Thursday, 21 June 2012

Jumping time for the guillemot chicks

A chicks eye view of the jump.
One of the great privileges of living and working out here is being able to watch one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles you can see in this country. This is time when the guillemot chicks jump. To save on flying backwards and forwards with fish from the fishing grounds to the cliff ledges the guillemots take their chicks out to sea closer to the fish.  But to do this the chicks, that are only 20 days old and have no flight feathers, have to leave their few inch square home ledge that they have known all of their lives and get down to the water.  For some this isn't too much of a big deal as they are close to the sea or can work their way down the stepped cliff but for others it means a huge jump of 20 meters plus with only the hope that they will hit water rather than rocks. It is hard to imagine what a life change this is for a chick to go from being told not to move an inch to then being told to jump into the unknown. The intensity and excitement of this can be heard on the cliffs on warm, still evenings in the jumping season when the noise of adults braying and chicks piping picks up as the Dads (the Mums aren't involved in the upbringing from this moment on) encourage the chicks to the cliff edges and then drop down to the water to call the young down. Some chicks just go for it and jump while others take an age to pluck up courage to go, bobbing and pacing until finally ready to jump. And some get a helping hand, a sharp peck or nudge from a neighbour sending them spiralling down to the sea.  Once there they still have to find their parent and then head out to sea before the gulls get them. The drama of the event has to be experienced to be believed. Last night one chick jumped from its ledge about 2m down to a next door stack. It sat there for a little bit probably thinking that this jumping business wasn't as bad as made out with its Dad calling from the sea when suddenly a herring gull swooped. The chicks instinct made it jump to one side and the gull missed by inches but the jump took it down a split between one stack and another. From where we stood we couldn't see it but guessed that it was still alive and calling as the Dad was frantically calling at the entrance of the crack.  For what seemed an age but was only about 15-20mins, the Dad swam up the crack and back and just as we were giving up hope a big wave washed into the crack flushing the chick out. It popped out to find an ecstatic Dad and side by side they set off to get away from the island. A close shave for that one chick and one tiny part of the bigger drama that goes on the island every minute. And for us it was all too much and we headed back in doors unable to watch another jump until the next evening.

Two chicks nearly ready to jump.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these amazing first-hand accounts. There was not quite this much excitement when I visited the isle last month!