Today I’m heading north to the most desolate coastline on Westray. Here, even the lichens and seaweeds and barnacles struggle to maintain a hold.
There are Great Skuas here and their barrel chests and huge beaks are a constant threat if you walk too close to their territory. I’ll be hugging the coast, tripping on shattered rocks to keep the peace. They are usually happy to bully any bird which comes too close. They keep lookout from a grassy knoll and set off, first circling and then making a bee-line for the offending intruder.
Today, I don’t want that intruder to be me. Something odd happens this time, though, which I’ve not experienced before. A Great Skua gets chased by a Great Black-Backed Gull.
A Great Black-Backed Gull has a wing span of five feet. It’s a seriously impressive bird. The RSPB says there are 17,000 breeding pairs in the UK. I don’t want to mess with them, either.
It’s quite some bird to be heading your way.
When did you last feel that you were in the wild? I mean in a wilderness, where the wildlife was just that; wild. Where anything could happen. Where there is peril. It’s an amazing feeling.
Then, something very amusing happens. Roused by the noisy dispute between the Great Skua and the Great Black-Backed Gull, the Arctic Tern colony erupts and decides there’s a threat.
They arrive in force and mob the Great Black-Backed Gull relentlessly. Even the juveniles join in.
A Great Black-Backed Gull weighs one or two kilograms. An Arctic Tern weighs 100 grammes. Here’s an Arctic Tern attacking a Great Black-Backed Gull and turning it upside down in mid-air.
That feeling of being in unrestrained wilderness is getting more and more distant. Our wilderness is clinging on at the edges; as am I.