Saturday, 11 April 2009

Fulmars of Drumadoon Point

Had a quick scout around Drumadoon Point at Blackwaterfoot the other day to see check out the lie of the land for guided walks later in the year that I am doing through the RSPB. It was a wild and windy day so quite hard work for bird watching but there was plenty of wildlife action on the cliff faces and along the shore.
Drumadoon itself is a basalt sill with obvious columnar jointing also seen in this region at Fingals cave and over the water at the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. The cliff is eroding to form a series of overhangs and ivy covered ledges that provide shelter for nesting fulmars and other birds. It is quite interesting from a geological perspective, and on the day I was there the place was also hooching with geology students....

The fulmars that nest on the cliffs choose sheltered ledges where they lay an egg either on bare rock or in a shallow depression lined with plant material. They look superficially like gulls, but closer inspection reveals that they have a tube on the top of their bill, like an albatross. They are in fact closely related to albatrosses, and are members of the petrel family. They are well adapted to a life of foraging on the open ocean, with stiff wings for soaring, and the tube is believed to help them smell out patchy food resources at sea. They are beautiful birds but be warned- if you get too close they will spit an evil smelling oily liquid at you. This is a very effective deterrant for predators, such as bird of prey, as it will damage their flight feathers. The chicks also have this ability and this may explain why the fulmars tolerate a ravens nest at the other end of Drumadoon- which would probably be a threat to less well armed nestlings.

There will be opportunities to watch fulmars and find out more about these charismatic birds during the wildlife festival. Holy Isle Sea Life Special rib trips will be leaving Brodick on the 13th and 14th May, and on the 14th May there will be a survey techniques masterclass along the shore at Blackwaterfoot. See the full programme here.

Monday, 6 April 2009

A Forest Walk

After a morning last week doing a guided walk with a fantastic family from Northern Ireland I decided the rest of the day was too good to waste and walked home from Brodick through Glencloy. The glen has a mixture of open fields, where the gorse is currently in glorious bloom, commercial forestry plantations, and native woodland.
The native woodland runs along the burn at the bottom of the glen, and although the buds on the trees are only just staring to come in to leaf, honeysuckle is rambling through many of the trees with bright green shoots, giving the trees an illusion of full leaf (spring tends to be later here on Arran than further south- for obvious reasons). After crossing the burn, the path climbs up and joins a forest road through a conifer plantation. A significant part of Arran's landscape is managed by Forestry Commission Scotland. This includes areas of commercial forestry, clearfell, and open moorland. In many places these clearfell areas that are left after the trees have been felled are being allowed to regenerate naturally, or native trees are being planted in the place of the imported sitka spruce that has been removed.
Dead trees are left standing in the empty places as calling posts and perches for raptors and other birds. This is not the only thing that the local forestry officers are doing for our birds, in some parts of the forest, curious objects have been appearing in trees. I am often asked by people why plastic barrels have been placed high up in trees. The answer is simple, they have been put up to provide homes for barn owls. The scheme has been very successful, and the evidence points to an increase in the population of barn owls as a result of these innovative owl boxes. During the Wildlife Festival it will be possible to join Forestry Commission Scotland for a special guided walk during which the FCS Rangers will be investigating the breeding success of one of these nest sites. Spaces are limited and disappearing fast so book early to avoid disappointment! Link to barn owl walks page.