Coast and Country Nature

NATURE -- From Wales To The Clyde On A Flying Visit

EVERY summer, the Clyde witnesses a remarkable influx of migratory seabirds which feed up off the coast of Inverclyde for a month or so before making a journey far into the Atlantic where they spend the winter, writes David Carnduff

They are Manx shearwaters, long-winged, fast-flying birds, that breed on some of the remote islands of the west coast. In July, as the breeding season comes to a close, they start to appear on the Clyde and numbers gradually build up to a peak in early to mid-August when thousands are present.

This year was no different, with large numbers flocking into the firth to delight birdwatchers who consider their arrival a highlight of the birding year in the Clyde area. Once again, Cloch Point, near Gourock, was a good vantage point to watch these ocean travellers during their summer sojourn in our home waters.

They are perfectly adapted to the marine environment, skimming over the wave-tops with a rapid succession of wing beats and glides, or wheeling and dipping effortlessly in the wind when conditions become stormy.

This summer, a new study has revealed fascinating details about the origins of some of the shearwaters that come to Inverclyde's waters and the distances they travel.

Researchers fitted lightweight satellite tracking devices to several breeding shearwaters on the island of Bardsey off the coast of Wales -- and the results showed that two subsequently headed north on feeding trips that took them to the waters off Gourock.

The research into shearwater movements is being carried out by Bardsey resident Ben Porter in conjunction with the University of Exeter and Bardsey bird observatory.

A lightweight satellite tracking device is fitted to a Manx shearwater on Bardsey island

Ben, a keen naturalist and photographer, told me: "In the chick rearing phase of the study in the past two weeks, two out of ten tagged birds have made 10-day foraging trips to Scotland. One was making short foraging trips to feed the chick, then a long one to feed itself."

The results have intrigued local birdwatchers who have noted Ben's findings with interest. 

Shearwaters lay a single white egg in a burrow and the chick is fed a diet rich in oily fish.

At sea they are silent but at the breeding sites they are known for eerie nocturnal howls, screams and raucous cackling which have led in the past to associations with the supernatural.

These ocean travellers are noted for their longevity and the huge distances they fly each year on round trips to the seas off South America where they spend the winter. 

One of the UK's most noted ornithologists, the late Chris Mead, estimated that a bird ringed in 1957, when aged about five years and still breeding on Bardsey in April 2002, had flown more than eight million kilometres (five million miles) in total during its 50-year life.

Soon the Clyde's shearwaters will be gone, along with others from the UK's western shores, on their epic migration to the Southern hemisphere.

Most, hopefully, will make it back early spring to raise the next generation of ocean wanderers.

Thanks to Ben for the image which accompany this article.  See also

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