In this and future articles I will keep you up to date with the comings and goings of the birds and other wildlife of the reserve. Of course many folk come north to tick off John O’Groats, but the real aficionados come to see Dunnet Head. Not only is it the true northernmost point on the British mainland but it houses an exciting nature reserve centred on a spectacular seabird colony. If you have not visited before, perhaps this should be the year that you do!
Seabird colonies are exciting places to visit. In the breeding season they come alive with the sights, sounds and yes, the smells of the seabirds. Dunnet Head is no exception, with the common nesting species of fulmar, kittiwake, puffin, guillemot and razorbill. If you count the less common species and those that are seen feeding or passing-by off-shore then you might easily see another seven or eight species of seabirds.
I have started carrying out weekly guided walks every Wednesday afternoon. These will run until the end of August and are designed to show new birdwatchers and family visitors the various special birds of the reserve. The first few walks have been quiet for birds and strong winds have made it difficult to watch them without a tear in the eye! With this spring being very late, few of the usual wildflowers were out too and the vegetation still looks very wintry. An exception is the common scurvy-grass which doesn’t seem to realise how cold it is just now. In fact, anyone driving regularly up and down the A9 right now should keep a look out for this white-flowered plant and its relative Danish scurvy-grass. Both are in full flower now by the roadside, thriving in the salt-laden soils of the modern road network. They have thick fleshy waxy leaves which are well able to store water and resist desiccation in the salty environment of the coast (or the roadside). They think they are still by the seaside!
Last week; however, was very special as we saw the first puffins of the walks season. There were just a handful showing and they would disappear underground but everyone on the guided walk managed to get cracking views through the telescope. They should be seen in increasing numbers as the season gets underway, so if you have not seen a puffin yet, get yourself along. Another highlight of last weeks walk was a common lizard. I saw it again this week and managed to take a snap of it. Despite the chilly weather it was able to bask in the sunshine by the south side of the wall. It’s May so let’s hope it will warm up pretty soon for lizards and visitors alike!