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.