Bird Life

Summer 2022
John Andrews
Wed 27 Jun 2012 09:05

Bird Life

I have not written much about the birds on this voyage, because they have, in truth, been a little disappointing. There have been the usual suspects, gannets, guillemots, shearwaters, fulmars and various gulls, but apart from at the huge nesting site on the Skelligs, we haven’t seen any of them in any great numbers. The main bird of interest has been the black guillemot that we have seen in much greater numbers than anywhere else.

I have nevertheless been trying to hone my skills in trying to tell which of the little black and white birds bobbing on the surface of the water are guillemots and which are shearwaters. It is not easy. When they are in flight, it should be easier, but just as I think I have identified the purposeful rapid flapping of guillemots, they suddenly spread their wings and start soaring over the waves, just like shearwaters, so I am confused.

I have consulted my on board books but they do not identify this as a particular problem. A helpful black arrow points at the white rump of a guillemot as a distinguishing mark, but when I turn to the page with the Manx Shearwater, I find a similar black arrow pointing at a white rump. One book did divulge the information that one can tell a guillemot from a razor bill in flight by looking at the birds’ armpits. A razor bill has black armpits, while a guillemot does not. The next half hour found us squinting up at over flying birds to see if any of them had black armpits. They did not. We soon abandoned this as not only was it quite boring, but we found that examining birds’armpits felt strangely intrusive.

Now we are in Scottish waters, I am delighted to say that the birds are back in force and we have been rewarded with our first sighting of a puffin.