Sunday 10 July 2011

Full marks for Fulmars

These days, on a visit to the Northern Isles, it would be virtually impossible not to see a Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis. Yet, according to Mark Cocker in Birds Britannica, they did not breed in the Orkney archipelago as little as 120 years ago.

Fulmar... the supermini of the albatross world, though I gather that the airscoop on the bonnet is actually a tube for filtering out salt from sea water.

Roosting on top of a sheep pund at Dennis Ness, North Ronaldsay
Encounters with these birds have become synonymous with our trips to Orkney, especially on North Ronaldsay, where they often nest at the base of the sheep dyke. This dry stone wall is maintained as a barrier to keep the seaweed-eating sheep off the fertile pasture, so a circumnavigation of the island on its seaward side is bound to bring you into close contact with many a Fulmar.

Gliding effortlessly above the storm beach adjacent to Trolla Vatn, North Ronaldsay
If I say that they have a somewhat vomitous predator response, regurgitating a foul oily substance, you will appreciate why it pays to keep an eye open for where they are roosting.

On cliffs above the Bay of Kirbest, Westray
Its Orcadian name, 'Molly-mawk' or 'Mallimack', derives from the Dutch for 'foolish gull', as its habit of sitting tight on its egg made it an easy target for hunters in times past. Whereas 'Foul Maa' is of a more Scandinavian origin, referring to the previously described habit of sharing its breakfast after the event.

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