Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Posts tagged “Kittiwake

Saltees 2017

Gannet couple greeting & Bill clacking over egg in nest Great Saltee island xs 6158

Gannets Greeting in Great Saltee colony over Egg in Nest

Great Saltee Island off the SE coast of Ireland is the place to go in May or June – or most times of the year.

But in early Summer the flowers and birds are terrific.

It seems to have its own micro-climate and has been kind, weather-wise, to us on our yearly pilgrimages.

We spent 4 or 5 hours on the island but could have spent 4 or 5 days without doing it justice.

Puffin taking off from burrow side - disturbed before delivering Sandeels Great Saltee xs 5771

Puffin taking off from Burrow with undelivered fish after disturbance

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Pehthouse Suite - Kittiwakes & egg on nests Great Saltee cliffs xs 5538

Penthouse Suite – Kitiwakes nesting on cliff, Great Saltee

It is known best for its 2 Gannet colonies and for its Puffins but has so much more – birds such as Auks, Waders, Gulls, Cormorants, Choughs, Pipits etc. as well as Seals, Rabbits (inevitably), wild flowers and great views.

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Razorbill flying with Sandeels Great Saltee xs 5651

Razorbill flying with fish

Great Black-backed Chicks sheltering Great Saltee xs 6628

Baby Great-Black-backed Gulls in hiding – they will grow to become the marauding Lords of the island

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Great Black-backed Gull flying Great Saltee xs 5613

Great Black-backed Gull in full marauding flight

Shag & Chicks on nest under Rocks Great Saltee xs 6617

Shag & Chicks in nest under Rock

Grey Seal imm in Cave Great Saltee xs 6797

Grey Seal immature in cave, Great Saltee

Gannet collecting vegetation for nest on Great Saltee clifftop xs 5638

Gannet collecting vegetation for nest

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The Gannets number over 2,000 and try to nest away from interference – one colony on a rock stack and the other at the extreme end of the island.

However over-enthusiastic visitors and camera holders constantly get too close, pushing the colony back and causing unnecessary stress and disturbance.

Gannets build a small mound of earth and vegetation – grass, seaweed, etc. – with more vegetation on top.

Gannet patterns edge of main colony Great Saltee xs 5851

Gannet Nests with regular spacing

In such a crowded place, the Gannets are very regularly spaced.  This is not so much about privacy for couples or respect for neighbours but rather fear of agression and use of agression to keep a small gap!

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Gannets fighting in colony Great Saltee island xs 6446

Gannets fighting in colony

Fights do break out in the close noisy turmoil.

Gannet returning to nest in colony Great Saltee xs 6563

Gannet returning to nest in colony, Great Saltee

Gannets mostly look all the same to us but presumably they can see distinct differences and hear different calls. Nevertheless finding one’s mate in a large noisy colony can’t be easy and landing amongst defensive neighbours in wind has to be difficult.

Gannet stare in colony Great Saltee island xs 6039

Gannet head – with superior attitude

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A magnificent bird and beautifully designed for life on the sea and for diving into the water from a height.

Puffin calling from clifftop rock Great Saltee xs 5802Puffin calling from rock amongst Pinks on clifftop, Great Saltee

Puffin with Sandeels Great Saltee xs 5798
Puffin with Sandeels

 

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Hard to ignore the gorgeous, cute little Puffins though.

Puffin numbers go up and down yearly based mainly on the numbers of Sandeels available.

The last 2 years seem to have been fairly good but of course fish numbers worldwide are only fractions of 100 years ago due to over fishing, pollution, human interference and now, particularly plastics  – hard to imagine such a happy state for our seas now 😦

Puffin flying overhead Great Saltee xs 6781

Puffin flying in

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Great Saltee

It really is a great place.Great Saltee

I have only been there twice but it has to be one of my favourite places in the world. 

I’ts not any any one thing.  You can see seabird colonies easier in Howth for example.  You can find ‘nicer’ islands where you can swim and sunbathe  with less disturbance and with good beaches.   There are much bigger seabird colonies in the UK and even in Ireland,  No it is the brilliant combination of super birds, good climate, off-shore location and the immediate belief that you are somewhere special.

The island is known for its sea-birds but its remoteness makes it a happy habitat for many small birds and of course, birds of Prey.  Also being so southerly, it is a good spot for migrating birds.

Razorbill on cliff, Great Saltee
Kittiwake on cliff nests, Great Saltee

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The ‘normal’ seabirds are here, clinging on to the cliffs like goats on mountain ledges. Razorbills with their heavy looking beaks on tiny cliff ledges and Kittiwakes – sort 0f black legged sea-gulls – on whatever bit of grass they can find on the sheer cliffs.

Just to look at them is exhilerating.

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Bridled Guillemot on side of cliff, Great SalteeFulmar flying in wind, Great Saltee

Razorbill taking off from cliff Great Saltee
Guillemots, auks, like the Razorbill, are also common.

This one is a ‘Bridled’ Guillemot, named after the monacle like stripe and circle on each eye.

Fulmars are here, often in the best nest sites. Like many other species here, they are hardly seen during most of the year, flying far out to sea, but they come to the cliffs to nest during the summer.

They look like Gulls but the tube on their bills relate them to the Albatrosses.

They have near complete mastery of the wind and fly with stiff wings.

The wind plays a big part in birds’ lives here, as at all cliff sites. Birds have to master landing on sharp edged rocks and just imagine launching yourself off a tiny ledge over rough sea far below the theacherous cliffs.

Birds use every bit of surface area to effect uplift when taking off, like this Razorbill with wings, tail and feet used to the maximum.
Razorbill offering sand eels Great Saltee

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Food is also key, both from a successful feeding and rearing point of view, as well as in formal rituals such as courting. The favoureed meal is Sand Eels and the availability of this food source generally dictates the success of the nesters each year.

Recently there has been a decline in Sand Eel numbers, believed to be due to climate change but also possibly due to over-fishing. Birds have been trying to make-do with other food but initial results look poor and the number of nests around our cliffs seems to have decreased.

Apart from the Black Guillemot, all our resident auks nest here. I seem to remember Black Guillemots nesting on cliffs when I was young, although that was a while ago. In any case they now seem to be more often seen in harbours and river mouths and they even nest and are commonly seen in the centre of Dublin.

Cormorants and Shags both have colonies of ragged nests. Other common birds here include Chiffchaffs, Wheatear, Reed Buntings, Rock Pipits and Choughs, while there are many Grey Seals around the coast.

Great Black_backed Gull approaching nest & Eggs Great Saltee
Gannet Colony section Great Saltee
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Above the Cliffs, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls nest.

The Great Black-backs are the perennial marauders and poachers and have a great view of unattended nests and babies from their high vantage points.

But the Saltees are best known for 2 bird species.

The first is quite obvious when you approach.
Gannet Colony section Great Saltee

Huge numbers of Gannets whirl in the air and dive straight down from a height for fish in the sea and 2 spots – one sea stack and one headland – are almost obscured in summer by Gannets and Gannet nests.

The nests are packed in, spaced to leave only enough room to avoid neighbouring beaks!

Apart from the noise and constant motion, the other noticable feature is the strong smell!

Overhaed there is constant activity with birds landing, taking off or over-flying looking for their patch, their nest or their chick.

Gannet flying overhead Great Saltee

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It is hard not to be impressed by this magnificent bird, even from a distance. Up close and personal, it is even more impressive.

Firstly it is big – the wings are nearly 2 metres wide and flying over you there is no mistaking who is the master!

Secondly, it looks great; white with black wing tips and a lovely pale yelow colour on the head.

Finally it seems to be built for speed or more precisely, for reducing air and water drag. Both ends, head and tail, are tapered and the eyes are recessed, making it perfect for diving through the air at spped, with wings swept back and cutting through the water to catch fish.

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Gannets approaching main runway Great Saltee
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Just like an airport, the wind direction determines the prevailing runway and a stream of Gannets follow each other into the air or back into the colony.

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Gannet looking down at colony Great Saltee

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Gannet on nest Great Saltee

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Is that a streamlined beak and head or what?

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The nest is a simple mound of seaweed and vegeatation and there is usually only 1 egg which is hatched after about 6 weeks.

Gannet babies Great Saltee

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The chicks start out as white balls of fluff but gradually turn black as the skin shows through.

They are fed for about 8 weeks before leaving to turn into white adults after a couple of years.

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Puffin on cliff top Great Saltee

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The other speciality here is the cutest and reason enough on its own, to come here

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Puffins nest in burrows at the top of the cliffs. They are very small, only around 30 cms head to tail and their wings seem too small to carry their puffy bodies. But when they fly, the wings extend more than you expect and seem to whirr to keep them airborne.

Puffin on cliff Great SalteeSea Parrots or Clowns they may be called but when you see them in their home habitat, it’s all other birds that look silly!

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If there were no birds here this would be a special place.

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With huge numbers of birds it is one of the places you just have to visit.

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But with all that and Gannets and Puffins and a magical persona, its a little piece of heaven!

Puffins overlooking bay Great Saltee


Waterford weekend – Birds & Lambs

Just had a nice weekend in Waterford.  Kittiwakes on ledge Dunmore East Weather wasn’t great – cloudy and hazy – but it was dry.

Visited a good few lakes and reservoirs as well as coastal towns and harbours.

In Dunmore East, a Kittiwake colony seems to be more or less permanent. Certainly I didn’t expect to see them on a cliff ledge in early March!

These gulls are distinguished by their plain yellow beaks and black legs as well as their call from which they get their name.

The scenery in this part of the country is great but we had to imagine how its real brilliance in sunshine.

The various lakes didn’t seem to have too many birds but there were a good few Mute Swans.  On one reservoir I came across this unfortunate specimen amongst a small group of Mute Swans.  It seems to be a Whooper from the beak colour but has an unusual bump on its beak.   Perhaps it has a deformation or is the result of a mixed species relationship?

Whooper Swan variation reservoir Waterford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back we had lunch in the beautiful Inistioge in Kilkenny and a walk along the Nore and in the grounds of Woodstock House with its magnificent trees.

Some of the fields sported fairly new lambs complete with baggy skin and fussing mothers.

New Lambs Inistioge Kilkenny