Tuesday 10 June 2014

Sumburgh Head

Sumburgh Head is one of the most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. It’s easy to see Puffins just look over the wall, they often give close views. They are one of the most recognised birds in the UK, although people often think they are looking at young birds because they are smaller than expected.

On one occasion a couple of Americans arrived in a taxi, looked over the wall and claimed that they were looking at penguins instead of Puffins, they immediately got back in the taxi and left before anyone could tell them they had made a mistake.

This year the Puffin cam won’t be in operation as rabbits have taken over the burrow. Mind you the last three years have seen the young Puffins predated at this site. Numbers Puffins are far lower in number than they were twenty years ago and will continue to decline with the lack of available food.

Other birds such as Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Shag are present but in far smaller numbers than when we first visited back in 1987. We did have the good fortune to see a Brunnich’s Guillemot, only the 3rd record for the UK at the time which appeared in the main guillemot colony.

Small birds such as Twite, Starling, Wren and wheatear can be seen and last year I photographed a male Rosefnch. In July don’t be surprised to see Crossbill feeding on the cliffs, not the normal place you would expect to see them.

On Tuesday this week Princess Anne arrived in Shetland to officially open the new RSPB Reserve at Sumburgh head. It was not the best day with fog and rain but at least she could land at Sumburgh airport, if it had become thick fog then the plane may have been diverted to the north mainland. Security was tight and only 250 invited guests were allowed up to the lighthouse area.

                                                        Princess Anne arrives at Sumburgh airport

The lighthouse is the oldest in Shetland, originally designed by Robert Stevenson In 1822. Now In the lighthouse buildings, new interactive displays allow an appreciation of the ocean ecosystem around Shetland. In summer it is possible to see from Sumburgh cliffs, Killer and Minke whales together with dolphins and porpoise.

The £5.4 Million pounds that the RSPB have spent, which were part funded by European money, have now made this the flagship of the society and can only be good to highlight both Shetland and the plight of the seabird population. What can be to stop the decline which is affecting all the Scottish seabirds?. Lessons may be learnt from the stable Welsh populations.

This week I found a dead Puffin on the beach at Levenwick showing that many birds are in poor condition.

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