Wednesday, 18 January 2012

May in January

So what is the island like in January?
I feel very lucky to have seen it in the depth of winter as it is a time of year that few people have seen it since the  Lighthouse keepers left in 1989. After seeing the island is all its manic frenzied, mayhem of seabird breeding season and heaving, groaning industry of seal breeding season the quiet, spent calm of January is another side of the islands contrasting character. The recent storms have scorched the vegetation brown and blasted anything loose off into the sea. All the beaches on the west side have been deep cleansed, all the litter, plastic and driftwood and been cleared away by the huge waves leaving only the biggest timbers. Heading home under the west cliffs we could see numerous pale patches, big and small, where the crashing waves have broken rocks off continuing the gradually erosion of the island that will eventually see it go under the sea.
Last winter, when snow and ice covered the mainland, a number of birds moved across the water to spend the winter on the unfrozen May but this mild winter means that apart from a few blackbirds, a robin or two and several wrens the body of the island is virtually free of birds. It is only come dusk that the usual bird landscape reasserts itself with gulls, herring and greater black backed and shags come on to the rocks to roost for the night. 2000 herring gulls makes an impressive site, a milky way of white dots in the gloom. On the morning that we left the drop in wind brought a few of the May cliff nesters back onto the island prospecting for mates and staking out a breeding site. A few guillemots were hanging around on the cliffs in their extremely smart new breeding uniform while a few pairs of fulmers smooched and cackled together, a sound that took me straight back to spring.  An after dark walk with Mark and a strong lamp caught us a rather grumpy but extremely impressive adult greater blacked back gull. Ringing it was an experience, it was like ringing a set of bagpipes smelling of fish. Compared to last year our stay in the lowlight was very comfortable, actually too warm on the first night though we were all wearing enough clothes to qualify as refugees.  A modern Scottish diet of pizza, chocolate and crisps supplied the calories eaten in a room steeped in history that has hosted most of the eminent ornithologists of the last 70 years. But most memorable of all once the gas lamps were out was going to sleep  listening to the booming roar of the wind in the chimney and lit by the glowing orange of the fire. As my daughter would say...awesome.
Next visit February to start the process of opening up the island for the season.

Fantastic sunrises.

Th whole of the vegetation on Rona had been blasted and washed by the storms.

Rabbits along with the gulls were the most obvious island inhabitants

Fulmers showing signs of getting frisky and settling on the cliffs.


Pizza in the Lowlight

Ringing an adult reater black back gull - treat with respect.

The island in the murk.

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