Monday, 24 June 2013

Orkney, June 2013, Part 3

One of the things about relaxing on holiday is that you have the time to notice people who aren't on holiday and are not relaxed. This is also true of birds.

I mentioned in Part 1 that we experienced a very different Spring this year, during our stay on the Northern Isles of Westray, North Ronaldsay and Papa Westray. The length and severity of the Winter weather across the British Isles has meant a few weeks' delay to normal Spring proceedings for large swathes of our wildlife. Despite being at, pretty much, sea level and never too far from a coast, Orcadian wildlife is not immune from this effect. Coupled with our holiday being at the beginning of June, we quickly realised that many species of birds were at a far earlier stage of their breeding season than we would have expected.

This manifested itself in several ways. Just walking along paths and shorelines, we had to take great care not to disturb nesting birds, especially as many of them were still at the egg laying stage and had not yet begun to incubate their clutch.

Taken from a respectful distance, Ringed Plover nest by a west coast path
Even more dramatically, the constant aerial battles between prey and predator, or predator and prey depending upon the circumstance, was like something out of the skies above Kent in 1940.

Prey species (like Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew) were defending nests, eggs or chicks from predators (skuas, gulls, Ravens), sometimes several prey species combining together in their robust repulsing of marauding bandits. At the same time, other predators (more skuas) were intent on stealing food from parent birds (terns, Guillemots, Puffins) returning to feed their young or partners.

Oystercatcher chasing off a Raven

Herring Gull carrying off a Guillemot or Razorbill egg

Arctic Skua harrying a Sandwich Tern to regurgitate its catch

Despite assistance from an Arctic Tern, the Sandwich Tern is forced to jettison its load to  the waiting skua

Arctic Skuas with problems of their own, having to repulse a Raven from their territory
Whilst we were visiting the Ring of Brodgar on Mainland, a Great Black-backed Gull flew over an adjoining meadow. We had just wandered passed this area and had seen it was full of cute little fluffballs of wadery delight. Everything in the world seemed to react to the large gull; Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Curlews, Redshank and even Common Gulls, all brought together in the single aim of chasing off the raiding party.

My only regret is that the photographs do not convey the strident sounds of anxious yet indignant parents, piping and screaming their fury at each intrusion.

"Scramble, scramble, scramble! Bandits heading your way from the south!"

"Roger that, Oystercatcher 2. Curlew 1 and Lapwing 3 will give immediate assistance."

"Schei├če! Wir haben gesehen, Schwarz Nummer eins! Ziehen Sie sich in Sicherheit!"
(Oops! We've been spotted, Black 1! Retreat to safety!) 

"I say, chaps, the blighters have scarpered back across the Channel. Jolly well done, everyone!"

No comments: