Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fulmars and Gorse











We spent the afternoon on the Northumberland coast, setting out to walk from Craster (after lunch in the Jolly Fisherman) to Howick, but only made it half way before the weather turned nasty. We left the pub in bright sunshine but there were already dark clouds on the western horizon. The display of gorse along this stretch of coastline at the moment is stunning – it’s so bright you could get a suntan just from looking at it. Its coconut scent is wonderful, although you needed to get pretty close to appreciate it today, with a strong, blustery wind blowing its fragrance out to sea. The kittiwake colony at Cullernose point was a cacophony of birds, perched on their narrow nesting ledges, but it was the fulmars that I really wanted to photograph. If ever there was a bird that seems to exalt in its power of flight, surely it’s this one, gliding along the edge of the cliffs with scarcely a flap of its wings, effortlessly riding the updraft. They passed so close that we could see the turbulence over their wings ruffling their feathers; too close most of the time, whizzing past so fast that nine out of every ten photographs were out of focus. I could watch these birds all day – but not today, because then the rain arrived - horizontal, driving rain. We were soaked by the time we got back to the car, but we'll be back.

8 comments:

  1. Wow - that first picture is fabulous, especially when I look at the enlarged version. I swear it is looking straight at you.
    Amazing how sea birds can nest on such narrow ledges and not keep falling or being blown off.
    Gorse really does dazzle this time of year.
    I guess you have a good waterproof bag for your camera.

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  2. Great pictures, especially the nesting on the cliffs one. I'm always finding snails in those gorse bushes. I suppose their 'foot' is basically just muscle? which alows them to negotiate all those spikes.

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  3. Must have been great having them cruise past you like that, and the gorse looks stunning, glowing in the sunlight.

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  4. Fulmars are indeed fantastic to watch in flight. They smell terribly however. Their defence mechanism of throwing up foul smelling stuff all over nest intruders caught a climber friend of mine who eventually gave up trying to wash the smell from his clothes and just threw them out. Anyway, your photos prompted me to go and look at a fulmar skull I collected from a dead bird some years back. The label said 1986 yet when I opened the box -phew - what a stink! 23 years later that smell still hasn't worn off.

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  5. Thanks John, have to admit I was a bit worried for my camera, but I had it inside a reasonably waterproof rucksack. I suspect young birds do occasionally fall off the ledges - there's a controversial colony of kittiwakes that nests on the girders of the Tyne bridge in the centre of Newcastle (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/features/kittiwake/kittiwake.shtml) and the occasional kittiwake chick does occasionally come to grief on the pavement below.

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  6. Thanks Les, I wonder if snails feed on the flowers? Those spines make the plant a very safe nest site for birds like long-tailed tits - it takes a pretty determined predator to find a way past them. Some birds - especially linnets - seem to like using gorse bushes as song posts too.

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  7. Thanks holdingmoments. I'm convinced that fulmars approach closer when they see someone on the cliff top, maybe out of curiosity. Outside of the breeding season they spend most of their time out at sea, so humans must be an unfamiliar sight.

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  8. I've heard tell of this disgusting aspect of fulmars' behaviour but have never been on the receiving end, fortunately.Remarkable that birds with such immaculate plumage should produce such a stink!

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