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  • A Far North Naturalist


En route for the sea cliff yesterday, 10 May, the walk across the bog was even more pleasant than usual, because I was accompanied by two other adventurers, Tina and Sarah. We stopped on numerous occasions to admire the wild flowers, mosses and lichens, with lots of Heath Milkwort, masses of Bearberry being visited by bumblebees -- the Broken-belted Bumblebee (Bombus soroeensis) I believe -- and the first flowers of Lousewort. Hare’s-tail Cottongrass is now bearing the fluffy heads, whilst the Common Cottongrass is just starting to flower, the yellow anthers quivering in the gentle breeze. A close look at Crowberry, in search of the minute flowers, revealed that they’d already been pollinated and the berries were starting to develop!

The cocoon of a Northern Eggar moth was a nice find, as were the many Common Heath moths that we saw flitting about as we walked through the heather.

Changes are afoot at the seabird high rise! Some Puffins are now occasionally sitting outside burrows, and I strongly suspect that eggs are being incubated underground. More Shag nests are fully built, and at least two contain eggs. A few more Guillemots are remaining on the ledges and there might be an egg or two, or more, because laying is often synchronised, certainly in the larger sub-colonies. Kittiwake nests are growing in size by the day, and females frequently soliciting males by begging for food, the male regurgitating some fish.

We saw two Great Skuas patrolling up and down the cliff face, gliding effortlessly on the updraft. They were clearly on the look out for an easy meal, and this was proven when, although we didn’t witness the attack, we saw one eating a freshly-killed Kittiwake at the base of the cliff. Now, the world's population of Great Skuas - or Bonxies as they're known up here - is under threat right now. Sixty percent of the world's 16,000 breeding pairs breed in Scotland, and last year many were confirmed to have contracted the bird-flu virus. I'd heard that as many as 80% of them might have succumbed. So, although the Kittiwakes will certainly think otherwise, I was really happy to see the two here.

One Puffin was alone in flying around in a broad circle or figure of eight, ‘wheeling’ as it’s termed. It was certainly taking a good look at us as it passed, and did, after four or five passes, alight at the cliff top, out of sight and certainly at its burrow. Also flying around and around was a Razorbill still sporting its winter plumage!

We found yet another plucking post on the walk back to the road, again on the top of a small mound. It was lightly littered with small bones, regurgitated pellets and a whole skull that looked like it was a thrush of some sort. We also found one large Drinker moth caterpillar, yet to pupate.

In summary then, this excursion is becoming more exciting day by day! Join me!

Photo coutesy of Jonny Gios on Unsplash: Thank you!

Common Heath moth (Ematurga atomaria)

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