Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Seabird cities of the Buchan coast

May has so far been quite a windy month, so when a calm day following a run of westerly winds was forecast it seemed a good opportunity to paddle along the seabird cliffs of the Buchan coast

I set out from the little harbour at Collieston on a cloudy morning with no swell, a bonus on this part of the coast which juts into the North Sea.  I planned to paddle north past Cruden Bay and return later in the day.  Launching is very easy at Collieston as there's a sandy beach inside the harbour.  Parking is limited, but there's another car park a few hundred metres north of the village with a small beach.  The harbour is owned by the local community and an honesty box is in place for using it - the suggested donation is £1.

Heading out of the harbour I turned north and shortly passed the ruin of Slains Castle, confusingly one of two along this coast with the same name.  This is Old Slains, the smaller and less well known of the two.  It was built in the 15th century and blown up by James VI of Scotland (James I of England) in 1594 to punish the Earl of Errol for becoming involved in a plot against him.  The Earl was later forgiven and went on to build a much larger castle further up the coast.

Further north the cliffs begin to get higher, the dark rocks streaked with white from the seabird colonies

Every ledge and platform is crammed with nesting birds.  The most numerous are Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), Guillemots (Uria aalge) and Razorbills (Alca torda) with smaller numbers of Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis), Shags (Phalocrocorax aristotelis) and everyone's favourite, Puffins (Fratercula arctica). 

I kept back from the cliffs a little to minimise disturbance to the birds; the other numerous species here are Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) which constantly cruise the cliffs looking for unguarded eggs or chicks.

Paddling along the seabird cliffs in late Spring is an intense sensory experience; the sheer noise of the colonies, the almost overpowering smell and above all, the whirling, whirring activity of birds coming and going to their nesting ledges, jostling, preening and arguing.  You are truly surrounded by birds and their daily lives.

It's one of Britains greatest wildlife spectacles and an absolute privilege to experience.  The sobering thought is that these packed cliffs are quite small colonies in comparison with those on cliffs such as Fowlsheugh near Stonehaven.

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