Following force 7 gales, some horizontal rain and thick fog on Saturday, Sunday and today have seen clear skies and a strange yellow orb glowing brightly high above, what could this be?!?
On Friday two hundred puffins and one razorbill were on the sea below Sumburgh Head, by Sunday there was only one puffin on the sea, and having seen none on land all day, one made a brief appearance on the cliffs in the evening. Before and after the adult flew in and out, the rapid 'cheep..cheep..cheep' of the chick could be heard from inside it's burrow. Lets hope it fledges soon.
Few puffins have fledged this year, and not always in the right direction. Around 11pm the other night I picked up a most unusual hitch hiker. Six inches tall, with black and white plumage and a sooty face, sharp claws and a dark bill. This bird had flown from his burrow in the dark and prehaps been dazzled by Sumburgh airport lights, ending up on the road. Once on West Voe beach it wasted no time in taking to the sea, and dived several times as soon as it could, before paddling into the night, occasionally illuminated by the sweeping lighthouse beam from above. To be tended in a darkened burrow for around 50 days then suddenly find itself out alone on the ocean is quite a start to life, navigating roads and humans inbetween is stranger still. Fledging tends to be fairly synchronised so hopefully it would be far out to sea with a few other puffins before dawn.
Today there are no puffins on the water and only one has been seen flying around the cliff. It's safe to say most have now left to winter at sea. Happily, the maalies (fulmars) seem to be doing better than most other seabirds this season, and many can be seen on the slopes, growing bigger, losing thier downy grey fluff, and occasionally stretching and flapping those wings which may take them into the air over the next 50 years, as these amazing relatives of the albatross can be incredibly long lived. Check out our live cliffcam to watch these chicks and visit Sumburgh Head yourself: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/s/sumburghhead/cliffcam.aspx
It's a stunning spectacle, with maalie parents regularly returning from sea to feed thier chicks, until they weigh more than the adults themselves, before ceasing to feed them for 2-3 days, when they suddenly lose some weight prior to fledging. There is also a very good reason why getting so close to a maalie's nest is safest done by camera. These members of the petrel family defend themselves and thier nests by projecting foul smelling oily gastric juice at intruders, and for the first few weeks even returning adults have to be cautious as chicks puke indiscriminately until they learn to recognise thier parents. Nice.
Shags with dark grey juveniles can still be seen on the stacks below. You may also see fledged twite, Shetland wren and wheatear on the slopes, or one of the many mountaineering rabbits!
Happy viewing from 60North.
Sumburgh Head sounds and smells quite different since the guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes have all gone. The incredible energy and spectacle of the breeding colony in full swing has mellowed. I miss the strangled gargling calls of the guillemots.. Shags are still present with juveniles, Fulmar chicks are dotted around the slopes like big bundles of grey fluff and parents return to feed regularly. Puffins have been abundant, active and noisy for the past two weeks but in the last few days it has been strangely quiet...until noon today when small rafts of puffins paddled back inshore and some have begun to visit burrows again. One parent and chick stood at the burrow entrance for a few minutes giving privilaged views to the lucky handful of visitors present, who didn't know whether to watch the only puffin on land or seals swimming in the beautifully clear green sea below, providing excellent underwater views. While the seals will be here all year, many birds are outgoing and incoming at this exciting time. Change is in the air. Wheatears are on the move, and the first warblers have appeared. Common whitethroat outside the office window yesterday and an icterine warbler on the reserve today. South easterlies are due in the next few days, so who knows what may appear??