Aug 18, 2008


Last weekend I got the offer to get out and see some Storm Petrel ringing. Needless to say I jumped at the chance. I have been out a couple of times with the local field club/RSPB and been rained off so I have never even seen an elusive Storm Petrel in the hand. Mind you I had never seen one in the air either so when the phone went about half nine I was up and out in to the gathering gloom with an excited air. Allan is a life long ringer and to night we were off to Birsay on the North West corner of the mainland. We have one net, poles and gear for the area we will work so with the car loaded and his nine year old assistant aboard we are off. Riding over the air had been absolutely full of insects and at times moths looked like snow flakes in the still night air. Parking near the whale bone we set up the net on a rock shelf below a twenty foot face. As we are adjusting the tension the first bird fly’s in and we are off and running. Allan is all excited as we haven’t even started the CD recording of petrel song that helps to lure them in. With the first one quickly out of the net and in to a bird bag we move back to the car to ring this bird and record this first bird of the night. Watching it emerge from the bag the first thing to strike you is how small it is.

Its an amazing thing this diminutive wee sea bird before me is one of the most prolific birds in the UK but I have never seen one before. Its daylight life is at sea where it picks its food from the surface of the ocean. Fluttering along like the butterfly of the sea as its sometimes called and it will pitter patter on the surface with its webbed feet.. Its feet are vulnerable at these times and it’s common to find feet injuries probably from fish bites{we saw three in the ones we caught}. Such delicate behaviour in a bird makes it very vulnerable to predation and an easy target for Bonxies to Peregrine when it enters there range so it is a nocturnal visitor to the feeding grounds of the shore line or its cliff top burrows to feed its partner and young.

With the first bird rung weighed and measured. It is released on the ground where it fills its wings a couple of times before fluttering away into the darkness. Back to the net now descending in the darkness the air if filled with the strange calls from the CD Once back at the net we quickly work along the net Allan’s removing the birds quickly yet with delicate patience and deft finger work Arron and I hold the bags as they are filled and build up. Arron is a old hand with the ringing and is casually explaining the differences of leach’s petrels in the nets I was very impressed!! Every so often a petrel flutters softly past us visible against the lightening horizon. We go from end to end and return to ring then and so we keep going with this routine until it’s to light Allan is cock a hoop as we manage over seventy birds with five controls that is birds that have already been rung. So the picture grows.

All too soon the sky is lightening and the night is over but I am delighted with the experience. Now I know what I am looking for I think I could sit out on the rocks for an hour and see an occasional stormy. The over whelming impression that I take away from the night has to be when we were releasing the birds. Most were released on the ground. With the flat calm conditions some were held on the palm of my outstretched hand in the breeze. These delicate birds weighing around an ounce would sit there then fill there wings with a slow flutter slowly raise up so just their feet would be touching but not take off. They would be pitter pattering on your hand, their long wings extended. It was like having fairies dancing on your hand. It was stunning. It was breathtaking…and then it was gone fluttering into the night………….birding don’t get much better.

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