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Cape Wrath Storm Petrels

Wednesday, August 27th 2014

Over the bank holiday weekend three of the Foxglove ringing team and two members of the Army Ornithological Society headed up to Cape Wrath in north-west Scotland for a weekend of bird ringing. The first day was spent on the Cape Wrath ranges in search of Red Throated Diver chicks, from a nest that had been found on the trip earlier this summer. Unfortunately there was no sign of the birds, but Bonxies (Great Skuas), Buzzards and many Gannets were seen, along with some beautiful scenery.

The focus of the trip was to ring Storm Petrels, small pelagic birds that only come to shore at night to breed. The weather was such that we only managed to ring during two of the three nights, although nets were set around our base at Faraid Head where Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Twite were also caught and ringed.

The ground was as wet as anyone had ever seen so there was a longer walk into the site to ensure we did not get bogged down in the Land Rovers, as dusk fell each evening the nets were set on top of the cliff edge.

A rather impressive looking speaker system was used to play Storm Petrel calls out to sea luring the birds in during the night.

Over the two nights 303 new birds were caught as well as 10 controls, birds that had previously been caught and ringed at another site, including one from Norway! It will be interesting to see where these birds have come from once the BTO has processed the data.

Cultural representations of Storm Petrels are very interesting. The name petrel is a diminutive form of Peter, a reference to Saint Peter, given to these birds as they appear to walk across the surface of the water. They are well known in maritime culture, getting their name Storm Petrels from their habit of hiding in the lee of ships during stormy weather. Early sailors named these birds Mother Carey's chickens because they were thought to warn of oncoming storms; this name is based on a corrupted form of Mater Cara, a name for the Virgin Mary. 

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