Thursday, 19 May 2011
A Bit of a Blow
Yesterday was quite a day. It started a bit breezy and gradually built up through the day to a force 7 blow by high tide at tea time. At lunchtime James, the skipper of the May Princess decided not to sail even though the wind was forecast to drop and it was the right decision as otherwise Bethany would have had to cook macaroni cheese for 107 instead of 7.
At high tide the west cliffs were receiving the full force of the waves with the spray reach the tops of the cliffs and blowing in a sheet across the island at Alterstanes. And all this will a gleaming blue sky. For us on the island it felt quite a blow though for the island itself it barely rattled its stony bones compared to some of the storms it will have seen over time. We took pleasure and excitement in the gusts and spray but others were having a harder time.
The main colonies of sea birds are along the west cliffs and with the expansion of some of the seabird populations the lower ledges of these cliffs have now been colonised and these were in reach of the waves and spray. Kittiwakes were ruffled and wobbled on their nest platforms, shags with chicks were soaked by spray but the razorbills and especially the guillemots and bore the brunt. At Greenface the lowest shelf holds several hundred guillemots and all but a few of these had to leave the shelf and their eggs will have been washed away. For those of us used to hens this might not seem too important but guillemots only lay 1 egg a year which takes a lot of their hard won energy and to make and lay another takes up to 2 weeks. As the season is so early some will try to lay another but many won't. What is odd is that when I looked at the shelf today it was completely packed with birds again. This is because there is such competition for nest spaces that the bird will stay in their nest site for the rest of the season just to prevent other birds taking them over.
These birds play the long game in that they only lay 1 egg a year but live for a long time so if they miss one year because of bad weather or lack of food they just have another go next year. But the problem for these birds is that climate change is making this weather events more common and so if there eggs getting washed away occurs on more occasions during their lifetimes they will produce few chicks with a knock on effect to the overall population.
So suddenly it occurred to us the direct link between the future success of the seabirds that we see on the Isle of May everyday and taking the car instead of walking, buying food jetted in from around the world instead of locally produced, turning on the heating instead of putting on a jumper or flying off abroad for lots of holidays abroad.
Still a good thing about the storm was that it washed up a perfectly good laundry basket which saves us having to buy one.
Thanks to Mark Newell for the excellent photos.