Digest>Archives> May 2006

Lighthouse Reflections

Bird Month

By Sharma Krauskopf


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One of the most enjoyable months at Eshaness is May, when most of the birds return, mate and have their young. I try to time my arrival at the lighthouse before May 10th. The puffins always return on that exact day. The ocean around the cliffs is filled with the returning birds. I sit for hours and watch them make their awkward flight to their nests in the cliffs. They are an adorable bird but the puffins are poor flyers.

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The first of the other birds to arrive is the

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magnificent black and white oyster catcher with its bright orange beak and feet. It seems like everywhere you turn, they are busily looking for worms. They originally ate oysters, mussels and clams found on the shore but the supply of those delicacies dried up so they turned to things they could find on land. Their eggs are laid in a shallow scrape on shingle. Oyster catcher eggs are grey and speckled, providing camouflage against the grey rock

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background. They are pointed at one end. Contrary to

popular belief, the purpose of this is not to provide space for the chick's long beaks (their long beaks develop after hatching). The pointed shape is thought to prevent the eggs from rolling down a steep slope.

Lapwings are the next species to arrive. They are distinctive because of their topknot feathers. They lay their eggs in the grassy areas. The eggs are buff-colored and irregularly blotched with dark brown and purplish grey. Amazingly, the general color of the egg and that of the blotches vary according to the color of the soil on which the birds choose to nest. They match the soil to perfection and are difficult to find even for a trained pair of eyes. The grasslands can be quite dangerous so the lapwing developed a strategy that works on most dangers and enemies. When something approaches the nest, one bird will remain on the nest, while the partner will land on the ground, far from the nest. This partner will then pretend to be hurt — he or she will run through the grass with one wing down and away from the nest. Then it will try to fly and pretend that it can't. Most predators will immediately look at the wounded lapwing and follow the “injured” bird. When the predator gets close, the lapwing quickly flies away, shouting “Qi-Vit”. Safely back

in the nest are the other partner and the young.

I cannot remember exactly when the gulls arrive, but they are by far the noisiest and the largest of the birds. They seem to have no particular place where they put their nest. The place I have seen the most young gulls is near a loch in a grass area. The area is literally covered with gulls and nests. The area looks like it has a case of white measles. You can see hundreds of fluffy balls in the grass when the birds begin to hatch. I have never walked into the area but I did get a good picture of a young gull all stretched out in the sun on the edge.

The month of May will always be bird month at Eshaness, but each year, the number of birds decline because of the scarcity of food. As the number of fish in the ocean reaches a critically low number, the birds are migrating to other areas, for example, the seagulls to the cities.

This story appeared in the May 2006 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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