The Birds Of Marwick Head

By Bernie Bell

We’d gone on the ‘Birsay Bay T’Other Way’ walk  , and, as we approached the last ‘leg’ of the walk, we dipped down to a place where there are convenient rocky ledges, where we can sit and eat our sandwiches, looking across the cliffs to the monument on Marwick Head.

We’d been here many times before, at all times of year, but, on this Sunday in mid-June, we timed it just right for seeing the bird-life of the cliff-face opposite

Marwick 1 B Bell

There were many Fulmars and Kittiwakes, the Fulmars riding the up-drafts of air, swooping and sweeping – though some chose to snooze in the sun  instead……..

Marwick fulmar Bell

There were –  I don’t know how many Guillemots – forming a ‘flow’ of birds, down the ledges of the cliff face

A pair of Razorbills were busy, making more Razorbills, when an interloper landed on their ledge, sidling up to Mrs. Razorbill – “Hey – how you doin’?”

Marwick razorbills Bell

The pair flew off, leaving him alone on the ledge – he’ll need to find his own Mrs Razorbill.

Another kind of sidling up was taking place near the top of the cliff, where a couple of Ravens were hopping closer and closer to gull’s nests, hoping to raid them

Marwick ravens Bell

The gulls were keeping a sharp eye on them, and we didn’t see the Ravens manage to steal any eggs.

And …..PUFFINS!!!!!  Looking generally comical, and sometimes quizzical, on the cliff ledges.

It was good to see so many sea-birds, when many of the Northern sea-birds are in trouble, with numbers declining, drastically in some places. Possibly the ones at Marwick Head are a drop in the ocean, but it was still encouraging to see them.

The other thing we noticed, was the smell.  Some parts of the cliff are white with guano ( bird poo), and the smell wafted upwards to where we were sitting.  I like it!

There are places near to cliffs, where the smell of bird poo can be hard to take, sometimes having a harsh, ammonia edge to it.  Here, on that day, it was just a waft, and, to me, it smelt of fertility – the kind of thing you would put on your fields.  Earthy. A warm, friendly smell – rich and full of life, maybe chiming with the hope of life represented by the numbers of birds – by their mating and laying and – living – living their busy lives, there on the Marwick Head sea-cliffs.

On the way there and back, along the cliff-top walk

Marwick Kitchener Memorial Bell

we noticed lots of Painted Lady butterflies – and I mean lots.  Fluttering about, landing on the path in front of us.  Some were slightly worn-looking travellers, some as fresh as new paint, and some – were intent on making more Painted Lady butterflies.

Marwick painted Lady butterlies Bell

A lot of LIFE on Marwick Head, that day.

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