This post was inspired by a walk taken last weekend with some lovely people I met for the first time then: Gill who is the chairperson of the Bryn Euryn Users’ Association and her partner Tony who is a ‘proper’ birdwatcher. As well as enjoying their company I also learnt a lot from them both; from Gill it was how the Bryn had evolved into a Local Nature Reserve and some of how its habitats are maintained, which I’m hoping to discover more about in the near future.
Tony reminded me how much I’ve been missing here and I rediscovered that when it comes to spotting birds, particularly when they are faraway dots on a wavy sea, three pairs of eyes are better than one and that a telescope widens the horizons in more ways than one!
Firstly though, we had some good sightings of Fulmar which are back at their nest sites on the cliff face. The Raven was up in his favourite spot just above them and Tony showed me their nest site where we saw and heard them both a little later on. We also spent a few minutes hunting for signs of a Black Redstart that was reported being seen here a few weeks ago, but no luck. From the clifftop overlooking Angel Bay there were two Grey Seals swimming and further out to sea there were some great seabirds including numbers of Great Crested Grebe, Red-throated Diver , Guillemot & Razorbill as well as the more easily seen Shags & Cormorants. Walking around the rocky outcrop to the ledge that overlooks Penrhyn Bay and the wider sea, we encountered a Rock Pipit pecking around the grass and rocks, not at all concerned that we were there and presenting an irresistible photo opportunity.
This week I waited for a break in the weather to return to the Little Orme for more viewing and Friday’s sunshine was just what I’d been waiting for. I was particularly keen to see more of the Fulmar so headed in their direction first. The Raven pair were once more sitting up in their favourite spot above the Fulmar site. They are both looking gorgeously fit and healthy, their plumage shining brightly in the sunlight.
I counted three pairs of Fulmar here initially, who were later joined by what I think was a single male on a site just around the rock. Some birds were easier to see than others as they have chosen their nests sites carefully to give them some shelter from the elements, and those I’m assuming to be the females were mostly tucked behind a rock or back into clefts in the rock-face.
The birds were noisy; males are definitely proclaiming their territories and there was quite a bit of aerial activity, taking off, swooping around and then landing again with more vocals. The sound has been described as harsh, throaty and machine-gun like.
There were a lot of Jackdaw on the cliffs too and I suspect that much of the Fulmar’s vocalising was aimed at them and they in turn were giving back as good as they got, so it got very noisy at times.
There were more of the birds on the cliff-face at the edge of Angel Bay; they were making even more noise, much of it directed at a single bird that was flying around and attempting to land in spots already occupied by pairs of birds. I think there may be 8 pairs in total, which will be easier to establish once they’ve settled down.
Common name: Fulmar or Northern Fulmar; Scientific name: Fulmarus glacialis Welsh name: Aderyn-Drycin y Graig
BTO Conservation Status: AMBER because Recent Breeding Population Decline (1981-2007), Localised Breeding Population
The common name is derived from the Old Norse word ‘full’ meaning foul and ‘mar’ meaning seabird or gull. The foul part refers to the fact that they can spit out a foul-smelling oily fluid to defend their territories from intruders; it’s not all bad though, the oil is also an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights. The glacialis of the scientific name means icy.
They are long-lived, with a lifespan of 40 years not uncommon.
The Fulmar is a bird of the open sea, a ‘tube-nose’ that is a first cousin of the albatross and belonging to the same group of birds as the shearwaters and petrels. They feed at sea on crustaceans, squid, fish, offal and carrion mostly from the surface.To deal with excesses of salt they take in with their food they have a gland located above the nasal tube through which all the bird’s blood is pumped and the salt removed. The salt-laden discharge runs from the tube nose along a groove in the beak and drips off away from the body, keeping plumage clean.
At first sight Fulmars resemble gulls but seen more closely are distinguished by the shape of their beak which has a tube-shaped proturberance on the top and a thicker neck. They have long, narrow wings and fly low over the sea on stiff wings, with shallow wingbeats, gliding and banking to show its white underparts then grey upperparts.
At its breeding sites it will fly high up the cliff face, riding the updraughts.
Nesting sites are deserted in September and Fulmars are usually absent offshore during October and November. Their absence from the breeding cliffs is short-lived as by late November or early December the birds are back prospecting around the nesting sites.
The nest itself may be nothing more elaborate than a depression in bare rock or a scrape in turf, although they are sometimes lined with a few pebbles. The female lays a single white egg in May, so they’ve a while to go yet.
A quick glance down onto Angel Bay brought a pleasant surprise – a mixed size group of 22 Grey seals. They were very chilled, many of them asleep on their backs; gorgeous.