Cape Wrath 2014

Friday, July 11th 2014

The bird ringing team returned from Cape Wrath a week ago after a fantastic trip, with favourable weather and the highest numbers of birds seen for years.

The first night of the trip is spent at Balmacara House where there are spectacular views across to the Skye Bridge. From here the ringers set off for Loch Torridon where, with the help of local fisherman John, they visit several of the islands to search for nesting birds.

Several of these island are now thick with Bracken and other vegetation making finding nests challenging to say the least!

Many Herring Gull nests were found along with Heron, Cormorants and Oystercatchers.

Herring Gull chick

Most amazingly on one island, two nesting Barn Owls were sharing the same crevice with a clutch of 15 eggs between them!

Following this we headed up to Faraid Head, our base for the week. The following couple of days were spent bird ringing in the surrounding area. A small island on Loch Borralie was visited where Herring Gulls, Common Gulls, and Tern chicks were ringed.

In a rather ramshackle barn are several Swallow nests, nets were put across the doors and windows once the chicks had been ringed to capture the adults. One of the Swallows was a retrap, having been ringed there four years previously as a chick – when you consider migration this small bird has flown 25,000 miles at least over those four years; most likely much further!


Fulmars nest along cliff ledges; this year several were within reach of the top of the cliffs around Faraid Head. Securely roped to the Land Rover, Jack slithered to the edge and skilfully lifted several Fulmars and one Razorbill up to the waiting ringers.

That evening was spent atop yet another cliff with nets set in readiness for Storm Petrels. As dusk fell the speakers were turned on, playing Storm Petrel calls out to sea to attract the birds in. A record 115 birds were ringed during the night! Returning to base as dawn broke everyone retired for a couple of hours sleep before our first day at sea.

Several small islands and stacks were visited. In previous years on one of the islands we have built rocky nesting shelters ideally suited for Black Guillemots. This year two of these were occupied, with one adult still on an egg and in the second nest a newly hatched chick. Several more of these shelters were built; hopefully we will be able to remember where next year!

Black Guillemot chick

Our second day at sea was the most eagerly anticipated with a visit to the Clo Mhor boulder field and Kervaig Stack. Both of these areas are home to large Guillemot colonies along with Razorbills, Shags, Puffins and many other species of sea bird. Half the team was dropped at each location where they were able to ring non-stop until the boats came to collect us in the early evening.

The atmosphere on the boulder field is incredible, with the noise of thousands of birds calling around you.

Numbers of birds breeding in these areas were at the highest for about 15 years, in total 904 Guillemots were ringed during the afternoon here, along with many other birds of different species totalling well over 1,000 birds during the day – several hundred more than the total for the entire trip last year!

This is an incredible place to be able to visit - a real privilege. I am sure all of the ringing team would echo my thanks to Tony for organising this, the Royal Marines for safely landing us on each of these islands, and Cruickie for the delicious food!

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