Sunday, 27 May 2012

Listening in - the sounds of the May

The Isle of May is a remarkably quiet peaceful place and visitors and inhabitants are recognise this frequently. So with the thick fog early this morning making it difficult to see you hand in front of your face the sounds of the island came to the fore, disconnected from their source. So I headed out from Fluke Street in a thick grey blanket with ears flapping. Of course with 200,000 birds on a small island it is never quiet, and at Fluke Street we are surrounded by eiders and gulls. The gentle seductive woohoo of the male eider has now been replaced by the more earthy and practical mwuk, mwuk, mwuk of the females talking to each other across the gully or softly to a raft of ducklings on the loch. The gull colony is never silent at this time of year, even in the dark and their loud and varied calls echo from plateau to braes. Heading up Palpitation Brae I enter nervous breakdown territory where 2 of the islands's community go through their daily manic discourse. Oystercatchers are just in a complete state, almost continuously piping at the slightest presence around them. Arctic terns are also in a constant state of over excitement and could start and argument if on their own in a cardboard box. They have such a array of sounds that even when you can't see them you have a good idea of what they are doing. A machine gun burst is aimed at gulls they have taken a dislike to (usually with good reason). Heading out on a fishing mission needs a different set of calls to when they come back into the colony saying "hi look at the size of fish I've caught."
The noise of the cliff nesters only reaches you when you get to the cliff edge but once there the kittiwakes and guillemots have a lot to say and loudly. It is thought that guillemots can recognise their partners call even amongst 8000 seemingly identical individuals all yelling their heads off. I keep a ear open for 2 of the smallest island residents the rockets (rock pipits) and waggies (pied wagtails) as they are the islands intruder alarms. A breakout of twittering from them usually means a bird of prey entering island airspace.
But with all these noisy neighbours it is amazing that you do actually still do much of your bird watching with your ears. once tuned into the island you can pick out something different passing through like the burble of a skylark, the chay of a siskin or the rasping keehaw of a black-headed gull. All of these stand out like a a pink shag on a cliff once you have been on the island for a while.
And then there is the wind of course. 
So for an island that wears a cacophony all the time how come it is so peaceful and calm ? How does that work ?

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