Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Seabirds and Slow Worms- my visit to Ailsa Craig

Its been far too long since I last blogged- not due to lack of material but rather a result of trying to cram in far too much! The seabird breeding season is well underway and I have been busy visiting many seabird colonies as well as working on one at the Mull of Galloway.

Last week I had the pleasure of joining the RSPB on a trip to Ailsa Craig to perform essential seabird counts and monitoring. Upon arrival we set up our tents beside the old gasworks, seeking shelter from the elements inside the compound walls. We began our counts scanning the scree slopes on the hill-side with our telescopes to search for nesting gulls. Moving slowly around the island we continued to count the gulls whilst searching for signs of nesting Peregrines and Ravens. After a quick lunch break we walked around the other half of the island towards the North end, counting as we went. Reaching an area known as 'barestack' we counted Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars from fixed points looking up the cliff. The rock was far from bare however as the seabirds incubated their eggs on the cliffs above. Getting back to camp we came across a Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)- my first ever sighting of our native legless lizard. Seabirds and reptiles- this trip was shaping up to be a dream come true! 

Home for a couple of nights on the mighty Ailsa Craig (photo Laura Shearer)
Gull nesting in one of the quarries on Ailsa Craig (photo Laura Shearer)
My first ever Slow Worm (photo Laura Shearer)
Black Guillemot taking a rest on some rocks (photo Laura Shearer)
Day 2 got off to a fantastic start with more slow worms whilst my camp mates emptied the moth trap. We took a walk up the hill of Ailsa Craig- eventually ending at the summit 338m above sea level. Slowly making our way up, we counted the gull colonies as we traveled. The island was covered with wildflowers in full bloom such as Thrift, Sea Campion and Bluebells. What a vista! 

The remains of the tower house which was used as a watch tower (photo Laura Shearer)
Wild flowers in bloom on Ailsa Craig (photo Laura Shearer)
Summit of Ailsa Craig (photo Laura Shearer)
The trip was completed on Day 3 with cliff counts of nesting Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags, Kittiwakes and Fulmars. Sailing around the island several times it was simply breathtaking to see the sheer cliffs filled with Gannets and other nesting seabirds. This was definitely the trip of a lifetime!
The cliffs of Ailsa Craig are breathtaking! (photo Laura Shearer)
Some of the 36,000 pairs of Gannets that nest on Ailsa Craig (photo Laura Shearer)
1, 2, 3, 4... cliff counts (photo Laura Shearer)

Bull seal keeping an eye on us (photo Laura Shearer)
The marine life around Ailsa Craig is spectacular- Lion's Mane Jellyfish (photo Laura Shearer)
Gannets are magnificent birds! (photo Laura Shearer)
Saying goodbye to Ailsa Craig and its thousands of seabirds (photo Laura Shearer)

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