Arnside and beyond

By gladders


The fulmar was the ever-present bird of this trip, flying stiff-winged and effortlessly with the boat, just occasionally dipping down to pick potential food off the water.  I have a lot of photos of fulmars in flight, but this was the shot I waited some time for, picking up the glittery reflections of sunlight off the sea.  We were en route to Reykjavik from Isafjordur, and out of the breeze, it was warm on deck.

The fulmar is a petrel with a tube nose (as seen here), they are rather like a northern hemisphere equivalent of a small albatross.  It is a bird that in Britain was once found only on the Atlantic outlying islands of St Kilda, where they were one of the staple foods of the islanders.  They spread spectacularly from there in the 19th century, eventually colonising the whole of the UK rocky coast, probably because of the availability of fish offal from trawler fleets.  In recent years the UK population has started to contract northwards again, it's thought in part at least because of the effects of climate change.

They are long-lived birds, surviving for as long as 50 years.  George Dunnett was a Scottish ornithologist who was photographed in 1951 while in his early 20s with a fulmar he had ringed on an island in the Orkney archipelago.  41 years later in 1992, he was photographed again in the same place with the same bird.  And while he was now looking worse for the wear of four decades, the fulmar looked exactly the same.  Who knows how old my fulmar may be?

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