Here’s a Guillemot flying past me on the west Westray coast. It’s a grey day, but the rain has cleared and there’s some brightness threatening from afar.
Do click-to-enlarge and see it full size.
It’s a dangerous coastline for Guillemots as ‘there be pirates’. I’ve blogged about their spectacular hunts before.
This time I’m closer to the action:
There are at least five Arctic Skuas here for their summer of breeding and preying upon any bird carrying fish past their nesting site.
This is a light form of the Arctic Skua. They come in gradations from a very dark chocolate brown to individuals with a white collar and white breast. This unfortunate Guillemot is about to find out the exact pirate fishing technique of the Arctic Skua, as am I.
The resources I’ve checked say the Arctic Skua ‘may make contact’ with their quarry. What I want to know is: How do they get the fish off them?
It’s hot on the tail of a Guillemot with a fish.
I love seeing the open beak as the Arctic Skua reaches for the Guillemot:
Then the most extraordinary thing happens: the Arctic Skua grabs the feet of the Guillemot in its beak and flies up to flip its feet over its head and then lets go.
The Guillemot turns from being a beautiful naturally-engineered aerodynamic masterpiece into a tumbling mess as it falls, uncontrolled. It can only be described as an ‘arse-over-tit’ hunting method.
Look carefully and you can see the fish tumbling as well.
It’s the silver line just above the Guillemot’s wing above.
Then the Skua swoops down in an attempt to grab the fish before it sinks. The Guillemot dives under the water to escape while another Guillemot flies past the scene of the hunt.
I lose it in the distant swell. I see it return empty beaked a few times.
When it has a successful hunt it goes straight up the hill and doesn’t circle past me, as I lie on the hillside overlooking the Atlantic.
I spot it in the sea again.
Its head’s under water searching for the dropped fish.
It retrieves a Butterfish from the waves.
It then flies, having had a successful hunt. That was utterly fascinating. I’m going to come out again in the next few days if we’re lucky enough to get good weather.
I get one last flypast before I stride back across the fields and rocky outcrops. This one always has a drip at the end of its beak.
I need hot tea and a drop scone.