guillemots were on an open flat piece of rock, low on the cliff. A Bonxie was very interested in this group and soon enough another joined it. The Guillemots were clearly bothered by the Bonxie and stabbed at it when it ventured too close, the Bonxie in its turn was wary enough of the dagger like Guillemot bills. Eventually though the Bonxie launched itself at a guillemot and managed to get on its back and peck at it, most of the Guillemot's cousins retreated at this point and at that moment the other Bonxie flung itself into the fray and grabbed the prize, a bright blue guillemot egg. Immediately Bonxie number one let go and the two birds enjoyed the egg contents.

Once the egg had been devoured one of the Bonxies went back to eyeing up the Guillemots again. A Herring Gull arrived and ate the little egg left by the Bonxies and then retreated and a Great Black-backed Gull arrived and stood near to the Bonxie. At this point Bonxie number two disappeared and Bonxie number one had a scrap with the Geeb. All settled down to Bonxie eyeing up Guillemots, Geeb eyeing up Bonxie and Guillemots and Herring Gull watching from a distance. The Bonxie had a couple of goes at the Guillemots in a half-hearted sort of a way but then went for one isolated one, the Guillemot put up a good show and the Bonxie was being fended off but the egg was open and in nipped the Geeb and broke it but the Guillemot / Bonxie battle was vigorous and the Geeb retreated, another egg rolled free. Then the Bonxie backed off and the Guillemots went back to sitting, one now beside a broken egg.

Later we saw a Raven with a Guillemot egg in its bill as it flew to a field to devour its snack in peace.


White Wags today - 18 at Marwick Bay, one Pied; one Pied at Marwick Head; 24 White on the Links beach at Birsay but just 12 on the west beach at Birsay, although I didn't have time to count this quite as thoroughly.

Back at home one Siskin today and a Whimbrel on the Shunan that I couldn't see from the garden. Yesterday's Dunlin was still present in the morning.

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